Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Rainbows, Smiles and Leaving the Urghhh Behind.

I was sitting at work this afternoon, one of the few times I have ventured into the office since we were allowed to return, and rather enjoying the change of location after so much time at home, and the comfortable companionship that comes with the presence of others working quietly in the office. 

I was sitting in  the corner, with large windows behind me. The clouds were low, darkening, and it started to rain heavily. After a while it stopped, and the ladies facing me from across the office started pointing and laughing. Through the window, behind me, was a large, bright rainbow. I turned to look at it, and the colours were broad and clear.  The ladies informed me that from where they sat, it appeared to come down into my head.

"Ah yes", I said. "I am a pot of gold in an otherwise dark and dismal world."

I was, of course, joking. I can be grumpy along with the best of them, and I actively have to work to remember to smile at gatherings of family and friends in case they think I am bored and angry with them. But it did remind me that it is important to maintain a positive outlook in these times.

Recently, I felt slighted. A social media post I made (no surprises there) resulted in a stupid and thoughtless comment. Instead of responding, I simply deleted their comment. My wall, my rules, and I can say what stays on my wall.

For similar reasons, I left a couple of Facebook groups which I used to enjoy, but were bringing me down with their negativity. And do you know, I haven't missed them at all.

Some may have noticed that, for the most part, I try and maintain a positive attitude on social media. There is a fine line between keeping an "up" attitude online and creating a fake, happy persona. I don't want to the be the guy who makes out he has the perfect life, posting only images of holidays, meals and so on, but I do want to not be brought down by the angst and anger which pervades social media.

And so into my real life.

I started each week at work (from home) with some gentle, pleasant music. I am well aware of the emotional effect music can have on me, and so I figure choosing the right tunes early on can shape my mood for the day, if not the week. I login to my team's chat and try and say hi, offering virtual coffee, and having a laugh with anyone who happens to be around.

I get up from the desk and stretch, take time out to play with my dog, and go for walks. I also try to eat healthily and not drink too much coffee.

And that's all we can do, isn't it?  The best we can in trying times.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Clubs and Opinions.

Many years ago, I wanted to join a book club.

There was a sign in the local library advertising some, suggesting we ask the librarian about them. I did, and she shook her head.

"There are a few, but I don't think they're what you're looking for. Do you want to chat about the book for five minutes and spend an hour talking about grandchildren you obviously don't have?"

We had a laugh about that, and discussed the books these groups read. They didn't really suit my reading patterns. Now, I am very happy to read broadly, outside my usual choices and comfort zone, and I do. But I recall looking at the lists and thinking that after one or two of those books, I'd simply give up.

While I was thrilled there were book clubs which were well attended, and there were people reading, I was really disappointed there wasn't one locally that suited me. This was pre-Facebook days, and so we didn't have that avenue to explore. I kept my ears open, but nothing ever popped up in my area. And then I stopped thinking about it, stopped looking, moved to the UK and got caught up in life.

Occasionally I would watch the Book Group, a dark comedy series about, of course, a book club. Oh, how I wished I could have joined that group.

About a month ago, Lindsey mentioned she'd been told of a book club that might suit me. I looked into it, saw the broad range of books they had read in the previous twelve months, noted they met in a fine pub, and decided I'd give it a go. I also wanted to be straight in, and so with less than a week to go I bought a copy of that month's book, read it in three days, really enjoyed most aspects of it, and was ready to go and discuss.

The big day arrived and I couldn't go. That morning I was told my friend Jev had passed. I needed to stay home.

The next meeting is a couple of weeks away. The book is Shuggie Bain, which won the Booker prize and has been well received. I borrowed it, read it, and don't love it. In fact, I can't understand how it was worthy of inclusion in the shortlist.

There is a story in there, but it is flawed in many ways. Oh, and it needs a hard edit.

I'm pretty excited about my first meeting. But as the newbie I'll have to sit back and be restrained until I get a feel for the group. What if they all love the book? How do they feel about dissent?

I may just sit quietly for a few months until I feel confident I can have a different opinion that is received well. Even then I will have to be gentle.

In the meantime, that's me in the corner sipping an ale and listening with interest.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Vale Jev Telford: Colleague, Mentor and Friend.

I was told a couple of days ago that one of my closest friends had passed away suddenly. I didn't post or share anything immediately, as I didn't know who knew. Also, I was devastated, too numb to write. And I didn't have the words anyway.

When I started teaching, Jev was my manager (Head of English) and mentor, but we soon became firm friends over a shared love of music, guitars, film, art and books. And, of course teaching. We spent the next 13 years at desks alongside each other until I moved to the UK. We talked about all of the above, obviously, but also everything else, including philosophy and spirituality - both of which were a huge part of Jev's life.

We also became confidantes, seeking advice from each other - both professional and private, sharing ideas and managing student situations as a team. When I messed up, I could always talk to him and trust his advice.

We team taught, and supported each other, often falling in with the other's cues instantly when dealing with students - playing the good cop to the other's bad, the straight man to the other's comedian and so on. Often there would be pop, TV or film references inserted. I almost lost it one day when I was meant to keep a straight face while he was talking to a student. He started gesticulating wildly as he emphasised points. There were others present, but I alone knew he was imitating Gus McCrae, a character from the Lonesome Dove mini-series.

And cards. Almost every day for those 13 years, we played 500s over lunch with wild tales and stories aplenty. We laughed a lot.

Jev loved to draw. He would attend curriculum (and other) meetings and draw comics and cartoons. When he returned from these meetings, I'd ask how it had gone, and he would show me the cartoons which was his way of explaining the mood of the meeting without going into details.

He was a musician, having played in theatre and bands in his native New Zealand and in Australia. He released albums as a kids' entertainer, and then wrote and recorded an album as the Honey Eaters with Natasha-Lee on vocals. He also played on Songdance by Malcolm McNeill, a New Zealand album. I have been told this is one of the best selling foreign jazz albums in Japan.

And, just like Vince Noir and Howard Moon, I would kid him about his jazz leanings, while he told me I feared jazz and joked about my harder rock preferences.

Outside of work we ate together, watched films together, listened to music together, made music together and, most of the time, just hung out and chatted.

I have lost a great friend. An encourager, supporter, mentor, adviser and confidante.

My thoughts are with his family, his friends, and my colleagues at Moorolbark College.

And Jev. Goodbye, old friend. I have missed seeing you while I've been in the UK, but if there is a great beyond, I look forward to catching up.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Vale: Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts passed away yesterday.

I knew he hadn't been well, and that Steve Jordan had been tagged, with Charlie's blessing, to stand in for Charlie in some upcoming live shows while Charlie recovered from some surgery. And it certainly crossed my mind we might not see Charlie playing again. It was still somewhat of a surprise.

Mick and Keith are the visible Stones, the personalities, the front men. They're the yin and yang, the necessary tension. Music and words, although not as clearly defined there as you would expect. Ronnie is the glue that kept Mick and Keith from ripping each other's throats out, and has been since 1975 or so. Charlie was the foundation on which they were built.

I'll go further than that. He was the heart, and the heartbeat of the Stones, and a true gentleman.

Like Ringo in the Beatles, he was rarely flashy, but he was always spot on - both in timing, and with what was required to make the song complete. Steady as a rock.

I grew up a Beatles fan - from the age of 9 or so. In my early teens, my friends were all a few years older than me, and one of them, Paul, is a huge Stones fan. He lent me Rolled Gold, a lovely compilation with a good overview of their early career. I remember him asking me what I thought, and I told him it wasn't as good as the Beatles because it sounded dirty. He told me that was the point. I still didn't get it.

I was probably about 12 or so at this time, and I simply didn't get them. There were a couple of tracks I liked, but didn't fall in love with. A few years later and I was into them. I bought two albums in quick succession. Let It Bleed, and Get Yer Ya-Yas Out - I can't remember which was first, but both are excellent albums which I played over and over. And still do.

On Ya-Yas, just before Honky Tonk Women, Jagger says "Charlie’s good tonight, ain’t he?" And he was. But I can't think of a Stones recording where Charlie wasn't good. He was always good.

I've been listening to a bunch of Stones albums in the past 24 hours.

And yes, he's good.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Scotland, Again.

I left Scotland as a small child and grew up in Australia. My younger years were, of course, pre-internet days, and so most of my knowledge of Scotland was gained through books and stories from my Dad and grandparents. In my young mind, it was a magical place, a mythical place. A country where my ancestral warriors once walked, where the loch near my birthplace contained a monster, and where castle ruins dotted the landscape.

Heather and thistles, moors and mountains. A land of barren beauty, but warm and generous people. Haggis, mealy puddings, rowies and black puddings. Accents that sang as they spoke, the Doric with it's own vocabulary and grammar, and music that stirred my soul and speak to my spirit.

I first returned to Scotland 21 years after leaving, and found all this to be true. The land did call to me in ways I didn't understand. It was barren and beautiful and moody. Snow and mists. Wild and angry seas, yet calm and comforting.

One thing I will never forget from that trip was the light. People often talk of the light being different in Scotland, and it is. But it's difficult to describe.

I was there in Spring, but it was cold and misty much of the time. We even encountered a heavy snow storm on our way up from England, but even on a clear day the light was glorious. I remember going into shops and feeling warm and cosy, yet the light through the windows was soft, gentle and diffused. I suppose in many ways it was similar to the light and sparseness seen in Scandinavian dramas which have become popular over the past few years. It's a light I've tried to find elsewhere, but have never been able to.

Last week, I went up to Aberdeen for a few days to visit family. It is, of course, the middle of summer. But it was an odd week, weather wise. For the most part it was overcast and mild, and there was only one day I needed a jumper. And that was the day I walked into a cafe and BAM, there it was. That soft, cool, diffused light I had been chasing all those years. I sat and ate my soup and soaked in that atmosphere. My senses were working overtime trying to take it all in and retain it.

And it was glorious.

That trip away was probably the antidote I needed to the lockdowns here in England. The radio was playing reels and Scottish country dance music which fed my soul. The food and the accents were nostalgic and homey. The scenery was calming, and I felt a connection to the land as it called to me.

It was and still is a magical place. And I loved every second of being home again.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Jack of All Trades, But Masters Of None?

I haven't written much fiction (if at all) in recent times. Mostly this is due to my studies which have consumed most of my free time for the past few years. These studies, however, can no longer be used as an excuse for my lack of fiction writing, as I completed my dissertation last month and next week those results will be ratified at the official Board of Examiners.

So I am very pleased to (shortly) possess a Master of Arts in Digital Technologies, Communication and Education (with Distincion).

I commenced this course in saner times, as it tied together my interests and experience in Education and Digital Technology. It was also integral to landing a job in this field, which I commenced early in 2020. Little did I know that the world as we knew it would soon end, and my role and training would soon be very much in demand.

And so with a new job I was trying to learn while working remotely and away from the team, I completed my studies under a lot of pressure and difficulty. But completed they were, and now I'm free. Of study, at least. For the time being.

And before you ask, No, I am not going on to do a PhD. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Don't Get Around Much Anymore.

It's coming up on two years since I last visited family and friends in Australia. What a fabulous trip! Spent time with family and friends, visited my old stomping grounds, picked up some Australian albums which had been released while I'd been away, and the same with a few books. That trip really settled and recharged me.

I have no idea when I'll be able to visit again. 

Recently, it has hit me quite hard that it may be a year or two - or even more. Technically I could travel now, if I wanted to go through the hassle of being on a plane, wearing a mask, surrounded by strangers and not receiving even the current low standards of food and drink, then going into quarantine at the other end and facing the prospect that here or there closes their borders and I'm unable to travel for extended periods. I would have to add two weeks to the trip, just to sit in a hotel in quarantine, and then possibly the same coming back here, but no-one seems sure of the rules in the UK, not even the government. But the biggest thing is the cost would be prohibitive. 

I hadn't looked at airfares for nearly two years, but was stunned to see this morning they are currently four times what I usually pay. And then the two week quarantine at the other end apparently costs about the same as 1.5 times the usual airfare price. So a trip home which I normally get for around £900 would be closer to £5000. (As I said, I'm not even sure of the quarantine coming back into the UK - that could also add to the expense.)

So no, I can't travel at the moment. And I have no desire to sit on a plane for extended hours with strangers. Heck, I'm even cautious about going to the supermarket, and limit that unless I must.

But my mental health says I need to get out and do things, see people, interact beyond the monitor in front of me. I need to chat in person, be around others and have a laugh.

Good news is always appreciated, and I've had some this week which helped. Making plans with friends and family also helps, and I've taken time to do this during the week as well. And fine wine and eating never hurts. And yes, I've partaken this week - although I've been good and watched my intake on both counts.

It's draining, isn't it? And it made me think of all those people who applied for the one way trip to Mars, including 8 months or more with a bunch of other people in a tin can ship the size of a minibus. Yup, I wonder how many of them are going crazy after a year in an actual house.

Is NASA using this time to study the psychology of people in lockdown?