All Inklusive

9B6DBCC7-2359-4CD4-B6ED-B8BEEE592410She drinks pints of coffee and writes little observations and ideas for stories with her best fountain pen on the linen-white pages of expensive notebooks. Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery.

David Nicholls

It’s only a hobby but I like to write. Lots of people have hobbies and, as far as it goes, mine is fairly harmless (assuming I don’t write anything libellous and avoid too many honest opinions). Sadly many years ago I allowed myself to be led down the electronic road and committed all my ramblings and clutter from my brain to a screen via a keyboard. To be honest this was a vast improvement on my content owing to tools like spellchecker (set to UK English) and grammar checker (careful not to take every recommendation as its sense of grammar is sometimes a wee bit eccentric). 

In fact, this is a good point to take a side step for just a moment and set the record straight regarding language. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this and I’m sure it won’t be the last but until the world finally acknowledges the truth and capitulates accordingly, I’ll keep raising it. 

We still keep getting presented with a choice of languages when we use software. We are asked whether we require UK English or US English. Both the prefixes are superfluous as there is only English. This is akin to asking whether you would like duck or Bombay duck. As one has webbed feet, feathers and is delicious with plum sauce and the other is most definitely not a duck to the point of actually being a fish. So why are we presented with a choice to choose something when there literally no choice to make? The inhabitants of America chose to embrace our language but then stumbled and fell when they reached its nuances and idiosyncrasies. Now I appreciate that these quirks can cause confusion but that doesn’t give them the right to do half a job and then rename it in order to save them any further work. It’s like learning how to drive a car but not how to stop it. Please feel free to call it American if you must, although I’m not sure how the Canadians will feel about that, but please stop referring to it as English, US or otherwise, which it isn’t.  

Back to writing. Having spent many years pressing keys and occasionally pressing the wrong key and losing several pages of work, I was happily sat reading a blog about a writer who, as part of his post, had been extolling the virtues of pens, paper and actually using the two in unison. Now I’m not shocked by this as I grew up in a generation of people whose only means of taking notes and writing missives was to use pen and paper. However, this gentleman was specifically talking about fountain pens, their aesthetic appeal as well as the experience of writing with them purely for pleasure. With my curiosity aroused I dug a little deeper and before long discovered an entire subculture devoted to fountain pens and the pure enjoyment that ownership and use brought. The more I discovered the more intrigued I became. Beautifully crafted pieces coupled with eccentrically coloured inks which allowed the owner to completely personalise their writing implement to express their individualism. I also like the idea of having some involvement. Slowly but surely manufacturers are trying to squeeze the end user from any intervention with their products preferring that we either post it back to them for minor repairs or even better still throw it away and buy another one. There are even some high-end pen makers that will threaten to void your warranty if you disassemble any part of your pen or, heaven forbid, use ink from a different company. Instead, they insist on its return which is never a cheap option. Thankfully firms like these are few and far between.

Now I’m aware of the irony of this post. There’s me writing about a blogger who’s talking about writing and using keystrokes to do it. I’m eulogising about this new tactile pen experience and also delivering this to the world from a keyboard. However, this is a thing of perspective. Irony aside this is about indulgence, aesthetics and personalisation, not pragmatism. For me, as a writer (or more accurately an apprentice writer), it’s not always practical to lug electronica about with me so when inspiration strikes I tend to go old school with a notebook and pen. This has the obvious practicalities but why settle for mundanity. In life when the opportunity presents itself shouldn’t we do things with a certain panache and distance ourselves from the herd. 

So if you have occasion to pick up a pen during the course of your day why not adopt a flamboyance that identifies you as an individual rather than being the person sat there with blue Bic and chewing the lid. 

In keeping with my ‘Buying British’ theme, here are a few to start you off 

 https://onoto.com/

http://worcesterpencompany.co.uk/

https://conwaystewart.com

Reality Television’s Human Zoos

barbed wire

A long apprenticeship is the most logical way to success. The only alternative is overnight stardom, but I can’t give you a formula for that.

Chet Atkins

People will do anything to stay alive. History is littered with thousands of accounts where this is so.  Despite having the hot hand of Lucifer firmly grasping one’s leg and desperately trying to pull it into his subterranean fiery abyss or the hand of St Peter offering his saintly assistance into the kingdom of heaven, plucky individuals have managed to cling firmly to life, thwart dame fortune’s plans and keep their feet very firmly rooted on terra. We, as a species, have survived all manner of extreme disasters against the remotest of odds. We covet the longevity of our existence to the point where we allow ourselves to suffer in hideous agony rather than capitulate to the afterlife.   

Alternatively, the other thing that people will do anything for is to appear on television. However these sorts of people differ from the former in the respect that they’re shallow, vacuous, needy wannabes and not admirable, plucky, outstanding human beings. The people who foist themselves on to these shows have no real discernible talent. They lay bare their pointless lack of talent in view of millions of people in the hope that they will succeed at being the final resident in whatever televisual zoo they elected to sell their soul for. This is the Holy Grail for the talentless. The resultant winning status allows them to covet what they most desire. Celebrity status. This of course is an ambiguous title. A fake Rolex of a title. This is ‘knock-off’ clothing in the market title. This title has no depth, only a gossamer celebrity skin stretched taut across a talentless vacuum. Celebrity, once upon a time, used to imply renown. Aspiring individuals would, and still do, study for their chosen field for many years and struggle fruitlessly while following their chosen path. Now this once respected title has been diluted and cheapened. It’s been ambiguously used to include anyone who has made a public appearance, irrespective of the effect this has on the consuming public. Sadly they have contributed nothing valuable to our lives. The only tenuously awarded celebrity comes from the unimaginative audience who, starved of anything to stimulate their intellect, sit glued to their sets and, although acknowledging how utterly tedious and talentless the guests really are, seem to be unable to stop themselves from watching them.

Of course, the programmes are cleverly manipulated. Unscrupulous producers know that the contestants’ vacuous personalities could only hold anyone’s attention at best for an hour at best so they prey on the weaker and more needy facets of their psyches. They pitch guests against guests making them carry out ridiculous tasks designed to create humiliation and tension between each other. This, the producers hope, will lend a gladiatorial effect to the proceedings until the spectators at home are eventually called to dispense the modern alternative to the thumbs down; voting by phone. No longer are the losers fed to the lions they are ejected to hordes of vicious press hacks who strip whatever shreds of self-respect that still remain. Their lack of talent is only superseded by their lack of shame about parading it. The ultimate in cheap television and unimaginative production.

So are we right to blight these seemingly inadequate wannabes? Doesn’t a certain responsibility rest in the hands of the production companies and their never-ending quest to produce cheaper and cheaper television? Or is it the apathy of the viewing public? Initially, we had a choice. The novelty factor held a fascination for the voyeur people-watchers looking for a break from soaps and crime dramas. This stale period in British prime time entertainment survived through this unique and seemingly new concept but the sneaky producers started to drip feed more and more tawdry offerings onto our screen. Celebrity versions of these high-tech goldfish bowls started to materialise on our screens as the audiences grew weary of watching him the machinations of ordinary people. Again this was sleight of hand television as the public were once again duped. These ‘celebrities’ turned out to be anything but. Has-beens long out of work desperate to re-energize a flailing career and contestants from other reality shows were foisted upon the viewers by cheapskate producers hoping for fresh blood in the water and more cash down the phone lines.

If we had a definitive appointment with the reaper on which our life would end, a date which you were given when you were born which stated emphatically the time, day and date of your demise, how would you live your life? Most people would meticulously plan to maximise their time. They would take more risks, not fearing an unpredictable death only injury. They would cram in lots of experiences not wanting to miss out on all the fantastic things life can provide. They would covet love, excitement, thrills and beauty and generally bombard themselves with all manner of superlative sensory recreations and indulgences. However, existence in this life, although finite, is stitched together with uncertainty. By rights, this should amplify the effects of the former scenario, uncertainty lending wind to our sails of fulfilment. Strangely enough, the reverse seems to be the case. With the hooded collector of souls randomly cutting a swath through mankind we choose to gamble. Within our unspecified allocation of time we are forced reluctantly to fritter time away on inane, but to a certain extent necessary, proclivities. We undertake all manner of uninteresting tasks during our daily routines most of which have an element of necessity about them such as sitting in traffic, unfulfilling employment, shopping for food etc. What, I wonder, is the possible purpose of squandering the limited amount of free time we have left at our disposal on pointless inanities such as watching rooms or islands stocked with nobodies being board, going stir crazy and sniping about each other. Do we have so low a regard for our time on earth that we can squander what freedom we have, glued to this hypnotic square box that seems to occupy the focal point in our living rooms? Is it that we lack the imagination and intelligence to fully conceive of all the amazing experiences that lay beyond our comfort zones or is it simply that the majority of people are lethargic. Happy to shut the world out, climb into a comfy chair and watch the world pass by via a handheld remote control when they should be maximising the gift of life they have been given.

Collecting Time

Collecting Time

People create all kind of fancy watches and clocks, never stopping to realize

they’re building monuments to the greatest of all thieves.

 K. Martin Beckner

I collect watches among other things. I’ve often considered the whole collecting thing as curious and certainly with something as functional as a watch. I understand that if you collect other functional items, say shoes for example, that you will build a collection consisting of different colours and styles. However, this does have a certain logic to it. Different modes of dress require different footwear if you are to avoid social faux pas. For example, wearing brown Derby brogues with your dark grey city attire will look out of place as will the chap wearing black Oxford toe caps with his jeans and a tee-shirt down the local pub. So we can justify our fetish for footwear by blaming sartorial standards. After all, people often judge us by how we are apparelled.  I’m not saying this is right, I’m just saying it happens regardless of whether we like it or not.

So how does one wake up one day realising that what we thought to be a light at the end of a tunnel was in fact the glare of Super LumiNova at the bottom of a very deep rabbit hole? After all, a watch is an item that has ostensibly a single raison d’etre. That of telling time.

Like shoes, a timepiece is a necessary item. Every day we need to be able to accurately tell time. From the mundanity of arriving on time for the train to life and death timings of military operations and of course everything in between. But it’s here that the analogy sort of falls down. We can wear the same watch to work as we can to the pub. Long gone is the time when standards required you to arrive at the opera in your tux and a suitably refined Cartier strapped to your arm. Watches that are considered to be of the tool or sports variety are now fit to grace any wrist on any occasion. Whether you’re dining at the Ritz or cutting a dash at the hunt ball. After all, if 007 can wear his Planet Ocean at Casino Royale while divesting his contemporaries of over a hundred million dollars then us mere mortals can manage an evening on the town without having to swap our 1000m dive watch with helium escape valve to our chronograph moon phase on alligator leather with a butterfly clasp.

 So back to the rabbit hole. If all watches are accepted in all places how do we manage to justify a collection? They all tell the time and a large percentage of them have round faces, hands and indications of the numbers one to twelve. There are variations in materials but that’s about it pragmatically speaking. This is when I, a true believer, detach myself from the practical and go deep inside my heart which, unhappily, seems to have a rather sordid relationship with my wallet. It is through this unhealthy alliance that my heart bypasses my brain and coerces me to make emotional purchases. I’m then left standing there with yet another watch trying to convince myself that I had a completely justified reason why this was a sensible buy, which of course I didn’t and it wasn’t. I’ve now strayed from the path of what I need to what I crave, only to find myself teetering on the precipice and staring into the abyss of rabbit central.

The movie industry doesn’t help. Many a timepiece has been strapped to our death-defying hero’s arm as he shoots, swims, fights and gets blown up through ninety minutes of testosterone-laden tension. If the producers have done their job properly there will certainly be an element of product placement throughout and more and more watches will be featuring as one of the products. Sales rise as a result of these placements although I must confess I don’t know why. Buying a Heuer Monaco doesn’t make the owner Steve McQueen or a G-Shock Tom Cruise. But maybe, just maybe, it makes them a little cooler by association. It’s through these kinds of irrational associations that our collection is born or swells.

The mistake I made with my collection was justifying it. Once I had claimed justification for yet another watch and shored this up with hilarious reasons, I realised I was in effect ruining the enjoyment of what I loved in the first place. This is where I eventually had my epiphany. My ludicrous justifications were dictating which watch I could wear. I’m going to work so I need my tool watch. I’m going to the beach so I need my diver’s watch. I’m going out for dinner so I need my dress watch. I was strangling my enjoyment and passion with my own excuses. I have a collection of watches that are as versatile as a Barbour waxed cotton jacket, worn by everyone from the queen to the farmhand without the merest hint of snobbery. Why can’t I wear whatever watch I want whenever I want?

The answer is simple, I can.

Resolve To Be Resolute

New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions.

New Year’s Day now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

Brooks Atkinson

As the Christmas festivities dissipate our thoughts turn to the new year. We consider what lies ahead and look introspectively upon the successes and failures of the departing year. For some reason, the act of moving from one year to another seems to be synonymous with change. Is this really a pivotal point in our future destinies or just one more tradition in the Yuletide calendar? Exactly what is it that hoodwinks us into the belief that decisions made on this seemingly auspicious date will be anymore resolute than the other whimsical flights of fancy we embark upon throughout the year?

January will find the gyms bulging with the usual wannabe weight shedding postprandial Christmas dyspeptics whose resolve will reach critical mass by the middle of January or February if they’re lucky. Their Lycra will be hung on a clothes hanger in the darkest recesses of the wardrobe along with their good intentions.

But these fitness and weight shedding resolutions won’t be alone as bygone years will bear testament to. We don’t learn. Next year, just the same as all that has gone before, we’ll be press-ganged into making more of these superficial proclamations which we hope will act as a kind of pathos, exhibiting to our contemporaries the strength of our determination. A courageous plan of self-improvement that we hope will assist us in conquering the new year.

Alas these pseudo character improving proclamations of determination, made by many while still slurring from the excesses of new years eve or nursing the resultant hangover the following day, will fail to guide our first tentative steps as we tread unpredictability into the next twelve months. Upon sober reflection, they’ll be treated with the same lacklustre shallowness that haunts most disingenuous attempts at self-improvement. Hastily they’ll be squirrelled away in our rearmost cranial recesses, left to fester, occasionally taunt us and finally disappear into obscurity.

Simply put, without fanfare or ulterior motives, If a facet of life needs changing then it should be changed without delay, no stalling, no excuses. Procrastination is for the feckless. We should action any positive changes we make in our lives with drive and positivity and consider our failures the price of success.

We only ever fail when we finally concede defeat.

Happy new year.

 

 

Get A Movie On

 

I think everyone loves ‘The Departed.’ That was a movie that had a lot of problems structurally. And we had to battle with it. Fight. Experiment. Try different things. And I think finally we hit it.

Thelma Schoonmaker

No matter what your emotional pleasure is in life it’s fair to say that our fantasies have been represented in some way via the magic of celluloid. We’ve cheered for heroes, cried for romance, sat on the edge of our seats for suspense, been repulsed by horror and laughed until we were sore. But generally, one way or the other, we’ve been entertained. Speaking from my childhood experiences there wasn’t a lad among us who didn’t come out of the cinema feeling like a cowboy, a cop or James Bond. Although now, in my middle years, I don’t vacate the picture house ‘capping’ bad guys with two fingers and a crooked thumb, my torch for the movies burns no less brightly than it did all those years ago. However not for the same reasons, well not entirely.

As I’ve advanced in years I’ve asked more questions. I began to look at things in a more philosophical way, delving into the reasoning behind films, how they’re made, by whom and why. What I discovered I liked. I’ve sampled every genre from Oscar winners to ‘straight to DVD’ without the merest hint of snobbery. Of course, over the years, I have witnessed the most appalling plots, scripts, acting and the combination of all three but these weren’t necessarily in the ‘straight to DVD’ category. I have borne witness to some terrible casualties in the name of celluloid art. The Oscars have been guilty of nominating all manner of twee or self-indulgent travesties over the years and I can only assume these nominees were put forward to appease yet another Hollywood fad, sycophantically kowtowing to political or minority pressures. It certainly wasn’t for their artistic articulation. But awards are not the be-all of movie success. Silver may look good in the cabinet but it’s bums on seats that pay the bills. A room full of back-slapping critics and talking heads may be considered a worthy opinion but no matter how much they praise or decry a project, the views of a packed theatre full of moviegoers cannot be dismissed.

The trouble with opinions is that everyone has one, not in itself a bad thing but someone else’s will often differ from our own and not everyone is so gracious at conceding. My movie of choice at any given time will be dictated by my mood of the moment and will often enable me to unburden my state of mind. For instance, a bad news-day can leave a negative taste in one’s mouth regarding the world’s injustices. Kicking back with a good guys bad guys movie can be just the thing to unwind with. Of course, we’re intelligent enough to know that life generally isn’t like that but maybe optimistic enough to hope that sometimes it could be. Conversely, other moods will have me craving the mental quagmires that will demand my full attention and hopefully deliver me the satisfaction of being able to unravel the mystery before the final curtain falls.

Of course, my favourite aspect of movies is the ingenuity that comes as a result of the genius of teamwork. When the right director, cast and crew fuse together the visual and indeed audible result is beyond breathtaking. We have the ability to be completely enchanted by cinematographer’s dexterity. Whether this is by capturing stunning vistas or their ability to make us believe we are a clandestine voyeur, privately spying on the unfolding drama opening up before our eyes. A superlative score can bring us to the edge of tears or allow us to feel fear, like fingers of ice inching down our spine. However, only via the craft of the screenwriter, is a story is born. The theme, plot and characters intertwine creating a canvas to which the project can be sewn to. That ultimately brings us to the ministrations of the editor. The editor stitches the efforts of all of this work together giving the film substance and flow. These are the backroom boys and girls, the names of which fail to trip from our lips but, without their skills, powerful productions would be rendered as nothing more impressive than home movies.

So next time you feel blown away by a cinematic experience go home and do a little digging. Interrogate the more reputable portals on the internet and check out the inside story of how it came together. The more you learn the more you will yield from future experiences.

 

Autumnal Beauty

Autumn

“Come, little leaves,” said the Wind one day, “Come to the meadows with me and play. Put on your dresses of red and gold; For Summer is past, and the days grow cold.”

George Cooper

As nature’s clock measures out the last of the summer sun’s radiance, autumn patiently waits beyond the horizon eager for its chance to guide a green and vibrant landscape towards a slumbering period of hibernation. Despite the continued incandescence in the sky, there will be a noticeable easing in the daily temperature as the seasonal clock counts down towards the winter solstice.

Meanwhile, as the land inches its way towards the darkest months, flora and fauna will slowly start the process of shutting down and protecting themselves against the ravages of their landlord’s climatic austerity. Animals of the wild, sensing the impending chill, set about stocking their winter larders in preparation for the dark skies of winter. We, however, are audience to some of the most spectacular shades and hues of colour that the natural world can generate. Across the countryside an ever-changing palette of colour adorns the trees, hedgerows, hills and pastures making every day a different portrait to behold.

Boreas having slumbered the summer months stretches and yawns breathing deeply in readiness to blast his breath of cold northern winds upon the leaves desperately trying to maintain their grasp upon the stout limbs that months earlier had given birth to them. His tempestuous exhalation chases the now orphan leaves across the forest floor, into the air and around the trunks of oaks, ash and birch. This relentless flurry maintains its vigorous endeavours, tugging at the few surviving stragglers until the forest’s branches are stripped bare and the ground is thickened to a soft carpet. A veritable patchwork of differing leaves forming layers, ready to insulate the ground beneath from winters dark, damp and chilling dominance.

Meanwhile, urbanites scurry around winterizing their havens treating lawns and tending vegetation. Cutting back, hunkering down and tidying away all the better to ward off the effects of the chilled white dusting left behind by Jack Frost’s terpsichorean abandon as he makes his way across the early morning undulating topography.

All the while shades of saffron, rusty brown and burnt umber now predominate the countryside horizon while the loamy smells from the leaf mulch underfoot waft heavenwards intoxicating all that walk among them. Cold hearths are primed with seasoned logs and gently blown into a flame, crackling and hissing their protests as the conflagration consumes them and fights against the falling mercury. Chimneys belch out plumes of grey clouds thickened by the dampness of the fuel and the chill of the air. Wafting around ghost-like and unhindered by gravity these smokey spectres intoxicate the air until only the faintest odour remains.

This is the way I see autumn. A multi-sensory vista that, despite its brevity,  showcases a snapshot of the natural world’s magnificence.