Monday, 5 September 2011

A Gratuitous Pie

Yesterday, my son made this pie. My son is a Master of Pies. I hope this may serve him well at unversity when he leaves in a few weeks.
I am posting this gratuitous picture of a pie, as I am wont to do on occasion, because to look at it cheers me up. It was an utterly delicious pie made from the apples I picked on my way home on Friday and Saturday's haul of strawberries from the allotment. The strawberries are continuous cropping from June till the first frost. On Saturday, we picked just over two pounds as we do every few days.

I have never made pastry but the lad seems to have it perfected to a tee. Frankly, I tried once when I was twelve years old and produced something that posed a significant challenge to tooth enamel. I have had a sense of trepidation about making it ever since.

But this pastry is as good as it looks. It yields to the incisors with a crispness that provides one of life's moments to savour. There is a subsequent small hint of sweetness from the crust of sugar that, sprinkled over the top, has melted and re-crystallised into the perfect crunchy coating.
The apples were not really very sharp, so the fruit filling is quite sweet, even without added sugar, and the strawberries add a delicate pinkness and fragrance reminiscent of early-summer morning air. Over the top was poured a sauch of apple juice, strawberry puree with the merest hint of cinammon.

So, I offer you this picture of my pie in the sincere wish that, although you cannot taste it in any physical sense, your imagination and mind's teeth will at least provide you with some of the pleasure it gave me.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

September the first

Today, I think it is officially Autumn. Summer's lease did not only have too short a date, but also a rather undistinguished residency. It was, by all accounts, a fairly dismal example with 25% less sunshine than usual and very cool temperatures. But I am not here to discuss something so tedious as the weather.
In the morning, when I can, which is most days. I do yoga in the dining room, on my long blue non-slip mat. I face the garden through a large sliding door with a mahogany frame. The glass of the window, year round, provides a barrier between my bare skin and the elements outside. Thanks to the wonders of civilisation such as central heating, I can stand almost naked, in December when the temperature outside is minus fifteen degrees celcius, and not suffer hypothermia. A few millimetres of glass is quite miraculous like that.

Today is the first day of September. Preparing to perform the first of my Salutes to the Sun, I stretch myself up to the too-low ceiling and as my fingers touch the plaster and curl over, my exposed skin suddenly desires to know what he air feels like. Stretched taut, my midriff is acutely insistent.

I unlock the door and slide it to the right. I step out into the garden. The thermometer tells me it is 10.2C. A cool north-westerly breeze shakes the yellowing leaves of the silver birches on the top patio and causes the branches to bend.

Standing there in just my underpants, the cold air swirls about me. I never did grow that hairy chest so indicative of manliness, so the breeze encounters no impediment in bringing its cool caress.

This is my 47th September 1st, and yet, it is the first I have examined in detail, up close. It examines me too with wafts of fragrant autumnal air around almost every inch of my skin.

I stand for a few moments, not unpleasantly cold, but aware of the temperature differential between what is me and what is "outside of me". At the boundary of where I end and the rest of the world begins, the part that does not report sensation to my senses, coolness explores every inch of me and the inspection is marked with a trail of goosebumps.

I fill my lungs with the air, crisp but not admonishing like frosty air would be. In the breeze hang various fragrances of profusion. The scent of leaves turning from green productivity to yellow retirement, mildly reminiscent of walnuts, some vague fruitful promise from ripening apples over the hedge. Autumn sends on its winds, at least at this benificent stage of it, hints of profusion and an instinct to harvest berries and vegetables is suddenly evoked within me.

Alas, this day, my harvest will be provided by tasks far more 21st century, the thought of which intrudes and with a last look around, a sniff and a small pirouette in delight of the looseness of my limbs unhindered by the constraints of clothing, I step back into my house and the protection and anaesthetic of our artificial warmth.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

My Mind's Teeth

This is a blackberry muffin. These blackberries were on my cultivated blackberry bush yesterday. I sat and looked at this muffin for some time and didn't eat it. But in my mind, I savoured every last crumb. I wanted to see how accurately I could approximate eating this using only my imagination. It left something to be desired, though it was a useful exercise in self-restraint (which I shall not henceforth be practising much) . I elaborated here my thoughts on imagination versus experience and shall not go into it again. Suffice to say, I am now going to eat this muffin. And I shall jolly well enjoy it!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

There has to be a better way!

A report by some agency or other, contracted by the Government to look into the recent riots, scathingly pointed the finger of blame at "rampant consumerism" and the "you are what you buy culture". Given that the lead author of the report was a broker from The City, it seemed it took one to know one, so to speak. The whiff of hypocrisy hung heavily in the air around the comments, but the point was well made.

Well, I noticed my house is full of stuff. Just stuff. Stuff I have accumilated over the years and the majority of which I could probably divest myself of without regret. Granted, much of it is materials for constructing projects and tools for doing so. These I will not relinquish as the construction of my my various schemes is something that gives me existential pleasure and adds meaning to life for me.
But other stuff is just clutter. I am not sure why I have it all, but I do. And it is largely unnecessary.

I went to the Mall in Bristol last week. I needed a shirt for a wedding, and I got a beautiful, tailored fit white shirt with purple stripes, and a tie in lilac shiny paisley which picks out the purple of the stripes beautifully.
But I sat on a bench and opened my ears to hear the quiet buzzing sound of thousands of people all scurrying in and out of shops buying stuff.

I looked at the map of the place. There are retail outlets for objects pertaining to all aspects of life and none. It seemed that people were so consumed by the activity of consumption itself that they appearer to be entirely absorbed by the process without any thought for the wider context of whether what they had bought was actually more than immediately desirable. I wondered what need it was that they were feeding. Of course, within that, there may be significant and real requirements, like my shirt. I concede there are reasons to buy things that are to do with purpose rather than mere immediate whim.

I sat down again and thought hard about all the shops in the place and it occurred to me that there was actually nothing in the place I needed, or even wanted. And yet, there was still some residual compulsion to purchase... something. I am not sure what.
Regarding the bland expressions on the faces of those who had just happily parted with their money, the feeling suddenly dissipated and I felt the need to go home.

In my street, there are three Jaguar cars. I don't like them particularly, but they are popular with certain Gentlemen of an Age. They do not perfom all that well. The accessories are spartan unless you pay significant more for "extras". They do not even look particularly attractive. But they are Objects of Desire and seem to be bought as some kind of statement. Presumably they make the owners feel more presigious.

And I thought to myself, observing the ritual washing of these machines one Sunday morning: There has to be a better way!

It seems that people are admired and afforded status by that which they own. My own lowly skoda has stopped conversation dead at dinner parties when the pigeonholing-by-possessions begins. My actual emotion was amusement but underneathit all is a sadness that people are not measured by their actual, intrinsic worth as a human being.
Of course, I know the machinery which compelss consumption is honed to appeal to our inherent desires. And this marketing machine keeps the economy going round, feeding in from our pockets, into corporations, maintaining jobs in retail here and factories in China, and ultimately to higher share prices to support our pensions and investments (yes. That has been spectacularly successful in recent years, hasn't it!). So, our collective wellbeing somehow rests upon people buying things continually.

But leaving aside the economics, and returning to the instinctual, wealth and status seem to go together as an accepted pairing of value. The message is impressed upon our eyes and brains every day by the aforementioned adverstising: "Buy this and be seen as stylish/successful/sophisticated! Be the envy of your peers!"

A porsche evidently makes the dullest, most rotund little man significantly more appealing (and this too I have witnessed in dismay) than a reasonably conventionally attractive man with an old banger. An Aston Martin or Ferrari can ensure attractive (though possibly not mentally stimulating) female comanionship for as long as one possesses it, or so I gather. How depresing. Does it impy something Darwinian about the owner, making the man who is willing to pay for an expensive car a better evolutionary bet? Perhaps it does. I don't know.

But if we take the idea to its extreme, to the Bernie Ecclestones and the Donald Trumps, those with wealth and power are lauded. Perhaps the characteristics that helped them accumilate that wealth are admirable. It could be tat that gets them their standing and the pauper, contempt, for presumable being that most pitied and scorned character, the "loser".

But I doubt it. Rarely are the most worthy, the kindest, the nicest people looked up to. Seldom are such qualities as compassion and humanity rewarded with regard by others. Quite often the opposite in fact. The most truly admiraable people rarely rise to the top.

So, my hope, if just here, in Internetland, to find a place where the appreciation of thought, beauty and civility are appreciated. Art and artifice are worthy pursuits for an enlightened mind.

To me, the possession and pursuit of a vivid and lively life of the mind is the pinnacle of admirable traits in a person. A different value of a person's worth can surely be arrived at here where belongings and other material attainments count for nothing.

How many would pay thousands for an ugly painting by an old master and yet overlook the exquisite construction of a beetle?

So, let us find admirers of beetles and share discourse with them. And the shiny, pointless baubles that hold everyone in thrall can be left at the door.

Monday, 22 August 2011

A wall

A painting on a wall in Bristol. Its about ten feet high on a ghastly 1970s grey concrete building and utterly transforms the place. There are many more, but this one for some reason moved me.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Ok. So let me try

The idea I am struggling with, which I fear i shall not articulate well is this:
There is a branch of philosophy known as sensualism, which maintains, to paraphrase badly, that the senses are at the root of all we perceive. As nutshells go, that possibly is one of the more ill-fitting, but I am casting about me here in wild desperation, to capture an idea that I feel but only vaguely. It is possible it would seem, to feel something strongly and deeply, and yet vaguely.

I shall attempt to give outline to its vague form. It is something along the lines of the contribution to our existence of our senses. Oh, we see all the time, if we are lucky enough to have functioning visual equipment. A myriad of other senses also have their say within the experience that we deem consciousness.
But we seem to rather passive in our engagement with out senses. A stubbed toe demands attention in screaming waves of pain far in excess of the actual organic damage done by the act of forceful collision. And yet sometimes the most glorious of potential experiences occurs whislt we are absentmindedly contemplating something else; The sunset burning incandescently in our field of vision whilst we trudge home weary; The gulped down wine served to us at an inopportune time when savouring is far from our immediate thoughts.

So, then, we waste opportunities to enjoy. If, as I seem to be coming to believe, the now is all we have (memory being an inadequate method by which we relive our moments of joy), then the majority of the time, we are squandering possibilities for enjoyment of the spectrum of pleasure, from satisfaction to rapture, by being somehow distracted with inconsequential details.

And this then is my quest: To remark to myself when such opportunities are encountered or anticipated. Many cliches exist in this vein by those who would have us believe they truly are aware of this way of being; the crust of a creme brulee being broken, the foil on a coffee jar lid being pierced. Oh these are all very well, but they are like saying you like classical music because you can recognise Vivaldi's Four Seasons, or that music off the Hovis advert.
Ok, perhaps I am too harsh here and there are others who espouse this method of experiencing. But mindfulness and "being in the moment" appear to be very trendy at the moment and this to some extent distracts from the true message that in our daily lives are small moments of delight which all of our senses can appreciate to a greater or lesser extent.

My aim therefore, for my own development of awareness, and general enjoymet of life, is to attempt to document every day, one thing, one episode, sensation, sight, sound, whatever, which transports one or more of my senses beyond the mundane. And to do this without recourse to the usual tired and well-worn triteness that can devalue some of these daily revelations.

I can start with any number of things such as the texture of the word "concupiscent", which disregarding the actual definition of the word, is so delicious to articulate mentally or vocally, that it brings to mind the final consuming of the fruit from a glass of Pimms on a Summer afternoon. That word is a small pleasure for me. Until it wears off or I forget about it.

You grasp the idea by now, I hope?

More will be forthcoming. But for now, I feel somewhat cathartic that I managed better than I had expected to clarify my particular thought.
And I am tired, so I am going to bed.


It lies just out of my grasp. The everyday obligations and distractions that demand attention deplete the ability to immerse oneself in those thoughts that, in quieter moments, are crystal-clear revelations.
Whilst driving, the idea swims through my consciousness until by its sinuous circumspect approach, it appears right in front of my very face. Playfully the thought darts hither and thither, in and out of the mental landscape, all the while hinting at its form and colour. And then! There it is: Right there in front of me. The shape of the thing is complete and apparent and not at all slippery to grasp. I see it!

I am driving home in my car. But with a sense of satisfaction, I congratulate myself, as I take a sweeping bend on a beautiful late-Summer road with fields of ripe wheat either side. How obvious this notion is! How easily translated into words as I tend absent-mindedly to my semi-automatic mode of operation. The road bends, I follow, my mind races and I see a complex concept laid out bare in front of me in my head, just demanding to be written down.

How beautifully self-evident! How satisfyingly palpable this abstraction is! I will surely not forget it. Intellectually, I explore all facets of it as I drive towards the late afternoon sun. It merely has to be written down, that's all! I surely cannot forget that which, with such clarity, announced itself to me ultimately, crying out for expression.

Later, I sit, looking at a space on a computer screen, a space so empty as to be equally as intimidating as those blank pieces of A4 paper of my youth. The fecundity of the space speaking earnstly to me to do it justice and not to squander the promise it holds out to me.

But now there is nothing. The prosaic requirements of quotidian existence have swept clean the metaphysical slate. Where once a grand theme lay awaiting articulation, now there is only a mere hint that something was here amongst the flotsam and jetsam of humdrum thoughts; An enlightement overwritten by a shopping list.

And so it lies, just beyond my reach. My mind, scattered by the thousand thoughts of a day lived normally, struggles in vain to pull together enough concentration to piece together the fragments of that which narrated itself so abjectly whilst I was unable to attend properly to it.
And the pieces, like a myriad of escaping fry, slip through my mind's fingers leaving nothing but the memory of something vital, far-ranging, gone.

Everyday life consists of tasks, notes to oneself, commitments, obligations. In a day of living, in the 21st century, the grandiose is displaced by the mundane. Great intentions to explore hypotheses on questions small and great, become overburdened by an inertia born of a mild fatigue. The load wrought from the abundance of commonplace makes the mind just too weary to contemplate anything but what is immediately in front of us.

Another great intention dissipates into the banal.

But I will catch it and contain it. I will, one day, when all other demands are elsewhere, trap it for examination. And you will see it too.