Monday, 3 December 2012

The Fallout II

So it's inching towards Xmas again, and the days are getting shorter, and it occurs to me that the plans which had been gestating in the depths of my mind for a while will have to be postponed. And not because of my lack of employment. I had been thinking about this time next year: would I be able to go home for Xmas, and also for my mother's sixtieth, which would have been in December. It would have been really nice to be at home for that. But, without sounding too dramatic, home has changed, and the scenario I had envisaged had disappeared.

The next step in my thinking has been, really, what do I take from everything that's happened this year? What should I be learning from it? What lessons can be gleaned - or perhaps constructed - from the events which have unfolded? What is the meaning of it?

And yet even this seems strange to me somehow. This line of reasoning indicates a monstrous arrogance, usually only seen in the religious: i.e. that events should occur for the purpose of providing me with a meaning or a lesson, that my mother should be unceremoniously struck from the earth so that I might become a marginally better person. In the end this is wrong. What is, is. It is in my nature to find a way to understand it, but it is not in the nature of the universe to provide events for the purpose of educating me. The universe is a machine, neither malicious nor benevolent. Any revelation to come is a function of how I think and feel, and no more.

And therefore I reiterate to myself: the first and most obvious piece of information is that there is no meaning, not really. Meaning is a human construct applied to situations, and in that regard, if I haven't found one, then for the time being, the whole situation is meaningless. But of course that is true of anything I encounter, and so I feel maybe I should apply the same filters and discrimination, and work through until I find my meaning, that is, how I choose to respond to the situation.

I believe that the way I choose to respond, the way I choose to act in the face of a quite frankly heartbreaking event, will in the end become the core of the way that I feel about it. This truth, combined with an upbeat but nonetheless accurate acceptance of what is, and what has been, will be the defining characteristics of this year as time creeps on. And in light of what has happened, it seems the most appropriate way to proceed is to act as my mother would have wanted.

What am I really saying? I suppose that to really honour my mother is to endeavour to be the kind of man she would be proud to have raised, even in the face of an occurrence which has the potential to make a man cry and rant and be angry at the world. There is nothing simpler or more profound to it than that. No other rationale or explanation will fit me better than the legacy I have been provided with, by virtue of the person my mother was.

In the end, the meaning, the reason, all these considerations fade away. In the end, or perhaps merely the beginning, I understand that there will always be pain, and there will always be regret. There will be choices to make, and make them I shall. But I also understand that I have help, that I have an example to guide me, and this is an amazing source of comfort to me.


Monday, 19 November 2012

Eating with your hands

Sometimes, you have an epiphany as you stand in the middle of a moonlit park, staring out at the lonely trees and the icy surface of a stream twisting by. Other times you plop your bum down in the actually-quite-tasteful  new booths at a McDonald's and you have some interesting thoughts. The latter happened to me yesterday as I devoured my Quarter Pounder in trademark fashion. (For those of you who don't know me, I eat much too quickly. And I can be messy.)

The thought which popped into my mind was to do with eating with my hands. When I made a brief visit to India a few years ago, I was told that many meals are eaten in such a way, as it connects you with your food in a very meaningful way. I didn't process this at the time, but it occurred to me yesterday that a connection with food is a very valuable thing to have. It is at the essence of what were are, being, of course, the material from which our bodies are constructed. You are what you eat is very literally true.

Now, I am far from the kind of person who espouses organic food (partly because I believe it is, in many cases, just another advertising scam), or an Amish-like return to a natural life. And this is not what I witnessed in India. But I do think there is something to be gained from understanding the texture of the food, how it feels; definitely in a way which enhances the dining experience, but also in a way which goes hand-in-hand (if you'll forgive the pun) with the idea that people should know where their food comes from and what it consists of. One of my goals, should I continue to be an omnivore, is to actually kill something I later eat. This is because I think it would be hypocritical of me not to be prepared to do so, if I am happy to chomp down the remains.

On another level, if I had lived in a big city my whole life, it occurs to me that I might never have any real idea of what food is, beyond the end product I see in the supermarket. What is involved in bringing this shrink-wrapped chicken breast to the cooler? How did those peppercorns get into that packet? And so on and so forth. And I can't say that the prospect is one I find pleasing; perhaps this is academic snobbery, but a fundamental understanding of the processing of food is one I'd say everyone should have.

The other idea which occurred to me is that there may be certain unconscious taboos against eating with hands in Western society, in a few senses. The first being the idea of hygiene, which is a fair concern, but which can easily be alleviated with a bar of soap. The second is social, and the idea of cutlery, manners, and decorum. The third is the sense that much of the food we eat with our hands is associated with fast food, which is often unhealthy: burgers, fried chicken, kebabs. And then of course there is simple practicality. Soups, porridges, yoghurts; try scooping these up with your fingers. I couldn't say with any certainty how much any of these ideas prohibit the wider practice of eating with hands, and I'm sure that if they do, in many cases the prohibition is logical.

However, in other cases, the prohibition may in fact be simply habit. I have decided to weigh this up on the next convenient occasion, and perhaps put the old hands to use a little more frequently. After all, they are very skilful. It'll be like swapping chopsticks for a knife and fork (but that's another story). It does help with many dishes and the experience of the food, if that doesn't sound too poncy, is so much better. Or, maybe it's just because I like to get dirty.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Why I won't tell my kids there's a Santa Claus

Ok, first and foremost, I should mention that I don't currently have any children, nor do I plan to have any in the near future. The fact that this would require a woman features heavily in this plan, but so does the fact that I am selfish, and like to spend what little money I have on myself. Also, the 'little money' thing is a factor. So, this blog may be completely self-indulgent, but then again, aren't they all?

To the topic at hand: why won't I tell my children to be that there is a Santa? Let me count the ways:

1) While I enjoy a joke as much if not more than the next guy, and have been tempted into telling the odd white lie to my niece and nephew (among others), I recently had the joy of my niece asking me whether Santa was real. She had come to this doubt by virtue of the fact that one of her friends had, the previous Xmas, failed to receive an item she had specifically requested from the jolly fat man who visits children in the night (by the way, creepy, but I'm getting ahead of myself). Therefore, said friend had concluded that Santa was unreal, rather than that she hadn't behaved well enough.

Now, I was in a somewhat difficult position. I did not want to be the one to shatter my niece's illusions about Santa, carefully constructed as they had been, so I pondered what to say. I decided she should perhaps come to figure it out herself, and advised her to stay up and see if she could see Santa. However, the lie is a good one, and she reminded me that 'he knows when you're awake', so that avenue was ended.

Next, she insisted, despite my assurances that it was something better discussed with her mum, that I tell her the answer. In the end, and perhaps a little bit to spare myself from being the uncle who ruined Xmas, I simply went with a politician's answer: he's real if you believe he's real. I know, right. I should have told her the truth and over with. But there you go. Now I am complicit in a lie, and though I don't think it is world-shattering, I'd rather not be remembered as the dishonest uncle.

2) The above has certain academic implications as well. If I ever had children, I want them to grow up as people who do not simply accept outrageous claims without any supporting evidence, and I do believe that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and so on, are all constructions which make a mind much more susceptible to spurious creations like a talking snake and a man coming back from the dead. That's right, you know what I mean.

3) To those who would say I would rob my potential children of some of the magic of childhood, I say bollocks. I cannot recall ever believing in Santa (although this may be because my parents would wrap presents in their room and then put them under the tree before Xmas), and honestly I could not have cared less. What I cared about were the presents, the fun, the day with my family. Santa did not enter into the calculations I made at all, and nor did the Easter Bunny. In fact, the worst thing about Xmas was having to down opened presents to attend church for an hour. Torture.

I have an idea for an experiment: try telling any kid there's no Santa, but they can still have the presents, and see how they react. Then, find another kid and tell them the opposite. Compare reactions.

4) I don't really want my kids to be comfortable with the idea of some higher power watching them all the time and judging everything they do. This kind of thinking is harmful. I want to teach them to behave, and do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because it results in presents. Now, I am not so naive as to believe that young children work in this way, but I can always resort to removing presents when they do not behave, rather than intellectual scare tactics.

5) As touched on earlier (and please excuse the pun in light of the proceeding paragraph), but it's actually quite a creepy concept to have some guy who watches your kids when they are asleep (and awake), punished them if they are naughty, and creeps into their house at night. I am surprised that paedophiles haven't caught on to this yet. Never take candy from a stranger, but if you see Santa, go sit on his lap. That sounds like a sicko's goldmine to me. I'd rather have a child that screams and brings me rushing into their room with a shotgun in hand, ready to blow 'Santa's' nuts off. (I should point out at this stage that, while a Freudian analysis may suggest otherwise, I can't recall any unpleasant childhood experiences with a man dressed as Santa, beyond the shyness I always had when meeting new people, and a vague sense that sitting on a stranger's lap wasn't for me. However, I did get an awesome new truck!)

So there you have it. Speaking as someone who, as mentioned, has no current kids, I can say that the above may all go out the window when I am faced with the hard reality of another human being looking to me for guidance and morals, but I like to think I will stand my ground. I suppose none of it will matter, as it will depend what my wife thinks.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Venn diagrams are fun

It occurs to me that the same people who enjoy fundamentalist bible stories cannot be the same people who enjoy detective fiction. Or at least, if you drew a Venn diagram of the two sets, those in the intersecting portion would constitute a small number, say, less than seven.

Example A (biblical story): the Earth was created. By who? By god. The end.

Example B (detective fiction): The detective walked slowly around the parlour, taking every one of its occupants in with a broad, sweeping stare. Many of the people gathered felt it hard to return the stare, and turned their gaze elsewhere; some to the lush persian rug, others to the ornate sculptures atop the mantel. But one man returned the detective's gaze levelly. The detective stopped before this man, and began to speak, outlining the events of the previous nights, and how he had accumulated evidence before finally deducing that the killer was the mad old widower from the town bakery!

Interruption by Example C (mix of the above two): The detective walked slowly around the parlour, taking every one of its occupants in with a broad, sweeping stare. Many of the people gathered felt it hard to return the stare, and turned their gaze elsewhere; some to the lush persian rug, others to the ornate sculptures atop the mantel. But one man returned the detective's gaze levelly. The detective stopped before this man, and began to speak, outlining the events of the previous nights, and how he had accumulated evidence before finally deducing that the lord works in mysterious ways and we really shouldn't question it or try and seek explanations, because that is the surest way to damnation. Beside him, Watson sighed and put his head in his hands. Nobody ever found out who the killer was, and they were content with that (except for Watson, who decided he needed to seek out better detective company; a move which, incidentally, turned out rather well for him in the end). The end.

I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about which are the better stories, but imagine if there were true stories about nature and atoms and the beginning of the universe. That would be great, wouldn't it? I can't imagine anyone would ever be satisfied with an Example A ending to those stories. Can you?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Prejudice

It occurs to me that there is an unchallenged bias which runs through society, a bias so intrinsic to human nature that we don't ever really think about it at all. I'm not talking about pretty people, although that is an issue which bears examination. No, I am talking about the fact that whenever there is a disaster of some kind and people are killed, the media are always quick to point out how many of them were children. Now, on the surface this seems very rational: children are often innocent of any real crime or malice, and they have their whole lives ahead of them. But when you dig a little, the idea becomes a bit murkier, if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors.

Think of it like this: if your premise is that a child dying is worse than an adult dying, then where do you draw the line. Does a person's life suddenly decrease in value as they achieve the age of majority. 'Happy 18th Danny, you are less important to society now.' And, if that is the case, does this formative moment differ in territories where the age of majority also differs. Is an eighteen-year-old's worth the same in one place as a twenty-one-year-old's in another.

There also arises an interesting mathematical question: is the age of a three-year-old more valuable than that or a four-year-old; is the life of a girl worth more than a boy, given the longer life expectancy, or is it the other way around. Is my life, as a man in his late twenties (ok, early thirties) worth more than a pensioner. The dividing line suddenly seems very arbitrary indeed. I can't imagine anyone saying that a three-year-old and a four-year-old have differing values, but there isn't really a place where one can draw the line and feel comfortable, is there?

On another level, it's kind of insulting to think that people give more of a shit about a child simply because it hasn't had enough time applied to it yet; however, knowing this, I too still feel the irrational sadness whenever I hear that a busload of kids fell off the side of a mountain, more so than I would if it were a busload of adults. Is it reasonable for me to do so, based on nothing more than human emotion. In and of itself, I suppose it is, since my small emotional reaction to a disaster makes no difference to the event itself. But if it could, would I decide to cast the lots randomly, and let everyone take their chances, or would I choose to save the children first?

Imagine if you were on the Titanic as she slumped beneath the Atlantic, and there was one spot left in a lifeboat. You have to choose whether to give the spot to a two-year-old, or a seven-year-old. Is it, 'sorry seven, life is tough'? What if you had wounded on the lifeboat and a qualified doctor standing next to you? Of course, I don't have answers to these questions, but I find it interesting to think about (if not, perhaps, helpful). Take from it what you will.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Retellings


The O.Z.

For god so loved the world that, instead of, like, clicking his fingers and making everything ok (which, being god, he probably could’ve done; unless, being the only thing around when he was named, he was logically ‘supreme’ compared with everyone else), and also getting rid of cancer and tourettes at the same time (which, also, he presumably could do, if the mantle of ‘god’ means anything at all), he instead decided to send his son (who was also somehow himself (cloning?)) to die to put right the errors of the error-prone humans he’d created (seemingly having no idea of how justice works, strangely); and also, at the same time coming up with a story (about his son/self coming back from the dead) so ludicrous that only morons/those with a keen interest in zombie literature could ever be expected to take it seriously.

I heard the other day from Some Guy (so you have no way of verifying my story), that George A. Romero has been approached by a major studio to make a movie in his inimitable style, about the above strangeness; it's already being billed as the father of all zombie stories, and is the moment when humanity first realises that crucifixion doesn't kill a zombie. Depending on success, the studio is aiming to have the film be the first in a three-part series which they hope will spawn a new 'crucifiction' genre. Monty Python frontman Terry Gilliam was imagined by someone to have said 'well, the whole genre was started by us, really.'

The second movie is likely to be a prequel based around the character of Lazarus, who, despite returning from the dead, nobody ever thought to ask what it was like. Scientists have since confirmed that the most likely reason for this, is that nobody really wants to get close enough to a zombie to ask these things. The lack of any real eloquence on the part of a zombie is also prohibitive.

The third movie will likely be a pre-prequel, which would deal in some way with god accidentally biting the inside of his mouth while eating an ice-cream, spitting out a piece of flesh, and thereby creating his zombie son. The boy, who he eventually came to care for enough to send him away to be killed, was called Jesus because that was the expletive god used when he bit the inside of his mouth, creating a strange causality loop. Romero's agent has yet to release any statement, though I'd be surprised that if one is released, it doesn't go something like '...what?!'

Finally, if the franchise takes off a teen version for TV (tentatively nicknamed The O.Z. - original zombie) could be next to hit our screens. Some Guy told me that a lot of the zombies' lines would be lifted straight from episodes of The Valleys, for a nominal fee. It is thought that Joss Whedon would be the logical point of call for the director. I, for one, hope that Some Guy hasn't just made all this up. The world needs more Whedon, and that's for true.

Moses vs Pharoah

And Moses said unto Pharoah: let my people go innit.
And Pharoah was like: or what? You don't know me. You don't live in my pyramid.
And so Moses was all like: you best believe I'ma bring some pestilence and blood and frogs and shit all up on yo shit if you ain't do what I says.
So Pharoah be like: is that all? That's Mondays around here bitch. Dis is the ghetto.
So Moses said: how about I get my boy G to the O D to kill ALL your first-born sons.
And so Pharoah was all: that seems REALLY excessive, man. Those are just kids. They didn't even have anything to do with it.
And so Moses was like: well, the G in GOD stands for Gangsta, so let my motherfuckin people go or he's busting caps in all those boy bitches!
And then G made Pharoah say no. And then he blamed him for saying no. And then a lot of young boys got killed.
This is the Word of the Lord. Or maybe just me. But it's fairly similar.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

What I learned from the Olympics

From a very early moment, I was tempted to approach the Olympics with my usual bah humbug. Don't get me wrong, I was glad we beat out Paris, if for no other reason than it is fun to beat the French, but who gets excited about watching a marathon. Snore fest, and not because of my sleeping disorder. This attitude was hardly enhanced by the fact that I could not even afford tickets when they went 'on sale', i.e. into a raffle. This wasn't the Olympics' fault (well, for some of the tickets it was), but more my own financial mismanagement causing me to resent the things I could not have. And again, who wants to pay money to see people run, cycle, or any other number of interminable things.
Alas, I had not reckoned with the spirit of the people, of London, in particular, and also of Great Britain, to say nothing of the incredible determination and tenacity of the athletes themselves. The atmosphere around the games began to increase months before the games, people everywhere getting into the spirit of support for the team and general enjoyment of an event which is hard to resist when you are right in the middle of it. I decided very soon after this bubbling up that I would allow myself to bubble, too.
And why not? I was, after all, living in one of the greatest cities in modern times, surrounded by people determined to make the event the best ever, the happiest ever. The games makers I met during my foray into the Olympic Park were (all but one) alive with energy and enthusiasm. Again, it is hard not to feel the same way, especially when your team has done so well (it was the final Saturday, and I had been lucky enough to be given a ticket to the hockey), and the sun shining down didn't hurt either.
Yes, London, you turned it on. From the majesty of the opening ceremony, to the countless individual moments of brilliance, from athletes and games makers, it was truly a roaring success. So, what did I learn?
1. I am as proud to be a Londoner as I have ever been, in fact much more so. What a surprise the old girl pulled it off with such aplomb. London you were beautiful.
2. Don't believe everything you read. People weren't miserable, the transport network didn't melt down, the sun did shine (mostly), and the team kicked ass.
3. I really quite enjoy watching volleyball. I remember having fun playing it at school, too.
4. I feel as connected to Team GB as I do to Team NZ, who also kicked ass by the way. (Don't mention the Aussies.)
5. People can rise to occasion, can show pride where it seemed there was none, can bounce back from things like riots. Sometimes, all they need is a chance.
6. To quote one of the commentators of the closing ceremony: 'Could we afford it? Not really. Was it worth it? You bet.'
7. I sometimes write blogs which are not depressing.
8. Oh, and, hockey players can be really hot.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Fallout


The unthinkable has happened. My mother is dead.

And yet, a casual glance down my high street reveals that the world spins on regardless. So what does it mean, this worst thing that could have happened?

It is obvious and proper that life must go on; in the face of any ‘things will never be the same’ speeches, this hard fact remains, and go on it will whether I accept it or no. I do not feel as if I have ever been in danger of not accepting it, not really, but, without a rule book, I am unsure of the next step.

There are certain comforting pieces of knowledge: the memories which remain, the legacy enshrined in grandchildren, the facets of life I now enjoy, both in terms of relative position and personality. These things are comfort, but are they meaning?

It would be too insensitive of me to delve in any deep way into the grief of other close to my mother, and in any case much of it would be subjective. I can appreciate the feelings of my siblings, if anyone has an idea of how they feel, it is I, and vice versa. This again is some comfort, in a way which is not perverse but affectionate. For them, I can offer support and my own thoughts. My father, for whom I know the time has been and will be hardest, has feelings of his own I cannot hope to truly understand. Again, I can offer what small help there is, but I fear only time will help to ease the burden he now bears, though it will never erase it.

Part of the way I have come to understand the world is to accept that without human eyes to see it, there is no right and wrong, no moral absolutes; as Hamlet put it ‘there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so’. There is no inherent meaning to anything, there is only what happens, and what doesn’t happen. What happened to my mother carries no cosmic significance, only the vicissitudes of uncaring nature.

This is not to say there is no human meaning. No, the curse of intellectual freedom dictates that we must create our own meaning; our very biology demands it. A person or a group of people do this so automatically that for many they fail to perceive they are doing it, and attribute their meaning or their morality to someone or something else. You do it whenever you cheer for the All Blacks, whenever you feel saddened by news of a child’s death, whenever your favourite song makes you smile. The meaning of everything is a human standard, applied to the actions and inactions of a universe which has not capacity to care either way.

So, to come full circle, what does it mean to me? It is trite to say that I have had a wakeup call? That I must now live each day with renewed vigour and purpose. Certainly this is an aspect I have gained, but it is far from the whole. Perhaps a respect for those I care about, a determination to avoid taking people for granted? Again, this is something I have resolved to do. But again, I feel there may be something else, something like a newfound appreciation for who my mother was, her spirit, her attitude, the way she lived her life, and everything that meant for me and those who knew her. An admiration of her loyalty to her family, her willingness to sacrifice her time and energy to make others better off, to make them smile or learn or play.

The fact that she did this all as a matter of course makes it all the more admirable. She never even considered there was another way to be. Perhaps this is what it means to be a mother. I will never know for sure, but it seeps into my thoughts, my seeming need to try and process what has happened and make something of it, whatever that may be. It has been a little over two months, so I must allow myself time to sort through all this. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Watch this space


She was sitting there clumsily in big shoes like the rehearsal for a life unlived. Face attacked me with a wall of silence, warmth disappeared like ether. I fell back. The only thing between us now was resentment. I tried to pick her up but my will faltered, her slim heels slipped and scratched the floor. To this day I can blame gravity for my own ineptitude, my own cowardice. It occurred to me then and I gave way. Looking back, I think to myself: you always knew it would end badly. But you never knew about this. About the softness of her blur-blue eyes as she looked up at me; the cold reasoning always bubbling beneath her surface; and the one slim chance we had ever had solidified into one slim moment of vulnerability. Why I did what I did, and the inescapable question of the outcome, both for us and for the world we have created in our minds. It had to be more than wishful thinking, but it was always less than firm ground to stand on. We both knew it, but she was young, and blonde, and pretty, and I must have been something myself. We declared everything while holding back anything, and in the end we cheated only ourselves.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Multiple personality disorder


Being here, it’s all so surreal; as if any moment I could wake up and be at home, at any stage of my life. The feeling is linked more to my sense of person than to the change of country (though that certainly helps); I am not who I have been. I seem, in many ways, better, stronger, or more fairly, less afraid, less nervous, less the young boy hiding behind his mother’s skirts. And in a way it feels as if that me is dead and a new me currently here; in a sense my development has killed another person. (No wonder he was so keen to hold me back: he didn’t want to die.) I have changed so slowly I cannot tell at what point (if any) I truly diverged from the old me and became the new one, but I know we are very different and I know that I had a personality so deeply different from my current one in many ways, that it almost seems like I have killed someone who used to be me. Does the butterfly consider its caterpillar stage a separate ‘person’ as it were? There, indeed, the change is marked by extreme physical alteration. Must the personality not change too? Or perhaps there are a million versions of me that have come and gone with each passing experience sufficient to change me. Something as simple as crossing the road, putting on a jersey, stubbing a toe. (I do not say that physical change necessitates mental change, or vice-versa, but one may surely be a catalyst for the other.) How big, what kind, and many other questions about the kind of experience sufficient to change me from one me to the next now arise. And the biggest problem with this theory of me succeeding, indeed destroying, a subsequent me, seems to be, inevitably, am I next?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Sunset


I am standing on the deck looking out at the sky. Tonight’s sunset is an orange smear low down near the horizon, her usual grand tones stifled under a mass of menacing rain cloud. Indeed, the drizzle is already here; I am flattened against the wall, using the narrow gutter for shelter. The sunset is bookended by two tall trees, each rocking slightly in the wind, their leaves making the sound that leaves make when the wind forces them from their usual position. A sparrow flits in gracefully and disappears amongst the foliage, I hope to somewhere warm and dry. I am drawn to thoughts of sleeping wild. When I was younger (which is to say, a child, rather than all the rest of my life), I thought the plants would be protection, that I could lay out under them through storm and rain, and be kept dry and warm. Like so many untested assumptions of my youth, I was wrong.

The sky darkens and the orange fades, like a fire slowly dying. The wind picks up, shoving the trees around belligerently; there’s no real conviction behind the bluster, but enough to make me wish I had put on my jacket. I had nipped outside on an impulse, as the last rays of the sun caught my eye through the lounge window. I fold my arms around myself and wait, knowing it cannot be long. In this, I am correct, but only because I know what I expect when I think of a long time. The fire flickers and goes out. The sky is now wholly gray. The trees move and settle, move and settle, anxious to sleep but restless in nature. I allow myself a deep breath, and then I head inside.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Running

To be honest, I don't run for fun. If I could, I would probably avoid it. I can think of better things to do with my time, like lying on the couch, or writing blogs. I run because I have to, because of an annoying condition which means, strangely, that the more exercise I do, the less tired I feel. I run because I don't want to pass out at my desk, or fall asleep on a nightclub couch. I could probably avoid the bother if I were to eat more healthily; four miles' walking each day would probably be enough. But, like the cat, I like to haz an occasional cheeseburger. So, I run.
The necessity for the runs, as I have mentioned, comes from, essentially, bad diet, and also from a period in my life where this was combined with an almost aggressive indolence. My sedentary existence was justified to myself as a way to focus more upon the pursuits of the mind, which, whilst I was at university, was a fair enough thought. But beyond this the thought process was flawed: it doesn't take a deep examination to figure out how action begets consequence, and how self-delusion has played a part in the entire process.
The thing about running is it does afford precious time to think. In fact, it necessitates it. If I am to get through a half hour jog, I cannot be thinking about the fact that I am jogging for half an hour. I think about anything and everything to avoid thinking about that fact, especially on the uphill sections. I think about Star Trek (yeah I'm a nerd; deal with it), I do times tables in my head, I think about dinner, I think about the notes for this blog I am trying to store in my head, I think about the two books I want to write and how they should plot, and the two books I have written but which need proofing. I think about anything but how sweet it will feel to stop, anything but the run itself.
On a good day, my thoughts will carry me through one, two minutes of run time before my mind wanders back to the task at hand. As you may know, a minute can be a long time when running. Today I found myself thinking that, though I ran a lot as a child, it was different. It was a game or a race. Now, it is because I have to. I found myself thinking also that long-distance runners must have some temperament which suits them to long hours of introspection. That perhaps they had grown into it. Or perhaps they had a way to switch off completely and run mechanically.
Children are often fans of that sickly-sweet, mass-produced, Sunday morning countdown music, the kind of crap usually excused with the line 'it's catchy'. Before you know it, you have wasted years on something which has brought a pleasure of kinds, but no real value. Then, as people grow, tastes change. For myself, I have more of a taste for thoughtful, well-executed songs, which may take a little time to build, but which have a reward to them which is all part of the journey itself. It is not too much of a stretch, I hope, to relate this to how I believe a long run plays out in the mind of the runner. It's something eased into and enjoyed for what it is. Ironically, or perhaps not, the less time you have left, the more time you take to enjoy those things you have.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Kiwifruit

Sometimes life boils down to the smallest, sweetest things. Sometimes? Okay, often. Today was an ok day, run of the mill, accomplished a few things, no big. I walked my usual walk to the train station, missed the train by a minute, as per standard. This is ok because it gives me time to read or, as in the case of today, listen to music. This was exciting for me today because I had new music on my phone, music that I had long thought about obtaining and music which I finally did, on the weekend. Time. Well. Spent.
So I am walking down the ramp, and Smokey is like silk in my ears. Fantastic voice, and it’s all it takes to put me in a good mood. I mean, I wasn’t so down, but this has pushed me up. The next part to this story is the kiwifruit (NOT a kiwi) in my bag, for which I have no utensils, but which I have been contemplating just biting the fuck into for some minutes, prompted mostly by the growling of my ever-impatient stomach.
I remove the kiwifruit, and it’s hard and feels like it’s going to taste like shit; like, too ripe and with that sweetness that it can’t really pull off. But, when I sink my teeth into it, it’s beautiful: not too hard, tart, with a brilliant little kick. I scoop out the inside with my teeth, and throw the skin into the bushes (urban organic recycling, people), and then I eat the rest in the same way. Excellent. The music is now Stevie Wonder, and it fits perfectly. Thank you shuffle. I do that innocuous little dance/walk you do when you are in a good mood but you don’t want to outright dance on a train platform. I look at the train tracks, and then at the sky, and I allow myself a grin. A big, crazy-person grin that would be considered creepy if I were facing anyone (and maybe still is).
Life is a strange motherfucker. Music is the eggs to its bacon, the coffee to its cigarettes, the blood to its body. And kiwifruit aint bad either, on those rare occasions when it’s done right. Tell me I'm wrong.