Monday, October 30, 2006

Who’s who? 

I’ve finished the task for the evening - first top coat of paint in the shower room. I’ve been redecorating our bedroom over the last couple of weeks; we had the attic converted to provide a bedroom with en suite shower room a dozen years ago, and it was due a new carpet, a change of wallpaper and a lick of paint. The new carpet comes on Friday, so I had a deadline.

That’s always the way; always things to be done that can’t not be done. These few weeks it’s been decorating, next week it’ll be something else; there’s always something that needs doing, something to fill the hours which aren’t spent working or sleeping. I know I create these pressures for myself, so I can’t blame anyone – and I don’t want to blame anyone. No-one forces this schedule on me; I choose it for myself. I guess it gives me a sense of achievement.

I know the things I write here may seem to create the impression that I’m griping about all manner of things in my life, but it isn’t really like that. Outside of work, everything is pretty much fine – not perfect, room for improvement, but I’m reasonably content. Sure, I’d like to have more time and energy for reading and writing – oh, and photography, and hillwalking and philosophising and… and… and just relaxing. But if they mattered enough, I’d do something about it, wouldn’t I? It is, after all, within my power to do so.

Yet whenever I sit down to put pen to paper, all that comes out is a string of woes. It’s as though I have an alter ego with a huge chip on his shoulder whose only way out is into my journal or through this keyboard. He takes over whenever he gets the chance, but I get sick of hearing him whine so journal entries are becoming few and far between. Blog posts are becoming that way too.

Question is, is he Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?


This is happening far too often. Something at work that ought to be a simple task and I’m totally incapable of taking useful action to complete it - or even to start it. I fidget and fret and try to think, but my brain just refuses to function in any kind of structured way.

The latest instance of this ought to be laughably simple – a 10 minute job, no more, to write a few words for a briefing document, describing the progress of a particular project. But its like trying to pick up a bar of soap from the floor of the shower whilst wearing boxing gloves. I only have to touch the edge of a thought and it scoots away from me, leaving me empty handed – and empty headed. Whichever way I look, thoughts, ideas, words fly away when they see me coming; I’m surrounded by a void.

This short paragraph is going to take me all day to write – and I have to do it today – yet I still have an overloaded task list…

Update: Its done. Looks so simple now; it would be worth trying to analyse just what was causing the block.

Update 2: That paragraph I was sweating over so much just got me a compliment on being able to write good English... Oh well, I guess the sweat was worth it... But why do I put myself through it all?

Friday, October 27, 2006


It was Fred's post that reminded me. A natural garden, full of colour, "planted by no one, for everybody".

Mine is a little more subdued colour-wise, by comparison. But entirely in keeping with the local landscape, dominated by the grey of limestone and the green of grass.

I was walking down a Yorkshire lane in the early summer of this year; or rather, I was hurrying a little - the walk out had led over open moors, the way back was alongside a river, but those two paths were linked by this short section of tarmac road; I would just as soon leave this reminder of 21st century humanity behind.

Chances were though that the dry stone walls by the side of the road had been there for many more years than the tarmac. They were a reminder of an earlier age when humankind's relationship with the landscape was more about maintaining a balance between equals - sometimes harmonious, sometimes an uneasy truce - than it was about an attempt by one to dominate the other.

As I strode down the road, I was brought up short by the sight of this little garden adorning the wall. Although the wall bordered a field and the flowers were close to a gate, there was nothing to suggest they'd been deliberately planted - such plants were present at any number of spots along the way; this just happened to be a particular concentration of them.

I'm afraid the photo doesn't do them justice. The harmonious assemblage of colour and form and texture - flower and foliage and moss and stone - had as much beauty as any garden; more so in fact, for being spontaneous and unplanned. Evolutionary you might say; perfectly adapted and filling - quite literally - a niche.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


It’s 6.15pm, I’m sitting in the office, and I ought to be well on my home. I’m still here ‘cause the battery on my bike is flat, ‘cause some joker decided to turn the heated grips on while it was parked in the secure underground car park.

Why, you may well ask, do they work when the ignition is off? Surely they should be wired from an ignition-controlled source? Because the dealer hadn’t fitted them properly, that’s why. Funny thing is, they’ve been fine ever since May – no-one was tempted to fiddle with them all that time, but it just so happened that this afternoon I booked the bike in for a service and told them to fix the wiring problem at the same time.

I work in an open plan office; calls are easily overheard. Am I being unduly suspicious, or is it more than just coincidence that of the 150 days or so since I’ve had the bike, Mr (or Ms) joker picks the one day when the office is aware of the potential to perform this little prank?

Now I understand why all those staff surveys always conclude that there’s a singular lack of trust in this place…

Update:-8.10pm and I'm home now. The AA came remarkably quickly - only about 40 minutes after I called them - and did an excellent job, once I'd persuaded security to let him in (a non-trivial task). To cap it all though, the lens fell out of my driving glasses as I went to put them on; the varifocals I wear the rest of the time are okay, but peripheral vision isn't as good with them. Reckon I'd better sit tight and do nothing for the rest of the evening - that's two hiccups in the smooth flow of life; I wonder what the third will be?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A room with a view 

I admit the view wasn't quite as dramatic as this, but not having anything else to post I was browsing through the snaps from our summer holiday, and wondered what this one would look like with some enhancement.

And no; much as I would have liked to have been, I wasn't half way up a similar mountain; this was simply snapped from the hotel balcony.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Real world? 

I have a weird sense of humour. I came across this joke, as you do, whilst googling for something almost-but-not-quite completely different, and found it laugh-out-loud funny:

A Physics professor has been doing an experiment, and has worked out an emphirical equation that seems to explain his data. He asks the math professor to look at it.

A week later, the math professor says the equation is invalid. By then, the physics professor has used his equation to predict the results of further experiments, and he is getting excellent results, so he asks the math professor to look again.

Another week goes by, and they meet once more. The math professor tells the physics professor the equation does work, "But only in the trivial case where the numbers are real and positive."

I can't think of a more succinct explanation of the difference between maths and physics (the joke may have come from an American site, but I'm British, can you tell?) Trouble is, only mathematicians and physicists would get it. Oh well... Like I said, I have a weird sense of humour. Normal service (or what passes for it) will be resumed as soon as possible...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Human paradoxes 

My mind hardly feels my own any more. Almost every moment of every day, or so it feels, its contents and processes are prescribed; my mind has become a low-grade thinking tool, a computer running processes operated by mouse clicks from invisible hands elsewhere. Even in moments of down time, when those clicking fingers are still for a moment, my CPU simply lies dormant, empty, waiting only to respond to the next coded instruction.


I took a different route home the other day, past a shop I wanted to visit. The route took me along the North Circular – one of London’s busiest roads. There were huge tailbacks; easing my motorbike through the gaps between the lanes I eventually came upon the cause – five lanes of traffic condensed into one, as police guided traffic around the aftermath of an accident. Lying across two lanes lay the scattered remnants of a smashed motorcycle, surrounded by four or five police cars, blue lights flashing.

I felt nothing; no emotion at all. It seemed unlikely that the motorcyclist could have survived amidst such carnage, yet there I was, not yards from the spot, passing by on my own motorcycle with no reaction whatsoever. Perhaps I was just closing my mind to what had happened there; perhaps I just didn’t care; perhaps my mind was already too full to hold the weight of care; perhaps part of me simply accepted this as a statistical representation of the inevitable consequences of motorcycling.


On Sunday night I watched the final episode of the BBC’s new dramatisation of Jane Eyre. I first read this at school, and it had quite an effect on an impressionable teenager – my first real taste of what romantic love is. (Curiously, it didn’t seem to matter that it was written from the woman’s perspective). This dramatisation was as close to my remembrance of the original as I could imagine; I cried - tears of pure emotion - at more than one point of the book, and those tears flowed again watching the TV version, especially in that moment when Jane and Mr Rochester first openly declare the power and depth their love for each other.


How is it then, that I can be emotionless when faced with a real life tragedy, yet shed tears over fiction? We are paradoxical creatures indeed…

Friday, October 13, 2006

All the true vows 

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,

it wants to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way you’ll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

~ David Whyte ~

Courtesy of the Panhala poetry group.

Easy to read, harder to grasp; harder still to enact.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I feel as though I owe people an apology. So few blogs read, so few comments made, so little written here. Or maybe it’s me to whom I owe the apology?

I scribbled down the thoughts below a couple of weeks ago when I was trying to explore in my journal (something else I haven’t done much of lately) what my hidden motives might be for the way I was behaving. It all seemed too long-winded to post though; I was vaguely intending to rework it but I know that'll never happen, so here, by way of partial explanation for not being altogether here, it is...


How many people on their deathbed say “I wish I’d spent more time at the office?”

I seem to be behaving as though I’m fearful of actually being counted amongst those who might really say that. A few months ago I made a deliberate decision to become more engaged in my job – maybe not to the extent of spending huge amounts more time in the office, but at least being fully present to my work for the time I do spend there.

If you’ve read what I’ve written or implied here about my work, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m barking mad. Haven’t I said - perhaps even in these very words – that work - its pettiness, irrelevance, worthlessness - is killing my soul?

This change in attitude arose, I think, out of a deep instinct for self-preservation. Deeper perhaps than logic or even than feeling; one of those directions we take without necessarily being able to articulate exactly why, but just knowing that we need to go there. Now, a few months down the line, I can begin to identify the needs that were shaping that instinct – twin needs for identity and self-esteem.

Self esteem surely must be high on the list of factors necessary for mental well-being; if you don’t believe in your own value, your own intrinsic worth, you open the door to all kinds of demons to torment and abuse you. But where does self esteem come from? I wish I knew a simple answer to that. What I do know is that if you don’t have it, or if it is weak or damaged, any source which bolsters it is good.

I suppose it would be better for the source to be internal, if I didn’t need some form of daily reassurance that I’m an okay kind of guy. It doesn’t take much – a smile, a touch, a few words of acknowledgement; I’ve learned how to appreciate these things, how to make a little go a long way. But that need for external validation seems to be the way I’m made; I guess the source of that is way back somewhere in my upbringing, but that’s history mostly forgotten and in any case unchangeable.

I can see how it developed though and became they key to my early identity. At primary school, I was always bright academically but not outstanding (except in spelling, I seem to remember…). Never any good at sports or team games; I had very good craft skills but wasn’t “artistic”. At secondary school, I got good marks, but I wasn’t top of the class. Not to begin with. Somewhere along the line though, I learned the skill of passing exams and began to get exceptionally high marks; all of a sudden, I wasn’t invisible any more; I had an identity – something I could do that others couldn’t. The feeling of success and recognition was like a drug, and I became an addict. Before long, there was open (albeit friendly) competition – who could come top in most subjects; who could get the highest aggregate marks?

It was at this time that I was thrown out by the group of friends I was with. There was some pretext which I can’t remember, but I never believed it was the real reason. All I knew was that I’d been ostracised and I couldn’t understand why. I tagged along with another group. An odd mix – intellectual, anarchic, unconventional, free-thinking and with an intellectual’s disdain for rule-based authority. And smart enough not to get caught.

My marks in exams got better and better, excelling in maths and science and good right across the board – straight ‘A’s. The die was cast; my identity became tied up in those results – in other words, in external validation. All seemed to be going swimmingly, with an entrance exhibition (one step below a scholarship) to Cambridge University.

The first year seemed to go well enough; it wasn’t easy, but I thought I was managing okay. In the no-mans-land between taking the end-of-year- exams and getting the results, I fantasised about which one of my subjects I might have got a first in.

Any such thoughts were fantasy indeed. I got lower seconds in all of them. Very ordinary average or below average marks. I went from being top dog at school to feeling like an also-ran. I never recovered from that, either in the results – solid 2.2 throughout my time there - or in how I felt about them. I’d gone to Cambridge with a fascination for astronomy and with vague thoughts of doing post-graduate work in that field. But a good first was the minimum qualification; I lost interest overnight and wanted only to get of academia as soon as I could.

A Cambridge degree might have been the springboard to a successful career, but I never did find an identity in work; no career, no vocation, just a succession of jobs. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though – I may have found no identity in work, but I did discover it in parenthood, and for the last 25 years being a father to my children has, more than anything else, defined who I am.

But they’re virtually grown up now. We’re still very close as a family, but we’ve also encouraged self-sufficiency and independence - the oldest is only with us whilst he saves up enough to put down as a deposit on a place of his own; the next one, in Kenya at the moment, will be moving away in a few months; only our youngest remains nominally at home - and she’s currently away at music college.

So as one by one they leave, so too that particular part of my identity fades into the background. Still there; always there; but no longer holding the central, defining place. And I’m left once more wondering who I am and why I’m here. I look around and take stock of what I’ve got: a secure marriage, a collection of interests, another collection of commitments, and a job. Which of these can define who I am, can create a new post-fatherhood identity for myself?

Rightly or wrongly, I decided to try the job, at least in the short to medium term. I could not go on telling myself how much I hated the job, how much I wanted out, how worthless it all was. It wasn’t the job that was killing me – it was all those messages I was sending myself. So, given that the job occupies the largest single portion of my life, a fact which wasn’t going to change overnight (and which would in any case would require a step-change in confidence in order to make it change) the first step to a healthier self-image was to begin to believe in myself and in what I do here.

I know I’m walking a tightrope though. I have to remind myself never to forget that this commitment to work is only a means to an end; a necessary stepping stone on the path to recovery. Swallow the medicine, but don’t become dependant on it, or addicted to it. It would be all too easy to get caught up in organisational games; I might even be re-educated to the point where, like Orwell’s Winston Smith in 1984, I love Big Brother.



Two days later, and the remnants of Sunday's high still dominate my feelings. On Sunday I was playing bass guitar in the first performance of a new show. It's based on the biblical Psalms and it’s a mix of music and drama presenting some timeless themes of human experience in a highly personal way. It’s been written by Robert Barham, a friend of a friend with a considerable talent not only for writing catchy tunes but also for putting them together into show which is far more than the mere sum of the parts.

We raised a considerable sum for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, and we’ll be taking the show “on tour” as it were, at churches and community venues around this corner of the UK - perhaps a dozen performances over the next 6 months or so.

It was wonderful to be doing something I enjoy so much, in the company of people I respect and admire, and with a purpose so worthwhile on two counts – both the fundraising and the reflections on aspects of life stimulated in the minds of the audience - apparently there were tears at some points.

I always feel at home with other musicians. I don’t know whether it’s simply the knowledge that we share an understanding of music and a love of making it which creates the bond between us, or whether having music in the blood derives from something deeper, and it’s that shared deeper something which connects us.

Indeed, not unlike connections between bloggers.

Like I said, I'm still on a high; my energy and being are still directed towards the music, the people, the feelings of belonging, of fulfilment. Oh, and Robert was very complimentary about my bass playing too :-) It's not easy to engage in work right now.

And to cap it all, tonight I heard of a very exciting musical opportunity just around the corner...

Monday, October 09, 2006

I learned something new today... 

I learned how much rain it takes to saturate my leather motorcycling jeans... and that the dye comes out when they get that wet. Better take a shower before I go to bed... :-)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Crystallography and creation 

Behind lies a sheet of ice, interlocking crystals of frozen water having structure, shape, form.

Ahead, out in the open ocean, all is movement and change; waves swell and subside, never repeating the same pattern in complex, chaotic, multi-patterned flow.

And at the margin of the ice, a place that has no dimensions because it can only be described as the meeting of two other spaces, an act of creation is taking place. Fixed molecules of water bound in crystals of ice exert an attraction over their still free cousins; individual molecules of water leave the freedom of the ocean and connect with the frozen margin; and so the ice sheet grows.

The ice is our collective past; the ocean, our future. The edge is our present and those molecules of water as they leave the ocean and become fixed into the crystal lattice are our choices. Together, we build a growing structure out of the fluid possibilities of the future.

Close by the edge of the ice the number of water molecules is large, but finite. There’s a limit to the possible ways in which the edge grows. The ice crystals can’t stretch out to sea and pull a water molecule from far out in the ocean; only those at the very edge can cross the margin from fluid to solid; from future to past. The further out you go – the further into the future – the greater the possibilities as to where any particular molecule of that future will end up.

So it is with our choices. Only in the present do we have choice; only in that moment squeezed out of time – beyond past, but not yet future – have we any true freedom of choice.

There’s no way of telling for sure, in the present, how a choice today is going to affect tomorrow; how this or that molecule freezing out of the ocean into the crystal lattice is subtly altering the ocean’s fluid form and influencing shapes yet to come into being.

We can only make the best choices we can here and now.


Thanks to Christy – these thoughts inspired by her comment to my previous post.

Friday, October 06, 2006

No guardian angels 

I’ll probably lose the few (two?) readers I have left with this, but what the hell. It’s what’s been bouncing round in my mind lately so it might as well have an airing. Publish and be damned, I say.

If the fancy took me, I could decide on the way home one night to point my motorbike a few degrees off course, head it towards a concrete bridge support and open the throttle wide. It wouldn’t take much; not physically. Just a tiny, almost insignificant action - a minor movement of a few wrist muscles, a slight shift of balance - but no guardian angel could alter the inevitable consequence that seconds later my head would slam into concrete at 90mph, my neck would snap and that would be that.

Just as well then that I’m not feeling suicidal. But equally simple decisions can have effects almost as dramatic, sending life forever down a different path. Just because the path isn’t a dead-end doesn’t make the choice any easier to undo. And the guardian angels remain just as powerless to intervene.

I used to subscribe firmly to the view that things generally work out for the best. I still do believe that you can usually find good in a situation if you go looking for it, but I’m beginning to appreciate the difference between ‘good’ and ‘best’. They may be on the same scale, but they can be worlds apart.

They say that The Universe cooperates in creating the future you strive for. Well, that cuts both ways; the universe exhibits neither beneficence nor malevolence. You can strive for something special or by not striving you can choose the default option; you can choose the high road or the low road - the universe doesn’t care. So if you choose to cut yourself off from yourself, from your being, your purpose, your destiny, no-one is going to stand in your way.

If you’re thinking of doing something dumb with your future, get this: there are no white knights in shining armour waiting to rescue you; no Gandalf-like wizards who will appear at your side to point out your folly and to guide back to the path of your destiny; no guardian angels to protect you from the consequences of your own stupidity. Sages may happen by with words of wisdom, but no-one will point them out to you or compel you to listen. You want to screw up? Give up on yourself? Fine, go ahead; the universe won’t stand in your way. Probably won’t even do so much as watch from the sidelines, sadly shaking its head at the loss; the universe won’t even notice.

The full extent of freedom of choice, if we could truly see it for what it is, would be frightening – as frightening and as easy to enact as slamming into that concrete bridge at some insane speed. Since there are no guardian angels, we have to provide our own protection, so we build high strong walls of excuses to protect ourselves from the horrors of free choice; we kid ourselves that we’re firmly bound with ropes of circumstances to keep us from the edge of the vertiginous drop at our feet. Sometimes slavery feels preferable to truly free choice. It must do – we choose it often enough.

You’re on your own: the choice is yours and yours alone. But sitting on the sidelines watching isn’t an option: if you don’t swim, you’ll sink – it’s up to you.

What do you really want?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fairy dust 

This, published today, is one book that is going straight on my Amazon wish-list.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

OBNW = insanity? straightjacket? 

Referrer logs do throw up some moments of entertainment... I wonder, could there be hidden significance in the fact that OBNW is Google #2 for "A nice little room with cushy white walls insane straightjacket"

Sunday, October 01, 2006


As Crocodile Dundee might have said, were he a photographer:
"You call that a lens? That ain't a lens; this is a lens..."