Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Dream 

One - I have a job that’s no more than a job, just a way of earning money to pay the bills. But you already knew that; I’ve whined about it enough times.

Two - my wife has serious back problems and finds the physical demands of her work as a primary school teacher increasingly difficult to meet. She’s had 2 previous operations on her spine and exists now on ‘pain management’; I’ve not said so much about that here but it’s a dominant feature of our lives, probably the dominant feature of hers.

Three - our three kids are all well on the way to leaving the nest, but face being financially crippled before they're barely out by the cost of housing these days.

Four - In spite of their growing maturity, even though they’re all willing and able to be independent, we all get on together better than any family I know.

Aside: maybe I ought to write more about that last point, but it feels a bit like boasting. Nevertheless, somewhere along the way, we clearly did something right with our parenting. I think it’s about boundaries; set clear, reasonable, understandable boundaries; allow freedom within those boundaries, freedom to become themselves – no petty controls, no imposing of parental will ‘because I said so’ – but make it clear that stepping over those boundaries is not acceptable, and explain why. That, in a nutshell, has been our ‘golden rule’ of parenting, and it seems to have worked.

We could live together as an extended family. We could buy a big old house, somewhere we could live communally (with their respective partners) but at the same time convert to a number of self-contained flats so that when they do eventually want/need to move away we could sell or rent the vacated space – a very welcome boost to my pension which will otherwise be relatively meagre.

Idea 2:
Middle son is quite taken with this idea, but takes it a step further. We could buy a plot of land and get our own house built. He even found a stunning location (in South Wales) that’s on the market now. It’s significantly cheaper to build than to buy (I checked it out) and that way we’d get a high-efficiency, low maintenance, purpose-designed home. An old Victorian stone-built mini-mansion has it’s appeal from a character point of view (high ceilings, big rooms, ornate plasterwork, lots of nooks and crannies, maybe even a cellar), but I have to admit a twenty-first century building probably wins on grounds of practicality and running costs. Head in clouds is all very well, but feet have to stay firmly on the ground. I did some quick sums and found to my amazement that it even works financially, so long as we were to exchange our location in the ludicrously expensive south east of England, for somewhere much more rural. An exchange I’d willingly make, although I’m not sure my wife sees it the same way. As to employment, with five incomes to pay the bills, there’d be scope for some flexibility.

Lots of hurdles to overcome of course (not least, gaining consensus). But the idea ticks so many boxes, it’s worth looking into further. We could even be in the vanguard of a new way of living – or rather a return to a very old way of living.

[Afterthought: I’m sure I once posted a picture of a sketch I did of my idea of a dream house – of the old rural cottage variety – but I can’t find it. If I do, I’ll add a link].

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I keep having thoughts about things I might post here, but I never have time or energy to convert a vague feeling into some sort of coherent set of words, and then the moment passes and I’ve lost whatever it was.

So here are just two of the things – ideas from outside which entered my consciousness - which have cropped up in the last couple days and struck a chord, seeming to warrant exploration.

Yesterday, whiskey river posted this quote:
"You are called and you answer automatically. Something in you responds, but at the same time you hate it. You refuse your orders. You say, "no, I can't do it. I'm not worthy. I'm too busy. I don't have the capacity. I'm too old, too lazy, too fat, too thin, too timid, and, besides, I think you have the wrong person." But there's no choice and no excuse. So, you go forth with great reluctance, and things turn out badly. Yes, there are moments of great insight, and narrow escapes, and heroic turns, but, basically, you wander around in circles back in the desert for forty years, fighting with your family and friends, until you finally come close to the goal, but you die before you get there. This sounds like my life. Maybe yours too. Maybe this is everyone's life".

There was more to that extract; I’ve only quoted the first half – there was a more positive second part but it was the “…wander around in circles back in the desert for forty years, fighting with your family and friends, until you finally come close to the goal, but you die before you get there” bit which caught my attention as I’d used very similar words only the previous day in one of the increasingly rare moments of scribbling in my journal.

Then the other day, curious about an entry in my visitor log, I followed a link back to an old post of mine and found this comment, full of wisdom, from an old friend who sadly now no longer blogs.
"The one thing I will say is your suspicion that there might be a greater, more demanding destiny lurking somewhere beneath your life may indeed be true - I'm certainly not to know - but one thing I have found is that feeling (which I share by the way)is not necessarily indicitive of what we are called to DO with our lives but of who we ARE. I think that uneasiness arises when you catch of a glimpse of your real self. Remember when you were a little kid and you just KNEW you were special? Our mad, mad world demands we lose touch with that knowing in order to fit in with the demands of society. When this feeling emerges it reminds us again and brings us face to face with our 'gloriousness' - the divine part of ourselves, and a uniqueness that cannot be expressed in any other living being. It reminds us of our purpose in coming here. And we are left with the unease of knowing we have tried to repress and ignore it, simply because it terrifies us.

”I can only talk for myself but I can see how I have tended to jump the gun in interpreting that feeling and the purpose, assuming it must mean big things out in the world. (Which of course terrifies me all the more and makes me bury it all the deeper.) But what if it is simply asking that I embrace my uniqueness? What if it is simply reminding me to see beyond the illusions of our world and into the splendor of real life? What if it is simply prompting me to learn? What if that purpose is something very simple like helping others, who cross my path to remember their knowing? What if I don't have to go out there and search for it? What if it is already here in my life? What if it is simply ME? This seems to be the place I've arrived with this - that all we need to do is embrace that uniqueness. That might be all there is. But if there is more that acceptance will lead us to it.”

The two are so clearly related; when such things crop up seemingly from nowhere I can’t help but imagine someone’s trying to tell me something.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

He's back! 

That smile says more than any words I could write.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Four new blogs… 

…found their way onto my RSS reader today. It seems the observers of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (that’s right; avalanches aren’t the sole preserve of the Greater Ranges - we have them here too) have been blogging their activities both last winter and this – complete with photos.

It’s five years since I was up there last, and little prospect of any trips there this year, but at least now I have a way to keep a small corner of my mind connected there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Grey days 

Grey days, chilly days, foggy days; days of invisible horizons, cloaked in murk; monochrome days; I welcome them as familiar friends; I feel at ease in their company.

Their world is comfortingly delimited; only what is near at hand enters awareness; what is hidden has no relevance or meaning. Distance – in space or in time – might as well not exist.

Days of clear sun, days of sharp contrasts, far vistas, clarity, perspective; such days feel alien. Foolishly, I continue to dwell in the sanctuary of grey days.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


…is this week’s topic for PhotoFriday.

Any photographic representation of that theme must of course be an illusion, and this one is no exception. The receding layers of hills may appear to go on for ever, one behind another, but these hills are in England. Nowhere is ever more than a couple of miles from the nearest road or town; hills are relatively few and soon give way to plains, and beyond them, the sea.

Nevertheless, the illusion is a pleasing one. One can stand and look and pretend that the view goes on for ever; after all, what can the eye see which might counter such a theory? It is only the brain that spoils the illusion with its un-asked for knowledge that beneath those hills lie valleys wherein dwells all the noise and smoke and rush of 21st century existence.

Quiet, brain! Sometimes knowledge is best put to one side and quietly ignored; the view is so much better without it.

And in a different take on that theme – still visual, but in imagination only – here’s something dating back to my very early blogging days; indeed back to some of my earliest memories.

Footnote: The photo dates back to a weekend trip two years ago, in February 2006, which inspired no less than seven blog posts (between 12th and 26th Feb, if you want to take a look). Given that I've clearly been so lacking in inspiration for anything to write, it's equally clear I need to get out there again.

Apropos of which, today's offering from whiskeyriver is most pertinent.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Running on caffeine 

Monday night.

Arrive home from work with just enough time to get changed and grab gear, then dash out 20 minutes later to the theatre to start once more the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends existence of amateur musician with a day job.

It’s a tiny theatre, only seating 175. Being part of a stage school, it has many of the features of a larger theatre, just not much accommodation for the audience. But at least that means we’re playing to a full house every night. The theatre is wider than it is deep; the layout is such that the stage projects out into the space with the audience wrapping around the sides creating quite an intimate setting; no-one is farther than about twenty feet from the stage, if that. And the lighting gallery is so close it almost seems to be hanging over the front of the stage.

The six piece band – piano, twin keyboards, reeds (2 saxes and oboe), guitar, bass and drums is tucked away in a cramped corner of the stage behind the scenery. So cramped that we’re in two tiers, with an upper deck, comprising an 8 foot by 4 foot platform, intended for two of our number. It’s immediately obvious though that Plan A wont work, as big lumps of timber supporting the upper deck occupy the space where the drummer was intended to be, so we play musical chairs(!) and shoehorn ourselves into an ad-hoc Plan B arrangement, with the sax/oboe player sitting in a cage formed by scenery supports. Just as well he doesn’t need any wires, except for one mic, or he’d hang himself getting in to and out of his seat.

The stage, and the action thereon, is invisible to all of the band except the MD, who has the benefit of a view out of a window in the scenery. A shame, as the skin-tight mini-dress worn at one point by the nymphomaniac (in the storyline…) drew gasps of appreciation then spontaneous applause. We only had the MD’s description to go by, cut very short when he realised that the aforementioned lady’s real-life husband was standing in the wings within easy earshot.

Discover my foot volume pedal has broken. Take it apart during a pause in the proceedings (of which there are several) and manage to effect a temporary repair with gaffer tape.

By 5 minutes to midnight we’ve completed the technical run through. Sound levels set, lighting cues planned, scene changes rehearsed. Just as well I took a flask of strong black coffee with me. Just as well too that the theatre is only ten minutes drive from home.

Drive home, repair broken pedal with epoxy resin glue, sleep, wake, order new foot volume pedal as I don’t trust the repair, go to work. Four hours later, at 11am, I get a text message to say my order has been shipped from Germany. Now that’s service.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

You know you’ve been doing a lot of bass guitar playing when… 

…at blood donors it takes them three attempts to get through the toughened skin and prick your finger for the blood test!

One show just finished, another starts next week, just been asked to do one straight after that, then two more lined up in the next couple of months.

One of the reasons why blogging’s taking a back seat at the moment. Not the only one, mind; I seem to have a communications malfunction somewhere.