Friday, April 28, 2006

A classic engineering solution... 

“If this was an old-fashioned telephone” I said, having just been deafened by a severe crackling sound in my ear “I’d just thump the handset on the desk”. I could almost see the smile of recognition on the face of my engineer friend at the other end of the line, of an age to be well acquainted with this problem and its cure. Although the solution might seem to owe its source to a short temper, it was entirely scientific - once upon a time, telephone microphones used a mechanism containing carbon granules which was rather susceptible to an attack of the crackles, a state which could be remedied by a good sharp shake up of the aforementioned granules.

The first TV set I remember was like that too; it suffered the visual equivalent of those crackles. Hands up all those who remember the days when TV sets had a row of little knobs hidden around the side somewhere labelled “vertical hold”, “horizontal hold” and such like? On those occasions when the picture was replaced by jagged black and white lines across the screen and deft (or more likely, random) twiddling of those knobs failed to restore it, a good sound thump on the top of the cabinet would often do the trick.

Modern mechanisms may be more delicate, but the same “thump it” principle seems to work still. The CD player in my hi-fi (well okay, mid-fi) system packed up a couple of days ago. “No disc” the display lied, no matter what disc I put in. Nothing to lose I thought, and took the top off. Loaded a CD in the drawer and watched – nothing. Stationary CD; no sign of any attempt to spin. A broken wire? Broken drive gear? Broken motor? I took the CD out and span the mechanism with my fingers – it seemed free enough. Put the CD back and – hey presto! – this time it span and played. Something must have got stuck somewhere and just needed a nudge to free it up.

It reminds me of a story I read somewhere. Apocryphal, perhaps, but it illustrates a point. A ship - in the days of steam, I think - was having engine trouble. Docked in port, an expert was called in to fix it. He had just two tools – a rod, which he used a bit like a stethoscope to listen to the pulse of the engine, and a hammer. He spent a while in the engine room, just listening here and there, and then tapped a valve once with the hammer. When he sent in his bill for $1000 the company questioned why he charged so much when he was only in the engine room for such a short time, and demanded an itemised bill. This is what it said: “For tapping with hammer: $1. For knowing where to tap, $999”.

A nudge, a thump, a sharp tap – shake up the system a bit. Never fails. Now, where exactly do I bang my head to get it working properly again? Or, for that matter, my heart?

Saturday, April 22, 2006


It's quite a while since I posted anything for Photo Friday. I've had little time to experiment with the themes and there's been nothing appropriate tucked away in my archives. But when I saw this week's theme of "Golden" I immediately thought of this shot:

I've posted it here before, although not in this cropped version. This dates back to about 1969 if I remember right, taken from the coast of north Wales, looking towards Anglesey.

Golden sea, golden years...

Thursday, April 20, 2006


It’s hardly news to the tourist that London abounds in quirky corners, of the kind described in guidebooks with words like “quaint”, “delightful”, “picturesque” or “charming”. A cobbled alley here, an ancient gateway there; places characterised by crumbling stone, crusted layers of glossy black paint on railings and door jambs and one-time gas-lit street lamps. And in one such haven of antiquity, whole collections of these quirky corners come together to create a photographer’s treasure trove: a labyrinth of narrow stone paved alleyways which open onto tree-planted courtyards; enticing corners lead to compact vistas of brick and stone, tree and flower; short flights of stone steps accommodate the many level changes as the land slopes toward The Thames - this is The Temple, an area comprising two of the four London Inns of Court, home for centuries to London’s legal community.

Sandwiched between The Strand and Victoria Embankment, this is a largely traffic-free zone; the few narrow roads are mostly shadowy cul-de-sacs and most of the network of connecting passageways and courtyards are pedestrian only and stone paved; there’s hardly a square inch of tarmac in sight, a feature which accounts for much of the location’s feeling of relative peace and tranquillity.

My brief visit was sandwiched too, a slim half hour squeezed ahead of a lunch-time get-together. I wandered round with my camera in my hand, frustrated because I was sure there were dozens of wonderful shots every way I looked, yet I couldn’t see them. My mind was too full of before and after to pay proper attention to the present. The before was the aftermath of an excruciating bout of pain from a tooth on which I’d had a crown fitted a few weeks ago. Out of the blue a couple of hours earlier had come instant, debilitating pain that, for a while, eclipsed all else. The double-forte crescendo subsided eventually to a mere mezzo-forte, but it was still a major distraction. Then the half of my mind that wasn’t engaged in trying to ignore the residual basso profundo grumblings was caught up in anticipation of my meeting with Jon, who was stopping off for a few days in the UK on his way back home to Canada.

Incidentally, you can blame him (and Euan) for getting me started in blogging - I liked their club and wanted in. Still do, for that matter, but that’s another story. So it was that the few brain cells not otherwise engaged looked around for photo opportunities but failed to penetrate the mental fog sufficiently to notice the wealth of marvellously idiosyncratic detail that I’m sure was all around, or indeed to make a technically competent job even of the postcard-style views I did manage to record.

A couple of cameos stick in my mind that I wasn’t able to capture in pixels. An ancient gnarled and warty tree, whose branches’ twists and turns in every direction had become so out of hand that they had to be supported by massive iron posts, giving it the appearance of a bent and wrinkled old man with walking sticks. A view in through an open window where I half expected to see a scene straight of Dickens – a wigged and gowned clerk seated on a stool bent over a high desk; instead, my eyes met those of a young man dressed in a lurid pink striped shirt, his finger jabbing a text message into his cellphone; maybe his wig and gown were on a peg just of sight?

I’m afraid I wasn’t exactly scintillating company for Jon and Matt (another blogger, whose URL I failed to get). The toothache had returned with a vengeance; the best I could manage most of the time was to nod sagely and answer direct questions. All the same, it was very good to meet with both of them. More on that in a couple of days.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Road to Damascus or road to nowhere? 

I wanted to write this down and record what it contains before it was lost, washed away by the rising tide of daily routine. I want to be able to come back to this, a brief moment in time when I seemed to see something clearly, at times when I’ve lost that clarity. Whether this turns out to have been a Road to Damascus experience or just another road to nowhere remains to be seen. But at least I’ll have something against which to make that assessment.

I was sitting in church and, frankly, not paying a great deal of attention to what was going on. We musicians were tucked away to one side and being the first to go forward to receive Holy Communion also had longest to sit and, I suppose, meditate, as the rest of the congregation filed to the front. Being a little way removed physically, as well as out of sight of the minister, it’s all too easy to become mentally (and spiritually?) detached also.

So although I could have been said to be meditating, it wasn’t exactly on the theme of the day. Having no immediate focus, my mind began to wander, as minds will do, starting with whatever thought-pictures happen to drift into its field of view and following wherever their random connections lead. I think it was thoughts of a life of service, taking the most general interpretation of that word, that sparked it all off. Yesterday I discovered Roger’s blog There’s Always Something… and the essence of this phrase from his bio stuck in my mind: “I am a retired clergyman who loved his job and managed to do some good in some nice cities and among good people along the way.”

What would I say, in twenty years time? I am a retired engineer, who managed to pass through forty years of employment with as little impact on those around him as possible. To take the metaphor of a Biblical parable, which after all seem appropriate here, I took my one “talent” and buried it in the ground, where it survived largely intact albeit getting a little battered and tarnished over the years, as a result of being dug up every so often just to check it was still there.

When you feel caught in the iron grasp of a monster, too close even to make out its face properly, all you can do is struggle to be free, without knowing quite what is that you want to be free from, or what form freedom will take once you’re away from the clutch of that life-sapping embrace. Perhaps church buildings still carry a feeling of sanctuary associated with them; sufficiently removed, for the time being, from the clutches of that work-monster, I began to be able to step back and see the face of what it was that I’ve been fighting, in a detached, self-watching-self, kind of way.

To begin with, I thought it was just a question of finding a better balance – that’s what seemed to have been frustrating me for all this time. Too much work and not enough play; I bitterly resented the way in which I never seemed to have enough time or energy for reading, walking, writing, blogging, even just thinking. But that way of thinking has become an old and creaking treadmill; following force of habit, I step into its prison-like enclosure, wearying myself as I trudge on around the same thought patterns, always pushing against an implacable resistance, then step off, exhausted and disheartened, at precisely the place where I began.

Thoughts of service of some kind had been in my mind, but pursuing service alone I’d be no better off. That sense of balance would still elude me; I’d be serving for serving’s sake, because, not being able to conceive of anything else, it seemed at least one way of providing an answer to that dreadful deathbed question of “was it all worth it?”

I came back again to that idea of balance. An either/or kind of balance didn’t feel right – either/or derives from conflict and results in tension, and the balance becomes an uneasy truce between competing sides. But if it’s not a question of resolving conflict, be that conflict between life and work or between self and others, then what is it? Sitting off to one side in the church, tucked away behind the other musicians, it was easy to find pencil and paper and jot down what came to mind, as the rest of the congregation continued to file forward to receive communion.

The result took me by surprise. Three elements dropped straight out of the air onto the paper. And not one of them was directly about work, or nature, or any of those things which perpetually fight for supremacy of position in my mind.

Growth. Self expression. Service.

As I looked at those words, I realised that they contain everything I’m looking for, everything I need for fulfilment. And they’re hardly even three; they’re all intimately tied to each other, even though they are clearly identifiable on their own. And the value of each lies in how they support the other two.

There’s a cyclic relationship in the way that growth first drives self-expression; then the self that seeks expression is one which has a need to serve; and the challenges of service in turn bring about growth. Then, within that outer cycle are inner cycles. Self-expression brings self-discovery which leads to growth; growth gives back to self-expression an enhanced confidence, assurance and an expansiveness of spirit. These cycles are like breathing, one half of the relationship taking in, the other giving out; yin and yang. Service stretches and challenges and brings with it further self-discovery and self-awareness, which in turn feeds back to its source by way perhaps of a form of counselling of those served, helping and encouraging them to find and follow their own versions of this growth cycle.

It’s easy to see now how all of those things which matter most to me fit into this picture. Reconnecting with nature is part of renewal and growth; writing is self-expression, and I still have a dream that my writing may in some way be of some help to others; photography is a means of expressing my own appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the natural world, and if I can communicate that to others then that, too, is a form of service. Music too is clearly another form of self expression, and I’ve long recognised how playing bass suits my personality perfectly – properly played, the bass stays almost hidden in the background for most of the time, yet it’s there to support the other players - and musical theatre, with which I’ve largely by chance become involved, when its best has the power to cause people to reflect on what they see of themselves in the characters on the stage.

Having followed this train of thought through, I’m amazed at how these three elements really do seem to contain everything. Every single thing I seek locks neatly into place, forming a coherent and consistent whole. I’d been looking the parts in isolation before, and feeling the discomfort of realising that each, on its own, would never be enough. Like the desire to get out there among the hills; on its own it appears as a selfish activity, carried out purely for my own pleasure. And if that’s how I approach it, then that is what it becomes. But approached in a conscious and deliberate spirit of personal development, renewal and growth, there is no cause to consider it to be selfish pleasure.

I could use this model as a kind of litmus test – does what I plan to do take me deeper into the territory of one or more of these areas, and does it do so in a way that supports the others?

With all this in mind, it’s easy to see where that recent “Is this all there is?” post came from. As I live at present, growth, self-expression and service are all insignificant perturbations that happen at the periphery of life. Yet they should be at the core, the very centre, the heart from which all else finds its inspiration. At the moment though, they have been marginalised and the centre has been taken over by my work, which I’ve rather unjustly demonised – not because of what it is, but because of what it is not.

I’m employed for what I know, not for who I am. A brain on legs; heart and soul are unnecessary. Growth, in the eyes of my employer, would be represented by greater knowledge; technical knowledge, of the industry and of technologies. But that’s not the kind of growth I’m thinking of. Growth and self-expression are two sides of the same coin, and the self I feel a desire to express is, for the most part, not a techno-wizard self. On their own, such things leave me cold. The growth I seek is to find ways of developing, expressing, sharing and encouraging the kind of expansive, generative approach to issues that Michael and Chris
will be exploring here.

I suppose it was over the matter of self-expression that my conflict with work first became apparent – a classic case of square peg/round hole syndrome.

The service idea is more complex. True, the organisation for which I work is a public service organisation, yet it serves the public en masse; interaction with its “customer” at a personal level is almost non-existent. It’s true, we’re trying to get away from that ivory tower image, but we have a long way to go and by its very nature, the “service” (broadcasting) will always remain essentially impersonal. And since my part in that is about as far removed from anything approaching a direct public service as it’s possible to get; in practical terms of what I do day to day and the people with and for whom I do it, my work is essentially indistinguishable from that of a counterpart in a profit-driven organisation.

When I was having counselling, there was one question I could never answer: “Andy, what do you really want?” Maybe next time someone asks that, I’ll be able to tell them: I want to grow; I want to express myself; and I want to serve humanity, both individually and collectively. I’m comfortable with that framework; it feels right, and it feels complete. Nothing omitted and nothing superfluous; nothing that’s arbitrary example as opposed to deep principle.

John opened his sermon this morning by asking why we were here, and going on to ask if anyone came to be surprised. I didn’t see any especial significance in that question at the time, but now, six hours later: Yes John, I’m surprised – amazed – at what’s fallen out of a few moments inattention at an Easter morning church service.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I missed this one first time round when going through the results of yesterday's wander round the garden with the camera...

As shot, that amazingly long antenna is plumb vertical, but the composition seems more pleasing somehow this way round, as though he (or she) is turning to face the camera.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Spring is in the air 

...and my camera is back in my hand after much too long a break.

Those two may be full of the joys of spring, but I don't think there's much chance any feathered friends getting up to anything similar in here:

Temporary drought or climate change? 

I’ve been wondering lately, in my more defeatist moments, whether blogging and the enhanced human interaction which goes with it might be just a temporary blip in the overall flow of my life; an aberration in an otherwise consistent pattern.

I always used to be a quiet, introspective, reticent individual – aloof even, or apparently so. Friendly and open, in a shy sort of way, but only up to a point. Then for a while I opened up a little more, both outwardly here and inwardly to myself. But it seems I’ve gradually drifted back into the old habits of detachment. Reverted to type.

The first few months of blogging were a revelation. To begin with, I’d shyly stutter out a brief one-thought post whilst marvelling at the beautifully crafted prose, the compelling thought structures, the acerbic wit I’d encounter elsewhere. Then, as I grew more comfortable with recognising and expressing what was going on within me, I found – seemingly from nowhere – a desire, and even the beginnings of an ability, to give a clearer voice to my own experiences and feelings.

In a way, it was a time of happy conjunction of circumstances. Although I used to (and still do) bitch and whine about my job, the fact remains that my duties at the time were relatively light, owing largely to having a manager who couldn’t or wouldn’t delegate; I could easily fulfil everything that was expected of me in about half of my working hours, and so much of what appeared here at that time was either written or had its genesis during those relatively idle hours at work.

All the same, I remained a mostly conscientious soul and couldn’t escape the feelings of guilt engendered by this way of time-balancing, which often resulted in a short term cycling of priorities between blogging and working. So it wasn’t long before I started to feel a conflict between these two; odd really, since many of the bloggers whose ideas drew me in to blogging were engaged in dialogue about organisational life. This conflict wasn’t just in the matter of how I spent my time; more and more I felt that I was being a different person in these two roles, as the thinking and writing processes, together with the incisive dialogue that occurs often in blog comments yet rarely in conversation, awoke something in me that had lain dormant for a long, long time.

Were I to believe that something other than chance governed the ebb and flow of life, then I might wonder at the coincidence that led me into blogging at just the period of my life when I had the time and energy to explore it. Things have changed now though; both of those commodities are once again mostly consumed by the non-negotiable elements of living, and it’s becoming harder and harder to engage with the world of delights beyond this computer screen which faces me. The swings between blogging and working that used to occur on a daily or weekly cycle seem to have broadened into cycles of months. Mostly long weeks with little to say, then an occasional burst of activity, followed by more weeks and months of day-follows-day routine. It’s a pattern I can see continuing into the distance, with the dry spells getting longer and the showers of refreshing thoughts diminishing in intensity until all that’s left here is a parched desert with just a few stunted shrubs dotted about a featureless landscape. Climate change hits this corner of the blogosphere.

I’ll admit that some of that lack of engagement is my own fault. Several months ago, as a time saving mechanism, I started using Google’s RSS reader to track favourite blogs. Unfortunately, not everyone has an RSS feed and so I became an even more infrequent visitor to those sites that don’t. And even with those that do, reading a post in a reader seems more impersonal, a step removed from actually reading the blog. It’s like the difference between a phone call and meeting someone face to face; in a sense, the blog page is your face in this online world.

Furthermore, for reasons I don’t understand, I’ve noticed that I’ve become reticent about leaving comments. Perhaps because I haven’t been paying enough attention to what people have been writing? Having dropped out of the habit, I sometimes feel now like a stranger intruding on a group of close friends. Crazy, I know, but there it is.

I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a new blog as a means of rejuvenation; maybe under a pseudonym so that I could post about things that I have to keep silent about here. When I quit counselling last September, I did actually create a new anonymous blog with the intention of using it as personal therapy space and made a couple of posts, but abandoned it because splitting my blog persona in two seemed a retrograde step.

“Is all this just a temporary blip?” I said. It doesn’t take an Einstein to point out that the choice is entirely mine. If I want things to change, then I have to do something about it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

How to own an original work of art 

Go buy one here!

Every once in a while, some real talent surfaces out there in the blogosphere, and artistic talent is something that Andrea has in spades.

In only a few months, she’s attracted a large and loyal following with her highly personal style of art; her landscapes especially appeal to me, having the power to convey the feel of a place in a way that no merely photographic representation could ever manage.

But it’s not just her art that’s worthy of note; I have huge admiration too for her commitment to living her dream, turning away from a successful but conventional career to make a go of living life as an artist.

She’s just launched a new site, as a marketplace for relatively small works of affordable art. It’s early days yet, but go sign up for email updates or bookmark the site and expect to see more real gems up for grabs soon.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Of canoes, organisations, and plywood... 

Once upon a time, when I were no’but a wee lad, I was in the Boy’s Brigade – a youth organisation with even less street cred than the Boy Scouts, due in no small part to the ridiculous pill-box hats that formed the most obvious part of the uniform. I always wanted to be in the Scouts; they did much more interesting things (even though, so legend has it, they greeted each other with phrases such as dib-dib-dib) but since our church supported a BB company, it was to the latter that I went.

Perhaps mindful of the limited appeal of basket weaving to young teenage lads (I kid you not, we really did weave baskets – youngsters must have been much more obedient to authority figures in those days) and conscious of those exciting things our wilder, anarchic Scouting cousins got up to, our leaders decided it would be a Good Thing for us to build a canoe (although the obvious limitations of a single canoe amongst twenty or so lads didn’t seem to worry them). That would be just the thing to engage young minds in constructive endeavour; we could have a Grand Launching Ceremony too, probably even to the accompaniment of the bugle band.

I don’t think any of the leaders had actually built (or paddled) a canoe before, but that didn’t quell their enthusiasm for the project. So the enterprise was launched upon us lads as a Great Task, one that would take us to new heights of excitement, pleasure and achievement.

And in truth, it did seem quite exciting at first. At any rate, the idea did, and with the arrival of plywood sheets, timber and brightly-coloured plasticised cloth, we began to share the vision of our leaders.

The practice however turned out a little different. Remember, this was nearly forty years ago, and the design was traditional even by the standards of the day. Essentially, it was a timber skeleton covered in cloth. Formers cut from plywood sat laterally; these were joined longitudinally by timber spars and over the whole was stretched a covering of plasticised cloth (which, if we’d thought much about it, was likely to tear at the first encounter with anything more substantial than a floating twig). The first task was to cut out the plywood formers, and it was at this point that the whole enterprise all but foundered. Working from paper templates, the shapes were duly marked out on plywood sheets, but for some reason our leaders decided that, rather than cut directly along the lines with a power jigsaw, we’d cut the shapes roughly leaving a border of three-eighths of an inch or so and file the rest away by hand, using a surform. Let’s see, that’s a linear edge to the former of perhaps three feet, inside and out – that works out to about 27 square inches of five-eighths ply to be filed away by hand, per former. No easy task.

So, on the one hand we were told about the excitement of building and paddling our canoe; on the other hand we faced the reality of endless evenings filing, and filing, and filing… and getting nowhere. Now, to rebellious teenage lads, it’s uncool (although that term hadn’t been invented then) to obey authority, so even otherwise pleasant tasks become a chore when carried out under the direction of an adult, and so it wasn’t long before this “exciting project” turned, in our eyes, into yet another boring activity dreamed up by the grown-ups as a way of keeping us out of trouble for one evening a week. One evening, after I’d been particularly morose about the tasks at hand, one of the leaders took me aside for an earnest conversation; he just couldn’t fathom why we were all so unenthusiastic, and I suppose as I was in general more cooperative and enthusiastic than most, if I was so glum about it all then there must have been something seriously wrong somewhere. I hadn’t the clarity of thought though to explain that our activities were a million miles removed from the vision in his mind of our craft afloat on some idyllic expedition paddling down a river somewhere; all I could say was “It’s boring”, which was after all the plain truth. File, file, file; rasp, rasp, rasp; noise, aching muscles and nil progress.

We’ve been going through a major reorganisation at work, for the best part of a year now, and it has some uncomfortable parallels with that canoe building exercise, although since we’re all grown-ups the dynamics appear, on the face of it, a little different to those of the rebellious youths and their leaders. Launched with a Grand Vision, in spite of much activity the realisation of that vision seems as far away as ever. Those charged with implementing the changes give all the appearance of driving that change forward; there’s much noise and activity, a fair amount of struggle, some genuinely hard work and long hours put in by some, but is what’s been achieved taking us any closer to our goal?

Just as the vision of the canoe carried real promise, so too did the vision of the changes intended at work. But somewhere along the line, the implementation hasn’t matched up to the intent, and all the efforts seem to have something in common with filing those canoe formers – grind, grind, grind; activity, struggle, noise, but it’s not clear whether it’s taking us any closer to that goal.

I can’t help thinking that there must be an easier way. There was with that canoe.
But I don’t think anyone here has ever built a canoe before, or even knows what one looks like.

And for anyone who is interested, I believe the leaders eventually finished the canoe themselves and gave it a token maiden voyage, after which it gathered dust amongst the rafters of the hut. It wouldn’t be the first time a leadership initiative went that way either.

When the adrenalin cuts out 

I must have been more tired than I thought, or less able to cope with a short but uninterrupted spell of intense activity, or both. Only now, a week after it’s over, am I getting back onto anything approaching an even keel.

Starting Saturday a fortnight ago, my diary went like this:

Saturday – Drive to Nottingham to collect my son and his belongings, home from university for Easter.

Sunday – Usual weekend chores, plus 5 hours of rehearsal for the show for which I’m playing bass guitar. Twenty-something song and dance numbers from musicals ranging from South Pacific to Chicago.

Monday – A normal work day, but filled with last-minute preparations for the week ahead.

Tuesday – Take the train to Cardiff, work from midday to midnight running engineering tests, then crash out in a hotel bed, too tired to sleep, and end up watching Star Trek until gone 1am

Wednesday – Home again, work in the afternoon, show dress rehearsal in the evening, bed at midnight.

Thursday – a re-run of Tuesday, only this time at Bristol, and with some glitches which mean we don’t finish until half past midnight. No Star Trek this time round though.

Friday – Train home, more work, and the show in the evening.

Saturday – Drive to Leeds (taking great pleasure in Radio 4’s Saturday morning schedule) to collect my daughter, also home for the Easter break. A 360 mile round trip, with the show again in the evening.

Sunday – No memory of Sunday whatsoever. I believe it may have involved sleeping late and moping zombie-like around the house.

Monday – Decide that it’s been far too long since I cycled to work, so pedal the 30 mile round trip. Lycra-clad legs cause raised eyebrows in the lift…

Wednesday – Bike again, with the added delight of a puncture. Eventually give in to tiredness – in bed at 9.30pm and again on Thursday and Friday.

Today – go shopping for a few things in addition to the normal groceries; must have spent 45 minutes dithering over the choice of a new notebook, totally incapable of weighing up even those trivial options and coming to a decision. [Aside: decided eventually to treat myself to a rather nice leather-bound book with, believe it or not, pastel rainbow-coloured pages!]

It sounds innocuous enough; I’d have shrugged it off easily twenty years ago. This time though, I hadn’t bargained for the level of mental and emotional exhaustion. Everything seemed fine until after the show; I guess I’d been running on pure adrenalin or some such. Whilst the pressure was on I seemed to be functioning okay, but once the pressure was off, I just folded into an amoeba-like blob of invertebrate jelly, with about the same degree of mental functionality.

It probably didn’t help that proper meals were few and far between that week. All in all, the lesson is clear – mind and spirit need proper rest, care and maintenance just as much as body does.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Another age 

Thanks to John Baker for a link to a site containing some wonderful photos of a time in our social history which on the one hand seems only yesterday, but on the other seems also to belong to another age.

This one's my favourite, albeit from the point of view of photography rather than of social history.

Plenty more where that one came from.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A long way from here... 

I had a completely different post all lined up, but couldn't bring myself to subject the world to yet more self-pitying, self-loathing navel gazing. So since I can't find anything much worth saying, and not having taken a photo in weeks, here's an offering from the slide archives, dating back to 1996:

Amazing what a bit of touching up can do. In absolute terms it may not look much, but relative to the original, wouldn't you say there's a worthwhile improvement?

Here's the original scan of the 10 year old slide:

I think this is taken from Green Gable, looking along Ennerdale.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Is this all there is? 

There’s a question that’s been nagging at me more and more lately; a constant muttering of voices in the background, taking every opportunity slyly to slip this question in front of me:

Is this all there is?

Is what all there is? What was I expecting instead? If truth be told, I think I still believed in a fairy godmother, one who one day would wave a magic wand and make everything all right; one who would tell me why I’m here and show me the way to fulfil that purpose.

Can it really have taken 51 years for the penny finally to drop that there are no fairy godmothers, no benign omniscience ready to reward good intentions and noble efforts?

I was playing – or attempting to play – through some of the music from Les Miserables on the piano this morning, then thumbing through the synopsis of the story, accompanied by photos from the stage show. Images of the haves and the have nots; riches and rags; noble intentions and utter depravity, and precious little in between. Yet this life as lived out in my immediate surroundings seems only to have the in-between-ness, with none of those extremes. Only blandness and equilibrium: few open wounds of suffering, but rarely any deep joy; little pain, but no relief; no crime but no forgiveness either; few angry words but even fewer reconciliations. Life lived out in a narrow zone of relative comfort, without extremes; all muted pastel shades with no primary colours.

Even thoughts become constrained to occupy a narrow band of conservatism and safety. No depths of despair, but no mountain-top highs either. I know that, on a global scale, I’m well off, so if I start to feel sorry for myself it’s not too hard to put a stop to that kind of train of thought, so that I don’t slide too far down the hill. Well, the part that keeps control doesn’t, anyway. But equally, I don’t get far up the hill either. Moments of inspiration lift me a little, but before long the momentum is lost, gravity takes over, and I’m back in this middle ground of vacuity.

Is this all there is?

Maybe; maybe not. But if there is more, which way is it? Up amongst the haves or down with the have nots?

And is the answer any different if we’re talking about spiritual haves and have nots, as opposed to the material? The answer, if there is one, is far from obvious.