“What I did on my holidays” by Sparks, aged 29 ¾.
I hit the right note twice throughout. There’s probably some sort of prize if you can find when.
“What I did on my holidays” by Sparks, aged 29 ¾.
I hit the right note twice throughout. There’s probably some sort of prize if you can find when.
I would like to come inside, please.
Are you a member?
Yes! *holds up EHIC* I’ve been a member my whole life.
I’m sorry, sir, it says on my screen that your membership has been revoked as of June this year.
There must be some mistake – can you check again?
I’m afraid there’s no mistake. If you would like to follow me to the non-member’s lounge. Everything is the same, except far, far more expensive…
Topical…and a bit of a mis-truth. Passport Control was all automated! I didn’t even have to answer any awkward questions about why I’m visiting as I have had to do every time I’ve visited anywhere. They are clearly prepared to let just anyone in, which is good news for me, at least.
Needless to say, perhaps, part of what I wrote yesterday was also a lie. Not that I knew it at the time. As the blog was being published I was not in the afore promised steel bird thirty thousand feet in the sky. I was a mere six foot and one inch above the ground, in a pen at Gatwick airport awaiting a delayed flight. Not that is caused any great angst, but I’m ever one for accuracy in the detail. I only know one person who works for Easyjet so I will lay the blame at their feet until they buy me a beer.
When I was a child my dad built a bagatelle board; it’s a mini wooden pinball game where you fire a ball bearing into a board and you score points depending on where the ball comes to rest. The power of your shot (and luck) determines where the ball ends up as it follows the curves of the board. It was a wonderful feat, second (in my mind) only to the Scalextric track he built into the kitchen ceiling. This memory struck me when I was wandering the streets of Amsterdam, strangely enough. The city is a large-scale bagatelle board. (Punctuated by the canals), with the added attractions of a Tulip Museum and many coffee shops (as crazy as the 90s were I can forgive my dad for not thinking to add these in).
With a low to medium amount of power (4-5 mph) and relying more on luck than anything else, I fired myself out of Amsterdam Centraal station in search of something story-worthy. No matter what direction you head off in, the canals will herd you back to the centre until you either arrive back at Centraal (zero points) or a (not so) hidden gem (fifty points at least). Even on my first night I saw things I’m not sure I can even transcribe (although I’ll give them a hundred points).
In preparation for my visit, many of my friends had suggestions on what I should get up to. All of which gratefully received and gave me a hard choice about whether to spend more time doing one thing or another. Even though I’m not here for long its not something worth agonising over. I don’t want to try and do everything; if I feel I’ve missed something, I’ll just have to come back again.
I probably missed an awful lot to be honest, but I covered, pretty much, the whole city on foot and saw some awesome sights. The weather was perfect throughout. As I say, though, the goal wasn’t to see and do everything – I made sure I got some quality reading time in underneath my designated favourite tree. The Rijksmuseum is a fantastic collection of Dutch object d’art and paintings. Even I, who normally struggles to appreciate these things, was mesmerised at least once or twice. If that would not strike your fancy, I also visited Artis Zoo, where – for the first time ever – I saw a lion (that’s only notable really if you consider I went on safari, to see lions, and didn’t see a single one).
I marched off towards Museumplein without really any concrete idea as to where it was…but I knew I’d find it eventually – and it didn’t actually take all that long, which gave me more than enough time to explore the museums. Ditto the zoo in the afternoon. My sense of direction is something I’m starting to get quite proud of.
Everyone cycles here. If you hate cyclists you will hate Amsterdam. They will try to kill you if given the opportunity. I know not so much of the Olympic cycling events, but a photograph of Amsterdam is probably strikingly similar to an MRI of Bradley Wiggins’ brain; every traffic light is like the opening stage of the Tour de France. I like to think I put myself in others’ shoes, I fear that Pavlov’s dog would have some sort of nervous breakdown.
There are many coffee shops here, and they got busier and busier as the night wears on. There must be some pretty hardcore coffee drinkers here as there were bouncers on the doors too. I am not a coffee drinker (I was offered it once and always politely decline nowadays), nevertheless, I am still familiar with that clawing scent it has – I am always intrigued when I happen across a new one. Amsterdam is a very green city.
It is only Day Two and they have already come to accept me as one of their own. I was sat in a cafe and was approached by a stranger who spoke to me in full and free-flowing Dutch (gold star to me for not looking like a tourist). After I explained I was a bit clueless, they explained they were offering me their crisps as they were not going to eat them and thought I may appreciate them. A grand act of kindness, that is probably the norm; as a Londoner though, it took a lot for me not to eye them suspiciously.
I haven’t learned as much Dutch as I would have liked, but I am trying where I can. Plus everyone speaks English,even when I speak (what I think is) Dutch. I’ve come to the opinion that in most passer-by interactions it’s a good opportunity for me to practice my French. The only one thing better than having people think that I am a doughnut Englishman who couldn’t be bothered to learn the language…
Up with the sparrows tomorrow to make my merry way to Brussels and onward home. It has been a whirlwind, but for a solo tour, I think it’s just about right (for me, anyway). I have enjoyed each minute of this, but I’m ready to tackle the challenges of home again with a renewed vigour – or find new ways not to need to tackle them at all…
The Sign of One by Eugene Lambert: Dystopian fiction about twins. What’s not to like?
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett: There were no public health laws in Ankh-Morpork. It would be like installing smoke detectors in Hell.
Playlist for today:
Steve ‘n’ Seagulls – Thunderstruck: For those who like Finnish Bluegrass. I prefer to the original. They also do a good cover of Nothing Else Matters, which is well worth a search.
Neu! – Isi: Timeless krautrock (I had to look up the name of the genre…) to reflect on a good day had. Some easy listening as I sit in the hostel bar and write this.
Tulip Count: 3
Clog Count: 5 (…pairs, not individual. That would be, and is, in fact, odd.)
Windmill Count: 0. Disappointed.
For as long as I can remember (which is a much better way of saying, ‘for the last couple of weeks’) I have always believed that you shouldn’t run away from anything. That is not to say, you shouldn’t run; running is probably priority one in a number of scenarios (fire; tiger escape from zoo; free cheesecake). You should never run away from anything. Everywhere you run should be towards something instead, even on days when it seems like you’re heading right back where you started.
And we run. We are always running – from the second we open our eyes in the morning to the very moment they close again at the end of the day. Sometimes the only way to take a pause (perhaps rather counterintuitively) is to pack a bag and escape a while.
Every journey starts with a single step. If anyone else were to make a journey they would have probably considered the first step more than a little carefully, and pondered over what the first single step should be. I, however, can’t remember exactly which single step I made was the first one, the one that led me to the plane I’m currently sat on (yes, at the time this is published, I am on a steel bird about 30,000 feet in the air). It isn’t that I haven’t thought through exactly what I’m doing here, rather, I’ve thought rather too much about it. So much, in fact, that I never really thought I’d get here at all. So I sat and considered until my mind had to make a pit-stop from the racing it was doing.
Imagine a toddler, on a picnic blanket looking up and around at everything going on around them having nowhere particular to go, but knows full well that they are not sure they want to be where they currently are. The toddler does not really consider the step, and definitely doesn’t consider the route, but, with great effort albeit without much eloquence, they pick themselves up and toddle. Not one step, but several uneven lurching steps with no ideal destination. Probably in search of cake.
Perhaps, a better analogy is the drunk student ejected from their usual haunt and is keen to find another place to wind away the hours. Spoilt for choice, and yet with no focus on where to end up…and far far too early to call it a night. One step forward; three to the side; a twist and shuffle – something more closely resembling a dance notation than a plan. But even dance notation has a clear and unambiguous meaning, despite not being clear to everyone. Perhaps not even to the drunken student making the moves.
A drunk toddler dancing unsteadily into the dark night towards a night club which may or may not have cake. That is probably the easiest way of describing how I have come to be where I am now. The hard work has been done already; from this point, all encounters are down to chance, despite being masked as meticulous detail.
So I’m going on an adventure. I have little, if any, hopes and expectations, which will either be the making or the breaking of this mini-tour. It is, by no means, a grand expedition but a fun one nevertheless. My chief weapon is fun…and peacefulness. My two weapons are fun and peacefulness…and the unexplored….
It has had its moments, but I’ll be temporarily putting down the pen which has written the zombie-horror that has been 2016. Instead, I’m running head first towards a blank page I intend to fill using a set of brightly coloured felt tips (or anything that can produce a vivid, abstract contrast to what has come before).
Onward to peace and relaxation
Easyjet Safety Card.
Playlist for today:
Bo Burnham – Left Brain, Right Brain. The man manages both thought-provoking and comical. Plus, I’m deciding which side of the brain I need to switch off… probably both. (Note he can be quite colourful in how he speaks…)
Within Temptation – And We Run. I will be arriving in Holland in about an hour from now; the home of this band. In a world where many opinions are stated as facts: Symphonic Metal is up there as one of the best genres of music.
It’s been a while since I posted here.
It is not because I have forgotten; I’ve been working on projects, including one for the blog for the last however long.
Perhaps it is apt that the topic I am covering is that of silence.
There are many different types of relationships present in this world. A lot of them are created and held together by different causes or interests. A joint interest in a topic can bolster a friendship; a shared dislike of something will instantly create an ally; but these are only a fragment of the kind of bonds people form throughout their life. There are all those people out there you are side by side with, interdependent with perhaps who you will never meet but have a level of understanding.
A nodding acquaintance, I suppose. The people you may see on the train everyday; the person who has the same gym schedule as you; your neighbour who spends their day on their front lawn. The stories behind the transition from silent cameo to ensemble cast member can quite often be interesting, and are – obviously – not a rare occurrence. One would point out that just as all strangers are friends we are yet to meet, so must friends have been strangers once upon a time.
Some stranger than others.
There is no template for what one considers a friend/enemy/lover/acquaintance;they cannot be grouped into types/pots/divisions. Each relationship is unique, there are as many different branches of relationship as there are people on this earth. The fascinating thing (for me, perhaps only me, at least) is how each of these relationships defines – or is defined by – the exchange of words.
A kind word is not dependent on familiarity. Indeed, there are people in my life I know very little about who have my kindest words bestowed on them; there are people I know very well who will receive none. I think we have kind words for all our friends, but as I say above, the relationships are built on different things and so equally differ in what we talk about. I don’t think its an usual thing – shared\alternative history will usually create different points of perspective.
The most interesting to me though, the part that intrigues the most is what doesn’t get said in any given relationship. Where does the boundary lie with ‘too much information’? Why can I not share things with my bus driver that I share with my significant other? Then, flip-side that for fun, and what do I share with my bus driver I do not share with my SO. Probably nothing, to be honest – but, extreme examples aside, its something ponderable.
Every relationship is a collaborative journal and need not share any features of the ‘Also by this author’. Not better, or worse – just different. People cannot be ranked, rated or pigeon-holed; the many branches reach far, they reach wide; some are stronger, broader and older – but all are vital to the tree.
This the relevant segment of a piece I’ve been working on [I’m not yet completely happy with it] (*), and will be following up (hopefully relatively soon) with an expanded version, exploring a few other things. As per standard practice in this day and age with fiction – allow yourself to feast on the beginning, a teaser, if you will, of Across the Table.
*This is transcribed from my notebook…I’ve made changes and haven’t quite settled with them yet [/excuse]
She spotted him and hurried across. He was already sat; it was three minutes past the hour. She was late. The concern was all hers, since he was smiling as he spotted her, and rose to his feet. Thirty seconds before he had been as agonised as she appeared now – in her presence his demeanour became calmed. A close glance would see his glassy eyes remain; but that was not something to be shared.
A brief kiss, and a tentative hug, before they sat together across the table. She was visibly calmer but was still silent – both had been silent. Their eyes were betraying them both, as each became further lost in their soundless converse. Her cool exterior was a lie, his frenetic state equally so. They looked across the divide and saw only a pale reflection of their companion. Their silent words had carried them too far away from one another.
He held out his hand.
“I’ve missed you,” sang the outstretched palm.
The hand propping up the chin had not heard him over the muted sound of fingers drumming her lower lip. The rhythmic pattern was enough to convince her she was doing enough to bridge the gap , but not enough for the weight of words to get across. Her second hand partnered her first and her elbows met the table as she did so, bringing her nearer and yet no closer.
“I’ve missed you too,” her hands had become too tired and her eyes took up the slack. They answered the call of his palm, but spoke to his eyes instead as her gaze shifted from the table. Her eyes could talk freely, unfettered by the fear held in her hands.
“What shall we do now?”, as his hands moved to mirror hers, his fingers held like a prayer, pressed firmly upon his closed lips. They were inches apart, eyes locked. They had become each other’s whole world.
She had no answer and remained unmoved. As far as she could tell, they had both found solace in the silence, but both had been very different. Hers was close and packed so tightly it was impossible to see out clearly – his was a vacuum where everything within was pulled out of reach. This single difference was what was creating a divide between them and would be the cause of the still moment reaching its close. Their mutual veneer of comfort started to chip away the moment she parted her lips:
“I’ll get you a coffee,” it was he who spoke first as he rose from the table and made his way to the counter, not awaiting a reply. She looked to him but he had already gone. She turned her head and re-acquainted herself with the surroundings; the coffee house was in full vibrance and in full voice – as she looked at all the faces around her she realised how alone she was.
Within a few minutes he was, again, across the table with a coffee for her and a smile for himself. The silence had been an unbearable torment and he was not displeased that it had been him who had put it to its death. It had cost him a few moments delay – two and half minutes away from her – and three-pounds ninety-nine, but if that was the price of a ticket from limbo then he considered it more than fair.
“Thank you,” she spoke. Her accent fondled the syllables with a delicate touch, eliciting from him an imperceptible shudder and an even wider smile. For the moment, their move to spoken theatre was not the resounding failure he had initially considered; although cliché, coffee was an ideal icebreaker, but would not be a recurring topic.
“The coffee here was always good,” she continued, “I’ve missed it more than I thought I would”. He had been mistaken, perhaps – he was willing to talk with her about anything; even the coffee (which he never had developed a taste for) would sustain him for the short while before what was to come next.
“You are so, so right,” he turned his head away and studied nothing in particular on the far ceiling; “Maybe,” he paused for a moment before, “maybe, it is why we keep finding ourselves here.”As he finished he turned to her again, but now his eyes had become inflamed as they frantically scanned her face for any indication, a definite indication, of her emotion. He had always thought, up to this point, that he was skilled in the art of reading faces; the lines which tracked her journey through life. She had been untouched by time Herself and remained as youthful as she had been when his eyes first fell upon her; his beautiful enigma.
“Perhaps.” She agreed despite acknowledging the polite lie. They were both playing roles and reciting their well-rehearsed lines as consummate professionals. Somewhere along the way, she couldn’t pinpoint exactly when, the script had changed as their story developed; neither had yet seen the opportunity to reflect this in their dialogue. Without a prompt behind the scenes she knew the next move would need to be improvised. She sought inspiration out the window and to the rain rapping against the panes, until deciding against it.
He saw her hesitation and pounced on it with his own. He was saddened at the thought of their mutual silence, yet he could, neither, think of anything to say. That is, rather, he could think of nothing easy to say – everything had become so difficult in the last few moments, perhaps for them both. He had counted seven different paths of conversation he could take – none of them led to safety, warmth or comfort. The gentle and beautiful creature in front of him was as much the danger as the damsel.
She still hadn’t returned her eyes to his face and she, briefly, caught a glimpse of the world beyond. Context was a strange beast – the fear she had seen in him (and within herself) was nothing to compare with that from afar. He had always kept her from the terror, but now it seemed to seep from him. In fear she stepped forth as she looked at him with renewed resolve; he was not someone to be feared – they would always keep each other safe from the pains life brings, one way or another.
She was ready, and she spoke having placed her hands in his:
“He’s asked me to marry him.”
Wish You Were Here
May 4th 2008
Another string on a much smaller bow.
Language is both wonderfully diverse and startlingly unique. It brings us together as human beings while dividing us in the same terms.
The words you speak say so much more about you than the message contained therein. The message is the canvas, with the smallest and faintest of outlines, nothing on its own; the words – however – are the colours, the tones, the highlights; and they are all yours to choose.
A differing medium to portray the same can, quite literally paint a very different picture as the artist throws their very own interpretation on their subject. Perhaps forgoing the fine detail or, maybe, abandoning the original outline altogether in favour of something new.
We may not see ourselves as such, but we are all artists, with our metaphorical paintbrushes in equally metaphorical hands. There are those which shine at this artistry and there are others who, clearly baulk at the prospect.
However, words are not alone in their task of making our counterparts understand our message. Anything one being does that has an effect on another should be held up alongside. Art, theatre, music, even mathematics – all of these are examples of parts of our culture which have an innate effect on us, and this list is by no means exhaustive.
I visited one of the larger art galleries my city has to offer not too long ago; on the whole, I see the beauty and am aware of what the artist is trying to put across. Yet I do not appreciate this effort in anywhere near the same terms as I would in a piece of literature, for example.
The message within a painting, or a portrait, is not something I can interpret nearly as well as one I can gleam from a metaphor or aphorism in a phrase or lyric. This, by no means, makes me stupid (only in my own opinion) but perhaps highlights my point:-
The nub of what I want to get across is the idea that there are a near infinite way of communicating with fellow man, and language is only one. It is an important one; it is a prevalent one; on occasion however, to re-appropriate (and misappropriate) a Churchill quote, words are the worst way to get your point across, except for all the others.
In one word I could describe a cow as ‘cow. In two, it could be ‘brown cow’, in three, ‘big brown cow’. Keep adding one after the other, only by adding more and more chunks on can any additional information be gleaned. There is a reason the phrase, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ is so commonplace. In its own way, it is quite true. A picture may (arguably) be the better way to confirm the way to Amarillo, or to show you a big brown cow.
Is it a quizzical cow? There is no way to tell in the picture for certain, except for my caption underneath. (I decided it is!). So there are some things, language is strong at – and others where it seriously falters. With a limited scope, it suddenly becomes quite an inefficient way of communicating.
When I was younger, and quite bored – I was taking a walk and decided to practice my schoolboy French (probably giving far too much about myself away…). There was to be no thought running through my brain unless it could be transcribed into the French vernacular. It was quite remarkable, as my language skills are notable only by their absence. This is an extreme example, perhaps, but I found that my ideas slowly started grinding to a halt as I was fumbling over the most basic of terms, verbs and tenses. Something one would usually consider as quite vibrant became incredibly generic as I struggled over vocabulary.
A ranging vocabulary is key to being able to paint a lexicographical picture. It is dependent on two, or more people being able to communicate using the same words. This means, I am not suggesting that the largest vocabulary is the best. If someone knows 25,000 words, but those around them are aware of only 20,000 – that’s 5000 wasted words. This is true of slang and colloquial words too – if two people can express their feelings to one another bae using their best turns of phrase – then it is a worthwhile feat.
I discussed with a friend of mine the idea of how language may be now holding us back, rather than furthering our understanding of the world around us. Man was developing language at the same time as they were putting together basic tools. Words have adapted and evolved a great deal in the time between then and now; the basic tools have also, but they have been abandoned, replaced, re-hashed and re-invented (flint –> scythe –> laser-cutter). We are still using collections of sounds to portray so much, while still having many things remaining indescribable.
As new things come to pass, new words come in to describe them, but if you imagine being able to define each thought in our head on every minute of a clock-face, perhaps the words we use can only define the ones which fall on each hour-mark. There is so much being missed – perhaps, it is because I am inadequate at explaining my own thoughts – but I am nervous of believing this is the case.
I oversimplify, for my own amusement, and even having written 910 words on the subject already, perhaps that is not enough – or I haven’t picked the right ones. There may be a single word in a foreign language to describe all the above. Quite simply, as I search for a way to make my thoughts as clear as possible I wonder if words may not be the answer. I await a time where people can share their emotions, ideas, dreams without the need for this enforced filter. Telepathy, second sight…or another word yet to find its way into being.
Live long and prosper.
I am a lover not a fighter.
I have a mean right-hook when it comes into play, though – but, thankfully irrelevant to the rest of what I want to say. In fact, it probably is in direct contravention.
As any sports (or RPG) fan will be aware – if you do not have a good attacking set-up ready to play; your defence has to be watertight. I wasn’t really considering sports (or RPGs) when I pondered on this but they do act as a good metaphor for life, which is what I was anticipating.
My godfather gave me a piece of advice some years ago. It was a very strange thing but had a certain charmed logic to it (a feature most things I remember seem to share). Advice is as follows (I paraphrase): –
If you are stopped in the street late at night, by person (or persons) looking to rob, steal, malign etc. When they make their demand, whatever it is they say, you reply while looking them squarely in the eye and say:
“Just wait and see about that man over there on the wall – he’s not happy and I never done nothing.”
In the – inevitable – confusion, run…or punch him in the face.
Non-sequiturs are the way forward, apparently. It is never something I’ve put into practice,
Where I can help it, you won’t find me in conflict any more; the gains are never as appealing as what I stand to lose. At best, I will have proven myself correct and put someone firmly in their place (one way or another). At worst, I’ve got a bloodied nose (metaphorical or otherwise) and a bruised ego. I – genuinely – don’t understand the point of view of people who look for a fight at a moment’s notice. It doesn’t really prove anything, except, perhaps, a weak argument.
Do not mistake this with a condescending I am mighter than thou. I am, perhaps, the angriest, most confrontational person going. The first thought in a conflict is always fuelled by anger, the second, however, is ‘Where’s the fun…?’
That is the question I ask myself most in – pretty much – every human interaction. Where’s the fun? I interchange ‘human interaction’ with ‘conflict’ here, because I, quite honestly, find both equally challenging at times. If you don’t have an attack ready, my best defence is the product of wondering ‘where did all the good times go?’ People use the word ‘deflection’ as if it is a bad thing. I only partially agree: deflecting from an issue, if done right (as many, many years of practice can guarantee) can be most helpful.
It is not a badge you wear with pride, it is an armour you wear beneath (with or without badges of any inwardly directed emotion). It is the defensive play; the Hail Mary pass. Anything un-towards, or unexpected comes forth it can be held calmly and firmly – until an appropriate response can be called from the depths within.
It is simple one liner; or something slightly more off-the-wall, dependent on who you’re speaking to, I suppose. Anything that can both hold true while the brain struggles for facts. Having done this for so many years it is almost seamless and beyond concious effort (almost frustratingly). As reflex actions go, it is both a support, and a crutch – one you can hit people with every once and a while…
This sort of practice is far from unique, and something that everybody does (although mostly is a one-off method of avoidance rather than a way of life). It gets to the point where it surpasses the intended shielding of personality and, instead, gets out of hand and develops one of its own. Yes, it is an armour, a mask, a shield – but has a heart, brain and sovereignty defined outside of the one ascribed to myself – separated only by a pair of tired eyes.
Humour is great. It is one of the few aspects in life that can truly surprise an over-thinker like me; the opportunity to go off-piste is always all too appealing. Comics and stand-ups are often attributed as being deflectors and joke just to get through awkward situations. I don’t wish to make myself sound professional at anything; I suppose I am an aspiring apprentice.
Good excuse to finish with some of my favourite one-liners below.
I remember one time my uncle asked me to spell “schadenfreude” and I couldn’t. But he’s dead now and I’m not, so I win. – Gary Delaney (@GaryDelaney)
Banstead library has updated it’s internet service. It’s very very quick now although obviously I have to factor in the walk from my house. – Tim Vine (@RealTimVine)
Militant feminists, I take my hat off to them, they don’t like that. – Milton Jones (@TheMiltonJones)