Exercise and Exorcise

Sunday morning has come around again; much too quickly. It came with two possibilities: a passive, meaningless stretch of twenty-four hours or a moment seized and gently squeezed of its goodness. We chose the latter.

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After a two year battle with the world, I appear to be content. Contentment is so different from its superficial cousin, happiness. Contentment doesn’t wear a showy smile. Contentment doesn’t belly laugh. Contentment doesn’t leave without warning, leaving a grey vacuum that swallows the pain of having to live without it.

Contentment just is.

So here is me, content. And this morning, to build upon this feeling of being here, we went for a run in the countryside. We being my lovely wife and me.

To start with, as we drove to our route, we chunterred a little about aspects of our lives. Our middle daughter has completed her A Levels and has put off university for a year. She now sits with her smartphone, sits and sits. Her bedroom is the stuff left by hurricanes and her mother is reaching the end of her patience. My wife’s workplace is undergoing change (the type of change that has become the byword and trite idealogy of educational institutions, “We must get better and better!”). She is feeling the stress from that and I, having gone through my own psychological wildfire, am on hand to offer a comforting  perspective.

As soon as we reached the area for our run, the world began to lift.

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It’s a difficult run but so rewarding. Up and up and up with calves straining against the effort. A desire to stop to ease the rapid breathing but a continuation in order to reach the top. Once there, the panorama is reward enough.

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We run in a rough circle that takes us along trails in fields and ones in woods. It is the woods that I most like. There is a stillness about so many trees so close together. They stand and watch our passage without comment. On more than one occasion I have been on the receiving end of an arboreal prank with hidden routes reaching up from the ground to catch the toe of my trainers and send me on a slow-motion tumble. Now, I keep an eye on them.

When our run has brought us full circle we are allowed to descend the steep climbs and make our way back to the car that is parked up by one of the most picturesque churches one could wish to see.

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Fully evercised and fully exorcised, we are content.

Living With Lots Of Women

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No, I am not a sultan. I am neither a sultan nor a raisin, although some extended time in the sun could change that. 

I have a wife, three daughters, and a female cat. They all treat me as some acceptably odd character who shares their lives. I am no longer at the centre of existence and no longer at the centre of my own small act.

Philip Larkin Knew all about it:

“Something is pushing them

To the side of their own lives.”

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You reach that moment when you have dispensed with thinking about life as one great adventure. The French talk about egotism as revolving around one’s own belly button. It’s like a living birth when everything in the universe is centred on the sole issue of that sole issue, you.

Once out in the open, it takes decades to accept that the world no longer revolves around you. You are not the sun, you are not even a sun, you are a speck in the universe, a galactic smote of dust that travels the great distances without anyone taking any notice.

But, I live amongst women. And they care for me. Even the cat, Lucy, nuzzles me when I am a little down. 

My ladies don’t give me false support. My ladies don’t allow me to wallow. My ladies keep me planted on the ground. They keep me…

I may be on the sidelines now. I may be but an observer of things that are happening around me, but which I do not participate in. I like it. I like the feet-up approach. I like being relaxed. I like not having to act. My ladies accept me for what I am.

So, in this part of my life, I am prepared to relax and to leave the running to others. I will watch, observe, appreciate. And occasionally, I will cheer.

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From Field of Dreams

 

I will not be in the centre of it from now on, but I will be somewhere, enjoying the moments…

With my lovely girls (and wonderful wife).

Not Making Difficult Decisions

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Being cornered by a difficult decision can be worrying. There are times when we are being demanded to choose a particular course of action in favour of another. We have this idea, this solid appreciation that whatever decision we make is going to have profound consequences. The path that our lives have been set upon wil irrevocably change and things will not be the same, ever again.

Life does that to you because it’s a bully. It keeps taunting you with, ‘Go on. Try it!’ And the more it taunts, the more likely it is that the fear venom will start to rise from the deepest pit of your everyday anxiety. The more it tells you to, “Go on and give it a go’ the more you hesitate, prevaricate, constipate intended actions into an obstinate refusal to act. If we are incapable of acting for long enough, time takes over.

I was once playing football and a very talented midfielder, with a golden boot, gained a freekick just outside of the penalty area. The game was standing at 2-2 and the opportunity presented itself for him to cement his growing reputation in Sunday-League football with a last minute winner. He knew this. We knew this. The opposition knew this. And so did the man and his Border-Collie who were the crowd. Time knew this and was instrumental in what was to follow.

It was one of those mockingly cold Sundays that had refused to let the freezing winds of winter completely go. Rain had begun to join in and was lashing our drawn-out expectations. As the moments went on, we got wetter and colder. Words of support were offered from a few of us towards the golden midfielder. The other team were offering words that were not advice, unless advice was to let the dog take it. All of this added to the tension.

The referee uttered a few words about time-wasting yet still there was no action. Our talented midfielder had dallied too long in the world of indecision. The clock was not just running down, it was racing down, rocketing down. If the kick was not taken quickly, the whistle would be blown.

At moments like these, time steps in.

In this instance, time was dressed up as a rather forthright defender who wanted to ‘get a bloody move on’.

As Golden Boots dillied and dallied, checked the wind, checked the rain, checked the position of the other teams defensive wall, our rogue defender mumbled, ‘Fuckit’ and ran  up to the ball and whacked it. To be fair, he often whacked things; he was a good defender. And the pub was about to open.

I can’t remember what happened as a result of his whacking it. I can’t remeber because this is only a story that I created to illustrate the point of my dilemma. In an ideal world the ball would have sailed into the back of the net. In another world it would have missed by miles or have been saved by the keeper. In the world of Independiente, our Neo-South American football team that owed alliegience to no one other than ourselves, the ball may have gone on to ricochet into forever towards time’s coming dusk. Regardless of the intervention, nothing has changed significantly since then.

I had a very difficult decision to make recently. I had been offered a job in a school in southern Spain. It could have led to significant things. I could have been a contender. The implications of any decision could have been significant. Guess what?

Just as I was standing over the ball, petrified in indecision, the same bloody defender came racing up from behind me and blasted the ball. I watched it leave his boot, fly towards goal, be anticipated by the keeper and then…

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This time, Time was not a defender but an email which I accidently sent off with a swipe of my finger as I was showing it to my wife. I was trying to prove to her that I wasn’t indecisive and Time decided to help me.

Inspirational Quotes.

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Back when the world was still young and very, very big, somebody thought it wise to employ inspirational quotes as a way of lifting the general mood out of abject depression.  Life, you see, sucks.

But so does a vacuum cleaner.

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“Don’t wait until you feel better to live your life, get your coat on and live it now.”

 

Perhaps I agree with some of this, but question why I need my coat on to live my life. Surely, this is a little prohibitive.

 

It was a Year 7 lesson in which an inspirational quote was unknowingly uttered:

 “Sir, is Ancient Greece something from the nineties?”

Laughter was my initial response. Kids sometimes don’t get it. They may overlook a century or a continent in the same way that others overlook an occasional misspelling or punctuation error. After explaining that Ancient Greece was some several thousand years in the past, I realised that her misconception had not been rectified; time, centuries, eons were just so much other things to fall out of a busy mind.

images-814I had turned away momentarily before having to turn back again and remind her not to continue to wrestle a pencil case off her friend.

But then again, she was only getting on with it and living for the moment. Are teachers such myopic tyrants that we would deny the life out of any kid in our care just so that we can educate the hell out of them?

This week I heard that slippers are the answer.

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One primary school teacher had carried out some research that suggested that the wearing of slippers in the classroom improved educational outcomes. It was, apparently, part of their ‘wrap-around’ learning environment in which the students had opted to take more responsibility and control of their learning episodes.

When I was at school, the slipper was the softest of the hard options for learning.

The other thing that I heard this morning was that in South Korea, the entire student population go to sleep for at least one hour after lunch. This was being lauded as good practice as the South Korean offspring tended to get much better results than our own.

So now, somebody in the Department of Miseducation will command all schools to be ‘lounge lizard aware’ and to adopt the manner of the sloth.

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In that respect, I can report that I am probably ahead of the game as many of my after lunch lessons bear a striking resemblance to an episode of  The Walking Dead (during nap-time).

 

The Importance Of Night

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Almost twenty-minutes past three and I am sittng here in the darkness, without my glasses, whilst my wife and daughters sleep upstairs.

I woke thinking.

Now someway into my veritable older years, though the boy inside me queries this, I have those nocturnal meanderings that lead to a gnawingly inward frustration.

It’s over two-years since I finally wobbled beyond wise words. My ‘burnout’ was a forest fire that destroyed everything that I had come to depend upon in my daily existence and spiritual certainty. Even then, I still had a belief in the whole business of God.

I was a character in some cosmic saga and my lines were being written in a sympathetic ‘it will all work out in the final chapters’ manner. It was a nice thought, but it was a thought that gently drowned me into inactivity. Why should I bother to make the hard decisions when they had possibly already been made for me?

It takes many deaths before we awaken to the possibility of our own.   

I think the fifties decade is the one that begins to place the Grim Reaper before us on an ever more frequent basis. People die. It’s not just people we vaguely know or celebrities we have grown up with. No, those now dying are our friends and our family. At this point, life stops being endless, ceases to be something that will happen tomorrow, and starts becoming a little urgent.

We have just returned from holiday in the past week and yesterday I was talking to my wife and commented on how full ‘holiday days’ are compared to non ‘holiday days’.

We were camping in France and we based our stay around the beautiful Lake Annecy. Our camping was a mixture of hard and soft camping with ten days being spent in mobile homes whilst the other eight was real camping in tents. We had our bikes (five people in my immediate clan) and the car was full to bursting with everything that we were to need and lots of things that we had forgotten that we would need. But we were on holiday and that meant that the days were ours and needed the respect that they deserved. So, instead of just letting them drift by, we filled them full of ourselves. Cycling, walking, talking, cooking, meeting, talking some more, seeing, site-seeing, BEING! We did it all.

Like most of our best holidays, the weeks were book-ended by potentially disastrous events. The car broke down, badly, and or final dash for the ferry saw us driving through the most torrential of storms which demanded my wife and daughters’ abject fear and my 1000 percent concentration. We survived both. When we got home we were well and truly knackered, but we had done it; we had filled the days of our holidays with meaning. We ‘did’ rather than procrastinate. It made sense. Back home the doing seems to get pushed to one side for that great big empty balloon of a thing called ‘everyday life’. And that is what we genrally do (or don’t).

Have you ever been to a funeral and said to yourself, “This is too important to waste”, then gone straight back to wasting it the next day and the day after that and the one after that…infinitum? It’s the holiday thing. We have a brief epiphany, a break from the everyday, a glimpse of what could be, then the blinds come down and we are back in the darkness of the mundane.

The thing with the mundane, the everyday, the normal world, is that it’s not taxing. It may be ultimately a stealth-tax but we don’t immediately feel it. We are not left exhausted by our attempts to seize the day and don’t feel the need to stuff all of our energies into a few weeks that will come to an end.  Unlike life, holidays are finite. And that is ‘rub’. Life does end. It’s a holiday that starts with a breakdown and finishes with a dramatic storm that threatens to derail everybody’s safe passage.

So after those fine words, I am still confused as to what my true holiday should contain.  

I have a decision to make in the next few days.

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I can’t put it off. The clock is ticking. 

 

 

Selling Like Hot-Cakes?

DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAIL Read After Burnout.

It makes no sense. 

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The Promise

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They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke politely about the current and the depths they had drifted their lines at and the steady good weather and of what they had seen. The successful fishermen of that day were already in and had butchered their marlin out and carried them laid full length across two planks, with two men staggering at the end of each plank, to the fish house where they waited for the ice truck to carry them to the market in Havana. Those who had caught sharks had taken them to the shark factory on the other side of the cove where they were hoisted on a block and tackle, their livers removed, their fins cut off and their hides skinned out and their flesh cut into strips for salting.

When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbour from the shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odour because the wind had backed into the north and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on the Terrace.

 

I have no marlin waiting to be butchered.

More than forty years have floated by since my visit to the library and my borrowing of the book. Hemingway’s tome never returned to its place on the shelf, taking up residence on mine instead. It still sits there and so does the scent of that brave fish that fought and died.

The sharks have been fattened over the last four decades. Each of my dawns are always followed by failure. I must be getting good at this. In truth, I hate failing. The only thing I hate more than failure is accepting failure; not trying to do battle with the thing that throws scorn. That’s why I keep on trying. I get up in the morning and climb into my skiff and set out for the most promising of vacant sea that I can dream of, and then I cast the bait.

My bait is myself.

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I cast myself into the empty blue and pray that something will bite. I pray to a God that I no longer believe in. I pray to a sea that is ungiving. I pray to whatever governs chance and opportunity and I pray to the stray readers who drift past my words.

I pray that this last launching will not bring sharks.