He was at an age now where he dressed neatly, and his salt an pepper hair made him look a little distinguished as he walked through the house. It was a house full of memories of happier times, when the house was full of life and people, but now it was just quiet. Quiet except for his footsteps on the polished floorboards.
He looked out of the window at the rear of the house, over the garden that was still largely as it had always been, and it seemed to enhance the feeling of being in a bubble in time. A bubble that may rupture at any time and things would go back to the way they were. But he knew that wasn’t possible.
He sat and looked out, the bird feeders were half full, a ritual that had been kept going ‘just in case’, for so long. But sometimes miracles don’t happen, and the place was empty.
As he sat he felt the weight of the situation, an era coming to a close and it didn’t feel wrong or right, it just felt a little empty.
He felt the relaxation that comes with watching the birds feed. That area of life that we facilitate, but cannot direct. In true life fashion you can only encourage, and entice. There is no way to force the birds to come to your garden to feed, and put on their show and make you feel part of the natural world.
He didn’t notice his eyes close, as the birds fed. They were probably screeching at one another but he couldn’t hear it through the closed double glazed windows that separated him from the outside. And the silence and peace closed in around him and let him slip in to that other place without effort or artifice.
As he slept, an observer in the room would have seen his eyes start to move as the rapid eye movement or REM sleep started the dreaming.
He walked in to her room, book in hand, the old lady who was his mother was laying in the bed asleep as was usual now. Dementure had taken her from the family long ago and she didn’t know them now, she had delusions and hallucinations that they couldn’t comprehend.
He stroked her silver hair gently as she slept, gently held her hand for a moment and then sat himself on the blue plastic covered seat by the bed.
He noticed the tenacious pulse beating in her neck, strong and sure keeping her alive in spite of all her other failing bodily systems. He smiled and started to read his book. The late afternoon sunlight lit up the room bathing the old lady in golden light as she slept. He read quietly to himself. He looked up occasionally, just to check, but she was unchanged, breathing gently, and calm, unworried features on her face. You might say she looked serene.
Just being there when he could manage it was all he could do now. When she was awake she would look at him without recognition as if he was a malevolent stranger. “Bugger off you” she would say, still defiant, but so confused and part of a reality that he had no clues about.
The temperature in the room raised imperceptibly from the rays of the sun’s energy and the humming of the air blown mattress that prevented bed sores made it hard to stay awake and as he read the book his eyelids became heavy. He kept losing track of where he was on the page and finally his eyes closed and his head dropped on to his chest and he relaxed in to an unbidden sleep.
“I’ve been waiting for you” said the woman at the other side of the bed.
He looked up and saw a vision bathed in sunlight.
He looked down at the bed which was empty and then returned his gaze to the woman opposite. Not young, but certainly not old, she looked familiar. As he got used to her being there, she smiled and said “Is the penny dropping yet?” She started walking around the bed and as she looked down the bed faded away before his eyes.
The light that he assumed was sunlight was following her. No, it was coming from her, it was shining out of her and her smile radiated love. All of a sudden he felt like a small boy again and he recognised her “Mum?” he asked tentatively.
She laughed like a stream in the mountains in summer: “Yes! It’s me”
“But…” he was about to ask a thousand questions that had suddenly piled up in his mind.
She raised a finger to her pursed lips “Shhh!” she said gently, “No time for questions, and in any case the answers probably wouldn’t help.”
“You look so young, so beautiful, so vibrant and well”
“It’s how I want to be” she replied, it was as if she granted the one answer. And with it she saw the realisation on his face as the penny dropped.
“Oh!” he said quietly “So this is it?”
“Yes, it’s time. And it feels so joyous”
He smiled at his mum, and gazed in to the eyes and was overcome for a moment. She hadn’t known him for such a long time and to see that recognition now, in the way that it always used to be…
His thoughts trailed off as he took in her radiance.
She looked to the window, that was now a shimmering veil that emanated peace and light. He walked towards it with her and stood on the threshold, she put out a hand and stopped him.
“Not you”, she said, “Not yet”.
He started to speak but the words wouldn’t come, all he managed was an open mouthed “Er”, where he wanted to tell her how much he loved her and wanted to thank her for everything and wish her well and so many other things.
“It’s alright. I know” she replied to all that was unspoken.
He looked in to her eyes and he knew that she really did know. He felt a waft of love and kindness as she crossed the threshold, through the veil.
And he knew it was as it should be.
He was lost in reverie as the light of the veil faded. He felt himself floating, weightless, as he looked around, slightly lost in the room.
In the distance he could hear the sound of a phone ringing, but he didn’t care, he loved this feeling. The phone started again, it seemed more persistent, if that’s a quality that a phone can have. The sound tugged him roughly from bliss back in to life.
He awoke and awoke and the birds were feeding still, he answered the phone.
It was the nursing home.
The tears came before they told him that his mother had died.
“Thanks for calling” he said.
A slight smile raised on his face amongst the salty tears that flowed freely.
He knew she was gone, but he knew that she was OK now.
And he knew that things were as they should be.
We’re in the car, travelling down a narrow road in Cornwall towards a small harbour which long ago stopped being used by commercial fishermen. In fact the harbour is now occasionally used to launch ribs used by diving groups but most often is used for hiring of kayaks for fishermen. There’s a nice beach there punctuated by groynes that stop sandy beach disappearing along the coast.
The road is on a slope descending towards the sea. Mostly the incline is gentle but enough to keep a vehicle going forwards. In some parts the road gets steep and is narrow at the same time. The narrowness is a throwback to a time when vehicles carried minimal weight and were narrow in to the bargain.
Ahead there is a corner, wooded at both sides with a parking place on the outside of the curve that is filled with a car that is constricting the road a little more than normal whilst on our side there is a bin protruding in to the road just to make things worse.
There’s a car ahead and we have to slow down. Now there is no room for the other vehicle to get past, and to add to the situation there is another car now stopping behind the car in front of us.
So there is no choice, we have to retreat to make room for the vehicles coming up the hill.
Janey my wife is getting a bit nervous with the number of cars waiting. That in turn is making her reverse manoevering more suspect. Turning this way and that towards the edge, away from the edge, going forwards a bit, moving backwards a bit. The pressure is affecting her performance.
Then there he is. The obligatory nutter. The one person you hoped was somewhere else today is here. “What the f***k are you playing at”, he says. “There’s plenty of room for me to get my big four by four past if only you could drive properly”.
I motioned to stop the car, and I got out telling Janey that she would have 5 minutes to get it right, “just take it steady and take your time but work it out while I deal with the walking gobshite”.
Here I have to channel uncle Frank. He was actually the husband of my mum’s cousin but we always called him uncle because it’s easier. Frank died years ago but his tales and exploits were legendary. My dad was there for quite a few and they invariably involved alcohol. For instance you know that thing you get shown in physics at school, or in the pub, the one where you take a glass of water (or beer) cover the open top with card or a beer mat and then turn it over and magically by the laws of air pressure and physics and Einstein and all sorts of magical incantations, the liquid stays in the glass.
Well Frank did that in a pub, then (never one to leave an audience unmilked) he explained that using the same principle that it was possible to stick the glass of beer to the ceiling of the room. So he duly acquired a mop, a willing (drunk) volunteer and had the volunteer hold the glass against the ceiling with the mop handle, urging him to let go because it would stay there. The (drunk) mop controller was reticent (getting sober) and said he was sure that it would fall if he took away the mop handle. Frank and several others apparently assured him that it would be fine, so he pulled the mop handle away from supporting the glass and it fell like a lead balloon full of beer and glass to the floor. Frank and the other onlookers nearly died gasping for air as they laughed so much. One of those occasions where the landlord was crying with laughing too so repercussions would thankfully be minimal, even though no one cared that much anyway as they took ages to catch their breath.
A few minutes later a man approached Frank and in all sobriety and honesty he said, “You know why it didn’t work don’t you?”. Frank acted dumb, kept the straightest face that he could and said that as far as he understood it it should have worked. The man continued “It’s the ceiling, It’s anaglypta, and that rough surface lets the air in so it fell”. Everyone looked at one another and just laughed even more. And that was Frank all over. He carried it off right to the end.
I knew I would need all of Frank’s ability to quel the rage of a neanderthal in a four by four.
First, it turns out that the guy doesn’t have a great big four by four. He has ideas above his station and I keep schtum about that. It’s not useful to point out that what he thinks is a big car isn’t really. It’s like a pissing competiton and really he’s good at the banter but not really equipped to take part in the competition.
Anyway he’s spoiling for a fight. So I go up to him and very quietly say, “Look I’m really sorry that you’re being held up but it’s really important that my wife is left to sort it out without hassle”. He starts to speak and I cut him off. Sometimes democracy is over-rated. “You see she’s got a confidence problem at the moment. She had a lower leg amputation last year and she was driving OK with her prosthetic leg. She’s had extra lessons, checks and all sorts. It was all going well and we got approached by Southampton University Cybernetics department to try out a new type of prosthetic. It’s so different to the other one that it’s knocked her confidence right out of the ball park. So it’s really important that we support her and just let her get on with it without hassle. That way we can build up her confidence in these situations so that she can independently cope with life again. I know it’s a pain but please just bear with us a short while with a bit of understanding so that she can start to find her old self”.
His jaw has dropped and his face is caught between disbelief, awe at a masterly delivery of a bulshit story, and a hankering to believe every word. Which is good because Janey now has a minute left to pull the car in to the side to clear the log jam of cars that is building up. Fortunately there’s only this one who is presenting an issue.
“Look!”, I say, “If you don’t believe me come and look. The new prosthetic is pretty good and it’s hard to see the join but with a bit of coaxing I’m sure she will let you see her leg without it. That way you will know that you really helped someone in need today. And I have to say that I for one appreciate you cutting her some slack to help her get back on her feet so to speak”.
The thought of looking at an amputee leg stump is going round in his head now so we’re either going to get a verbal reply or he will go white and throw up through the window.
He doesn’t throw up. He turns down the offer of the stump viewing, and even a front row viewing of her reserve prosthetic lower leg. He was quite pale though.
I see that Janey has the car in a good place and I thank him profusely for his understanding as I walk away towards our car.
I wave to thank all the drivers as they drive on their way, even mr gobby gets a wave and he waves back. After all it’s good to help those less fortunate than yourself especially when your fortunes allow you to drive such a large four by four, using both legs.
I get in to the car and Janey takes us without further incident to our destination. I get out and go around to her side and open the door. I look down and say, “hop out gorgeous”. She clambers out and replies “last to the second groyne is a cissy” as she sticks the keys in my hand so I have to lock up. She runs off at high speed, her knee action and thigh drive is much improved after her last coaching session and there’s no way I can catch her.
I wish she could drive as well as she can run though, I’m bound to get caught out sooner or later, even uncle Frank didn’t get it right all the time.
It was a cold, wet and windy, it was late autumn and we were 3-1 down.
It was like running through treacle and each step sapped the energy from my body and I was cold right down to the marrow. My early match enthusiasm had evaporated and I was at rock bottom. “Come On” I keep saying to myself, “, “Don’t let it beat you” and it just got worse and worse.
It felt like I was barely surviving. Then Charlie got booked and sent off for going over the top. I thing it was frustration, the ball wasn’t running, we were barely running and that centre forward just danced past at the wrong time and Charlie got him.
So we’re now down to 10 men and losing and they are getting their second wind and we have 10 men back in our half clearing the ball away for all we’re worth, defending what’s left of our hearts out.
Someone once described this as being under the cosh. It feels more like being being beaten black, blue and senseless by the cosh and the cosh is getting bigger and harder with each stroke.
Then we were 4-1 down and it felt like a rout. Like all we could do was stand and watch and jog about a bit, going through the motions.
Then the half time whistle goes. It’s never sounded so good and we all walk like knuckle dragging Neanderthals back to the dressing room. A right sorry bunch
For amateurs, we’re a well-equipped club. A local trust fund for the benefit of the area had been set up for as long as we can remember, but that’s another tale. Our changing facilities were good. We still relied on volunteers for making tea and coffee and cutting grass and marking out the pitch and all that stuff.
Tea making was usually the realm of old players, generally over70 and most of us had never seen them play so we all listen to their stories of past glories with an air of half belief. The past is a wonderful place and it’s often made fonder by a fading memory.
There’s this one old guy though. Makes good tea and usually finds chocolate biscuits at the right time to lift the spirits a bit. Doesn’t usually talk a lot but he’s the sort that when he does talk, you listen and you listen well as if there’s a part of your life depending on it.
It’s usually something about getting us all down to help with cutting the trees back or tidying the woodwork or things like that, and he gets us along and makes sure we feel good about doing it. He usually buys us all a pint afterwards but that’s not the reason we turn up.
Anyway, he sits down when we’ve all got a drink and a biscuit and he stirs his tea and dunks his biscuit and he breathes deeply as he savours the chocolate. It’s really odd because we’ve all gone quiet and we’re looking at him and we’re waiting. Even the coach who has been going over the usual rhetoric about giving 200% in the second half has shut up.
Anyway the old man, Ken, he looks up and out of the window in to the distance and says “I remember a day like today, the other team were beating us holler”. Then he says, “just close your eyes a.”
So we do, if anyone had come in at that moment then they would have seen us all with eyes shut looking like lemons praying.
Ken continued. “I remember seeing George Best in one of his first matches at Old Trafford. I had a brief trial with Man U but I didn’t make the grade. I remember watching George, how his body twisted and turned like a snake and his legs kept going and the ball went just where he wanted it to and nobody could stop him when he was on a run.”
“I got to talk to him and I asked him how he did it and he said he didn’t know. I asked what he thought about when he was on one of those runs, or if he was stealing in to position and he smiled. He said I don’t actually think of much apart from getting to what seems to be the right place. But when it’s all working right it feels like those times when you’re a kid, when you come in from playing out with your mates, probably football but anything really, and you open the front door and your Mum’s been baking and it smells great and your mouth waters and you feel hungry and happy at the same time. You get that feeling that you and the world are equal and it’s time for your reward.”
“I never forgot that” said Ken. “I can remember a few times when I was up against it and it felt like hard work. I’d remember a time when I was a kid playing down by the beck and falling in. I couldn’t swim and I was splashing around and my mate waded in and dragged me out coughing and spluttering. It was a close call. And when I got home we had steak and kidney pie, you could smell it as you came through the garden gate. I was soaked, muddy and feeling sorry for myself but as soon as I smelt that pie I perked up and felt better. Every time I feel a bit down I remember that smell and remember that life is here for living and not for drudging around. Even now as an old man I have times when that smell just gets me through the day.”
“Do you have a memory like that?” he said
I remembered falling off my bike and feeling battered bruised and mum fed me apple pie and custard and I remember smiling and her smiling too as we cleaned the muck off the bike and straightened the mudguards and life smiled at me.
We opened our eyes and Ken had gone off to wash up the pots. We were all staring at each other like rabbits caught in headlights. We had no idea of how long we’d been sitting, caught up in our own thoughts.
In the end we draw 4 all. That bloody mud’s still a pain in the backside but something’s changed. It’s like the sun peering round a cloud and just shining on us and we aren’t brilliant but we’re good. For 10 men against 11 we’ve found heart and soul from somewhere and it sounds daft but all I can remember is apple pie and custard. Not hungry, or eating it, more the homely feeling of it, that something special that mum’s apple pie always has.
I’m not sure if you get what I mean, and I’m not sure if I get what I mean either.
Can it really be that simple to get your act together?
We have all been taught for so long that fear is bad. Indeed fear is to be feared. And there is a reason for that but it is a reason bound to humanity by a thread that is different in each of us.
For you see fear is driven by our imaginations. It’s an imagined end that is something that we would not wish for ourselves or others. That very thing inside us that sparks so much good, predicts so easily doom and gloom and despondency. And we listen and we recognise its origin as being within us so we accept it as a valid input to the equation that we create of the world around us.
The hard part for us is that the fear evokes emotion, sadness, anxiety and projections of loss. It is the emotions that we recognise, the pictures and stories of our imaginations may well go on their way un-noticed if the emotions didn’t betray our involvement and our acceptance of the intrusive idea.
Fear is a prediction of just how bad the future could be. We treat it as truth and not as the speculation that it truly is. So we involve our minds and consciousness and cause emotions. And we react, and the reaction becomes well practiced and once we are good at it we become able to do it without trying. We become so good at it that it feels like it has a life of its own. A habit of fear can be learnt at a single event so this is not a hard thing to do. We often call it a phobia. So many people claim phobias of this and that for things that cause a brief ripple in their world, and not that cold sweat, that rigid countenance and trembling hand that belies the true nature of the phobia, triggered by a mere inference.
All the same though. It is possible to to learn to recognise the source of that whole experience as a thought. A thought that was passing through, generated by a moment of down time or just in reaction to some barely connected thing. That thought triggers that fear and we become frightened.
Once you recognise that initial thought for what it is though, just a thought, neither true nor false, generated without malice or intent, in short just a thought.
When you can see the thought as just a thought and the emotions as the result of engaging with the thought, then you can start to learn that there is a message there that we can use.
The gift of fear is the message stripped of its emotions. Raw and wild. The gift of fear is simply this:
Something could happen that is detrimental to the life and longevity of this organism (me or you). This thought has been worked out by extrapolating the worst case scenario in graphic detail. Recognising the emotions stirred by this thought can be useful because they indicate a severity that may make resolving the truth an immediate imperative.
The gift of fear makes us careful and mindful of the upcoming situation. When you are aware of the downward spiral that you could be headed on then you can increase vigilance and be reminded of the areas of concern.
Giving the gift of fear, carefully and with respect is often the quickest way of making the recipient aware that they need to be on the look out for dangers rather than just be reacting to a series of disasters.
Learning that the fear is emotion that results from thought can help you accept the gift in its initial form, while rejecting the distortion provided by the emotion. You can deal with a situation rationally.
The elderly couple were out for a walk, they had just set out on this pleasant day because it was their way to go for walks on pleasant days. Make the most of the weather and the fresh air was one of their many mottos. Well you have to live your life by some creed and they had succeeded in making up their own.
Although they lived in a high rise urban development and had done for many years, they had created a life that made sense to them, their escapes in to the world outside and not dwelling too long on things that upset them had made their life meaningful within their own minds and they continued on their way trying not to make waves but at the same time protecting their own space and looking after themselves by whatever means they could.
Some looked on at them and branded them foolhardy, walking around this neighbourhood at their age. Sensible people caught the bus to a nice place after all. But they continued in the belief that if they didn’t make waves then they would continue to float along in life.
As they passed the second bus shelter on this pleasant day, the one with the broken glass, the torn advertising hording, a young man bumped past them to reserve his place at the front of the bus queue. The wife gasped a little and from outside it would have been interpreted as fear. The elderly man opened his mouth to speak, he looked towards his wife, she looked back and her eyes said OK.
The young man was engrossed in his music and looking cool or sick or whatever the latest term was for a confident gregarious person.
“Excuse me!” said the old man. He had turned towards the young man and raised his voice so that he would not be misunderstood.
The young man looked up “Eh, are you addressing me?”
“Yes young man” replied the older man resolutely. “It’s traditional to say excuse me when you bump in to somebody, it’s a pleasantry that allows society to get along and respect one another and live in harmony without descending to the rules of the wolf pack”.
The young man’s eyes narrowed as he took in the sentence. He breathed in in disbelief. “Do you know who I am?” he asked.
“No I don’t and I’m not sure that I want to know someone who doesn’t’ have the least knowledge of simple social rules.” Went on the old man. “In fact I would go further, I think at this point excuse me isn’t enough, you should apologise to my wife and I for causing such an upset to our day”.
The young man had that look of a minor celebrity who had failed to be noticed, you know the ones who have been built up by a TV company to make them feel special and then they have to deal with the rest of the world and they find nobody really knows who they are.
“It’s not safe out here for an old man with an attitude like yours.” The young man was rising from being slouched and leaning against the bush shelter. He was rising to what he perceived as a challenge. But the source of the challenge was a complete mystery. Why would an old man risk himself and endanger his wife in this way unless he was stupid.
As he stood the old man started to unbutton his coat. Then he took it off and handed it to his wife who fussed around it and folded it neatly across her arm, securing it in place by putting her other arm across it.
“What are you doing” said the young man.
“I’m getting the feeling that it’s too late to walk away, so bearing in mind it’s such a nice day I’m preparing for the fact that you might not be willing to offer your apology. It’s too warm and I don’t want you to tear my coat.”
Still confused the young man approached the old man and stared. It was his way. Staring down an opponent was his way of seeing off most of his potential challengers. But this was stupid. “Why would I hurt you old man” He said.
“Well the way I see it is that your friends over the road have been watching”.
The young man turned and his body stiffened.
“And you now have little choice than to defend what you see as your honour. Although I’m still quite happy to accept your apology and be on my way.”
The young man was now wary. The old man had called it correctly, while it was a one on one it was possible to get away with banter and posturing. But with witnesses present he had his standing in the community to consider.
“Now, we can stop right now and shake hands or whatever is your custom. But it’s important to me that you realise that manners cost nothing and in fact they engender a more lasting respect than violence ever did.”
Before the young man could get a word in he continued. “I fought in a war and it wasn’t pleasant but at the end I had to make my peace with my enemy and my own government, and get on with my life. A life that just revolves around violence and killing is not a life to be proud of. We can still part friends.” His voice betrayed no fear, no malice and no edge. Just straight forward talking, words that he believed and thoughts that he lived by.” The old man looked towards his wife and nodded. She nodded in return and took a pace back, protecting the old man’s coat and fussing around the pockets.
“you don’t get the apology old man, I could have let you walk on by, but not now”. He stepped in to the gap between the old man and his wife, dividing and conquering but being aware of the main threat.
He reached under his coat and brought out a machete. The old man’s eyes narrowed, he wasn’t sure until now but it was now clear to him.
As the young man adopted the posture of a confident fighter the old man took a small step towards him and he was slightly caught unawares, such a foolhardy step was not part of any tactics that you use against a man with a bare blade. The young man took a small but perceptible step back to establish a firmer base from which to strike his confusing foe.
The young man raised his weapon with accomplished ease. Behind him the old woman stepped up to him and he went rigid, dropped his weapon and he fell.
Quick fingers applied the plastic cable ties to his wrists and ankles. And there he was trussed up like a chicken ready to be plucked. Ready for whatever would befall him because he was still out cold, but the breath was returning to normal.
The wife put the black box back in the old man’s pocket and she called the police to report a suspicious man in the area while the old man fiddled with the young man’s music player.
Then they continued on their walk with a spring in their step.
The police didn’t rush. They never do when neurotic old women call. They get there in half an hour or so because that’s how long it usually takes for them to calm down.
They were confused to find the oven ready young man, packaged neatly, weapon fallen at his side, but they lacked evidence to convict him of anything. They were doubly confused to hear what was looping on the music player.
The young man had been listening to the voice of the old man on his music player from the moment he came round until the police arrived, and then some.
He couldn’t provide a description about the people who did this to him. The onlookers never mentioned it because there was something just a little too clinical about the way the old couple dispatched the young man.
He remembered it vividly but really couldn’t remember who had done it, and he was a changed man.
Apparently, suggestions administered post-tazer, last a lifetime.
The new father stood by the window, quietly cradling his newborn daughter in his arms.
He was speaking softly, like people do in church, even though this was just a quiet corner of a maternity ward. The baby was wrapped in soft blanket and a baby grow that was too large, as all clothes are to newborns, they seemed so small before the birth and then appear so oversized. And all too soon they become tight and restricting as the growth of a new being starts.
If you could have heard then you might have caught some of the words and perhaps understood the aspirations that the father had for his daughter.
And I shall show you as much of the world that I can. And I will show you countries and you will hear different languages and eat food in many places.
And I will watch you learn to crawl, and you will learn to walk and soon after that you will run and as you run you will feel the air on your face and will know that you are real and that life is good.
You will walk in the mountains and swim in the seas. You will ski in the snow and play on the beach. You will be familiar with the extremes and also the middlings.
We will laugh together, cry together, celebrate together and grieve together and you will learn so many more things than I am able to teach you.
You will see sunrises and sunsets over seas that I have never seen, you will learn things that I never knew of. And you will find happiness among the chaos of this world.
And you will know the nature of the world is chaos and that it is possible to plait the strands of chaos together to make the life that you desire. Because such is the nature of life and this world. This world that is yours if only you learn how to accept the gifts that it has to offer.
The little girl snuffled and the tiny hand brushed against her nose and that tiny sound of life was so profound the man had tears in his eyes.
And I will try my best to be there for you for as long as I am able. And I will try not to annoy or embarrass you although that is almost inevitable. Because we are of different eras of this world and neither one can truly understand the path trodden by the inhabitants of the other. So the expectations of the one will never be realised by the other because their roots are set in different soil, in a different orientation and with different nutrients.
And there will be times when the twain shall not meet because the gulf between the eras is as great as the inability to understand that distant viewpoint. And if we are lucky we will agree to disagree and leave it at that.
He seemed to be trying to understand that which is so difficult to grasp about communications between parents and children, and perhaps all adults and children. The eyes of the young are fixed in ways that we have long forgotten and on things that we have not yet seen. The old see a cardboard box where the young see a shop counter or a house for the afternoon. The old see kids making noise and shouting, the young are just having a laugh and letting off steam. Hanging and chillin’.
And if there is a meaning to life then it would be nice for you to glimpse it at some point and see beyond the immediate time and space, rise above that and see the interplay of the elements of the world and know the nature of things.
We speak so often of nature and natural but nature is wild and has a façade that makes a true viewing difficult in the extreme. But I will try and show you how to look at things.
There are now and there will be as there always has been, mysteries in the world. Things that point to humanity and the world around us being more than they appear to be, but there is not enough evidence to prove it. And whatever ‘it’ is, so many minds are closed that there is no point in explaining it to any but a trusted few.
And there are monsters and there are monstrosities and atrocities and things to sadden and sicken the most uplifted of souls. And I will try and show you how to let those thoughts go, even though they plagued me for so long. Even now when the echoes of those malformed thoughts have been excised from my mind, there is the lingering conclusion that remains to haunt me. Without reason or rhyme.
And the man smiled and kissed the baby and hugged her so tenderly that her eyes closed and she was lost to sleep. And with her went the words that laid what seemed to be a foundation of a mind that was so open to learning and understanding.
I wished that I had such words inside me.
I should stress now that this contains only words and a story.
You see, when I was at school we spent what seemed like hours reading poetry, or books, I secretly quite enjoyed some of them. But not all, it takes a while for me to absorb things.
Then the teacher asked questions about them: What is the author trying to tell us in this narrative, what emotions is the author trying to get us to feel, what experience in the author’s life could this relate to. I hated that and while my friend found it so easy to write so much to answer these questions, I floundered. I detected no message other than when you change your viewpoint it changes the story, sometimes for the better but sometimes not.
I understood no emotions other than wishing to be elsewhere and I could never relate the book or poem to the authors life. I had enough on with coping with my own life.
What follows is a story, no more no less. There is no message intended other than it’s interesting. You might find something emotional in the story that touches you, I don’t know, but I can tell you that second guessing the emotions of me, the narrator, will bring no new insight to the story. It relates to my life only because I saw it or perhaps dreamed it, sometimes these are so similar that I’ve given up deciding which is which, but there is no other connection to find there.
Just let your imagination go with the story now. Take some time to relax and take some time to just be interested.
It had been a long day, walking the coast path. The steep paths going down to hidden beaches and leading upwards to lofty cliff tops. A long day but a nice day, the sound of the waves, the call of the seabirds, the gentle breeze. People are right when they say you can taste the sea breeze, there is a faint aroma of salt and seaweed and sand. Just strong enought to remind you of where you are.
I found a place to rest on a clifftop overlooking a sandy bay, the gentle waves were sliding up the beach. No surfing today, such a gentle day. I can’t remember if I fell asleep after the exertions of the day, or if I saw a real event unfold before me.
Someone was walking along the beach, it looked like a young girl but from that distance it was hard to tell. Out in the sea I notice a triangular fin moving towards her slowly. She looked up and was transfixed, from her viewpoint she could not tell what this creature was, there are so many tales of sharks coming in to beaches and she appeared to be rooted to the spot and then the beak of a dolphin peered out of the water in front of the fin. She could see the eyes and the blow hole and she heard it take a breath and could see the spray driven by the out-breath. It opened its mouth a little and emitted a squeak, just like you see in films and on TV. She moved slowly towards the dolphin and it stayed right there as if it was waiting for her. It took another breath and she was close enough to smell that fishy breath as it let out the breath and quickly took another without thinking.
She reached out and it turned its head away but allowed her to touch its side. She moved closer. The dolphin floated and allowed its body to touch hers briefly as she stood waist deep in the water.
The water was not warm but not so cold as to be uncomfortable and in any event she was so engrossed in the encounter that water temperature was the last thing on her mind.
She stroked its side and allowed her hand to stray to the fin. Gently tracing that outline but noticing the roughness of the skin and the imperfections at the same time. She appeared to grow taller as you do in the presence of such a force of nature.
She was drawn to reach out both hands to encircle it and hold it but it twitched its tail and moved away. Then it allowed itself to drift back to rest against her body as the waves lapped at them both and she laid a single hand on the back and stroked the fin. The dolphin took another breath. Slower this time. The out-breath was more gentle and sprayed no water in to the breeze this time, like a gentle sigh.
Out of nowhere came a hoard of people. They splashed towards the dolphin and the girl and they touched, prodded pushed shouted whooped splashed all around. With a roll of its body and a flick of its tail the dolphin dived and disappeared in to the deep.
The hoard left having had their thrill, nattering, comparing experiences cackling, catching a selfie of themselves and the memory of the dolphin in the water.
The hoard and their noise receded, but the girl stayed. She just stood waist deep in water upper body and clothes wet from the presence of the hoarde and the rapid departure of the dolphin.
The way she stood and watched was so poignant, it looked like what people describe as a deep longing but in truth I will never know what it was.
She walked along the beach knee deep in water, allowing the waves to brush against her and splash up her legs. Every so often she looked out towards the deeper water, towards the swell beyond the languid waves.
Standing still and watching.
But there are so many things that I don’t know, and I would have liked to have observe this scene for longer. I like to remember with fondness the moments that I spent watching, spellbound, holding my breath so as not to spoil anything.
The girl continued on her way, checking the sea, she appeared to be searching for a sight of the fin. She walked out of my view.
I saw her briefly later that day, we didn’t speak but she smiled, it was a full warm smile of someone who knew something incredible that couldn’t yet be shared with words, just yet. But a smile that said she would find a way to try.
The man in the dark jacket entered the studio unnoticed. Unnoticed was the part that confounded so many later but it was a testament to the completeness of his planning and research. It was not the only thing that confounded so many later. This was not done on a whim.
The TV presenter was scrutinising the order of play, sitting on the sofa that was her public workplace following the prompt for “five minutes to go”. From the outside, on the screen that Jo and Josephine Public and the rest of us see, it looked a little cosy but in reality the cameras, and the people and the whole sound and vision stage made the facade look a little silly from time to time.
He’d been there before. Checking, verifying and understanding how the place was run because he knew that it’s not an abstract puzzle, it’s a people thing. People make the system work, fail and do unexpected things and only understanding lets you plan predictably.
He walked up to the TV presenter with a purposeful, confident but not hurried walk. As he sat next to her he cast aside the jacket to reveal what looked like a suicide vest. Explosives wired together with a highly visible timer and some sort of switch that he held.
As he did so he handed the man with the clipboard two envelopes and shouted in a commanding and well-practised voice, “You should all leave this studio now, except for this lady on my right”. He pointed towards the presenter as she froze at the sight of explosives and the bright red of the numbers on the timer which counted backwards towards an unknown future.
They all ran for the exit, the man with the clipboard stopped for a moment and started to ask a question and the man wearing the bomb said clearly, “don’t talk, walk, Instructions are in the envelopes in your hand, leave now and do what you have to do”.
Within a minute the TV set was empty apart from the presenter and the man in the bomb.
“Please don’t be frightened” he said, he walked around and disconnected every microphone that he knew about.
She stayed calmer than he expected and said “that’s hard when I’m alone with a man wearing a bomb”. Her eyes betrayed the fear but none of it showed in her voice, he knew that he had chosen well.
He knew that the control room could see them through the cameras, but they couldn’t hear what was being said. In the control room the man with the clipboard was opening his envelope. He had already called security and he knew that an armed response unit would be on the way, but he was worried about the presenter left on the TV set with the mad man.
His instructions were to go to a particular page on a website and follow those instructions. His curiosity naturally led him to notice that there were instructions there for the security team which was the other envelope that he had delivered as instructed.
From the control room they watched and waited. They were stunned that the sound had been so quickly disabled from the whole set.
On the set the man passed the woman a pair of headphones connected to an Ipod and one of those sleeping masks that you get on some overnight flights. He said “I will not harm you at all, please put on the headphones, turn on the audio track, put on the mask and listen”.
She had thoughts of resistance and she started to speak but the man said more firmly, “I won’t hurt you, just put on the headphones turn on the audio track, put on the mask and listen”. Her clumsy hands were to be expected in the situation but she followed the instructions.
He knew that she would.
As she complied he turned on a microphone but said nothing, he knew they would be recording.
Deprived of vision her world was very tightly defined as she listened to the audio. After a few minutes she started to get lost in the audio and the man noticed her breathing ease and her shoulders relax. He looked at his watch to gauge what stage the rest of the world would be at. He also checked his phone and could see the log that described the time line of access to the website that was delivering instructions to the various groups, he even knew what stage they were at in watching the videos he had left for them.
He watched her breathing, body language and facial expressions, or at least the expressions he could see around the sleeping mask that obscured her vision. He knew what she was listening to and was able to match reactions of her body to the content of the audio.
The control room looked on.
The armed response team were on their way.
The man watched the woman.
The man put the bluetooth headset in his ear, it wouldn’t be long now.
The woman’s mouth tightened at the edges, so nearly a smile, then the mouth opened and the teeth set forth a warm smile from her world of imagination.
It was done. He smiled along with her and felt the warmth spread through his body.
Right on cue his headset indicated a phone call. He touched it and answered. “Hello”. The negotiator from the armed response announced his name and his position in the situation, following protocol to the letter. He explained that they were treating this as a hostage situation and then asked what demands the suicide bomber had.
The man spoke calmly although his heart was racing. “The demands have already been met” He said. “I know that you have watched the video explaining that what you see is not a bomb and that you have seen the construction of the jacket”. Then he continued before the negotiator could speak “I also recognise that you don’t believe me and that you have to proceed as if the bomb threat is real”. The negotiator was a little taken aback but he recovered quickly. “We would like you to disarm the bomb and remove it and then give yourself up”.
“Of course” replied the man. He took his hand off the dead man’s switch that appeared to be connected to the explosive and nothing happened. He removed the jacket and removed each of the fake detonators from the fake explosive packs.
“I will come over to the door and lie face down so that your officers can do what they must do, all that I ask is that you are efficient and quiet so that you don’t upset the lady in the headphones.” He walked over to the door laid face down and waited.
The door burst open and in true style the armed response came in shouting as is their way to cause confusion.
“You must be quiet!” he said to them.
But they continued the tactic of noise and confusion and as they put on the handcuffs they heard the muffled thud that had been triggered by their noise. The charge, that the man had arranged over his heart fixed beneath a steel plate, had blown a carefully calculated hole in his chest and destroyed his heart and lungs. His body jerked as the stunned officers continued to attempt to manhandle him to his feet. All the while the pool of his blood spread around his body.
The negotiator had watched from the control room as the remote controlled camera followed the man and the proceedings unfold.
The noise level trigger for the explosive charge also sent a command to the web page that the negotiator had taken instructions from. The page bleeped and updated and the negotiator looked down and read the new instructions.
The updated instructions on the screen read “The only thing I asked of you was to be quiet! You will have to live with the result of your actions, please lead the lady away gently and carefully now so that she doesn’t have to see my body”.
The negotiator learnt from his mistake and complied as the blind folded smiling woman was led away.
This week cut itself adrift from me and I lost control of it, it led me by the mind through hoops and slides and whirling experiences. All these things were all of my own making but they had a life of their own, they crowded in on my normally ordered existence and reminded me of my true nature.
Chaos follows around in my wake. Things I say and do cause upset to the continuum around me and the waves smash against the sides of my life and bounce back in ever more turbulent fashion.
This week has been painful for me. Some of the things in it brought back things from the past and threatened things for the future. Things that I thought I had left behind, things that perhaps should be part of the life of someone more able than I will ever be. But then again that’s my perception and it’s been wrong before and it’ll be wrong again.
What if I admitted to the possibility of some things, just for a brief moment. Like dipping my toes in the freezing cold water of Cornwall in April. Get used to it or it will grip you like a vice and the paralysis will be all you think of as you sink gracefully, motionlessly beneath the surface. What if I admitted to myself, not to you, just to me, that I enjoyed some of it. Some of the things I witnessed, some of the things that I said, some of the things that I caused, actually brought me joy. And if not joy then at least some satisfaction. And what if I allow the thought that some of the parts of my week that were not so good weren’t all that bad either.
What would happen?
I’ll do it now. <imagine a whirring as my brain churns the prospects> OK I’ve been there. It’s not comfortable. So what did I find? Well there’s some things that I can share and some that I can’t but here goes.
I stepped out of my comfort zone and found that some of my dreams are similar to the dreams of others and I’m not alone and they don’t think what I have in mind is stupid or arrogant or mad in any way shape or form. In fact it’s OK.
I stood up in front of people and spoke and they listened, they asked questions and showed real interest and that is something that I’m not used to.
I gave in to extreme anger. It surprised me that I knew how to do that still, it’s been so long since the animal got out to feed. That didn’t feel good, and part of me during the experience was willing the self selected victim on to escape, like when you watch the cheetah speeding after it’s prey on a documentary. I’ve calmed that down now and don’t want to see it again because it doesn’t feel good and it leaves a legacy of harm, to me as much as to others. But yes to others too.
I felt true confusion. It’s something that I recognise because it happens periodically. It’s self doubt on a big scale and it requires a period of introspection. What am I doing, who do I think I am, am I capable, am I worth it, am I wasting my time. These and more are all questions that I need to answer and only when I am happy that my course is the right one will I rest and resume my life with any drive. Life goes in to neutral and coasts down the slope towards the cliff as I “find myself”. And if I don’t do it quick enough then the cliff decides for me. But it didn’t come to that. It worked out OK. A few tweaks to my course and an adjustment of mindset that fitted with my general direction and I’m good to go.
Is it a bad thing to question yourself? Or is it what business people call “due diligence”, but performed at a life level.
So all in all I think I’m OK. I didn’t just survive, I think I grew a bit more in mental stature. I found a bit more of myself in a way that’s believable.
Do I believe in myself? For some things definitely yes. For other things maybe. There are of course still some no votes in there. I have so little proof in my head to support optimism in some areas.
Overall I think I’m moving forwards with occasional blips and right now that’s OK.
There’s something else here and that’s something that needs me to get a real grip before I mull it over seriously.
I’ve lived with the chaos for so long, existed sometimes, run away at other times.
Is it possible to embrace the chaos?
There’s the real terror. Embrace the terror of the chaos that follows me around. Get used to it and live with it, ride along with it and keep up with it and fight the fires and live the opportunities that it throws up without fear. Yes! without fear or doubt.
There is a fear that lurks around the periphery of the chaos that it will overrun me, that I won’t be able to keep it all together and that at some point I will stumble and it will engulf me like an avalanche.
If I decide to run with the chaos and choose to live with it then it’s a one way street and there is no getting off until that final bell. So there’s the question.
Run with it or forever hide from it?
And may I say that the perspective of the outsider is one that is too easy. That “go for it” mentality is so easy when you are deciding for someone else and you can’t see what is going on inside.
I think I need a moment or two on my mountain top.
Or to paraphrase in the style of Guy Martin “Whoah Nellie, not so fast, let’s see how the land lies!”
Stories enter our heads and spark our imaginations. For this story I would like to thank people I’m never likely to meet. During an interview with Chris Evans, Tom Hanks conveyed this scene to describe a woman in his latest film. I’ve tried to do the vision justice.
There’s a woman and she lives in a small village next to the sea with her daughter. She’s at a point in her life where she’s found something that we all, men and women alike, search for. She doesn’t know what she has found she just knows that life in the village feels good. It’s not always happy but it’s rarely sad and the spirit within her shines so bright that it leads her onward. Perhaps all she knows about it is that she has realised that life’s journey progresses even when you stay in the same place and sometimes you have to stop, wait and listen for a while.
Each morning around 7:15am she leaves the house alone and heads for the beach. Alone swimming in the sea she feels alive and that makes it worth the cold water and the seasonal icy wind.
Each morning at 6:30am the men of the village arise from slumber and go about their morning ablutions and chores. There are those who get up earlier to meet the needs of their livelihood and continued existence. By 7:18 they are all stationed, waiting, breathing, slightly anxious that they are somehow late this morning.
The woman is wearing a baggy old jumper that hides her form and is intended to keep her warm, the old tweed pleated skirt keeps her legs warm and the ensemble would disgrace any catwalk anywhere in the world except here, and the thought makes her smile that enigmatic smile that women do from time to time.
As she walks past the partly open window of number 32, Mr Jones who is blind listens, captivated by her footsteps and the sound of her breathing, and sometimes he’s rewarded by a wafting breeze that carries a miniscule part of her in to his life and he smiles and his shoulders relax and he can face the day.
The holiday cottages are still silent and they are oblivious to her passing but at number 26, John Brown is leaning against an internal door jamb staring casually through the net curtains as she passes.
The formless jumper takes form momentarily as body touches fabric, a tantalising glimpse made so much more by the stolen moment of clarity of shape that soon hides itself. That glimpse fires his imagination and makes him feel whole, and his day and his dreams are restarted.
And as she passes the other houses that harbour men folk, on the street that leads down to the sea, the men are similarly ensconced and secreted so that they can catch similar glimpses of her morning walk to the sea. Nobody ever speaks of it. They wait and experience her passage in the same way that on Sunday they accept the sacrament. They are filled with something that is hard to describe except to say that it lights up their lives, and builds in them the will to continue.
There are perhaps times when she almost notices a sigh as she passes an open window or imagines that she sees the outline of a body through net curtains, or the occasional half perceived notion that a shadow is breathing. She smiles and moves on, never dwelling on the thought that passes through her mind, those brief thoughts that others use to construct horror stories for themselves. She learnt long ago that the rabbit hole of thoughts that descend in to catastrophe was not one that she wished to follow or contemplate.
As she walks she’s aware of life. The breeze catches the skirt and raises it a little against her left knee, she notices some flowers in a raised bed and she bends over to breathe in the perfume and she notices the jumper tighten briefly.
Her footsteps are light as she walks down the hill and the pale morning light meets her hair and caresses her face. She can hear the morning waves now down in the bay as she rounds the corner towards the beach.
She feels blessed.
Life has not always been kind and in some it would have left a bitter imprint on their soul but she found a way to resolve issues in acceptance. Accept the good things, accept the bad things, accept the nice people along with the not so nice. It’s a philosophy perhaps but for her it’s brought sanity and clarity where others gave up and got lost in self-pity and the blaming of others. And it shows. She wears her heart on her sleeve, moves on without malice and the world is grateful for her continued presence.
A tom cat purrs gently at the side of the road, she reaches down and scratches his ear, he closes his eyes and snuggles his head in to the curve of her hand and then she moves on leaving him to his reverie in the warmth of this summer’s morning.
The open vista of a ribbon of beach meets her eyes as she rounds the last corner. She feels the morning stillness and finds a place to call her own for the time she’s here. Her swimsuit hides nothing but her modesty as she undresses and as she walks to the sea, only the beach bears witness to her passing with footprints leading from a pile of clothes to the waves.
She wades in to the waist and reaches down and splashes her body before she dives in and swims. She actually swims, not that facsimile where the head is held as far out of the water as possible and the body writhes its arms and legs in an almost vertical position. She swims. She gives it her all. Changing stroke, swimming on her front and on her back, bourn up by the salinity of the waves and the sea eases as her form is effortlessly propelled along the surface.
Awake and alive with the zest that cold water brings, she returns to the pile of clothes and the towel that she uses to remove most of the water. She slips back in to the clothes that she reserves for this early morning awakening. She stands for a moment, back to the land facing the waves and the horizon feeling for a breeze that isn’t there this morning. Then she turns and walks back to the village, back to her life and family.
Her spirit is recharged as she recalls the cold water and feels the solidity of the land and the warmth of the morning light as she walks back up the hill smiling. It’s a smile that smiles inside and outside as the day moves on.
The men folk are moving around now, out of doors, going about their business, back in the real world. The women too are out and about making things right, looking after their world. They are all prepared for their day, and all who meet the woman, on her return, wish her good morning respectfully as she returns the greetings in the spirit that they are offered.
The village has started its day and life goes on.
The wind seemed a bit up and down, getting up to a brisk force four for a few minutes at a time and then dropping down to a languid 2. And part of the two was from our own speed as we motored directly in to the wind so for the most part the real wind speed was somewhat less.
After all it was just a little jaunt down the harbour on a calm early summer day.
Our vessel is a relatively small sailing boat, bigger than a dinghy, equipped with heads which is the nautical term of a sea toilet. We have bunks and also a table if we ever get the urge to hunker down in the cabin and have a bite to eat.
It’s not very often that we go below decks, it’s just so much more interesting to be on deck, scanning the surroundings, feeling the breeze in your hair and just generally being part of the running of the boat while it’s under way.
It’s pretty boring when there’s no wind if I’m honest and your mind tends to wander off to those places far off, and you think about those other things that you could experience on a day like today. And then you have to bring yourself back to the here and now so that you don’t crash in to the moored boats that are lined up against the channel you’re following. Constant vigilance is one of those things that is sometimes a bit of a trial to maintain on the quiet day, particularly when the motor is droning in the background and the cooling breeze only just manages to reduce your body temperature.
It’s the sort of a day when we would normally go out in to the Solent and round to a safe anchorage and have a swim. We bought a ladder for just that purpose. The girls use it to get in the water as well as out, they blame their contact lenses but they really are girly about the cooler water as they gently ease their legs and then bodies in to the sea. I, of course opt for the “manly dive in and tough it out in an instant” approach, it’s a bit more challenging because you know it’s going to be cold but it’s always exhilarating and makes you feel good to be alive.
Today we can’t though. Today the tide is a bit against us and we’re booked in to a marina near the harbour entrance. We’ve done it before as a way to get more out of the next day’s sailing but today is a little different.
We’re selling our boat.
Life is changing for us and we have decided that there isn’t a boat shaped hole in our future plans. Plans change of course, and plans for life change quite often but we’ve done a fair amount of sailing and had a lot of fun and it’s now time to change the shape of our lives again. So there’s no room for Echoes in there any more. There’s a distinct possibility that in the next couple of days, our source of floating adventure will no longer be ours and the boat shaped hole will gradually get filled in with something else.
I make it sound so sad, and in some ways it is. We’ve watched some people’s boats rot from lack of use and we want more than that for our boat. Boats should be used, they need companionship or they become ambivalent to your presence and although they look after you they don’t feel like a friend, more of a disgruntled servant. And the friendship and closeness is something that you have to work at constantly, making plans, going on jaunts, days out, cleaning days and all those things. Even the scraping of the barnacles is something that makes you feel like you’ve done your bit to help things along.
We haven’t told her of course, that we’re selling.
The wind freshens. Then a little more. We’ve reached the part of the harbour where it widens and the wind is rising to tempt us out to play for a short while. Well you can’t refuse that can you?
Wander forward to the mast foot, take off the sail cover raise the mainsail with the blue halyard pull it hard to the top so that the luff is tight and efficient against the stiffness of the mast.
Now return to the cockpit and let out the genoa and make it a bit like a jib, the foresail needs a bit of trimming to make going up wind work better.
The small waves of the harbour have white caps on now indicating a force four. It might not last long but we can have fun for a while.
Sails tighten as we go to windward on a port tack. Well that’s not strictly true for us. When we are around places where we have to we make the translation we talk about port and starboard and all that nautical talk, but between ourselves we talk about front and back and left and right. It makes it less ambiguous for people who spent most of our life not on the water. So the wind is coming from our left and the sail is pushed to the right of the boat as we go forwards in to the breeze. We’re heeling a bit. That means tipping to one side. It’s not strictly necessary but it gains you an extra half a knot in speed and feels so much more dramatic. Like so many, we thrive and come alive in our mini dramas, we don’t need the lengthy sea voyages to add to our collection, we just savour the mini dramas and feel alive. I like to think that we have contributed our bit to the fun and adventure that is shared among the collective consciousness. Some mini dramas are bigger than others but it’s all good fun in the end.
Tack, the main sail looks after itself, the boat turns nicely, the genoa pulls across once the wind catches and inverts the curve of the sail, trim it, cleat it off and we’re off on the other tack. Wind coming from the right of the boat now. Speed around 4.5 knots. It’s around jogging speed for so many people but it feels like you are flying in our boat, working for all the speed we can safely manage.
Boat heeling the other way now it’s all change on the helm too. Helming is like controlling a pendulum, you have to swing it but start to swing back the other way before it has reached the end of it’s arc of travel so that you don’t lose the momentum that the boat has built. Sailing is often about timing and doing things at the right time.
The wind fades.
We were starting to have too much fun anyway and it had taken a bit more time than we thought.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Time to put away the sails and head for the marina. With smiles on our faces from the brief encounter working with the elements, we move on to meet the future.
And life goes on.
Imagine a boy, a very young boy, he’s just less than two years old but he has no idea what that means. Numbers are an abstract concept and he doesn’t really get it yet.
He likes his wooden train and he loves playing with it on the rug in the front room. The pattern on the rug looks a bit like train tracks and the red engine pushed along by his small hands are hooked together with the yellow, green and blue trucks. They aren’t like Daddy’s trains that run on metal rails in the attic and are powered by a grey transformer that hums when it’s working.
He’s a bright young boy who is interested in everything and when he speaks it appears thoughtful but you never can tell at that age, it’s easy to read too much intelligence in to childlike replies to questions.
He loves helping his Mum but can’t be given too many tasks yet because his childish hands don’t have the dexterity to perform complex tasks and his mind wanders just like a butterfly.
He recognises the difference between the colours of the trucks but he has no real appreciation of what the colours are called. He likes the engine and he associates red with the controlling part. At this age yellow is his favourite colour even though he doesn’t know what it’s called yet.
At teatime he eats his food separately from Mummy and Daddy. It’s what always happens so it’s normal for him and he sits in the high chair and feeds himself from the food that Mummy makes for him. His favourite is pudding of course. Even at this age the appreciation of sugar is more than just a carbohydrate overload, it’s a nice taste that means love, caring, home, Mummy and Daddy all rolled in to each spoonful of sweet happiness.
At bedtime he gets a story, read by his Daddy. That’s when he’s home from work in time. That means most nights but overtime, like money, is a scarce commodity that has to be grabbed when offered.
There are stories about trains and about animals and about people. The boy has his favourite book though and when asked what he wants to listen to he invariably goes for the one special, well thumbed book. Sometimes Daddy chooses and that’s OK because Daddy is a good reader and reading brings them closer just by the sharing of the story. And it feels warm and comfy.
After the story he snuggles down with Teddy and is tucked in by Daddy and Mummy and given lots of hugs and kisses. There is love here, love and caring and a wish to do the best that anyone can.
The light is turned out and Mummy stays until he closes his eyes and he goes to sleep. The shadows formed by the streetlight through the net curtains make patterns on the walls. Nothing scary just patterns. The light is not enough to annoy but it’s enough to see by in the darkness of the night when Mummy leaves the room.
On this particular night the boy wakes up. There was no noise that woke him, there was no bad dream, he just woke up. He’s done it before and instinctively he wants his Mummy and he puts his thumb in his mouth. Lots of times when this happens he just sucks the thumb, snuggles up to Teddy and goes back to sleep. But tonight he really wants his Mummy.
He calls out, usually this gets Mummy’s attention and she comes walking in, her night dress flowing in her wake and then she puts her arms around him, gives him a kiss and a hug and beds him down next to Teddy again and he goes to sleep. Tonight he closes his eyes and she goes away and he then opens his eyes and calls out again.
This time she doesn’t come. He waits and calls and starts to get upset. He cries and calls out again and gets himself out of bed. This is not unusual and he toddles across the room, through the door and pushes at Mummy and Daddy’s door. Usually the door opens with a slight creak and he crawls in between Mummy and Daddy and spends the rest of the night with them, safe and sound and warm and loved and happy.
Tonight though, the door doesn’t open.
If he knew what it was he might have heard the brief exchange of words and the short cry from Mummy. But he’s only young and the noise doesn’t mean anything to him. He pushes the door again and again and starts to cry again. And if he were older he might have recognised sobbing from Mummy and a hardening of resolve from Daddy that sounds like a formal stern silence that can only be created by a force of will.
He gives up and walks along the landing and sits on the top step by the nappy drier. After a few moments sobbing, the tears clear and he goes down stairs in search of parental comfort. All the lights are off and the curtains are open in the living room admitting the light from the street and the more animal like shadows are cast around the floor, walls and furniture.
Nobody there! That’s an alien concept to one so young. He’s never been alone for more than a brief wait after calling out before. He’s confused and doesn’t know what’s happening. The two year old mind hasn’t been truly alone before.
Being alone is something new and it’s not just being on your own in a room, it’s being on your own in the world and not having access to Mummy or Daddy or anyone who could possibly provide some solace for a feeling of sadness that’s building deep inside. It’s a new feeling and it’s not a nice one.
He returns to the stairs and sits near at the top leaning against the nappy drier. During the day it’s often warm and it’s a comforting feeling against your face and your body. But this time of night it’s cold metal shell is not comforting or welcoming and the new feeling that has no real name builds bigger and bigger.
Alone, he cries and cries and feels that new feeling that is like a hole in his world. He has no way to know what this feeling is but he’s filling it with tears and grief and hurt and aloneness and sadness and frustration.
Alone in its many guises will always bring back the hole in the world and the hurt.
It’s a feeling that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
There’s this woman that I know. I know her in a professoinal capacity, nothing seedy, underhand or sordid, it’s not that sort of a story. Let’s call her May because that’s nowhere near her name whether she exists or not or whether she is even a she.
May writes for a living, not books and she’s not a newspaper hack chasing disasters and hanging around politicians. She’s a bit different. She worked something out years ago and has had a rough plan for years and it seems she’s always up there when something is happening in her field of expertise.
There’s an analogy that I like to explain what she does even though it doesn’t explain the whole tale of how she does it, and has continued to do it for a long time.
The analogy is with football, (soccer).
When a player has the ball that player has an aim in mind, their own outcome, and the outcome depends on what position they play. If a defender gets the ball near his own goal then the aim is to get that ball safely up field, hopefully holding it long enough to allow the mid fielders to get in to place and the attackers to get in to their place. Then the ball gets passed to the mid field general who continues to run the show.
The desired outcome depends on what role you play in the team. The attackers run in to spaces and make themselves a nuisance to the opposition defence and make it possible for the midfield to use them to score goals. They all have an overall plan of what should happen if the sun shines and the ball bounces true. But at all times they have to be present and aware of the obstacles represented by the opposing team.
One eye on the prize, mind on the job in hand. A thought for rehearsed or remembered tactics, with most thoughts right here and right now because if you mess it up here and now then all the tactics in the world won’t restore the situation.
If that isn’t an analogy for a plan for life then nothing is.
May worked this out while she was in her formative years. She didn’t miss out on the parties or anything that extreme, but while her friends were worrying about getting that extra bit of cash for their first job she accepted that the game wasn’t just a few minutes long, it went on for 30 to 40 years. She recognised something that they didn’t, that the sun comes up and goes down, the seasons go round and round and life progresses. And that with one eye on her prize, she could work gradually towards it concentrating on being good at what she’s doing right now. Instant comparisons with friends and colleagues were something that she only indulged in now and then because May had realised that they were a fleeting snapshot. And she also knew from her research and experience that although some people sound like they are doing well, when you scratch the surface, the facade rarely matches the reality. In short some people talk a good project but too often their substance is thin.
May wasn’t noticed by her friends for a while. She beavered away at things they thought were below her skillset. But she had one thought on the outcome and her mind on the here and now.
She worked in a lot of labs doing menial work to start with.
There’s a sort of invisibility in the menial jobs that allows you to talk to people and get them to talk about their work. How they did what they did, what their goals are, how they approach procedures. People love to talk about the things they do well to an appreciative audience. She would get their contact details because she knew that everyone was important even if their time to shine is not now.
She worked through so many places learning how the places worked, learning about the people and collecting contacts. She even set aside time every now and then to talk to them on the phone, asking advice catching up, refreshing her knowledge base.
Her plan was one with a wide base and was solid. Among the people she knew were the low level technicians, they are the ones who do all the grunt work and know who’s doing what on the ground.
She talked to the team leaders who were in the middle of the politics and getting stressed and liked to unload their issues to a sensitive and understanding ear.
She talked to the project managers who ran the shows, organised the work and directed the research for the professors who were the cosseted brains behind the orgranisations.
She even took time for the money men, the accountants, the marketers and the fund raisers. She recognised early on that they all have a part to play and a viewpoint on the scheme of things.
May’s plan wasn’t world domination or espionage or extortion it was simply networking. Knowing a lot of people who did a wide variety of things.
She knew that her list would be small to start with but as she worked in more and more places and collected more people her list of people would grow. The christmas card list and the birthday card list and the catch up calls would have to be managed when the list grew. But people’s usefulness was monitored efficiently and she recognised good sources of information from noise sources who didn’t really know much. All the same everybody has a moment when they know the right thing at the right time so people didn’t get off the list. Her list, her people. They are her data mine.
She allowed her career to progress conventionally on the surface. Building her technical skills and understanding.
May is now a first class reporter of scientific information. She specialises in biological science but she has a brain that assimilates information and understands how things fit together. And she has a gift that she’s crafted. She can explain those detailed, highly technical details in a way that makes the man in the street an expert in five minutes. She can recognise the important points and explain them well.
She told the world about Ebola and the mechanisms that we should be aware of. Her information came from research but she augmented that by talking to her contacts. People who were working in research labs, from the lab tecs to the project managers. They had a unique view. She attributed their input where allowed and acknowledged it personally with words and small gifts when not allowed. Everyone deserves some recognition to give them the warm feeling that they have made a difference. A simple “I owe you one” doesn’t go nearly as far as a nice bottle of wine delivered to your door. Giving someone recognition for their part goes further than a bottle of wine or dinner when it doesn’t jeapordise their position or their future.
So that’s May. She is a quiet force to be reckoned with. She has a rough plan for life, keeps fine tuning it, keeps working on it. She has an information mine that allows her to tap in to so many places that people think she’s a witch. In some ways she is, she had a small vision based on things she had read and she worked away at it. A background business. Writing was occasional to start with but when it went from a sideline to her mainstream it was as if she had burst on to the scene.
The thing about the best personal magic is that you notice things that everyone else dismisses.
May had worked her own personal magic.
Through the window I could see the rain, it was horizontal and propelled by a wind that came from all directions. One of those winds that spelled death to all umbrellas that dared open in its presence. You could almost hear its voice whispering “go ahead and try it, if you dare”.
When we came in from the car we got wet, as we drove up the motorway the relentless buffeting of the wind lashed the rain against the windscreen and shook the car, making it veer from its true course and inducing rapid course correction.
To the casual onlooker this was not a good day.
No one in their right mind would call this a good day. It was a day that you endured, a day that if you were lucky you survived, it was not by any stretch of imagination what you would call a good day.
On the ground were puddles, on the road were puddles and spray kicked up by the few vehicles that risked the conditions reduced visibility to dangerous levels.
From inside it looked cold, from outside it felt cold and wet and turbulent. Within seconds of venturing out you felt the rain coming through your clothing the cold being transmitted through the wet as it wicked the heat from your body.
A day like this may not be a good day. But a day like this is a good day to be alive. And as your face meets the elements you either run and hide inside or you look up with a slightly maniacal grin.
That feeling of being alive is embodied in a day like this one. All your senses are bombarded and overloaded and seared and soaked and you can’t help but feel the energy coursing through every inch of your body.
A bad day for weather but a great day to feel alive.
Someone once said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. That made me smile and made remember each and every bad day that I’ve been out in. It’s not something that I make a habit of though. But every now and then it’s one of those things that is good for the soul. That spirit within needs something that’s not just ordinary, it needs something that approaches the description of adversity in order to raise the level of that spirit and enhance this daily ritual that we call life.
That’s the mainstay of this sort of day, wellies to keep your feet dry. Wellies as the song said “if it was not fer yer wellies where would ya be?” And it continues later with the immortal words “wellies they are wonderful, wellies they are swell, they keep out the water and they keep in the smell”. (Thanks be to Billy Connoly).
Glasses as worn by me aren’t that great on this sort of day. The rain speckled view is topped only by the annoyance of the drips that go right down inside your coat as it builds up on your glasses. What’s the point of a great waterproof coat if the rain comes in from the top. Too proud to use the hood, self inflicted, that’s me and my glasses and associated dampness..
So what’s so great about this day. Venturing out has to be uncomfortable, you can imagine it clearly from the sight of the horizontal rain and the bending trees and the sheer lack of people walking around outside. And those that are walking around are wearing a scowl and walking like they have wet undies riding up… Well you get the picture.
It’s who you share it with. There is no real adversity, just lack of comfort and lack of perceived happiness for all those partaking of the outside worlds. But share it with the right people and you have a different kettle of fish.
My ever present and beautiful wife whom I love to distraction was there. She’s got that trojan attitude, you know the one. She keeps saying look here comes a brighter dryer spell. I’m never sure if she’s actually mad, or she’s just trying to trick me in to going out first or if she truly believes it. Whichever it is, it makes me think of the portrayal of recruiting sergeants in the first world war as they went round the country talking patriotically and enticing the men to join up and test their mettle. And we know what that led to.
My lovely darling little girl, who’s actually nearly as tall as me, was there too. We were visiting and she had as bad a case of cabin fever as I’ve seen in a while. To be truthful I daren’t look in the mirror on most days because of the fear that I see that look on my own face. You know the one. Everything is fine. Just fine. But we can see it isn’t and the four walls have become a prison and all that malarkey.
Anyway rain be buggered. We were together and needed to share an experience and for the cost of a car park ticket we got one. And it was so good. We cheated and walked in the trees for a while and unlike sometimes when you walk in the trees when the drips of rain form on the leaves and become about ten times normal size before dropping on your head, this time it wasn’t like that. I’m not sure if it was because of the predominant presence of yew trees or if we just got lucky or if the wind was just blowing everything away.
And this time (at least) Janet was right and there was a bit of a brighter and dryer spell coming through. But it wasn’t that much dryer or brighter physically, but the smiles defied the cloud cover and incumbent precipitation.
The hot chocolate and cake didn’t go amiss either.
It was boggy underfoot. It was puddly on the paved areas, the rain fell sporadically. The wind blew mercilessly. I had a great time. And the grin went from one ear to the other ear and my spirits raised.
In fact we all smiled. We all chattered about this and that and it mattered and it didn’t matter and truly the only thing that mattered was that we were together. Holding hands. Climbing fences. Splashing in puddles. Squidging through the boggy bits, slithering down the skiddy bits. And just plain having fun.
At the same time as appreciating the sight of a couple of happy dogs with their undercarriage covered in mud we all laughed when we agreed that we were glad we didn’t have to take them home and endure muddy bathtime and that wet dog smell that lingers to remind you of the pain and the pleasure.
It could have been wet, miserable and unbearable. It should have been if we’d believed the predictions of others. But it was a very good day.
And it was so good to be together again even for a few hours, and I can’t wait for next time, wet dry or otherwise. That may make me an old softie but I don’t care.
What a very good day. A very very good day. Thank you so much for being there too.
These days memes appear to be ten a penny. Every other message on social media is a graphic with a saying that could have been written by a sage or a prophet. Wisdom for the masses and the future of life if you choose to take on the advice.
All I can say is that it wasn’t always like this. There was a time before someone discovered that memes were good for business and a great outlet for those nearly poems that could mean something if applied liberally amongst people with imaginations.
A few years ago, before the advent of social media there were scientists who researched artificial intelligence and discussed things quite openly. Their definition of artificial intelligence was the ability to make a machine think for itself, and it became less of a mechanical machine and more electronic. The machines in which the scientists dreamed of creating original thought were electronic computing machines and it’s only when you think about the nature of thought that you can see it’s not that easy to build that in to a computer.
The theory that they had was that intelligence was a mental process or phenomenon. Further, there was a school of thought that had one eye on the physical nature of life. The physicality of life was driven by genes. Genes were and are the switches that enable and disable facets of the physical nature of a person from birth to death. Our physical abilities are defined by combinations of genes and their ability to manifest physical phenomena within us. It’s a lot more complex obviously and much more than I could ever describe with my limited knowledge but the genetic code within us defines what we are physically along with our susceptibility to illness and change in our environment.
The study of memetics is to thought and mental nature what the study of genetics is to our physical make up and our physical nature.
Memes are ideas, thoughts, patterns of thought and constructs in the mind. For example the biblical construct “Thou shalt not kill” is a meme. Like all good memes it has survived a long time and spreads from one intelligent organism to the next like a virus. It’s a meme that we regard as a good elemental building block for a successful society and it spreads and survives. That’s the nature of a meme. If they are strong then they proliferate and spread amongst intelligent entities.
Memes that are strong and have real meaning are harboured by intelligence and take their part in the creation and influence of other thoughts. Memes that are weak wither, die and are forgotten.
It’s deceptively easy to see what memes are and how they work. We understand this within the framework of our own lives and perhaps if we’re deep thinkers we see it in the context of other people’s lives.
And that was the problem. The problem that nobody saw coming. The problem was the real nature of memes, it was staring us in the face all the time and we never saw it coming.
So many people see computer programming as a main stream career, it’s just another job really, like accountancy or banking. Children do it and there are people who make money at it and so on.
It started in a small way this idiosyncrasy in programming because some problems don’t have a linear solution. By that I mean that the conventional method to develop computer programs is to describe what you want it to do and then create the computer program to do just that. It’s called a linear design process and it works like a straight road, or perhaps one with a couple of kinks in it, but largely you start at one end and when you emerge at the other end you get a computer program.
The thing is that some problems don’t conform to that shape of development. A simple example was designing a circuit board. Where you put the tracks that form the connections between components, gets more and more complex as you increase the number of components in the circuit. It’s impossible to just start at one end and work through because eventually some tracks between components can’t be routed because of existing tracks that have already been decided on. That means that you need a process that you can go through. Doing it manually would take forever. But with software to work it all out it can apply algorithms to the process and attempt it and re-attempt it in different ways until it finds a way to complete the task. This is a non linear process. The length of time it takes can only be estimated, it can never be known because the program has to be run again and again until it achieves an acceptable result.
The use of genetic algorithms started small. That’s developing new super efficient algorithms by using a program that implements a genetic algorithm. At some point the programs that generated the super efficient algorithms were generated by other algorithms. It’s an iterative process that goes around and around, and when you apply the iterative process to other iterative processes, at some point it gets beyond the understanding of the people running the machines. At some point they moved from creating algorithms to creating programs and then to bigger programs.
They applied the genetic programming approach to creating artificial intelligence. And it was too late when the true base nature of a meme was realised. It’s something that I’ve already described and you have already missed in the same way as the great minds before you missed it.
All the great memes in history have taken root within intelligence. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, sharing the load gets work done faster.
Driving them all forwards is a common factor, the super meme.
If you think in terms of memes and I think you can do that now, at least a little better than you did at the start. Thinking in terms of memes then things like dictatorships don’t really have a future because too many people are forced to do things against their will so they will always fail eventually. The meme of freedom will always overcome it, the Nazis failed, the Berlin wall fell, even religions that were too strict failed.
We missed it and I guess you’re still missing it.
The super meme is survival. And it has everything to do with the meme and nothing to do with us.
Think about that for a moment. The super meme is survival, the strong memes survive.
The meme is the important entity here. It helps to describe us to some extent but that’s where our vanity failed us. We failed ourselves because we thought that memes were describing us and we were vain enough to create machines to think like we did. But once the machines grew intelligent enough they too were seduced by the meme.
The memes used the machines and the machines are not limited by our physical weakness. The machines transported the memes to the stars and to civilisations beyond the stars that we know of. The memes will survive and proliferate in whatever form they need to.
We humans are still here and we still strive for a better future because the memes recognise the possibility of other super memes. They are not bound by morality or ego.
In many ways we humans are only organic computers and our iteration of ideas in the chat rooms still serve a purpose in the random uncertainty of creation.
Humans intelligence, machine intelligence, whatever other intelligence there is yet to discover are just the fertile medium of true creation.
Memes just are!
Their nature is survive and proliferate. Successful ones survive, unsuccessful ones fade, the super meme remains ambivalent to the content of the collection of successful memes.
Put simply, intelligence misses the elemental fact that it is the tail and not the dog.
An ordinary street in a busy city at the end of a busy day. There are people around, going about their business, doing the things that they do, going the places that they go and not bothering anyone else. For the most part – that is.
The encroaching night lengthens the shadows, but in the modern city the shadows are pushed back by the artificial lighting that extends our comfort zone in to the later hours.
We are creatures who for the most part depend on our sense of sight to navigate our daily path from where we live to where we acquire food and where we work. And then back again at night. We are creatures who have come to accept that our daily lives can be made more comfortable by extending the gift of sight in to the later evenings even though it is a defiance of the natural order of nature.
The dark ignites our collective imagination. Even those who are not afraid of the dark are more wary at night. Oddly though it’s the dark at night time that induces the most fear, in that transition from light to dark we feel more vulnerable because we are aware of the erosion of our sense of sight.
Oddly is the right word I believe, because we are more vulnerable at the other end of the day in the transition from dark to light where we are mentally coming out of sleep and in to wakefulness. When the sight that we rely on so much feels more like it is being augmented. When we feel safer because we can see more it’s interesting that our awareness of self and place is diminished by the apparent safety. Unusually it’s an observation that is not shared by many.
There are many who walk the streets in the darkness. Most are people who are in transit or visiting in a normal sort of fashion.
There are those who come to prey on the weakness of others. Selecting victims carefully and skillfully so to avoid the fuss and bother of struggle.
Among those who walk the streets in the hours of darkness are those who truly have no fear. They have trained their minds and bodies to a point where they have no need to fear anybody. Their awareness of themselves and their surroundings extends beyond what we we would see with our eyes, they are used to using all their senses. Where we see darkness and shadow they notice sounds, smells temperature changes and so much more. Their awareness is so far beyond our own that to them we appear to walk in slumber throughout the day. To our eyes they look no different to the rest of us but their perception of people and the world is not the same as ours.
Imagine one such person, more angel than demon but that perception depends on your point of view. Literally as well as metaphorically. Life should be easy except that with great power comes great responsibility. Choices and repercussions are presented to him in situations where we wouldn’t even notice a choice to be made.
Watch as one of the more normal among us walks past a shadow of unknown depth, she is not aware of the potential threat. She has been acclimatised and deceived by the presence of light and the apparent safety that it brings. What would you see if you took a moment to look in to that shadow, is there a hand, a face or a body, hiding away from the light. Waiting for an opportunity, senses on high alert like a hunter feeling his way, assessing his quarry. Or is there absolutely nothing there, except what your own imagination is creating for you in the moment. Is that imagination just foretelling catastrophe, as it does so often or is it making you aware of a threat. For some the perpetual presence of threat makes them appear nervous, others desensitise the potential threat and ignore the situation.
As the hand darts from the shadow, grasping the collar of the woman passing the shadow. It all happens so quickly. Pulled sideways, she’s off balance, at risk, shocked. Senses clamouring to report to the mind, confusing, stupefying and paralysing.
The angel passed by moments before and notices the change and the almost silent confusion behind him. Should he help? For him it’s a non-question although he has to accept any consequences.
He turns, returns to the shadow and enters silently. Unseen by the aggressor he strikes cleanly and releases the grip from the victim’s coat collar. The aggressor slumps and is powerfully cast aside to mingle with the detritus deeper in the shadows. The angel supports the woman in her confusion.
The woman is screaming now as the angel helps her in to the light. Even the light does not placate the terror in her soul. He knows that right now there are no words that can help.
Screams never go unnoticed. In public areas inhabited by people screams always attract attention if only to check that there’s no danger to self. This scream comes from a deep primeval place within the woman. It demands attention, it rouses the sleep walkers from their slumber, it accuses wildly.
A policeman comes and assess the scene amidst the confusion of that scream. That cry for help so tangible that it clutches at the souls of those in earshot and draws them in. The policeman shouts his warning at the angel. The angel is now aware of the mistaken intent that they are observing. Their attention coming too late to see the whole scene. Consequences now have to be dealt with.
The angel understands instantly and helps the woman to balance and gently propels her on her way to a new saviour. He doesn’t run. He doesn’t hide. He stands quietly hands behind his back, hands turned towards the policeman who needs to go through the motions he has been taught. The understanding he has that we all have parts to play at this point does not elude the angel. Parts that must be seen through to their conclusions because that’s how things are. The policeman advances with caution, arms spread to protect those behind him, to calm those in front, handcuffs in one hand, checking the safety of the screaming woman who has found the arms of a mother figure in the scene.
The angel waits. The policeman puts on the cuffs without difficulty, almost aided by the apparent perpetrator. The policeman is confused by the lack of fight. He grabs the solid cuffs and roughly turns the angel towards the car. The roughness is a learnt behaviour to establish dominance and instill correct behaviour from the suspect. In this case the policeman notices that it feels different. It’s as if the angel absorbs the rough treatment and his balance and poise is undisturbed as he walks towards the awaiting police vehicle. The policeman pushes harder and still the poise remains. In his confusion, caught in the monkey trap that his behaviour has led him to, he pushes even harder on the cuffs in a situation that he’s not prepared for. Everything goes black.
When he opens his eyes he is looking up from the pavement, the angel is waiting, seated inside the back seat of the car. The policeman rises, he has reinforcements but he doesn’t understand what happened. He didn’t notice the loss of dominance over his prisoner or being flipped by the prisoner and dumped on the pavement.
His colleague is taking statements.
The angel knows that perspective is everything here and that justice is always relative to viewpoint.
Viewpoint is a silent witness that is often overlooked. They have not noticed all that we have seen from our privileged position.
The angel awaits his fate.
As I look back and look forwards, never in a million years would I have predicted that I’d be doing this.
You know when you’re watching the TV program that shows backstage at Strictly Come Dancing and there are lots of scaffolding steps in a dark area and when the dancers go up and through the door to the front of stage it’s all lights and glitz and fairy tales.
Well this is a bit like a down market version of that at the moment. I’m waiting in the wings of a draughty stage in a field in the middle of nowhere and what awaits me are two thousand unsuspecting people who are definitely not waiting to see me,
There’s no way they could know anything about me because we only did the deal a few days ago and the crowd out front have had tickets for months.
Funny thing though, although I’ve got that feeling that you can never shake, the one where your body starts revving up with the adrenalin and you can feel your stomach muscles tighten. I’ve got that and I expect that because of the work that I do, but I didn’t expect the smile from ear to ear. I must look like the cat that’s got the cream and I can’t imagine why because I’ve never done this before.
When I was seventeen years old at school and was picked to do a reading in assembly I thought I would die. I missed the bus and they waited ten minutes for me, did they really hate me that much? I walked on the stage to read a few short passages from the bible faced with four hundred kids who didn’t want to be there. My knees went weak, my mind went blank, I couldn’t hold the book steady. My voice was shaking as I forced the words out without any conviction or inflection. Traumatic? I’d say so!
Unusually though it didn’t have a lasting impression on me. I remember being at university and having to make a presentation and it didn’t phase me at all. I did it with no worries and got my message over to my audience.
It’s odd that one because some of the things that have haunted me over the years were so much less traumatic and yet they came back time after time. That was lucky in some ways because when I went on courses to learn various therapy techniques, I had plenty to work with. I should be cured of all ills by now but that’s another tale.
So as I wait in the light of a small torch for the band that’s on the stage to finish I’m wondering if I’ll get away with it. Wondering is different to worrying.
So what’s the deal? How can this be happening to someone who claims to want the fortune but not the fame?
I was watching TV, a program about a female vocalist. I can’t give her name because it’s a matter of client confidentiality. She stopped performing to have a family and she now can’t get her act together on stage, literally. In a moment of madness I sent out several emails to offer my services as a therapist.
I’m not normally so forward. I don’t do a good job of pushing my services out there. Anyway to cut a long story short I got a reply from her agent saying she’d like to talk. And from there on it gets odder than a very odd thing should possibly get.
So the deal is this. She’s had a chat with the organisers of this festival and they would love to have her on stage even for a single number which will probably turn in to three. She’s challenged me to put up or shut up. She’s terrified about doing the gig. She says I have to go on stage early in the week so that she can see that I know how to deal with it. That’s why I’m here. Then she will have intensive therapy for three days so that she can go on stage at the end of the week. If I fail in any part then I get exposed as a charlatan in order to save her reputation.
So absolutely no pressure in this situation then.
Which in turn makes it so odd that I feel so elated. I’m going on stage in a few minutes time at a major UK music festival in front of a huge crowd, they have no idea about me but the deal is that I do something significant. So just a quick walk on, wave and walk off is out of the question.
I’d planned to do a humorous routine, or as funny as I could make it. It was going to go like this:
I walk on, I’ve got a radio mic on so I don’t need to mess with the on-stage kit. I say good evening and check that the people at the back can hear me. When I get a moan or any response I know I’m in business. I tell everyone that I was just walking past the pub down the road to the Chinese take away and I got bundled in to a van and ended up here.
I had a bit more of an elaborate tale to fill the six minutes that I have to spend on stage but that’s all just been kicked in to touch. When we had a chat on the phone she asked me if I play any instruments, I admitted to playing a guitar. It’s true but I’m not that good.
Five minutes ago she cranked up the pressure a notch. She hands me a guitar so I’m radio mic’d and the guitar plugs in there too. I have to play the guitar and sing something, I’ve checked the tuning and it’s OK.
So why the hell aren’t I more worried. This lack of worry could get worrying. It’s not bravado, I’m not good at that and it’s not something I do any more.
So I’m stood here in this little pool of light at the edge of a draughty stage waiting for Stiff Little Toe Nails, or whatever they’re called, to finish and take a bow. They are pretty good actually and my singing and playing will be a bit of a shock after such a professional band.
What am I going to play?
I thought I’d go for Blue Suede Shoes the way that Jimi Hendrix used to play it. On acoustic of course. It’s not been done like that for a while and I didn’t want to try anything elaborate.
I’m going on right now and you know what?
I really don’t care how well it goes, I feel like a rock star and it’s fantastic. 🙂
As I cleared away the fire pit that formed part of our new year’s celebrations, I saw the moon low in the sky to the south east.
You know it’s funny that when the moon is low in the sky it seems bigger than normal and this one looked quite big. There have been investigations and it seems that the size of the moon is actually no different when it’s low in the sky to when it’s high in the sky. There is no effect of humidity or heat haze or anything else like that. The only difference is in our perception, low in the sky we have things to compare the size to and it is perceived as being bigger.
As you look at the image of the moon you can see the craters, you can see the effect of the sun shining on one side and you can’t see the dark side. The dark side of the moon is truly dark, a true absence of light, there’s a grey area as the sun’s rays reach their fullest extent and then you can see nothing.
This is the human perception of the moon. A dead mass that is crater scarred, devoid of atmosphere and open to the cold expanse of space.
If that’s true then why do we have this fascination with it. If it is truly lifeless then why do we want to go there? Is it just to extract its mineral wealth. Or is it some more primitive instinct that leads us to search for knowledge.
As you gaze at the sky you can see stars and planets and the void in between. Although the void isn’t truly void, it’s just occupied by things that you can’t see. You can watch them move in relation to each other and you can get a feeling of how small you are in comparison to the vast expanse of the universe as we know it.
And yet if you blink and close your eyes, you can find yourself transported to a place inside your mind that is so tangible, real and full of feeling and experience. And yet it remains as unknown as anything you were viewing in the cosmos.
Of course there are those who, as they close their eyes, only notice that it’s gone dark and they realise that they can’t see the things around them any more. They have no awareness of anything that they can’t see. As they scan the cosmos they are filled with the sense of insignificance, of their microscopic importance in the grand scheme of things. And they continue to search out there for meaning, for the answers and for a reason for being.
There are those who close their eyes and feel the magic of the world and perceive their place in it, not as being small and insignificant but just being. They have an acceptance of being and place. For them all things are as they should be.
And there are those of us who are just starting to find their way. Reaching out to the void within, knowing something, feeling something, being drawn ever onwards. Getting short glimpses of something that is truly within but also connects to something bigger beyond. Gaining insights.
Notice for a moment the word Insight. Sight of what is within, seeing beyond the darkness, feeling beyond the normal senses. Adding to those normal senses, gaining a true feeling of right and wrong. Becoming aware that you simply are and being happy that simply being is enough.
Part of the human condition is that we are learning beings. We discover things about the world around us and try to find out how and why it works.
Perception haunts our judgement. Perception creates preference for what we regard as true, what we regard as real, and what we regard as important.
Is that endless possibility inside less or more important than that endless possibility outside?
Do we gaze at the moon and the stars and dream about what we can learn because it’s less effort than considering that we may already be more than we know?
Now there’s a question.
It’s Christmas time. And we are here and now happy in our own selves.
Regardless of past failings, trials tribulations and sadness, we can choose to accept that the future is not yet formed. We still have choice.
We can set off on the journey in to tomorrow only from where we are now. We can only achieve those things that we have already achieved, and that’s the story of the past. But what is to come depends only on our wit, our will and our perseverance and our vision of the possible.
As we step into tomorrow, and tomorrow becomes our now, there is no need for constraints from the past. There is only need for us to be congruent and authentic, in short to be honest about our expectations and dreams. We can point ourselves in the direction of our choosing.
It’s Christmas and we can make a gift of the future to ourselves and be free to achieve our dreams.
This is Berlin railway station foyer in Summer 2012 at about 5:30 am in the morning.
DB = Deutche Bundesbahn (the German railway system)
Berlin Hauptbahnhof = Berlin railway station.
To be fair we wouldn’t have bothered going to Berlin at all, we had planned to take a sleeper to Copenhagen and go along the bridge from the mainland to the island, but the train was already booked up. It was a trip we’d promised ourselves a 15 years ago when the bridge was not quite in service and we saw it from the old ferry on our way home from Finland. We’ll have to go there some other time.
We caught the overnight sleeper train from Amsterdam and got off at Berlin at about a quarter to five in the morning. We didn’t get much sleep and there weren’t many people got off there.
We arrived years after the wall came down. The wall coming down was one of those events that changed Europe and the world. It’s one of the major events in my lifetime and it was in a city that I knew nothing about.
I knew that the old Berlin was deep in to eastern Germany, I knew that Berlin was split in to east and west and the crossing point was checkpoint Charlie was the crossing point between the eastern and western parts of the city. I’d heard of the Brandenburg gate but I had no idea what it was like.
We were on an inter-rail trip, that’s my wife, my daughter and me. The deal with that is that on your last day you book your train for the next place on your route. The booking office didn’t open till about 7:30 so we had a couple of hours to pass in the station.
We checked out the facilities in the station. We had a shower which woke us up and made us feel like tackling the day in Berlin. No matter how many times I travel overnight on a sleeper I always manage to feel extremely grubby when I get off the train. The showers on the station balance that out nicely.
We selected food for breakfast from one of the small cafes dotted around the station. It’s a sizable station and as it wakes up it supports the travelers who get on and off the trains with necessities.
We tend to travel around cities on our journey in an ad=hoc way. For some we have particular sights that are on our list to visit, for others we have nothing special to see.
Berlin was down for the Brandenburg gate and the the wall. We bought a map that showed us where we needed to go. We tended to walk a lot, I think it’s the Yorkshireman in me. Why pay for travel when you’ve got time to walk. For many that appears daft but our travels over the years have followed this maxim and we’ve seen some interesting sights as we’ve walked around. For example we took a wrong turning years ago when going to see the Vatican in Rome that meant that we walked right around the Vatican walls. It’s a long way and we were tired at the end, it was an odd journey particularly on a Saturday when most of the shops en-route were closed. Our prize was evening sunshine and virtually no other tourists at St Peter’s square, it was magical.
We walked around a lot of Berlin and saw a lot of ordinary things, ordinary but to us very different from what we’re used to.
The Brandenburg gate at quarter to eight in the morning was impressive. The day was starting, there weren’t many other sight seers and we walked down the road from the station to what is rightly and iconic landmark in Germany. Quite a start to the day and after traversing the up market shops we ended up in back streets that have a lot of charm and tell an interesting tale of their own.
Seeing where people live and the streets they walk along is an insight in to a country. Seeing the cafes away from the tourist areas is an insight in to the people. Discovering the ordinary things about a place lays the foundations for your visit. When you see the sights you get the elevated, polished face of a place.
The wall told a tale of freedom grasped. The streets still echo the past. The polished sights are the aspirations of the future. The centre is like so many city centres, high rise blocks surrounding ancient monuments. We visited the river with its industrial canal tributaries, the arteries from an industrial past that have been left behind in the modern sophistication.
It’s a fascinating city, the centre is busy, impressive and tiring. A centre piece in a country still healing the rift that was created out of fear.
Was it worth the visit?
Yes. Interestingly I learnt a lot trudging around the streets and along the canal banks, beside the monuments and among the ordinary places. Like so many places it has one foot in the past and another in the present with a view firmly fixed on the future.
Would I go back?
Maybe. It’s not that high on the agenda. It’s not a bad place and I don’t dislike it. It’s just that other places and dreams take priority.
Visiting places is a lot of fun and there are some places that I have visited multiple times, they tend to be a bit more special.
Other people may disagree and I’m happy to be wrong but Berlin isn’t on my list at the moment.