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Stoic Week round-up

I’ve tried doing Stoic week and I can conclude there is way to go before I am a real Stoic. I can do some of it, but my big stumbling block is non-attachment to outcomes, particularly in regard to those outcomes we can’t control… As the Alcoholics Anon Serenity prayer says:

I really get attached to outcomes – in fact my whole working life is about them – and it’s not always knowing the difference between those that I can control, and those that I can’t that regularly struggle with.

You see, what if, I, on my own can’t control an outcome… but if I find enough like-minded individuals and get together with them – perhaps we can. I realise I now sound like Barack Obama’s first presidential election campaign, and maybe that’s my trouble. I can’t quite see my limitations… well not at least until I’ve run into them. Head first usually. And when that happens and I am rubbing my head, then I usually repeat my other maxims for life (to myself).

First this:

Then this:

And then, finally…

This one

And then, I lie down, light a cigar and have a glass of wine. So maybe, just maybe, I too am a little Stoic round the edges. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a plain stubborn, hardhead. Who knows.

(I’ve been so busy trying to be Stoic this week, that I am quite behind on things I need to write about. First there is the Isa Muazu case and immigration to the UK in general. In true Stoic style I am waiting until my emotions settle before I embark on that post, and I am hoping the Home Secretary will be called to answer questions about his failed and inhumane deportation tomorrow in the House of Commons which may enlighten my own writing process – although I doubt it. Then there are the two films I saw this week which mixed profundity and pain with kitsch moments and conversation that don’t say the half of it – and ain’t that just about the size of real life? And finally, there was a beautiful moment of connection I witnessed this afternoon that I am determined shall not be lost to the busyness of existence and would like to reflect on here.)

Oh, and there is a new blog to be revealed as this one is now bulging at the seams.

Keep up at the back.

Things are going to change round here

I am not quite sure how, or when, but I can feel it coming in the air (to borrow from Phil Collins).

I have changed. I know this; I am not sure that other people do. The world is changing too – and I hope for the better.

Anyway, it’s no big deal – everything changes – if not, things can atrophy and that is never good.

The main thing to do whilst in transition, I suppose, is to remember to keep breathing.

Anyway, the blog rapidly approaches the full up point. I am going to have to do some big housekeeping soon. But not now, I’ve got other things to do today. In a World First For Me, I poached eggs for breakfast. Not that hard is it?

onwards upwards

Self-censorship (and the laptop starts falling apart)

I don’t know how many words I’ve typed on this laptop.  The blog has 1632 posts alone.  With an average of say, 300 words per post, allowing for much longer ones and just image-based ones, that means I’ve done around 489,000 words here.  Then, I’ve got over 100,000+ on other projects and that’s before I count emails or anything else.  I reckon this keyboard has done at least three quarters of a million words and counting.

All this self-expression has left its mark… The A key is still there, but the A has completely rubbed off.  The E has only the top left hand corner angle remaining.  The N is only a little behind the E in terms of wear and tear.  The O has the bottom right quadrant missing; I find this especially poignant.  The S resembles a small crescent moon with a tiny star underneath and the L is starting to be denuded, bottom up.  The rest of the letters are holding up quite well.  The touchpad mouse is a bit iffy, but the thing that gives me most cause for concern is the right hand hinge and casing of the screen.  We lost a screw a while back, and now the whole edifice is slightly precarious.  You could no longer rely on the laptop to be comfortable on a lap, except gingerly.  Now, in its older age it prefers to be placed on a desk, propped up against something.

I don’t know how long it will hold out.

I am going to have to get a new laptop for the oldest daughter who starts secondary school next month.  This one simply can’t be used by anyone other than me.

Everything I have ever written of any significance has been typed up on here.  That’s why, this morning, I was able to come to the crashing realisation that I have self-censored more and more as time has gone on.  I have so much audience in mind that I no longer write with any freedom.  This is ridiculous, because writing is freedom.  What in the world has gone wrong?

Whilst I think about that particular paradox, here’s a picture of some past their best hydrangeas I walked past yesterday.  Like the rickety laptop, I wouldn’t change them for the world.  Things are so much more interesting, meaningful even, as they slide out of their original pomp and glory.


Soul Catch Up & the Sit Spot

It’s been a ridiculously intense week; both here and so tragically around the world. It’s so much so that I’ve lost (or gained) a day already. Yesterday I was confused because I thought it was Tuesday, today I’ve been thinking it must be Wednesday. It was a jolt to the system to realise that the paid working week ends tomorrow and I feel like I’ve really not done any work at all.

Of course it looks like I’m busy and things have been done, hopefully as they should have been. But inside? No, no actual work has been done at all. I realise that I am at that point in my life where my purpose and my work are more and more enmeshed. Maybe that is what they call a vocation. It’s sounds horribly pompous; it’s not meant to. It’s actually more a source of confusion. How can I be so busy doing things that are in the diary, teaching, writing, trying to plan but not actually feeling like it’s work. Work, to me, is that thing you leave when you walk out of the door at that place called work. I suppose it’s partly a by-product of working out on the community, seeing your learners on the street, doing a lot of keyboard-based work after the school run, or before I leave the house in the morning. I suppose it’s because my interest is not confined to a professional one. People, how they tick, how they learn, the stories about their lives… is there anything more engaging? For me, it seems not.

Given that seems now to be the case, it is even more necessary to carve out time where I am not actively thinking which brings me to the title of the post. I was describing my recent experience on a street corner in Chicago, where I had to just sit for over an hour to get my life back together. I was explaining how in that hour, I experienced myself and the world in a very different way. She said that is like the story of the Aboriginal man who, after his first ever trip in a car, got out and sat on the ground. When asked what he was doing, he replied, ‘I am waiting for my soul to catch up.’

Now, after everything I’ve experienced, I get that. And I am sure there are many other people out there who do too. I also now get the idea that the self we create and come to know is deeply rooted in a sense of place. I learned by accident today that there is a name for that: embodied situated cognition. Of course, that is just a fancy name for things indigenous tribes practised long before we came along with our jargon. I know I am not describing anything new or controversial, I am just experiencing something ancient for myself. The sit spot is a place you pick out to go, out in your part of the world, in nature and go to sit and just be every day. Like meditation, or learning, this is not a passive process, or vegging out in the cabbage patch; it is an active intention to get to know every aspect of your sit spot in all the seasons, in all weathers. Which way the sun catches it, depending on the day. Whether lichen grows on the stones and where. The stones themselves, for they all have a name, even if you don’t speak their language. If there is water nearby, the songs it sings, drop by drop. Birds: resident and tourists. Insects, grass, flowers. The trees’ conversation through the leaves or the short snap of brittle branches. All of it and everything, under any circumstances.

The sit spot and the the soul catch up.

Off to find mine…

Detail from Public Park with Weeping Willow, Vincent Van Gogh

Detail from Public Park with Weeping Willow, Vincent Van Gogh

Turning into my mother

This is not a bad thing, just an observation. Practically speaking, I am doing similar things my mother used to do like:

  • walking straight in from work, after collecting the girls from school, and going straight into the kitchen to make tea – still in my coat
  • going deaf
  • forgetting what I am saying, in the middle of saying it
  • putting things in the fridge when they don’t belong there
  • needing to organise certain details in order to manage anxiety (so far this has only manifested itself into booking two non-consecutive nights in a Chicago hostel and shortlisting airlines suitable to carry my personage safely from A to B)
  • doing lesson planning and marking on weekends and evenings
  • organising camping holidays to France
  • needing to go to bed by ten because doing it all is beyond exhausting

Women can have it all, but is all of it worth having? Big question, *no brain left to answer attempt to answer it with.

In the interests of equality, tomorrow’s post will be called Turning into my father

*After I hit publish I realised this sentence had lost its way somewhat. Like I said, no brain left. My mother never wrote that kind of nonsense – that’s all my own work.


My Grandpa used to grow a lot of roses; we bought him one for his 80th birthday and I have long since forgotten the name of it. His garden, that it was planted in, is still there, but neither of my grandparents are. There’s that Elvis Costello song, isn’t there? He sings It’s Been A Good Year For the Roses, I don’t know if this is one such year, but I do know that they’ve preoccupied my thoughts more than ever before in my life.

I bought a patio rose tree about a year ago, in a terrible state, on sale for a few quid. It looked like it might not survive but after a little while, it flushed into bloom again, but with two different shades of pink: one very pale going towards apricot and one a proper rich, almost blowsy pink. It’s done it again this year, but with the constant rain, the colours seemed to have become washed out, watered down a little. And, strangely, it has hardly any leaves this year. I just don’t understand it.

The bi-colour patio rose, ivy backdrop

A few months ago, I moved another rose that came with the garden. I didn’t move it gently, it was dragged out of the ground and I think I even took my spade to one of it’s more stubborn roots to get it to give up its spot. I then replanted it, knowing that it was the wrong time of year to move it altogether. The rose felt that brutality for a while. Its leaves wilted, some fell off. It looked a poor specimen. I watered it and fed it and asked it to do its thing and now it has started to come back, bearing one deep fuchsia pink, tight-lipped rosebud. I do not deserve it, but nature does that for itself and is far more potent than me with my destructive spade and garden rearranging, thankfully.

I have also bought a ‘Sunset Boulevard’ rose as a gift recently, which I have not yet had the opportunity to give. I must confess that I became intrigued to know what colour it would bloom before I gave it because I had bought it in mind of a particular orangey ginger dog and, as I discovered with half-dead patio rose, you never know exactly what you’ve got with a rose until it flowers. As it just came out this week, I realised that, yes, it will do. It’s a rather Flaming June sort of nasturtium orange, the catalogues show a duskier, softer tone, but I think it is ok. It makes me think, when I think about trying to describe roses in words, that they defy colour description. Really, they do. The closest I can come is to emergency draft in another species of flower using comparison as description. Poor, really. Surely the rose deserves better. Look across a range of pink, or red roses and try and describe each variety in words. Impossible?

Sunset Boulevard, leaves dusted with Saharan Sand

At the time of buying the Sunset Boulevard, I also bought a climbing rose, an off-white with a yellow centre. It too has flowered this week. At first, I was disappointed with the small, flat flowers, but I have realised that the scent is so beautiful that I must forgive it its conservative display. And that really is all I have to say about my roses; except that last night I was in someone else’s kitchen with the back door open. The evening sun was shining through, there was a slight breeze. The black and white cat of the house, who has the most magnificent ostrich feather for a tail, was playing underneath a large rose bush about four feet high, covered in fat, shocking pink, fleshy blooms; the kind that Georgia O’Keefe might have painted. I was watching the cat when I saw a single petal fall from one large rose.

We think we know all about rose petals and how they fall, or at least I thought I did: they might float, or drift, downwards and land with silent grace somewhere in a romantically poetic sort of way. This bruiser of a petal did no such thing. It plummeted with a perceptible thud onto the concrete below. It’s probably still there: a big, fat, pink petal pulsating with the universal energy that makes us all that we are.

Toby & Me circa 1976

Toby was the family pet I was born into having – a rescue who was put to sleep with kidney failure (I think) when I was about 10 or so. When this happened I tried really hard not to cry in front of my mum, in case it upset her. This rational to a 7 year old child approach to loss backfired fairly spectacularly because then my mum was extra upset anyway on account of my not seeming to care about the dog not coming home from the vets.

Sometimes it feels like those funny little coping methods we seemingly have hard-wired into us can be traced back quite simply to childhood and photographs like these are fragments of the map, or a piece to an incomplete jigsaw which has long since lost the picture on the lid.

I wonder what anyone did before snapshots were invented. The past truly did not exist, perhaps.

Looking at Toby now I can’t help but notice a resemblance to Rudi, my current hound, which had not occurred to me before. He certainly had the devil in his ways when he felt like it.

That said, a dog never lets you down, even when it does.

Another First Day Back @ School

I wrote a post about this on September 7th 2 years ago which, for some reason, has been viewed *1393 times in the intervening period.

Given yesterday’s theme about Time, and it being a man-made measure of the universe’s physical processes, I feel more inclined to note the changes that have occurred between the last post about Going Back to School and this one; change after all being that which the time man makes the measure of. I’m not sure if that sentence makes sense, but if it doesn’t neither does a clock that ticks off 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. Not really…

Two years ago the kids had heads full of missing teeth and I was on Tooth Fairy duty. Now the eldest doesn’t believe in the Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas and no-one’s teeth fell out this morning. Result.

This year I asked the youngest if she was taking her standard issue book bag with her. The eldest replied for her

Book Bags are so out of fashion in Year 3

Oh. That explains why she hasn’t carried one for the last two years then; she’s now in Year 5 and wants to play the violin. I don’t much care for the violin having tried it myself but I am rather keen on her getting to grips with mathematical concepts this year, never mind what bag she’s carrying.

I don’t share these views with them. I don’t share that whilst they are probably a little bit nervous, but mainly happy to be going back to school, I am keeping how I feel (tearful) to myself. It’s a balance as a parent isn’t it? Modelling appropriate feelings so kids learn not to be scared of emotions, how to handle their own and other peoples, but not burdening them with adult feelings when they have their own shit like which bag to take to school to deal with.

So I gave the youngest a hug, checking this was permissible; the oldest had already dropped my hand as soon as we crossed the main road near school because it was ’embarrassing’. I thought the oldest had vanished into the playground crowd, but she did look back and wave.

I have left them to their world of school and new teachers where time is strictly meted out and measured, and I have returned to my own world where time seems to fit neither the Greeks’ kronos or kairos concepts and instead wildly telescopes this way and that, and at other times, completely stands still.

Changing the subject because I’m not quite comfortable with it – we’ve not had a horse for a while on here. Here’s a rather nice one, with the youngest. She’s following a rather complex country sartorial code to do with trousers being tucked in/not tucked in to one’s wellies.

I have certain feelings about that last sentence, but I won’t burden you with them now.

Is she feeling what I'm feeling?

*I only discovered that I could actually look this figure up when I wondered how many views the post had had. This post’s first draft read ‘hundreds of times’, the second draft a more modest ‘few hundred times’, third draft said **783 but I’ve since worked out that was for this year only. I feel a bit better now.

**Maybe it’s because it was tagged ‘Dentist’. Maybe I should tag everything Dentist…

What’s to be done with a void?

The only person I know who embraces one is the Guv’nor. It means he can pick up the keys, bowl in and do a full deck with no tenant breathing down his neck or worse. If all he ever did was voids he would be as happy as Larry (whoever he was). In ALMO or old council housing speak, a void is an empty property. Burnt out, flooded or simply trashed and abandoned the decorating squad would go in and give it a few coats of eggshell. White or magnolia to save breaking out a new roller and brush. No fancy wallpaper, no-one making your ears bleed about the damp. Lovely jubbly.

If only we could slap a coat of paint on our own voids and make them right over into swell pads for their inhabitants, we would not only be filling in the gaps, we would also be coining it in rent. Double bubble.

Rather inconveniently it is never so simple. We do it though don’t we. Clothe the void, feed the void, pimp the void. Still it remains. Maybe all that we are is in there, if only we could find it.

I feel bound to add, for those readers who might be related to me: I am fine. I’m down with mine.


This is probably one of the thoughts that elbowed out the thought about buying some stamps.

My life is many things, but bloody imperfect is one of the main ones.

There is dust, there is untidiness, there are shouting kids and this mum woman that shouts
“Stop shouting!”
even though she was the world’s biggest shouting evangelist in days gone by.

There are fingermarks on the walls (I think my line in the sand is stains on the carpet) and the imagined lawn is scratty tufts of grass. The flowers die as much as they grow, the back door sticks when it’s damp and the bathroom cold tap is doing it’s own thing. The car is monstrous and I can never put any washing away and as for ironing, well the board plays the hokey cokey on a daily basis.

The dog doesn’t come when I call, the cat never shuts the fuck up l and I can’t walk past a pub without thinking it might be nice to pop in. My laptop crashes every ten minutes and I spill and drop things which causes much tutting and sighing and mess.

And I work with people who don’t know how to spell, but want to, or how to use a ruler and would like to, and some who can speak three languages but can’t write their name in one and those things sometimes make them feel bad. But you know what? That’s real, they are very real, and I am lucky to know those people and live in a difficult house with a family who can find me awkward and themselves more so.

It is the human condition and I love it.