Saturday, October 15, 2016

As the blog says, nothing much about very little. I was going to write about liberal/metropolitan elites, but somehow sidetracked myself. But I least by the by I have learned a new word

When I moved to London in 1990, at first commuting weekly from Cardiff where I had been living and working, then eventually shifting all my few possessions up to The Smoke, I was not - as the current cliche is - ‘in a good place’.

I had very vaguely - very vaguely indeed - been planning to set myself up as a freelance photographer, but getting the boot from my job as a sub-editor on the South Wales Echo for one cock-up too many (see this entry for part of the reason why) hastened things, and for about ten months I had scraped together a certain kind of living taking pictures, selling features to Wales on Sunday and working sub-editing shifts on the Western Mail (until its editor, one John Humphries - Geoff Rich without the heart, was one memorable description of the man, which, though, will mean nothing to anyone reading this unless you knew Geoff Rich - heard about my sacking from the Echo and banned his chief sub from giving me shifts. Incidentally, looking up John Humphries on the web to make sure I got the spelling of his name right, I notice he has reinvented himself as a gardener and writes a gardening column for Wales Online. Odd. All I can say is that I wouldn’t like to be a flower in his garden.)

Come the turn of the financial year in April 1990 and yet another of Britain’s financial crises, work dried up. It was as though the tap had been turned off. It was actually quite startling. No one wanted to spend any money. Until then I had been doing as well as I might have hoped and working hard. From April on there was virtually nothing, most certainly not enough to live on, so by June I did what I actually should have done ten years earlier and rang the Fleet Street papers to see whether I could get any shifts as a sub.

At the time ‘Fleet Street’ was still a notion in the industry and several papers were still located there or nearby. Now, none are, and ‘Fleet Street’ will mean as little to most as ‘Grub Street’. And you haven’t heard of Grub Street? Didn’t think so. If you are interested read New Grub Street by George Gissing to give you an idea. I struck lucky on my first call, to the Daily Express and was given several shifts. Other shifts followed on other papers and very soon indeed I was working seven days a week, here, there and everywhere. And that was a good thing, because I was once again suffering from one of the bouts of depression which have blighted my life and keeping busy was a tonic.

For whatever reason, I have never liked London, though to this day I can’t tell you why. But in 1990 and the few years after when I was feeling pretty low and the depression didn’t lift, I especially disliked it. Given the sheer size of the city and the spiritual state I was in, I felt very lost as though the city were sitting right on top of me, and I was keenly aware that in the grand scheme of things, I was utterly, utterly insignificant, rather like one grain of sand on a beach is indistinguishable from the billions of other grains.

Ironically, of course, that is pretty much all we are, insignificant, except that, thankfully and praise the Lord (Mammon, if need be and that’s your schtick), none of us is aware of it. Thankfully and for most of our lives we have family and friends
and, above all, company; we have a job or are otherwise usefully employed doing something or other, and so our lives have what is conventionally regarded as ‘meaning’. But ask the old and lonely how much ‘meaning’ they feel their lives have and you will not be heartened by the answers they give you. I must admit I didn’t really get to know London very well, because given the times I worked, from early afternoon until midnight and later, there wasn’t much time left over to get to know it. Even now I don’t see any of the city or its people and life.

Driving up on a Sunday morning, working a shift; working a double shift on the Monday and Tuesday, then a single shift on the Wednesday before jumping back into the car and driving westwards down here to North Cornwall doesn’t give you a great deal of time to hobnob with the Queen or get down and dirty in the nightspots of Hackney or wherever London’s cool go to chill. But even though I am hardly on even on a nodding acquaintance with the city and its people, I have to some extent become familiar with some of metropolitan attitudes.

I’ve always thought that to enjoy London you must be young, well-off and preferably both. OK, you can enjoy it even if you aren’t necessarily well-off and are obliged to count the pennies if long-term debt isn’t our bag, but being young is pretty much sine qua non. Come the early squalls of middle age and most folk hitch up and settle down and move to where rents and house prices are cheaper (although ironically doing so means they will spend more on commuting).

Some, of course, stay but then they can afford to. I was three days ago talking to a well-known Mail columnist with whom I’m on chatting terms and asked her where she lived. I knew it was in North London, but didn’t exactly know where. Hampstead, she told me. But then she is single - again - has no children and will be on a generous contract, so Hampstead is where she can afford to live. She’s in the minority.

. . .

I meant in this entry to write about what is called ‘the metropolitan elite’ or ‘the liberal elite’ and how I am devastated that to this day it has not occurred to anyone to ask me to join. I would most certainly turn down the invitation where it to be made, of course, but it would be nice to be asked. I intended to start off by writing about London, then gracefully segue into eight hundred words of pithy prose about that elite.

Sadly, I lost my train of though a little earlier on and, despite some frantic searching these past few minutes, I am not at present able to lay my hands on it again. So rather than write something which would forced, I shall leave that until another time. Sorry. Try again in a few days time (you not me. Your luck might be in).

. . .

I’ve just come across new word: idiolect. Just before posting this and returning to my browser, I was sidetracked (as invariably we are by the net) by piece about Bob Dylan getting the Nobel Prize in the Guardian. That’s where I came across it. The piece, which you can find here, is rather silly in that the Guardian features editor obviously thought the paper had to write something about Dylan and obviously felt that Armitage, a poet, might be the chap to do it. But I would rather he or she had gone for someone who truly liked Dylan from the start rather than Armitage, whose line is rather throwaway.

Here’s an excerpt: ‘Maybe in Dylan I recognised an attitude as well, not more than a sideways glance, really, or a turn of phrase, that gave me the confidence to begin and has given me the conviction to keep going.’ And maybe not. The piece seems to shout ‘I really don’t know a great deal about the man, but I could do with the money, so let’s go for it’. Shame.

Anyway idiolect: I have never before come across the word and as is a racing certainty I shall now hear it used several times over the coming few days. I wonder whether I have an idiolect? Be great if I did. Fancy!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Rush, rush, sodding rush - the bane of my life and I wish I could stop it!

If there is one thing I would change about myself, for the better, it would be to get rid of my tendency to rush almost everything. And I have had that tendency since I was a toddler. I remember my German mother telling me always ‘nicht so fix’, because there was a certain haste in everything I did. It led to toys broken within minutes of getting them, new clothes ripped within minutes of putting them on, and later professionally - I work as a sub-editor for whom attention to detail is possibly, probably even, the quintessential necessity - it has meant I really haven’t done as well as I might have done.

You might think that being aware of the tendency is the first step to overcoming it. Sadly, it isn’t. At work I consciously - very consciously - slow myself down or try to slow myself down and largely succeed to ensure that it doesn’t affect my work. Yet I have to admit that to this day ‘slapdash’ is my middle name and if I achieve a task without being slapdash, it is only after a great deal of effort.

Not rushing what I do is a constant battle, one waged from moment to moment, and if you have ever been jealous or worried, you will know how ‘being aware of something’ isn’t half the solution it is cracked up to be. For example, ‘don’t worry’ is pretty much the most pointless advice you can give to anyone who is worried. It’s good advice, yes, but pointless: have you ever tried not to worry about something which is a constant concern? And being told by well-meaning family and friends ‘don’t worry’ and verge on the supremely irritating.

If you have been jealous, whether of a lover or a friend or a colleague’s success, no amount of telling yourself that your jealousy is groundless does much to assuage that jealousy. I’m assuming that everyone reading this has felt such jealousy, although perhaps not everyone has. And, incidentally, I don’t think anyone will truly appreciate Shakespeare’s Othello unless they, too, have been jealous. That’s by the by.

This tendency to rush wheedles it’s way into more or less everything I do: I am constantly looking for shortcuts ‘to save time’, even though it doesn’t matter whether or not time is saved. I usually find myself impatient to get on with the task

in hand whatever it might be and to get on with the next even though there really is no rush and the next is no more important. I very often find it difficult to concentrate (although I have to add that every now and then I can concentrate beautifully, but it is then to the exclusion of everything else).

Where I get this tendency from I really don’t know. I had an older brother who seemed to be able to do anything with apparent ease - he excelled at school when he wanted to, he was a natural artist and musician and generally made me look like the plodder I finally have reconciled myself to be. Sadly, all that came at a price in that he suffered very bad mental health all his life - no one ever said so or made the

diagnosis, but it is likely he suffered from some form of schizophrenia - so perhaps that had something to do with it. But then perhaps not and saying so is mere speculation (and borders on that awful Sunday paper supplement cod psychology which is one staple of middle-brow conversation).

A few years ago, in the late 1980s when I was living in Cardiff and things weren’t going very well, I shelled out something like £60 and enrolled on a Transcendental Meditation course. I was very low, just been sacked from my job and had entered yet another bout of ‘depression’ (why I put that in quote marks I’ll explain later. NB Actually, I don’t in this entry, but if you go to my entry for October 16, 2015, which is what I would have repeated here) and was haunting local bookshops trying to find a self-help book which was quite obviously a load of old cack as, sadly, 99pc of them are. (I did come across a useful book about how to deal with ‘depression’ which was sane and down to earth, though I can’t know remember what it was called.)

The TM course was held over two or three days, and although I didn’t and don’t buy into any of its theory, I did learn a very useful meditation technique which I occasionally use to this day. But I should add that it is very simple indeed and I could demonstrate and pass it on in a matter of minutes, and it was most certainly

not worth shelling out £60 for. But then the whole TM movement was more than just about trying to pass on a meditation technique. (Is it still going? I must look it up in a minute. It does strike me now as something very much of the past, like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Moral Rearmament.)

One problem with talking about ‘meditation’ is that it sounds far deeper than it is and is invariably thought to be associated with some faith or other, or at the very least some kind of lifestyle. It seems to conjure up a certain way of living, ascetic rather than comfortable, a diet of porridge and acorns and communes in Mid-Wales where lavatory paper is regarded a bourgois luxury and the first step on the road to Hell. That’s here in Britain, of course.

I don’t want to sound in anyway goofy but there really is something to the notion of ‘inner stillness’ which we often hear about. I know, because I have, though rarely, experienced it, as perhaps have you. But once you have experienced it and know what it is, you are also know what a waste of time, effort, energy and emotion much of what we do daily is. Oh, and as far as I know there’s no need at all to pose cross-legged with your thumb and forefinger pinched together and facing up. That’s only obligatory in LA and Hampstead. The rest of us are allowed simply to sit somewhere comfortably and quiet.

As for the rushing, well, I’m doing it again: I’m rushing writing this so that I can post it, even though there is no earthly reason why this entry should be posted sooner rather than later or, to be quite honest, even at all.

The etymology of words is often illuminating, and the German for ‘to rush’ - hetzen is often also one way to describe racism - Rassen Hetze. The derivation would be from ‘hetzen’ used in a chase as in hunting. Oh well.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A few tunes to be getting on with as you all get on today with preparing to make your maker (it might seem a long way off, but believe me that bus is coming). And a photo or two, most by me.

Don’t Lose Your Mind

The main title music from Glengarry Glen Ross

Autumn Leaves

I Want To Ta-Ta You Baby

I Get A Kick Out Of You

I’m Not The Enemy

and a favourite cartoon I have come across

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An entry for all of you who like a bit of twee crap about Mother Nature’s bounty

My sister’s husband works for a pharma company, and don’t worry, I regularly harangue him on the evils his employers perpetuate, their cynical pricing and how in an ideal world we would all be going to the grizzled old wise man who lives by the stream on the moor for some concoction or other when our ill health demands it. (The only respite he gets when I visit my sister is to retire to the loo, ostensibly, to take a dump, but even then I’ve found standing outside and yelling through the locked door can be quite effective. No man must be allowed to hide from the truth.) He has been posted abroad three times, which means my sister and her family have spend around five years each time in Manila, in the Philippines, Istanbul, Turkey, and are within weeks returning from a stint in Warsaw, Poland.

Holding down the job he does, my brother-in-law is very well-paid (and it has to be said the Germans do look after their own), but their lifestyle in Manila was truly colonial, paid for, of course, by her husbands bosses: a guard at the gate (no doubt armed), a man to take care of the pool, a driver, a great many maids (I think eight in total, one for each bathroom) and a superbly uniformed major domo who had merely one duty, to stand by the door when guests arrived looking very grand (and my sisters tells me he was very good at his job).

My sister insists the set-up wasn’t quite as outrageously swanky as it seems and, anyway, her domestic arrangements were quite modest compared to those of others. She also tells me (and I believe her) that employing so many folk (I won’t call them ‘natives’ or else I’ll have the Guardian on my back) is a real boost to the economy and at least 12 Filipino families are supported who might otherwise have nowt.

Life was similarly pleasant in Istanbul, where the family, or at least those of her four children still at home, lived in a rather splendid palace on a hill overlooking the city with impressive views of the Bosphorus. Warsaw sounds less attractive, however. But this entry is not about the why and wherefores, hows, whens, whatevers, which ways and whereforuntos of my sister and her husband’s gilded and unmistakably capitalist existence but - you guessed it, you are way, way ahead of me - seasons. My sister (who like me is half-English and mainly grew up in England until she married at 22 and moved to Germany) tells me that what she missed most while living high on the hog in Manila were the seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter.

There, she says, there were no seasons. The weather was the same throughout the year, hot and muggy, with the occasional muggy and hot interlude. There was no spring and twee poems from readers in the Daily Mail;s Peterborough column about the rebirth of Mother Nature, no summer with the endless chatter we are accustomed to here in Britain when a fine day makes it through to second and we all tell each other how splendid it is to live in Britain. There was no autumn and more twee poems in the Mail about rosy apples, hoary hawthorn and Mother Nature’s beauteous bounty. And there was no winter with poems about ragged Robin Redbreast pecking pitifully against the window begging for a scrap or two and when our transport infrastructure grinds to a complete halt and we all manfully struggle to work by foot through inches of snow. She missed all that (though she assures me, and on balance I believe her, that she was tempted to write a twee poem about ‘God’s glorious seasons’ only rarely and resisted the temptation each time).

Istanbul did have seasons, however, though a geographical oddity meant that in winter when her palace and its grounds on the hill were covered in a foot of snow, she could look down onto the bustling city itself where there was no snow whatsoever. Warsaw, it seems, also has it seasons like Britain, although the weather each brings, especially the winter and summer is pretty extreme: temperatures regularly hit -15c and in the summer hover at around 35c.

(She also tells me that about the only meat you can get in Poland is pork. The Polish eat pork several times a day, for breakfast, lunch and supper, and as soup, hors d’ouvre and for the main course. There are even some traditional desserts involving pork, she says, and not all of them are quite awful. On the other hand beef is rarer than a smile in Scottish kirk, though she did track some down a year or two ago, a restaurant in the red light district of Warsaw whose proprietor is regarded as decidedly odd by everyone else and, naturally, universally shunned. But this entry is about the seasons not meat.)

. . .

I mention this because we are officially now three days into autumn and it is quite noticeable. And here I should admit that autumn is my favourite season. I no longer care as I do in the summer when I sit outside with a glass of something and a Wilde Cigarros and shiver that the are is remarkably damp: after all, it’s autumn. You’re allowed to shiver - even supposed to - in the autumn. Down here in Cornwall, the autumn brings a marked reduction in the number of sodding tourists clogging up our very narrow lanes, although from now until the end of November we still get quite a few anglophile Dutch and the occasional German who arrive for a week or two because they ‘love Cornwall, we always have’ and want to ‘avoid the tourists’.

What are you, then? I always want to ask them. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fact the Cornwall depends almost entirely on sodding tourists to provide work and keep widespread famine at bay for at least another year, there’s a good case to be made for erecting a barrier across the Tamar bridge at Launceston and turning back everyone who can prove beyond doubt that they are not a tourist and do have legitimate business in Kernow. Bloody tourists. I know for a fact that several magistrates here in North Cornwall treat with remarkable leniency anyone appearing before them charged with violence against a tourist.

Autumn also means the run-up to Christmas (although strictly a short part of that run-up is in winter, which officially begins on December 21), and the occasional bad weather is made a little more bearable because you have something to look forward to. And here in Cornwall October and November are usually very pleasant. OK, they aren’t warm and they bring a fair amount of stormy weather, but once you are holed up in a warm cottage with the woodburner on, it’s very pleasant to hear the wind howling outside and the rain beating against the windows. I have a theory that you prefer the time of year in which you were born, and my birthday is November 21, pretty much slap in the middle of autumn.

Anyhow, autumn is here and we should make the most of it before we have to soldier through the usually very dull and very trying months of January and February. Having said that, of course, it was even those nastier months which my sister missed when she still live in Manila. My cousin (I call him my cousin, but he is actually my stepmother’s nephew) lived in Taiwan for some time and once when he came back and we were sitting outside having a drink and it began to drizzle, he refused to come in but stayed outside to ‘enjoy’ the drizzle, because, he said, he had missed it so much while in Taiwan.

Here for those who like that kind of thing is an ‘autumnal’ photo, though a strongly suspect Mr Photoshop has had a strong input in this picture. Nothing’s that red.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Meanwhile, back on dry land I reflect on whether or not too substantial breakfasts should be subject to an EU directive: Jack Tar's diet might have been abysmal, but it did mean Britannia ruled the waves for several millennia (though I’m told the Dutch take a rather contrary view on the matter). Then there’s the matter of snapped photos and an accusation of insanity from my daughter (so to speak)

First the good news I wasn’t seasick, not even a little. But then you don’t get too many storms in the Markenmeer north of Amsterdam, and when you do, I’m sure some EU directive or other comes into play ensuring that not only do certified landlubbers stay well and truly on land, but that we take the time allowed us by the enforced period ashore as an opportunity to mug up the texts of various EU directives with which we might not yet be familiar. Such high-handed nonsense was one of the many reasons why in June Britain voted by an overwhelming majority of 0.05 per cent to tell the EU it could stick itself, its constitutions, its directives and it ‘open borders’ where the sun don’t shine. This nation of seafarers (©Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, The Times and the Daily Telegraph) refuses to be told when, where, with whom and why it can go to sea: enough is enough, Johnny Foreigner!

I must say I enjoyed my two days on the high seas (we put into harbour during the night). Thirty of us set out from Enkhuizen on the Friday afternoon in the Novel, a


converted flat boat of the kind which before the days of mass tourism and pretty much unlimited leisure time (i.e. in the days when we all still worked) would sail along the north coast of Holland and Germany, delivering stuff to Hamburg and bring stuff back from Hamburg, the stuff being pretty much anything which it was easier to transport in bulk by sea rather than by land, clogs, edam cheese, dirndl dresses, that kind of thing.

Anyone who has heard of Erskine Childers famous novel The Riddle Of The Sands but hasn’t read it will know what I am talking about. Incidentally, I did briefly try to start a discussion with some of my sister’s German friends about the feasibility of Germany and England jointly invading Scotland by sea in the event of an independence vote but was smartly sent away with a flea in my ear. Make no mistake: today’s German is a sound democrat who has put his country’s past well behind him and her. If there is to be any invading, it can only be done under the auspices of the EU and by the EU invasion force Jean-Claude Juncker is putting together as I write. (Oh, and by the way, Juncker is not an out-of-control boozer as some malcontents are suggesting. If and when he falls over, it is merely because he has had a gammy leg after a car crash in the late 19th century and often finds it difficult to keep his balance with a glass of brandy in his hand. I think we should be clear on that.)

All those flatboats, and there must have been several hundred of them at Enkhuizen from where we set out and at Monnickendam where we spent the night, have since been converted for accommodation, and ours had 15 cabins. The Novel was a three-master with six sails (I am not speaking with any greater nautical authority, it’s just
that I can count quite well up to 100 and there were certainly not 100 masts and sails on our boat) with a crew of three - the owner, his wife and a crewman, Mick. Mick, by the way, a lad from The Hague with Indonesian heritage, had a degree in economics, one in infomatics - I don’t know what that is either - but then worked as a roofer before deciding his destiny lay in a life on the high seas, or at least on seas that get as high as they do on the Markenmeer.

Once everyone had arrived by 8pm on the Friday, we were shown how to secure the many, many ropes which seem to make up most of such a ship and told the names of the different sails. When I say the Novel had a crew of three, I should add that we were also part of the crew in that when directed to we, en masse, would pull on whatever rope we had to to hoist sails or lower them as necessary. And there was quite a bit of that. The rest of the time, though was ours, in which to do nothing but relax, eat and drink.

I sure there is a proper nautical term for food and booze brought on board to feed passengers - ‘provisions’ and ‘victuals’ sound far to land-based to my ears - but whatever it is there was a hell of a lot of it. Everyone contributed - wine, champagne, Sekt and beer, in particular - but there was more than enough for three square meals a day over two days with a lot of it brought back home again. My brother-in-law, who is a rather good cook, prepared a supper for the Saturday night (with help) of fillet steak, courgettes and risotto, with a very nice Rioja followed by pudding and cheese. It was very good indeed. In the morning everyone (except me - I don’t like to eat at all before noon) sat down to a substantial German breakfast (Brötchen and Schwarzbrot, Schinken, Käse, Konfitüre and Marmelade, and Kaffee) and the snack lunch consisted of bacon and eggs.

This all took a great deal of organisation, and I fell to wondering just what a similar group of Brits would come up. Years ago, at the beginning of term at university we were four in a flat and as nothing had yet been bought, we sent one of our number out to get ‘essentials’. He returned several packets of crisps, a jar of marmalade and a bottle of orange squash. I rather think had this been a Brit excursion, we would all have mucked in and survived on any number of Batchelor’s Cup-a-Soup Extras (‘A big hug in a mug’ apparently), loads of crisps, Morrisons ready meals and Angel Delights. Or perhaps the German in me is coming out and I am just being nasty.

I’ve got to say as far as food is concerned, give me the German way of life any day. I should add, though, that the Brit in me doesn’t take to well to some aspects of German organisation: it was regarded as slightly odd of me to skip breakfast and lunch on both days. (One helpful soul even tried counselling me and remained unconvinced, though diplomatically silent on the matter, when I explained that I simply prefer to eat when I am hungry, not according to some timetable. She definitely thought I was now just a few steps from the funny farm and gave my arm a charitable, knowing squeeze when we all said goodbye to each other on the Sunday afternoon. It assured me she would be there for me if, you know, if . . .).

I’ve got to say I enjoyed it. The only downside was that whereas I once spoke German as fluently as I speak English and was always taken for a German, that complete fluency has, not to make too fine a point, has gone, and I found I couldn’t converse as freely as I would have liked. Certainly all Germans and most of their pets can speak English (although not always as perfectly as the imagine), and like to do so, but, oddly, it just felt wrong to me to be speaking English to a German. That’s as best as I can describe. Although I know, or at least tell myself, that were I to live in Germany among Germans for several weeks I would regain that fluency - the German is most certainly there, but deep down - that seems unlikely to happen. Oh well. Now I must be off to pore over my charts of the North Sea. There surely must be some way to get the fleet up the Tay without causing too much fuss.

. . .

I have long like taking photographs, and now that everyone one of us carries a smartphone (or even two or three) and each has a camera, it is easy to take a snap of this or that when and if. What particular catches my eye are patterns in our surroundings. They might not be obvious at all, but I will see something and in a matter of moments take a picture (and usually then dicking around with it a little, usually giving it a judicious crop. Here is one such picture, taken at work a day or two ago:

I pasted it on Facebook and it immediately drew the following comment from my daughter: You are so strange wtf have you taken pictures of stairs for (sic).

My repy was ‘Elsie, it is not ‘a picture of stairs’. It is a picture of light and shadow and lines and curves. Try to look at it that way. Try to look at it as thought it were an abstract picture, not a picture of something you can recognise.’

My question is simple: am I getting soft-headed? I like the picture, as I like this one

and the same applies to each: don’t look at it as an object you might recognise, but try to look at it somehow in abstract. I suppose rotating a particular picture might help, to break that link between what we see and what we think we know. Like this

Here’s another question: am I losing it? I don’t think so, and for me all three pictures hold a certain, though it has to be said trivial, interest? But I do like the ‘light and shade and lines and curves’. Is there a lot wrong with that?