Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Granny Path 

They call it the Granny Path. It’s only a couple of miles; not much different to an afternoon spent in a shopping mall. But no shopping mall ever had views like this:

It’s probably the easiest of all high alpine walks – a cable car whisks you to Mannlichen at 2,229 meters...

...with stunning views down into the Lauterbrunnen valley...

...then there’s a gentle, slightly downhill stroll for about 4.5km over well made paths to Kleine Scheidegg at 2,061 metres, with awe-inspiring views of the Eiger north face...

...and a mountain railway to take you back down into the valley.

But in spite of its short distance and easy reputation, it’s a path that will hold very special memories for me. It’s one that I walked with my wife.

What’s so special about that? Well, in recent years, walking – anywhere - has become a real challenge for her. It’s a long story, of chronic pain, battling with the health service to get a proper diagnosis, two major spinal operations and ongoing consultations, eventually with one of the country’s top orthopaedic surgeons. Maybe one day I’ll set it all down here as one example of how our once-vaunted National Health Service is crumbling and barely able to function. Four years down the line from the night on which she woke in sudden, acute and totally inexplicable pain, the upshot is that in her left leg she now has no reflexes and almost no feeling, and no expectation of the damaged nerves ever re-growing.

Thankfully though, at least the nerves that drives the muscles are, for the most part, fine so walking is possible, but not easy. Short, level walks are feasible for her – but uphill is a real struggle. You can’t get very far though, even in the relatively flat British countryside, without encountering hills, so our walks together are limited, and the difficulty – and the risk of more pain and immobility the following day - mean it has to be obviously worthwhile in order to make the effort.

But easy access to high mountain paths opens up possibilities that we just don’t have at home. So it was a real joy for me – for both of us - to be able to share one of my greatest pleasures – mountain walking.

It may have been short, but it was certainly sweet.

I posted the first of these pictures yesterday, but with only the briefest of explanations. It deserved more, so that post has gone, to be replaced by this one.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Sometimes the most profound truths can appear simple and obvious once you’ve recognised them, yet their impact if explored fully can be nothing less than life changing.

This post by Rob Paterson might very well fall into that category.

It’s quite a long post and it's not easy to find an extract that does justice to the whole; perhaps the best way is just to show this diagram and the few words which precede it as a taster of what it’s all about:
"I never experienced these feelings about being loved, about loving another, feeling safe and feeling strong in my corporate life. I never felt safe enough to be the whole me. I was always weak and anxious as a result.


Toke and Chris provided me with a map that is helping me find the answer to that question."

If you’ve ever felt ill at ease with the shallow, trust-less relationships that so characterise most corporations and yearned for something more fulfilling (as readers here will know I have done, and still do) then Rob’s words and the model he describes will not only ring true but may also be a source of inspiration for change.

Knowledge is, of course, worthless unless it produces an effect of some kind. I’m hoping I can hang onto this particular piece of insight long enough for it to bear fruit. Even at 51, with two thirds of my working life already past, I'm still convinced that there must be a better use for all those hours and energy than simply exchanging them for money in order to pay the bills. Isn't there?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Whither blogging? 

I’ve never had any particular theme for this blog; I never really felt it needed one. Not until now, anyway. For a long time it seemed to find its own way quite happily without any deliberate effort on my part to guide it, but now it’s struggling. Unless I can find some form or structure or purpose or meaning - for it, or in it, or through it – I fear it will wither into nothingness, taking with it the part of me that found some meaning here.

So what are the options?

Politics – I can dismiss that one easily. Sure, Bush is an asshole and Blair is a megalomaniac, but the world must already have several thousand blogs saying much the same thing; I’ll spare the world another…

Place – True, many of the blogs I most enjoy could be called place blogs, and at first sight London might seem a promising theme, but a suburban semi, a characterless modern office and a narrow corridor of tarmac between the two hardly epitomises the buzzing metropolis.

Personal – To be a successful diarist you need at least one of two things - an intrinsically interesting life, or the ability to present an ordinary life in an interesting way. Guess that counts me out then.

Photo – Okay, that’s a possibility. Could be sparse though; until a few days ago, I’d only put a couple of new shots on Flickr in the last couple of months.

I hadn’t planned it this way, but the ‘P’ theme seems set to continue. I should have subtitled this “to P or not to P…”

Philosophy – Now that’s getting closer to what I’d like, but I find my capacity for philosophising severely impaired these days. Even humble musing has taken a back seat.

Poetry – Nice idea, but that’d be even more sparse than a photo-blog; perhaps less than one in a hundred posts here have been attempts at poetry, received by the world with an embarrassed silence. In spite of that, I may yet try again – but it wont sustain a blog.

Prose - Okay, I only put that in as it was the obvious ‘P’ to follow poetry. It’s a catch-all heading; nevertheless, the idea of ad-hoc ‘articles’ on anything under the sun is appealing. No time though; I need a simpler, quicker format… unless perhaps I spend more time on fewer, longer posts? That might work…

Preach – Not my style.

Professional – Ha! What profession?

Psyche – That worked once, when my psyche got a regular weekly exhumation through counselling, but it seems to be a closed book now.

Piffle, Poppycock – Is that all that’s left?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Tipping point? 

Last time I filled the tank on my (diesel) car, it cost nearly £50. I’d think twice about spending that on a new pair of trainers every other year, yet I routinely pour that amount into my fuel tank every other week.

How long before a tankful tops £100? Then £200?

Rob Paterson in his blog today looks back to a chilling view of the future he penned 10 months ago, which opens like this:

“Imagine it is 2010 - you live in the suburbs of a big city. You teach at York University. Gas prices are about $8.00 a litre (The China factor) and are just going up to $12 as the coup in Saudi Arabia has taken Saudi oil off the market. You wonder how you are going to cope…”

The story develops as Rob paints a detailed picture describing the far-reaching impact on everyday life of this simple change, and it makes for thought-provoking reading.

One thing in particular struck me. Society – in the developed world – depends at all levels of its operation on transportation, and if, for whatever reason, transportation is no longer readily (i.e. economically) available, society will undergo some dramatic changes.

You might debate the timescale in Rob’s story – 2010 is very near – but to do so rather misses a key point.

There’s a critical question in all this which is probably impossible to answer – is there a tipping point? In the stimulus-response relationship, as the stimulus – e.g. fuel cost - changes gradually, does the response also change gradually, or does there come a point at which the response undergoes accelerated change to a new state of semi-equilibrium?

Back in the 1970s, all sorts of doom and gloom was forecast as oil prices shot skywards, yet the world carried on largely as before; although the equilibrium may have shifted a little, the new equilibrium was not so very far from the old. For a while, fuel economy became the most significant factor in new car advertisements, but these days motorists have adapted to higher fuel costs; mpg figures hardly feature in the ads and although I haven’t looked up the statistics my guess is that the ratio of sales high performance cars to fuel efficient cars is probably much as it was 40 years ago. Sure, a lot of development work has gone into improving fuel efficiency, but essentially our car buying and using habits haven’t changed significantly. Those who want speed and power and the opportunity to be ostentatious are prepared to pay for it.

But will that continue? Will we simply carry on adjusting our personal budgets in proportion, or is there a tipping point where the increased cost of transportation results in wholesale changes to the way in which everyone, from individuals to corporations, manages their business?

Rob’s scenario is that there is a tipping point. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. But if there is, it could easily be just around the corner, and things could look very different just a few short years from now. I wonder what other factors have the potential to upset the apple cart of society’s complex web of inter-related systems?

Thanks, Rob, for a deeply thought-provoking piece.

How to help a person to see what they may be about to see 

"If you think (and it’s very unpopular to think so at present) of the poet as an agent of society and as a servant of the language, why, then, what the poet does all the time is to see what ideas and what words are alive, and, insofar as he can, to go right to the center of the words that represent the things that are vexing us. Now, if you do that, you’re bound to make things happen, because you’ll help people to clarify their feelings. They’ll have to know, a little better, what it is that they’re feeling. The path from that kind of clarification to action is not necessarily an immediate one. You don’t necessarily read a poem and pick up the telephone. But something you might call "tonalizing" does occur, a preparation to feel in a certain way, and consequently to act in a certain way. That does occur, I think, when you read a poem which goes to the words that are bothering you. I suppose you can’t expect, by means of a poem, to produce a perfect volte face in anybody; that would be very presumptuous; even a propagandist doesn’t expect to do that; but you can help a man to see what he may be about to see."

Richard Wilbur
(From Conversations with Richard Wilbur).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Drawing a line 

This blog needs to change.

I haven’t figured out what it needs to change into though.

When I have, I’ll let you know.

Until then, I’m drawing a line under what’s gone before.

Correction, make that a line above what's gone before, owing to the reverse-chronological nature of blogs.

(At this juncture, it’d be nice to find a suitably symbolic photo of a line. Unfortunately I don’t have one. Oh well…)


Mind-body complexity 

If 20th July's post was about an “Ah-Ha!” moment, then this one is definitely more like a “Doh!” Moment.

I’ve been feeling decidedly out of sorts for several weeks now, but couldn’t put my finger on any specific causes. The symptoms are mostly those of depression and have been beginning to worry me a little, but I’ve avoided using the D-word; after all, I don’t have any real right to be depressed, do I?

But whatever I might label this feeling, I think the penny has finally dropped as to its likely source. Up until mid May I was cycling 30 miles a day, 2 or 3 days a week. But since getting the motorbike, I take almost zero exercise. That’s a pretty significant change to the mind-body system. And if exercise therapy is a tried and tested treatment for depression, isn’t it also reasonable that sudden cessation of regular exercise might result in depression-like symptoms?

My intention was always that I’d continue to cycle perhaps one day a week, but as chance would have it, the week before I got the motorbike, the back wheel on my push-bike developed a crack at the edge of the rim. Heavy braking on gritty roads scores fine grooves around the rim, which concentrate the stresses as the rim wall flexes under braking loads and eventually results in metal fatigue in the weakened area.

I must get that new back wheel; in the complex web of cause and effect, it could do my mind a lot of good.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

True nature 

The office in which I work spend my weekdays is a typical ultra-modern, steel and concrete and aluminium and glass affair, scoring zero on architectural merit, but depressingly high on a rudimentary sort of functionality – a plain box constructed almost entirely from unbroken horizontal and vertical lines and plain rectangular surfaces. The only non-conformist deviation from this excess of linearity is the curved circumference of the naked concrete pillars which thrust their way through each open-plan floor from foundation to roof.

Even the so-called landscaped area outside the building continues – rather unnecessarily - that strictly linear, regulated pattern. It’s as though the very space is subdivided by an invisible grid to which every tangible object must conform – everything is at right angles and formed from hard flat surfaces; even the planters containing trees and hedges and grasses. The greenery may give an illusion of life, but it feels sterile – the soil is only a few feet deep, contained in sunken boxes below which is the concrete slab roof of the underground car park.

Yet looking out of my fourth floor window across to the lower roof of the adjacent block, I can see perhaps fifty feet away, growing out of the grating of a rainwater gully running across the flat roof, that most tenacious of wild shrubs – a buddleia. Their ability to thrive in the most improbable of situations defies belief; alongside a railway line you might see a ten foot tree-wannabe sprouting out of the face of a seemingly sheer brick wall.

It is incongruous, unexpected, random, anarchic – and gloriously, defiantly alive. Even with its roots barely holding together the most impoverished crumbs of dirt to trap and hold moisture and nourishment, it’s more alive than the regimented rows of hand-planted specimens in their hand-tended beds below. If – perish the thought – my gaze should stray from my VDU out into the world beyond, at this time of year there’s a good chance I’ll spot a bee or a butterfly continuing the processes of life in this most lifeless of spots, sublimely ignorant of the precarious nature of the foothold which their nectar-supply has established for itself.

It’s curiously comforting to see how life has established itself in this sterile landscape. I really do hope no-one from facilities management is sufficiently zealous to go out there with the weedkiller spray. It’d be like losing an old friend; some days I feel as though I fit here just about as well as that buddleia. I could stretch the metaphor further, noting that in spite of the apparent unsuitability of the environment, the buddleia is nonetheless sustained and survives, to a degree, and having put down roots there, however inappropriate to its true nature, it’d have a hard time relocating now. But metaphors aren’t reality. Then again, isn’t the true nature of a buddleia to survive and grow regardless?