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.
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 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.
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!”
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.
There are always days when I do not feel very motivated to work. This was one of those days. To be productive in some way I decided to go dog walking on my own and this would have been a good idea had they been open. As I drove off I saw a member of staff stepping into a disinfectant boot wash which looked suspiciously like they were trying to get rid of kennel cough, but there was nothing I could do. Not wanting to go back to flat too soon, I drove to a part of the canal where I had always wanted to walk and had not yet been able too. Despite the huge, lake- like puddles in the car park it was a sunny day and I made it onto the towpath, overtook a man throwing bread to the ducks and wandered over a bridge.
As I stepped over the stile the smell of fresh cow poo hit me but living in the countryside for two years as a student has helped me to tolerate the smell so that it didn’t bother me at all. With no cows in sight I carried on walking down a well beaten path and eventually came upon the herd. I wasn’t scared, they seemed to be minding their own business and as I stared out over the fields, railway track and cooling towers of the power station I felt calm.
It was only after I had taken a few pictures and wandered round a bit that the cows started to look at me. They were blocking the path and, as a lone walker I didn’t want to push past them for fear of getting trodden on. The longer I stayed though, the more interested in me they became and I don’t know whether they thought I had food or not but they started to approach me. At first it was only a few of them and they stopped when I held up my hand. But then I tried to walk away.
I was becoming increasingly uneasy and when I turned round to walk back to the bridge I heard the trampling of hooves behind me. I don’t know much about cows, but I do know that they are big and these ones had horns included in the package. I started to back away and was a little scared when they started to follow me. All of them.
A young grey cow ran excitedly towards me but thankfully sticking my arm out in front of me was enough to stop her in her tracks. It wasn’t enough to stop them following me and so I walked backwards for about two hundred metres as they advanced slowly. I must confess that I was incredibly scared and even though they probably meant me no harm I couldn’t help thinking that if I turned my back, that would be their que to run at me and I would be tossed up in the air. The imagination is sometimes not your best friend.
I had now started to walk (still backwards) past a line of trees that overhung the canal, in my head I had planned to climb them if the cows decided to run at me but then I would have been stuck up a tree and possibly have to be rescued by my friends. That would have been way too mortifying! The cows seemed hesitant to follow me past the trees and the gap between the herd and I increased from less than a meter to maybe 20. This gave me a bit more space to breathe and I kept on walking backwards, knowing that the bridge was close now and I didn’t have that far to go.
In the end a pigeon was my savior. As I led the herd into its patch of trees it had obviously become annoyed and decided to flap noisily away with the characteristic clapping sound that pigeons are known for. Fortunately for me this scared the cows and a few of them leapt into the air and ran away. This left only a few, including an old, woolly headed cow that had been the one most intent on following me. She eyed me with slight contempt as I made a run for the safety of the bridge and I know this was probably because after all the walking, I had not led her to a pile of tasty treats.
As I sat with my legs dangling over the bridge, trying to get my heart beat under control, I saw a family of coots bobbing under a weeping willow. I understand why water can be a safe haven and one of my emergency plans to evade being trampled by cows was to jump into the canal and swim to the other side. That was as a last resort though, no one wants to have to explain to people why they are wet through when there hasn’t been rain for two days.
Even though it would have been nice to have some moral support in the situation, I was quite glad that no one was there to hear me feebly say ‘stop’ over and over in the vain hope that the cows would understand. Also the constant swearing and heavy breathing would have been hard to live down.
And so, what is the moral of the story? For a start maybe walking on my own was not a good idea, even though I had my phone with me, what would have been the use of calling one of my friends whilst walking backwards away from a herd of cows? Secondly, walking on your own in a field of cows is also not a good idea, unless, like one of my friends, you have lived on a farm and regularly hang out with them. Now I know that I should have waved manically at them but my instinct at the time said that this could have made them want to trample me. This experience really made me feel like a “towny” but I won’t let that deter me from going on walks again. Next time though I will take a friend.
I think I may be one of life’s floaters. All this talk of careers has really got me thinking of what I want to do in life and the reality for me that I want to do everything. I enjoy practicals but feel that if I was told to plan something on my own then I would end causing havoc and leak hazardous strains of E.coli that I accidentally mutated and start a major epidemic. Writing is where I feel safe, you can undo a bad sentence simply by holding down one button on your keyboard and no one has to know! I do have ultimate goals in life which basically consist of having my own donkeys and a dog with maybe some alpacas, sheep and ducks thrown in too. To achieve this, I know that I will have to work and earn some money but how to go about this has been a constant conundrum. Whether or not to carry on with science and get a job in that area is a possibility, however I fluctuate between loving my degree subject and then the next minute never wanting anything to do with it after graduating.
I go through phases of wanting to go chalet- maiding, dog walking, doing a season with a sailing company and becoming a ski instructor but none of these jobs seem to be something that people do for the rest of their lives. I know that being inside all the time or being in the same place day in day out is not for me; I need something mentally stimulating but finding a job that encompasses all of the things that I want to do may be hard and unrealistic.
Recently at university I have had a module that is based around careers and thinking about what is next for us after we graduate. This has made me think about my future more than ever and unfortunately panic has set in and I’m left with wondering if I can ever be passionate about for more than three weeks. For a lot of people, a career is a job where you start out in a company and work your way up to a more senior role. For me though, a career is what you make it; many different jobs that may or may not be connected or maybe floating could be a career; I’d be good at that.
Either way I know that I will use whatever job I get to fund my dreams which is exactly what my parents have done. We live in a small house, our cars are old and we don’t eat out a lot but all the money that is saved is put into going on holiday and building up memories that we can look back on a be glad that we spent the money on experience rather than things.
I am lucky that my parents will support me emotionally no matter what I end up doing and my mum constantly reminds me that I will always have a room at home. They spur me on to make the most of the time that I have, and even though I’m only twenty and probably have bags of time left, I don’t want to waste any of it. A lot of what scares me about moving into the big wide world is moving into a job where I don’t know what I’m doing. This, as I’m constantly reminded by my dad, stems from my first swimming gala where in the days before I was scared stiff of no knowing where to go but as I found out, there will always be someone there to guide you.
I wonder if there is a guide for floating in the right direction.
Recently I have been going through another one of my ‘I want abs’ phases. How long this will last is anyone’s guess but based on past experience then it will be a week at best. I am one of those people who wish they could be fitter but find the thought of the gym far too daunting to even consider putting on gym clothes for it. I have a few friends who are, or used to be, totally devoted to the gym and this infatuation rarely made any sense to me whatsoever because I think the last time I went to the gym was when I was 13.
For me, the thing that does not appeal is the thought of getting sweaty in front of many other people who don’t seem to perspire at all. There is also the fear that the regular gym goers might look at you and think, ‘does she even know what she’s doing?’ and, because I have never been to a gym induction the answer would most definitely be no.
Unfortunately, I have very little patience when it comes to exercise even though I know that instant results are not going to occur; I will not simply grow abs in my sleep after I have done one round of sit ups. This is now something that I am slowly getting used to. It seemed to be the ‘done’ thing to get a gym membership at university and in my first year I used it to its full extent (expect for actually going to the gym). I went to multiple classes a week, swimming and even went to a spin class led my friend. However, now in my second year I have rarely used it; out of the three things listed above I have only continued with one which is the spin class, and although it is keeping me fit and giving me something to do on a Tuesday night, I know that I have let myself down and resigned myself to being a slobby student.
This thought, of not being active enough, my face filling out and not quite fitting into some of my clothes anymore, spurred me on to do something different and that’s where dog walking came in. I’m lucky in some respects that my Nottingham University campus is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by never ending fields, a canal and a river. I have a passion for dogs and, one day, hope to own one but the closest I can get to actually having one of my own at the moment is volunteering at a dog shelter which is a five- minute drive from my university halls.
There have been so many times that I have nearly taken a dog home and went so far as to take my parents dog walking to show them that I can actually pick up dog poo. I think that going outside in the fresh air is my type of exercise and not being inside breathing in other people’s perspiration. My first long walk certainly made my legs ache and one of my friends commented on how toned my legs are although this might be down to sixteen years of skiing. The dogs are a welcome companion an it is also something that I can do with my friends; instead of sweating away on a treadmill, not being able to talk for the lack of air in my lungs, I can have long conversations (albeit about dogs) for almost two hours. I like to run with the dogs and the people who know me best know that I hate running unless it’s for a bus to my lectures. In this respect it’s a win- win situation.
So for me, exercise is about getting out and doing something that will make you forget that you’re exercising and make you feel good. I know that because the price for my university gym membership is sky-rocketing next year, I will have to find different ways of keeping myself fit and must remember to continue doing Pilates in my room and maybe get a sort of six pack.
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.
I knew I was vain, but I never realised how vain until I got told I had a minor eye infection and I couldn’t wear my contact lenses for a week. I’ve always been one to constantly check my reflection in every mirror I pass and it definitely got worse when I started wearing contact lenses at 15/16 years old. My eye sight is, on the whole, not really there. I can only just function if I don’t wear my contact lenses or my glasses but trying to look for something I’ve lost in this way is a non- starter. When I first started not being able to see properly in year four, I was determined that I would never have to wear my glasses full time but within a month this was massively unrealistic and I could no longer see more than a few centimetres in front of my face. Since then my eye sight has either stayed the same or got a tad worse.
In college I never once wore my glasses into any of my classes; I was just too worried of what people would think of me. Even though nearly everyone seems to be wearing glasses nowadays and I would never get bullied like my mother did for wearing them, I have never been confident wearing them anywhere except for at home. Possibly this was because I was exposed to a new set of people in college who I knew would already judge me for my posh accent and the school I went to, I didn’t want another thing for them to pick up on – ‘she has spots and glasses? Ew she will be forever single’. The school I spent the previous 14 years in had become a second home and I was always comfortable wearing my glasses there, even though I definitely preferred my contact lenses.
This feeling has lessened since starting University. Letting go of keeping up what I thought of as looking good, especially after a night out, was a step that I took to feel more confident about myself. Possibly breaking up with my last boyfriend made me feel a bit less confident about wearing my glasses because before then I had never been interested in looking good for anyone else. There is definitely a pressure that I have put on myself to try and impress every boy that I like the look of, even though I also want to be a strong independent woman. I will never make it as a feminist because I am constantly trying and mostly failing to convince myself that I don’t need a man. If I do gain another boyfriend though, they’ll have to cope with me wearing my glasses at some point! For now, however, I am confident that my flat mates have seen me at all states of the tide and will accept me for who I am whatever I do with my face.
I suppose this week of being banned from my contact lenses will be a test of how comfortable I actually am in myself and if I have taken my contact lenses for granted for too long. I suspect that I have come to rely on them too much and at first I was angry that this had happened to me and it had to have happened in the one week when I am due to go out clubbing twice. However, going out in my glasses can’t be as bad as being the only one wearing gothic Star Wars themed make up to an event where no one else dressed up. And as my mum pointed out, it will possibly keep the boys at bay on those nights out.
Life throws many hurdles our way. My mother has suffered a similar problem with her eyes, except that hers involved getting bread dust stuck in there which sounds considerably more painful than what I am experiencing. This meant that she absolutely could not wear her contact lenses for nearly a month and she reminded me of this when I phoned her about my situation as soon as I was out of the opticians. She also hates wearing her glasses in public, even more than me! After work she would go straight home to avoid seeing anyone that she knew whilst wearing her glasses. At the time I thought she was mad but now I understand completely. Even walking back to my car after the optician’s appointment I felt upset and just wanted to hide away for a week. I can see now that feeling like this is silly and that for the people who I am close to, it doesn’t make a difference whether I wear my glasses or not.
There are still a few people in my lectures that haven’t seen me in my glasses and I think I am sacred of how they will react to me wearing them. However, yesterday my friend entered the room, exclaimed. ‘you’re wearing glasses’ and then sat down next to me without mentioning it again and life continued as normal.
I think that as a society we instantly make a decision about people based on their appearance, first the face is taken into account, and afterwards the body shape and clothes that are worn. Maybe this is why I and so many other girls spend a lot of time perfecting their make- up technique for going out. I don’t normally wear make- up during the day unless there is a particular social situation in which I feel it is needed but when I go out I put a whole face of it on. In clubs, your body is lost in amongst the bodies of others, so I suppose that the face is the best representation of who you are in this situation. Especially to boys whose eye you might drunkenly catch. I have, thankfully, given up on catching boys eyes on nights out, especially seeing as I always seem to catch the eyes of a boy that I didn’t intend and the one I was aiming for waltzes away oblivious. So many awkward situations to be had.
I’m sure that my eye will heal up and when it does I will probably go back to taking my contact lenses for granted again. This time though, I will have this post to refer back to and remind me of how silly I am.
The two girls that stood before her were beautiful, in the future she could see that they would develop, like flowers, into two beautiful women. Despite having doubts the night before, she now felt it was her duty to help them to become the ladies they deserved to be. They had been kept out of care for two years by their neighbour who had unofficially adopted them. It was the least she could do after they had been left in their home while their parents jetted off to New Zealand without them. Unforeseen circumstances meant that they were now her responsibility.
The oldest was four years old and the youngest two. They stared up at her with innocent eyes and she knelt down to their height, taking them into her arms while tears sprung from her eyes.
‘You’ll be safe with me.’ She whispered and felt them hold onto her tightly.
She took them up to their shared room. When they got older she had decided that she would give them separate rooms, there were plenty to spare in her house of five bedrooms since she currently had four unoccupied. It was important that they learnt to share something and it might help them to grow together. She would be able to cope with the falling out when that happened, she had coped with much worse in the past.
Tucking them in that night reminded her of her late mother doing the same with her and had never imagined that she would get the chance to experience it for herself. Even though they weren’t hers, she would make sure that the two girls knew they always had a home with her.
10 years passed
Harriet looked up dreamily through the petals of the flower. She took a photograph in her mind to remember to paint the scene later and start a new chapter in her paint book.
‘Harry get your head out of the mud, you’ll get worms growing in your hair!’
Harry lifted her head up from the flowerbed that she was half lying in, ‘that’s a lie, you shouldn’t tell lies Penny!’ she lay back down again and looked over through the rest of the flowerbed, there were so many colours and it made her smile.
‘I’m older than you so you should do what I say!’ Penny was standing at her sister’s feet with her arms crossed over her chest, ‘Mummy would tell you the same!’
Harry sighed and addressed her bossy older sister from the flowerbed, deciding that she wasn’t the worth the effort of sitting up, ‘Mummy tells us to do things that make us happy.’
‘And lying in a flowerbed, getting mud on your clothes and bugs in your hair makes you happy?’
Harry sat up this time, feeling small specks of soil trickle down the back of her neck, ‘looking at flowers makes me happy, you’re too old to understand me,’ and lay back down defiantly.
Penny stormed off and left her in peace. If they had been sharing a room still, Penny would have locked her out to prove that she was the more powerful sibling but seven years ago they had grown out of sharing a room. Their mother, although incredibly patient, had decided that an argument a night was putting too much stress on everyone in the house and that one of the three empty bedrooms needed filling.
The sun was warming on Harry’s face and she closed her eyes only to be woken by Boris, the gardener’s dog, licking her toes. She sat up and Boris looked at her in embaressment. She stood up, laughed and chased him barefoot around the garden until she lost her breath and had to sink down into the swinging chair by the pond.
Penny used to play with her more, but now she was grown up and going to parties and trying to be older than she was. It sometimes made her sad but Mummy had said that Penny was her own person and would later realise that sisters were more important than friends. Harry wanted to believe her but part of her was worried that Penny preferred the company of boys to hers and since the summer holidays had started every day she was spending more time with her school friends than her. Recently Penny had been talking about running away to New Zealand and going to live with their real parents. That had worried Harry a lot.
She had friends too of course, and they often came round to play with her and Mummy would drive her to play with them if she asked. Sometimes though, Harry preferred to be at home and paint and try to have fun conversations with Penny that didn’t involve which boys she fancied at school.
7 years passed
Mother had said she would be on the platform and Harry had been looking out of the window for the last hour to see if she could see the station. When it did come into view she packed away her drawing which she had hardly touched for the whole journey and got ready to run off the train into her mother’s arms. It had been four weeks since she had last been home and then she had been too busy packing her life into her mother’s estate car to worry about missing anyone.
She ran through the crowds as if she was chasing Boris when she was younger and dropped her bags before she engulfed her mother and grinned widely.
‘I’ve missed you so much!’ Harry whispered into her mother’s hair and she felt the arms tighten around her waist. She was briefly reminded of when she first met this amazing lady, she had only been two but that first hug was the beginning of feeling like she belonged somewhere.
Her mother took Harry’s bags and they drove off towards the house that she had been yearning for since leaving it behind for a smaller, damper living space. Penny wouldn’t be there, that was the only thing that was missing but her sister had deadlines to meet and essays to write. Every time she picked up the phone to her younger sister she would make excuses to put it down again as soon as possible, and Harry soon realised that Penny didn’t need her as much as she needed her older sister. It had been like that for the three years since Penny had been at University and Harry was desperately waiting to get her sister back.
‘She is still discovering who she wants to be, and when she realises that she still needs to be a sister to you when she finishes her course there’ll be no going back and you’ll have a sister forever.’
Harry sank into the car seat and pondered her mother’s words. ‘I really hope you’re right’ was all she could say because she felt like Penny had been forgetting about her for seven years and that she was nearly becoming the ghost that Penny was treating her like.
It was a delicate relationship that Penny was tearing apart.
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.
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.
There’s nothing better than sitting in a deserted woodland car park with your sandwiches while you belt out odd lines if Pitch Perfect in between mouthfuls. Whilst carrying out the arduous task of revising I often crave the freedom of the outdoors and find myself wanting to get out of the house, by myself, and just do something that isn’t sitting around staring at a screen. Being at University is, as my course convenor described to us on our very first day, death by PowerPoint. As I stared into the trees of this car park though, I began to feel more like myself and less like a moody student content on getting a degree in Procrastination rather than Microbology. Taking pictures helped too and with my phone I tried to capture some of the clouds as they raced over my head into the distance. The shapes and colours changed every second as I sat staring out of my windscreen.
Other cars pulled up which, in my delicate state of revision mind, annoyed me somewhat but, just as the clouds, I let it wash over me and cooed internally at the other people’s dogs. Soon it was time for me to head home; I am not so dedicated to procrastination that I am prepared to sit defiantly whilst precious hours of my time wiz past me. Deep down I know that I want to pass these exams but as I stare at another 73 slide PowerPoint my resolve slowly diminishes and I’m left feeling as I did before lunch time. Thoughts that are going through my head mainly consist of: will I really need to know this? and what would happen if I did fail these exams and dropped out of University?
All of the answers that I can think of are negative and end up with me not having a clue what I’m doing in my life. This then gave me a little more incentive to carry on but as always when exams are on the horizon, my mind focuses on the what if and not what is now.
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.