Month: April 2014

What I miss

summer clouds

Wandering around the city centre, earphones in, observing life with a soundtrack.

Apple sandwiches on soft white bread (with just a sprinkle of sugar).

Running away from a soaking wet golden retriever before she shakes herself dry.

Long train journeys.

Hiking up hills, across moors, a fresh breeze in my face, a warm flask of hot chocolate in my rucksack.

My Dad bring home ice cream from Gallone’s (Italian made, milk ice cream with raspberry sauce).

Cold early mornings on the river, water rushing round my legs, the quiet zip of the rod and line.

The building excitement of an eagerly anticipated movie.

Freewheeling down a long long road, feet off the pedals, close to flying.

A crescent of honeydew melon leaving juice slick on my cheeks.

The deep silence at 5am.

Exploring new places, lost in my own thoughts.

Lying on the grass, watching clouds scroll lazily across the sky.

Bye Bye Foursquare

4sq badges

I’ve had an on/off relationship with Foursquare for a few years now. I started using it in March 2010, and the whilst the initial fun of using a ‘location based app’ (this was a few years ago when such things were new) quickly faded, it was replaced by a level of usefulness through discovery, particularly as I moved into the fair city of Glasgow.

So I would dutifully log in to the places I visited and was rewarded with badges and mayorships and other such ‘gamification’ tricks. I did use it quite often to see what else was close by as I wandered around, and it proved useful when visiting other cities; not so much when travelling abroad though, thanks to the varying cost of data charges.

These days though I have a better service for finding local places, Yelp. I’ve been using Yelp since December 2012 but it’s already proven useful. I use it mostly for finding places to eat or drink, but beyond that it’s also got a wonderful community aspect to it, with coordinated events (taster menus, guided walks and more) that have helped me get out and about a lot more than I used to in the past.

I’m not really sure why I stuck with Foursquare for so long, but it’s now gone from my iPhone. Oddly whilst I question the value of things and how much benefit they can bring me, and the converse for things that drain time or energy, Foursquare remained. Perhaps it’s the hope that that data might one day be useful?

For the last few months I’ve been grabbing my Foursquare checkins and logging them in my journal (Day One) but I’ve not once looked back at the data.

Ultimately I have no good reason to use Foursquare anymore. It offers me no value (I’ve never gotten a discount anywhere for checking in, nor used the data for anything of note) so it’s time to say goodbye.

All of this creates another problem, I now have a free spot on my homescreen! Ahhhh, such are the trials and tribulations of living in this day and age.

In related news, I think this is the most ‘first world problems’ style post I’ve ever written!

Why I love Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin & Hobbes

Many many years ago, a good friend loaned me a book of comics. It was a compilation of a daily cartoon strip about a young boy called Calvin and his pet (toy) tiger Hobbes. He assured me it was worth a read and he was right.

I started re-reading them last night (perfect bathroom reading material) and have been reminded of why they resonated so much with me back then, and how they still do so today.

Whimsy. Silliness. Pathos.

As a cartoon strip, the key aim is to provide a level of humour. Early on Calvin & Hobbes was built around subtle word play and it hit my ‘comedy’ sweet spot, but over the years as the readership started to get a sense of who Calvin was, it started to take on a wonderful twist.

Firstly there are the recurring characters and moments; the long running gag where Hobbes ambushes Calvin when he comes home from school, Susie Perkins being treated hideously by Calvin, the endless grotesque snowmen, Hobbes’ hunt for tuna.

We were also introduced to the imagination of a small boy, something I could easily associate with given the age gap between my sister and I (for my first 8 years I was an ‘only’ child); Calvin as film noir detective Tracer Bullet, the intergalactic adventurer Spaceman Spiff and the be-caped hero that is Stupendous Man!.

I still daydream from time to time, taking myself out of the drudgery that adulthood can be and off on various flights of fancy, although these days they tend to be more

And then to the whimsy, my favourite moments where the cartoon steps outside of itself to offer a view of the world that at times is sad, at times poignant and usually played out simply. A wonderful mix of visuals and words to convey a simple message, played out with the wonder and awe that a small boy still has.

These latter strips are the ones that stick with me and I as slowly reshape my life, simplifying, reducing negativity and noise as best I can, they continue to resonate.

It’s funny how quickly we forget the sense of awe we had as children, it’s something I’ve been aware of for a while and I do try and see something beautiful (if not awe inspiring) every day in an effort to retain some external view that isn’t about me or my life; I’m very prone to being introspective too quickly (I give you this blog as a perfect example!).

The child-like sense of the wonder of ‘other’, delivered through the keen eye of Calvin’s creator Bill Watterson, is what rings true. A view of the world free of pessimism, with a healthy dose of skepticism, and no small amount of sarcasm seems to match why own. Or at least the one I try and maintain.

It’s what keeps me coming back to these wonderful comic strips. Whimsy. Silliness. Pathos. Not a bad way to lead a life.

 

Further reading:

My Sad Captains

I’m a huge fan of Elbow. Partly for the melodies they weave and the sounds they create, but mostly because of the lyrics which are in turn funny, acidic, bold, soaring, and achingly beautiful. Guy Garvey is my favourite poet.

Their songs, whether of sorrow, elated joy, or poignant recognition often strike a chord and I find myself moved far more strongly than I am with other bands. I don’t know if it’s because I’m of a similar age as the band and so the timely reflections on family and friends seem to ring truer than others, I don’t know if it’s a combination of the music and the moment, but at every single gig I’ve been at (seven and counting) there have always been tears (including one great big sobbing mess of a moment thanks to Scattered Black & Whites).

Of course a lot of this is down to my own emotional disposition – I’m quite happy to confirm that I cry at movies – and the attachments I assign to some songs, but that still requires there to be some form of lyrical hook on which I can hang my emotional baggage and Elbow provide those exquisitely well.

I’ve written before about the small group of people I care about the most who form the core part of my life; my family, my partners and my closest friends. I’m consider myself very lucky that my life is (mostly) full of rich partnerships and laughter. Focusing on reducing the negative influences and letting go of things I can’t control have definitely helped, but the basis of my happiness can be found in those relationships.

Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.

And I do, or at least I try.

The importance I place on these aspects of my life are not something I’m fully aware of, so embedded are they, but it’s when a line in a song rings true that it pushes it all, sometimes overwhelmingly, back into my consciousness.

Oh, long before
You and I were born
Others beat these benches with their empty cups
To the night and the stars
​To be here, and now, and who we are

Another sunrise with my sad captains
​With who I choose to lose my mind
​And if it’s true we only come this way but once
​What a perfect waste of time

Those moments with friends, family, loved ones, spent doing nothing much of note are some of my favourites. The odd memories that spring to mind may be formed around an event, but it’s not the R.E.M. gig at Loch Lomond we talk about, but the inflatable sofa we inherited on our way back to a friend’s house and how long it lasted (months).

I guess this all fits in with my wish to simplify my life, removing negativity and noise as best I can to allow me to focus on the now so that I  have more chances to experience those delicious little moments that make me happy.

Letting go

Letting Go

The title of my website is largely true. I’m aware of my flaws and foibles and, for the most part, I accept them and I’m happy within myself. However that doesn’t mean I’m not on the lookout for ways to be a happier me.

I’ve discussed in the past how I’ve taken steps to remove ‘negativity’ and recently I’ve extend that to a more introspective practice; I’m trying to making peace with the things I can’t control, I’m learning that letting go isn’t as bad as I think it is.

Bear with me, I realise this will sound very obvious; why would anyone in their ‘right’ mind get uptight, annoyed or upset at things they cannot control? Road rage is an excellent example of this, the energy expended in vitriol and rage is a waste, it won’t change what has happened and, while it may influence the other party involved, you can’t control how.

One bite at a time

It’s easy to say these things, simple words to utter but much much harder to put into practice. However, in accordance with the old adage “when eating an elephant take one bite at a time” I’ve decided to start to tackle this by focusing on small pieces of my life, one part at a time and I’m starting with the one that just so happens to be my biggest source of stress, my job.

For those that don’t know me, I have a bit of a thing for timeliness. Meetings that start late annoy me and it still staggers me that some of the smart people I work with can’t use a calendar to follow a schedule (there is a special place in hell for those that are late for meetings they arranged). What can I do about that? Ultimately, nothing.

Part of me wants to go into a ‘workplace culture’ rant at this point, how ‘broken window’ syndrome has many facets… but I won’t.

In the past, these occurences used to make me angry and annoyed. Part of me took their lateness as a personal insult, part of me didn’t understand how it can be that I can be on time but others can’t. Futile thoughts and I shudder to think how much energy I wasted on such things.

These days, rather than sitting in a meeting room waiting on people to arrive I do one of two things. I either a. suggest to those already in attendance that we start the meeting b. use my notebook and phone to do some quick tasks (reply to an email for example). After 10 minutes I’ll get up and leave, presuming the meeting will be rescheduled (if it happens without me I’ll presume it wasn’t important that I was there anyway, although that’s also presuming that the type of meeting has been clearly communicated in the first place).

Learning to let go

It has thrown up an interesting challenge though. I’m a very driven, goal oriented kinda guy, so being passive about something isn’t in my nature; the two lovely ladies in my life and I have chatted about my need to ‘fix’ things so it’s not just a work thing but it comes into play there more often than not.

But the more I let go of things, the lower my stress levels drop and the better my health seems to be. It’s a balance of course but I think it’s starting to work.

So what?

Why am I doing this? Because I’m fed up being stressed and worrying about things that I don’t need to worry about, things that I want to do but which are frequently impacted by external forces beyond my control. I can’t stop some things happening, I can’t control the emotional response of others, and I need to stop worrying about that quite so much (I will retain a level of empathy of course, I’m not a monster!).

Figuring out which things to stop worrying about hasn’t been easy, I’ve chopped and changed on my approach on this; Do I start with the presumption that I shouldn’t worry about anything and that everything that needs done will get done by someone else, and so anything that is truly mine to do will be escalated to me? Or do I start by choosing the things I don’t think I should be worrying about.

I’m taking things on a case by case basis at present but so far by letting go of some of these things, when coupled with the avoidance of “negative energy”, seems to be making a different.

A boy and his dog

I don’t recall what age I was exactly, and I’m not sure where the picture was taken (My Uncle Bill took it) but this picture of me and ‘my dog’ on the bridge on the approaches to Lindisfarne on the Holy Isle in Nothumberland is about so much more than the fleeting moment it captures.

My parents got our dog, my dog, shortly before I was born. Sintra, named after a district in Lisbon, Portugal, was my companion for 13 years. We played together, ran in parks, splashed and paddled in lochs, rivers and burns, and even survived the noisy, wailing, curious little thing my Mum brought home from the hospital one day.

It’s an odd thing, the bond between a dog and its owners, and especially between a dog and a boy. Difficult to explain to anyone who has never had a dog, but akin to a brotherhood (despite the fact Sintra was a lady) and made all the stronger because essentially we grew up together, sharing the trials and tribulations of childhood; The great lipstick cookie experiment, or the shared disgrace of traipsing mud through the house (again). When we were both young we shared many characteristics, curious to a fault, easily excitable and loved having our tummies tickled. Actually, come to think of it, not much has changed for me… I digress.

For us Sintra was part of the family, and so we accommodated and compromised where required, putting up with that wet dog smell when she’d gone for a swim, holidays confined to the UK, or taking her for a walk in the rain, none were a hardship as she was always bounding around like a puppy at the excitement of it all, especially the intoxicating mystery that was “going for a W-A-L-K”. She was someone to race round the garden, someone to play football with, and someone to hug and talk to when you’d been bad. She was a great listener and she didn’t even mind if you ate her dog biscuits.

Ahhh memories of autumn walks in the surrounding hills, the leaves clinging to branches, the wind refreshing never cold, and a golden coated retriever bounding ahead, disappearing round the corner of the path to a chorus of frantic cries “Get back here!”, then reappearing from behind us only to stop suddenly to check out something VERY interesting under that old rotting log.

She was no angel, frequently sneaking cakes and biscuits off the coffee table when she thought no-one was looking, and as she grew gracefully older lost her exuberance but gained so much character. She was a wise old lady who knew what she wanted out of life and it certainly wasn’t to hare off chasing a stick, no matter how much coaxing the person who threw it gave her. No, she liked a walk, a paddle, and a lie-down. A simple life. A dog’s life indeed. She always knew when to leave you alone, and when to wander over and bump her nose into your lap, looking up at you as if to say “it’s OK, we’ll get through it”.

She was part of the family, there is no doubt about that, and I probably see my relation with her through fairly thick rose coloured spectacles but she is remembered fondly and often missed.

So, to the person that said: “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your relatives” I offer this:

“Acquiring a dog may be the only time a person gets to choose a relative.”