COMMENT : NO COMMENT

I recently offered a friend some advice on how to go about writing. I hadn’t actually been asked for this advice, but when they mentioned wanting to write I found myself slipping into advisor/mentor mode and sent them a lengthy email with my guidance. However, within moments of sending the message, I felt a certain regret panging its way through my innards.

Had my gesture been in some way arrogant? Was I trying to frame myself as an expert or an altruistic donor to look cool or was I trying to rebuild my ego to counterbalance the fact that what I have had published hasn’t sold particularly well?

I often find myself receiving advice and by and large – I DON’T WANT IT. It happens to us all and a good illustration of this is the life of a new parent. The arrival of a newborn is invariably accompanied by uninvited snippets of wisdom about which direction the child should be facing in the buggy or that the doting parent should keep talking to the baby while changing its’ nappy just to show approval of them having filled it (yes, this crap is true, I remember receiving it). I won’t dare to go into the Kingdom of breastfeeding because I know it’s a Pandora’s can of worms where I would not be too welcome, but any mother will know what I’m talking about. Please don’t listen to me…go here;

After coaching people for a number of years, I realised that I was doing much of this ‘giving’ to actually help myself. Like the proverbial snide jokes about psychotherapists being ‘crazy’ and in need of fixing themselves or entertainers putting themselves ‘out there’ craving applause and validation to feel they exist.

In the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, another friend posted their thoughts. As this person has many Facebook groupies I usually desist from commenting because, probably out of jealousy of their popularity, I prefer being on the fringe rather than among their gaggle of toadies. On this occasion however, I did add a comment because I was getting sick of seeing ‘solutions’ proposed by people channelling Captain Kirk’s universal sensibility but without his ability to implement it (his ability to bring peace to the galaxies is remember, pure fiction. It never actually happened, nor will it, sorry ‘bout that).

James T. Kirk

My comment, which was designed to be uncontentious, was in turn commented upon. It took a few days, but as sure as the sniper keeps on sniping and the swearer keeps on cursing; it happened. Although this person corrected me on a fact that had changed, their comment was right but irrelevant. I had included two examples and one was wrong, so what? My point was still valid.

The internet culture whereby people provide feedback and counter comment deeply irritates me. It is too easy to ‘call somebody out’ on a small error and effectively make them look foolish and by inference, discount their views. Troll Off and leave me alone.

On the other hand, much of the fault of ‘banter/trolling’ lies with the people that begin the pontification first. Particularly in troubled times they tend to write phrases that include the words MUST or SHOULD. These words look powerful; ‘We should all do this, you must do that …’ yet they are delivered in the hope that somebody else will pick up the baton, physically make it happen and then credit the inspiration back to the originator.

Yet, if anything proves that implementation is more vital than ideas, it is this fraction from the beginning of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”

So, where are we now? If we are writing on a public forum, we’ve arrived at the point where it is necessary to cancel out ambiguities. You can only make one point and that has to be expressed in very simple Trump/Tweet terms. Aim for the lowest linguistic and intellectual denominator. This is neither the forum for creativity nor being clever.

The acronym KISS has never been more appropriate. If you break this convention somebody will slay you. For safety, add a third S for a second STUPID. Belt & Braces etc.…

If you are writing something personal, experimental or embryonic, keep it very private. I suggest (as I did with my friend in Para 1) to start a blog but ensure it cannot be shared or seen. Use it as your own heavily passworded journal. Keep it under your metaphoric mattress and tell nobody it even exists. That way, even if you die in the meantime, nobody will ever find out.

The best form of factual writing nowadays is academic. I have blogged before how challenging I found the rigours of this approach, but I am convinced that in this age of false news and peacock posturing opinion that academic research is the only way of finding the (near) truth. It’s not perfect as so many contradictory scientists have demonstrated during Pandemic 2020, but is preferable to the miasma of guesswork and leming / bandwaggon thinking that is choking our minds.

Thanks for reading. Absolutely no comment required.

Ends

Douglas Adams quote; https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/79195-and-then-one-thursday-nearly-two-thousand-years-after-one

Shut up photo: https://image.slidesharecdn.com/culturehackonglobalwarming-140609155045-phpapp02/95/lets-do-a-culture-hack-on-global-warming-7-638.jpg?cb=1402394091

YOU MAKE AN OLD MAN VERY HAPPY

Walking Football 3 years on.

Readers will know that in 2016 I started playing walking football (WF). Three years later I’m still playing. It began as an activity for people aged 50+ and has expanded so much that there are 1000’s of WF teams throughout the UK and Europe.

https://www.imagekind.com/Soccer_art?IMID=9b45c8da-3bc5-4386-acf6-4de08ca15392

At Barnet Football Club we have 2 weekly sessions and there is plenty of opportunity to take part in competitions too. I, however, do not get involved in these. A practical reason is that as I have not yet retired, I do not have spare time during the week.  The second reason is that I do not like the way that competitive games make me behave. I took part in a tournament last June and I played quite well. My team got to the semi-finals and among my team mates, developed a reputation for being a pragmatic, no-nonsense player. This is code for saying that I kicked opponents and demonstrated toughness and gamesmanship. My colleagues liked it and to be honest, I enjoyed their plaudits. However, aggression is a bad, if unapparent trait in me and considering I once ruptured my ACL trying to foul somebody, I do not wish to tap into it again. Also, it is not how a middle aged person should behave. Absolutely. Not.

I took up football again because I wanted to get fit doing a sport I love and to make new friends. Whenever we play I spend much of the time laughing out loud and enjoying the fact that the many errors we make are funny. I know I look foolish trying to do something I couldn’t even execute properly in my teens but I’m amused that my brain still imagines me doing a back-heel, even though my chocolate knee crumbles each time I pivot on it. Last year, two teenage footballers were watching our slow clumsy efforts through the fence. As I trotted towards them to collect the ball, one of them called out ‘’Scuse me, are you playing Walking Football?’ After I confirmed her suspicion, she turned to her conspirator and gleefully told her; ‘You see, they’re meant to be slow. Dummy!’

This filled me with joy. The idea that two people were mesmerized not by our prowess or rugged mature looks (yes, somebody did suggest this) but by the fact that we reminded them of their parents or quite probably; their grandparents but doing things parents and grandparents simply do not do.

Our football group is diverse. We have a men with new hips and knees, a female (although once upon a time we had more), a typical ‘London’ racial mix and some younger men that contribute towards the evening with passion and energy. The group, however, has changed. As recently as last summer we had four or five other, much better players all of whom have moved on, I understand, to higher planes of walking football. On one level I prefer this because as one of the better Mediocres, I look better by their absence but I am also disappointed to have learned that these people, all of whom I like, have rejected the pleasures of playing among mixed ‘talents’ and are aiming towards excellence.  

1973; our knees could bend without snapping

Walking Football has done a strange thing; it has brought back dreams to some ageing men. When we began I was enchanted by the notion that I could once again play the sport until I die. Something that abandoned me in the 1990’s had returned and I had my chances again. I love buying boots and other bits of kit and feel a real sense of recreational purpose. I did not however dream of being a champion. When I sat down to write this piece I was minded to be critical of those who have moved on but in writing this I realise it would be churlish to deny them their fantasy. After all, why should their dream be less valid than my non-dream?

So I say ‘go for it boys, just don’t get hurt’.

Duck Billed Platitudes

For my sins I was scanning my Facebook page and was found by a video of an Australian male offering unique advice on how to expand ones consultancy and coaching business. Like any sucker that momentarily forgets that an advertiser is only promoting for his own benefit, I watched 2 minutes of his pitch. Idiot me. This now means that Facebook have told this person I am interested and now I’m sure to get all sorts of unsolicited messages.

The video was captivating to start but as soon as I heard him saying that people like me adopt a marketing plan based on hope rather than strategy I realised that this youthful wide boy was making wild assumptions as well as being patronising and incorrect. His one astute comment; that freelancers are deeply interested in doing what they do was nullified by the claim that freelancers do not want to invest in building their passion into a proper business because they just want to do their work. His whippersnapper error was thinking that we come at it without experience or market knowledge. I turned off realising that nothing is new.

Over the last year I have faced several challenges in business but have come through them. My colleagues and I have achieved this by being dogged, persistent, flexible and above all, client centred. We have also reminded ourselves that rules are there to be adhered to only as far as the letter is concerned and that their spirit is not so important. Like the Video Boy above who pretends he is in it to help others, rules are only really there to benefit the rule makers. We cannot break rules, especially moral ones and those that are bound by law, but with experience we can learn to manipulate them. Having just Googled ‘How to get more coaching and consultancy clients’ I have found several organisations that offer the same as Video Boy and at a glance (I refused the cookie assault option) most appear to be fronted by young sales people of the same ilk that used to sell double glazing, used cars and Encyclopaedias. Not only is nothing new, but it is clear that selling services and products is still being done in the same old pushy style as ever before. Tap into peoples’ frailties and convince them that as it was you that guessed their weaknesses, you can fix them.

Some years ago I asked a psychologist friend what she thought of Neuro Linguistic Programming (a.k.a. NLP) and she replied ‘same old wine, new bottles.’ Nowadays you’re more likely to hear people discussing CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and believe me, it is once again that same soured vinegar but now it’s in biodegradable bottles.

Last night we dined in a very pleasant Indian restaurant in a London suburb that served delicious subcontinental dishes in small portions and labelled them ‘tapas’.  It reminded me of Cuisine Nouvelle from the 1980’s and more recently, Balti style Indian food which still exists but has, I am reliably informed, retreated to Birmingham.

My point dear reader is that as we creep over the calendar border into a new Anno Domini, you should eschew resolutions and avoid pressurising yourself just because other people are telling you to. By all means pick a new name for what you are selling and begin a new health regime but do it when it suits you, not when the media and pushy sales people from Slimming World or WW decide you should.

Change and improvement is always possible and even when it seems improbable, it is worth trying but to give yourself the best chance; do it when you want to.

Remember; a carrot is worth more than a stick because it helps you see in the dark.

carrot-stick-article

CREDITS

This is not the video I saw, but it is similar: https://milliondollarcoach.com/events-aus/

image; https://medium.com/@Bravado/on-closing-week-quotas-and-pushy-salespeople-8204164b3ee

image: http://www.mcpheeandrewartha.com.au/motivating-employees-carrot-stick/

The loneliness of the long distance training deliverer (and other stories)

I recently I took part in the London Adidas City Run. Along with my close friend, Gis, we ran for 60 non-stop minutes around a marked-out circuit by St Paul’s Cathedral, London. This was a culmination of ten month’s training that began with the couch-to-5k programme which helped us develop from two slow moving middle aged men into two fit slow moving middle aged men that can run 7.25 km in an hour.

When in 1970 we were forced during PE lessons to take part in our school’s weekly road-run, we habitually finished in positions 28 and 29 out of 30 boys. We couldn’t run and hated the pain, the humiliation and the bullying PE teachers (in those days the sports teachers were barely qualified to do anything other than wear tracksuits and go bald in their twenties). REN RUN2

By contrast, The Adidas City Run was a fantastic triumph. The feel-good factor kicked in after 40 minutes and I completed the last third of the event with a smile on my face and a literal spring in my step. I felt as though I was in a great new place and fuelled by the optimism of finding an activity I can potentially do until my legs give up I grinned my way to the finishing line.

Three days later I delivered a training session. It was miserable.  Regular readers will know that I have been training people at work for many years and I can predict within minutes of starting a session how it’s going to turn out. I arrived on time but the company I was doing it for had not arranged for an up to date Laptop and my memory stick just wouldn’t load properly. By the time it was working the delegates had already settled down and I knew that all they had seen of me was my back. I was immediately on the defensive because normally I like to greet the delegates as they file in because the mutual smiling and eye contact has an immediate atmosphere warming effect.

Eventually the computer worked. I was able to deliver and perform to a good level for a full 16 minutes and 14 seconds, at which point when an embedded video begins, it failed. The screen froze while the projector spewed out white hot light. The only way I could show the video to the delegates was to invite them to gather around the laptop. I attempted to paint the moment as cosy but it was painfully obvious that of the 8 people, 3 of them, possibly because they were from ‘management’, were uncomfortable with rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi (their thoughts, not mine).

The mechanics of the event were pathetic. The company had organised it poorly and annoyingly this reflected badly on me and affected my performance. I stuttered and stumbled and at one point even forgot a definition I have been explaining for 12 years. What was worse was that this was my own material! The responses from the group were at a low level throughout and to a trainer this is dreadful because whatever the underlying reasons, it means I was not engaging with them and this was my fault. I can usually break through barriers but sometimes the frustration gets a grip and once my mood drops it’s hard to ‘keep the dressing room’.

In the past I have dealt with technology failure by delivering ‘naked’. The results can be much better and the learners, by having no choice but to focus on me rather than a screen, usually respond better. I wish I had thrown the laptop away and done the brave thing on this occasion but I was aware that I was rusty and opted to hold onto the crutch that calls itself Power Point.

The lesson from the week?

Practice.

My running has grown better and better with practice and attention to detail. By contrast, my training session was below standard because I had not rehearsed it enough and when the little glitches came along, I allowed them to derail me. It’s all very obvious, but sometimes one needs a reminder and this is it.

 

Walk This Way. Life lessons from Walking Football

 

Arriving at Barnet’s Hive to play Walking Football (WF), I felt that same trepidation and excitement as when I first played. I hadn’t kicked a ball in eight years and I later learned that others hadn’t done so in decades. As I looked around at this sample of middle age Britain, I realised that at 58, I was neither the youngest nor the oldest. To be honest, I looked at some of the other players and wrote them off because of their physical appearance.Aerosmith13

LESSON ONE; never write anybody off! As we began playing regularly we got fitter, better and some rediscovered close-ball skills they thought were lost.  

Coaches know that practice leads to improvement yet WF shows that this can happen at practically any age. Forgotten abilities return, albeit at a lower level and poignantly this rediscovery triggers enthusiasm and joy.

As a work-place coach I help people improve performance. Whether in an office, classroom or restaurant kitchen I know by guiding them back to their motivation, their work (with further input from technical experts) will meliorate.

I ruptured my ACL 21 years ago and consequently have a biscuit leg. Walking Football suits me and my best contributions are when I stick to the classic lean moves of STOP the ball, CONTROL, DISTRIBUTE/SHOOT. BARNET

Even if I wanted to walk/dribble at pace I couldn’t and hope that once the sport’s laws are officialised it becomes three-touch. WF also reminds us of the value in playing economically and does not suit those that still try to go it alone.  

LESSON TWO: I was coaching the directors of a group of Boutique Hotels who were getting deeply confused by overcomplicated accounts processes (management accounts, forecasts etc). I suggested comparing the whole business to a football team and to decide which player the finance office was. We settled on Defensive Midfielder because the tasks were clear; STOP (or reduce) money going out, CONTROL it once it was in (bank and log it correctly) and DISTRIBUTE it properly. We know that these functions should be undertaken by all players (and hence other departments), but by letting managers visualise the department as a particular position, it became easier to communicate to other sections.

LESSON THREE:  A key technique of WF is not to pass ‘into space.’ To find your teammate you must pass to feet or risk the ball flying into touch. We learn to play to where our colleague is rather than where they will be. It’s a great life lesson; listen to peers and customers and provide what is needed right now; tomorrow may never come.

To conclude, the reduced speed of Walking Football forces re-evaluation. You’d assume that older people would readily adapt to playing slowly but strangely even with leaden legs the mind still wants you to run. Football and work activities all tap into old habits. These habits can actually change, but to facilitate this we have to slow down, contemplate and practice.  

 

 

Elemental Child, the legacy of an Electric Warrior.

When Marc Bolan died 40 years ago it wrecked me.

I had just returned to London from a gap year that had been interesting and inspiring but also rather lonely and sad. Then on the night before Marc’s demise I’d been out on an abject failure of a first (and last) date and so my state of mind on the morning of 16 September 1977, even before I heard of his fatal crash, was fragile.

Overall, I was already in limbo. My ‘world tour’ was behind me and a new start in Higher Education was about to begin. On the surface you might think that optimism could kick in and I’d able to pick up my spilled heart and soul and look forward to the future but in fact I just wanted to crawl away and hide.electric warrior

My father was due to take his car to be serviced in Camden Town (a half way point between our home in North London and his office in Trafalgar Square) and I was filling in my ‘between time’ by working with him in his office. He woke me up early and already crestfallen, I stumbled into his car. As we drew into the garage the 7 am news came on the radio and Marc’s death was the first item. The shock was so real that it felt like the news reader had punched her fist out of the car radio’s speaker and her corny withered witch’s hand was strangling me. For a month the media had been bleating about Elvis’s death and as if it were a punishment for me caring not-a-jot about it, my heart ached and cried like those of the Presley fans just 30 days before. This type of grief was a first for me. Although I had recently lost a close relative the fact that a celebrity with whom I had chosen to connect had been snatched away was somehow even worse.

My immediate unplanned reaction was to become silent. I was struck dumb as we left the car and took the underground further, deeper into the hell of Dandy’s underworld that was central London that day. I certainly didn’t want to share my feelings with my father who had not even noted the news item and I fell into a near-to-tears state when my mother subsequently phoned the office to tell me – like I didn’t already know- what had happened. She understood my feelings and did at least know who Marc was and why his poster brothered up to those of Bowie and Queen on my bedroom wall. My father knew of the posters too but wrote them off as a gaggle of effeminate degenerates that didn’t merit further thought.

I couldn’t concentrate on work that day (so nothing changed there huh? Ed) and the events melded into a sweaty fatberg of misery. Although my friends called me to offer commiserations my mood darkened as I started to construct a triple headed persecution complex:

  1. My year away bore no obvious (at the time) benefits.
  2. The girl of my dreams had sailed off into somebody else’s reality and
  3. The rock star whose chords I could manage to strum was gone.

Some weeks later I started my degree. I had to commute 2 hours each way each day by bus and many of my in-transit minutes were spent writing out my unfolding thoughts. I think now that it was during this soggy autumn period that I was visited by the trait of sarcasm. I realise that until this point I fought off life’s disappointments with a wounded shrug and a dose of self-loathing but now I was grasping the nettle of cynicism and sardonic bitterness it actually helped.

I haven’t lost this attitude, indeed I appreciate the powers of ironic comment and dry humour as they exist as a result of common human experiences of emotional pain. If life were always happy, we’d have no reason to have invented coping mechanisms.

Marc’s death punctuated the end of a very difficult year. At the time it felt like a full stop to everything I yearned for but in retrospect I can see that it gave me the pen/sword, the paper/shield and the Ellipses… to go on. And I did.

“Life’s a gas and I hope it’s going to last”

More in Marc? Click here: https://ozenzero.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/blackstar-mercury-crimson-moon-part-1-of-3/

Blackstar Mercury & Crimson Moon (Part 1 of 3*)

When our teenage heroes die they cannot be replaced for as we continue to grow the wool lifts from our eyes. We see more clearly now yet pay the price with the coin of fading dreams.

16:09 21:11 11:01

 

“Sad to see them mourning you when you are there

Within the flowers and the trees”

 

When David Bowie died earlier this year the third and final corner of my holy-holy (rock) triangle became complete. His death is a deeply sad thing yet it was easier for me to accept than those of Freddie in 1991 and Marc in 1977.

Perhaps this is because I am 39 years nearer to my own demise than when Bolan died (I was 19) and that during these intervening years many other people, both personally close and public figures have died too.

triangle

I was not used to death then, but am becoming so now.

It could also be however because as each of these three musicians have passed away, what they gave me has slowly worn away too.

I was more impressionable then than I am now.

When I first saw Bolan on television in 1971 his raw rock music, male/female image and ‘crying lamb’ vibrato voice amalgamated to shock me. This shock however was both enticing and intriguing. At the time somebody told me that he was bisexual which, I was also told, meant he had both male and female genitalia (I soon learned this was not the case, but it did introduce the concept of gender being a spectrum thing). The physical sex lives of celebrities has never really interested me (really who cares?) but what ‘got’ me about Marc was that he stood out as someone or even something different.

He was short (like me) in world of the tall.

He had dark curly hair (like me) in a world dominated by those with long straight flowing hair (curls needs years of patience until they reach the shoulder) and

he displayed confidence (unlike me), yet I got the hint that I could be a bit like him if I bought into my own shortfalls and attributes alike.

I know others have written similar words about Bowie, Mercury, Lou Reed and heaven help us even The Beatles (bland is as bland does), but I remember the facts – Marc was the first to twist things around and mix up social perceptions and dare I say; values. In my life at any rate.

What I also hold close about Marc was that for me least, his qualities were something I could strive towards. When I learned rudimentary guitar it was Marc’s songs that were the easiest to play. He was possibly a lesser musician than Freddie or David but I prefer to think he loved simplicity in music and knew that even if he always wrote around the same basic chords and structures, he knew that he could add colour and variety through his lyrics, his voice, his posturing and his passion. He showed that talent can lie in the performance even if it is not ocean deep. There was certainly some substance yet it was style that really enhanced it.

Marc also demonstrated that no matter how much you pout and pose, a cheeky wink and a laugh underlined that you should not take yourself too seriously. He didn’t pretend his lyrics uncovered the mysteries of life or would change the world and he was playful when others were falsely profound.

Proportionally his output (he died at 29) was probably more efficient than many of his longer living peers. The public knows his handful of long enduring rock songs which continue to feature in today’s Media namely in film and TV advertising but what is not widely known is that if you dig deeper into Marc’s early recordings and you’ll find a fantastic array of songs that pre-date pop culture and consumerism. Simple tracks that describe nature, love and interesting people. None of it is cynical or over complex and even now it can still restore the melodic soul. Seek and you shall find.

What I also miss about Marc was his music/performance ability to exclude nobody. Sure he probably upset many parents of the day by looking effeminate whilst talking and singing ‘macho’, but when we look back, people would have been at most confused because there was nothing about him that could promote genuine anger or offence.

He carried the Hippie ethic of peace and love from the late 1960’s into the new decade. He brushed the festival mud off the bell bottoms and added sequins. He kept the long hair but got it washed and cut by a hairdresser. He had earlier hit the London scene as a stylish mod and in fact he was really rather respectable throughout.

So when, a month to the day after Elvis’s passing, Marc died too and I lost the figure who had been the gatekeeper to my new era of awareness. He ushered my mind and opinions from childhood into that grey pre-adult zone and helped me sit up and think. His music, his image and even his personal downs and ups showed me a lot and sent me the clear message that even I should try to be a creative person. It was within reach.

I doubt if any of today’s super groomed, albeit talented performers such as Bieber and Adele can influence youngsters the same way. The message that insulates them is ‘if you have talent we’ll make us both rich’. This is counterbalanced by the grotesque X-factor idea of moulding money from little or zero talent. Either way the 21st Century is creating performers that appear viable on-stage yet vacuous elsewhere. Puppets, rich temporary puppets.

Marc showed how an individual, even without being a rebel or a trouble-maker could break through and use the system with a song, a dance and smile.

As Bowie said about Ziggy “Bye-Bye, we love him”

 

Lyric from the Song Child Star by Marc Bolan

Part 2 will appear on 21 November

Part 3 will appear in 11 January

marc-hooplane

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silent Horizon with Auditory Features

 

In conclusion there is silence

Yet before arriving there is noise, musing and meander

But for sure, the end is as it begins.

Summer for many people is a focal point. It is supposed to represent a pause in proceedings and an opportunity to rest and restore energy. It can also however be an unwelcome and abrupt halt. In fact to many, the whole concept of a hot August and its dog days conjures up images of sole-burning sand, pesky sun-in-the eyes and excessive heat. It becomes a hurdle to overcome before you can return to long sleeved, double-layered normality of cool.

 

Occurring soon after the year’s halfway mark, high summer is a period which peaks in mid-August, then plateaus and descends like a lava-skier down towards the calendar’s finale. People work/strive/limp towards it and with varying degrees and combinations of dread and excitement attempt to deal with it.

An often cited reason for taking a vacation is to relax. This, to me has long been a challenge and the proof is that despite my annual plea to my family to cajole me into booking the annual family trip early, I always leave it until late. I wait for the internal stress to boil up and the external familial bullying to reach a shrill pitch that usually with a few weeks to go, I relent and sort it out. Colleagues think I’m being laid back, my family think I don’t really care and the truth is that booking and embarking make my head whistle.

This whistle is not a metaphor either, it’s a thing of truth.

During moments of great pressure I get clattered by in-head voices. They start as a mumble and rise in pitch until I hear a high treble whirr that recreates the feeling of that self-inflicted in-flight yawn we create when the plane bang-whacks the altitude where ear-canals block. I become momentarily deaf and my hammer/anvil thump in tune with my heart to such intensity that I cannot tell which organ is calling me.

This moment is born from stress plus others peoples’ noises that amalgamate and become a pure fact that chases me inside myself. Within these sounds of patting and tapping a soft silent hand-like gesture sweeps my brain from nape to forehead and for a few absent seconds I crawl behind my closed eyes and engage a noiseless cocoon.

Yet this sensation has also happened during those all-too-few moments of personal greatness.

Once, when I unexpectedly won a sprint at junior school, another time when I was announced as the winner of a competition I hadn’t even entered and most recently when I opened an email to discover I’d been offered work by an organisation that had ‘released’ me four years previously. My internal reaction to triumph brings about the same sense of tinnitus as does my brain’s need for flight during fight.

What’s going on? How is it that moments of extreme, out-of-the blue, self-actualisation on one hand and cacophonous human vocal-screams on the other, both have the capacity to force me inside?

For some time I struggled to see how these sensations were connected, but three suns of conclusion have now dawned;

  1. I am not built to deal with the extremes of either success or conflict. This is odd because I have always purported to want success and anyone who knows me will tell you how I go to great lengths to avoid conflict. I suspect that somewhere ‘back there’ I’ve forged an agreement that offsets the horrors of litigation with holding back from real success.
  2. These moments, especially the good ones, belong to me and are not to be shared. I think this is partly because what I feel as something great e.g. having an article published in a magazine is seen as ‘nothing special’ by my peers.

But less literally I feel that every one of us feels differently and uniquely about stuff. Like that age old ‘When we both see the sky is blue, do we both see the exact same hue?’

{So, when a sports commentator asks an Olympic medal winner how she feels about her success, it’s not a dim question. The only regrettable thing is that we don’t have the words to express the personal truth.}

3. A way to digest and evaluate the extremes of life is to manage them in silence. There are times to spell it out / spill it out / shout / cry / punch the air / laugh aloud but these a short and sharp.

Silence, once under your control can be stretched and dwelled within.

A blanket in winter or

A reflective shield

During days of the summer diamond dog.

 

The Storm

 

PHOTOS:

http://www.fashionising.com/pictures/b–Vintage-inspiration-girl-in-the-bubble-4973.

html#/gallery/collection/10http://www.fashionising.com/pictures/b–Vintage-inspiration-girl-in-the-bubble-4973.html#/gallery/collection/4

flickr.com/photos/dfikar1/6837981235/

 

 

 

 

The Lady in Bed (birth and death in the Tropic of Cancer)

We were getting anxious watching RS twitching her arms involuntarily as she lay unconscious in the hospice bed.

Mark Rothko ‘Black on Maroon’, 1959
© Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 2016 Black on Maroon Mark Rotkho 1959

She was a small woman, just turned eighty six and was finally succumbing to the non-stop intestinal punches of her cancer. Apparently it was painless, this so-called silent condition that turned her skin yellow in a swift morning swoop some ten weeks ago. Cancer was making the effect crystal clear ‘You stay still while I bring on pneumonia bruises, collapsed lung wheeze and whatever else makes your breathing look heavy and laboured.’

She lay on the bed, tiny and still. Her left arm raised, but bent at the elbow as if to shade her closed eyes from the beam of sun that stimulated the particles of human dust. I doubted she wanted to shade off the brightness because I knew she loved to discover the rays of light but as my father sat beside me he claimed to know her discomfort and the closing of the curtain supported his theory.

As the nurse walked in, she sensed the two-pronged assault: my father and I with questions and her bed-ridden patient’s silent needs. No pleading eyes and no question marked voices from the lady in the bed, just a stationary silence punctuated by those painful-to-hear breaths.

As one rehearsed voice we told the nurse that the patient appeared unhappy and off-comfort limits.

After looking at her eyes, temples, cheeks, throat and brow the nurse told us that all was in fact as well as can be.

She explained that palliative care differs from ‘mending nursing’ because the aims are different. A cure sits behind us, dismissed and irrelevant. What we are looking for here is a smooth journey to the end. Comfort, softness, toned down voices and muffled tears. Nothing is sharp or angled or abrupt.

She explained that RS was communicating involuntarily, through body language. Her lifting arm notwithstanding, she was without facial tension and free from frown. Her small neck remained loose. The cancer pain was emotional and psychological but this time; not physical.

This was the fifth death from cancer I’ve witnessed in the last 28 months and the one I’ve lived with the most. The visits to doctors, the blood tests, the hospital stays, the parking problems and the surgery. But above all this detritus the human efforts to deal with and chip away at unfair mortality have impressed me the most.

There are so many people who care. Some, like the doctors are well paid. Most others however are not, yet they still manage to offer time, soft vocal tones and shared tears.

This cancer seemed to create a stoic calmness. I saw other patients’ families sharing my bitten lip and inner cheek. I saw other patients walking through the specialist’s door with steady gait and defiant purpose. Fear always there, yet hidden.

Four weeks ago, while we were waiting in the hospital coffee shop for my father to return with her prescription steroids, I asked RS if she agreed with the oncologist that she was battling cancer bravely. ‘It’s not a battle’ she tells me ‘I’m too tired to call it a fight’.

http://tattooizer.com/cancer-birth-sign-tattoos.htm

I have tried to remember other comments and quips that RS uttered in her last weeks, but cannot recall anything other than the silent sadness of (angry) resignation. The fighting bit was how she summoned up techniques from Tai-Chi and Yoga to exude a tranquil stance on her death bed. For whatever was going on in her mind and her heart, it remained hidden and muffled under the sheets of dignity.

From Hare to Tortoise Eternity

Three months ago I made my debut as a walking footballer.

Gis and I (we are both 58, he needs reminding, I never do), arrived at The Hive  at 6.55 pm on a typically cold February evening and along with a ‘real football’ coach and four or so other people we warmed up and played a 3-a-side version of this slow-motion form of sport. A hybrid of a hybrid if you like.

It was fantastic. Even the post-match aching calves and revisited crunches of my left titanium bolted knee couldn’t dampen the joy of a) scoring a goal and b) being back ‘in the game’. I’m not a competitive person, but for some reason scoring a goal has been a personal priority since I realised at the age of 11 that I was more a striker than a defender.

http://cartophilic-info-exch.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/ogdens-cigarettes-lady-cricket-football.html

Walking football in a nutshell:

  • It is real football. Make no mistake.
  • Players must be at least 50 years old.
  • It can be played with any number of players up to 11 per side.
  • The ‘head height’ rule applies.
  • You cannot ever run. To be clear, whether you are on the ball or trying to get into a position, you have to walk there. What is odd is that for a laggard like me, running to collect an over-booted, out-of the-stadium ‘can we have our ball back’ ball, becomes a pleasure. It creates a momentary need to achieve speed (NB momentary is the key word here).

What I have learned about people:

Last week I brought Barry along and at half time he commented ‘These people are taking this seriously’. It was quite ironic because I noted that Barry himself, during his ‘first 45’ missed two shots on goal and heavily cursed himself for it. What I think Barry meant was ‘I’m taking this seriously’. He went back the following day when another game was happening and scored.

Before Barry’s intervention I had not thought just how important the now weekly game had become to its participants. About a month ago, when the prospect of a tournament was raised, we were asked whether we wanted to partake in competitive matches or have more of a ‘kick about’. I was the only one that opted for the latter. Whatever that says about me, it shows that the other players want to play and they want to compete. In short, people need to win. Age, gender, past injuries notwithstanding, as humans we are programmed to need and strive for victory.

The Hive is aptly named. There are several pitches and come any weekday evening, all are well used by scores of youngsters buzzing, running and kicking around their respective pitches, all taking it seriously. I’m convinced that other than by the anxious observing parents we older folks are not noticed at all. But if the youths were to take note (by the way there are as many female as male players) they’d see that they are taking part in something that can now be done forever. A young person may not invest much time into thinking 45 years forwards, but when you are 45 years ahead of the lithe ones, being able to recapture some of the spirit is uplifting.

What I have learned about football and therefore…LIFE

A key skill in Running Football is the ability to pass the ball ‘into space’ i.e. the location where your colleague is not right now, but will be by the time ball, passed by you, arrives. Players are coached to do this from an early age and it’s a big part of the team ethic. I suggested earlier that I have a selfish need to score goals, this greed is not unique and as young players mature they learn to derive pleasure from passing well and from assisting their team mates.

In Walking Football you cannot pass into space because your colleague won’t get there, instead you have to pass it directly to them. It encourages different skills and challenges everything we learned when we were young.

Considering where somebody is now, rather than where they’ll be in the future is an appropriate metaphor for ageing. When you’re young tomorrow seems guaranteed. As we get on, the warranty cannot be extended no matter how much you pay.

From observing my co-middle aged players I have also noticed how many of us still have muscle and mental memory. It can lead to frustration because the body has become less able to carry out our minds’ instructions, but it’s intriguing to note that at 55, 65 and 75 we can have the same standards as we had ‘back in the day’. You can see it in our eyes. It’s good to make demands of yourself.