Paris stays with you.

June 13, 2013

You can hear the World, in a coffee shop.
It is shapeless rumbles of noise that emanate from all corners and they crash into each other and I think the human mind learns how to drown it out without knowing that’s what it’s doing, dismissing it all as dreary, though it is anything but.
I sit with a book.
Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’.
It’s a quaint little book that reminds me of Paris, and Michigan and I read it with the desire of a wealthy traveler but the wallet of a beggar.
I first drank a Mocha in Michigan. I’m drinking one now as I write this. I drink one in the coffee shop. If I drink two in the coffee shop, I wont sleep much that night.
But I feel as if I am being judged, if I only have one, yet expect to be in there for an hour or two. So I buy two. And then I don’t sleep much that night.
… and then there’s 37 rue de la Bûcherie.
With its Tudor-style beams overhead, and its drooping book shelves under the weight of so much genius. The staircase has books running up it. There are old typewriters too. Quintessentially Parisian, with a nostalgic charm, as you climb the little wooden ladder to your chosen book.
Hemingway knew it when it was on rue de l’Odéon.
Joyce stayed there. T.S Eliot. D.H Lawrence. Larbaud.
We owe this to the wonderful Sylvia Beach.
On a step, you read “Live for humanity“.
A wonderfully simple yet beautiful command.
It reminded me of Aeschylus, the Greek Tragedian:
To tame the savageness of man, make gentle the life of this World“.
Parisians don’t like you paying with notes. They like coins. Notes seem to offend them. I don’t know why. The man at the Eiffel Tower, selling crepes huffs and puffs if you hand him a note. Maybe they don’t offend him. But they seem to bore him. Bank notes are boring. I’m huffing and puffing just talking about it. Pay with coins. But always buy a crepe on the cobblestoned lanes of Montmartre.
The walls are thin and cracked and the tiny balconies with the black metal frames of the hotel rooms are the beautiful lookout of millions of lovers in the morning, passing through Paris on their way.
She has pale skin, and freckles, and reddish hair which she often brushes behind her ear and she smiles as me. I smile back. It is easy to fall in love with a smile. You can fall in love on a train station platform three or four times before the train arrives, all for a smile.
And then forget it all by the time you sit down.
Even on warm days, I choose to sit inside the coffee shop.
I seldom contemplate sitting outside on the terrace, as I stand in line.
Because when I do contemplate it, I exaggerate the significance of it.
I am convinced that it is reserved for Macbook clad, cigarette’d business people.
The ‘yar…. yar, like… totally‘ people.
And that the busy shoppers walking by would look at me in disgust if I were to sit outside.
And they’d all stand still, in shock.
And they’d cover their children’s eyes.
And they’d go home and recite to their friends, that the man without the Macbook, who didn’t sit cross legged, smoking a cigarette, was sat outside the coffee shop, and their friends would recoil in horror as thunder crashed dramatically over head.
And then I’m back in line being asked what I’d like to order.
So I seldom contemplate sitting outside, as I stand in line.
Because when I do contemplate it, I exaggerate the significance of it.
You can sit outside the coffee shop in Paris though. It is almost necessary. At least it feels necessary. And I like that. You are surrounded by lovers in their romantic dream, and a faint sound of an accordion player. You are surrounded by cafes and shops with dirty old verandahs, and nuns walk by on their way to Mass. You are surrounded by the shading trees and bicycles with baskets on the front. You are surrounded by Paris.
The soft light of sunset that glistens the Seine, and that hugs the Pont Neuf, makes it hard to place the terror of Robespierre’s reign, or the riots at the Bastille, or the Napoleonic era, in such a serene city. But it happened.
Hemingway speaks beautifully of the Jardin du Luxembourg before reminding me of Chicago.
But as hard as I try, I can’t focus in a coffee shop on the book.
The people are too distracting.
But people are fascinating.
Intimate detail of lives are expressed so openly, as if no one can hear.
And so I thought I’d learn to make order from the chaos, and take my little black notebook, and write down the odd snippets of conversation that distract me and make distinction between them.
And not know which face belonged to each voice.
And not know the context of the stories.
And not know the turn the conversations would take, or the ending to the conversations, just a line here and a line there.
Mixed together.
The result – that I have so far written down – is exceedingly mundane, yet fascinating to me.

A metre. I told him. No. …. Yeah. A metre but He never fucking listens. I hate squatting… oh… before I forget… do you have Fletch’s number? With a big fat cherry on top? There are usually seventeen but I swear she stole one. Yeah things aren’t going too well for me at the minute. No reason for us to stay together when the cat died. Two coffees too many dad. I can’t believe it was 2, I didn’t think there’d be time. Tell her we can go ahead with terminating his contract… yeah he deserves it. Sometimes you’ve just gotta say fuck it, you know? It’s a shame, he seemed nice enough at the time… I never thought he’d do it. Some solids. Walked home until I had a car. Cream on that? I swear mate, she doesn’t even get off the couch, fucking lazy. People die, it happens. They don’t do curry sauce with the chips any more though. Nah Liz told me that it’s likely Jen will be cautioned for it but probably not Bek. Blatantly gay. What if he finds out? They don’t teach manners at the fucking border agency. She ain’t even sucked his dick yet. Twice but sometimes if it’s raining there will be more. Sensed it. Two brake lights I think. Yeah Dave’s had it with Sky, never fuckin’ works when it rains. A girl? Daisy? Or not?. Isn’t it though?. Season 4 was the best so far but. Does it smell funny in here to you?…..no…… oh. Birmingham is quieter I think. Three massive blokes just fucking…just…came out of fucking nowhere. I don’t think they’ll get married. Repping in Mabella I think.

Sometimes I wonder who these people are; their names; what comes next; if they have terrible secrets; when their parents first laid eyes upon each other; their favourite subjects; if they talk to themselves when they’re alone; if they’re in love; if they ever called their teacher “mum”; have they ever ran from the police; how old they were when they first smoked a cigarette; if they play the piano; what expletive do they shout when they stand on an upturned plug?; where they will be when they’re 80; what pressures they’re under; do they write? sing? do they want children? are they scared of spiders? do they have an incredible family history they’re yet to uncover? do they drink? What insecurities plague them? What did they do on their 18th birthday?

Sometimes I imagine their stories.
The old man who sat three tables out from me, wore a grey beanie hat.
He looked cautious and uneasy.
I imagined he was hiding out. I imagined he’d fled to Vegas in the 60s in search of a piece of the pie. The small Nevada town exploded into a heaven of seedy gamblers and quick-buck gangsters in the 50s. Grey beanie wanted in on it. Being a young hothead, believing the World was his to take, he just pushed his luck a little bit too far. He now owed millions of dollars, that he lost in a string of bad luck, back room, smoke filled poker games, surrounded by strippers and the smell of desperate nobody’s, in the mid 70s. He borrowed more and more to try to win it all back. And now he owed. Having packed up in the middle of the night in August, ’76, he fled eastward. Having walked for miles, hitched for miles more, snuck onto trains, and slept with one eye open in the dingiest motels that lined the route, he spent the 80s hiding out in a tiny one roomed shack in the Shenandoah valley in West Virginia, just outside of Jefferson County. He had a stove, and a stream near by to collect water. He hunted for food. He learned to love the basic life. He would sit outside every morning with a coffee, and just listen. Listen to the soft, mellifluous sound of nature. He would close his eyes and the sounds seemed more prominent. They made him feel alive. This is what it was to be living. Vegas didn’t exist. Money didn’t exist. Nothing else existed. Reality though, reality is indifferent to the dreams of absolute serenity of one man. His creditors caught up with him. In 1991, he fled to England. He’s been here ever since. First, in the Welsh valleys; in a town called Hirwaun in the Cynon Valley, before marrying a girl in Yorkshire. He wears the beanie to cover the scar from a barroom fight in Vegas; an easily identifiable scar. His wife doesn’t know his past. He thinks it’s safer that way. And all of the places he’s been, from Vegas, across the midwest, to the Shenandoah Valley, I want to see.
It is me, living vicariously through stories that I attribute to unsuspecting faces.
And here he is. Cautiously watching the World go by, in a little unknown coffee shop, in England, as if any second could be his last, as if Michael Corleone could walk out of the bathroom at any moment and end it all in a flash. I watch him as I take a sip of Mocha.

These are lives. It is a World that you hear in a coffee shop.
We all share a single ancestor. All of us. And yet here, in a coffee shop, we are all a rich tapestry of easily forgettable, beautiful mundanity, dreaming with stories that aren’t real, and Paris stays with you.


…about what comes next

July 16, 2012

I would like someone to tell me what I’m good at. I have no idea. I’m 26. I have just completed my degree. My thesis got me a 76. A high 1st. I finished with 2% off an overall 1st Class Honour. Now what? I live at home with my dad. I have very little money to my name, and no practical skill whatsoever. The truth is, I have no confidence in myself.

Sometimes I like philosophy. Camus can keep my attention for a day or two but it soon wears away and all that’s left is the understanding that my fickle nature is unlikely to provide any form of success. Sometimes I like history. Sometimes I like politics. Sometimes I like photography, but I’m no good at it. Sometimes I like art. I drove to Devon a few days ago. On the way home I pulled into a service station on the M5. A kid with floppy hair who looked about 18 years old, got out of his Bentley in his tailor made suit. He must have his own place, and a bright future. He has the ability to support a family. The options are limitless for that guy. At such a young age. When I was 18, I had made the conscious decision that I wanted to fill my mind with as much information as possible on subjects that fascinate me, because school made me believe I was incapable of that. The trouble with that venture was that I am fascinated by vastly different subjects at different times. As a result, eight years later, I can talk you through the life of Thomas Cromwell thanks to Robert Hutchinson’s fantastic biography. I know a Caravaggio painting without being told. I am more than happy to talk about how much of a failure right winged economics has always been. I can point out where the Ten Commandments originated. I can tell you about the French Revolution and November’s fascination with Robbespierre. I can recite Bukowski and Plath, and due to my thesis, I can confidently talk to you about the motives of Lincoln and the early Republicans in their opposition to slavery. How utterly useless. All of it. A waste of time. A rather curious form of self destruction. I am an expert in nothing. I have no long term career goal. I have never known. The World is made for people who have a clear goal, clear aspirations, and a passion. What about the shear mediocrity of the rest of us?

…. ‘it is as if the sun has become disgusted with waiting’.

I do not want to sit in an office filing administrative documents by alphabetical order. Every job I look at is advertised as “Admin work. Be part of a unique and dynamic sales team!!” They are all ‘unique’ and ‘dynamic’… none of them explain why they’re unique and dynamic, or how they are so unique from the other unique company and the unique company before that. Here is a description of one of job vacancies suggested to me:

You will be working within a busy office helping to collate our recruitment documentation. This will include tasks such as requesting references, making calls to candidates and clients, facilitating database records and editing CVs.

– Why would you waste your life with this? No one dreams of collating recruitment documentation. It becomes a means to an end. And that end is, to eat at the end of the day. Life suddenly becomes nothing more than a desperate chase for survival. It goes on…

you must bring an energetic and pro-active

– Energetic? You’re doing nothing but updating an Excel spreadsheet. You leave the World with nothing but a 1mb file. The World doesn’t need you. I no longer wish to feel like a waste of time.

There is nothing that makes me want to dedicate my life to such tedious and patently transparent bullshit. I would be fired pretty quickly. I have sat in an office for four years before going back to university. There is nothing more soul destroying. The outside exists, and your World smells entirely of printer ink and pricks in suits whose arse you must lick to gain any chance at a bit more money…. you know…. so you don’t die. What a putrid existence. Welcome to England and its complete lack of hope.

Conversely, I have had some incredible memories. Once you taste life outside of your four walls, outside the rancid air of an office, you become addicted and you chase more.
I can be too impulsive. I like this about myself. It is a remnant of childhood that I do not wish to lose. But it requires balance apparently. I suppose that is what they call maturity.

I want to find something I am good at. Can make a comfortable living out of. Can support a family with. Can have happy Christmas’s and holidays with. I am 26. I feel time is slowly running out and I am forever on edge, worrying about what comes next.


The light flickers in our hall way.

December 20, 2011

The light flickers in our hall way.
I never noticed it before.
But it flickers every three seconds. I counted.
Counting flickers means that the mind is focused on something that matters little.
Instead of people watching.
People watching has evolved into people loathing.
Nandos menus have about four different fonts. I want to throw them in a fire.
There is one face in a billion that makes me want to learn their story.
Otherwise there is just a field of sullen faces all in a rush to nowhere.
I want to tell them that they’re not welcome.
The pretty faces as cheap and easy drugs, some of them. The crash is inevitable. The high is predictable.
And they seem deformed.
Not physically.
But deformed they seem, nonetheless.
There are just no layers. Or at least if there are, I don’t much care for them.
Like robots. Their tired Friday face looks the same as their Monday faces.
The theme tune to ‘Big Break’ brings back floods of childhood memories. Sundays at the grandparents house. I don’t know why. We pushed the neighbours car the other night. It went eventually. Crap battery and all that.
I want to see a face that makes me want to devour their mind with an unstoppable passion and unearth their brilliance and the uniqueness and discover their creative ingenuity and explore every last cave of their thoughts and say to other people “this is what living is”. When I dream at night I am at my most creative; the Worlds are magnificent and the plots are beautiful and the people, their faces are memorable and my dreams are the World as I want it to be but it isn’t. Or, my dreams are my way of telling myself that I am a bore. I love to sleep because my subconscious is demanding a creative outlet. Dreaming is my creative outlet. Like a big sigh of relief. How arrogant of me to expect the World to be a replica of my dreams. The World turns without my arrogance.
Minimum wage has a funny way of making me give a minimum shit. But it can’t abide that sentiment. It demands 100% of your caring ability, for a big ‘fuck you’ in return.
The upstairs light in the hall way doesn’t flicker. But it’s pretty bright. The downstairs light is the flicker. I always turn the wrong light on when I come in at night. I’ve lived here for for 22 years and I still get it wrong.
Lost. Very very lost. The light flickers. I look at it.
A face that stands out, and demands understanding. As the tornado of faces passes every day, always the same. Just one that stands out. Or maybe I wish my face stood out. It doesn’t.
What the heart holds on to, is a fucking nightmare to pull away from. It haunts me. Throw rocks and boulders at it and it’ll come away unscratched let alone unattached. And what then? “you’ll be fine”. Yeah, thanks.
I walked through St James’ Park the other day.
There were Autumn leaves in a pile. They were orange and red. Like someone had pressed the pause button during a great fire.
It was evening.
I was momentarily stunned by the buildings across the Mall toward Green Park. Humanity has came from the threat of extinction less than 100,000 years ago, to giant buildings and lush gardens. Eyes are drawn to beauty more so in the evening because the lights are prominent and they cast shadows and distorted reflections. Or maybe reality is a distorted reflection. London. Awe inspiring.
I torture myself with bad decisions.
There were very few people. I kicked the leaves like a child. I thought about it for a second or two. I’d look like a maniac of course. 25 years old and kicking leaves. It is surely the first sign of insanity. But I thought fuck it. If sanity means walking by, wishing i’d kicked the leaves, then I don’t want sanity. Sanity has a curious way of seeming inexcusably dull. I will never see these two or three monotonous faces again, I thought. So I kicked the leaves. That is life.

And then there’s life.

University done for 2011. Sleep for the next three weeks. Weep at turning 26. Finish dissertation. Graduate. Be unemployed. Be employed. Rome. Paris. Be happy. Be miserable. Uncertainty. Love lost. Florence. Eat well. Make friends. Write. Complain. House. Marriage. Kids. Say stupid things. Get shouted at. Learn. Be curious. Be suspicious. Be accepting. Abhor ignorance. Be loved. Shop. Wave to people. Buy a French bulldog. Move down south. Swim the sea. Foolish pride. Sit on the cliff top in Devon. Regretfully wish I’d told you how beautiful I thought you always were. Try new foods. Act like I give a fuck about tedious work. Meaningless, soul destroying encounters. Look out of the window of a train. Cry. Remember Montmartre. Miss the bus. Catch the bus. The M1 between Leicester and London is like self harm. Contemplate. Stream of consciousness. Go swimming. Road trip. Watch comedy. Sleep warm. One leg out of the duvet. Sing in the car. Badly. ‘The feeling of absurdity’. Tattoo cooling gel. Judge books by their cover. Tell people not to judge books by their cover. The faint lights of a town across the coastline at night. Walk through fields. Burp. Loudly. Caravan holiday Weymouth, 1990. Play in the sand. Eat ice cream on Weston pier. Make the wrong decisions. Poetry. Tell friends that I really fucking love them. Play piano. Remember your face. Argue. Stick two fingers up. Devour books. BBQs on the beach. Worship beauty instead of the smell of an office. Let it be. Family Christmasses. ‘…burn burn burn like fabulous yellow roman candles’. Smell Spring in the morning. Traffic jams. Over analyse and destroy. Wasteful spending. Be ill. Moan at being ill. Hemmingway. Speak with conviction. Lost at Monopoly. You always took Mayfair. Attempt accents. Fail at accents. Mock. Squeeze into a Tube train. Jubilee line to Southwark. Mind the gap. Punch a wall. Wonder what the Pacific ocean looks like. ‘We are like roses’ said Bukowski. Gym. Romance. Always romance. Watch football. Play football. Political diatribe. Sunbathe. Take photos. Make memories. Push cars in winter. Kick leaves. Babysit. Look at the stars. Skim stones on the ocean. Write. Always write. Drink beer. Not too much. Play pool. Lose at pool. Win at pool. Be spontaneous. Run. Walk. Laugh. A lot. Miss people. Reflect. Love. Fix the flickering light in our hall way.


We are the stars…

November 5, 2011

There is a sort of innate beauty in reflection. The mind can be a rather chaotic place, and reflection is a curious calming influence.

Quite some time ago I came to the conclusion that there is no God. I came to the conclusion that there is no after life. I came to the conclusion that this life, is what is important. It means, as difficult as it may be, living in the moment is the only important part of life. As i’ve discovered, living for the future is extremely destructive. One has to be impulsive, and take a chance. This is how memories are made. It doesn’t mean I have to make a great impact on the World, or that I need to somebody important; it simply means that understanding the absurdity of trying to find order or meaning or purpose in a chaotic, indifferent universe, is the route of all worry, and the route of all fear, and once you come to terms with your life as being a part of that absurdity, it is truly enlightening. You realise that this life, is decidedly important. I am the product of 250,000 years of human evolution. I am the product of fourteen billion years of universe expansion. I am, quite literally, the product of star dust. It is simply awe inspiring to know that the material that makes up my left arm, could have come from a distant star explosion, and a completely different part of the universe, to the material that makes up my right arm. We are made from the same ‘stuff’ that makes everything.
We are the stars. Everything is connected. We all come from the same pin point. A split second before the big bang, from something that makes a single grain of sand look like the Empire State Building. We are the Universe trying to understand itself. This, is beautiful.

When I notice someone or something that I consider to be beautiful; I get a sort of rush of adrenaline. We are all the same. Beauty is innate. I want to understand what it is that makes that person, or that thing, who or what they are. I want to know their favourite colour. Or what they dream at night. To know that everything is so tightly connected, is to open the doors to curiosity. It simply makes you want to learn about everything and everyone, because by doing so, it enriches yourself. I want to tell them that I am over awed by the fact that nature has, in all its infinite possibilities, of everything it could have produced, of the millions of possibilities offered by DNA, achieved as close to perfection as is possible. Words are my way of articulating to someone that I am taken in by their beauty. Photography is my way of capturing what I consider to be beauty and sharing it. By photographing something, I am saying to people “this is what I love”.

Reflection on all you see, and all you know, and the nostalgia that it naturally produces, is a product of the mind. The mind is a product of everything that came before me. Reflection has therefore, an in-built beauty. I thought I would share a few photos, that I have taken on my travels, to attempt to highlight the experiences that I feel have moulded me into the person I am. They aren’t supposed to be the most artistic photos. Simply photos that I felt a great need to capture, and that almost always figure, somehow, into my reflective periods. These are the constants. The concepts that anchor me to a certain path.

This is Rome. The Esquiline hill. The Maecenas gardens once rose beautifully on this hill. It is sort of overwhelming, to understand the spectacular history of an infamous culture, and to stand in its centre. Millions and millions of people will never get that opportunity. I did. That amazes me.

Quite possibly, one of my favourite spots in Rome. I am sure you can see why.

My first real taste of how vastly human understanding of the World is different, depending on what part of the Earth you stand on. Istanbul taught me that no one is truly individual. We all succumb to abstractions. Istanbul’s larger than life abstraction, is Islam.

The Blue Mosque made me realise just what humanity can produce, if it tries. What an incredible building. To think that we have minds, that if cultivated properly, can produce buildings like the Blue Mosque and its incredible prayer area and dome, or produce scientists like Newton. Or writers like Hemmingway. To know, we all have minds made from the same substance, has to be the most inspiring incentive known to man.

Spring is my favourite season. Bradgate park is a place I have been going to since I was a baby. I remember being in the car, and driving down the road toward the entrance, knowing the brightly decorated little ice cream shop was only over the next hill. My curiosity at the fact that deers ACTUALLY exist and are not just a product of Disney. I learned to love the smell of freshly cut grass, at Bradgate. I’d toddle over to feed the ducks. They’d eat it. I’d laugh. This picture to me, epitomises spring and Bradgate. As a kid, I loved it. And this guy, as an old man, is drawn to playing, like a child again.

There is nothing more in life, that makes you feel as if you’re in a romantic French film, than sitting on an underground Metro to Montmartre, and having a French violinist play right next to you. You intertwine the sound of the violin, with the sound of the train, and the scene changes and suddenly you’re walking through the Parisian streets with the stars, like tiny holes poked in a black canvas flickering subtly above. This is what Paris does to you.

This is the south coast of Devon, on a Spring morning. I try to do this at least once a year. My grandparents spent much of their 60 years together, on the south coast of Devon. There is something surreal, in sitting on your own, in the morning, overlooking a calm day, where the sea seems to blend into the sky, and the tiny ripples emphasise the calmness, knowing your grandparents did the same thing 50 years before. I feel connected to this place. I struggle to convey to people why it holds such importance to me.

And this is my serene place. Also on the south coast of Devon. It is the most tranquil spot on Earth for me. I sit on the cliff that goes out to see, preferably at sun rise, as one or two people walk their dogs on the beach, and all you hear is the sound of the waves. It is the place where all my thinking gets done. It is the only place, where I can quite easily forget about everything. This is where I look out, and feel blessed to have ever had the chance to be born, knowing that the gift of life, is so improbable, and exists in such a fleeting moment in time, less than a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of the universe; this is the magic of existence. One does not need a God, to feel a sense of objective beauty. One needs simply to be.


An absurd introvert

June 16, 2011

Learning about myself is like reading a book I need to reread over and over to understand. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness had that affect on me. Read a page, sit and wonder what was just implied, reread the page out loud, put the book down, decide I’ll give it another go tomorrow night. I can’t imagine being in Sartre’s mind, though there must be a serenity in being able to so openly spill your insecurities and create an entire new branch of philosophical thought from them.

If I sit listening to my mind, I confuse myself excessively and have to take a minute to meditate on those confusions before ignoring them, and deciding I’m just being over analytical. Nonetheless, it is quite vicious much of the time, to feel a sort of annoying hot poker jabbing at your brain, whispering “who the fuck are you?” whilst you’re trying to focus on menial life chores.

I decided long ago that I adhere to the philosophy of absurdism made famous by Albert Camus. I discovered this absurdist leaning after becoming most annoyed by a certain work etiquette and a work colleague who seemed to embody it, like Camus’ Sisyphus quietly pushing the rock up the hill only to watch it fall down again and again. I had taken a tray of food over to a table in an uninspiring conference room. An old portrait of the owners’ grandma as a toddler plagues the far wall. An old fireplace confirms my suspicion that the whole place had failed to progress beyond the 1950s. The dullness of the room was reflected in the dullness of the people sat around the conference table waiting for their overpriced dinner to arrive. I had been asked to help take the food out, a joy that I rarely partake in, not least because it is about as intellectually stimulating and as jubilant an occasion as realising you have no toilet roll left in the house during a moment of terrible bowel discomfort. Anyway, I took a tray to the table, placed it down, took the food from the tray and put it neatly in front of the gentleman. We talked for 30 seconds or so about the local football team, and we laughed about something. He was actually very pleasant. He seemed desperate to talk to someone other than the lifeless souls who had gathered around the table to eat, like robots refilling on oil. He gave me a tip too. At my workplace, they don’t normally tip. I walked out of the room and my colleague said, in a brash tone, with a stare that could cut through solid lead, said “I cannot believe you just did that“. After giving her a look of confusion, she told me that I should NEVER put the tray down on their table because it makes us look terribly unprofessional. At that moment, it struck me, just how pointless and meaningless my job was. Just how useless an existence it is to say that your full time job, is to serve rich people. She told me it was awful to put a tray down on a table; she became red with anger. To an outsider, it was as if I had gone into that room, quietly walked over to the table and waved my willy in their faces. It was an absurd situation, of which I had to laugh. I laughed at her. Not intending to be rude, I just laughed, which is rude, but I honestly don’t care. The situation deserved a laugh, and it just spontaneously came out of my face, it couldn’t be stopped. The whole episode was so insignificant it holds more meaning to me, than much of my life so far. That very episode changed my philosophical self reasoning far more than any other.

Discovering your life and your essence are absurd; putting an end to what is seemingly considered an innate search for truth and purpose, by accepting thoroughly that truth and purpose are simply man made concepts that are vastly incompatible with the chaotic and aimless nature of the universe and the random process of natural selection, we must then discover who we are individually. This is the tricky part. There are so many contradictions in my personality and so many faults and flaws that I cannot pin down exactly who I am and this frustrates me. I want to be fully rounded, I want to understand myself entirely and I want to know that I am in control of who I am and what I do.

I think it is fair to say I am decidedly introverted. I would be happy living my life with no interference from anyone else. Whereas many people can count “good listener” as a positive personal trait, I can’t. I may act it, I may pretend to care, but ultimately I am easily bored by the stories of others, I get anxious about how to respond, especially if those stories are excessively trivial. I hate clubbing, I hate too much socialising, I prefer solitude and thought. I like my own company and time to myself. I like losing myself in a book. I may come across as ignorant and at times I wont talk much, answering everything with a simple “yeah“. This is either because my mind is wandering, or I have very little interest in what is being said to me, and feel any response would be forced and inadequate. The only person I like listening to, and being around is Ash, which is probably a good thing. We went viewing homes around Bendigo in Australia last weekend. Beautiful, and yet affordable homes. We both want a personal study room, to lock ourselves away in when we need to be alone. Often you will hear people insist that a happy relationship and a happy family is achieved by spending quality time together, and that’s true. But equally as important is having your own space. Independence is a feature I must never compromise, nor would I ever wish to throw myself so deep into someone else’s life that they feel less independent. If I feel my control over my own life is under threat, I pull away and start to question the route down which my life has rolled. I do not particularly need anyone else. I simply need to know that my World remains my World. Over my domain, I am a control freak.

Carl Jung brilliantly hypothesised that introversion and extroversion are chemical reactions in the brain; the introvert experiences large energy surges when alone or in a small group, whilst the extrovert thrives on less cortical arousal, needing instead outside stimulation. I am far more comfortable writing about how I feel, than actually telling people, because whilst I know I’m being completely irrational, I subconsciously presume that no one wants to hear my ranting, in the same way that I don’t particularly want to hear the rantings of others. I cannot abide people bitching endlessly about each other, or quite clearly having issues with each other and not communicating them. I notice the unneeded tension that I am not a part of, and wonder why the fuck I am in that situation, feeling slightly uncomfortable. I suppose introvert is simply a synonym for prodigiously self involved. That is certainly what “blog” is a synonym for. Or maybe it is the climax to a series of insecurities that chip away but never get faced. I don’t know which line of reasoning I prefer. Spending too much time around others drives me close to insanity and drains me of all energy, I get all anxious and need to get away. Life is not a waste of time, if it is spent on introspection, and reflection, as long as it doesn’t eat away at you. It is a constant search for an identity that seems to so fleetingly blow in the wind. There is an impeccable beauty in the solitude I feel when I am sitting on the beach wall at Dawlish Warren on the English south coast, in the early morning, with no one else around, the sounds of the sea at that particular place is the most serene and perfect of all places in my World. That is where I go when I close my eyes at night.

That is me.


The mouth of a river in spring

March 17, 2011

When I was six, before life became work, and taxes, and benefit cheats, and women, and racism, and war, and men in suits, and bin collections, and Churchill car insurance, and bank charges for unplanned overdrafts, and Company mission statements with their empty phrases, and burnt out cars, and call centres, and fights to prove you’re masculine, and cars, and alcohol and other games that adults play, I got so angry at my mother one day that I ran away. It was a big decision. I packed my rucksack with crayons and a yoghurt, and ran away.

I braced myself for the harsh conditions I expected I would face as I set out on my trek.

Before I continue, I thought I should explain the state of mind I was almost always in, as a child. And nothing explains that state of mind better than a picture of me apparently pretending to be a surfboard.

If that isn’t enough, here is a picture I drew a couple of years later. I think this should convince you of my state of mind. And also, convince Tate Britain that I have been overlooked far too often for the Turner Prize.

Anyway, I had ran away from home.

I lived for the next ten minutes in a bush at the bottom of the garden, before making my way back across the hostile environment of the 20 or so feet to the house, to get back home because it was a bit cold, and I liked Saved by the Bell. I was under the impression that my mother must be going mad with worry, and the police might now be in the house, and that it’d teach her for not buying me the football magazine that I wanted.

Whilst I was in the bush, I decided that the ladybird that was on the leaf next to me, was called Daisy and that she was playing hide and seek with another lady bird and that I had to tell the other lady bird that I hadn’t seen daisy, if the other lady bird were to ask. The other lady bird never appeared. I guessed this was because Daisy had chosen a fucking amazing hiding place. She was on one leaf out of the hundreds of thousands of leaves that were enjoying the great British springtime. The leaf she was perched on was facing downwards. I decided that the leaf must be helping Daisy out but I couldn’t decide whether this was cheating or not.

I vividly remember wishing Daisy luck with the rest of the game, and that if I were her, i wouldn’t hide in the shed, because I once put all my action men figures in there and they are now covered in spider webs from the World’s biggest spiders. I used to think the dad spider (which was obviously bigger than my house) would eat me if I tried to rescue my action men. One day a few months later, I hatched a profound plan to rescue the action men (and wrestling figures), by creeping into the shed, with a beanie hat on, and my face covered by my hands, and making what I had decided were “spider noises” to trick the dad spider. It worked. The dad spider must have fell for my tricks. I felt so fucking clever. The action men and wrestling figures are now gathering dust in my loft, because my room is too full of work on the “qualitative methodology in research journalism“. So, when I remember all my little imaginative games (which I believed were real at the time), in those ten minutes in that bush when I was six, I had an imagination that I now envy twenty years later.

We are like roses that have never bothered to
bloom when we should have bloomed and
it is as if
the sun has become disgusted with
waiting

It is like a door that is slowly closing, to a room full of imagination. Every year that passes, the door creaks ever so more toward being fully closed, as your mind is taken up with things that do not make us happy, or achieve anything of any worth. I try to peek inside that door, when I am taking photos, or writing in my notebook, but it still requires much thought and consideration to enjoy. When I was six years old, it took no effort to believe that a ladybird on the leaf next to me, was enjoying the sun, with a game with her ladybird friends.

Imagination is limited to dreams now. When I was a child I had no need for dreams at night. My imagination in real life was adequate. Some days, I was a professional footballer who was only six years old, but had become the most successful goal scorer in history. The commentators would say “He’s incredible. The greatest that ever lived“. Other days I was a professional boxer. The World Heavyweight Championship was my pillow. I would put it on my stomach and use my mum’s dressing gown tie to tie it around my waist.The commentators, quite coincidentally would say “He’s incredible. The greatest that ever lived“. I was the greatest that ever lived at a lot of things by the time I was seven. I could sleep easily at night without having to dream, knowing my World Heavyweight Championship would still be there in the morning. Now, I dream every night. I remember every second of every dream. I interpret it as a desire to imagine. My mind simply telling me “Okay forget everything about your boring day, here is what matters……” followed by a dream about a theme park being built in my street over night and no one knowing who did it or where it came from (a genuine dream I had not too long ago).

When I see a ladybird now, I don’t even acknowledge it. I don’t count its spots. I don’t even give it a name and a back story. I am too busy thinking about the NHS reforms.

How sad.

I want my imagination to explain why I prefer the mouth of a river in spring, to the grey lifeless buildings filled with the grey lifeless people with their grey lifeless language, that frequent them, even though those lifeless buildings are where the money and the apparent “dignity” lies and why those grey lifeless people in the grey lifeless buildings with their grey lifeless language, don’t congregate every evening, to forget their colourless lives, at the mouth of a river in spring.


A snapshot of thought

January 31, 2011


Taken in Istanbul, in 2007.
Taken using a Canon 400D.
———————————————————

I am carrying a notebook around recently. Taking little notes of anything that catches my eye and trying to write down what I see, as if I were taking a photo of it. A snapshot of thought. Like the photo above, not considered, or edited, or planned, or thought about in detail; just a quick note. It appeals to me, because it doesn’t take much artistic creativity. It requires just a pen and paper. I can take photos that mean something to me, but i’d like to be able to use words to create a photo too. This is my first attempt at such a task.

In Leicester there is a boy
student
who walks around with his headphones on through the city centre
singing loudly to himself.
he can’t sing
he’s fucking awful
The odd smirk on his face says he
thinks he’s being “different” or “quirky” or “unique”
but he looks at the floor as he walks
in an awkward
uncomfortable
insecure
transparent
ignorance.
That’s not unique or
an undiscovered, tortured genius
that’s the same as everyone else is, when they’re drunk.
He is the sheep that thinks he’s special
heading for the same slaughterhouse
as the rest of us.


The Christmas Blog

December 25, 2010

I haven’t blogged recently for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Ash is over for the next month and we’ve been busy in London and shopping. In fact, so busy shopping, that we left the buying of Christmas Day food, until 10pm Christmas Eve…… granted we were in the pub when we should have been shopping for food, but nevertheless, the lack of time is one of the main reasons I haven’t blogged. And secondly, because I don’t particularly have any political opinion at the moment. I still hate the Tories, I still want to shake my head in shame any time a Lib Dem shows his or her miserable Tory-lite face, and I still think Labour are a massive waste of time. There isn’t much more I can say on that.

England is an EDL member’s dream right now.
Totally white.
The snow is immensely irritating.
It takes around about three minutes from my hands and feet to freeze when i’m out side.
Ash loves it.
But that’s because she’s from Australia an oven.
We fly to Paris in two days.
But first, Leicester City vs Leeds at the Walkers Stadium tomorrow!
Is it just me, or is it the older a bloke gets, the more socks he gets for Christmas?
Ten pairs for me this year.
We are cooking the Christmas day starter, for my family.
Stuffed mushrooms and Prawn cocktail.
I say “we are cooking“, I mean “Ash is cooking the stuffed mushrooms, and I bought the prawn cocktail ready made.
But i’ll sprinkle lemon juice on the prawns!
That makes me a cook, right?
We are enjoying Christmas day.
The celebration of the birth of a man who probably wasn’t actually real.
Annie Lennox was born on Christmas day and she’s definitely real.
We should change the name of Christmas to Lennmas.
I could be consistent with my Atheism and ignore Christmas entirely.
But then i’d miss out on Turkey.
And no amount of Dawkins/Darwin/Hitchens is going to make me miss out on Turkey.
Jesus invented Turkey, 1970s Christmas rock songs and presents.
Dawkins Darwin and Hitchens invented scepticism.
And as much as I adore scepticism….. it doesn’t taste like Turkey.
Or sound like Slade.
Apparently Aussies have never heard Slade, or Wizzard’s Christmas songs.
That both shocks and appals me.
Ash bought me some new boots from Oxford Street.
They’re amazing boots.
I cannot imagine a time when these boots weren’t in my life.
I bought Ash a silver locket, that we can put a picture of us in Paris in, and keep for when we get old.
I’m so romantic.
She’s SO lucky.
So lucky in fact, that this morning I decided to put some USB speakers down her tights whilst she was wearing them, and play Come on Eileen through them.
It was magical.
Ash and I have taken a few photos already.
Here they are:

Merry Christmas!


I smiled to myself

November 22, 2010

At bottom, every man knows perfectly well that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.
– Nietzsche

Today was the funeral of both of my grandparents.
Funerals are strange occasions. Most notably because I do not ever know how to react. I let my mind wander. As explained in previous blogs, I prefer to celebrate the life of the person, rather than become overtaken by a morbid sense of intense loss. I feel privileged to have known my grandparents. They were fantastic people. And whilst I certainly feel like I have lost that, I am reminded how lucky I am to have been a part of their lives in the first place.

But still, I do not know how to react.
In the funeral procession, I sat in the back of the car. Up ahead were the two hearses and the undertaker. The first thing that popped into my head, was a scene in Only Fools and Horses, in which Del has got Rodney a job, and tells him he starts tomorrow. Rodney doesn’t know what he’s going to be doing but goes along anyway. A few scenes later, Del is stood in the market, and a funeral procession goes past. Del and his mates, and his Uncle lower their heads in respect. After the ingenius line to Uncle Albert, of “Unc, your taxis’ here“, they all notice Rodney at the front of the procession, in his new job as an undertaker whispering expletives in Del’s direction; so much so that he accidentally walks them down a one way street the wrong way, and the whole funeral procession has to turn round and go back the other way. Brilliance. I smiled to myself, as my thoughts brought me back to the car. I know that my grandparents would have smiled too. But the mood in that car was one of sorrow. It somehow seemed inappropriate to be making myself smile. And so a guilty feeling overtook me. As if there is a set way we should all react in that kind of situation.

We got to the Church, and went inside. The coffins sat side by side with “Mum” and “Dad” written beautifully in flowers. We all walked in; me, my dad, my sister, my cousins and aunts and uncles, friends of the family, and distant relatives, to the sound of my granddads favourite musician…… Al Jolson. Thankfully his appalling song choice was soon forgotten as my grandmas favourite musician, and markedly less awful came on….. Dean Martin. There were around 30 people altogether. I hope I know 30 people when i’m 85. I was surprised at the turn out. I met members of the family I had no idea existed. My grandmas 95 year old sister looks just like her. I met my new baby cousin for the first time too. He is extremely cute.

I couldn’t help but feel slightly odd, when the Priest read a passage from the Bible. I am paraphrasing him, but it was along the lines of: “If you love Jesus before you die, he will bring you to God’s kingdom“. I don’t love Jesus. I doubt he even existed. I don’t like the Bible at all. So reading between the lines, the Priest had just condemned me. Great. I tried to suppress my Atheist tendencies, but they were always there. Throughout a couple of hymns especially. It just seemed like a cult. Slightly uncomfortable. It’s funny how the mind moves away from things that actually matter. This was the day my grandparents were to be put to rest, and my mind spent a few minutes wanting to yell at the Priest for talking nonsense. How ludicrous. But this wasn’t my day, and I figured it gave comfort to many people in that room, which is not a bad thing.

I met a couple of my granddads old drinking buddies, from the Navy days during the War. They had known him since he was around 17. Apparently a pub opened in the 1930s, and all its members were given numbers. They all joined up in the 1940s sometime. My granddad was around number 500 when he joined. Every time someone died, the next person in line took their number. Like a league. Morbid isn’t it? My granddad was number 11 by the time he died. Whilst my granddad was number 11, his mate, who was at the funeral, is number 23…….. a child in comparison!!!

They were telling us how he used to leave the pub early, in the 1950s aswell as the 2000s, because he didn’t want to upset my grandma by being away too long. He doted on her. They said he has always been that way, since the day he met her. That, is incredible.

My dad is a good speaker. His brothers and sister don’t tend to do speeches. But my dad always does a good ‘un. He relayed to us a story of when they were kids, and my grandma and granddad took them on holiday. They got to a hill, just outside of Bath, on the way to Devon. The car wouldn’t get up the hill. This is before the days of the M5, so there was no motorway down to Devon. Just one or two roads. The car kept rolling back. It was only a few years later that my granma explained it was because they had loaded the trunk of the car with potatoes for the week. So many, that the car didn’t make it up the hill. That’s a lot of potatoes.

The organ player, was awful. Organs sound dreadful anyway. But this guy took it to a new extreme. I never saw who was playing it, but I presume it was an ape.

Apparently my grandma, on talking to my dad about John Lennon turning 70 soon had he still been alive, said “He was good footballer“. We presume she meant the ex-Leicester City player Neil Lennon. He’s 36. Not 70.

My granddads mate was telling us how they ran to Filbert Street one day, as 19 year olds, to watch a Leicester City match, and jumped the railings to avoid having to pay. But one of their mates got hung up by his shirt, on the top of the railing, and they couldn’t get him off. So they left him and ran. Genius!

We all then gathered together at a pub near to their house. His mate didn’t come, because he was finding it particularly difficult. Understandable, if you’ve known a bloke for 60 years, and now he’s gone. My aunt revealed to us, that my grandma had told her a secret. My grandma was born amidst a bit of a scandal. The man my dad and his siblings had been calling granddad, wasn’t their granddad. My grandma kept her real dad a secret, because in those days it would have been a scandal. She didn’t want my granddad to know she was born out of an affair between two married people, in the 1920s. The story confused me, and was incredibly fascinating. My grandmas side of the family were there. A lot of them though, are in Boston, in the US. My dad, on hearing that his granddad wasn’t actually his granddad, said whilst laughing “So the bloke who used to pick us up, with his fag on, whistling to himself, was actually just a random bloke, who probably didn’t know why we were calling him granddad?

Hearing the stories about their lives; stories I had never heard before, made me realise just how many lives they had an influence on. Running to football matches, trying to get cars up hills, having the same mates for 60 years – all the memories these people must have, and it all ended, in about 40 minutes, in that little room at the back of the Church, on a slightly rainy day in December. I felt privileged and honoured to be related to them. The contrast between the grand significance of a life, and the apparent insignificance and subtlety of a funeral is startling. The funeral and the tears are not important. The lives and the memories are important. It made me think about the lives I have an influence on, even in the most trivial of ways. It made me reflect on just how important my friends are to me. I have always taken them for granted. They are always there, and it becomes routine to accept them as always being there. But they actually mean the World to me. Even the ones I have known a relatively short time. When I grow old, I hope my friends are recounting stories with smiles on their faces, to my children.


A bad week

November 7, 2010

Airing private matters on public blogs is considered a little bit taboo. But, it is the way I like to express myself. I am not bothered by the apparent societal standard of keeping private matters to oneself, because I like to get advice and comments, and I tend to struggle to talk to people face to face. I fear I am boring them, or forcing my problems onto them, or only talking about myself. I end up just saying “I’m fine, i’ll be fine, everything is fine”; I hate that feeling. I tend to not look people in the eye when talking to them. It is my one big insecurity. So this is my outlet. Deal with it.

Last Friday my Granddad died.
This Sunday (today), my mum entered the living room, told my dad “i’ve met someone else“, that it’d been going on since June…. and then left. No explanation, no conversation. After almost 26 years of marriage. My dad is in a state of shock. As am I.
Next Friday is my granddad’s funeral.
My mum picked a fucking awful time to reveal her little selfish secret. And a pretty shit way to air it.

To say that my week has been shit, is an understatement. I am a pretty strong person usually, but at the same time, it feels as if my World has turned from a pillar of stone, to a pillar of sand crumbling slowly, in a matter of days. I have no idea how to deal with it.

To top it off, I have three University essays and a presentation to write up, in less than a month. My mind is a tornado, and everything caught up in it, is an unrecognisable blur. I can’t think straight. I can’t concentrate. I haven’t slept properly in days. I want to scream.

The one saving grace, is that I see Ash in just five weeks.


“The surest way to corrupt a youth…”

April 6, 2010

Yesterday evening I had a pretty in-depth discussion with Ash about my personal insecurities, which allowed them to surface quite unexpectedly. It overwhelmed me, and actually quite upset me. It made me feel fairly angry at both myself and the system that had developed this rather cancerous conditioning, and continues to do so with children across the Country.

I’ve always placed myself in between two types of mind. On the one hand, there is the creative mind of humanity, that effortlessly sways away from the material World and places an almost spiritual sense of self manifestation through art and poetry and photography and creative writing, above material needs. Sylvia Plath could turn ineffable feelings into beautiful poetry. Diane Arbus could take a photo that ran deeper than it first appeared.

On the other hand, there is the business mind, which seeks profit above all else, so poor that all they own is money, the material mind, which may not in all honesty be driven by what it sees as pure greed or an institutionalised perpetuating inequality, but nonetheless contributes to it every day. I place myself inbetween the two. Always have. I wish I had the creativity to be able to turn feelings into words, or inject my sense of self onto a photo, but I can’t. I wish I could produce a photo that lives on through posterity and everyone sees and says “that’s incredible“. I do not care for the material wealth it may bring, I just wish I could leave my mark creatively and not be simply forgotten when I die.

I have never considered anything I have achieved creatively, as being of any worth whatsoever. It frustrates me to even write about it now. If I take a photo, and people tell me that they like it, I immediately think I must have manipulated them somehow into the assumption that my photos are any good. It must be my fault. I must have forced them to believe what they are seeing is of any worth. If an essay achieves a high mark, I automatically assume that there has been a mistake, or that perhaps my lecturer just likes me because I say hi to him most mornings. I don’t doubt their sincerity. I accept that what they are saying as a compliment, is perhaps true in their eyes, but I automatically assume that I have clouded their vision somehow, and I don’t know how to stop it. This feeling of a lack of creative self worth does not affect me consciously, but subconsciously, I’m discovering, it has quite an enormous affect.

I blame school.

When I was younger, a teenager, I grew up surrounded by friends that I didn’t really have all that much in common with. I made excuses as to why I couldn’t go out with them. I had no desire to spend my days getting stoned and drunk constantly, or talking about fights and graffiti, it just never suited me. I always had a rebellious mind. Those kids who were quite clearly rebelling against their parents, or their school, or any kind of established rules, wanted to stick two fingers up to that establishment. I on the other hand, wanted to rebel against the established rules (as I still do), and also against the kids who in their quest for individuality had inadvertently become simply one big group of sheep. They appeared to have attacked the old “rules” and instead become victim to a new set of rules, aimed at destroying all individuality in much the same way as the old rules did. You got drunk, and stoned simply to fit in. You smashed windows and had fights, simply to impress. You spouted racist bullshit and talked about who you’d shagged, after spraying inane, illegible curse words on any walling you could find, simply to appear the alpha-male, like a group of mindless dogs. It never appealed to me. Drugs, burnt out stolen cars, joy riding, shouting in the streets at 3am, fireworks, fighting. It fucking disgusted me more than anything else. It wasn’t a “lifestyle” choice though. Neither was it teenage rebellion. It was expected. It was social conditioning. Kids were made to believe they were useless, and had no real future. Their parents lived in rented council houses (we rent our house) and lived on the dole, because they themselves came from broken homes and didn’t understand any different. They were called lazy because they weren’t top of the class in Maths. They were told “you should have worked harder in school“. The system then directed funds and investment away from those poorer areas and toward the more attractive areas, with the better schools, and so the cycle continued, from one generation to the next. The system wasn’t blamed by politicians or by businessmen, the people were blamed. They were “useless” and “lazy“. You’re simultaneously taught that ambition is pointless, but if you don’t try hard enough to attempt to obtain that which is unobtainable, you’re lazy.

And whilst it never appealed, it meant that I felt kind of detached, constantly, from the way of life around the area that I lived. I could never understand to the best of my ability, why the kids who were famous on our estates for stealing, or street fighting, or spray painting, or generally being little shits, were the popular kids, whilst the kids who could write music or paint a picture beyond the normal capibility of kids our age, were simply ignored at best and bullied at worst.

A teenage life of drugs and drink and fighting and lack of ambition and lack of knowledge and aimless, soulless “living” frequented the area where I lived, and so inevitably I was always going to fall into that way of life, if I wasn’t careful. So I resisted. And whilst it has meant cutting certain friends out of my life, i’m proud of myself for doing it. For years, I felt I was having to pretend to be something that I just wasn’t. I wasn’t the kind who wanted to fight, and drink constantly, and smash a bus stop to pieces. I suspect, the majority of people I knew felt the same as me, but just felt they had to take the plunge, to “fit in“.

On my old school’s website, it reads:

“Our aim is to ensure that all students reach the highest level of achievement, that all students reach their full potential and succeed.”

I feel this quote is horrendously misleading.
School merely perpetuated the problem. I had written down on my “choices for GCSE courses” application sheet, that I wanted to take History. I have always loved history. They wrote to me to tell me that History was full up, and they had instead put me on a business studies course. What the hell do I want to take a business studies course for? I do not have a mind for business, I’m appalling at maths, and most importantly, it isn’t History. Our school didn’t have the widest of choices for GCSE courses. I have always loved Religion, History, Politics and Philosophy. I studied Maths, English, Religious Education, Science, Business, French and Graphics. I had no interest in any of those subjects other than Religious Education…….. which I got an A in. A diverse curriculum costs too much, and is far too problematic to engage. And so, a limited curriculum where a limited few are appeased whilst the majority are uninterested, is the way we do things in England. We then tell the unhappy majority that they just aren’t good enough. We don’t encourage them to find out what it is that interests them. That would create rebels!

We were placed in a hierarchical system within moments of starting this new school. We were told that these next two years would be the most important of our lives. The pressure was quite immense. Those people who loved Maths were placed in “Top set“. Those of us who enjoyed other subjects other than Maths were placed in “Bottom set” for Maths. The linguistic phrasing of top and bottom is a hard thing for a kid to take. It has an impact. We all associate top with the best, and bottom with the very worst. If you are unlucky enough to be placed in the bottom set, you soon realise what it is to mean for you, over the next two years;

You are, within seconds of starting a new school, not good enough. You’re constantly told that you can expect a D or a C at best, but nothing more. You are shoved in a class with disruptive kids, and teachers who really aren’t that bothered with you. You’re never going to achieve anything, and so you’re almost forgotten. The top set kids mingle with the other top set kids, and the bottom set kids mingle with the other bottom set kids. The system is so fundamentally wrong. Yet, I am positive that if we studied History and Philosophy ahead of Science and French, my teachers would not have made me feel like I was useless and incapable of achieving anything beyond a D grade.
Exams were never about accumulated knowledge, or the ability to theorise, or explain, or expand on theories. Exams were all about what language you had remembered, and what equations you had memorised. You didn’t need to understand, just regurgitate what you had read from a text book. You may aswell have just taken the textbook into the examination with you.

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.

We were taught not to question. We were taught that if you failed at Maths or Science or French, that you would fail in life in general. There was nothing beyond the four walls of that very limited scope of subjects. Take everything the teacher said as fact. Don’t bother investigating for yourself. Those of us in Business Studies were force fed economic theory as fact. We weren’t to question, just learn certain business “laws” that were highly subjective and open to a lot of questioning, and just memorise them for exam time. We weren’t to question anything, because that would take up too much time. Just acquiesce to everything we were being told.

The Country was therefore filled, half with people who were amazing at remembering equations for Maths exams and specialised language for Science exams, who would come out of school with top grades, and half with those who did not find Maths or Science the least bit interesting or mentally stimulating, and left with mediocre to crap GCSE results. I was, quite unapologetically nowadays, in the latter. How different would the marketplace and the Country in general look today, if everyone’s interests were catered too? If you were not simply shoved into an education that acted not to educate you in what interested you but simply to create good little workers? The worst thing is, I was told I could not go on to further education to study Philosophy unless I achieved a high enough grade in Maths and Science. I also got a school report from my English teacher when I was fourteen explaining to my parents that I’d never be someone who reads, or understands the significance of literary classics, or writes anything of any worth when it comes to creative writing. Ten years later, I read at least two books a month, I write constantly on here, and my personal bookshelf looks like it’s about to collapse under the weight of my books. I am well read in Roman history, I can tell you about the Presidency of George Washington, I can recite elements of the speeches of Abraham Lincoln at the time of the Douglas debates, I adore reading about the reign of King Edward VI, i’m currently reading a book on the historical importance of Muhammad, and my next book will be The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici. Bukowski enthralls me with his detached sentiment, Plath intrigues me with her unique ability to turn feelings into language, Camus has transformed my World view and Vonnegut stuns me with his masterly grasp of simple prose. In short, “Mrs English” (that was her real name) can go and fuck herself. She genuinely made me believe that when it came to English language and literature, I was utterly useless.

I went back to college when I was 20, and when I was old enough to understand the horrendous hypocrisies and general bullshit spouted by the education system, and the good little workforce it aimed to produce. I had to travel an hour to college and an hour home again every day, because that was the closest college offering courses I enjoyed. I studied for my A-Levels; 16th Century History, Philosophy, Politics, and English Language and Literature. I left college with A,A,A,B.

I myself, would like to be a teacher. I worry that the institutionalised inequality of the teaching service would simply mean I would be keeping alive the inequalities that I hate so much. I do not want to be a teacher who makes children who aren’t too keen on Maths, think that they are useless. I want to be able to tell a child that they don’t have to be good at Maths. I want to tell the child who is obsessed with Photography but has had no chance to study it, that he can throw his Maths homework in the fireplace, and go and take some fucking amazing photos instead. I want to tell the little lad who feels pressured into taking drugs and getting into fights, that having to prove your masculinity to a group of thugs, should be pitied and vocalised with a simply “awww, bless them, the little idiots” more than anything.

When you have spent most of your years being made to believe that you are below average, and will never match up to the clever kids, and never produce anything of any worth, it comes as quite the shock when someone praises your work. I love Photography, I love to write, and I love expanding my knowledge. My school did not educate me, my school held me back. I learnt last night, that subconsciously, I feel utterly worthless. It is an insecurity that is rooted in childhood. I will now work to correct it.


My mind the Sophist

July 31, 2009

Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne

The wisest teachers of Philosophy, Life and Rhetoric in Ancient Mesopotamia were often described as “Sophists“. The word itself is derived from the Greek “Sophos” which quite literally translates to “the wise man“. Greek Poets soon became known as “Sophistes” because they were generally considered to be masters of teaching life through language. The term evolved to mean anyone who taught others their craft, through language. Wise men who could depart their skill using simple rhetoric.
Somewhere deep along the road of History, the term “Sophist” has evolved from that of a “wise man” to that of (according to philosophypages.com); “A plausible argument that is actually fallacious, especially when someone dishonestly presents it as if it were legitimate reasoning“. In other words, a lie. A clever manipulation.

And so, my question to myself today is; The human mind, is it sophist in the modern sense of the word, by nature?. I’d argue that it is. I am fully aware that our minds are made up entirely of experiences, memories, chemical reactions and as stated in a previous blog entry, almost Pavlovian in how we deal with associations, desires, loves and especially what we perceive to be happiness, among other emotional responses. That is simply my stance on the complexity of the workings of the human mind. And yet, I feel an odd sense of deception. A masterfully intelligible deception by the human mind. The feeling of love, is so incredibly deep rooted, I often question how such a powerful emotion is simply the result of a chemical reaction induced by experience and memory. It doesn’t seem possible. It would seem quite innate, other Worldly, even divinely inspired, if I were a believer. But even that explanation, to me, seems too simple, too convenient, and supremely illogical when taken to the extreme that some people will commit acts of atrocity in the name of love (or what they consider to be love). I’m fully aware that the concept of love (or what we, relatively, have came to believe is love), is intrinsically man made.

I do not myself know what I consider to be happiness. It is a confusing term, that I often conflict with contentedness. Friends will tell me they’re at the happiest when they’re around family and friends. Now, in general I’m content when I’m around family and friends, I’m much less stressed, and my intense need to stare at myself inwardly like I’m holding up a mirror and gazing at my thoughts quietly subsides to the back of my mind, when I’m around family (not so much, with friends). But, I associate the feeling of happiness with an intense pleasure that I continually wish to recapture, an ideal state of being, the most significant chase, the realisation of vain desires that we’re unable to surpress. Perhaps we were only truly happy, as children, when “worry” was a word we could not comprehend, and life was inexplicably brilliant. We’d sit and think “eat, play football with friends, chase girls, watch TV… I could get used to this life“, but soon it fades and you’re forced to search for new meaning to the rather obscure and ambiguous notion of happiness. You’re told that you will be truly happy if you buy as much shit as you can afford; a car bigger than your neighbours, or a new outfit with Armani scribed into the back, or a Playstation 3, or a holiday on a beach somewhere for a week before falling back into the abstract rat race. But none of that is true happiness, in fact, it has the utterly opposite affect on me. I’m horribly stubborn like that. And so perhaps that is my problem, and the great barrier I have to overcome. My own Berlin Wall separating contentment from happiness. My stubbornness, unable to come to terms with the knowledge that I am far from perfect, that I have deep flaws, that I cannot know everything, than I am nothing special, that I cannot be everything; my own Berlin Wall.

Perhaps we as humans are so connected to each other spiritually, that we need each other in order to achieve a sense of happiness. Family, friends, lovers, artists, musicians and so on. French writer, Marcel Proust once remarked “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom” and whilst this is a beautiful use of language, it makes me wonder if my problem is that I’ve never met anyone who makes me feel magnificently happy. Perhaps my problem is that I’m suspicious of people in general, their motives, and so struggle to allow someone to make me feel happy. Which, in itself, causes unhappiness? But then, (you’ll soon start to realise why I want to wake up screaming in anguish most mornings) I have to ask, what is unhappiness? Because whilst I’m certainly not happy, I’m also certainly not unhappy, I simply, am.

Perhaps happiness exists not on a continuous flowing river, but on fleeting moments, one after the other, tiny side streams of pleasure, whilst the normal lugubrious, useless World flows by on that continuous river. A smile on a train station platform from a woman you quite like the look of, or a soft kiss on the cheek, or the moment you read in a book something that you instantly relate to and no longer feel alone, or an act of great kindness. Perhaps those moments, those positively shocking moments, are the building blocks of pure happiness.

Contemplation of life, does not make me happy, and yet, I cannot bring myself to ignore the need to contemplate, because if I were to ignore it, I’d feel ashamed of the ignorance I’d be portraying. It’s a trap. There is no happiness in contemplation, and there is no happiness in ignorance (I suspect that if deep contemplation has never graced your thought patterns, then ignorance may provide a much more pleasant existence). I have mentioned previously, that I only ever feel utterly calm; when I have escaped to the serenity of solitude when I’m sat on rocks, overlooking a vast tranquil, lifeless ocean in the early morning. The mellifluous sounds soothe me, and sky that seems to be conflicting with itself over what colour it should be; reds, blues, yellows mixing together. It calms me. I suppose it does make me happy, but soon the tide pulls out and is replaced by the millions upon millions of questioning and contemplating grains of sand. The morning lights flickering in a brand new posh hotel will provoke my mind into thinking “All that space, and they put a hotel for rich people up, what about homes for people who need it most?” And so the torment begins again. Whilst I call it torment (and here’s where my sophist mind plays it’s deceitful tricks on me), I’d feel disgustingly ignorant if I were to unquestioningly acquiesce to life (or what society tells me is “life“). So perhaps my ever weak questioning mind is the height of happiness for me? Or perhaps it’s all just one big mind trick. If there is a God, and he made me this way, I want an explanation and my money back. What actually is happiness? Is it an absolute emotion meticulously ingrained into each and every one of us, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s butterfly that shouldn’t be chased? Or is it that a man once felt an overwhelming sense of subjective joy and invented a concept to fit the experience? Have I ever experienced it?


Purpose isn’t

July 5, 2009

“Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?”
– Soren Kierkegaard

I do apologise for banging on in this tone, but I really do need to try to articulate myself as fully as possible, just to try to understand myself. Writing on here, is like untying what seems initially like an endless plethora of knotted thoughts.

I really do want to start concentrating on my political opinions again, but it’s a monumentously difficult task, when I feel like I’m descending into madness. Okay perhaps it isn’t that serious, but I cannot think on my usual level, I feel trapped in some kind of whirlwind of thoughts and feelings that just cannot be articulated in any particular way, or any particular outlet, as my previous blog entry proved. Chances are, I wont be able to concentrate on actual Political issues for a week or two. I hate when I go into this odd mode. It’s a little demoralising.

My mind becomes a mix of thoughts, surrounding the eternally unanswerable existential question; what the fuck is the point of me?. I’m coming to the horrible realisation, that perhaps there is no point to me. Perhaps “purpose” is a man made concept that outside of our quite ignorant version of reality, is actually a big empty nothingness; meaningless. Perhaps I have no purpose. Perhaps every hour of every day I spend either working or learning, is ultimately pointless. Perhaps all I’m doing is existing. Perhaps the laws of cause and affect apply only to the past and the present, there is no future goal. Perhaps, there is no future. Professor of Law at Harvard, Roger Fisher, once remarked “There is a fundamental human need for guiding ideals that give meaning to our actions”. Perhaps there is no absolute, black and white meaning to our actions. And so, by that logic, perhaps purpose is, as previously suggested, merely another man made concept designed to worry each one of us. Even if I’m horribly wrong, that’s how my mind currently operates, and I don’t know how to change it. Perhaps absurdism is in essence, making an important point that man’s search for harmony and reason, is at odds with the very nature of a chaotic, disorganised and ultimately meaningless universe that he inhabits. Perhaps the smell of the Office at 9am every morning, is as potent and soulful as life for some of us is ever likely to get. Perhaps the only worthy purpose, is the preservation of the species, improving the quality of life and maximising the chance of happiness for everyone. Because as once stated by Buddhist Philosophy Gyatso in “The Art of Happiness” – the purpose of life, is the chase for happiness. The chase itself though, is fucking difficult, especially for me. It’s confusing. It is the only aspect of life, that can bring me close to tears, because I’m forever locked into this relentless battle in my mind, that I cannot escape. However, and quite the juxtaposition, the realisation and acceptance that your existence is relatively nonsensical is almost a great weight off of your shoulders. I want more from life, and yet, perhaps there isn’t more.

This isn’t to say I’m depressed, or emotionally woren out. I do love life. I love the subtleties. I love people. I love the natural World, which I’ve started to appreciate a hell of a lot more recently. I love the feeling of extreme tranquillity. And I love how calm I am. I wonder though, what my value is to anyone. If anyone actually gives a shit. And I just absolutely hate that there’s a set path we’re all expected to take. There is almost a framework that we must all cling to, and build on. We must all be educated a certain way; jump into a career that we’ve been pressured into choosing for quite some time as soon as possible; earn lots of money; have a holiday once a year; feel utterly demoralised by a job you hate; ignore or embrace as little as possible any externalities that actually make us who we are; retire; die. I do not like that framework, and yet that’s the only way to live. It’s forced upon us. We are told how the World works, forced to understand beauty and serenity, and yet, no one understands it. Not me, not a scientist, not a businessman. The World, humanity, is a great mystery.

“With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can’t start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It’s like quicksand… hopeless from the start.”
– Sylvia Plath

The only way I can describe my need to question everything around me (which by the way, irritates me endlessly) is to compare it. I had this conversation with a friend the other day. I do not see anything in black and white. There are no absolutes with me. There are multiple shades of grey. Everything is obscure. As pointed out in another blog I wrote not too long ago, language itself confuses me, and demoralises me, and strips away beauty for me. It is like viewing the entire World through a frosted window. Nothing is obvious. It is a skewed reality. But then, my argument is, that my frosted window reality, may be just as ridiculously meaningless as what others consider to be their clear windowed version of reality. Someone said to me not too long ago “do you always have to question everything, can you not just accept things as they are?“. I was quite taken aback by it. I immediately thought “My way must be wrong“. It added to the confusion. When people challenge my vision of life, I tend to worry that I’m horribly wrong.

I constantly need attention when I start to feel like this. And I start to feel like this every few months I constantly need to be listened to. I constantly need to be reassured. But a paradox of wanting to express my deeply mixed feelings, in a fountain of words, at the same time, forcing myself to keep quiet through the unnerving fear that I’m disastrously boring everyone around me, is quite the challenge to overcome. An incessantly tormenting empty feeling, like I have nothing to cling on to, or put my full attention into. It’s almost hopeless, like standing in the middle of a twister, where everything around you is chaotic; and yet you’re in blissful ignorance and the calmness of the centre, but you cannot get out. You’re stuck. You can either jump into the madness and hope you keep up, or you can exist on this quite serene yet ultimately isolated and lonely plain. Either way, you’re stuck.

French Author and Philosopher, Albert Camus once said “There is not love of life without despair about life”. It’s a voice I find myself deeply fond of, because it speaks on my current level. Not a suicidal, angry, depressive level. Simply a questioning, reasoning level, like a child trying to figure the World out.