Saturday, October 15, 2016

As the blog says, nothing much about very little. I was going to write about liberal/metropolitan elites, but somehow sidetracked myself. But I least by the by I have learned a new word

When I moved to London in 1990, at first commuting weekly from Cardiff where I had been living and working, then eventually shifting all my few possessions up to The Smoke, I was not - as the current cliche is - ‘in a good place’.

I had very vaguely - very vaguely indeed - been planning to set myself up as a freelance photographer, but getting the boot from my job as a sub-editor on the South Wales Echo for one cock-up too many (see this entry for part of the reason why) hastened things, and for about ten months I had scraped together a certain kind of living taking pictures, selling features to Wales on Sunday and working sub-editing shifts on the Western Mail (until its editor, one John Humphries - Geoff Rich without the heart, was one memorable description of the man, which, though, will mean nothing to anyone reading this unless you knew Geoff Rich - heard about my sacking from the Echo and banned his chief sub from giving me shifts. Incidentally, looking up John Humphries on the web to make sure I got the spelling of his name right, I notice he has reinvented himself as a gardener and writes a gardening column for Wales Online. Odd. All I can say is that I wouldn’t like to be a flower in his garden.)

Come the turn of the financial year in April 1990 and yet another of Britain’s financial crises, work dried up. It was as though the tap had been turned off. It was actually quite startling. No one wanted to spend any money. Until then I had been doing as well as I might have hoped and working hard. From April on there was virtually nothing, most certainly not enough to live on, so by June I did what I actually should have done ten years earlier and rang the Fleet Street papers to see whether I could get any shifts as a sub.

At the time ‘Fleet Street’ was still a notion in the industry and several papers were still located there or nearby. Now, none are, and ‘Fleet Street’ will mean as little to most as ‘Grub Street’. And you haven’t heard of Grub Street? Didn’t think so. If you are interested read New Grub Street by George Gissing to give you an idea. I struck lucky on my first call, to the Daily Express and was given several shifts. Other shifts followed on other papers and very soon indeed I was working seven days a week, here, there and everywhere. And that was a good thing, because I was once again suffering from one of the bouts of depression which have blighted my life and keeping busy was a tonic.

For whatever reason, I have never liked London, though to this day I can’t tell you why. But in 1990 and the few years after when I was feeling pretty low and the depression didn’t lift, I especially disliked it. Given the sheer size of the city and the spiritual state I was in, I felt very lost as though the city were sitting right on top of me, and I was keenly aware that in the grand scheme of things, I was utterly, utterly insignificant, rather like one grain of sand on a beach is indistinguishable from the billions of other grains.

Ironically, of course, that is pretty much all we are, insignificant, except that, thankfully and praise the Lord (Mammon, if need be and that’s your schtick), none of us is aware of it. Thankfully and for most of our lives we have family and friends
and, above all, company; we have a job or are otherwise usefully employed doing something or other, and so our lives have what is conventionally regarded as ‘meaning’. But ask the old and lonely how much ‘meaning’ they feel their lives have and you will not be heartened by the answers they give you. I must admit I didn’t really get to know London very well, because given the times I worked, from early afternoon until midnight and later, there wasn’t much time left over to get to know it. Even now I don’t see any of the city or its people and life.

Driving up on a Sunday morning, working a shift; working a double shift on the Monday and Tuesday, then a single shift on the Wednesday before jumping back into the car and driving westwards down here to North Cornwall doesn’t give you a great deal of time to hobnob with the Queen or get down and dirty in the nightspots of Hackney or wherever London’s cool go to chill. But even though I am hardly on even on a nodding acquaintance with the city and its people, I have to some extent become familiar with some of metropolitan attitudes.

I’ve always thought that to enjoy London you must be young, well-off and preferably both. OK, you can enjoy it even if you aren’t necessarily well-off and are obliged to count the pennies if long-term debt isn’t our bag, but being young is pretty much sine qua non. Come the early squalls of middle age and most folk hitch up and settle down and move to where rents and house prices are cheaper (although ironically doing so means they will spend more on commuting).

Some, of course, stay but then they can afford to. I was three days ago talking to a well-known Mail columnist with whom I’m on chatting terms and asked her where she lived. I knew it was in North London, but didn’t exactly know where. Hampstead, she told me. But then she is single - again - has no children and will be on a generous contract, so Hampstead is where she can afford to live. She’s in the minority.

. . .

I meant in this entry to write about what is called ‘the metropolitan elite’ or ‘the liberal elite’ and how I am devastated that to this day it has not occurred to anyone to ask me to join. I would most certainly turn down the invitation where it to be made, of course, but it would be nice to be asked. I intended to start off by writing about London, then gracefully segue into eight hundred words of pithy prose about that elite.

Sadly, I lost my train of though a little earlier on and, despite some frantic searching these past few minutes, I am not at present able to lay my hands on it again. So rather than write something which would forced, I shall leave that until another time. Sorry. Try again in a few days time (you not me. Your luck might be in).

. . .

I’ve just come across new word: idiolect. Just before posting this and returning to my browser, I was sidetracked (as invariably we are by the net) by piece about Bob Dylan getting the Nobel Prize in the Guardian. That’s where I came across it. The piece, which you can find here, is rather silly in that the Guardian features editor obviously thought the paper had to write something about Dylan and obviously felt that Armitage, a poet, might be the chap to do it. But I would rather he or she had gone for someone who truly liked Dylan from the start rather than Armitage, whose line is rather throwaway.

Here’s an excerpt: ‘Maybe in Dylan I recognised an attitude as well, not more than a sideways glance, really, or a turn of phrase, that gave me the confidence to begin and has given me the conviction to keep going.’ And maybe not. The piece seems to shout ‘I really don’t know a great deal about the man, but I could do with the money, so let’s go for it’. Shame.

Anyway idiolect: I have never before come across the word and as is a racing certainty I shall now hear it used several times over the coming few days. I wonder whether I have an idiolect? Be great if I did. Fancy!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Rush, rush, sodding rush - the bane of my life and I wish I could stop it!

If there is one thing I would change about myself, for the better, it would be to get rid of my tendency to rush almost everything. And I have had that tendency since I was a toddler. I remember my German mother telling me always ‘nicht so fix’, because there was a certain haste in everything I did. It led to toys broken within minutes of getting them, new clothes ripped within minutes of putting them on, and later professionally - I work as a sub-editor for whom attention to detail is possibly, probably even, the quintessential necessity - it has meant I really haven’t done as well as I might have done.

You might think that being aware of the tendency is the first step to overcoming it. Sadly, it isn’t. At work I consciously - very consciously - slow myself down or try to slow myself down and largely succeed to ensure that it doesn’t affect my work. Yet I have to admit that to this day ‘slapdash’ is my middle name and if I achieve a task without being slapdash, it is only after a great deal of effort.

Not rushing what I do is a constant battle, one waged from moment to moment, and if you have ever been jealous or worried, you will know how ‘being aware of something’ isn’t half the solution it is cracked up to be. For example, ‘don’t worry’ is pretty much the most pointless advice you can give to anyone who is worried. It’s good advice, yes, but pointless: have you ever tried not to worry about something which is a constant concern? And being told by well-meaning family and friends ‘don’t worry’ and verge on the supremely irritating.

If you have been jealous, whether of a lover or a friend or a colleague’s success, no amount of telling yourself that your jealousy is groundless does much to assuage that jealousy. I’m assuming that everyone reading this has felt such jealousy, although perhaps not everyone has. And, incidentally, I don’t think anyone will truly appreciate Shakespeare’s Othello unless they, too, have been jealous. That’s by the by.

This tendency to rush wheedles it’s way into more or less everything I do: I am constantly looking for shortcuts ‘to save time’, even though it doesn’t matter whether or not time is saved. I usually find myself impatient to get on with the task

in hand whatever it might be and to get on with the next even though there really is no rush and the next is no more important. I very often find it difficult to concentrate (although I have to add that every now and then I can concentrate beautifully, but it is then to the exclusion of everything else).

Where I get this tendency from I really don’t know. I had an older brother who seemed to be able to do anything with apparent ease - he excelled at school when he wanted to, he was a natural artist and musician and generally made me look like the plodder I finally have reconciled myself to be. Sadly, all that came at a price in that he suffered very bad mental health all his life - no one ever said so or made the

diagnosis, but it is likely he suffered from some form of schizophrenia - so perhaps that had something to do with it. But then perhaps not and saying so is mere speculation (and borders on that awful Sunday paper supplement cod psychology which is one staple of middle-brow conversation).

A few years ago, in the late 1980s when I was living in Cardiff and things weren’t going very well, I shelled out something like £60 and enrolled on a Transcendental Meditation course. I was very low, just been sacked from my job and had entered yet another bout of ‘depression’ (why I put that in quote marks I’ll explain later. NB Actually, I don’t in this entry, but if you go to my entry for October 16, 2015, which is what I would have repeated here) and was haunting local bookshops trying to find a self-help book which was quite obviously a load of old cack as, sadly, 99pc of them are. (I did come across a useful book about how to deal with ‘depression’ which was sane and down to earth, though I can’t know remember what it was called.)

The TM course was held over two or three days, and although I didn’t and don’t buy into any of its theory, I did learn a very useful meditation technique which I occasionally use to this day. But I should add that it is very simple indeed and I could demonstrate and pass it on in a matter of minutes, and it was most certainly

not worth shelling out £60 for. But then the whole TM movement was more than just about trying to pass on a meditation technique. (Is it still going? I must look it up in a minute. It does strike me now as something very much of the past, like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Moral Rearmament.)

One problem with talking about ‘meditation’ is that it sounds far deeper than it is and is invariably thought to be associated with some faith or other, or at the very least some kind of lifestyle. It seems to conjure up a certain way of living, ascetic rather than comfortable, a diet of porridge and acorns and communes in Mid-Wales where lavatory paper is regarded a bourgois luxury and the first step on the road to Hell. That’s here in Britain, of course.

I don’t want to sound in anyway goofy but there really is something to the notion of ‘inner stillness’ which we often hear about. I know, because I have, though rarely, experienced it, as perhaps have you. But once you have experienced it and know what it is, you are also know what a waste of time, effort, energy and emotion much of what we do daily is. Oh, and as far as I know there’s no need at all to pose cross-legged with your thumb and forefinger pinched together and facing up. That’s only obligatory in LA and Hampstead. The rest of us are allowed simply to sit somewhere comfortably and quiet.

As for the rushing, well, I’m doing it again: I’m rushing writing this so that I can post it, even though there is no earthly reason why this entry should be posted sooner rather than later or, to be quite honest, even at all.

The etymology of words is often illuminating, and the German for ‘to rush’ - hetzen is often also one way to describe racism - Rassen Hetze. The derivation would be from ‘hetzen’ used in a chase as in hunting. Oh well.