surfsensei

Reflections and observations on life in general.

Across a border.

Kelpies

The Kelpies.

I have migrated,

crossed a border,

barely visible

but significant,

culture, attitudes, language

and much history.

Celts and Normans,

heart and head,

South and North,

my ancestors make me a bridge.

It is a new beginning,

this land of my birth

and half my blood

is home now.

______________

 

I have moved to Falkirk in Scotland, to take up a new job in Stirling.  It has been a tiring but surprisingly trouble-free move.  There are new opportunities and challenges here, it is a move I have sought for the last three years; now it is time to settle in and explore…

…and catch up on sleep!

Balloons – EBI

I am sending this to my colleagues at the school I work at, today, in the emotional heat of organising and participating in what are often very worthwhile events and activities, it is too easy to forget that whatever we do has consequences.  By the way, WWW means ‘what went well’ and EBI means ‘even better if’, used in our school evaluations with students.

“If you are planning a balloon release, for whatever reason, please watch the linked video [https://www.facebook.com/BalloonsBlow/videos/1074667645876949/] . This sort of activity is contributing to significant harm, both on land, to domesticated and wild animals, and particularly at sea, where many more balloons than people realise end up, adding to the growing and severe problem of plastics and other similar man-made detritus in the oceans. Even genuinely “biodegradable” balloons do a lot of harm to livestock and birds etc before they eventually break down, as shown in the video.

I request that we choose instead activities that at least minimise harm, such as releasing hydrogen-filled soap-bubbles [helium is a finite resource] or that bring actual longer term benefits to our environment and community. This would be more in keeping with our purpose as a school.

Perhaps in this context our evaluation could then read something like this:

WWW: we showed the children how to commemorate/celebrate without causing pollution and harm, we released bubbles….

EBI: we will show the children how to commemorate / celebrate by adding something lasting and beautiful to the area, we plan next time to plant trees.

Sincerely
…”

It’s (not) shite being Scottish

This is so well written that I’m just going to say read it from the blog header down!

It's shite being Scottish

It has come to my attention that not everybody knows that the title of this blog and the text quoted in the header are taken from the first novel written by one of Scotland’s greatest living writers and intellectuals.

Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting follows the adventures of a group of friends from Edinburgh as they negotiate the squalor and depravity of heroin addiction, poverty and urban deterioration. It is a groundbreaking book at many levels: it addresses issues faced by working class youth abandoned by authority and the state; it is predominately written in phonetic transcription rather than correct English, faithfully representing the actual language people use with liberal use of words that only a few decades earlier were considered so shocking they broke the law; the grammar and punctuation are idiosyncratic; there is no strict narrative but rather a series of tableaux or fragments which combine together to tell the stories…

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Cat sitting.

I’ve cleaned the flat, washed up, am ready to cycle into the city to sit among other people, hunt down the best coffee, gather a few market-fresh vegetables and design ideas.  Out of the bedroom window I see a cat, sitting, perfectly balanced, on top of the neighbours’ gate, at ease, ignoring dogs and noisy children.

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In the café,  layers of conversations and human preoccupations: “Theresa May…”, “Jeremy Corbyn .. “, “I used to stand on a rock,  taking off one item of clothing…”, “mummyyyy!” (Very loud), “do you want some cake? “,  “the bus is late again…”, “Brexit. ..”, “I was joking when I said. .”

A tired toddler whines and squeals on a note that makes my ears hurt.

I keep thinking of that cat.

Parent Stars

starfield sort of

My father was an interesting, clever, inventive and intelligent man. He combined physical activity and ruggedness with an inquiring mind that was reminescent of the heroic statues of the Greek philosophers of the ancient world, indeed I think he would have rather liked that image. In his later years he simplified his material life, possessions, financial affairs and so on, even his diet, to an almost austere degree in order to free himself from what he had for a long time regarded as irritating distractions from researching, reflecting, thinking and writing. He wrote a number of essays and papers, mostly unpublished as far as I am aware, and one book, printed in a limited run at his own expense, on a wide range of subjects that he saw as part of a greater whole of which the book was intended to be the synthesis. The theme that emerged for him during that twenty to thirty year period was the evolution of the brain and enquiry into the mechanism of consciousness, material for another post perhaps.

When I used to visit him in his simple bedsit in a harbour town in the north east of England – he loved the sea all his life – most of his conversations were on this topic that, really, filled his mind. Other people he knew found him interesting and inspiring company, rich in experience from a life that included active service in World War 2, bomb and mine disposal in the aftermath (for which he was awarded an MBE), a varied career after the Royal Navy that took him to many places.

I thought about all this as I lay awake this morning, it’s a short mid-term holiday just now, of how our experience of the people who are our parents is very different from that of the friends and acquaintances that they have, the sorts of people with whom one has brief conversations after a funeral, illuminating or shocking or unexpected, as if of a different person to the one we knew.

It is a matter of proximity, like stars. Far off, they light up our night skies to varying degrees, the further away, the less of their light and nature we see; only that which reaches us over the distances of space through the filters of dust clouds and the gravitational lenses of other stars in between. In orbit within their solar systems we experience the colour and intensity of their light, their helpful and harmful radiation, the solar flares and storms, the impact and influence of other bodies drawn into their gravitational field, their creative and destructive energies.

So with our parents, like two stars in, for a while at least, close binary orbit around which we emerge from celestial dust into being and find more or less stable paths. Being so close, we cannot see them as more distant observers do, we see both more and, perhaps in some ways, less. We may come to imagine that all stars and systems are like ours, unable to see the light of the rest of the cosmos clearly for the glare of our own nearest stars, at least unless we move away into a more distant and perhaps quieter path around our parent stars and look outwards with clearer and more open minds, like the great telescopes with which we are beginning to find new and surprising world systems.

So I remember my father from a more distant orbit now, his memory an afterglow. My mother’s star shines with a different light, less dazzling, more stable, warmer, nourishing with a gentler radiance that she perhaps does not realise.

Among the many things I learnt from my father was a fascination with the stars, a love of the night skies. I’m glad of that, it’s a beautiful and amazing view.

Steam clean – relief from drowning

I am sitting with my head wrapped in a towel breathing steam in temporary relief from intermittent choking on the aftermath and “collateral damage” of a nasty cold that has filled my upper airways and chest with microscopic battle the last few days. I woke out of a dream of some region of England being used for military practice for the bitter Troubles in Ulster, the dream perhaps arising from the resonance of narrow-minded hate-filled comments I read in passing on Facebook not long but too soon before turning in, too tired and late to meditate and release my mind from things I cannot change.

Thinking of those years in the 1970s and early 80s when unrest and murder and hatreds were at their most intense and active in that uneasy land – for me, fortunately, in the news and not my daily life – I recall the relative simplicity of things. A time of fewer channels, when bigotry and binary views of the world were mostly spread in smaller circles – in the pub, works van, watching TV (4 channels), muttering at the tabloid on the train. Respite, release from the feeling of a need to say something, anything, in response to yet another joy or outrage was a little easier; the Forum closed for rest and cleaning in those days, it didn’t chatter on in your pocket, leaving echoes in your head.

So reading the compassion-free comments that captioned an image of more deluded and hopeful and despairing refugees (other adjectives also available according to your views) arriving with the tide in southern Europe I felt no rage towards the commentator, just a realisation of how widespread and deep the poisons of hatred and division are in every part of the world; most worryingly in those nations with the greatest wealth and actual security and established education. There are real problems to be tackled, many we have collectively failed to collaborate to face, his comments arise from things we need to discuss and deal with for sure. It’s the retreat into a blind trench warfare of beliefs that is so unhelpful, worse in its own way, or at least as bad, as the consensus-free committees that leave everybody outside frustrated and reactive.

I have not “unfriended” him, deliberately, I want to keep open even a silent channel of communication through the rising hedges and walls of a social network that resembles a labyrinth of walled gardens, within which people sit isolated with fellow enthusiasts for their particular flower, be it roses, tulips or poison ivy. I await a moment when, like a sniper with one round left for the enemy general, I can conceive and convey a comment to his rants that may actually make him think and reply with a more open view of the situation, a shift, even briefly, from binary to base-ten view of the world, from “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” to seeing that there are other places to stand and go to. Or perhaps I am, like that metaphorical sniper, already surrounded, the general is not one man but is now manifesting in so many heads that his uniformed body is now redundant to the cause he led; hope and some faith in the benefit of helping even one person see something differently sustain me in my hideout, however hopeless.

And, after all, these pervasive media are themselves neutral, facilitating the spread of joy and hope and healing as well as mental poisons; we need to keep the channels open though, at least let poisoned messages sprout but wither un-nourished, rather than just block them to keep the smell of a different flower out of our own garden, to revert to that metaphor.

I let it go at last, switched off devices, went to bed, “to sleep, perchance to dream…” and now, here I am, my mind and airways a little clearer, weary but no longer drowning from within, steam-cleaned for a short while, while the earliest commuters drive by outside and I lie down to rest a little.

Maybe there is value and a wider benefit in simply sending out basic good wishes, if I can’t think of or lack the present skills to do more effective things, even if that just means that I get a better rest and don’t carry the poison to spread on to others, inadvertently, through careless speech or actions. OK, just that then, for now, starting with you, dear reader, and thanks for reading this.

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(Perhaps a a better metaphor: a guerrilla gardener with one seed of a different plant, the compassion tree, that I would plant surreptitiously in the least dark corner of his garden? Too late, go to bed mate!)

Underground

It’s cold and crisp here today, taking a short walk to Bantock Park on the west side of Wolverhampton. The Rose Garden looks barren, an arrangement of cropped stumps and jagged branches corralled in neat miniature hedges or tied to bare metal frames like forgotten prisoners. There’s not even enough sunlight to power the sundial.

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Winter, above, but underground the slow stirring begins.
I am warm indoors now, in the cafe, enjoying good coffee and delicious cake and free wifi.
On the way here I sent the first of several letters that I hope will begin something new this Spring.

Like the trees. .

Like the trees

I held on to autumn leaves

When they were ready to fall away.

No surprise, then, when they did.

Only in my mind was it still summer.

Fallen gold is turning brown,

Returning to the source.

Sadness to nourish future happiness.

In time, the days are growing longer

And there will be green again

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All these.. moments

If asked for the title of my favourite film, I would have to say “Blade Runner “, which I saw on its first release back in 1982. Something about it struck a deep chord in me; it is one of the few films I have on DVD and which I have watched several times over the years.

It is also one of those that I thought was an improvement on the book that inspired it (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K Dick). It is more than just another dystopian sci-find action movie, it has depth and an ambiguity too rare in mainstream films. The characters are neither simply “bad” nor “good”, they are driven to terrible deeds by the desperation of survival and the fear and pain of not knowing how much time they have left, yet they have the potential for change and compassion within them.

Rutger Hauer’s portrayal of the main and longest-surviving “villain”(or should that be “prey”?),  Roy Batty, moves me still with his mixture of menace and fragility in a futile mission to extend his four-year lifespan.  His soliloquy, (you can find it on YouTube easily) delivered to Harrison Ford as the hunter (“Blade Runner”) Deckart captures for me the essence of the impermanence of all our experiences, however profound or solid they seem.

It came back to me, today, as I worked alongside some less-highly-motivated pupils in an art class, asked to sit with them and give gentle encouragement and example.  I had a go at the same painting exercise, watercolour versions of the single eye motif that seems to be a feature of much teenage art and doodling.  As I blew and trailed the wet paint, the last line of the monologue seemed appropriate:

“all these… moments.. will be lost, in time, like… tears in rain”

I’ve been experiencing this a lot, recently, the understanding growing from a logical thought and observation to a powerful experience that can hit me suddenly, like somebody turning on a bright light in the middle of the night; it’s a similar shock.  The realisation, no, a different word would be more appropriate, perception? … that suddenly the things I’ve just done, whether over the last few years or days or hours, are gone, completely, existing only as echoes in my memories.  I’ve had this when returning home after holidays or from visiting friends, almost like the fleeting shock of seeing the ‘not there’ of a familiar object that has been moved from its accustomed place.

At one time I found these moments almost unbearable, I had to sing, shout, find a distraction, seek out company, look at the photos or sketches or letters, anything to try to verify the ‘reality’ of those past moments or relationships.  Now though, something has shifted in me, these feelings arise, sometimes intensely, but I notice them passing much more quickly too, almost the moment I see them for what they are. I notice the same with the painful and frightening experiences, too, and I’ve had a few of them in this last year.

Some might think this a callousness or detatchment or devaluing of people or things, but this is not the case for me, I know those feelings too and they are not it.  It’s more a feeling of not needing to or trying to hold onto them so tightly in order for things to feel “right”.  It’s more like being able to appreciate  them while accepting the inevitable shift in circumstances; after all, everything we meet and have goes, in one way or another, sometime, we can see that even if it doesn’t hit home until it happens.  No, I value those experiences and love those people just as much, sometimes that’s difficult, but how things are now is simply how things are now.  And I’m fortunate to be able to say there have been a lot of wonderful moments.

Yet I’m still getting used to this subtle but significant shift in my experience, it’s like I’m getting used to the rain, maybe seeing that it’s all water, too.

 

Thought for the day, 1 of …?

I received an unexpected present a few days ago,  a calendar from the Netherlands, that has inspired me to draw some cartoons again, as well as helping me with my Dutch learning. 

It comes at a time of adjustment to changes and a review of my life situation and direction.  While I go to redraft a letter I hope will be a catalyst for a move forward, here’s a thought for today: