Week 520

Sunday, 9th December, 2018

The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dali

The final week of the 10th year of the Blog has given me pause to think and assess where I am. My thoughts were particularly provoked by waking early this morning and listening to a programme on Radio 4 – Something Understood – a regular spot on Sunday at 6.30 am which is basically an extended Thought for the Day. Today, the theme was Living in the Moment with the strapline: If not Now, When? For those of you who have a simple answer to that question, you shouldn’t waste your time ‘now’. This includes a relative of mine who reacts every time I mention planning for the future by singing:

Enjoy yourself, Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think…

At the outset, I must confess to being deeply conflicted on this topic. It is partly driven by my notoriously poor memory and my love of History to my genuine enjoyment of personal planning and preparing for the future. Living in and for the moment is anathema to me. I am the embodiment of seeing life as a rehearsal because I always feel I have failed and want to leave that failure behind so I can move forward and try again.

The American poet, Emily Dickenson said: Forever – is composed of Nows and, of course she is right but that is not how I experience it and have always thought, by association, did most other people. I have always been obsessed with time to many people’s amusement/annoyance. I constantly calibrate my life with a variety of metrics – How many steps I’ve done per day/month/year; how much Electricity/Gas/Water I’ve used this month/year; how much income I’ve received this month/year/decade and how much I’ve spent or put into investments; how many years since I retired or since I last saw someone or since so & so died. The statistics provide a meaning and a context to my life. They are the humdrum continuum of my days.

The poet who speaks most for me is Philip Larkin. I was immediately touched by and learned off by heart his poem, Days and, 50 years on, I can still recite it:

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Like me, Larking acknowledges there is nothing but earthly time and that is calibrated in days but he also recognises it is not as simple as that and the human condition searches for meaning to join up the ‘nows’ or ‘days’. In that search, we are bound to reflect on what has been and consider what might be in the future.  That is one reason why I write my Blog and, as Dali’s picture illustrates, memories decay and slip away through time. The tree is already dead. The pocket watches soften and bend, are flyblown or eaten by ants. Even the cliffs are eroded by the sea. Everything will leave this place but at different rates and in different timescales. It is up to us to fight to keep control of it as long as we can because letting go leads to madness and death.

Have a lovely week. Enjoy yourself. It may be later than you think.

Monday, 10th December, 2018

Up early in the dark. Many of our neighbours are up at this time to commute to London. We were driving down to the Channel Tunnel for a 8.50 train. Although it is reasonably close, the circuitous route we have to drive takes a minimum of 90 mins and in the early rush hour down here took 2hrs. We were there for 7.30 am to be greeted by a glorious sun rise and a very quiet parking area.

Morning Glory at the Tunnel

It was unusual to say the least but we were on to our train and under the sea exactly on time. Driving off from a very quiet train, we went on straight to the wine store. We had pre-ordered £250.00/€278.00 of wine which provided us with ‘free travel’ and then went on to spend another £300.00/€333.00. Fortunately, on a day when the Tory party went even more loopy than usual and the Pound crashed, our order and the day’s prices were already fixed. It would explain why the store was almost deserted this morning.

The Land of Milk & Honey.

Our saving on UK prices was about £500.00/€555.00 plus the £100.00/€111.00 return fee on the Tunnel. With the car packed up, the next stage was driving to Cité Europe for groceries and other things at Carrefour. Duck – legs and breasts were one item, swordfish another. As you can see from my photo, the carpark was almost deserted – in the run up to Christmas.

Brexit Europe – Empty

We drove on to Coquelles and Auchan where we completed our shopping including some Christmas presents. It wasn’t difficult. We have been at this time of year for the past 20 years or so and never had such free run of the shops.

Desperately looking for a parking space.

We were back at the Tunnel and on our train early – 1.50 pm (CET) and off in Folkestone by 1.25 pm (GMT). Even the drive home was quick and quiet. When we got home at around 3.00 pm, we realised where everyone was. They were glued to their television sets watching Theresa Dismay acknowledging her latest failure in the House of Commons and Corbin’s latest failure to bring her down. Should have stayed in France. At least it was quiet there!

Tuesday, 11th December, 2018

A lovely, mild and sunny day which allowed me to cut the lawn for the first time since I reseeded it following the disastrous drought over the summer while we were away. I had bought a huge bag of pelleted grass seed and lots of topsoil and we both worked for a full day preparing and seeding and treading and watering. The weather was reasonably warm in October and the seed germinated well but we went away for the month of November before anything more could be done. Today, we have mowed and striped the lawns and they are looking healthy and well. I can look outside with pleasure once again.

Addicted to the Palace of Varieties.

This afternoon we both have dentist’s appointments. Certainly not my favourite way to fill my time but a necessary policy for insuring diminishing assets. Before that I have been indulging myself with one of my favourite  pastimes  – watching the Parliamentary Debate on the Meaningful Vote. I can’t get enough of it but I know some would still prefer the dentist.

Girona – Spanish Venice?

While watching/listening to the debate in our Office, I researched one of the trips we are proposing to make in the new year. Girona is just over the French border into Spain. It is about 20 miles inland from one of those old, coastal favourites, Lloret de Mar.

Wednesday, 12th December, 2018

Calamity! In the final week of the 10th year of the Blog, I couldn’t access it. Trying to just produced a fatal error message. I have been using 1&1, an American platform provider for the past 10 years. Recently, it was taken over by Ionos, a German internet company and now things are changing.

I must admit, after 10 years of precious records, I do worry about losing the lot. I sometimes think of migrating to the public, WordPress platform but have never plucked up the courage to take the plunge. Today’s blip has made me reconsider it.

I thought I had done something wrong but it turns out that the new, parent company had upgraded the platform with a much updated WordPress Platform and just hadn’t bothered to inform us. I made a phone call and was answered by a young Philipino lady who was actually in the Philippines. I told her that 10 years of records were extremely important to me and, within 5 mins, she had sorted my problem out. She even invited me to the Philippines but I had to decline.

The new platform is very different and, this evening, I am still struggling to get to grips with it. This is one of the joys and frustrations of I.T. development. Learning new skills and fighting to produce results is at the heart of why I do this.

Thusday, 13th December, 2018

A chilly 4C/39F start to the morning with a lovely, clear sky. I went out in a short sleeved shirt and quickly regretted it although I affected not to even notice the temperature. This is about the coldest we have felt it down here. Of course, it is reminiscent of mid-summer in Yorkshire. Drove to Tesco and an eerily quiet carpark. Perhaps everybody’s died in the night. However, even the few people shopping were a few too many. People are so annoying but they are especially annoying at Christmas!

John Gillespie

My first teaching job was in Oldham, Lancashire. I knew nothing about the place when I applied. For example, I didn’t know that it was one of the most deprived areas in the country and that the school I had applied to was served by population in the most deprived place in UK at the time. It was May 1972 when I entered the building housing the Education Authority offices – a dark, red brick, Victorian, satatanic mill if you’d ever seen one which I hadn’t. I was being interviewed by the Director of Education who had attended Repton Public School where Roald Dahl and Jeremy Clarkson were educated and the school’s Headteacher who had been a pupil at Gordonstoun Public School where Prince Charles was educated. If you knew Oldham, this pairing were these least likely introduction to the town one could imagine.

I was a fairly arrogant young man who thought he was an absolute gift to teaching. I still had long, ‘College’ hair of the ’60s style and I had chosen to cover it up with a gingery wig from the Props Department at college in order to pass the suitability test. I have to say that the interview did not seem to be going too well until the Director asked me where I was from. As soon as I told him Repton, the whole mood changed and I knew I had a job. All the Director wanted to discuss was the village shop, the day Len Hutton scored a century on the school pitch and the Fives Courts in the school grounds. All thoughts of Oldham Education, of poverty and deprivation evaporated and I was ‘one of them’.

John Gillespie was a fairly ‘other worldly’ man with the best of intentions to educate children in the high culture he loved. He spent his days largely in thought, singing the classical music that the ensemble he and his wife played in were currently rehearsing. We were pushed in to difficult productions of Brecht and Becket rather than Shakespeare or Shaw as if he were directing his own am.dram. group in the town. Still, his heart was in the right place and he looked well when I saw him about three years ago. Unfortunately, I learned yesterday that he is seriously ill in hospital at the age of 92.

Friday, 14th December, 2018

A really cold feel to the morning. We went out to Waitrose in Worthing and the car was reading 3C/37F and it felt bitter in the breeze. We were shopping for antipasto – Prosciutto Crudo, Milano Salami, Bresaola, Bologna Mortadella, sun dried tomatoes,  baby peppers stuffed with humous, piquante peppers stuffed with mozzarella, green olives stuffed with pimento, Calamata olives – for a special meal. For a period which is quite close to Christmas, shopping was quiet and relaxed. Maybe news this morning of the High Street dying more rapidly than we think is true.

I don’t know if you have this experience but my mobile phone and my Desktop computer open up each day with new, photographic screens. I look forward to seeing what comes up. Today, my desktop gave me this:

I absolutely love Venice and the Grand Canal. It is 25 years since we were there and it is one of the few places that I would love to go back to. Having said that, everything I’ve read suggests that it is more difficult to enjoy today than it was back then. The pressure of tourism is increasingly taking its toll on the city. 

Saturday, 15th December, 2018

The passage of time is amazing, startling, frightening, lots of ings but, not the least, it is humbling. Ten years ago, I was only 57 and still working although I thought that my time in education was coming to an end. I had started to keep a diary so many times before but this was different. It continued beyond the first week. Chronicling my life’s events and emotions seemed a useful thing to do – essentially for me. One of my heroes has been Anthony Wedgewood Benn. He had a lifetime commitment to socialism. He also recorded his life, day by day, in taped recordings that he made every evening before he slept. I don’t pretend to be recording anything as significant although many of my entries have real import for me.

The lines:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

are from T.S.Eliot’s 1925 poem, The Hollow Men. For me, it describes the ultimate futility of life and the fact that, for most, it ends in failure. In a hedonistic sense, existence is justification enough. Tomorrow, we will turn our face to the next decade. See you back here at the end of 2028.

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