Monthly Archives: July 2011

‘A mini-road trip? I feel almost cool’

This post should probably feature several photos, shot with a wide aperture and very close-up, of a random selection from photos of the edges of coffee-cups, a smoothie, food, the corners of a couple of local-branch-line train tickets, someone else’s sewing project, a berry-stained jersey top, the head on a pint, and, to be truly representative, various newfangled and confusing bits of modern technology (e.g. an iPhone without a whole cobweb of cracks across the screen). Possibly also some spectacular bits of post-war architecture, except that that would probably give the game away.

However it does none of those things, because I didn’t take my camera, and nor, when it came to it, did anyone else. Although incidentally photos are making their way, slowly, towards this blog, which I took the previous weekend, and watch this space.

Sadly no cake was consumed, however instead there was a fantastic South American meal, plenty of coffee, smoothies, sunshine and Nandos, and as previously mentioned, a rather good pint to round off the day. And as for the title, well, it was a mini-road trip. A road trip of precisely one day, and only for some of us. It might seem daft to traverse half the country for lunch (and in all fairness, traversing isn’t quite what we did since we actually drove more or less due North (excuse my dreadful geography for this probably isn’t quite right) and then drive home again in order to climb into bed sometime not a million miles after midnight, but that’s exactly what we did. We left home early, and departed for our home towns far later than we should.

It’s strange, the things you do and do not know about a person you’ve never met. Obviously you don’t know what they look like, how they behave in conversation, how they laugh and smile. You know no more than the vaguest details about where they live and with whom and what they do with their days; you know more about their politics and how they think than you do about any of those things. And yet, it turns out – and this shouldn’t be a surprise – what you need to know about someone in order to click with them is exactly those things – how they think about and mentally approach life, how they think about politics, the things that move and interest them enough to make them write about them and say, look at this, look at that, and no, I think you’re wrong, and here’s why.

Yes, it’s becoming rather a habit. Or rather, I’ve done it three times now. I met some People from the Internet. And so far this summer I think yesterday might have been my favourite day. We all, collectively, absolutely clicked. I honestly think anyone watching our group would probably have assumed that this was a summer reunion of university/newly graduated (given our ages) friends, and not a group of six people in which six of the fifteen possible connections between us were completely newly made that day, and many of the other connections were incredibly long-distance, long-term and/or sporadic at best. That said some of the group were old school friends, and two of the key players are in fact engaged to one another, so it wasn’t exactly a mass Blind Date.

Anyway. It was interesting, certainly. There was a lot of laughter, and some incredibly interesting conversations, and a lot of chat about gaming which I know nothing about and on which I won’t even try to comment. Politics, physics, medicine, history, law, phlogiston, fencing, climbing, music, cats, religion, probably money and sex – nothing was left out. Thank you, one and all.

(I actually wrote a post this time. Last time I didn’t, because I didn’t know how to be clever enough about it. As was probably established yesterday, anonymity is not something I can do…).



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Apparently the previous post is not only my 627th post – it also has 627 words in it. Genius. That was purely an accident, incidentally.

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Time Kittens

Imagine that you are sitting on the sofa in your sitting room, and that you are knitting. Imagine, if necessary, that you can knit. Imagine too that you own a cat – a young cat, a kitten, or possibly she’s merely young at heart. Or he. You can have a tom instead, if you like, even both, go mad.

So you’re knitting, and you’ve got your ball of yarn beside you, and perhaps you move slightly, or knock it, and it falls onto the floor from the sofa, and maybe your cat ignores it altogether, licks his or her paws and then goes and pounces on a dust mote or a figment of its imagination – kittens do that kind of thing. Or perhaps it takes notice of the ball of wool, takes against it for some reason, gears up for the pounce, and before you know where you are there’s wool everywhere, no semblance of a ball of yarn, no sense of order, and you’re practically playing tug-o’-war with your cat. Everything is a tangle, everything’s out of sequence, perhaps you’ve even dropped a few stitches in the mayhem.

To be honest, cats and wool doesn’t normally get that bad. Most cats get it, they know when to stop, and even if they don’t, no lasting harm is done. Look, this is only an allegory, it isn’t perfect:

Time seems a bit like that to me sometimes. You’re going about your business, walking from your house to the corner shop on a lovely sunny day to buy some beer before going home to an al fresco dinner. Dandy. The ball of wool has been dropped, and the Time Kittens haven’t noticed. Good avoidance. Keep knitting – keep living, keep drinking that beer, excellent.

Perhaps you do the same thing a couple of nights later – head down to the corner shop in early evening for a few beers before heading home to eat in the garden, lovely, perhaps you’ll even have plums for pudding from the tree in the garden although it’s possibly still a bit early – and then the Time Kittens pounce. And they’re worse than normal kittens. They’re like kittens with with special, transient, ligase-type abilities. They can splice time. They pounce, and they tangle everything up, and they rejoin bits of yarn to other bits of yarn for no good reason and before you know where you are you feel – for a few disorientating seconds – like you’re in entirely the wrong year, doing the same journey in the same liquid, cidery early-evening light, except you’re a couple of years younger and you’re wearing that favourite sky-blue blouse that you ruined a year later by washing it with your red scarf, and the black jeans you finally gave up on a few months later because they were pretty ratty after all. For a second you were nearly knitting all the wrong stitches together and it’s all gone hideously wrong, claws and fur and yarn everywhere, and then out of nothing the Time Kittens get distracted by something else, someone else’s life needs a bit of quantum pouncing, and you shake your head, confused, choose your beers, and head home a hero (everyone’s a hero if they’re bearing beer. Come on).

To be honest, right now, I’d far rather my cats pounced on my life and tangled it up. Their chosen activities these past few days have been to be terrifyingly unwell and in pain (one of them) for about five minutes, long enough for me to practically have one hand on the phone and the other desperately looking for the vet’s number – and this morning, the other one decided to cough up a hairball on my bed. Seriously cats. Mess up my life, not my new mattress, please?


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Muscle Memory

It’s like being lost in the house you grew up in. It’s like going to Wales and hearing people talking in what sounds like heavily (Welsh-) accented English only to realise that they really are talking in Welsh and you don’t understand them. It’s like suddenly losing your sense of smell, or spontaneously overnight growing eighteen inches taller, and suddenly the proprioceptive genius that got you this far is constantly slightly out of kilter.

I mean, actually, that I haven’t played the cello in a while. That I’m by and large good enough to play the orchestral cello parts for this that and the other, and had not realised how hideously out of practice I actually am. I used to go skipping up and down the fingerboard, always confident that the note I saw on the page was the note I would produce, and usually I was right. Now not only am I wrong more often than not – I’ve lost my way, of course – I’ve also lost the sheer guts I used to have that might make it OK, because I know how lost I am. I am timid, unsure, insecure, lost. I feel slightly mentally blindfolded. I’ve lost the knack of sightreading and making a thing into music at the same time and then also being able to communicate with the people I’m playing with so that it’s cohesive and alive and moves as one. I’ve lost it, and I know that I’ve lost it.

Which is irritating, and frustrating, and embarassing, and maddening, and all those things. But it’s also fascinating, because inevitably it makes me wonder what it was I did to learn those things in the first place – how does the brain do this, and that, and the other, to make music possible – how do we interpret this sequence of sounds as music, for a start, and then how do we do the practical muscular things to make that happen, how do we communicate almost intuitively – or not – with others, to make this something that flies rather than limps? What does all that learning entail, and what is it that happens when we don’t do it for a while, which bits is it that the brain loses the knack of? Because there is always an obvious difference, when you watch and listen, between players that are bad now but used to be better, and players that are bad now, worse in the past, and still learning, going to be better. Different things are problematic, different things are missing, and that’s interesting. How does the brain do that, and lose that, and…

…you can see why it was age-related neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimers that got me back into this science business in the first place. Meanwhile, though, I have some serious practice to do.


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Sorting Out

I just went through a box containing all the volumes of journal I have ever filled, from the age of eleven. It also contained all my other non-work notebooks, full of lists and ramblings and doodles and more random writing, fictional, true, and somewhere in between, poetry and songs and ditties and all the rest, going back fifteen years. I don’t actually have any wish to get rid of them. So I’m not going to. You haven’t seen my room, most of you, but it’s massive. There’s certainly room for a decade and a half of useless mental tripe, and it’s quite intriguing (the tripe that is, not the room). The intensity of thought and feeling bound up in those dry, inky pages almost scares me. And there’s so many things that apparently happened to me that I don’t really remember – or if I do, I don’t remember more than snapshot images, certainly not how those moments actually felt, and that’s really weird. Reading about a person I used to know and realising how much they used to mean to me – it is simply very odd, as if I’m reading the diaries of another person entirely. But that’s definitely my writing on those pages. I think I remember the last ten or so years pretty clearly, but it’s clear that I don’t really, not at all. What about you?


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