Thursday, 19 October 2017

Keep It Small, Girl

Often, it seems everyone else has so much life – to live, to give – whereas I lack that vital spark. Obviously, my body keeps to its own regular rhythm like the tick-tock of a wall or bedside clock and my heart beats, somewhat silently, but beating all the same like a slow winged creature, of the sort a natural world documentary deliberately puts in slow motion so that we, the viewers, appreciate the sweep and curve of its feathers. It looks so effortless, just like our own autonomic functions which only trip up when we fail to care for them properly or focus on them to such a degree that they jump out of sequence. Flutter and miss their timed spot.
That slot when I could have done something, anything, I feel has gone. And I say that personally, because friends that are older (and much wiser) than me are still doing what I consider real living. Heading out there and giving things a go. Holidaying alone or dating. Participating in supposedly what life is all about, in all the life there is on offer. Some get those kind of kicks through or from work. Once I guess I did too, when the spirit hadn't left me or I felt this was what you had to do to get on, but that now feels like another lifetime. A different person did that.
And although I'm not unhappy or discontent, those comparisons always start. You think you'd reach an age where you'd be beyond that, and mostly I have as I certainly care less about how I look and dress, though I think a date would be mortified should I suddenly decide to re-enter that playing field, yet still these feelings of inadequacy creep in when you least expect them.
I know I've let things slide and removed myself from scenes that no longer held my interest to return to my core: that firm point of being I'd denied or temporarily forgotten about, but now there's very few pursuits I enjoy which require another. That suits me, in the sense that I like my own, often quiet, company, and yet, frequently I'm reminded of the disadvantages. By others, though not of course with any intent, just in passing. What others do is fascinating; sometimes there's common ground as mostly as a species we associate with those that are similar, but then there's also those dissimilarities which occur due to age, experience, taste or differences in character. I like hearing of these exploits, thinking I could never do that, be that bold, but it does leave me feeling, an hour or two later, somewhat lacking.
Why doesn't it motivate or inspire? It can, but the sensation is so fleeting that it's gone before it can be acted upon, largely because dreaming up a plan and then putting it into action are two very separate things. A plan can take months to materialise and by then I will have lost that buoyant energy or nerve, so that what will likely come to pass will rarely be the happy event I envisioned. Also, I know deep-down, though I might be reluctant to admit it, I'm not that person, even if I thought I was or fooled people that I was at one time.
I feel more true, and yet my quietude keeps me somewhat contained, either to my flat and my books or to brief exchanges in the street, in shops, and in the library which can leave me feeling awkward if the question is asked, as it always is: what have you been up to? Whereby I fumbled around as if someone's suddenly turned out the light or a bulb has blown, and try to switch the conversation back around to the enquirer who obviously has much more to say. I'm sure some mistake this as secrecy; the case, however, is usually that my world is unchanged since I saw them last. I haven't been anywhere nor do I have anything planned. Nothing exciting has happened. And if anything untoward has I'm less likely to report it, unless our friendship is in that zone where nothing needs to be withheld or censored.
I never, however, mention my inadequacies. Why I'm doing so here has perplexed even me? But then this is just one-sided talking, as well as, possibly, an attempt to understand why I analyse myself in the way that I do (not that I ever get very far) and hold myself up against everyone I come into contact with too! How can I be enough for anyone else if I'm not enough for me out in that big, wide, baffling, and over-exhilarating world?

Picture credit: Woman With a Fan, 1919, Amedeo Modigliani, stolen from Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Plenty Lettuce

In 2016 when the baby-boomer generation became the scapegoats for everything, my plea seemed to fall on deaf ears, and I'm not sure that ten months on it will be heard now.
I never have and will not hitch myself to this bandwagon, though I think the horses long ago galloped off with the cart. And it was, I recall, a rather full and crowded cart with more people climbing up and hanging on to its sides since the space inside was already taken, so that when the horses, nervy with the increasing weight, decided to bolt their passengers squealed with joy and failed to recognise their lives might be imperilled. One of the horses was even lassoed but it being frightfully strong then took a string of men with it, its mane flying and hooves pounding the dirt with its man-made kite-like tail trailing and bobbing before most were shook off and left face-down eating mud.
Those that were sore, yet uninjured curse and spat; a few others sat up dazed and tried to make out in the distance which dots were the horses and which the cart with its heavy cargo. Those that were wounded could do little but admit defeat and stay where they were: lying face-down and occasionally moan.
I don't know what happened to any of those cursing, dazed or defeated men, or if all the cart's cargo, or even the cart, made it, but I do know that those horses slowed; at some point calmed their racing hearts, munched on some grass and took water on in a less dry valley.
These horses, whom we shall call Plenty and Lettuce though they've had many names since, were frequently during 2016 captured and trotted out, and although they had been paraded numerous times before, these occasions were different. It was more usual for stones to be thrown instead of words of admiration. They weren't wanted and were an unwelcome sight in the show ring where they would go for a song. Old nags, it was said with mutters and shakes of the head, which by the looks of them should be put out to pasture, and yet because they provoked talk they never went unsold, though it was usual for the two to end up at another cattle auction in their not-too-distant future.
Folks didn't know how to treat them, the world being what it was. There was no respect for the spent, despite the work they had put in in preceding years. Their very first owner, an English man who liked American slang, having bought them when he was flush had registered them under the above given names: Plenty and Lettuce, for he was proud that he'd achieved so much when he never thought it would be possible for someone like him, not realising that by doing so they would come to symbolise everything that is apparently wrong with every single socio-economic system. But he was long gone by the time that revision had come about: sold up, moved on, to then age on an nest egg he'd been canny enough to invest and save.
And that, according to (mostly) younger generations, as well as media and political pundits, is a problem, one of many, which they say comes from having had it so good. These horses, I think, would be less likely to agree, for all they did was run the race that was marked on their card: the 3:30 at Cheltenham. It was luck. Things were on the 'up' and the State were more helpful. And now having lived well, as a millennial might proclaim, they've been footing the blame for our stretched resources: in healthcare, the housing market, and even overcrowding in prisons.
It's unjust, and it's disrespectful. All of us are products of our time, which means some of us benefit, some of us don't. Each generation, no matter where they fall in the scheme of things, has their own ills to contend with, individual and societal, which have an impact on how a country's then run and the provision of services. In other words, we all add to the pot as well as take away, whereas blame just shifts responsibility and delays positive action. I say cut the baby-boomers some slack because their only crime, as I see it, is to have lived as any other generation would have done had they been in their position.

* Plenty lettuce: American slang for plenty of money.

Picture credit: A Day in the Country, Victorian print, 1877

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Mule It Over

John Steinbeck, the American novelist and short storyteller, said events had to ferment before being written down. I understand exactly where he was coming from, though I've just had to correct myself on my choice of words. A fair number of his works are so fresh in my mind I forget he passed from this world, having written about and searched America, twelve years prior to my birth. I wasn't even an possibility then as my parents I don't think had met, or if they had it they were very young and the relationship was very new. It was still a good few years before they sailed to Australia and then returned to settle down to a more conventional living.
Steinbeck: his words and his America are as alive (and relevant) to me today as when they were first written, although of course in reality some areas as Steinbeck knew them don't exist whereas I now do. I won't ever in actuality see what he saw in his lifetime, not if I travelled to and across present-day America. My experiences would be different and far removed from his fiction or a painting by Hopper. I won't get the America of my old-fashioned dreams: the good and backward, but then neither did Steinbeck when he took a road trip in 1960, though his purpose was largely observational, more sociological, than a recapturing of youth or time. If he was disappointed (and there are subtle and obvious hints of that in Travels with Charley), he nonetheless tempered any real vehemence he felt about progress, and lack of, in the resultant account of his journey.
If I set out to find any of Steinbeck's America, from his early or later works, from rainy England, I'd too might be sore when the materialisation proved very different to what I had pictured through reading American novelists, even though I might have prepared myself for that inescapable fact, known that that America was a distant memory. The uninitiated can't visually magic up something that's long gone, and I also don't know if I could be as open and as generous as Steinbeck was to 1960 America to America in the 21st century. Though of course, I've seen some States, very little of but some, and yes, those small trips are filled with an emotion I won't soon forget, particularly one when I was like him a lone traveller, and yet in memory it still has a somewhat touristy vibe. Maybe true openness to change or the willingness to accept only occurs when it's your own country and your own peoples, when it's not somewhere, thousands of miles away, built up in your over-exercised imagination on a stereotypical scale as high as the Empire State building or as gaudy as Trump Tower.
A road trip of England's regions would be perhaps more comparable to Steinbeck's American travels and tales, because observationally I'd already be an insider. Some sights would be new and attitudes would vary, but they wouldn't be entirely foreign. Being of the country, if not of the county, I'd hold a common insight that would communicate itself to whomever I might come across. This was true in Steinbeck's journeying, which meant, as he documented, that people were more likely to speak or often assistance to an out-of-towner when it was required. I sincerely hope that would also be the case if I chose to go in search of the United Kingdom, but like Steinbeck I might wait until I'm well into my fifties to attempt it, as well as able to hire a driver and borrow a four-legged companion.
I'm sure, however, that I would find taciturn individuals for the English too can be a tight-lipped bunch until they've got your measure. Also, that what I might see may not be a true picture, representational of the region I so happened to be in, for that too would depend on my views and the attitudes of the people I'd meet on a given day. Some places, as Steinbeck said (to paraphrase) of the South, will stay troubled with people caught in a jam, and sometimes there's very little you can personally do for a change in attitude demands patience, which I like to call the 'drip effect', though you can of course record your experience and the impressions it made upon you, whatever they might be.
At the end, Steinbeck , his feet relieved of their itch, comes home again, as most travellers do at some point, and yet with a lot, as a friend of his might have said, to 'mule' over, which I've found I've also done with the close of this delightful book.

Picture credit: San Pablo, 1610-1614, El Greco

Thursday, 28 September 2017


Hemingway is described as having a spare style. And it's true that although his novels and stories flow, it is with simplicity. His descriptions rich with imagery in language that has none of the complexity that other authors might interject. His dialogue repetitive, the story not slowed or hastened because it's just an encounter, a passing, and yet without it, it wouldn't be Hemingway.
Each time you visit, or revisit, his writing, the tone and style of these conversations strikes you as juvenile but also how real they are to those that occur naturally in life. We do in actual fact talk like that: echo back what another's said as a question or phrase it differently, respond to confirm we're listening, and comment upon past or forthcoming events made reference to, adding our own concurrence or variance on the matter. We conceal what we don't want known and divulge all that we do, in spite of subtle clues we inadvertently give which are telling.
Our topics of conversation and the small talk we engage in might be different now, but it's still delivered in a ping-pong style: batted back and forth, and Hemingway somehow captures that winningly, like it was a screenplay or an adaptation from life which in his case it probably was. Really, when you think about it most of the conversations we have are frivolous, though we might at the time kid ourselves otherwise, and even in those which do convey sentiments that are important or real, once said they pass. Fade as does the time and place they were said in just like a scene in a play. A new backdrop appears with the same faces or new ones and the action continues.
Real-life situations rarely contain monologues, and so neither does Hemingway; even the telling of a anecdote is peppered with interruptions from hecklers, who are more often than not tight friends. Tight as in getting drunk, till they are falling down or addle headed. And gad, did they seem able to drink in those days! Perpetually swimming in the stuff, so that alcohol becomes the dominate feature with events and friendships circling it, which today we would say is unhealthy, but drink then was a collective sport.
Relationships too, between men and women, are not much healthier in Hemingway's fiction. Some of the women, such as Brett Ashley in Fiesta, come across as impulsive, manipulative and at times uncaring, as well as wanting to be and considered as one of the chaps. Men are played off one another, or else the dialogue, in some instances, seems babyish or sickening; inebriation often the cause of that. The women, however, can seem one-dimensional: their characters not fully fleshed out, yet it doesn't really matter because the narrative is distinctly male. A perspective that female readers might find refreshing, even if modern ideas about 'correct' behaviour oppose that view, because the same passions and jealousies abound in the 21st century.
Hemingway novels have a fluid-like structure, which though hard to achieve means they could be seen as light reads; they're not. There are deeper undercurrents to plots and characterisations, with much left to guess at, and the atmospheres he creates are disquieting. It's literature that lingers in spite of its lack of lyricism (in my opinion) which other writers successfully convey in prose so that there's a rhythm or song-like quality. Hemingway, at least for me, is more sharp and journalistic, and far more visual, so visual that I can see the scenes he paints unfold as if they were on a Chinese scroll and not just captured in dry words on a page.
He typifies America, yet when I'm immersed in his works I almost forget because Hemingway travels well: the man and his autobiographical fiction. Likewise, although I recognise the alpha male, in him and his chums, it doesn't dissuade me from reading, rather it exhorts me to continue in much the same way a bullfighter works the crowd with his tricks as well as the bull to its untimely demise.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Scaffold

From my window I can see a crucifix. A lone crucifix made of steel atop a scaffold. Though in truth, it's not been purposely put there, as a marker, for it's part of the structure. A happen-stance of metal rods crossing each other, and viewable only from a certain angle. The angle in which it so happens the windows of my flat lay.
The contractors are unconscious, I dare say, of the large cross they've erected, as I look on, on the left-hand corner. They continue to go about their work, scurry up and down levels, and occasionally swing from these rods like monkeys in their own jungle-gym. Their antics reminds me of those black and white photographs taken by Lewis Wickes Hine in 1931 of the Empire State Building under construction, where migrant workers traversed steel beams unsecured with no harnesses. Now, unlike then, it would be a death-defying stunt, with the risks assessed, that a David Blaine-type might do. Or you'd think so. But these fellas across from me have been cavorting for weeks without any safeguards. There's a couple of woolly hats and occasionally a high-vis jacket and tool belt on display, whilst the mechanisms they employ to winch metal sheets and other building materials are almost as rudimentary as those used in the olden days.
Perhaps I'm wrong then to assume this crude crucifix was an unplanned occurrence, that it wasn't instead deliberate like an amulet to ward off evil, though I really can't imagine any one of them if cornered say over a pint in a pub (another stereotype!) would confess to such an superstitious act. Maybe there's an unspoken, yet followed, law, as there are in most male clans, which says: it stays within the building trade. And construction is after all a man's job. Or a tough woman's, because I think you'd have to be tough (and physically strong) to work in that game. I wouldn't want to and couldn't do it, but some women would take to it like a duck takes to water. Nothing I think should be off limits for any person of any gender, and yet I still stand by my opinion that construction speaks to the 'male'. The masculine side within all of us, though it's more pronounced in others as it is with being left or right-dominant.
Yes, there's something quite caveman-ish about building. It evokes the same kind of imagery, well, in me at any rate. It's mostly out of doors, it's practical and requires brutish strength as well as agility and manual dexterity. It's mathematical, it's mechanical, it's creative. And it's risky, with the kind of dangers our primitive brain relates and has adapted to. It's a trade for doers, not pen-pushers of which I am one.
For someone not so inclined to manual labour, it's fascinating watching men at work and seeing a building rising from ground level or being converted to flats or into a restaurant, as well as the way in which it changes the landscape – where you live and where you work. Even in the distance sometimes, I can see the outlines of cranes or at night the red light that signals them to aircraft.
Everywhere you turn there is development and re-gentrification, which personally I'm ambivalent about or indifferent to, and yet I admire it as a form of work, art even. Because I lack those skills, those learned or inherent, and that motivation to want to take a concept on paper to a solid structure which is not just sound but also visually appealing and in keeping with the area, so that those who make it happen seem like a different breed. Peoples that I want to understand and yet am intimidated by, as much as I am by what they create in all its developmental stages. It's the seemingly impossible made possible with grit and know-how, the likes of which may be transformed by but won't disappear with digital technology since it's a trade that needs bodies not robots.
In summation, I think we'll wind up valuing construction to a greater degree than we do now if the future continues in the direction it's heading, particularly when skills in other fields are on their way to being obsolete. We should never have changed tack and placed academia above the vocational for in doing so we've not only sidelined people but also left a pool of others unprepared for this transference of labour. The platform we've started from should be a support rather than lead to misadventure years later.

Picture credit: Steel Construction, Empire State Building, 1931, Lewis Wickes Hine, NYPL Digital Gallery

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Knot Temple

There's a knot I've tied I can't untangle. Although when it first came about I couldn't say, perhaps because it was minuscule like a knot in a fine thread after a button's been secured or a hold darned. It held the repair yet didn't prevent other buttons working loose or other holes appearing, and neither was it sizeable enough to stop the status quo: life, in its own fashion, went on, regardless of whether I was fully cognizant of this one little knot.
Until there came such a time, before today, that this knot could not be thought away or denied. It had grown. Grown into the magnitude of a kidney stone and lodged itself primarily in the trachea, though there were occasions where instead of there it could be felt blocking the entrance to the stomach, just as if it were one in a pile of stones that you might see shielding the opening of a cave. Though perhaps in this case it was more of a barricade rather than a shield for I don't think this stone was guarding or concealing any treasure, but rather preventing feelings – of hurt, of guilt, of anxiety – from reaching their usual endpoint, where they would only swill around or stoically sit and cause upset: a bloating or a sickening sensation, possibly with a suppressed belch or two, or worse the rise of undigested food.
I actually preferred it when this tightly bound knot was higher up, a prominent Adam's apple, or so it seemed to me though it wasn't; there was never any view of it whenever I checked in the bathroom mirror, despite its bobbing, which like a phantom limb was felt if not visible to the naked eye, when I deliberately swallowed or recited some lines of a play.
That there was an obstruction I was sure, and which I knew from past experience might at any moment cause me to gag, or, if only partial, my eyes to mist and my nose to run. Innocuous foods (well, as far as I thought my body was concerned) might bring on the latter: just-made-still-warm nut butter, cucumber, a cup of tea (no dairy), any soup of bland description and boiled, mashed, fried or baked potatoes, and yet, with spicy foods those orifices remained completely dry. Instead there was a coursing of not unpleasant heat which went around or flowed over deterrents like a river whose passage couldn't and wouldn't be halted, but as much as I would have liked to have basked in that affect so that I'd have none of the watering and sniffles I did not think this wise.
Moderation, not limitation, my motto, as well as you can have too much of a good thing, which if you did would only upset the carefully loaded apple cart, and then where would you be? It's right that life should present you with some discomforts, at some time or another, just as it's natural for the body to manifest anything suppressed in the way of physical complaints, though I concede neither beliefs are shared often.
You, the reader, can't even be sure if the person speaking here is the real-life version or a semi-fictional character with true opinions and factual experiences thrown in that might or might not pertain to the author citing them. At the end of the working day, it's all just shrapnel. Grist to the mill, which may or may not be ground and used, and which is as far away as you can get from the subject of knots, or stones for that matter though I guess you might find a bit of grit in amongst the grain. What I'm saying is everything – observable and felt – has that same potential: store, dispose, use right away, though often the process is less machine and more oh, yeah I forgot about that, or where did that come from? Coincidental versus Surreptitious, which then somehow all link up with each other and form a plot, or as I said a knot, which can morph into a stone when its bonds grow too tight to be unpicked and so becomes smooth and flat, enabling you to act out and upon the same themes.
And now suddenly I have this feeling I've written all this before. And not that long ago either – as little as a year, maybe not even that. Are we all on repeat? It can't just be me. I don't get that many kicks from it I can tell you. One or two differences in any situation can be enough to disguise its sameness, enough for us to think 'no, this is different and therefore so will be the outcome.' and then when it isn't, well, we blame ourselves for falling into that trap in the first place. But if these knots were seen for what they are they could be a catalyst to great, or even unusual, things.

Picture credit: The Abbey in the Oakwood, Caspar David Friedrich

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Heavy Hearts and Emptier Pockets

There are those who torture themselves for being idle, through no fault of their own, and those who relish any opportunity to be so and in fact find any excuse to do just that. Not all of the latter are plump or jolly or fabulously fat; some are skin and bones, their muscles wasted away, and yet their life, at a glance, seems full of ease. Idle they may be but it doesn't seem to bother them, not even if they have to live on next to nothing or lead the most unhealthiest of lives.
It's far harder being idle when you don't want to be, when this wasn't a conscious choice you made, and when everything then is tainted with slothfulness. The good intentions were there but the work was not. Idle hands makes the mind slow, which makes the limbs leaden and the body lumpish. The old horse doesn't want to pull the cart; the cart will not be pulled for its stuck fast. Both essentially dig their feet in, and no amount of squirming will get them under-way.
Modern life offers more possibilities of that: laziness combined with fidgeting, and it's good men and women that are faced with battling it day by day, in and out of employment. Idle fingers and thumbs when you're at work whoever heard of that? and yet, it happens, is happening in service sectors where administration is called for but rarely done, because the presence of someone carries more weight than the actual workload which up-to-date procedures have greatly reduced.
People are paid to sit and be as unproductive as possible, even though they're infuriatingly bored and itching to do more rather than pretend to be occupied. Superiors have no further work for them to do and so they rifle through papers or sort and amend electronic records, and all the while watch the clock for their next break or home-time. And this goes on day after countless day. The work is not backbreaking and yet, it breaks spirits.
It's employment, true, but its pointlessness borders on insanity, places all those employed to do it in a morale-lowering nightmare. A version of living hell that could never have been foreseen prior to this Digital Age. But where else can such people go when they know nothing else? A tunnel of worthlessness beckons...the darkness drawing them ever on in the faint, yet prevailing, hope there will be a visible light, as they confuse this tunnel with another kind or associate it with finding copper in mines. It will come, it has to. It will be seen or found.
In time, however, even that glimmer of hope dies when the darkness has become an all-encompassing pitchy black, with nothing, no other shade in-between to distinguish the shadows that fall on its tunnelled walls. Then, and only then, do they sink to the floor or stumble onwards like a drunk, weaving man with their eyes unseeing like a mole who might find himself above ground in broad daylight, only their circumstances are reversed.
The gradual realisation, that doesn't for some reason hit bit-by-bit but with a blunt blow, in spite of its unacknowledged, slow coming on, that this could be it is never pleasant. Many a man, and a woman, will want to instantly lay down or drown in their sorrows, knowing that they do not possess the strength to continue groping in this ever-lasting dark when the hope of a light, any light, appearing before them has gone.
With prematurely aged and non-transferable skills, there is no place for them on the upper rungs, unless they can and choose to evolve, which can only be done when an opportunity is granted, and for that there has to be a willing employer, but of these there are not many. And even then it's best not to expect the same job satisfaction or similar pay. Everybody is being squeezed, and if not squeezed then pushed under.
It's a dire state of affairs, which is not in itself new just different, and in some ways more glum-making for those who are not young and not yet old. The young have more resilience and will adapt, the retired don't have to try. The middle generations that fall between suffer, particularly if they're not made of stuff that can take these constant knocks and shut-downs. And so, they wander in the dark with heavy hearts and emptier pockets.

Picture credit: The Angelus, Jean-Francois Millet, 1857-1859, Musee d'Orsay

Thursday, 31 August 2017

A Prognostic Exercise

Chris Martin, of Coldplay fame, caught my attention last Friday in a conversation with Graham Norton with the phrase 'whelmed', i.e. what you are if you're not over or under. I felt that way then and I think it will still resonate with me when we reach the present now, almost ten months on, because as I've no doubt mentioned elsewhere I write way, way, way in advance, not that it crosses my mind at the time that it might be as prophetic as The Simpsons.
I'm amazingly cool and calm about political and world events and national news: nothing shocks me. Trump triumphed and I'd called that, and before that Brexit, not that in declaring it here you'd have any reason to believe me because there are those who claim these things after the outcome. Shift allegiances or sit on a hedge and wait. Timing is everything.
I wouldn't be surprised if the backlash continued and the Right continued to rise; I wouldn't be surprised if we still hadn't invoked Article 50 but Scotland had held or were about to hold another Referendum, which was again hotly debated; and I wouldn't be surprised if the European Union was shakier in its foundations and Merkel's face had a sterner frown as Germany's abilities to mediate fades and people fall out of love with the tough but soft approach. Globalisation finally had its day.
Perhaps Trump, by now, will have erected a better fence rather than a wall to protect what he calls America's interests. Perhaps for some reason unknown to me he will have been removed from the Presidency, though just possibly he might have become more diplomatic, more Reagen-like and less Bush, except without a Maggie but with a Nigel. And no doubt, he will have got himself into more scrapes, because let's be honest he's not the greatest orator, and I seriously doubt that will have improved, that dramatically. Though more drama, I'm sure, will have been had.
And more, I think, could be under threat: livelihoods, homes, things that seemed permanently established now crumbling, and not because of an unstable economy but because of modernity. This drive to supposedly better ourselves and the world we live in with yet more technology. And with this I include, and more importantly, our freedoms too: how we curtail them, almost willingly, as well as how we want them (and let them be) further policed.
Hello cashless and social media, online-driven society, which, true, we long ago gave a golden handshake to in greeting, but the pressure over the last couple of years has ramped up. There is literally no off switch. Yet, whilst some might revolt against global liberalness, the fading out of how goods are paid for and exchanged, in layman's terms, is noticed but nothing done about. The upgrades to swipe, scan, and tap sweeping through many nations like a particularly virulent flu epidemic, of which there is no cure, or more accurately an incentive to find one because you're supposed to believe (as many do) it's a benefit that outweighs any negatives.
So, scamming will be on the rise, again; banks will continue to have poor online security and variable interest rates; energy companies will do their ofgem bit and tell us to switch though the difference will be minimal but the inconvenience high; and politicians will still be vague or deliberately speak what they know to be untruths.
In some areas we'll still be bombarded by choice; in others, more fundamental ones, choice will be stripped away. Email will be virtually obsolete and citizens will take greater risks and accept less responsibility for their very dubious actions. Everyone will grow more and more careless, regardless of where they are or what they're doing, and news will be issued so fast nobody will know if it's true or fake, or possibly even care.
Oh, I paint an imperfect picture, don't I, of 2017? Not that it really matters as in present time we're over halfway through, and this is just one projected view which is not, in all likelihood, a reliable one. But I've started so I might as well finish, and we're nearly there...
In summary of what will possibly prove a very useless exercise, (hindsight's a wonderful thing!): there will always be those who think we're making progressive or retrogressive leaps, and others who will see it as being thrown to the lions.

Picture credit: On the Threshold of Liberty, 1937, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Bermuda-type Triangles

There are mornings I just want to read and read but the minute hand on the clock won't permit me to, even for one second longer; there are afternoons I want to write but find the words escape me; and there are days where I thought I would have a lot to say yet when the time comes to actually sit across from someone, those saved topics have gone. Gone where? I don't know where, just somewhere similar, I imagine, to the Bermuda Triangle. A land of no importance, where subjects that meant something disappear because they no longer matter, or hardly seem worthwhile to impart since the situation in which they arose have since departed.
Everything then about and around my person is blank as if the experience has been erased and my mind wiped clean with one of those microfibre cloths that removes anything that could be called a mark, a spot or a thumbprint. I'm at a new starting block or in the middle of a path where nothing has changed. It's all just ticking along for I've not taken a step in any new direction. Ideas have been mooted, thought about and not acted upon, and so they don't, in all honesty, deserve a mention. Why waste my breath. Let the other person talk if they have more they want to say: to share or to confide.
Yet there are times where I want to listen, really listen, to whomever I'm with, but my mind gets distracted by elements often beyond my control, and so I come away wishing I'd been able to pay more attention to what was uttered. The conversation has, by then, already partially blurred: I remember the dialogue in snippets as if it's been cut from a bolt of cloth with a pair of dress-making scissors, and the instances where I strained to hear and had to watch a jumble of joined-up words flutter in the space between us, and then fly off because at that speed I can't lip-read.
And it's moments like these you can't get back, that can't be recreated because the moment then was good for that person, though not, as it turns out, for you. It's rare for two or more people to be in the exact same place at the exact same time, and for either to be conscious of it, or not as the case may be.
Yet, even this, these thoughts on a screen page, feels circuitous as if I've said it before, put it down in type on another blank page. Although, perhaps I approached it differently, from another perspective, so that this, though familiar, has a new but not over-familiar tone. Maybe we all have themes we return to and find ways to exhaust.
Some novelists have an uncanny knack for that, though they themselves don't realise it until a reader or a critic identifies the vein that pulses through their novels. It's so hidden within their depths, like a capillary feeding an artery, that they're not aware of it even when it's written out, because it's not intentional and because they always discover more to explore and say in different ways, in various settings, and so, to them, it always feels original.
You don't have to be a writer to have a theme, but it does seem that whilst you can easily place it in others you can't pinpoint your own. Sometimes we can be too close to the subject or it's so much a part of us that we're blind to it, even its re-occurrence. Somehow, and don't ask me how? or why?, it doesn't scream loud enough for us to notice, not in the things we do or don't do, or the things we do or choose not to say. And I'm sure quite a few of us have more than one, which then overlap and create havoc.
What, however, has this got to do with talking and listening and Bermuda-type Triangles? Nothing whatsoever, unless these thoughts, printed here, have been spewed back at me from an unfathomable, otherworldly sphere: suddenly lost and just as suddenly found.
When language strays though, much like it's been doing today, everything is harder and doubly so if you're in company or bracing yourself for some. Your speech already fumbled, your mind numb. There's little or no comprehension, since words clearly don't want to be heard or put together, and yet there's a non-verbal agreement to come up with something, which, in my opinion, is a weighty prospect when your thoughts are wont to strike random notes and fantastical notions.

Picture credit: La Jeunesse Illustree, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 17 August 2017

In its Own Way, Right

The face appeared one fine November morning, and gazed at itself as if it had awoken from one hundred years of slumber. The person it belonged to saw and realised the importance of the moment and yet couldn't exclaim because they were sat in a hairdresser's chair, and the stylist was conversing about this and that over her newly washed hair.
At some point between being reclined over a basin and led to a cushioned seat in front of a wall mirror, a metamorphosis or a split had occurred, and with no contortions or twitches, facial or bodily. Was it when the protein boost treatment, that she hadn't requested but later paid for, was applied? For after that, after her hair had been towel-dried, her expression seemed different, wide-eyed, and yet more imp-like than child.
The separation occurring in two shakes of a lamb's tail; quicker than milk and cream, or oil from nut butter. The real face behind the usual mask rose to the surface and, rather than peeking shyly out, brazenly took control. The mask subsided, almost as if not doing so wasn't a choice, as if some agreement, long ago, had been struck, and the moment had to be when she was unawares, so that she would finally see herself, fleetingly, as others see her: the glowing skin, the mischief in the eyes.
The surprise, that made her wide-eyed, would be enough to awaken that slumberous knowledge, even if it at times it fell into a doze, because the coma, at least, would be broken.
But the quiet containment that she wasn't a horror, that at times she 'had something' came much later when the transfiguration to her of her features was less potent, still there yet shared with the usual mask.
And what that 'something' was she couldn't declare to herself in the mirror then, or even when the face chooses to show itself now. Yes, there are words to describe the pallor, the effect, the expression, and yet they only half-explain the realisation of that instant when it happens and the beat it lasts for. The more accurate terms come to the brain when they're not needed and then don't stay or reappear when they are, and so if I was to say that the 'something' was cherubic or a prettiness that had crept over the features that wouldn't be it. It was that and more and something other.
A relaxation in the brow and around the mouth, a devil-may-care look in the eyes. A simpleness that for the most part wasn't present, that the usual mask for no apparent reason often disguised, and yet the face, in its place, wasn't pure innocence either; it seemed, in fact, more mischievous than sensitive or naïve. A puckish expression which having tired of its underground chambers had returned to stake its renewed interest in life-participation on a casual basis, perhaps, in time, working itself up to a job share.
But although this mirrored revelation was caught, the circumstances were far from ideal, for at the height of its reveal, the conversation, already engaged in, was in a two-way flow, which was also in competition with the background: pop music and other stilted conversations going on around as other customers too had their hair shampooed and snipped. The person in the chair had to be sly to not appear narcissistic, particularly since that wasn't who she was at all, and yet this fresh perspective was fascinating, like a view she never expected to see from her apartment but somehow suddenly could.
She wanted to stare, to inch the chair closer to the mirror and examine every pore; touch this fine-looking skin and make sure it belonged to her and not some mirage that would vanish in a pool of illuminated glass, and yet because she was not alone she was prevented, as were her hands which, beneath the black gown, were forced to cling to her thighs. So, all she had were her eyes, which seemed unable to tell whether it was a trick of the light or the simple fact that she was farther away from her reflection. The mirror image had everything and did everything she did: the same shapes, the same contours, the same gestures, and yet was not what she usually saw when she appraised herself before she walked out the door.
The face she glimpsed, and would continue to recognise, was attractive enough, and in its own way, right.

Picture credit: Not to be Reproduced, 1937, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Disorganised Notes from the Oubliette

My body clock has gone a little awry and consequently my mind is screwed. It's been darting here and there and everywhere like a dragonfly all day. What about this? Should I do that? Why am I thinking of him or her? I need to go there; I need to do that. What possessed me to respond like that? as if the person I was talking to was an irritating bluebottle or had caught me in a unscrupulous act when it wasn't like that, I was unprepared for that kind of chat that's all. Why? Why? Why? can't I be this or that, laid-back and not so nervy, lively and not so drab. Plain, plain, plain with nothing of interest to say for myself or that I think will be of interest to that particular person. So contained I feel as though I'm turning to stone as I sit or stand.
I am stone with my mind flitting like this through my recent and archived history. Everybody knows you can't undo stuff that's done so why think of it? People, including the merest of acquaintances, ask me questions I hesitate to answer so that my mind scrabbles around in the few milliseconds it's allowed, which makes my answers when given sound weightless. Insubstantial bubbles of air with faint words suspended inside that will drift away with the lightest of breezes. My internal workings cobbling something together which when stuttered or said with a falsetto laugh comes across exactly how I didn't want it to: phoney and furtive.
I have nothing to hide, literally nothing, and yet now it seems I do. A secret life. Mysterious ways. Possibly even a double – one that wears glasses, and one that is bare-faced and sparkly eyed; one that is serious and one that can hold witty conversations, so that if by chance I encounter an unobservant friend, they never know which they'll get.
Some people aren't you know, observant that is. They don't notice small details or perhaps see past them. My point is some places and some acquaintances only know one version of me and not the other, so that if one day I'm the other, the version they don't know, I'm almost embarrassed to appear that way before them, and therefore would do anything to avoid that encounter. Anything, such as ducking behind shelves or suddenly disappearing into a shop or down an alleyway. Maybe that's why in my passport photo I look like a Russian spy.
And yes, you might very well ask why? Why this weirdness? All I have to say in reply is: comfortableness. I'm aware of certain people's preconceptions: if I look a certain way they'll judge me a certain way or behave towards me differently, and worse might draw attention to the fact I have glasses today or are without them. I'm a shrinking violet that's what it is, who accepts compliments graciously but never believes them, and a boring person to boot. Grey like Norman Major, who apart from once being described as such was also once the Prime Minister, and once lived a few roads away from my primary school, and so actually I don't really mind the comparison. I'm the one making it after all.
Still, it's a relief when acquaintances are used to both. It's just with some that transition won't come, so there's always that element of ambush or that sinking feeling when you know you've be spotted. The conversation done and the getaway achieved, you then rehash it and reprimand yourself for not doing it better, or more convincingly. How lovely to see you etcetera. Next time, next time, yet you know if it happens again, when it happens again, it will be exactly the same, though once you'd warmed up you guess it went okay. Room for improvement, hopefully in a room you don't wish to escape from or in one where you've already figured out where the exits are. How daft to judge a conversation on that score?
What must they have thought? Skittish creature. Yes, and more I'm sure. And yet there are times I blame them for putting me in that awkward position, because it ruffles my feathers and they remain ruffled long after, not that they would know that of course. I'd like to think I'd approach them but would I? Maybe if it was a day on which I wanted to be seen and wanted to converse, although even so, I just don't know what truths I might then blurt. 

Picture credit: The Soothsayer's Recompense, 1913, Giorgio de Chirico

Thursday, 3 August 2017


Last October, a novel came into my hands that reaffirmed what I already knew: that answers can change to questions asked again. Again as in some months, even years on, from when the subject was first broached. If you ask again and again and the answer's always the same then you know not to ask again don't you, but if you just accept the first given answer and let the matter drop, then surely as the asker you're doing the answerer a disservice, unless your position as the asker too has somewhat changed. Your feelings are no longer the same or your situation has altered and therefore whatever it was you were originally offering is not available, not on those same terms, which means if you asked again the question put would be different and the answer just as uncertain.
Answerers, if the question's unexpected, can be too hasty in their response, give their initial reaction to a proposal when it might not be what they actually meant, as by doing so they lessen the time they might spend deciding with their stomach a-flutter, their mind in knots, as well as the time the asker is kept waiting.
Whereas no response is either a open door or a door the asker will choose to close because it's unfair. Their life in limbo, always hopeful that one day their appeal will be accepted, until the day they become aware of their own stagnancy and realise they've been taken advantage of, forever kept in reserve.
Some answerers, however, do give the question the time it deserves. They might pause whilst delivering their response, have a affectation that buys them thirty seconds such as removing spectacles, if they have them, and cleaning the lenses, or pinching the bridge of their nose as if a headache beckons, which in turn enables their brain to formulate a reply which would be right at the time of asking. But that's not to say that the answer given would be the same if the same question was asked in an altogether different moment.
Then, there's how it's asked – with what words and in what tone, which should be considered if the question is being asked again and if you believe the answerer, if it's the same answerer, remembers the situation in which the original was proposed. Though if it has been forgotten, then it could work in the asker's favour, but it's dangerous to assume that's the case because in such circumstances the answerer may recall yet imply, for their own purposes, otherwise.
Nothing asked twice or thrice is ever the same, though it can take on a robotic quality as if the asker knows, before it's even been asked, what answer to expect since it's been asked that many times, so that if a different answer happened to be given they might on that one-off occasion miss it.
There are some answerers, however, who refuse to entertain the same question however it's asked, believing that to do so shows a weakness in their character, even if at the repeat performance they felt differently. And there are askers too whom on being rejected once wouldn't dare to enquire again, even if the opportunity was undoubtedly there or their feelings remain unaltered.
Everything has to, in a way, be perfect for it to come together. The question needs to be put favourably to receive a favourable response, and for that the mood needs to be spot-on, and that's not something you can ever, truly, be an accurate judge of. For it's not just the mood of the answerer the asker has to be ascertain along with their own, but also that of the environment where the question will be placed, and will be forever fixed in both their minds if the question popped or answer given is poorly managed in their opinion.
The moment has to be right, for when it's not (for either party) then it either passes with no action taken or someone winds up dejected, which may in future prevent them effectuating the same scenario again or behaving differently. It's always risky even if each are sure of how they'll ask should the chance arise or how they'll respond should they be asked, because anything might occur to throw that pre-thought off course.
People change, as do the answers given.

Picture credit: Cartomancy, 2004, Frances Broomfield

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Hour of the Oyster*

The other night, whilst reading in bed, I looked at my left hand and thought I'll never get to wear a ring on my fourth finger. I don't know why it suddenly occurred, or re-occurred, to me then but it did, nor why my eyes this time welled. It must have been the lateness of the hour when thoughts are more intriguing or poignant.
The book was laid down flat on my lap and the matter considered. Why was it bothering me now, when the reason was more choice than circumstantial? And when I've never hankered after any of that? That being the shared life, the shared space, the belonging to another, or the big white wedding: the frothy dress, flowers, church.
Okay, so you don't have to do it that way, but some people live for that day: walking down an aisle towards their intended with friends and relatives looking on. Frankly, the whole idea of that she-bang makes me want to run. But the big day is really a minor concern because afterwards, when the knot's been tied, there's the whole living together, which the majority of couples today will have been doing beforehand anyway, but then it gets real. More real. You can't just walk away when you've had enough, well you could, but legally you'd still be bound to each other, and undoing that is no picnic, not so much for the paperwork involved but in the untangling of yourselves emotionally speaking. And I'm not sure that is ever achieved, in spite of the ex you eventually put in front of wife or husband.
Marriage is tough, even in the best of examples where illness and death parts the union, because in those bridged years there's been struggles within and struggles without; there's been learning when to support and when to be supported; there's been knowing when to give space and when to give undivided attention; there's been forgiveness; there's been compromises, and, of course, there's been love. Love of some description, though it may not have been the highly romanticised version that we see everyday in films and on billboards or read about in novels. Love, whatever its form, changes, and that's their success story: the fact that they've let it.
And so, it begs the question: can you ever truly know someone outside of wedlock? And if you commit, do you spend your whole life together trying?
Surely, even within a marriage there's a part of you held back. Just for you. But then perhaps that's where my thinking is wrong. All barriers have to be broken down and none kept, for what's the point otherwise. Isn't that a prerequisite of marriage and in general coupling: to give all of yourself to another?
It's on and at this point my head goes into its usual spin. For aren't you then just Mr and Mrs and not individually Jane and John, or Jane and Janet, or John and James. Joined together, like conjoined twins, as symbolised by the exchange of rings. Individual thinking must diminish – from now on you must think as a pair.
You have to admit there is an element of that; you can't continue to be what you were. And for a person who likes their own company, more than the permanent presence of others, that prospect, imagined or actual, is naturally scary. It's not a simple diagnosis of fear or selfishness; for some people being alone and having time alone can be as vital as life-giving water. Without it they shrivel inside, until it manifests on the outside, giving them a pained expression as if all the nerves running the length of their bodies are being pinched. Their malaise reached a critical level: is the relationship worth it?
Ask yourself, could you go through life with that degree of tenseness? For at its heart that is what it is: an inability to relax and an wanting to please, not just themselves but someone else all the time. There has to be a loser and usually it's the one whose most concerned about the loss, potentially, of their identity and how they've thus far navigated life.
I'm not equal to that task, of having what others prize, for in those circumstances I'm far more likely to choose the oyster over the pearl.

*Title in reference to 'the hour of the pearl' as coined by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row.

Picture credit: Oysters, Edouard Manet

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Glass Tears

Whenever I see rain on glass I think of tears.
The droplets appear as if formed by a pipette and placed on a slide for a research scientist to magnify under a microscope.
Whenever I see traces of tears on a human face I think of those painted on clowns.
A couple of droplets, outlined in black and drawn below each sorrowful eye for the whole world to see, as if sadness is a stain they alone must carry.
Whenever I see a clown I'm reminded of one that was held in a mirror.
Her face a sad white mask that glumly stared out at me and never let me see the whole of my reflection.
Whenever I see a mirror, I think of shining water.
Its surface so calm that nothing, not even a light breeze, could disturb its tranquillity.
Whenever I see a body of shining water, I think of a longboat.
Drifting gently, in which sits an unaccompanied lady with golden hair. Her mind in turmoil but her exterior, like the lake, unruffled.
Whenever I see a boat, any boat, I think of the sea.
Choppy, crashing waves, incoming and outgoing tides, salty air, and seagulls that wheel and scream overhead.
Whenever I see the sea stretching ahead of me, I think of and look for distant lands.
I search the horizon for anything that could be land or people as if only I might spy what others before me have missed.
If I have the good fortune to spy and then travel to distant lands, then I think of home.
Of everything that awaits my return, yet continues to exist as I exist in places foreign to me.
When I see home, a watery film forms over my eyes and threatens to spill.
And this makes me think of a pot of flowering tea, which makes me think of the old apple tree in the far corner of the garden where there once was a swing with a red seat.
When I remember the swing, my mind sees a man with a green watering can in a different garden, which also had a small paddling pool and a slide.
When I think of the man with the watering can, I see a pale orange car with black leather seats, and remember how these would burn the backs of my thighs.
When I remember my red-marked thighs, I see childhood summers: cotton dresses and white ankle socks and shoes with buckles; long days of made-up play and family gatherings which were full of colour and filled with food.
Whenever I reminisce about those summers, I also think of their endings.
The hugged goodbyes, not wanting to let go but knowing I had to for another school year beckoned.
Whenever I visualise endings, I think of beginnings.
New life, like the arrival of Spring and cherry blossom, and gold bands on fingers.

Picture credit: The Flowering Apple Tree, 1912, Piet Mondrian

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Warfare in Mind

Life is tired and needs a jolt, my life not life in general. A war's been waging internally, killing off people and places, which although immensely satisfying does not alter the day-to-day. Nor, however, do I wish to unleash the unkindness I harbour within, and I couldn't do it anyway for outwardly I'm passive. Rigid in body, yet sheepish in manner. A fully paid-up people-pleaser might be more exact, though the teeth might be gritted or the face a frown. A plastered mask of seriousness or a deer-in-headlights, not that I have any notion of what my face is actually expressing, which does catch me out when people comment because it's not necessarily how or what I feel at that precise time, and so then I worriedly think to myself: am I worried? and make a plausible excuse or swat their observation away with a: Me, no! Everything's just dandy.
People who appear placid always say it's fine. To everything that's asked of them: to any question, to any task or inconvenience. Because they want to help and be seen to be helpful, though at times they might inwardly seethe. Yet when they begin to say NO, oh, the guilt. And the anxiousness that results from refusing or feigning ignorance of something, all because the thanks that might come can come too late when the person who always says, no, feels compelled to say YES has long felt taken for granted. So this adopted stance is really in their best interests, yet their body visibly squirms like a worm cut and cut again when they very reluctantly give a shaky or too forceful NO.
But before then, before they've reached this no-going-back-point, which is like the flick of a switch blade, they've experienced their own viciousness turned in on themselves and also on figural others, all imagination based of course, but nonetheless violent. It might be healthy in the sense that no blood is shed externally or offence given, and that the fantasies lived out in the mind save the conflicted person, yet that same struggle continues to exist everyday. At a lower basement or underground level, like a camp fire that's constantly fed to keep it burning which might suddenly sputter and cause a spark or two to fly, which might then descend onto a bare leg or arm or the rump of a horse, so that the person tending it might pick a fight with his fellow travellers or the untethered horse might bolt, or if tethered rear up.
Actions – reactions – karma, isn't that said to be the cycle? All actions have consequences or something. What you sow you reap, what you reap you sow. I never was very good at parroting or paraphrasing doctrines, so that's as close as I'll get to putting it down in a such way that I hope makes some marginal sense. Do you grasp my meaning? Because I really can't think how else to put it, whereas if I was musing about it on a calmer day I might be more pedantic.
Thus endeth the lesson on a word with intellectual leanings, so the brain's not altogether fried in the hell consuming it inside which is something I suppose. Though it is flecked with black crows behaving like vultures dismembering slain bodies, whilst the horse I sit upon tramples them further underfoot. Horses usually step over such obstacles, but this black beauty's been trained otherwise and stifles their last grunts, cries and breaths with a solidly placed hoof. Well, it's my imagination isn't it? I don't wish to hear the suffering: drawn-out sighs that culminate in groans or chest rattles. The sounds of battle are more frightful, for me, than bloodied sights, for when my wrath has been spent I feel pity, and dying, gurgling sounds means I've gone too far, punished too much.
I aim to be cruel but kind with the sword I wield, but fury, if not managed, knows no bounds, even in a imaginative, and therefore presumed safe, landscape. My strokes are often not as clean or as deadly as they could be. My knife thrusts not deep enough, and so ensues a prolonged death amongst a mangle of inexpertly butchered bodies, which in guilt I'll set a flaming torch to later so that it burns as if it were a communal funeral pyre, sending my unladylike play up in a dark column of smoke with a rancid smell of fat and singed hair.

Picture credit: War, 1894, Henri Rousseau

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A Soured Case

The days and nights have begun to run into each other, a continuous week-long loop, which nothing seems to relieve.
My internal mood: grouchy, which I occasionally allow to break through to the surface, particularly during my alone moments, though it also occurs to a lesser degree when outside surrounded by seemingly busier people.
Who are these busy people? Those giving the distinct impression they are leading important, time-poor, possibly more fulfilling lives with partners, children, ageing parents, colleagues, pets etcetera, depending on them and so everything has to be done at a pace that is just short of breath, just short of running.
But there are those, two or possibly three generations above me, who find this bustling presence of others, huffing and puffing, annoying. True, they can irritate too with their dithering and aisle blocking, which makes puffers lose their patience and shove their way to wherever they want to get to with no 'Excuse me' or any sort of rushed apology for they just don't have the breath, the time, or the patience, so that those purpose-driven to go out to break up their day are driven indoors to escape these hordes to listen instead to the tick-tick of their living room clock.
Each group will stop, somewhat, sometime after the clock has struck noon. The lunch routine, whatever that is, kicking in, as if indeed something has prodded their bellies into action, then followed by those afternoon hours that usually lag until dinner. All in that interim feel sleepy, regardless of where they might be sitting; some starve it off with caffeine or sugar, others let it gradually take them. A few hours lost is neither here or there, and those that can be lost might as well be pleasantly spent.
The caffeine and sugar-fuelled tap keys, try to focus on the screen that blinks before them as if willing them to surrender. Their working pace a little slowed now the morning rush is over and lunch has come and gone. Yet whilst on this downward slope to the home bell, the one that chimes in everyone's head as they near the point of their departure, their flagging energies suddenly revive. Two hours left. One hour left. Half an hour. Fifteen minutes. The brain circuitry lights up, activity surges in coordinated strategies from the head to the mouth and fingers. Phone calls and e-mails are rapidly fired off, the machine the intermediary in this system of work-in, work-out. Desks tidied, programs shut down, bags packed, coats gathered. A last minute check for keys, Oyster cards and travel tickets, then a quick walk to the car or a jog to the station.
Homeward-bound. Squashed with others on a bus, tube or train, MOVE DOWN, MOVE DOWN, as more push on, force the doors just as they close, or dispiritedly chase after the bus as it pulls away from the kerb and then mutter obscenities as they trudge back to the shelter. Motorists, bumper to bumper, enviously note each cyclist that whizzes by and curses them, as if they were sticking pins in dolls, and then tries to edge ahead or change lanes in the false notion that it will get them to their destination faster, which might not be home but the gym.
The gym where again they will run, only stationary, or step up a hill, or attempt to ski a couple of inches above a carpeted floor. Maybe they'll swim where at least real water's involved, or take part in a sweat-inducing or stretching class where the mind has to engage somewhat so as to scrutinise the placement of the instructor's arms and feet or pedal furiously to the frenzied beats, before towelling the equipment and/or themselves, showering and finally freeing the pangs of hunger they held at bay.
Once home, these divergent groups again conjoin, though one is heading towards bed, rather than dinner, microwave or take-out, in front of another, possibly larger, flickering screen. The same nightly routine, but one set slightly in front and one behind, still on differing time. Each wanting the fast or slow rhythm the other has got, yet one will pretend they don't want to be young again and the other won't admit they want to be old.

Picture credit: Sour Grapes, 1910, William Heath Robinson