Monthly Archives: January 2013

I’ve booked a flight

And now I am panicking.

I really don’t like flying at all. Back in the day I used to be ok about it, more or less, and when I had to book a flight I was fairly price sensitive and that was it. Now I have all kinds of things I have to factor in to the decision to buy a ticket: air safety records, age of fleets, flight route, type of airplane (which I forgot to check and am kicking myself), passenger reviews, number of stars given to the airline by Skytrax and so on and on.

It turns out that trying to book a flight keeping all these criteria in mind is impossible and leaving making the booking any longer was causing its own particular variety of stress and anxiety: the no-choice-of-carrier-or-route-or-price angst. I couldn’t book last night when I found a suitable British Airways flight because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink, so I thought I’d leave it until this morning. By this morning I had checked the top ten ‘safe’ airlines and BA wasn’t in it, so their direct flights to Chicago were out.

I flirted with Swiss Air and Lufthansa, the advantage of the latter being that I could fly from Frankfurt to Detroit, but the main question was: could my nerves bear to fly In The Wrong Direction straight out of London? The answer is no. I don’t think they can. If I have to go transatlantic, which in my head is called flying over scary water, then best to get on with it.

So, I’ve got a flight. The price was ok – the downsides are that I have to take an internal flight on the outbound leg and the customer reviews seem to complain that the front of the cabins are cold. Damn. When I booked I was offered a choice of seats: window, middle and aisle, left and right, and tail, middle or front. My brain flipped flopped about. Where is the safest place to sit statistically in a plane? Tail? Rather than hold up the booking process any longer by doing comprehensive research into this, I decided to take the fatalist’s approach and selected ‘No Preference’.

Now all I have left to worry about is having to wear a coat in the cabin and the size of the plane on the internal flight.

Please, please, please don’t let it be a propeller one.

Trusting the Maple Leaf

Last time I flew I was armed with valium. I swear it did not touch the sides of the terror, although it did have me in tears at Marmaduke, a film about an animated dog.

I thought this time, I’d try two Stugeron and a stiff drink if needed. Hopefully that will take the edge off…

Yesterday, someone told me I should write a blog…

Oh, I do replied, otherwise, as you see, my head would explode.

My daughter returned from her school trip today. We had a few positives and then the long list of negatives – usually crimes against the personages of children by The Teachers.

Top of the heinous crimes list was hogging the salad cream.

Yesterday I passed an elderly couple in TK Maxx. For once, I was just passing through that emporium of things you never knew you’d really need when you finally found out they even existed. Honest, I really was just passing through – down their escalators is a short cut to the car park. Down amongst the garden furniture and the house furniture and the statuary and the crockery the old lady planted her feet like a racehorse refusing to enter the stalls.

‘I’m not taking one more step until you tell me where you’re going’ she said. She was about eighty at a guess. Her husband looked at least the same. His reply was lost on the wind as I passed through on my short cut to the car park. This was against my better judgement. If I hadn’t have had the non-school trip child in tow I would have definitely hidden behind a giant Moroccan lantern to watch the denouement. For all I know he refused to tell her and they are still there now…

…locked in an elderly married couple’s infinite shopping stand-off.

The other thing my daughter did on her return from the school trip was comment on a clock I have been lent by a student to help my own children finally nail this learning to tell the time on the clock face, instead of reading it off a digital display.

I don’t want you lying in bed staring at your clock on the wall wondering ‘what it all means’ anymore, I said.

Oh I don’t need that thing you’ve got, she said. I can tell some of the times.

She’s ten. ‘Some of the times,’ indeed.

I blame the salad cream hogging teachers…

A thing I never knew I must have

A thing I never knew I must have

‘Humour is the politeness of despair’

So said the polymath Frenchman Boris Vian.

I say, where there is despair, there must also be music.

The purpose of a blog and the basic emotions paradigm

I started this blog for various reasons but the top one was

#1 to create a daily writing habit

So, in a sense I have to continue with the enterprise because if I don’t I will have, by default, lost my daily habit. Of course the longer term plan was to shift from blog writing to writing other things on a daily basis and although I have achieved partial success in this department it is not the 365 day a year that I was after by any means.

The problem at the moment is that I am deep into research on a writing project which means reading rather than writing. Sometimes I think, ah phooey, that’s just an excuse for not getting on with the main business at hand. However, if you are researching a big project and you draft too much whilst still researching you are likely to change your mind about what it is you want to write anyway. I say ‘you’ – I mean ‘I’ but it is a question in my head. How much research do you need for a non-fiction book. It’s been a year now. I am going to have to put a limit on it for my own sanity. I want to get the first draft done by the end of this year.

In the meantime, so as not to lose the habit, this is a holding post to my myself to think about and discuss further what is called the basic emotions paradigm. A lot of my work is currently rooted in this paradigm, but I consider there are some questions to be answered. What is currently puzzling me is the attribution, through brain scans, of the left and right amygdalae being involved in triggering different ‘basic emotions’. I don’t have a scientific background but it interests that me that we don’t ask the same questions of the left hand and or the right hand, or the left nostril and the right nostril. For example, we don’t say, it seems that the left nostril is much more involved in the olfactory experience of a sweet smell; we just accept that we are designed along symmetrical lines. Here’s the latest research and it’s all about the schnoz singular, not nostrils plural. And yet there are studies that examine any apparent differences in amygdalae function from left to right

It’s almost as if the initial activator of the amygdalae, which is too fast for our conscious mind, is then followed up by a further activator, or dampener, provided by the conscious mind. I suppose we do that with smell too, if we can’t place it. We smell something, but we then sniff again, actively trying to place it – say a perfume.

I also wonder if there is a sort of cascade of chemicals released which are initially triggered subconsciously but then further influenced by the conscious mind. For example, some of the chemicals thats release are triggered by fear also form a part of the cocktail of chemicals that are released when we are in love. In fact, if you think about the subjective experience of being ‘in love’ don’t you recognise some of the fear feelings too in tandem – say the knot in your stomach. In love and in fear at the same time at a neurological level.

There are no pictures for this post.

And if you want answers, this is the wrong blog for you today.

Move along please there’s nothing to see here.

January Sea Front


I climb the cliff with
The strong smell of frying
Above under the arches
As Dayglo lycra skeins by and
Seagulls captain small boats
Going nowhere
And white down
Swirls up
On the eddy of air
From the fresh squish
Of pigeon breast

‘How deep is the dust?’

Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon is far better known for the historic words he said when taking his first steps on the lunar landscape.

That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

Actually, a dispute still rages about whether those words were pre-planned, or off the cuff and whether he said …’one small step for a man..’ or ‘one small step for man…’

To be honest, it doesn’t matter to me. I was born in 1969, a few months after Apollo 11’s moon landing. Once I asked my father, who had hoped for a boy in the way fathers do, what I would have been named if I had been a boy. He said, ‘Neil,’ and then, perhaps seeing my grimace added, ‘or Oscar.’

I had not really made the connection between the proposed name of Neil and the moon landing until seeing a BBC documentary about Neil Armstrong earlier this year. I wonder how many little boys were born in 1969 or 1970 and were named Neil? Plenty, I imagine. It’s a good name and the BBC documentary really gave a flavour of how big the moon landing was. How it gripped the psyche of a nation, of the world. Born, post moon landing the whole thing becomes like, yeah, whatever, man on the moon. Or even, man on the moon? No way, big conspiracy, I mean, what cast those shadows man? Back then in 1969 it was taken for an amazing feat of space exploration.

The quote from the title of this post is taken from a conversation Neil Armstrong had with his younger brother before the Apollo 11 moon mission. ‘How deep is the dust?’ was Neil Armstrong’s primary concern. As it turns out, I am not named Neil and I will never go to the moon, but every time I start working with a new group of people, exploring what goes on in people’s brains I get anxious. It’s because its entering the orbit of another’s thoughts, it’s the unknown and yes, I wonder, how deep is the dust…

Not too deep as it turned out

Obligatory post about snow

It’s a bore isn’t it? I have resisted for a week now, but it’s late; I’m tired and emotional… the snow post was bound to creep in sometime, surely.

Actually the most snow I have seen during the cold snap has been the piles of the stuff on the roof carpark at the Sainsbury’s in town. (After yesterday’s Morrisons debacle I returned to the dayglo rip-off bosom of the orange grocer.)

Anyway, here it is, the snow.


I took this photo yesterday and it reminded me of a track from the last album by the Eagles Long Road Out Of Eden. The song is called No More Walks In The Wood. I loved it then, I love it now. The snow, less so.

Morrisons: Doomed?

I used to pop into the supermarket Morrisons a fair bit. It is a few miles away, further than any of the other supermarkets (apart from Asda but they don’t sell much of an edible nature there anyway), but I felt the extra distance was made up for because the car park is opposite a huge wild ‘park’ that the dog can run in. I also have a soft spot for the Morrisons hand-raised pork pies (no jelly). So if I wasn’t in a hurry I could have good walk, a quick shop followed by a quality pork pie with hard-boiled egg for lunch (cranberry jelly on the side, left over from Christmas).

I went back there today, the first time this year; in fact the first time in months. Six maybe. I wondered why it had been so long, the walk went so well. The dog was very happy to be able to run to his heart’s content, conduct a spot of light hunting in a spinney and both of us were overjoyed to not have to deal with any other bugger or his or her dog. We had the space to ourselves. Perfect. Then I went into Morrisons…

Firstly, there were no hand-raised pork pies. There were slabs of giant pork pie in the reduced chiller cabinet and there were mini pork pies of a different brand, but sadly these were not the boys for me. No hand-raised? No pie of the pork. Lunch was off. I bought a few other bog standard items one must have with children to feed and one other item which pleased me a little and minded me to forgive the lack of hand-raised pork pies on the shelves (even whilst the deli area was overflowing with some filthy pasty concoction filled with spicy chicken). As I shuffled down to the tills I was half-thinking, ‘Oh it’s not too bad, I mustn’t leave it so long again.’ And then there it was: the queue for the self-service tills.

I attempted to join an ordinary queue, for those with trolleys, but it was hopeless. No room at the inn. So I joined the queue for the automated shopping experience and as I waited it all came back to me: why I had stopped coming here over six months before. The self-service tills are the most inefficient ones in the known universe. Sainsburys can be annoying,yes; Tescos are not too bad, but the Morrisons self-service machines are down there in the pits along with WH Smiths (that shop is a whole new post altogether).

For a start, they don’t bloody work. Or, Morrisons customers can’t work them. This means that one member of staff has to work the self-service tills with the customers in a very tight space with a packed audience, circumstances which contrive to make the customer feel stupid and the staff member very snappy. The machines shout incessantly. They shout at the customers (who are getting it all wrong) and then the staff member shouts at the machine or the customer, depending on how their stress levels are doing. Strangely, we the customers, the most put upon in the whole transaction do not shout at all but the self-service debacle/spectacle fills those of us patiently waiting with irritation, or dread. It is self-evident the self-service till is going to make a fool of us too, we just have to stand in line and worry about what manner of humiliation this will take.

For the man in front of me it was the ‘Notes In’ part of the transaction. For me it was that when I stepped up to the plate that one machine would not take cash. I went to the back of the queue and did not collect one hundred pounds. When it was my turn (again) on the one machine deigning to take card payments on this, the 23rd day in the month of the year 2013 AD, I thought I made a good start. I thought, for a moment, I was doing quite well with the self-service wheeze. I was not. The shop assistant who works like a demon across two self-service tills, self-served me to a repacking of my bag. I had constructed a wobbling edifice of eggs, goose fat and pizza because the weighing and packing areas are the size of a postage stamp. As she rearranged my goods to her satisfaction, she patronisingly pointed out my idiocy and transferred some of my goods to the other, secret packing area I had not seen.


Of course she was simply exacting revenge on me because when the old man in front had been defeated by the ‘Notes In’ section of the machine, I had helpfully suggested he shoved his tenner in another of the machine’s many orifices. My helpful suggestion proved to be the wrong orifice too and when the shop assistant had told us both off for being so thick I had mildly protested that she was being a touch impatient with the customers.

After all, we don’t actually work there. We haven’t had any self-service till training. This cut no ice with the Morrisons staff.

‘That man,’ she said, as I was leaving (he was about 80 years old), ‘that man… He comes in here every day and uses these machines every day!’.

‘Perhaps,’ I said, ‘he has a short memory.’

‘Selective more like!’ she snapped.

I took my goods. It had taken me 5 minutes to get the basket full of shopping and 10 to pass through the self-service feather and tarring of customers. This is why Morrisons is doomed.

On the other hand, I did get two bottles of my favourite beer for £1.50 each and I had a nice chat whilst I was waiting to be made a fool of by an inanimate object and paid staff with a lady whose niece goes to the Judi Dench School of Acting. Or something. This proves that all Morrisons customers are lovely, a little bit old, reliant on public transport or simply misguided. Those of us that have the choice not to be put upon and abused by machinery and stressed out by supermarket staff with the hump are probably shopping elsewhere now.

The Frozen House Speaks

Morning, it chatters
Breath steaming up the bathroom
And I listen
For the slight click
As the microswitch
Kicks the heating pump into action

The whir of the Xbox, abandoned last night
Drowns the thermostat’s faint twitch
A Honeywell:
Orders groaning hot water
All round

The flush sticks
A trickling waste.
And quickening drips
Slide down
Defrosting slates

Standing outside
I put my hand on the gutter downpipe
Eyes closed
Feeling the flow
And breathe




Martin Luther King Day

I’ve been reading some of Martin Luther King’s words this afternoon. Their universal truth and beauty surely stand the test of time. We have progressed a long way since the 1960s and the famous ‘I Have A Dream‘ speech, but there is still a long way to go.

I cannot think of either Dr King or, indeed, his firebrand contemporary Malcolm X without my heart aching a little.

Where are our leaders of equal courage now? If I could, I’d rewrite this UB40 song to reflect that frustration.