Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Because they are there.

Time has passed. Colours fade. Peaks are planed.

Now, viewing this picture, I see a summit of chaos, aburdity, madness.  I could never have got there on my own.

There were gale-force winds, below-zero temperatures, exhaustion.

"What the *uck am I doing here?"

I am standing on top of an enormous heap of rubble.

I felt pure exhilaration.

I was at the top. A dream had been realised. Nothing had changed.

I wept.
The tears froze and bit into my skin.

Nothing would undo the past.
It had brought me here, I had followed, I was, despite the presence of my fellow mountaineers, alone, vertically challenged,  feeling existential vertigo.

Childhood dreams
I must have been about five years old. I was barely tall enough to see the display of mountain boots in the shop window without assistance.

My father lifted me up.

A pair of enormous, technically advanced boots took my attention.

That was it.

I was hooked. I would be Edmund Hilary.  I already saw myself struggling over glaciers, with attendant sherpas planting union jacks.

That my hiking boots were sufficiently robust for doing the Pennine Way was enough to spark my imagination.  Weren't the Pennines just south of the Himalayas?

I would certainly be part of a major expedition.

I would need sophisticated bottled oxygen and breathing equipment to get as far as the Buddhist temple somewhere near Leeds.

Rabble, in a room
I had refined my plans. With little personal finance, a mountain guide or a paid trip to the summit of the Mont Blanc was beyond my means.

Divorce was costly.

This rabble, or to give them their official title: the Club Alpin de France would be my path to that summit. And the following year perhaps to further peaks in the Hindu Kush.

On opening the door, I was met with a hive of people who took absolutely no notice of the stranger who had ventured into the room.  There was no welcoming party, no apparent organisation, just a bunch of people buzzing around.

In my fragile state, only those child-remembered boots drove me forward. This was to be my approach march.

I just picked a straggler on the outside of the crowd and started a conversation. It was clearly too difficult for me to venture straight into the centre of some close-knit group who clearly had advanced plans about what they would be doing for the next season.

The first visit to the rabble mulling was inconclusive. I had sort of figured out that there appeared to be a number of separate but interconnected groups who were involved in different activites. There seemed to be a keen rock-climber group, a ski-mountaineering group, a mountain-biking group who would hang around a particular table in the room.  This was starting to make some sense.

Gradually, after a few weeks of lurking, I began to discern familiar faces, identify cliques, spot groups. After about a month, there were even nods of recognition when I appeared on the outskirts of some community.  I joined the climbing group, discovered about weekend trips to the Alps, noted meet-ups in bars.

I became a member, a curiosity, someone that they could introduce:  the token English guy with a toddler. I became a character in their plots.

Becoming grounded
However high you get, however recognised one becomes, there comes a time when one has to face a series of irritating questions.

  • What the hell are you doing all of this for? 
  • Why are you putting yourself through all of this? 
  • Who is it for? 
  • What counts for me? 
  • So what?

No pain, no gain.
I am fortunate in my lack of ability, in my down-to-earth, no-nonsense appreciation of the unsense of our existence.  There are so many tales of Icarus-parodies.  The pythonesque mountaineer who gets to the top of  his Everest, loses his hands, his feet, his nose to frost-bite only to realise that what really counts for him are his family, his friends, his life.

I have been lucky. I can write this without a hook.

Because you are here, because my family are there, I can take my time to address the summit of absurdity and how to get down from it.

We are driven by dreams, we can get our wings frazzled too late...

Our lives are grounded in little groups of familiar faces making sense in an anonymous rabble. Sometimes, we can live to share stories of our exploits.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A little misunderstanding?

The Somme 1914


He died in an instant, the time of the exclamation mark.

So sad that he hadn't been born into a culture in which "Duck!" can safely be understood in this context to be a warning not a water fowl.

There was no time for negotiation, for expressing misunderstanding.

He was *ucked.

His coffin was draped in a Union Jack, he received full military honours, a posthumous medal and the last post.  This casuality was one of 'ours.'

Full English Breakfast
I met him in the morning at breakfast. As usual, his cheek was smeared with toothpaste.  I asked him a question.  He said something Geordiesque. I tried, I failed again to understand.  He nodded, I nodded, we agreed/acknowledged as much as one might with a nod.  We lived in the same house, we ate Cornflakes at the same table, we were the same age. We could have been said to have spoken the same language.

Rule Britannia
"I honestly don't understand why you would want to have an exchange with a Polish university, wouldn't it be better to organise one with a British university like Durham?"

My colleague had fixed ideas about the relative linguistic prestige of 'native speakers' of English.

Going 'home' London 2013
To all intents and purposes this appeared a Pakistani newsagents.  I felt very much at home. Obviously!
'Shah', the name, was a give-away.  Inside the shop, I was met with the expected turbanned shop-keeper.

Delving deeper into the rear of the commerce, however, I was greeted with a Slav cold-cuts counter and blue eyes.   I felt linguistically and culturally challenged.  What on earth was or were Pierogi?  I felt a foreigner in 'my own' country. I had clearly been living in France for too long.

Going 'native'
We waited expectantly on the platform for the students to arrive from Warwick University.  No doubt that the French students would benefit immensely from a few days of conversing with 'real native' speakers of English.  They wouldn't just be able to learn words and expressions, they would be able to learn about 'British' culture first hand.

My suitably-attired colleague was present to greet the educational elite from a top British university when they got down from the train from Paris.

In a group of ten, there were two Chinese students, a Spanish girl from Germany,  a beaming boy from Sri Lanka, an Italian from Turin, a Scot, a Welsh rugby-player, two boys from the home counties and a Pole from Nuneaton.

The inter-cultural knees-up was a great success. One of the French students from Guadeloupe organised a Caribbean evening to which all were invited.  Any misunderstanding was joyfully overcome with smiles, laughter and youthful enthusiasm. They left the house, early in the morning, punch-drunk.

Possessive pronouns.
I woke up to the broadsheet news that a loud(foul)-mouthed German-wed politician had announced that he wouldn't like a family of Romanians to live next to 'his' home.  He is one of those brave people drumming up nationalistic feelings.

All immigrants, he suggests, should have to pass Cambridge English tests or something similar.   Allowing people to freely move around 'his' 'our' territory is a danger for our 'culture' our 'economy', 'our language' even.

Thinking of the joy of youth, meeting, partying, learning through their misunderstanding in the world, I am coming to my punch-line.

Before we embark on a conflict in which a little misunderstanding over the word *uck might be fatal, I would like to leave those ignorant enough to brandish possessive, territorial standards concerning languages in no doubt concerning my feeling towards them.

M. Farage, Mme Le Pen and others who believe you own what is ours...May I invite you to....

Fuck!  Off!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Prescient absence.

A ghostly reflection feigning presence floats just above sea-level.

Cheek to pane, I feel the coldly condensed surface.

I am bodily bound but clearly no longer on board.

I am a-sea, dancing over the horizon.

Turn on, tune in, drop out...of frame.

Apparently connected, vaguely productive, we are obviously not ordered.

Tick a box, a series of boxes or put a cross if you prefer. Go ahead tick your life away! Tick, tock.

Seriously, how do you count freedom? 

I fear we are suffering from universal madness. I even have a name for it:

Obsessive, Economic, Compulsive, Disorder

How will you value meaning to me?
How long is a piece of art?
How much does this cost?
Why are you here?
Who cares?

What does the market know? 

The ghosts took their time, they didn't reveal themselves to others.

Don't count on me to give you proof of their existence.

What I saw and am witness to has no scientific grounding.

I have no fear of absence.

Poetry is prescience

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Divine outcomes.

I, yes I said I, came second in the end of year physics exam.

"Bloody hell!" 

A group of suspiciously chattering pupils stood looking at the notice board.

To say that I was, that they were, surprised at my apparent physics prowess would be understatement to the power of ten.

That year like all years, I had occupied my customary seat next to the window where I could benefit from draughts of sea-air passing through the single glazing and hide my physics exercise book/sketch pad.

"Look lads, we're going to do a really brilliant experiment," was the teachers' sales-pitch.

I remember being lulled into nascent curiosity.

There was a wooden bench propped up at an angle, a sort of wooden trolley with ticker tape attached to it. The trolley went down the angled bench, the ticker tape followed.

That was that. 

What had it all meant? I didn't, I don't have the foggiest inkling of an idea.

I remember feeling that I had been had.

If that was the ultimate excitement that one could have in a "physics classroom" then clearly it wasn't going to be for me.

I enjoyed scribbling, feeling the draught, looking vaguely out of the window while paying ear-service to the ambient educative goings-on.

I liked the teacher in so far as he left me in peace.

I never enjoyed physics as much as the year that God mysteriously decided that I would be gifted sudden brilliance in the key testing moment.

I came second in physics.

The teacher must have thought he had worked really well.

I remember nothing else.

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."
A. Einstein.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Persistent Clutter.

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded sleep." 
W. Shakespeare. The Tempest.

The PC was resistant, but with a few clumsy blows of a hammer, one or two screws undone, its memory heart  ripped from its fastenings, it looked pretty dead.

"Throw it in the river," he said, "they won't dredge it up there."

He saw that I was a little reluctant.

"What of its trace on the environment?" I thought to myself.

He had no care for pollution; his gestures were insistent.  After all, he was not going to be long there to answer complaints from the council environmental officers.

As for the personal data-security question, nobody else would ever understand the filing.

"What the hell!" I swore under my breath.

With a vigorous swing, I heaved the hefty 120 gigabyte hard disc into the Thames.

It sank, slowly. The accompanying flottilla of Canada geese, coots, and miscellaneous ducks looked on disappointedly.

No bread today.

Hours of painstaking searching, keeping, sorting, onto:

  • scraps of paper
  • floppy discs
  • cd roms
  • usb keys
cramming into:

  • boxes
  • drawers
slinging into

  • bin-bags  
had become a pathetic annoyance.

A few months later, the house was empty.

I took a deep breath.

I turned the key and pushed hard to open the front-door.

It was hopeless, it wouldn't give, I came up against feisty resistance.  A heap of bloody junk-mail was, I ascertained, heaped up on the mat.

To The Readers' Digest, The Grand Draw, and collected charities, the deceased had not ceased to be.  He was, as if forever, a loyal reader, a potential chancer, a generous benefactor.  That no one answered, would not trouble them....ever.

Nobody had been there to sort through the remnants of his mail.

I stepped over the hearth and took in the emptiness of the place...

"Out of clutter find simplicity."
A. Einstein.