Monday, December 31, 2007


To all who pass by this way, may you find in this New Year:

adventure, as with expectant curiosity you explore the unknown corners of every new day;

fresh challenges against which to strengthen and hone your unique and precious skills;

deeper understanding of this marvellous world and of the part only you can play in it;

a multitude of opportunities to surprise with the joyfulness of your love;

comfort and security in friendship freely given and humbly received.

Peace to you all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Thinking time 

Who’d have thought four hours sitting in a chilly, near-deserted airport arrivals lounge waiting for a delayed flight to come in could be so good? The lad’s flight back from Afghanistan (by good fortune his 2 weeks leave spans Christmas) was diverted to Birmingham because of fog at RAF Brize Norton, and they came on the last leg by coach. That left me with four hours to fill; I reckon I managed to put it to good use.

When else do I get that much free time to try and get my head around anything? With no pressure, and nothing else to do, for the first time in months I could do my ‘morning pages’ – about two hours worth of scribbling down whatever came into my head; no judgement, no editing, no fine words, just whatever ideas came – and to my surprise, ideas did come. Useful ideas, helpful ideas, insights which brought with them an unexpected optimism and peace of mind.

It probably wont sound so earth-shattering if I try and explain, and to be fair these insights aren’t new, they’re simply things I once knew and had forgotten for quite a while, but to which I found myself waking up again. Things like: “‘why?’ is a dangerous question”; things like “now is all there is”.

I covered 8 or 10 sides of notebook in all; I’ll see if there’s anything I can extract from that which would make any sense to anyone else; probably not for a day or three though.

Friday, December 21, 2007

And now for something completely different... 

The dance of the sugar plum fairy, played entirely on bicycle parts(!)

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I posted this as a reply to the comments to yesterday’s post, but I’d hate a casual visitor to arrive here and see only that post without the subsequent recantation.

Well. I don't know what got into me yesterday; probably a mix of uncertainty over a number of things, over-tiredness, and recent changes at work which mean I have less autonomy than I've been used to.

Whatever; that was the biggest load of bollocks I've posted in a very long time, and I'm grateful to Chris for pointing it out in no uncertain terms! The only thing I'll say in my defence is that I didn't choose my words very well, and the message that came across may not have been quite the message I intended to give - but perhaps that's because I didn't understand so well just where I thought I was coming from.

The feeling of powerlessness is a real issue I have to work on, but there's no way I want to fill the same mould as your typical Mr Successful. No, the other issue I have still to think about is the Why Am I Here? question.

You see, I have a notion that each and every one of us has a reason for being here, a purpose to fulfill, an identity to manifest in the world. Maybe it's a false notion, or maybe I've got its meaning distorted, but I get an uneasy feeling sometimes that I'm not doing stuff that I ought to be doing.

Of course, that 'stuff' could just as easily be, say, sharing experiences through blogging as it could be some much more overtly Grand and Noble Work. Perhaps then the reason for the sudden attack of panic was that I'm two thirds of the way to my threescore years and ten, and I still haven't figured out why I'm here.

You know, I have an inkling that the reason I can't find an answer is because I'm asking the wrong question... or maybe the answer is there all the time and I just can’t see it because it’s not in a shape I’m expecting… For the moment though, the tiredness, on which I’m still in part blaming yesterday’s drivel, is as present as ever so I’m going to give all of those questions a rest for a while.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ambitions. Or not. 

Update: I must have been having a bit of bad hair day when I wrote the stuff below yesterday. I nearly pulled it again in the evening, but decided to let it stand, as a reminder to myself of where not to go. Well, that’s not quite what I mean – the comments have proved that it is worth going there, because to do so helps me to understand and clarify what I mean. Thoughts which remain unexpressed are also unvalidated; the mirror of conversation reveals much, of which I would otherwise remain oblivious. Thanks for the feedback - I’ll post replies to the comments later on.

I suppose that what I’ve been coming to terms with over the last year or two are the inevitable consequences of not being ambitious. That characteristic may sound almost virtuous, yet when you rearrange the words you might as well say that I have no ambitions – and that comes out sounding decidedly uncomplimentary.

It’s slowly been dawning on me that whereas most people of my age and qualifications would have reached a position of some considerable responsibility and autonomy, finding themselves perhaps consulted as experts in their field, or in a place to define strategy, or with control over significant budgets, I’ve become in effect just another office worker, turning up at 9, leaving again at 5, and in between doing the tasks which fall to me by virtue of the seat I occupy in the hierarchy.

You see, I never wanted any of those things – in fact I despised many of them. Status, power, money – none of them ever appealed for their own sakes, and so I never attained any of them. And so by studious avoidance of ladder-climbing, I now find myself in an organisation peopled largely by ambitious youngsters, whose frighteningly clear and confident (and simplistic and blinkered) answers to every question have propelled them to positions far more senior than mine. And in spite of everything I might once have claimed, I find, to my surprise and chagrin, that it matters.

It matters that I see all around all me manner of inefficiency, poor decision making and re-invented wheels that are the inevitable consequences of inexperience – yet my own relatively lowly status coupled with poor communication skills (I don’t speak like I write…) and lack of leadership ability, means that I continue to live with the frustration of seeing these failings, added to which is the frustration of my own inability to do anything about it.

It matters that I see many people my age thinking of retiring in a couple of years time – or indeed already retired - able to devote their time and energy to whatever takes their fancy, be it selfish pleasure or turning their talents to doing some good in the world without having to worry about the scale of recompense. I know I’ve got another dozen years labour left. Yes, I admit it; I’m jealous.

Or maybe of course I’ve misunderstood what’s been turning the wheels of fortune, and the reality is that I’m where I am because that’s what I’m good for. Sure, he’s intelligent, admittedly he’s willing and friendly, but for heavens sake don’t ask him to lead anything or manage anyone – he’s just incapable of taking control and being directive.

I guess what’s galling is that it feels as though the values I’ve chosen – which appeared at the time to be worthy, even noble, values – appear to have let me down. And moreover in choosing them I’ve inadvertently let the wider world down as well. Without those trappings of career success, without a bit of self-promotion, you don’t have influence, and without influence it’s hard to make a difference. I feel as though I’ve sold myself into slavery, and now there’s no escape until I've served my term.

It’s not a pleasant feeling but it’s been dominating my thoughts lately which is one reason why I’ve been so quiet here. I wondered whether I might be able to move on by at least getting it out in the open; perhaps I’ll be sufficiently embarrassed by seeing all this whining self-pity exposed to the world to actually do something about it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


No, I haven’t disappeared up my own backside in tortuous contemplation of the finer points of metaphysics. Instead, mind and body are drawn in their totality into mundane practical matters; soul, if there be such a thing (yes, of course there is, I’m just not acknowledging it at the moment), is left high and dry in lonely isolation from its partners in the trinity. But I live in hope they will all be reunited and live happily ever after. For a while, at any rate.

(*Fans of Philip Pullman will understand)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Philosophical ramblings 

Some words from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, quoted by Joe Riley at Panhala, set me off on some unexpectedly deep lines of thought…

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

I’ve called myself a Christian, in one sense or another, for forty years or so, yet I still have doubts that such a thing as a soul really exists; doubts that there is anything before birth or after death. I remain intellectually convinced that there is no need to invoke either a deity or a form of the individual other than the purely physical in order to understand all that there is to be understood about the physical universe – including everything which goes on within that lump of matter we call a brain - but then perhaps that’s the whole point. Deities and souls aren’t physical, and faith wouldn’t be faith if even just the possibility of proof could be shown to exist. Anyway, mind, answer me this: if it’s not my soul that feels dissatisfaction with the way things are, and looks beyond the merely physical to find fulfilment, what is it?

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

That’s a sentiment which resonates powerfully with an instinct within me; aside from having a rather unhealthy feeling that all pleasure may amount to ‘guilty pleasure’, if I examine the root of my philosophy, tangled and uncertain as it is, I find that, judging by the appearance of its application, that philosophy causes me to regard both sorrow and joy as incidentals encountered along the way. Joy I may welcome, sorrow I certainly hope will be adequately contained, but I neither seek out the one nor run away from the other. Fruits of actions are what matters – or what I think I believe ought to matter. And whether through action driven by energy or the ‘action’ to be still, the original title of this blog – ‘older and growing’ – reflects the value I place on forward motion; moving, growing, developing, learning.

But that’s judging my philosophy by its appearance. Appearances can be deceptive.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

I admit, I become more and more conscious of this with every passing birthday. My body, with its physical heart, is maybe two thirds of the way on that march to the grave. Moreover, I can expect the body at least and maybe mind as well will suffer increasing incapacity on the final miles of that march. And that thought puts all the more pressure on the years which remain.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Bivouac – so is this life but a temporary resting place on a greater journey? Central though such an idea may be to Christian philosophy, I don’t think I’ve ever really absorbed its implications.
And which strife would that be then? Good against evil?

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

No problem with the first two lines, but what should direct that action? If enjoyment isn’t our destined way – and under that heading I include everything which is selfish, in the literal sense of self-ish, pertaining to the self – and sorrow is merely a feature encountered en route, what can direct us if we acknowledge neither heart nor God? Is life really so purpose-less?

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

And lives of ‘ordinary’ men and women remind us we can make our lives unbearably tedious, if we so choose, and leave behind us nothing more than a sandcastle washed away by the tide.

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

There it is again; that heart word. I mistrust it, I shy away from it. That wasn’t always so – words here from only a few years ago bear witness to that. Perhaps I’m afraid of it, of what it stands for, of what it would mean to own it again…

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait."

Wait? Milton can have the last word on that. But remember the context, stated in the often-ignored title of the sonnet.

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A tourist for 30 minutes 

It just had to be done...

Call me a boring old fuddy-duddy, but I'm not sure I altogether approve of London Bridge being lit up like some garish neon sign. The effect is certainly striking though.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Pet Hates 

Can I just remind the world that 'heart' is a noun, not a verb?
Thank you. I feel so much better for having had that micro-rant.