Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Sometimes it's actual nostalgia: a feeling that some ghosts from the past are still rattling chains in my head. Family times from childhood, places, songs, people. They sneak in with their compound memories, an echo of smells or photographs, of recordings or furniture. They are the husks of shed snakeskin, there and yet they exist only to show what has gone before. They are the moulds from which came the brass statuary of reality, and yet they are just plaster- broken. The shattered powdered mass cannot recreate the entirety. They are the abandoned burrows of earth-bound creatures, the shadows of objects in negative, removed from the sunlight.

Sometimes it's a feeling of nostalgia for that which may not happen, or just a daydream, slumbering in the possible or impossible future. Wistfulness is the warm outer-layer of hope, the maybe which keeps me placing one foot in front of the next.

Somewhere, between the past and the future, is where I hide- glaringly visible, and yet none of you here with me knows exactly where I've been or where I'm going. There are architects plans, the blueprints crackling in the breeze which lifts them aloft, sends them spinning crazily and unpredictably forward. The tumbleweeds left behind recede, rolling, bouncing into the ancient hills.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Grandpa Was a Chocolate Bar

He was tall, wore glasses, and the photos of him for me are where the memories come from, rather than a sense that he was once flesh. I do remember snatches, perhaps even his voice, but he’s been dead for more than thirty years.

He was a successful businessman, running a family concern well and had great dignity. I’d say, based on the way his daughters reminisce, that he was a strict but doting father.

I think he’d only just retired to his hilltop home overlooking the River Tay in Dundee, Scotland, when he had a stroke that subtracted his reality from ours, and left him a series of fading memories. A favourite was the letters he’d write to his grandchildren at Easter- this three-piece suited gentleman- he’d write letters which had little drawings of rabbits to replace the word, and tiny sketches of zig-zagged eggs.

I remember my mum’s tears after the telephone call, and not knowing how to comfort her.

Oddly, now, the most powerful memory I have of him is the chocolate bar we found in the golf bag he left to my mum after he died. It was in one of the side pockets. Obviously there to satisfy a whim on the golf course- golf was an institution for him, being Scots. It represented, for me, the whimsical in his character- a man with a taste for the sweet, even when at his most focused.

It was a small chocolate bar. The brand name was Penguin- and it was a chocolate covered wafer supposed to fill the gaps during a tea break.

My mum kept it in a drawer next to her bed. Sometimes we’d rummage through the drawer, and look at it, smell it, trying to figure out what magic was contained in this- a snack created to be eaten but now containing mystical powers; a talisman.

That’s how life works. We work to create lives and lifestyles and memories, but in the end those memories belong to someone else, and we can’t control what they are. I’d like to stash things in a box which are important to me for my children to discover one day, but I think each of them will find their own talisman of mine to cherish.

Maybe you’re holding onto something special that reminds you most of someone not around anymore. I wonder what those things are…

(That's him, at the top, in the middle, in his Christening gown, around 1912)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Watching Paint Dry

It’s dull, matt, and often the worst possible colour in the spectrum- listless pastel yellow or peach, or the same shade as apricot milkshake sick, and it’s nothing but a chore to use. Trouble is, it’s not there for form, but for function- and if you invest the time and money into using it, you’ll have a smile on your face for much longer.

Undercoats are there to seal and protect, to wrap and nourish. They provide absolution for any physical sins the walls have committed, and help to armour against future temptations. You slap it on in back-breaking tedium, and then cover it up with the glamorous robes that obscure its usefulness.

There’s always something going on beneath the surface; sometimes it’s there to protect, sometimes it’s just hidden away…

Overcoats: the traditional outfit of hoboes, perverts and schoolboy mass murderers. They conceal racks of watches, parcels of white powder and filthy clothes. They are sodden with rain and smell of stale air, cigarette smoke and mothballs. Behind their dense drapery, the body’s form is lost to function, as legs become a solid silhouette, and hips and waist are merely imagined.

What horrors lurk inside this hellish garb, whose tweed foppery is lined with sinister and thinly-veiled threats? (Poe moment…)

What we choose to do beneath, or reveal above can be good or evil. Sometimes what we hide is the best of us, and sometimes what we reveal in order to intimidate reveals only our flaws rather than our strengths. Perhaps we should look at showing off our vulnerable parts more, and give up trying to posture ourselves as tougher than nails. If we are to represent ourselves as human, then how many more dimensions can we add, just by expressing what is already there?

So I’m not sure if I’m sorted out either way- I need to work on putting the proper energy into laying strong foundations, even if that’s thankless labour, but also make sure I’m getting rid of any layers getting in the way of being authentic, true to myself. I figure I’m not alone in this…

There’s so much to you and I we haven’t shown or seen. I look forward to being surprised.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Things Appear Bigger Through a Rifle's Sights

Waking up to a fresh start once a week/clean clothes after washday/early mornings when you get to see the sun rising/DJs on the radio trying to cheer you up/getting to prioritise the week/getting stuff done you didn’t manage to do last week/taking your professional life in a new direction/discovering that people like to advertise exciting things that day/coffee tasting so much better and seeming to be more necessary/restaurants having special prices because they need to compensate for quieter traffic/the unexpected evenings you have with your friends because it’s not predictable in the way a weekend is/Happy Hours/meetings that resolve issues/the sense that everything could change before the week is out/the way a favourite CD can feed your mood/knowing that no matter haw bad it is, it’s just a day and that it’ll be over in a few hours/happy memories from the weekend/seeing photos going up on Facebook/catching up on news with people who have been away as they update their statuses/the way people seem to publish blogs of accumulated thoughts and review their lives/leftover food from entertaining/a sense of camaraderie with others as people commiserate/coming home to a house and garden that you’ve tidied up/feeling alert at the end of the day/having the energy to watch a favourite movie or TV show/still having the rest of the week to do things, see things, feel things and learn things….

Some pretty good reasons to enjoy Mondays. Right?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Shallow End of the Philosophy Pool

Men are easy to caricature. No mistake that Homer Simpson is one of the most identified-with characters in contemporary entertainment. Yes. That’s right. Not just in cartoon format, but compared with actual people. There’s a part of us that laughs at him. The beer-swilling ignoramus whose professional and personal incompetence are the bar against which we measure manhood.

True, he’s not too sinister. Mostly his schemes are half-baked and unlikely to cause harm to anyone other than himself, but perhaps that’s the root of the problem. We’re conditioned to laugh at men. We’re conditioned to expect them to be socially and emotionally inept. Man bangs head on door? We laugh.

He’s the everyman- we’re supposed to identify with him. We’re supposed to hate our jobs and excuse our poor parenting- heck- lack of achievement because we’re men. If we all aspired to be Nelson Mandela or Bill Gates or *insert name of sporting/business/motivational guru here*, fact is, most of us would be slumped over, exhausted, failed, underachieved. If we have the lowest common denominator as our starting point, well, we all look good compared with Homer.

But we aren’t. When we accept the things we should be working on changing in our lives, or celebrate them, even. We are condoning lifestyles that are inferior to the ones we should be aiming for. If we’re parents, we’re going to be raising a generation of Barts. Kids with no respect for their fathers because, really, what’s to respect?

I’m not a woman. Can’t really comment too much on what a woman must go through at home or work or life in general. I’m guessing she’s pissed off at having to compete with men whose slovenly careless attitudes to life are accepted and expected. I suspect she’s fed up with being called a bitch for wanting to maintain order in the home or discipline in the office. Maybe she would love to crash on the couch and drink beer while watching cartoons, but she’s forced to gather her resources and keep excelling, keep surpassing what she has done before. For her, maybe, she’s only as appreciated as her last presentation, her last meal.

And we sit on our couches. We allow other men to treat women badly. We condone abusive behaviour and neglect our children. In our lack of commitment to life, we lose a dimension, becoming hand-drawn sketches of who we should be. Once that happens, it’s very hard to inflate yourself again. But worth it. We can choose to live as more responsible individuals. Stop acting like kids, and make an effort to do the things we know we should be doing.

But for all of that, one thing will never change. If you hit yourself with a hammer on the thumb, your kids will laugh.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Laughing in the Face of Adversity

She’s got the most infectious laugh. No names mentioned, but, chances are, if you’re chatting to her and she’s drinking coffee, it will come squirting out of her nose. Not a tiny bit. She has sprayed walls, clothing, floors and phones. If I climbed a ladder, I’d probably find coffee stains on the ceiling.

Moments of hysteria. The best kind of rib-aches. When your throat is raw from wheezing with laughter after a fun conversation. You can’t put a value on that. Her sense of humour is enough to keep us all entertained and coming back for more. She’s addictive like that.

Sometimes I get that with my children. I’ll be trying to get them corralled and organized- as focused as a marine heading over the ridge with his troops, when one of them will randomly tell a story, or say something so funny, that my composure is immediately and inextricably turned to mush. Once we start laughing, the whole room starts. To be able to share a moment with your kids that ends up with all of you with cheeks wet with tears of laughter is something that makes me smile even now.

There are sitcoms and live comedy shows. There are friends who know how to say funny stuff with impeccable timing. There’s always something to get the tummy rolling over with gasping laughter.

I’m thinking about how difficult life can be, and how, when we’ve run out of physical distractions, a good belly laugh is sometimes our only weapon against despair, bitterness, hopelessness and depression. Sure- it won’t sort out relationships, finances, health or security, and it aint gonna be effective as a secret weapon in the wars against terrorism or drugs, but it makes life bearable. It defuses the horrors, breaks up the humdrum, and is to life what sugar is to coke.

Thanks to all of you who make me laugh, smile, giggle, grin. Even when it’s expressed as LOLs or PMSLs, it means that you guys have helped to add something special to my day. I only hope that we can do that for each other, and that the good times will make the bad ones seem toothless and distant, and that none of you will ever feel the sadness that comes with loneliness.

Sometimes a smile is the only way out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One Small Step for the Sluggish

Two of the greatest undiscoveries of the 20th century? Using your body to do stuff, and making sure that your body reacts to the things you see: Motor Skills Development and Hand Eye Coordination.

Imagine if they were never exposed. We’d be wobbling uselessly like sea cucumbers. Teachers would throw their chalk in frustration at us, as we jabbed our crayons into our eyeballs. But we have learned those things. Because we’re human. For most of us, it’s a fairly predictable learning curve. We are born helpless, and we learn to walk and use our hands.

Sure, sometimes parents worry when their baby is just doing some bouncing across the floor on his padded behind instead of lurching towards exposed electrical outlets like other kids, but mostly they pick it up on their own. Fortunately, times have changed. In the last few decades, we’ve gone from being human beings who wrestle with getting our hands to follow through with doing the things we want them to, based on what we see, to being super-human. Now we can flip virtual cards, bash away at keyboards, and refresh web pages with ease.

It’s rare these days for an adult not to be able to grasp the intricacies of a new playstation game or the settings on the plasma TV. We’ve progressed. I reckon our ability to reconcile hand-eye coordination is directly proportionate to our developing carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive motion disorder. Our fingers can fly as fast as our eyes tell them to, faster than our brains seem to register, but our joints, tendons and nerve-endings appear to be lagging in the evolutionary race. Why do we keep on attempting to get our hands and eyes to work faster together, when clearly half of what we are doing at speed is damaging to our bodies, and as pointless as a barbecue made of wax?

Our current developmental challenge should be stopping evolution. Whether you are an evolutionist or you believe that Darwin should have been tied down and fed to vampire finches, it’s clear that we, as humans, are in danger of becoming creatures with huge brains and disproportionately large thumbs. Our eyes will develop little screens of their own, so that we can stare without blinking into the square light of our labours, and our backsides will need to be padded much like the baby who has not yet learned to walk.

Are we devolving? Will we need to be suckled through tubes as we fumble with our touch-screens? Will we end up like grotesque larvae, mashing ctrl alt del and enter keys with our paddle-thumbs? Probably. We’ll never again have to experience ignorance or defeat. We’ll be a master race of technical geniuses, eyeballs the size of dinnerplates, and atrophied skink-like lower limbs.

How about this as an antidote: To help prevent the inevitable descent of future generations into a state of larval helpessness, go for a walk. Look away from that screen. Run away as fast as you can from the ergonomically designed office chair you live on, and help to set us free. Once you’ve broken the chains that bind you to your technological slave masters, you can look at your hands, will them to rise, and wave goodbye to the silicon cave in which is contained the undoing of humanity. One small step for a man…

Friday, August 13, 2010

Just a quiet moment.

Wow. Two years have slipped by since the last chance any of us had to take photos of you, hear your voice on the phone, or tell you of how life is for us. Ok, sure, you didn't react towards the end, but sometimes it was good just to pretend.
I know my brothers miss you- you'd have laughed- on your birthday, just the other day, we were all contacting each other on facebook, and we realised we were all playing Johnny Cash, feeling sad- on other sides of the world.
I dream of you, sometimes. In my dreams you're vital, the person I love to remember.
I had a picture of you up in my room, but it started fading. I keep it in my drawer now. It's of a day, not too long ago, when we all sat together as a family and posed, just a snapshot. A moment we stole from life and tried to keep the same way forever.
But the memories go on. They get strangely sharper. I thought that they'd start to fade, but they haven't.
Just thought I'd let you know you're in my thoughts. Love you Mum.xxx

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Letter to the Editor

It must be true: it’s printed on a broadsheet, recounted in somber tones from the TV, or even, shockingly enough, wearing the fancy-dress outfit of considered opinion on the internet. News. You decide what we need to read or hear about. You choose the poignant pictures to accompany the stories: an empty shoe next to the site of a bomb blast, a widow’s tear-salted cheeks. You have sources and researchers, advertisers and finances. Revenue and responsibilities. You are the Media.

You edit calamities to improve on their calamitousness. You expose the scandals without which we can’t live informed lives. You pick apart the false god of celebrity and stardom with your telephoto lenses and your secret line to indiscreet relatives. You want everyone to know about it, whatever it is, and are (reportedly) fearless and brave.

You can take statistics and spin them into stories. Edit the fumbled speeches of a hundred industry leaders and politicians, and act as their ventriloquist- force them to say whatever you choose them to say. Your intention, sometimes, is to provoke debate, to challenge the seats and pillars of authority. You level the field so that commoners may comment on the spoken and acted whims of the privileged.

And let’s be fair. You’ve made tough choices. How many sentences, and indeed, whole plot lines have ended up on the editing room floor, or remained in the first draft, never to see a final print? You’ve snipped out happiness, and focused on misery. You’ve hidden sources as flimsy as Wikipedia, and allowed stories to be regurgitated without the facts being checked. You’ve misquoted and misrepresented, and, whether by accident, or in a more sinister way, design, have allowed the public, the reader, the viewer, the listener to be inflenced by your particular take on a certain story or theme.

It’s a short step from being editors to propagandists- perhaps a paycheck from a corrupt politician (or, more likely, a salary check from a conservative advertiser), and you have a responsibility to us not to take that step. To hold to integrity, to principles. To risk alienation and perhaps prison, and to live amongst us without us fearing that our stories will become some kind of myth.

If editors could have something tattooed on their foreheads, and journalists have it stamped on their press passes, it should be “OBJECTIVITY”. Just that. The truth? We CAN handle it, despite what the politicians, business leaders, social prophets and industrial gurus think. Bring it on! Tell us the truth, but don’t compromise. We need you. Allegedly.

A Tall Dark Stranger Came to Poop

The sun streamed through the light cotton of the curtains in dust-spangled beams onto the dark wood of the bed, cotton sheets tangled with a discarded robe. The air was perfumed with the memories of lovemaking. She awoke, and stared dreamily at the ceiling, a faint smile drifting across her swollen lips. The pressure in her bladder caused her eyes to cross charmingly, and she swung her strong thighs over the mattress, and walked to the toilet in tiny clenched steps, the curve of her buttocks catching the morning sun as she quickly managed to rid herself of the now-processed Moet. She flushed.

Yeah. You read that correctly. I recently had to read a romance novel for, erm, research purposes. I may be scarred. It occurred to me that these cookie-cut paperbacks never have scenes like this. Fact is, most people, when they wake up, go to the loo. They don’t drape themselves meaningfully over plump pillows and eat truffle-based chocolates in a provocative manner. They wee.


His jaw was tight and angular, as solid as the carved corner of a gabled roof, and set in a stubborn slant as he creased his brow. He thought back to the night before- how the candlelight had danced over the table in the restaurant, glinting off the crystal wine glasses and the polished silverware. He chewed his sensuous lower lip as he remembered the perfectly presented food- the livid red of the lobster, the delicate buttery taste of the artichokes. Regretfully, he also recalled that his palate was unsophisticated, and no match for the splendid mix of rich foods. His manly belly gurgled under a tangle of course hair, and he jumped from the bed in one smooth leap, his strained calf muscles rippling as he dashed to the exquisite porcelain that was his morning throne. A shimmer of sweat punctuated his relief as the liquid remains of the rich food burst forth from his insides, a runaway train of effluvium which was now set on a journey that would end in the dazzling azure waves off the sun-bleached coast.

Probably not going to catch on anytime soon, but sometimes it’s important to inject a little reality into the romance. After all, we all have to face this moment at some point. The point at which our bodies, so appealing to the opposite sex, betray us with a healthy dose of nature.

Just keeping it real…

Friday, August 6, 2010

Here, There and Everywhere

She’s someone you’ve never met. And someone you see everyday. She’s a woman who lives a life of dignity and yet humility. Who is sometimes brazen and able to stare down self-proclaimed experts and authorities, and yet sometimes vulnerable- she cries tears of self-doubt and sadness for the things she wishes she could change in the world.

She’s showed great dignity when dealing with the loss of loved ones, and bravery in the face of struggles which would overwhelm anyone else. She’s passionate about the way music and words can change lives, and has a heart covered with the scars of the times she stood in the gap for people going through battles.

She’s got altars. Places of sacrifice where, at times, she has placed her career for the sake of her children, and, at other times, placed her relationships on the line so that she can work to provide for them. The altars are places where she comes to remind herself of the sacrifices she has made in order to serve those whom she cares about.

She loves to laugh, sometimes when laughter is the only solution other than weeping, and can draw a smile from the faces of those around her by the strength of her personality alone. She’s a lover. Of life, of nature, of people. A lover is exposed to the danger of losing their solitude, but she, well, she does not hold back, and gives herself fearlessly, not selfishly, and she is conversely a reward to others and to herself.

At times she has carried, and at others, has been carried. She is the sum of all her memories and hopes for the future: she never gives up. She inspires other people to be better themselves, and yet does not suffer pride.

She’s out there, changing the lives of those around her, just by living life to the full and never giving up.

This composite woman is someone you may recognize: if you’re a woman, you see her everyday in the mirror. Different facets at different times. If you’re a man, you see it in your daughter, your partner, your colleagues, your friends. I see her everyday in the woman I love, and I’m quietly in awe of her, which is the only appropriate response. She’s inspiring. She’s incredible. She’s you.

To K. With love.