You Know You’re Stuck When…

I wish I hadn’t put ‘…a Little Bit Rock’n’Roll’ in the title of the last post because every time I read it I think of this song. Anodyne and sickly as the Osmonds were, there’s nothing worse than them also pretending to be rock’n’roll. Which means I have to write another post, and that’s hard because I’m in a fallow phase. You know your brain’s getting stuck when you get a song going round inside it; in the last few days I’ve had the Gentleman Jack theme song followed by this one, which I don’t even like. In my experience when the mind goes round like a record on repeat it’s trying to make sense of something and the best thing is to leave it alone. Get on with something else. So that is what I shall do.

As far as work goes I’ve finished Chapter 34 of the Tapestry novel. Chapter 34 is the ninth chapter and will be followed by the tenth, Chapter 55 which in theory should be 55,000 words long but won’t be (if you’re confused, imagine how I feel.) Not wishing to try the patience of the reader the final chapter will be fragmented just as our world is fragmented, with pieces tailing off, unravelling, lost…

The novel aims to be a portrait of modern Britain centring on Brexit. It’s a book of voices, everyone giving their own account of themselves, their thoughts and experiences. From the Queen to a homeless man, from a refugee to Tommy Robinson and including some famous ghosts, these voices make up the Tapestry of Britain today.

And that’s me up to date. Today I shall be mostly… tinkering with things, going for coffee and catching up with the weeds which are always one step ahead…

Kirk out

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It’s a Little Bit Fleabag, It’s a Little Bit Rock’n’Roll…

…just don’t think of it as costume drama. That’s my take on Gentleman Jack, the latest Sunday night offering from the Beeb starring Suranne (Doctor Foster) Jones. I nearly turned off during episode one because we’re so used to seeing the Beeb get it right in terms of period whereas the dialogue here, written by Sally (Happy Valley) Wainwright, is patently modern, as are many of the attitudes. The central theme is of a woman born into the landed gentry determined to take on not only the running of the estate but to live according to her nature, that is, with another woman. It was perfectly possible in those days for two unmarried ladies to live together as companions; however their plans to pass under the radar are threatened not only by meddling relatives but by the public at large. Gossip is rife and only Anne Lister’s title and money save her from utter infamy.

Even though this is a terrible shock to the system for anyone used to faultless renderings of Jane Austen, I’ve come to really enjoy it; and the key to enjoyment is to think of it as a romp. Don’t worry about the anachronistic attitudes, just enjoy the ride. The acting’s great and there are some interesting sub-plots relating to the sinking of coal-pits and the fortunes of Anne’s tenants, all overseen by Anne herself as her parents are dead and her aunt and uncle have no head for business. Add to this the attraction of being based on a true story and a terrific theme tune and basically you have a winner. I’m hooked. Here‘s the true story the drama is based on.

Kirk out

Six Incomprehensible Things Before Breakfast?

Some mornings I get six incomprehensible things shoved at me before I’ve even finished my first cuppa, and this morning was one of those.  First, OH was talking about the Half-Bakery, a repository for weird or half-baked ideas (hence the name).  It’s quite a waste of time, though as OH heatedly informs me, some of the ideas have gone on to be produced in what we are pleased to call the real world.

So this morning, before my bleary eyes had even fully-opened, a load of stuff is coming my way:

OH: I’ve had an idea for the Half Bakery

Me: Oh? What’s that?

OH: It’s a Brexit Advent calendar.

Me:  Sounds like as much fun as Dismaland.  Monday, Gloom, Tuesday, Hard Border, Wednesday, Food Shortages, Thursday, Labour Shortages…

OH:  Yes, but it wouldn’t work because of Call for List

Me:  What?

OH:  You’re not allowed to make a list of things

Me:  Oh

There’s a pause and I go back to doing the crossword. But no, it’s not over; there’s more.

OH:  When’s Listopad?

Me:  What?

OH:  Listopad! When is it?

Me:  What the hell is Listopad? 

OH: Don’t you know?

Me: Sounds like a brand name for post-it notes

OH:  Ha ha. It’s a month.  In the Slavic calendar.

Me:  Oh my god.  You actually think I know this.

This is just some of what I have to deal with in the mornings. And I hadn’t even had a cup of tea yet. It’s not fair.

Kirk out

A Week of Patience

So how has it been, this week of practising patience? Well, I have to report that the Caffeine Withdrawal Bill did not pass its first reading in Parliament and as such has been ditched. It caused an immense headache (quite literally) and such lassitude that I lost the will to carry on. Like Spike Milligan I woke up the next morning with the letters T-E-A etched on my eyeballs and, reader, I caved. But other than that I have made progress.

First, as with all such things, the problem is to remember. All too often you have to reach the point of boiling exasperation before it comes to you that ah, yes, you were supposed to be practising patience.

One of the most important disciplines I’ve found is the practice of now. No matter how screwed up things have become, no matter how far you’ve let things slide, the time to change is now. Not tomorrow, not when you feel better, not when you’re in a more positive frame of mind but now; start practising patience right now, even if – especially if – you don’t feel ready. To paraphrase Yoda, ‘do or not do; there is no ready.’

One technique I use which I didn’t mention before is Narrating Your Life. I find this very helpful if my mind is running on ahead, thinking of the next thing and the thing after that and what’s happening this evening and not focussing on what I’m doing right now. When that happens I start to narrate my life, for example, thus: ‘I am climbing the stairs. I have a tray in my hands. I feel the weight of the tray. I am aware of my head rising up. I can feel the stairs under my feet,’ and so on; and before you know it the seemingly dull and mindless activity of bringing the tea upstairs is accomplished. It’s amazing how many things you can find to notice if you try. Have a go right now. What are you doing? Where are you sitting? What can you feel under you, around and above you? Be aware of your feet, your buttocks, your hands. What are you holding? What are you touching? What is the air temperature like? How is the light?

One yogi master (I forget who) said this when asked about the main points of yoga:

What is the most important aspect of yoga? – Attention.

What is the second most important practice of yoga? – Attention

What is the third most important practice of yoga? – Yep, you’ve got it. Pay attention – not in a stand-up-and-salute-an-officer kind of way but gently, bringing the mind to bear on what is happening right now. Otherwise life passes in a blur of anticipation, never being present in the moment.

Kirk out

Years and Theirs

I’m linking here to OH’s blog about Years and Years because I think it gives an excellent summary. I usually run out of patience when I’m reviewing something because I can’t be arsed to give all the details. I’m a Gemini (not that I believe in astrology*) and Gemini is an air-sign, meaning you tend to skip over detail and just generally waft the overall picture in the direction of your readers. To be honest I don’t see anything wrong with this in the context of a blog; if I were ever to set up shop as a paid reviewer I’d have to pull up my socks, pants and garters – in fact my underwear would generally have to be overhauled – but since I write this blog primarily to interest myself and in the hope that it will similarly interest others, I can allow myself that freedom.

Basically I thought Years and Years was terrific drama, one of the best I’ve seen in a long while and I think its power stems, as OH says, from the connection to the present; that this is not happening in some indefinite future but the seeds are being sown right here and now. This is a future we are all creating at this moment with our actions. The denouement seems to be a positive one but as Edith points out there are other comedians waiting in the wings to take over. As soon as you slay one monster another arises.

Kirk out

*I see no reason whatever why astrology should work. Why should there be a connection between the time you were born and your character, let alone your destiny? Even though it’s explained brilliantly in this episode of Mum, I reject it utterly. This is typical of a Gemini, apparently…

What It Ain’t

This week I have been focussing on the practice of patience and I thought it would be useful to focus on what it ain’t. What isn’t patience – or rather, what isn’t a salutary practice to develop?

First, it isn’t resignation. Hopelessness, apathy, despair, none of these have any part in patience. Just as santosh doesn’t mean accepting that things will never chance, so patience doesn’t imply a belief that your goal will never come. Often impatience is driven by fear – if I don’t get this now it may never arrive. Patience is born of the knowledge that all things have a time and in that time they come.

Take gardening. Of late I’ve been going out in the garden and wishing my plants would get a move-on. Why? Because I’m afraid they may never flourish; that if I don’t rush around fertilising and weeding and watering and what-have-you, they’ll just give up and die. Patience implies a faith in the future; that things will come. You just have to wait.

Of course, there’s always the hope deferred thing, which means you should always take advantage of opportunities when they arise; that as well as being patient we should ask ourselves ‘is there anything I should be doing here that I’m not doing? Can I actually get this thing I want right now instead of waiting?’ Marcus Aurelius said ‘Everything I want in life I can have right now if I don’t deny it to myself.’ that’s a statement I’ve been wrestling with ever since I first read it. Stoicism is not a grim-faced resignation, a sort of Hilda-Ogden heaving yourself into the kitchen after a death like Victoria Wood said (I can’t find the routine but it’s quoted here) but a refusal to give up, even in the face of despair. And there’s a lot to despair about right now – but as OH and I keep saying, even if the worst happens and the Tories are stupid enough to saddle us with BoJo, he may not last long. Perhaps he will blow himself out like a storm at sea. In any case there doesn’t seem to be much we can do right now to prevent it.

Stoicism is a useful philosophy and a forerunner of Christianity. It’s useful because it helps you to accept what is and to think of everything as contributing to your highest good. Let us consult the oracle on stoicism:

Me: how would you define stoicism in twenty words or less?

OH: We can’t control the world but we can control our emotional reactions to it.

Brilliant. So there we have it. I may not be able to influence the result of the leadership elections but I can ask myself ‘what would Marcus Aurelius do?’ As an Emperor who considered his duty to be the happiness and welfare of the people, he would deplore BoJo’s self-serving and duplicitous nature but he would say these things are sent to teach us something. And I suggest one thing to be learnt from this process is how better to campaign and organise to defeat what I can only call the forces of evil. I don’t think Boris is evil per se but I do think the consequences of having such a person as our leader would be.

Kirk out

Five Steps to Improve Patience. And Hurry Up!

Impatience, like many other habits, can be hard to eradicate. When publishing yesterday’s post I found myself getting all aeriated when the button up the top (for some reason the very word ‘button’ makes me feel impatient; perhaps it presses my buttons) said ‘schedule’ instead of ‘publish’ and I wanted to publish the post and it did publish it so why didn’t it say publish instead of schedule? I caught myself getting impatient about this and said to myself, ‘slow down. It’s fine. It really doesn’t matter.

So here, from the depths of my hard-won wisdom, are five strategies to develop patience.

Step One: Cut out caffeine. Yesterday I decided to forego my mid-morning pot of tea and have roibos instead. I don’t drink a lot of tea but caffeine is a known stimulant which can only exacurbate the problem of impatience, so it might be a good idea to give it a miss for a while, which means this week I shall be mostly drinking roibos.

Step two: get back into practising meditation. This has gone by the board in recent months, partly because I’ve been sleeping better and partly because I can’t be bothered, but the effects are deeply salutary and tend to counteract impatience.

Step three: when in a queue, use the time well. Next time I’m standing at a checkout or waiting for the lights to change I shall do something useful. This has to be an activity which can be laid down easily, so checking your phone is probably not the best idea (it’s illegal in the car anyway) as about sixty other kinds of impatience can begin to sprout from whatever it is you may find there and you can get involved in conversations which distract you once you reach the nirvana of the beeping terminal. Something mental would work for me, such as reciting a poem in my head (one I’m trying to learn as I learn all my poems by heart) or remembering some Spanish or assembling some ideas for a blog post. Chanting mantras is a good idea (mentally if you’re in the queue, out loud in the car) and a deeply calming mantra such as So Ham or Om Nama Shivaya can really help with the surges of irritability. Visualisations can also work; a calm sea, a deep forest, a blue sky. You could also try listening to calming music or sounds like the ocean or whalesong; there are a million of these apps out there but the thing is to pick one and stick to it. Here’s one I like:

Step four is to walk more and drive less. I have a vague general aim to do this anyway under my climate change agenda but driving less will definitely help with impatience.

Oh look, there were only four in the end. But they’re good ‘uns.

Kirk out