Friday, 23 June 2017

#199 A glimpse

Behind the roads. Under the shadows of houses and offices throughout London, there run some canals.

As well as hosting a lot of fish and moorhens, the canals contain several hundred boats, which are inhabited by the 0.0001% of Londoners who choose to make their homes upon the water.

The streams are slow-flowing and full of algae. Flies buzz around the water’s edge. Birds sunbathe on the decks and the summer sun slowly bakes the outside paint until it fades and starts to flake.

All manner of people live on the boats. From investment bankers, to poets and painters. Some boats are new and vast, with more space inside than an apartment. Others have been bobbing up and down on the water since the 1970s and are cheerfully decorated, or overgrown with plants.

There’s even a converted orange submarine. It’s particularly small and has only one thick window, some vents and a door.

I first noticed the canals when I walked to the Post Office last year to fetch a package from a friend in Brazil. Now and then I go back and walk along the same route. To see the boats. To get out of the city, without leaving it.

One morning, I noticed a boat I hadn’t seen before. It was black and scruffy, with old junk and appliances littered about the place as though the owner never saw the point in tidying anything up.

Then I saw him, at the front. He was standing completely naked, shaving his face in a mirror. 

The rest of his body was completely bald. His skin, deeply tanned a rich shade of brown like a conker, pulled taught over his muscles. He was facing away from me but for a second I caught his gaze in the mirror. Two bright blue eyes stared at me, with a look I’d only ever seen on wild animals in the forest.

I wanted desperately to stop and continue staring through the windows into his life but being aware that this would have been intruding, I carried on and even took a longer route back home, for fear of disturbing it. Disturbing a scene in which I truly didn’t belong.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

#198 Controlling the situation

Apparently the Prime Minister decided not to visit the Grenfell Tower fire victims on Thursday afternoon owing to security concerns. The decision predictably stirred up some already narky members of the public, who tossed around insults like "coward", "murderer" and "Weetab****". Ok I made that last one up.

Ironically, the attitudes of those making the remarks actually support May's fears that a) many people don't want to see her anyway and b) there's a real risk that anger over the incident could be directed at her. Possibly even physically. If it were Arnie or Putin then no problem but Theresa doesn't look like the kind of leader who can take a punch.

It's unfortunate that her TV appearances don't include any emotional engagement. She remains as guarded mentally as she is physically. A destructible, yet inflexible machine-stitched doll, complete with a range of prerecorded messages. Still, she's capable of reciting positive statements and is willing to give interviews, despite knowing that the questions will be tricky.

I got asked to write a post on my reaction to the tragedy for another blog and couldn't help but observe that we first created fire more than a million years ago and yet we still haven't completely mastered it.

Is that true?

Is it the fire we haven't mastered? Or is it something else? We can, almost all of us, create fire at will. My poor parents found that out when I was very young and they left me alone for several minutes with the sofa and a box of matches. What's more, there has never been a man-made fire which humanity has failed to eventually extinguish. So what's the answer? Better hoses?

What about our own behaviour? Now we're getting somewhere and at the same time, we're getting nowhere fast. In those million years, or at least the most recent ones, we've been able to do remarkable things with fire. We've powered steam engines. Lit the streets. Cooked meat. What've we done with human nature? Has it improved? I like to think it has. We're less violent. We might even be happier. We're still pretty darn careless though.

Disasters won't stop happening just because there's a change in government or a change in the law. It might be of some help in specific cases but ultimately we are a careless species. What this means is, it isn't just the government's responsibility to ensure we live safely. It's yours and mine and everyone else's. Did you visit Grenfell Tower when you heard the news? Did I?

Friday, 9 June 2017

#197 Getting the basics wrong

Razor blades are one of the biggest scams in the developed world. I have no idea how the market isn't more competitive. Are they difficult to make? Opting for the supermarkets' brands might be an option if they did anything more than slice my face up but it seems that after more than a decade of selling its own razors, Tesco hasn't quite got round to making one that will actually shave hairs.

Thank Gillette, the only razors a man can get that actually work. Except most of them cost more than the GDP of Bulgaria. The margins make any other business look daft to get into. When the supermarket recently ran out of Blue II's for the second week in a row, I wasn't annoyed. I just felt that sort of deep, unsettling nausea representing the accumulation of all my suspicion since I started to approach age thirty, that real life might in some ways be different than it looks on TV.

Then again, we've entered an age where even those being filmed can't be bothered to get it right. Politicians should be banned from making live TV appearances until they can do a decent job of it. It's embarrassing for all of us. Just have them write a script, get it checked three times and then let someone more attractive read it to the camera.

If our country's leaders do decide to appear on screen, they should be allowed to do so alongside several members of the rest of their team. Afterall, rarely in the private sector would a company send a single employee to pitch for the biggest deal it's ever done. Even in a panel debate, I see nothing wrong with bringing a colleague, or a well-organised stack of notes. They can write their policies and budgets on their forearms in biro for all I care.

Monday, 5 June 2017

#196 Polyamory

When I used to use Tinder, I'd sometimes match with someone who had a boyfriend. In their pictures. They were usually upfront about it, explaining that they were in an open relationship. Sometimes they'd proceed to describe a fantasy they were looking to act out but often they'd just be looking to meet someone. It didn't interest me personally but like it or not, I'd keep coming across it.

In an effort to learn more about navigating human connections in general, I recently finished The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neill Strauss. 

The following will spoil the book if you intend on reading it and have not yet done so.

From the title, I'd expected it to land all the right punches. Experts advising humans aren't meant to be monogamous. The evolution of religion. The importance of commitment when raising a family. The purpose of a relationship, which as everyone knows is mutual spiritual growth. As it happened, the book only focussed on the last of those points. What a first-rate job it did though.

Over the course of 420 pages, the author described his own experiences in almost every kind of heterosexual structure imaginable. The traditional exclusive duo. A poly triad. A hareem. A commune. Swinging. From a cursory peek at a review, I first thought Mr. Strauss was either carrying out a research study or a marketing campaign. It was only through closer examination of the text that I discovered the earnestness of his journey.

Here was a man desperately searching for a dynamic in which he could feel happy. After participating fully in an expensive and hideously restrictive year-long programme of sex addiction therapy, he realised that even when he did everything "right", he was still miserable. So he went and did everything "wrong" instead but he was still miserable. It was only at that point that he realised one of the main requirements of a successful relationship, which as we all know is that its constituents have achieved and are able to maintain a basic level of happiness independently of one another.

The naughtiness and intensity of the story would be enough for some readers but Strauss' ability to see the hilarity in even his most genuinely difficult moments helped to humanise his experiences. It was clear from very early on, that whatever happened to him, he'd keep the tone entertaining and he did, right through to the end.

An open relationship still isn't something I'd consider but my week-long literary canter through various alternative loving arrangements was well worth the trip to the library and back. After what the author went through to arrive at a conclusion worth ending on, I will be distraught if I ever see another book about relationships by him again. If that day does come though, I'll definitely be picking up a copy.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

#195 Use it or lose it?

Most of my friends are voters. They scream at their peers to partake. There's no discussion, they just tell everyone that they should or they must. "You have to vote!"

I have to?

In that case I'm definitely not going to.

I might though.

Without really trying, I can think of three reasons:

1) The vote was hard-fought for, therefore we should use it, lest it be snatched from us and suffering ensues to get it back. It's a sensible point.

2) Not voting is like getting in a car and hoping it will go where you want it to without ever touching the steering wheel. I don't think it's as dangerous as that but it illustrates the principle.

3) As important as the vote itself are the mechanisms that facilitate it. Near-universal suffrage is underwritten by near-fair administrative processes. Should those be lost, there's no guarantee we'd regain them. In corrupt countries, the call for democracy is often met with a pretend answer.

Would we have to suffer to get the vote back? Maybe. The efficiency with which the population can cooperate and mobilise itself in the 21st century means that strike action and consumer boycotts would be easy to execute, however any kind of revolution would probably be accompanied by violence, so I feel that point 1) is valid under scrutiny.

What about the lack of a credible candidate? Hear, hear! Verily the contenders have some shocking stances, which means it's almost a good thing that they won't deliver on all their promises. Who would vote for such a bunch? To be fair, I don't always do everything I say I will either.

Do I have to vote? Not really. I reckon enough people will that I don't have to worry about point 1). Do I want  to vote? The psychological benefits of feeling somewhat, albeit very loosely, involved in the fate of one's country seems worth the short walk to the polling station. Especially if they weather is nice.

I like the idea of going Green this time around. It's a snap election, so... I know, I know but just think for a minute: they're actually taking factors like happiness into account. I hear they're discussing a three-day weekend. It's not going to start raining emerald anytime soon but they belong ahead of UKIP.

I will leave you with one of the more entertaining fruits of the electoral system: dancing and rapping politician videos. Because if life isn't enjoyable, there's no point in any of us voting.


Friday, 19 May 2017

#194 Water

Twenty five years ago, a shipping container fell overboard on its way from Asia to the US. Its contents? Rubber ducks. Tens of thousands. The floating toys washed up on beaches around the world but two thousand became trapped in a circular pacific current. It seemed likely they'd remain there, rotating around. Forever trapped in the water.

Buckets of it crashed down as I sat peering out from the usual spot. The seat of my shorts was soaked from the flooded marble floor. My T-shirt and the rest of me were catching up. The rain never stopped me running. It would reduce my sitting time that afternoon but not by much.

Basking in my volitious shower, I relished the thought of passers-by being impressed or curious about my ease and passivity in such a climate. It distracted me from the ankle I twisted fifteen minutes prior.

I wasn't the only one caught in a downpour. I had a friend whose mental forecast was often gloomy. She'd been messaging me about her family, who seemed to contribute to it. As usual, dismal observations poured out of her head and into her phone. Like the rain, I enjoyed letting it reach me, without affecting me. Getting wet without getting bothered. A bothered person can't do anything. Whatever they try to do, they'll ruin. Rain doesn't ruin anything. Unless it bothers you.

The current I was caught in was different. I'd been making applications for several weeks and had only heard back from a few. I guessed that was the nature of finding work. I resolved to make more calls and push on with the applications. If that didn't work, maybe I could get a temp job. Something would need to change though. I'd need to get more fed up of job hunting. Or more excited about temping. When would that happen? Why?

A quarter-century since the rubber ducks were lost, they're still washing up on different beaches. Despite getting trapped in the current, the remaining ducks can still be dislodged by a sea storm or the movements of a whale pod, which means there's always a chance they'll break free. Even after years of being trapped in the same water. It's possible to find a way to shore.

Friday, 12 May 2017

#193 Stationary

I needed a place to sit. To eat lunch or contemplate. The riverside was an obvious choice but metal railings hid the view.

I made my way to Cabot Square, plonked my ass down on the marble floor and sat facing the fountain and the iconic tower behind it. Mist danced around the pyramid at the building's peak, like snow blown off a mountain.

I wouldn't have done that last year, or the year before. A person can forget how to just sit. If they ever knew.

I used to be so impatient I could barely watch a film. To sit there for that long with no other stimulation. For Star Wars I just about managed it. x2 speed on Youtube felt frustratingly slow. Bedtime felt unreasonably early. Everything felt unreasonable.

It was that sense of stillness I'd missed. Some people got it as they were drifting off before napping. I rarely napped. Even before blue light came along. The few times I'd daytime-slept, I woke up groggy. Like I'd eaten chalk.

I'd stopped taking the time to listen to music. To discover it. It became... the lemonade top. Familiar tunes from the past, sometimes added as an afterthought to whatever stream of videos I was watching. Why would anyone do that to music? Or lager?

I needed to get into music again. It was therapeutic, unlike binge-watching series or Youtube. Maybe I could check out some of fellow blogger Cath's tunes. She incorporated one into every blog post. Over a hundred in 2017 so far. It was a lot of music.

Cath also piled on the pictures, taking heaps of photos herself. Most bloggers used stock sites. I hated those places. Row upon row of smart, low-cost images. If they were any more soulless, the sites would have to open a cafe selling cheap Swedish meatballs, just so visitors would have something to rave about.

I could draw more pictures. Another way to externalise thoughts on top of writing. I wished I had the time and talent to illustrate the blog. The best example I'd seen was ThunderPuff. I couldn't compete with that. The self-doubt maybe, not the drawing.

Should I go draw some pictures? Or should I stay sat there? Waiting for the thoughts to blow over. In case they ever would. My body would tell me when to get up again. It'd rise of its own accord and walk home. Thinking of dinner. A worthwhile change of focus. Meat and mash crept into my brain. It was time to leave.