Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thoughts of a dry brain 

Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.

So begins Eliot’s poem Gerontion. It’s prefaced by these words:
Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.

Those lines resonate, although the rest of the poem is not easy.

I can claim nor youth nor age, yet sometimes I feel a weariness akin to the resignation of old age; after the day’s toil, comes amnesia; or is it anaesthesia?

The boy, my RSS feed, reads to me; like the old man, my mind wanders and I only half hear the words. So many posts I’ve starred, meaning to return, but the moment passes as the after dinner dream changes scene.

The month could hardly be said to be dry, but the rain I wait for is of a different kind; one that waters the ground from which fresh words spring.
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Surprise gift 

Lodged in the crack between the driveway and the step up to my front door. Flourishing in such an unlikely spot; it's tempting to look for some encouraging metaphor there. I'll resist though, and simply smile every time I pass; and when it's gone, I'll continue, for a while, to smile at its memory.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

We met as bloggers; we departed as friends 

Maybe now is as good a time as any. This is the fourth time I’ve sat down to write something about last Saturday’s meet-up between four bloggers – Jean, Natalie and myself taking the opportunity to meet with Tamar on her way through London on the way to a walking holiday in the north of England. On the face of it, this is the least auspicious moment for writing – taking a lunch break at work, in a busy open plan office, surrounded by paperwork, head full of work-stuff – but there have been many times when I’ve surprised myself by what materialises on the screen in such circumstances; it seems that the distraction caused by being in such an environment is just the right sort of distraction to occupy the over-critical, thinking-too-hard part of my brain, bypassing it sufficiently to allow the remainder the chance to communicate.

We met as bloggers; we departed as friends. To be fair though, I think there were already developed friendships among the other three – to begin with, I felt very much the newcomer. But it’s been reported on any number of occasions how it is that, having first met on the pages of a blog where secrets may be shared which might never be expressed in everyday conversation, relationships get a kick-start. Much of that getting-to-know-you preamble can be dispensed with; it’s already happened. Not only the simple sharing of facts and opinions; when you lay open aspects of your heart and soul and find them accepted, a mutual trust can develop; a deep respect and caring which is all too rare in the everyday world of hurried superficial relationships.

I said there had been three previous attempts to write about this meeting. I started one of those attempts by bemoaning my perception that the “I” who was sitting down to write was not the same “I” who was present on Saturday. That may sound strange, but it’s another manifestation of the issue which has bugged me ever since I began blogging; indeed, which caused me to spend 18 months and far too money on counselling, trying, unsuccessfully, to resolve the polarisation I felt – and still feel – between two aspects of self. One, the creative, the writer/photographer, the one who seeks to make deep connections; the other, the ordinary guy, father, husband, breadwinner, who mechanically handles the practicalities of living, working, commuting. Essentially, it was the increasing imbalance between these two – the mechanic having taken over almost completely from the artist - which was behind that Letting Go post a couple of weeks back.

I still haven’t said much about our meeting, have I? Well, I couldn’t say it any better than Jean already has; it would be churlish to try. It felt good though to discover that the part with which I identify as the “real me” takes only a little encouragement to begin to emerge.


It's quite a while since I submitted anything for Thursday Challenge, but when I saw that this week's theme is weather (something we've been having rather a lot of in the UK this last week), this photo immediately came to mind. I've posted it before, but it's one of my favourites.

Update: I should perhaps mention that this version has been tweaked slightly, although no more so than one might have done in the old days of darkrooms and chemicals. The original is here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t 

I came across this account the other day (reproduced here by permission of the author), in a thread on the climbing forum which I used to frequent, and where I’ve been lurking lately.

The situation described – in famine-struck Ethiopa in the 1980s - is a snapshot of one scene taken out of huge and complex drama characterised by multiple interconnected webs of cause and effect. Intervention in such complex systems can have unforeseen results that are bizarre, sometimes horrific, entirely out of step with we desire or expect.

How do you act compassionately in situations like that? If anyone thinks there are easy answers, think again…
“I was in Ethiopia in 1986. One incident stuck in my mind because it seemed so symptomatic of the casual brutality, the futility and the sheer teeth-grinding intractability of the problems there.

”We were driving through the center of Adis Ababa, the capital of the country. The poverty there was excruciating. Everyone was starving. Being “rich” westerners made no real difference – it’s not like the local people just didn’t have enough money to buy food, there just wasn’t enough food for everyone. That’s what a famine is.

”The one thing we did have, though, was food tickets which entitled the holder to a free meal at a soup kitchen in the city run by a missionary organisation. We’d been told to hand out as many as we could, one per person. Of course, the locals knew about this, so when we stopped the clapped-out old VW van we were in, we’d be surrounded by beggars straight away.

”A lot of the beggars were kids. Lots had no families, parents dead of starvation or victims of the war with Somalia (what, you thought that was a new thing?). Kids as young as four and five years old. Some missing feet or hands from war, some with conspicuous marks of torture on them. Stuff you don’t want to see, but you do what you can where you are, right?

”So we stopped, and the kids gathered around, holding out their hands and shouting. We were doling out the tickets, when we saw two policemen come round the corner at the back of this crowd, which must have been a hundred strong by then. The two cops, without a word, pulled out long batons – real big sticks three feet long, not the little night sticks we get here – and started laying into the kids at the back. And I mean really laying into them. Screams went up, and there was blood flying. My mum started screaming, and the guy we were there with started shouting, “Sterling! Sterling! Has anybody got any sterling? Quickly!”.

”My dad found a tatty fiver in his back pocket and forked it over quick sharp. The driver called the two cops over, a couple of quiet words were exchanged and they went on their way. The kids had cleared away, some of them carrying those who were hurt, God knows where to, it’s not like there was a working hospital anyplace nearby. We drove on.

”My mum was still crying. The rest of us were in shock I think. Mum asked, “Why? Why?”. The driver stopped the van and turned to us. He said, “Don’t get the wrong idea about this. Those policemen aren’t animals. In fact, they’re probably family men with kids of their own”.

“But why do they hit the kids?”, I asked him. He sighed and turned round and started driving again, and said, “They hit the kids because we pay them to stop hitting them”.

They hit the kids because we pay them to stop hitting them. Where do you act to change the unwritten rules in a system like that? And how do you do it without creating harm along the way? This is a messed-up world we’ve inherited, yet we’re hell-bent on messing it up still further. I’ve been thinking about Alan Johnston - who, as part of the organisation for which I work almost feels part of the family - abducted in Gaza and sitting strapped in an explosive vest; thinking about my own son off shortly to serve in Afghanistan; bringing the issues into sharper focus only serves to highlight just how intractable they are, just how difficult it is to find a course of action, a direction which leads out of this mire in which we find ourselves. What do you do that doesn’t have bad consequences as well as good?

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Followed Jon via The Happy Tutor to find:
"Another thing I'm pretty sure of is that there is no escape, but merely making choices we can live with, or even be proud of in the end."

Friday, June 22, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth – first instalment 

Wow. My head is in a completely different place to where it usually is. Stimulated, spinning, full of ideas, caught up in the urge to be part of something which really, really matters.

I’ve just come back from a morning’s focus on climate change, at which the keynote speaker was none other than Al Gore, giving a full 2 hour presentation. I have 18 pages of hastily scribbled notes…

Over the coming days, I’ll try and piece them together into something moderately coherent, and hope I don’t lose the energy I currently feel before I’m able to do so.

For now though, I think the biggest single message I take away from the morning is around the apparent paradox between the global and local. Here are a few examples of that, which are a mixture of what was said and my own thoughts as I jotted them down:

In order for the full extent of the crisis – yes, crisis - to be appreciated, we have to see it at a global level, but that also distances us as individuals from any responsibility. Cause and effect at a local level seem unrelated to the global picture.

CO2 is invisible, and its effects are not felt locally – but if you really want to grab people’s attention, show them what’s happening in their own neighbourhood.

Climate change then is perceived as a global issue, too big, too remote to be affected by anything any of us do at an individual level. But if as individuals we believe that, we are ignoring the manner in which, owing to the complex interconnectedness of everything we do, total CO2 emissions resulting from human activity are no more and no less than the sum of the carbon footprints of every individual on this planet.

Climate change is currently seen as a political issue, something to be tackled by the world’s governments – but political action requires a sea change in public attitudes. We are the public...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sitemeter: a sorry tale of how not to manage customer relationships 

[This post has been edited to remove Google-sensitive remarks...]

I’ve just set up a new Statcounter account and I’m on the verge of deleting my Sitemeter account. Here’s why:

From Geek News Central:
"Last week the folks over at StatCounter.com told the webhosting community that they had been offered big bucks by a company to drop a spyware / 3rd party cookie onto people visiting websites that use their service for stats. StatCounter.com smartly refused but added in their blog post that another stats company had apparently taken the money.

Up and until late this afternoon I was unaware who the suspect company was, and was shocked to have gotten some e-mails pointing me at some websites that were discussing that the well known SiteMeter.com was the other company that StatCounter.com had refused to name"

A good summary of the situation, with lots of relevant links, is here

more also here:

Thanks to Fred for the heads up

Need input 

“You know, I’m getting worried about my spelling” a colleague remarked to me the other day.

“How much do you read?” I asked her.

“Not a lot these days. I used to read loads; I’d get through a book a week, but these days it takes months just to finish one.”

“Same here” I said. “I’ve had the same book by my bed for two or three months now, and I’m still only half way through.”

I used to pride myself on my spelling, and scorned the use of spellcheckers, but I have to admit I was probably better at spelling thirty years ago than I am now. Not only that, but I suspect my operating vocabulary has shrunk also. More and more I find myself using the synonyms lookup in MS Word or referring to dictionary.com.

We came to the conclusion that – at least in our cases – it’s the visual appearance of a word that tells us whether it’s spelled correctly or not. Wrong spelling just looks wrong. But if the visual memory of the correct spelling – gained, like so much learning, through simple repetition – is not constantly reinforced, over time it fades.

Half a book in three months, when at one time I was reading twenty times that or more. Not good. Need input

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Can they really have been so dumb? 

The most extraordinary and deeply worrying thing about the whole Salman Rushdie knighthood affair is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of those concerned that giving a high honour – to be bestowed by Her Majesty The Queen, no less - to an author whose works have, rightly or wrongly, been perceived as containing the grossest of insults to Islam, might, just might, upset a few people.

Whether or not their original reaction to Rushdie’s infamous book has any justification isn’t the point; the Islamic world’s reaction to his knighthood was surely so predictable as to be blindingly obvious? Of course it would be interpreted as another insult. Just what planet do these people inhabit?

Monday, June 18, 2007


Do you see a theme here?

No especial allegorical significance, but an observation about repeated choices nonetheless.

Dangerously delusional 

Megalomaniac. There's no other word for him.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Music Therapy 

A one-time acquaintance once said to me, in the context of her HR consulting business, “Start where the client is”. That seemed like a good maxim to apply in a bit of self-administered music therapy, too. So these tracks, all by Vaughan Williams, were my choice to accompany a Sunday evening’s ironing, in an attempt – at least partially successful – to move beyond this present attack of melancholia.

Admittedly Flos Campi is hardly melancholic, but the darker tones of the viola and the exotic nature of the music (at least in the context of the time and place in which it was written) are sufficiently far removed from mere prettiness to suit my mood.

The Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus which I chose next take as their theme much more appropriate subject matter.

At this point I did try the Serenade to Music, but abandoned it after a few bars – too soft, too sentimental.

Now the Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis – a transition to something brighter by way of the abstract.

Next the Fantasia on the Old 104th – the theme is undeniably, powerfully positive – yet voiced by a large choir it can still remain impersonal.

I thought about, but didn’t yet dare play the Five Mystical Songs – to hear those properly is to open one’s soul to some powerful messages. Perhaps tomorrow.

For today then I finished with The Lark Ascending – gently joyful in a straightforward way; a brightness, a lightness seen and appreciated, yet still, if one chooses, a little remote; one does not yet have to participate fully.

Still here... 

...but don't expect much for the time being. I should really have kept that last post in my journal, not put it out here for all to see. Thinking out loud, especially when playing devil's advocate with oneself, can create an unbalanced picture; all the more so when the situation is unbalanced in the first place.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Letting go 

My batteries have run flat, and the charger is lost without trace; I think perhaps it may soon be time to let this blog go, and let go all those hopes and dreams and fears and anxieties which are tied up with it.

How would I feel if I quit? Which would be greater – the sadness or the relief? There would be both, certainly. Would I forever castigate myself over the opportunities abandoned? Regret the friendships forsaken – albeit that they remain mostly still acquaintances, with their true potential yet to be realised?

Would I leave it standing or would I delete it? If I left it, unwilling to take that final step, could I move on? It would always be tempting me back, or reminding me of what might have been. But could I really hit that delete button? In cold blood, without a trace of emotion? It would be like taking a knife and cutting out a part of me. But maybe that kind of drastic surgery is necessary.

But where would I be moving on to? A life without a blog; it'd take some getting used to. Would my world expand or shrink? It could be liberating; it could also be a form of confinement.

I don't know; is it just inertia which keeps me here?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Topic - Remember Aaandy? He was a *nice* Christian" 

“Aaandy used to post on here a few years ago. A thoroughly nice chap he was. He was funny, intelligent, slightly eccentric and he displayed a sense of caring for his fellow humans. He was my favourite Christian on the site...

”Some of the Christians on here seem to behave in a thoroughly un-Christian way. In the last couple of days I've seen one gloating, hoping he'd ruined someone's day, and another claiming he was good family friends with the employer of his opponent and suggesting they might like to find out how much he posts on here.

”I'm far more impressed by Christians who display their faith by example than ones who seem to think that it's ok to arguing in its favour "by any means necessary", including being disingenuous, dishonest and revelling in their attempts to offend others.

At lunch time today, I noticed a cluster of hits on my Sitemeter log (just checking, as you do…) from a climbing forum that I used to frequent a few years ago – before I started blogging, fact. Intrigued, I followed the link back and was gobsmacked to find a thread about… me! Or at any rate, using me as an example.

Apparently, there had recently been a number of occasions on the forum where debates involving religion had degenerated into slanging matches. Neither side had exactly covered themselves in glory (a rather apt expression in this case, it would appear!) and I was being cited as an example of someone whose faith is manifested through their living rather than through the force of their argument.

It has to be said, debates of that kind were a not infrequent occurrence on that forum four years ago, and were a significant factor in my abandonment of it. Although there were plenty of people willing to engage in dialogue, and plenty too who were quite content to use the forum purely as a social meeting place (or even – heaven forbid! - to exchange information about climbing), there were a few who found amusement in behaving like obnoxious 13 year old brats in the school playground, or dogmatists who just wouldn’t let a point go but insisted on banging on and on and on about it, gaining the last word simply by being the last to remain standing when everyone else had dropped through sheer boredom.

I was astounded that anyone there remembered me (my last post was in October 2003) and even more amazed that I’d created such a positive impression. It just goes to show that those little things we say and do each day can have an impact way beyond what we might imagine.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Counting the weeks 

He’s been gone a week. The first week of how many - 26? 39? Weeks during which we will be living with a permanent undercurrent of anxiety. Not enough knowledge that the anxiety takes on tangible form; our fears will take shape only in nightmares, springing largely from our own imaginations, and so can be calmed – to a degree – by the voice of reason. Perhaps it’s as well that we’ll be spared the full graphic reality. Nevertheless, for the next six to none months, there will be a new picture playing in the multi-screen cinema of our lives. A tougher, grittier drama than any we’ve seen before.

Our eldest son, J., is in the TA – the Territorial Army, the volunteer reserve to the Regular Army. He’s been called up for a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan. For these first few weeks he’s still completing training here in the UK; he’ll be home next weekend and will have a longer spell of leave before flying overseas, but as of last Sunday, he’s no longer a weekend soldier, driving a laptop on weekdays and an army truck at weekends; now he’s a full-time soldier. For the next few months, he belongs to the army, in the service, as they rather archaically put it, of The Crown. We become merely the folks back home, sharing a new-found intensity of interest in the fine detail of the news from that almost forgotten corner of the globe with other such families who can only wait and hope and pray.

I have such mixed feelings about this whole business; the confusion in my mind wont resolve itself so I push it to the back, the opposing sides sitting like two fighters in opposite corners of the ring, not yet slugging it out because there can be no winner in this battle of feelings. Instead I focus on the here and now and let the contradictions remain, an uneasy truce between them.

So I’m not going to attempt to justify the presence of British troops in Afghanistan, save to say that, unlike Iraq, there may be some justification since the Taleban appear to be a genuine threat, unlike Iraq’s phantom WMDs. But to what extent does our military engagement with them turn them into the enemy?

No, I’m not going any further down that road. Already, as I write, such thinking has diverted my mind and my heart into abstractions, away from the reality of a father and son relationship. The conflict, and J’s part it in, are facts which I’m not going to change. Far better to put my energy into supporting him emotionally in every way I can.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Landscapes of the years 

In spite of the title of this blog, I rarely write anything about age and ageing. However, over the years of blogging (nearly four now) I’ve certainly had the occasional whine about work. One of the reasons for this is a pervasive sense of not-fitting-in, and one of the reasons for that is that there are very few people at work to whom I can relate on equal terms.

The decade from age 40 to 50 seems to mark a gradual transition from youth to age. Not yet old age, but definitely no longer young. Somewhere in that decade, a balance tips from one side to the other. In our era of better healthcare and increased longevity, that decade may mark the half-way point in years from cradle to grave, but there’s more to this shift in balance than a simple arithmetic count of years. At 40, it still felt as though the greater part of life was still ahead; there was more to learn than had so far been learned, more to be experienced than has so far been experienced. But somewhere past my 50th birthday, it felt as though the balance had shifted. Even though there is – I hope - still a huge wealth of experience yet to come, overall the weight of that is exceeded by the weight of experience which has already passed. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint or a feeling of waning powers; it’s an observation of where I feel I am on this long road we call Life – conscious perhaps of beginning to count down the years ahead, that the horizon is no longer so far ahead as it was in those days when it was invisible in the distance.

I’ve noticed that I relate much better to those who have passed through that decade and come out the other side, than to those yet to make that transition – for I do believe that for most there is indeed a real transition, a shift in outlook which happens usually between 40 and 50. That decade is like a bridge, linking two subtly different landscapes.

The majority of my work colleagues – and for that matter those who sit above me in the pecking order –still have their balances tipped in favour of the first half of their lives. We get on well together, but we inhabit different landscapes; the bridge for them is still a distance ahead, and if they are aware of the country on its far side, that awareness is only intellectual, certainly not visceral

It may be that this balance, this rocking of the see-saw, has as much to with children growing up as it has to do with passing a particular milestone in the count of years. Certainly, in these last few months our family has passed three significant milestones – the youngest of our three turned 21 last week, the next oldest moved out at the beginning of the year, and the oldest – well, he will be the subject of another post soon.

Either way though, I have a growing consciousness that there is no-one whom I meet regularly who is at a similar stage on this journey. That may account for the sense of isolation which has been growing for quite some time now.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Storytelling Workshop 16th June 

A few months ago ago, I wrote about Preethi Nair and the highly unconventional way by which she landed her first book deal. She dropped me a note the other day (cleary being someone who understands the value of networking!) to publicise a writer's workshop she's going to be running at Waterstone's in Piccadilly on 16th June. Well actually, it was quite a few days ago; I'm just a bit slow getting round to doing something about it. The workshop has a price tag attached, but at least the proceeds go to charity.

I found the talk she gave when I heard her in February to be quite inspirational, although I admit I've not been as disciplined as I might have been in following up on the good intentions I had at the time. Should you be in the vicinity and go along, I'm sure it'll be worthwhile - I just wish you better staying power than I've managed recently.

Friday, June 01, 2007

It just goes to show… 

…there’s no direct correlation between posting activity and number of visits.

May has been the month with fewest posts here, yet most visits on record. I imagine that the steady increase in visits month on month reflects nothing more than the general growth of internet traffic. I don’t for one moment suppose that it reflects a growing readership. In fact I’m sure the latter number is falling – hardly surprising really, since I offer so little to read. Oh well...

Interesting though that fully half of the visits come via Google image searches. These are the Google rankings for the most popular:

#1 for heartflowers

#2 for lyn idwal

#3 for common newt

#3 for Kent walk

#4 for Lauterbrunnen valley

#4 for heather terrace

#6 for elderflower

#6 for glow