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Life

Breaking the Cycle

It’s been a week since I last posted. After years writing almost every day, it seems strange – standing at the edge of the blog – rummaging around in my mental bag, looking for some words to contribute. It almost feels like the blog has become this place or person that I’ve had an awkward falling out with, and now I’m not quite sure how to start a conversation.

Perhaps ignoring the atmosphere is the best solution. Ignore the blog while it stares at me tiptoeing around the edge of the room, with “where the f*ck have you been?” written all over its face.

Where have I been?

I was furloughed through the first half of this week. If you’re not entirely sure what that means, it’s pretty straightforward – if you are furloughed, the company you work for forces you to take unpaid leave. Happily, the UK government is paying a large proportion of my salary during the days I am furloughed – a safety net of sorts that has been operating throughout the pandemic. There are strict rules while you are “furloughed” – you cannot work on any paid project work for your employer – but you can undertake “professional development” – training courses, and so on.

Instead of spending the furlough days this week hitting the textbooks, I replaced the roof on our shed. Go me. I thought I might also write some more thoughtful words over at Medium, but that didn’t happen. I’m not sure why. I didn’t go running either – I’m still waiting for my knee to heal properly. It’s been a dispiriting kind of week really.

Anyway. It’s Friday, it’s raining, I’m drinking my second coffee of the day, and some cafe jazz playlist is quietly burbling away in the background. I should probably get on with some work.

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Life

A Week Without Words

I’m struggling to remember the last time this blog saw my absence for as many consecutive days. I would love to say “I’ve been busy having all manner of adventures in order to regale you with them”, but that wouldn’t be true at all. For the last week I’ve been existing. Getting up. Working. Making meals. Washing clothes. Doing chores. It’s difficult to make daily life sound exciting when so many have been enduring a similar existence for the last year and a half.

I haven’t been running since last Monday – a mystery pain appeared in my right knee just before the morning run – I probably shouldn’t have run on it, but I did. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’ve been paying for it ever since. I’m hoping I’ll be ok to run again next week – just taking it slowly. It’s frustrating, after just getting back into the “Couch to 5K” programme.

I’m wondering about getting out on the bike to strengthen my knees. For the last twenty years I have cycled to work – but since the pandemic hit, the office closed, I’ve worked from home, and I have got on the bike only a handful of times. I have no idea how much muscle mass I’ve lost.

In other news, I’ve joined a damn fool weight loss challenge with my middle daughter. Granted, I’m a little overweight – let’s call it “padding” – but not a lot. She has more to lose so will (hopefully) lose more than me, allowing her to crow endlessly about it – which will of course be a good thing. I’ve set her the goal of losing a number of pounds, and getting fit before the end of the summer. I’ve also said I’ll do exercises with her in the week (bang goes my lunchtime noodling around on the internet). I imagine we’ll be dancing around in the garden doing jumping jacks or whatever the hell else she wants to attempt to kill me with.

Before you jump down my throat about encouraging my daughter to lose weight or get fit, and cancel me for being a toxic lunatic – there is a motive. She is in the middle of a two year college course, and on a path to a career in the uniformed services (police, etc). She has knocked it out of the park during the first year – earning distinctions through the academic part of the course. Next year the focus will change to the physical – so turning up in great shape will give her a HUGE head start. It will also of course help her with playing and refereeing rugby matches (yes, she does both).

In other news, I’ve been painting a shed. Or rather, a Wendy House. I’m not sure if “Wendy House” is an international term. In the UK, if you have a play house in your garden (a small shed), it is called a “Wendy House”, after the house made by the lost boys for Wendy to live in, in the book of Peter Pan by J M Barrie. We have a Wendy House that was given to us when the children were young – that became a “Pirate Hideout” for several years, before eventually becoming a garden store. Anyway. I started painting it today. Grey. A flat colour to make it fall into the background of the garden.

We’ve also been digging a pond in the garden. Before children we had a wildlife pond at the end of the garden with numerous fish, frogs, dragonflies, and whatever else living in it – it had to go when the children were small for obvious reasons. They’re grown up now – and digging a massive hold in the garden doesn’t cost very much – so it’s back. At the moment the only things in it are some worms that fell in, and a few pond skaters that have discovered it. Over the coming weeks – as we can afford it, or as people donate plants to us – we are planting the area around the pond. Once it’s established we’ll fill it with fish, and then setup the machine gun posts to shoot Herons on-sight.

Anyway.

It’s getting late. I’m going to go eat cereals, and watch rubbish television for a bit. My other half is curled up on sofa – she had her second Covid shot yesterday – the side effects have arrived today. Not as bad as the first time, but still making her feel a bit rubbish.

P.s. I’m furloughed Monday through Wednesday for the next few weeks. Expect blog posts.

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Life

A future filled with words

I began blogging before the word had become part of the common vernacular. In the early days, people wrote about their day – their life. Online journals formed the basis of LiveJournal, DiaryLand, and Blogger. Any thoughts of blogs covering niche subjects such as cooking, parenting, fashion, or beauty products were years away.

While I count myself among that “first wave” – that shared mundane moments of their daily life with the passing crowd, I can’t help feeling that it’s almost become a game of last-man-standing. The social networks and walled gardens have seduced the majority. Perhaps that’s the real driver behind the creation of this blog – an outpost of sorts, standing almost alone in the internet ocean. Me, railing at Windmills (how many more badly distorted literary references can I conjure?).

Writing online has become the Emperor’s New Clothes (and there’s another one). Everyone has been brainwashed to believe that writing online should be short, snappy, direct, regular, and focused. Forgive me for saying it, but that’s a sausage machine, and all they’re good at is churning out the same crap – again, and again – predictably.

Who wants to be predictable? Who wants to be the same?

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this – but perhaps that’s the point. I’m writing freestyle, with no aim, and no direction. What you’re reading is almost a direct transcript of my thoughts as they left my brain, rolled through my fingers and appeared on the screen. The improvised stage play versus the edited movie.

I am reminded of “Finding Forrester”, where the reclusive author sits his student in front of a typewriter and instructs him to write. Not to think – just to write – write anything. It’s a similar idea to National Novel Writing Month, where quantity is valued over quality. There will be a lot of garbage, there might also be brilliance.

Perhaps I do have a direction here.

Sometimes I write a few words, sometimes I write a few pages. Long, meandering streams of thought. By wrestling your way through them you get to know me a little better – or at least better than you might through a photo of a cat, a quote of a philosopher, or a transcribed conversation from a television show.

Here’s to a future filled with words.

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Life

Where did the weekend go ?

It’s Friday evening, and the “week off” has vanished. I’m wondering where it went. The last few days are a mental jumble of running, working on the garden, doing chores, and jumping down internet rabbit holes.

In-between the usual mayhem, I have been slowly falling back into the clutches of Medium – writing essays, and publishing them into their partner programme. Choosing subjects that people might be interested in is something of a mystery to me at the moment – a little like throwing spaghetti at the wall to find out what sticks. I wrote a throw-away piece yesterday that gained immediate traction – then spent all morning today writing a well researched long-form piece, published it, and waited for several hours. Nothing. It’s all a bit of a mystery.

I have to keep telling myself that Medium is very different than WordPress. Where blogs are very much about the “here and now”, essays are more about ideas and thoughts – they float around for longer in the content delivery machine, and unexpectedly re-surface months after you’ve written them. An article I wrote in January suddenly earned over a hundred dollars last month. I’m guessing it caught the wave of a trending topic somewhere.

I guess the take-away is that I’m writing again. That’s good, right? I suppose I’m not posting here though, and I’m not “present” on social media though.

Saying that, I finally started playing with “stories” on Instagram this week – the self destroying photos that only live for a little while. I was sitting in McDonalds with my youngest daughter (our first meal out together for 18 months!), waiting for her to finish. I didn’t realise you can have the story photos appear both on your Instagram wall, and on Facebook as a “story”. It’s all tremendously confusing.

Anyway. I should probably be writing something of consequence, rather than emptying my head here. I guess this keeps me sane though. I will be back soon, honest.

Categories
Life

Visitors, French Cafe Playlists, and a Week of Running Ahead

The sun is setting on a busy day. I’m sitting in the junk room, trying to gather my thoughts while sipping a cup of black coffee, and listening to a “Paris Café” playlist on Spotify. I’ve just pulled on a zipped hoodie – combating the after-effects of having caught the sun earlier in the day.

My in-laws visited today. My brother-in-law brought power-tools to help construct a raffia fence along the edge of the garden. My mother-in-law accompanied him to oversee operations, and to watch the tennis at Roland Garros with me (or at least, when I wasn’t cutting the grass, washing up, or washing up some more). We bonded over running injuries today – I showed her the lump on my achilles tendon, and she showed me her ankle – which apparently hurt, but looked fine. Thankfully my rugby playing daughters were not present, or it might have turned into a pop-up meeting of hypochondriacs anonymous.

While writing this, a Frenchman is expertly playing an accordian in quite the most wistful manner you might ever imagine. He has given way to a crooner singing about some disaster of the heart or other – I can’t understand a word of it, so can only imagine the subject of his anguish. Perhaps his girlfriend didn’t share her peanut M&Ms with him? (I would have been distraught too)

Anyway.

I have the week off work. The possibilities of how to spend the coming days are many, but I fear procrastination may defeat almost all of them. It’s not that I’ll waste my time off – I’ll find all manner of interesting things to do – I just won’t get around to many of the things I should perhaps have been doing. It’s interesting how the most mundane rabbit holes become increasingly interesting when faced with doing anything productive instead.

The one thing I will do during the week is run.

As mentioned a few days ago, I’ve re-started the “Couch to 5K” programme – partly to support a good friend, and partly to avoid my backside establishing it’s own gravitational force. I’m hoping that “Park Run” will be back up and running in the autumn – it will give me something to aim for – and something to do each weekend. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s a pretty common international movement where parks organise 5K runs for all abilities – usually on a Saturday morning. You register on the park run website, get a barcode, and off you go. You can of course buy all manner of “official” merchandise – such as wristbands or waterbottles – or just print out the barcode and tuck it in your sock. Lots of people do.

I guess the attraction of doing an organised run is both to run in a group – where you get swept along by the crowd – and to have medical people on-site, should anything unfortunate happen – you know, like the town finding out you have no running talent. I’m pretty sure the town know I have no running talent, having seen me trudging the streets over the last few years – that’s not the point of running though.

There’s probably really good research on the huge release of endorphins after running. It’s hard to explain – you often feel like absolute garbage during a longer run – especially if pushing out to a longer distance – but afterwards a huge wave of euphoria sweeps through you. Body chemistry is an amazing thing.

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Life

Sunday

It’s been four days since I last emptied my head into the keyboard. Almost unheard of. A good friend mentioned earlier that she needs inspiration to write – I replied that in the past writing has often been my happy place. I guess a part of that comes from the chaos that typically surrounds me, and the solitude required to write. Finding a quiet room, and an hour to myself can sometimes be challenging.

This afternoon I’m sitting in the peace and quiet of the junk room (when not being summoned to help lift heavy things, or reach high-up things). We were out for most of the day at the final rugby fixture of the season – a “friendly” about half an hour from home. It seems odd calling it the “final” fixture, because there have only been a handful since lockdown restrictions were lifted somewhat. I wonder what the trickle-down effect of the pandemic will be over the next several years – for a generation of young people, twelve months has essentially been erased from their lives.

I re-started the “Couch to 5K” running programme last week, and everything went well through the first two runs – then somehow on Friday I managed to pull a muscle while reaching down to a clothes basket while hanging washing out, and did something to the achilles tendon on my right leg. It’s a bit swolen, but strangely hurts more while walking than it does while running. I’ll try stretching it over the next few days, and do the next few runs very slowly – to figure out if it’s getting better or worse. If push comes to shove I’ll get out on the bike instead of running for a while.

I watched the first episode of “Breaking Bad” late last night. I’m not really sure why I stayed so far away from it in the past – I guess part of it might be because it deals with drug culture. I’ve known people who fell into that world – it’s almost like a switch flicks in my head when the subject comes up, and I immediately lose interest. Seeing Bryan Cranston shout “F*CK YOU, AND F*CK YOUR EYEBROWS” was pretty funny though.

In other news an entire ant civilization seems to be trying to establish a foothold in our kitchen. Unfortunately for them we are armed with all manner of poisons – which are now distributed in “traps” at strategic locations about the place. It’s difficult – the first instinct is to exterminate them on-sight, but we really need them to take the poison back to the nest to wipe the rest out.

Anyway. I’m rambling.

If I haven’t commented on your blog for a few days, I can only apologise – I’ve been “out of the loop” for the last few days. I will be back. I always return. I just don’t always know how soon.

Categories
Life

The Productivity Trap

For years I tinkered with all manner of productivity hacks – paper task lists, apps, websites, and so on – I even read some of the more famous books, such as “Getting Things Done”, and “The 24 hour work week”.

I spent years finding ways to fit more into each day.

It never occurred to me that I should have been looking for ways to do less – to achieve only what I needed to, leaving the remaining time free.

I think perhaps the lockdowns of the last year have brought into focus just how crazy the world we knew really was. We never stopped to consider that we might do less, because we never had time to – we were too busy running like mad to keep up with everybody else.

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Life

The Unfolding Story

Nocturnal writing escapades are becoming something of a habit. It seems to take an entire day for the reflective part of my consciousness to find it’s way from the labyrinth, pull up a comfy chair, and start talking to anybody that might listen.

Sometimes I have a lot to write, and sometimes very little. It very much depends on events of the day, I suppose – for the last year “adventure” has been somewhat thin on the ground. Life has been quiet.

I’ve often made sense of life by likening it to a “choose your own adventure” book – where you make decisions throughout each day, and they result in turning to given pages where the immediate future is foretold. While it’s a nice idea, I’m not sure it always works. The real world seems to involve far more unpredictability that any scripted story could engineer. Perhaps the chaos is a natural product of everybody turning their pages at the same time.

Sometimes you arrive on the same page as somebody else, and discover each other through the stories of the days that follow. The plot for chapters to come is rewritten – shaped by nothing more than each other’s presence. It’s all rather marvellous.

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Life

Eurovision

The Eurovision Song Contest was held this evening in Rotterdam. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s the annual competition that launched ABBA into the stratosphere in the 1970s, and was the subject of the wonderful movie starring Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell last year.

While I wasn’t surprised at the outcome of the competition itself, I was surprised at the reaction to the outcome by a number of people I know.

Before getting around to that, it’s worth noting that in my mind the Eurovision Song Contest has some significant problems.

Because of the number of countries now involved, “Semi Finals” are held – meaning many of the more original bands are filtered out by juries of “professionals” that select the finalists. Unfortunately those juries tend to vote politically – meaning that neighbouring countries vote for each other.

Thankfully half of the vote in the finals is made up by a public vote – which often redresses the balance – but it’s too late for the bands that have already been removed from the competition by the afore mentioned biased juries.

There’s a damning phrase about committees (called juries in this case) – “designed by committee” often means the end result is a watered down mess that nobody actually wanted, but they are willing to live with if it means they don’t have to do anything more.

Getting back to the actual subject of this post, I headed to Facebook and Twitter after the competition finished, and started reading people’s reactions. I was stunned.

“The winner was terrible – nowhere near as good as (insert winner from 30 years ago)”

“Everyone in Europe hates us – what do you expect?”

“Most of the music was terrible – nothing I would ever listen to!”

“Did you see what half of them were wearing? I would be embarrassed!”

I could go on – for quite some time.

I suppose I’m just surprised (and not surprised at all) about the blinkered, insular view that seems to be so prevalent throughout a wide cross-section of people here.

So many people seem to think that their opinions are shared by the majority, because they are shared by the small circle of people that re-inforce their often bigoted, prejudiced, narrow minded, racist, sexist, or outdated opinions on music, fashion, style, culture, and everything in-between.

The social networks have a part to play in this of course – I’ve written about this before – about the algorithmic timeline surrounding people with concordant views. It’s dangerous. Unless we are challenged, we do not learn or grow. Plato wrote about it sixteen hundred years go in his “Allegory of the Cave”. It seems many people still haven’t learned.

How do I turn this around?

Perhaps with the admission that our entry into the competition was really, really awful – and that I loved many of the more spirited, individual acts that performed throughout this year’s show.

I just wish there were a few more people with open minds, and open hearts taking notice of the direction the world is headed, who might make a quiet stand against it with me.