{im}perfect is as good as it gets

 

The nearing horizon flattens and remarkably the third World Cup since I’ve been blogging about football bends into view.

I have in some ways detached myself from the sport. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reasons for this. The primary ‘good’ reason is that I have as far as my writing is concerned, successfully transferred my football thinking over to other topics and because of this have reached more people. I always intended to use football as a metaphor and am glad my hunch was right, people do ‘get’ it. BALL BEARING

The ‘negative’ reasons for me being less involved in football are more basic. Both my domestic and my international teams have embraced mediocrity and achieved little. There is nothing as powerful as failure if you want to un-love something and both Arsenal and Italy have done this for and to me. They have lost a lot and are withered, weak and imperfect.

I have frequently written about the emotional pain that is football’s inevitable long shadow and that fans buy into a team because they somehow value the particular flavour of the pain/pleasure doled out by their side. I have also confessed how I’d like to be completely un-committed to any team and am frustrated as to why I am forever pulled towards an entity, a pseudo tribe that knows nothing of nor cares for me.

In 2012 I began to sidestep soccer and address other (more important) subjects such as mental health, emotional wellbeing, isolation and nostalgia. Although these subjects may have random elements in common with each other I now realise that as a group they reflect the fact that our lives and our world are dominated by flaws. It always was and shall always be this way. Even if something appears to be perfect e.g. a ball bearing, when examined under a microscope it is dented and scratched and even worse its constituent neutrons keep shivering and shaking. Dancing a jig as if to poke fun at observers who talk about objects being solid and reliable. There is basically nothing fixed or in a steady state in the world. It’s all in flux and vulnerable.

It’s as if hidden within the collective psyche people sense the imperfections of existence. It defines our mortality and confirms our impermanent nature and I suggest the single greatest reason why humans have invented and bought into faiths and dogmas is that they come with seemingly perfect frameworks on which questions and answers are hung side by side. As theories and paper-bound manifestos these things appear all knowing and protective but the physical realities of life can undermine any scheme in a moment.

Being of a Learning & Development disposition I have tried in these blogs to come up with ways of vaulting over or at very least, accepting life’s pitfalls. However, ‘Positive thinking’ and I divorced some six years ago when I was picked up in a seedy bar by a dominatrix called Madame Stoicism. In no time at all she signed me up and ever since then I’ve been an almost committed (reminder, I am Mr 70%) modern stoic. Phrases like it’s pretty bad, but as not as bad is it could be and expect the worst and hope for something just a bit better have helped me see things from a better perspective that has its strength based around having lower expectations

wabisabi-cup
This old Japanese tea cup is cracked. The fissure has been enhanced in gold to show how a flaw can enhance an object, and does not need disposing of.

Taking matters further, Madame S. introduced me to the Japanese philosophy of WABI-SABI. A concept more sedate and demure then stoicism, Wabi Sabi is based on the notion that flaws are inevitable and can be seen as differences not errors. They should therefore be embraced and even enhanced. A good example is that of older people. An old person has crinkled skin and failing eyes but their insight and experience can add to many situations and ought to be valued. Equally, a person with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder might have different ways of dealing with life and can bring other skills to the party such as deep knowledge of a special interest or have the ability to see into and around a quagmire of numeric data that looks like random digits to most neuro-typical people.

Completing the centre circle.

WABI SABI is purloined from Buddhist teachings that look at the three marks of existence; suffering, impermanence and emptiness.

If this trio doesn’t sum up being a football fan, then nothing does but when it brings in the acceptance of differences as part of the whole we can maybe feel the suffering a little less. It also brings us nearer to the Olympic ideal that: The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well. (Baron Pierre de Coubertin). Given that my team is not in this World Cup I shall observe the unfolding events and with an impartial view accept flaws and difference within the concept of a beautiful game without having to feel sad.

 

Some useful references:

https://savvytokyo.com/wabi-sabi-the-japanese-philosophy-of-embracing-imperfectionism/

And here’s a cynical and predictable counter argument;

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/wabi-sabi-new-hygge-spare-half-baked-philosophies-new-age-bilge/

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/sport/overview/introduction.shtml

Ball Bearing; https://www.brickwerks.co.uk/ball-for-gearlever-detent-t3-5spd.html

Wabi Sabi Cup: http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/01/21/the-wabi-sabi-of-collecting/

Advertisements

Reflect inside and laugh aloud

Peace of Mindfulness Part 2

It’s no secret that I frequent charity shops (for American readers; Thrift Store). There are various motives. One is that it winds up my wife that while she constantly donates stuff I go to these places to buy stuff. Although annoying my wife is not a primary motivation in my life this kind of low level nudging is amusing and she would, if pushed, admit from time to time some of my purchases are quite impressive. Burberry Coats

I tend to buy ‘designer’ menswear, sports clothing and art books i.e. those with lots of pictures. I noticed today that while I was browsing the Cancer Research Shop’s bookshelf I actually laughed out loud. I had spotted a charity shop favourite; John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. We humans make some odd noises which are I suppose a kind of sub-language and if this chuckle/snort had been properly worded it would have said: I know that book, I have owned it since 1978 and somebody has decided they don’t need it. They’re wrong, it’s a very good book. It influenced me a lot. The author died last year, so why did they ditch him? At least, however, somebody out there once had something in common with me. I am not alone, but then again I’ve kept my copy, so maybe I am alone after all. pexels-photo-333984.jpeg

Another reason I might let forth an exclamation is that some clothing labels tap into the depths of my nostalgia. Only last week I tried on a London Fog raincoat, not because I need it, but a voice from the1960’s returned to my mind to inform me that this was a respected American brand worn by Madmen styled New Yorkers in an age when men last wore (proper) hats. Over the years I’ve unearthed gear by Burberry, Armani, Lacoste, Etro and many other Premier League clothiers and every time I’ve set eyes on the item it has given an instant sense of pleasure because I recognise it.

It’s partly a case of being able to afford an unaffordable thing, but it’s also the treasure finder’s feeling of triumph of discovery. Somewhat like the detectorist that pulls up a Roman coin, much of the pleasure lies in the secrecy of the find. There’s the feeling of picking up a personal message from the past. Like looking up at a blinking star and knowing that its explosion came and went many thousands of years ago and, as the viewer, I’m experiencing a message from a private history. It’s them to me and as the light traverses time and space my eyes pick up a unique signature at the end of a letter that nobody else was shown because it was written to me. With kind regards…

pexels-photo-141876.jpeg

With reference to silence and calmness, the senses I have been out to capture, they can, it feels, be touched in an unpredictable way. Somewhere wrapped up between the nostalgia of my own past and the recognition that a momentary deja-vu is so personal. As it is meant for my eyes and ears only it forms a vacuum pocket that is hermetically sealed in a moment for me forever. If ageing offers just one thing it is perhaps the ability to smile inwardly (even if I may laugh out loud) when something of this nature happens. A younger person still reaches out for meaning and explanation, but the mature one can appreciate a split second of irony or familiarity for the history of their own journey.

And talking of journeys, I previously mentioned Slow TV. There is a kind of viewing revolution afoot and its’ heart is the notion that people no longer watch TV just for entertainment or data gathering (i.e. the news). We are now able to watch our screens to observe relax and exhale.

Simple TV is loveable.

Assuming that producers and critics highly value programmes that capture the viewer’s imagination I have over the last few years developed a preference for the opposite; programmes from which I can walk away. Call it simple TV. If I can go off to pour a glass of beer, delete some emails or jot down an idea, I am a richer person because I am owning greater control of my own mind and body and am semi-free from the screen.

I do not think that the first makers of Slow TV thought of this as a plus point of the genre and this is probably an oblique approach, but Slow TV at its centre is raw and in the nicest way, crude. In my view, it is better for the fact that it comes across as a back drop rather than a central activity. My favourite type of Slow TV programmes are railway films. I do not mean Murder on the Orient Express, Brief Encounter or even Michael Portillo’s documentaries (although I do enjoy them), but film shot from cameras mounted in the driver’s window and/or other locations on the engine. The viewing experience is a simple form of virtual reality and allows you to experience journeys of varying lengths. The most famous is Norwegian TV’s 7 hours plus journey from Bergen to Oslo but they also offer a snow blinding trip across Norway that lasts for over 20 hours. Additionally, Slow TV also offers experiences of canal trips and Norway’s National Knitting Evening.

The box (TV, laptop, ‘phone, tablet…) is becoming a window and through the pane we can observe, sit back and take in as much or as little as we need. I’d call that a definition of calm.

 

Peace of Mindfulness Part 1

Since my Silence Project stalled some 13 months ago that there is now new hope for those of us that embrace calm and quiet. In part two I shall expand on Slow TV and the appreciation of zero action but today it’s purely about silence.

IMG_4677

To recap, in February 2017 I went to the British Library in London on a rainy Saturday to read a book about silence and to experience the concept in a pure environment. When I returned the book to the librarian she asked me in hushed tones why I had borrowed that book as it was the first time it had been requested. When I told her I was in search of silence both on paper and in her place of work she guffawed ‘Silence in this place? That’s a joke!” When I asked for an explanation she told me about humming heating/air conditioning, frustrated academics closing heavy tomes and lots of sighing. I also noticed two professor types pacing between desks as if they were auditioning for the art of ‘deep thinking cop’ in a Scandi crime drama.

I lost heart in the project and walked away from it. This was not only because of what the librarian said but in that short time I realised that the peace of mindfulness I was seeking was not going to be unearthed.

In the greater scheme of Mental Health I do not have any deep problems. I do have some anxieties but having witnessed profound anxiety closely I feel my own condition is not that of a sufferer and is more akin to that of the frustrated artist coupled with what I never wanted, but always predicted; regret of things not achieved.

As a young man I dabbled in various creative tangents but found neither the great talent within me nor the passion to dive into anything that might have lead to greatness. I held a conservative course and am paying the cost now. The good news is that because I kind of knew this would occur my regret is dampened and my anxiety is with the aid of a few legal chemicals, maintained at a low level.

I am surrounded by people that vent, splutter and dish out commands and find that with my Duck’s Back approach, I can handle most days. I have worked out that if I look and act calm then I can be so. This is amusing because when I trained as an actor in the 1980’s and a Performance Coach in the 2000’s the approaches were to work on the inside and to let it work its way out. Somewhat like a cold, a bowel movement or even love itself. ‘Learn to love yourself’ they’d say and then others will love you too.

I am not saying that these ideas are rubbish, but I am saying that sometimes if you hold an external position, it can internalise in a positive way too. These can lead to moments of quiet anguish and a fuddled brain but thus far it has worked. I have learned to stand still and stoic. Madness happens around and I can let the brickbats hit me knowing the longer I avoid retort, the stronger my position becomes. As I said, this can lead to a build up of internal damage, but in a world where everyone seems to be firing off all the time, it is right now, the better option.IMG_4689

4.43 a.m. I was standing at a window looking across the street. The silence as I now know was fake. I could hear my own head-buzz, I could sense the electricity in the street lamps and could certainly hear the nagging of Ted the cat. Yet despite the noisy quietness I found a new thing; stillness. All was still and the street scene became one of visual silence. It was certainly not an absolute, nor one that can be kept going for long, yet for the few moments before I broke away to run the bath tap for Ted to drink from, I sensed a new way of touching calmness.

Recommended reading:

https://www.lifehack.org/377243/science-says-silence-much-more-important-our-brains-than-thought?ref=facebook

Snakes & Ladders in the medical sense

 

I have just returned from a routine visit to the GP. She was a young, pleasant public-school type person who I have never met before, and given her locum status and imminent maternity leave, shall probably never see again. And there you have it, a present day meeting with a doctor takes 3 weeks to organise and when you meet her it’s short sharp and a one off. Health issues cannot resolved with such brief interventions, but the system can pretend.doctor

To become a GP she would I guess, have been a brilliant student. This brilliance coupled with her smile and ‘I’m listening’ tilt of the head culled from Lesson One of ‘Body Language in times of conflict’ demonstrated a kind of rudimentary awareness, but where she really excelled was with the speed and efficiency with which she brushed me off and sent me away empty handed.

I had a list of things to go through and yet none of them were dealt with in the way that was satisfactory.

Allow me to share my below the brain and above the belt issues.

  1. Shallow breathing. I am fitter than I’ve ever been. I run 5km once a week on top of the 2 x 2km walk to/from work each day, yet I cannot put on my socks without panting. This I self-diagnosed is because I’m still unfit, anxious or am in need of a sock butler.
  2. I have developed a literal pain in the neck that shoots through my shoulder, down my mousing arm and halts before the carpal tunnel zone. The cure for this would I’m sure, be 3 sessions of simple physiotherapy and some sweet sweet Tramadol. I know, because it’s worked before.
  3. I’ve got a couple of re-grown subcutaneous bumps that simply need hacking out of my back. Again, this works because I had the procedure some years ago. She confirmed my benign diagnosis and closed the case when I closed my shirt.

The up shot is that the shallow breathing dominates everything else. I’ve been sent for a blood test and a heart examination. I asked if I could in the meantime be referred to a physiotherapist and get some kite-high pain killers. She said NO. I asked if I could get the lumps removed and she said NO. I needed these small pounds of (my own) flesh because if nothing else, two items would have come off my list and my mental health would have benefitted. Although I do not have an Autism Spectrum disorder, I have mental lists and feel better from seeing them being ticked off. I was not helped to feel better.

Everything depends on the breathing inspired Medical Tests before anything else. I asked why these tests had to be first when pills and physiotherapy would at least attack the pain. She told me ‘we’re a surgery, medical tests is what we do’. This was not delivered either rudely or with sarcasm, but I felt like all the doctor was doing was sending me for tests rather than coming up with a fix. Perhaps this is sensible, yet I know that getting another appointment will take ages and I will not get to see the same practitioner and it’ll be like going back to square one; Snakes & Ladders: Ladders & Snakes. snakes and

The other thing that came out of the discussion was that she wanted to approach my issues in a kind of flow chart order and in isolation of each other. To her, a medical approach meant looking at the breathing first (I suppose because it was Number 1 in my diary) and each problem on a stand-alone basis. She eschewed the idea of looking at me as a person. I really wanted to ask her why a young practitioner was taking this old school approach and was not looking at me holistically. I suppose she missed the optional seminar ’The Holistic Approach to Medicine: take it or leave it, you’re cleverer than your patients and you must let them know it’.

I also think that by using a divide and rule approach it was a simple way of kicking my can down the road and making sure she didn’t have to be around for anything that might transpire. She could happily report back to the practice manager that this particular patient may or may not have problems that are linked and the tests results (which will probably get lost in the post) can be overseen by an intern in the hospital. Pressure off and on with the next tactic of dodging the bullet.

Photos

Doctor: mentalfloss.com/article/30337/24-vintage-pictures-doctors-work

Snakes & Ladders: giochidelloca.it/images/s/snakes0884a.jpg

“Take my good side”

 

‘Social Media,’ (now there’s oxymoron) is becoming an increasing concern, especially but not exclusively for parents and could be more anti-social than social.

The BBC reported on 4th January http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42563173 Schools should play a bigger role in preparing children for social media’s emotional demands as they move from primary to secondary school, England’s children’s commissioner says. Anne Longfield said she was worried many pupils at that stage became anxious about their identity and craved likes and comments for validation. Her study said children aged eight to 12 found it hard to manage the impact. SWEET JANE BLOG-SELFIDGES ADVERT

Although my instinct is to slaughter everything ‘internet’ I suppose I shall have to be a bit more objective because however much one might wish to pull the plug I, like so many other people am pretty much connected all the time. Damn it, I even have some SMART home devices plus the ability to see what an elderly live-alone relative is up to. Not only can I be spied upon but I can spy on and stalk.

Investigations have begun into the impact of social media on the nation’s youth but what about the adults and are there differences in our respective uses and effects of social media?

 

Adults tend to worry about their children. This is matched by children not being concerned about their adults. (This is probably morally correct, young children should not have to worry about their parents, there’s plenty of scope for that in the future!)

Children appear fearless when it comes to hitting the keyboard and tapping their screens whereas most adults over 40 are still suspicious about the SEND button (aka Carriage Return) because they know there can be negative impacts from it. Whereas the young will spray out words and images with barely any self-control, most adults will try to self edit. Until, at least, they become addicted to the speed of unconsidered self-expression.

It’s happened to me. Just over a year ago a famous musician died. It wasn’t anyone I valued or admired (his music was to my ears, damp and derivative) but a friend of mine used to perform a tribute act of this singer and I told him on Facebook that now was the time to re-ignite his career. ‘After all’ I LOLLED, ‘you’re better than him anyway’. I was promptly scalded by another person for being insensitive and I immediately scrambled around to delete my comment.

I felt foolish and gauche because in attempting a ‘funny’ I inadvertently showed the world a side of me I didn’t want to display. Like so many others who use FB and its business oriented cousin; Linked In, I try to sculpt a portrait of what I want people to see but it’s so easy to undermine one’s own hard posturing when a moment of spontaneity arrives and obliterates it all. I know some folk really buy into online arguments and trading insults but like in my real life, I really hate confrontation.

I think that people fall into three broad groups.

Group One contains those who rather like President Trump have no compunction in letting their inner rebel teen ejaculate half thought thoughts and angry tantrums. Opinions will land where they will and everyone shall choose how to feel and react. ‘Your problem mate, not mine’.

Group Two includes those like my friend whose online liberal leanings are probably at odds with the lifestyle he has finally achieved in middle age. He really wants to be loved for the good things about him (I’m the same) and knows there are warts and blotches to be masked.

The third group would include people like my father who have a vague idea of what it’s all about but forget there is no privacy and that what you might say from the heart and feels like a private comment to a presence you recognise, can come back and bite you.

Many of us have written diaries. It’s not a new thing and if the plethora of available January-December diary/notebooks is anything to go by, is something that still has a market. Entries in your daily diary are very different from what you might put on a Facebook timeline because they are not private. There’s a freedom of thought that a writer can afford to add to an A5 diary because you do not expect it to be seen by anyone else. When however your writing hits social media, it has the potential to seen and judged far, deep and wide. Forever. diarycover

Once the writer is aware of this, his output becomes very different from that of a private diarist. To start, abbreviations and codes have to go because nobody will understand them. Then, if the writer wants to avoid embarrassment, they are unlikely to reveal deep dark secrets and — much like me — keep away from politics and sex. Instead, what we add to the web it is hoped will reveal ideas that are amusing and thought provoking. What these ideas are does not perhaps matter, so long as they present one’s good side and don’t ruin your public image, that’ll just about do.

 

 

 

‘Ouvre le chien’: Bowie / Blackstar, Mercury and Crimson Moon (part 3 of 3)

I searched for form and land, for years & years I
roamed

When David Bowie died two years ago, the final corner of my holy-holy (rock) trinity of loss became complete.

In September 2016 I wrote that Bowie’s death was easier for me to accept than those of Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan yet looking across the worlds of music and social media a year after Bowie went Blackstar, it is clear that despite my personal approach, the space he left behind is growing into a black hole and that his legacy will continue to grow larger and harder to define than that of almost any other deceased contemporary artist.

If as I wrote in  my 2016 September and November Blogs, if it was Bolan who introduced me to the concept of posing to build self-confidence from the outside-in and Mercury who drew power from not being universally popular then it was Bowie who booted these and additional interpretations of individuality from behind the TV screen directly into his audience’s laps.

When in 1972 he sang I had to phone someone so I picked on you’ I heard it as ‘I’m bringing you in, join me in the land of the different’.

Where Bowie quite quickly, after a 6 year journey to become an overnight success, stole a march on those who surrounded him was when:

A) He had a solid backlog of work that new fans could discover and

Click to buy Bowie Gull products
Click to buy Bowie Gull products

B) He had depth that went beyond the visuals and the melodies. The music was varied and the lyrics seemed deep and meaningful. The PR machine was straight into action in letting us know he borrowed writing techniques from the likes of William Burroughs and this soon added to Bowie’s mystique and credentials as an artist and not a ‘mere’ pop star.

Like many others, I bought into this lock and stock because at last there was somebody deep and clever which meant that by liking him I could somehow feel superior and therefore feel good about myself. At the time music seemed to be either rather soppy M.O.R such Elton John and as-yet-un-emerged Phil Collins or loud, clumsy and scruffy such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Bowie introduced a thinking person’s mental middle ground that also touched differing musical styles all at once. To me, liking Bowie was obscure and made me feel interesting. It definitely made me feel that I was deeper than the sheep  people who loved the so-after-the-event soggy Beatles. Most of all it meant there was an alternative to signing up to the pro-peasant unwashed culture of Rod Stewart and Slade. Of course there are many people that liked the acts that I didn’t who also liked Bowie and knowing this I want(ed) to demarcate myself from them and maintain my own private Bowie corner. I didn’t want to share Bowie with anyone else and what with all the grief out poured in January 2016, I felt the same again. Obviously none of us have any real possession over artists, but each of us has the prerogative to interpret and hold that interpretation and subsequent influences to one’s own heart.

Being a Bowie fan has been like being a cat person as opposed to a dog lover. Everything about him was subtle, shapeshifting and never obvious. Obtuse even. In 1976 he told The Sunday Times ‘anything you want me to be, I won’t be’. Whereas other performers were trained to be distinctive and clear, Bowie was never ‘in your face’. He embraced the force of obscurity (a calculated act of artifice?) and the more clever observers, many of whom were women like Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, and Madonna, successfully copied the notion that less is more.


Many commentators have described Bowie as a bridge. Visitors to the exhibition ‘Bowie Is’, which began in London in 2013 crisply linked Bowie to other areas of culture; particularly those of fashion.

blueblue_1024x1024
Blue, Blue, Electric Blue

The show also reminded us that he was a capable and un-cracked actor.

It was his interest in mime and body language that had a direct influence on me. Looking back I suppose I was struck by the contrast between silent mimes and rock music. His performance values had an inherent irony because on one hand the live music was loud, yet on the other he was able to overlay it with silent one-man theatrical vignettes that told tales of inner torture and angst. They matched the sonorous backdrop and denied it at the same time. The music was his, yet even while performing, he’d portray something else. Somehow the structure of his performances reflected the bipolarity and mental instability that haunted him.

As a direct consequence I spent several years learning and performing mime and joined and even lead various theatre groups. I performed on stage and learned how to react in front of an audience. I confronted and dealt with stage fright and how to deal with blunders. I worked out how to pause when the audience laughed and how to improvise if somebody forgot something (a word, a location…). All these are life skills that I wouldn’t have explored had it not been for Bowie.
Likewise, when I went to live in Zurich in 1976 and realised it was the birthplace of the Dada and Surrealist art movements, my internal bells rang because I had read about Bowie referencing them. I had no idea what these branches of modern art were, but because Bowie had mentioned them, they were good enough for me to explore. He taught me so much. He was a bridge and a compass. He set trends and added to language (e.g. Bowie’s the term ‘Space Invader’ from Moonage Daydream became an arcade video game in 1978).

In Alan Yentob’s brilliant 1975 documentary Cracked Actor, Bowie described himself as being like a fly in a carton of milk ‘just soaking it (America) up’. What he achieved was the ability to soak up snippets of data and by subsequently writing or talking about them he endowed them with a certain ‘cool’ simply because it was he that suggested an interest in them. If Bowie looked under a rock, the driest sand became interesting.

This was meaningful as a teenager because I was desperate to discover, I didn’t know quite what, but it certainly wasn’t anything within my school work. It was Bowie’s way of referencing so much (Kahlil Gibran, Orwell [1984]…) that gouged open several cans of intriguing worms (or as in the title above; le chien).

And this is why Bowie will super-endure the other two artists of my triumvirate and all the others that have been and gone. I accept, albeit grudgingly, that people will grasp hold of  Lennon, Elvis, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin and this is because each of these artists triggered a set of emo/psychological needs among individuals within their audience and it would be ignorant of me to claim my needs are any the greater. I confess that I do feel my pro-Bowie connections are more valid, but I do not think it.


So where are we now?

Recently I was in the Pompidou Centre in Malaga, Spain and was struck by this ceiling high exhibit.

oursler-switch-director

As I stood below this rather unnerving 30 cm high ‘big head’ talking Bowie puppet, it was confirmed to me that he had successfully mashed himself into the world of legitimate art. Sure there have been tons of Rolling Stones and Elvis oriented art events over the years but this is beyond that. The artist, Tony Oursler had realised that an effigy of a talking head-of-Bowie (and this was created long before he died) suggested so many other dimensions than had it been Jagger, McCartney or Sinatra. I highlight ‘suggested’ because Bowie’s strength lies in what he pointed towards and what he hinted at rather than what he said. Whether it was about his own skating along the gender spectrum or complete opaqueness over the last 10 years as to whether he was a working person or a retired pensioner, he just knew how to play it.

I never met him but somewhere in my loft lies a photocopy of his passport that I sneaked from the files of a hotel I worked in three months after he was a guest there during the Station to Station tour.

His passport details were as you’d expect;

  • Surname: Jones
  • Middle name: Robert
  • D.O.B: 8th January.

And as for occupation, the single word; musician.

That Bowie is an icon is not his issue. It’s impressionable people like me that allow some other people to become larger than life in our hearts & minds and in what influences us. It’s neither good, nor bad, it just is.

Bowie however was able to die knowing himself. Ultimately it suggests that despite all the insane stuff he name checked, he established self-knowledge and with that came peace of mind. As we embark on another January, I wish the same (sane) to you and, you guessed it; to myself.

Where can the horizon lie
When a nation hides
Its organic minds in a cellar…dark and grim
They must be very dim

mime-renbowie-mime


	

Six Nil: Under control and not so bad.

 

Musings on the edge of the seventh decade

A feature of having a December birthday is that if you are minded to review the year gone by you can run a parallel between your own and the calendar one. If however you are on the cusp of closing off a decade it is less easy to draw seasonal parallels because the task that daunts is to review several tens of years in one go. I am choosing to not do that. 

This blog has in the past discussed rock stars that have influenced me (in particular Bolan, Bowie & Mercury) but one musician I have not so far discussed is Renato Zero.

I came across Renato Zero when I was living in Venice in the summer of ’74. The TV guide described him as the Italian Bowie, yet his look, which not only channelled but also out-camped British Glam Rock was very Freddie. His music was more challenging to get into because it was, and in 2017, still is, not really rock. It generally consists of power ballads played by swirling acoustic orchestras, over which his deep gritty voice (all Italian singers sound like Rod Stewart) rasps in tones of great drama, deep injustice or extrovert melancholia. Subject matter tends to range from dark vice ridden alleys to the bright vice ridden circus and back to the dark alleys again. The Italian public long ago accepted Zero as a national treasure and he still tours and records today. The look has changed, after all 40+ years of success have taken a toll and let’s face it, if you live in Rome and are an economic success there is little point in remaining pale wan and thin when you are surrounded by the best food and wine the planet can offer. Nowadays he wears all-covering black cloaks and ‘professor’ glasses in the style of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka. 

RenatoZero
The was and still is an artist that has offended  his name is. Nothing. 

There are two reasons why I feel it appropriate to mention Renato Zero in this, the last blog of my 50’s:

  1. He has been with me since I was 16. The same time as my Holy Holy Rock Trinity began, except he is still alive and somehow manages to cast occasional tunes of tragedy and nostalgia over my ageing ear drums.
  2. When in 2010, Renato reached the big ‘Six Oh’ he produced a music album and a book called ‘Sei Zero’ (Sei is the Italian for 6 and for ‘you are’) and so archly translates as ‘YOU ARE NOTHING’. This was supported by a written reflection based on him being told when he was a child that ZILCH was all he would amount to. When therefore he selected a stage persona, he went for ZERO with a sense of irony and an erect middle finger. All good stuff.

Perhaps it’s quite easy to look back at your detractors and laugh at them if you are sixty and still famous. You have eager record company executives, publishers and a loyal fan base. The inner artistic demons might still be present but if you can create products, the platforms are there. Renato Zero used a mini essay to rebuke his early critics but turned most of his 60th celebration into a positive dedication to the city of Rome and people he lives among.  

Over these last 60 years I have learned that if you are not widely known there is little point in digging up ghosts from the past because the humiliation you might wish to inflict will fall on a wasteland and will just make you look foolish. So although there are people who I’d have liked to sneer at (mainly maths teachers and the odd work-place boss) I neither have the platform nor the need and will instead look, like Mr Zero at the good in the places and people around me.

This is a positive position and one that remains staunchly stoic. On the plus side, things are more or less under control and are not so bad but I have to say too that on the disappointing side nothing has really amazed or stunned me. I’ve seen my children born and grow, I’ve seen my football teams win championships and The World Cup and I have been present at death. I have even contemplated various metaphorical navels and earlier this year I embarked on a project whereby I pursued the joys and detailed thinking afforded by SILENCE. (See blog from February 2017) yet like Blue Tack, nothing really stuck for long. I once looked off a mountain top in The Rockies, said ‘wow’ aloud and tried so hard to be awestruck but somehow my inner me checked it off a minor bucket list and gently, without risk, I skied down to safety.

My eldest daughter recently told me she was disappointed in my current mindset because I only seem to engage in comedic entertainments (film, TV, theatre, books) and my desire for documentary and serious deep drama has waned. She is right. I find myself attracted to television programmes from which I can walk away and even if I’m at the 85% mark, I feel no regret when I do so. I avoid so-called Box Sets because I don’t need any more commitment in my life and will still only read a book if it has a maximum of 330 pages. My years are getting longer and my attention span is getting shorter. This is not a fear of my dying before reaching the end but is to do with the fact that I have experienced every kind of denouement and nothing can pleasantly surprise me anymore.

Story tellers and philosophers tell us that the joy is in the journey and not the destination and as I get on, this is ever clearer but I must also add that avoiding pain along the way has become a priority.

As I walked to work this morning I passed the spot, as I do every day, where I had a motorbike accident in 1975 (ok, it was a 50cc moped). 

TSB BW
The chunk of pavement that assaulted me late one August night in 1975. The window is intact and so is my head.

I was young, drunk and considering I flew headlong into the glass window of what is today a bank, lucky to be alive. I learned this the following morning when a nurse strapped up my shoulder and berated me. That moment, when I was 17, was the last big risk I took. It re-shaped me and even if I was a potential risk-taker before the collision, I never was afterwards.

This is not a note of regret, just an observation and it is with this approach that I shall carry on. It’s not as if nothing really matters, because it does but if I have succeeded in one thing it’s to have established a benevolent split persona. My inside remains the frustrated 20th Century Boy with dreams and artistic pretentions, yet the success I seek is no longer that elusive publishing deal (I achieved that one) but simple approval (and payment) from 3rd parties that hire me to mark exam papers and to give the odd lecture on my own philosophies (I quit acting in the 1980’s because I was bored with reciting other peoples’ words and the same applies to delivering seminars and training sessions). My outside is a much better and fortunate place. I am surrounded by a group of females I had never expected. Women were a deep mystery to me as I grew up. I either avoided them or over-killed (myself) with them. Now my wife and three daughters give me a before–the-fall King Lear strength I had never envisaged. As a family we are like an office chair with 5 wheeled feet (4 wheels were deemed unsafe some 20+ years ago). The chair gets shoved around the office yet stays upright. It bangs into desks and chips the paint, but never falls over. Even if any one of the wheels gets sticky or becomes loose the chair remains stable albeit a touch wobbly.

And so, returning to the message of the Stoic, I hereby count my blessings because tomorrow, or tomorrow’s tomorrow something will attack them and by committing the good things to paper, or indeed a blog, their confirmation in the here and now exists forever.

How do you know that you’re right?
If you’re not nervous anymore
It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad

I feel my vision slipping in and out of focus
But I’m pushing on for that horizon
I’m pushing on
Now I’ve got that blowing wind against my face

Chair2