Tuesday, 19 June 2018


Pond with waterlilies
Adisthana, June 2018
Pub update - the news is not good. My local councillor replied very promptly, forwarding a message from the Licensing Team Leader. The Deregulation Act 2015 states that:
"Live amplified music is deregulated between 08:00 and 23:00 up to a maximum of 500 people on a premises authorised to sell alcohol for the consumption on the premises."
It was also clarified that the definition of the premises in the license plan extends to the garden outside as well, so I don't have any options unless I wish to make a noise complaint. There is a local 'night noise service' which runs from 9pm to 1am on Friday and Saturday nights and seemingly will come and 'witness the noise and disruption levels first hand'. But I don't want to fall out with my neighbour, and I certainly don't want anything in writing that may affect the sale of my house in future times. And anyway, the music wasn't repeated last Friday.

Bathroom scales update - my BMI this morning was 24.3 kg/m² so still going in the right direction, despite the colleague's leaving do on Friday followed by the weekend's excess. Actually, the family party at the weekend was quite modest and I managed to get the guests to take away most of the leftovers. The best thing about it, apart from seeing my lovely family and enjoying their approval of the LTRP, is that leading up to the event I cleaned the house more thoroughly than I think I ever have before, which I continue to enjoy.

Badminton update - I ended up having to go to the League EGM because the two people in the club more qualified than I came up with much better excuses not to attend than I could think of on the spot. I didn't really know why the EGM had been called except that the new Chair of the League thinks that badminton is in a fatal decline and wants to halt it using various measures which are regularly defeated when proposed at the AGM. So the reason for the EGM was to come up with a different, 'fairer' voting regime for meetings so that 'progress' could be made, and it was all over in only 90 minutes which I consider to be a good outcome. In case you're interested (but why would you be?) the new voting regime gives each team in the league one vote up to a maximum of four votes per club, with a voting majority of two thirds.

LTRP update - the lovely tiler is on site as I type, and the plumber has just departed having reinstated the fancy stopcock device and repainted the skirting with one coat. If I am lucky this will represent the final work on the kitchen and it will be complete, except I suppose for the dead washing machine which I have made no progress towards replacing.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

On retreat

Shrine with Buddha, flowers and candles
Adisthana, June 2018
I had to spend more than a week without WiFi in the end. It's back now, but I have yet to knuckle down and replace the washing machine, which is officially dead.

During this period offline I finally reached a point where I had to take notice of what the bathroom scales were telling me. It's been quite easy to see the numbers creeping upward and do nothing about it, although it's been seven years since my main weight loss event took place so less than a kilogram gained each year isn't too bad. But on Tuesday I couldn't ignore it any longer, and I have embarked on a serious weight loss plan. I have written it all down, and unlike all my recent half-hearted attempts I'm telling everyone. My Tuesday BMI was 25.6 kg/m², and I'm aiming for a BMI of 23.5 kg/m² which requires 5 kg reduction. After one week I had reached 24.9 kg/m² which is excellent, but I don't imagine every week will produce this sort of improvement.

There's been quite a lot of Buddhism recently, which has also helped my resolution in the dietary department with its vegan approach and emphasis on managing the mind. Because it's all about the mind. After just a week on the new diet regime I had stopped craving something sweet after supper, and if the craving is gone it's much easier to stick to the plan.

I went to the Birmingham Buddhist Centre for Buddha day and did some meditating and chatting with interesting people, including a few who I'm starting to get to know. I avoided the formal ceremonial stuff which I don't enjoy but happens at the end so it's easy to leave early. Then the following weekend I went on my first weekend residential Buddhist retreat, at a centre in the Herefordshire countryside. It's where the founder of the particular Buddhist movement that I've become involved with still lives at the age of over ninety, but also contains a number of residential houses for longer stays as well as the rooms let out for weekends. It's a beautiful setting, which is handy because I'd just run out of pictures for this blog.

Meals were vegan, the timetable included meditation, discussion and free time, some of it in silence which suits me very well. People on my more commercial holidays accuse me of being 'anti-social' if I don't want to join in their alcohol-fuelled evening activities, but here you are expected to spend time with your own thoughts. Many of us went for a lovely walk in the glorious weather on Saturday afternoon and I got the chance to chat to the leader of our Tuesday group. There isn't much time for chat on a Tuesday.

Morning meditation was a revelation - 50 minutes starting at 7 a.m., followed by a 10 minute break and then another 30 minutes. I thought I'd have a go at the long one, thinking I could always duck out and skip the following session. Being away from everything with no pressure and nothing to do made it so much easier than trying to silence all the chatter in my mind at home. I sat for the whole 90 minutes both mornings without difficulty.

The theme for study was a tale about a rich man and his wayward son, who represented 'the enlightened mind' and our ordinary minds. We didn't spend overmuch time in study, but I couldn't avoid the formal ceremonial stuff this time. Sitting through it again hasn't changed my mind about it. Altogether the retreat wasn't the transformational experience that others have reported, but I'm planning to do it again. At some point I'll have a go at a week rather than a weekend.

Back home, there's bad news about neighbourly relations with the Pub Next Door. For the first time in the 16 years I have lived here I've had to consult the terms of the pub license. The only thing I've objected to in all that time has been music in the beer garden, and up until Friday there has never been a problem. But they put on a live band, and although the music was good and it only lasted two hours there wasn't a room in my house where it couldn't be heard very clearly. I spoke to the landlord who told me that he was planning to do this every Friday night through the summer. So I have asked our local councillor to clarify some of the terms of the licence, spoken to a couple of the other neighbours, and will decide what to do when the position is clearer.

Some good news though - the new lawnmower blade arrived, I fitted it without a problem and it works a whole lot better than the previous blunt stick of metal.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
by Natalie Goldberg
"Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice — it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind."
This is the book recommended to me by the writer I met at the Buddhist weekend. It is clear why she puts it at the top of her list - it sets writing in the context of Buddhism, which is not quite where I see it. Still, there are some interesting ideas, although it does feel a little like procrastination to read about writing rather than just getting on with it. But I don't yet know what I want to write, and I've only recently made time for daily meditation, so I'm not sure where the time will come from for writing as well.

Image of the book cover

Breakfast at Tiffany's
by Truman Capote
"With her tousled blond hair and upturned nose, dark glasses and chic black dresses, she is top notch in style and a sensation wherever she goes. Yet Holly never loses sight of her ultimate goal - to find a real life place like Tiffany's that makes her feel at home."
This little book actually contains three other short stories alongside the titular one, which only slightly resembles the Hollywood movie. He can certainly write well, and I am intrigued at the subjects he chooses. I suspect there is an element of autobiography, but the one about the prison break - surely that is imagined?

Image of the book cover

A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving

narrated by Joe Barrett
"In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys — best friends — are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother."
I enjoyed this book very much. I've got a feeling I once tried to read it before, but Owen Meany's dialogue is set in capitals and I couldn't get on with it, whereas when narrated it is much easier to deal with. I have been paying more attention to how different authors write ever since I started thinking more about writing something more substantial than a blog. In this book he does a really good job of skipping back and forth in time without you losing a sense of where you are or what has already happened and what is still to come.

Image of the book cover

Cakes and Ale
by W. Somerset Maugham

narrated by James Saxon
"Social climber Alroy Kear is flattered when he is selected by Edward Driffield's wife to pen the official biography of her novelist husband, and determined to write a bestseller. But then Kear discovers the great novelist's voluptuous muse (and unlikely first wife), Rosie."
Without doing it intentionally, this is the second fictional book about writers and their writing that I've read recently - the first being Capote's above, and the third is Byatt's below. I can't say it engaged me very much. It was set firmly in the Victorian era when pony and trap was giving way to the motor car, and society seemed to be rapidly changing its views on marriage, divorce and unmarried love. Apparently the author was proud of this work, which has an autobiographical component, but he doesn't present me with a heart-warming tale. Not all stories are happy and positive, but I prefer the ones that are.

Image of the book cover

A Far Cry From Kensington
by Muriel Spark

narrated by Juliet Stevenson
"In postwar London, as a fat and much admired young war widow, Mrs Hawkins spent her days working for a mad, near-bankrupt publisher and her nights dispensing advice at her small South Kensington rooming house. At work and at home Mrs. Hawkins soon uncovered evil: shady literary doings and a deadly enemy; anonymous letters, blackmail, and suicide."
An OK book with a good enough plot, spoiled slightly by the running theme of the narrator's dislike of one of the characters. He does turn out to be a thoroughly bad sort, but the author doesn't really take this where I felt it needed to go. But she does write well most of the time, and you can't fault the gorgeous narration.

Image of the book cover

by A. S. Byatt
"Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud Bailey discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known 'fairy poetess' and chaste spinster."
So this is a Booker prizewinning book, and if it were a pie I would describe it as having a good deal of indigestible gristle among the meat. I'm not fond of poetry, so perhaps a book focussing on two Victorian poets wasn't the best choice, but I chewed my way through the poetry nevertheless. There was nothing wrong with the plot in between the interminable verses, but I can imagine using the same plot in a much more entertaining book about two architects, or two cleaners, and finding that much more palatable.

Image of the book cover

The Daughter of Time
by Josephine Tey

narrated by Derek Jacobi
"The search for the truth about the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Was the hunchback, Richard III, the monster that Shakespeare and the history books have made him out to be?"
It was my fault that I didn't get much out of this book, because I don't have the background knowledge of the personalities of the time. If I were a history nut who knew all the characters and their relationships I'm sure this would be fascinating - as it was, it was quite a slog. The answer, of course, is that Richard III wasn't the monster, it was probably Henry VII. So now you know.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Two days without WiFi

View from the keyboard in the pub
The Drawing Board, just now
It feels as though I've been living without a limb for two days. Actually, it's more like a sensory organ is missing. I have been living without WiFi for two whole days.

A massive electrical storm woke me very suddenly in the early hours of Sunday morning. I imagine there was a bang or a crack from very close by, perhaps inside the house. I listened to the thunder and watched the windows light up - it was probably the loudest storm I've every experienced. It passed. I went back to sleep.

On Sunday morning I couldn't make the radio turn on. This sometimes happens - it's an early DAB model and it sometimes gets confused. As for so many things nowadays, the remedy is to turn it off and on again. At that point I noticed that there was no power to the radio. Nor to the bedside light.

OK, adding two and two together, I bumbled down to the fuse box. I'm so glad that the old one was replaced (three and a half years ago already!) because three or four of the switches were tripped. This usually happens when light bulbs blow and it's just a matter of switching it all back on, but the kitchen circuits didn't return. Then I remembered that they'd installed a subsidiary fuse box in the new kitchen extension, and that had tripped as well, but unlike the main board it wouldn't reset itself. With everything turned off I could reset it, and switching things on one at a time it became clear that the problem was with the washing machine.

At that point I was simply relieved that the fridge freezer was working and that I could still boil the kettle and cook breakfast. I haven't yet got round to pulling the washing machine out to try and trace the fault, because after breakfast it became clear that there was no Internet. I can replace the three blown light bulbs and go to the launderette if necessary, but no Internet! Looking at the router it appeared dead, no lights coming on at all. No Internet! I couldn't find an alternative power supply to try, but I found an old router - I just wasn't sure it would be compatible with the new ISP and couldn't face the effort of trying it out. I could still get online via the data plan on my phone, and I had planned to spend the day at an event at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre, so that's what I did.

It turns out that I can manage for about two days without WiFi. Considering I've only just started using the new TV I was surprised to miss the facilities it provides, particularly BBC iPlayer for TV and Spotify for music (but I've got films on DVD and the old hifi for CDs so it's been fine). I didn't need the Internet for dressmaking so at last I've made a start on Lola's dress, although very soon afterwards I managed to break the fancy needle that I need for stretch fabric so that has to wait until the shops open again.

I listened to audio books, did a bit of work in the garden, replaced all the blown light bulbs, and went out to look at new lawn mowers. I inherited the mower from the previous owners of Lola Towers which makes it at least 15 years old, and although the motor seems fine, I don't think the blade has been replaced in all that time. Then I realised that I could just replace the blade - I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before. I turned the mower over to have a look at the blade. It is held on by a large bolt, and I don't have any spanners. Perhaps there's a tool? If there is, where would it be?

I'm not sure I can convey how astonished I was firstly to find within seconds the very tool I was looking for, and then actually managing to undo the bolt with it. I took the old blade down to the local DIY store but they didn't have anything that matched it. Using the magic of the Internet (thank you phone data plan) I have now ordered the exact part. I can hardly believe how well this is going so far and feel certain that there will be some insurmountable barrier to success when the new blade arrives. We'll see.

So  buoyed by success, I finally felt mentally tough enough to phone the ISP about the dead router. And it was fine! The nice man working in the call centre on a Bank Holiday immediately identified the moment when it died on Sunday morning, and asked me about the storm, but didn't raise any issues. He not only arranged for a new router to be sent out, but also encouraged me to contact them when it arrives so my days without Internet can be reimbursed.

That's when I decided it was time to seek out some WiFi. So I went to Pub Next Door and asked for a half of Saddleback and the WiFi password. Which was when I discovered that their Internet had been destroyed at the same time as mine. The beer was very tasty but my quest continued, and I have now been settled for a couple of hours at the second best pub in Leamington. They expressed the right amount of horror at my plight and have been very hospitable. I have bonded with the bar staff over an obscure track by The Cat Empire and with other customers over the Blue Peter annuals on the pub bookshelves.

So despite the WiFi calamity it's been quite a good weekend so far. I've got tomorrow off as well so still time to replace the fancy sewing machine needle and do a bit more dressmaking before going back to work.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Trouble under the sink

Big wheel at the end of a corridor of knobbly trees
Düsseldorf, November 2017
Notable events over the last week or so have been scarce. There was a bank holiday weekend, when I journeyed south for dad's 85th birthday celebration - we pay so little attention to birthdays that one of the guests didn't actually know it was a birthday celebration at all. Briefly, there were candles.

I went to a gig, which was good. I watched some DVDs on my huge screen, including a Blu-Ray DVD, but I'm not sure that I could tell the difference between this and an ordinary DVD. I went to the dentist, where they sweetly complimented me on my efficient brushing while despairing of my continuing decrepitude. I reassured them that on the whole I'm in pretty good nick, but if they want a culprit they can blame my genetic heritage.

On Saturday I started considering the tiling situation for the kitchen, and spent more than three hours in two shops (although about half an hour of that was on the phone to Lola II). The best advice of the whole day was that rather than looking at the traditional glass splashback behind the hob for somewhere between £150 and £250, I could just buy a single 60x60 cm tile costing a tenner. A lovely tiler visited and has sent me a quote.

I have reconnoitred a local car boot sale on the advice of a badminton-playing friend who regularly sells his plants there. It takes place every Sunday between May and September, and cars start queueing for the best spots from 6 a.m. Alongside the big house clearance vans there are people sitting at single tables with just the sort of thing I'd like to get rid of. It costs £10 for a place as a seller and most of the junk isn't worth more than 50p or a pound, so I'll have to gather absolutely everything and hope to make my money back in one hit because there's no way I'm going to do it more than once.

In badminton news, I was invited to go to a session on Sunday to try out with the Warwickshire County Veterans, which sounds more impressive than it actually was. There wasn't any element of selection because they seemed desperate for players (although I'm sure if I'd been awful it would have been different), but the standard was a bit higher than mine and I had to work hard. I'm not sure I want to make the commitment - all the matches will be on Sundays and there's usually a good deal of travel seeing as it's a county league. I did meet a lovely lady whom I hadn't seen for six years since I left the club where she plays, but I also met one of the people who were the reason I left that club.

So it was on Sunday afternoon after all this effort that I noticed the skirting board in the utility room was stained. Pulling the plinth board away from under the sink, I found A LOT of water and a significant drip from a pipe in the most inaccessible place in the whole house (i.e where the stopcock is inside the stupid narrow cupboard). Shutting down the stopcock didn't stop the drip and I contacted the plumber who'd installed the whole affair just a few months ago. Given that it was clear this had been going on for some time I decided not to treat it as an emergency, but the plumber did turn up on Monday and diagnose the problem as a failure of the fancy valve that was supposed to mean I don't have to reach the stopcock itself to turn off the water. We'll have to wait for it to dry out a bit before putting it all back together again.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A long and tedious post about modern audiovisual technology

October 2017
Since the visit from Mr and Mrs MXF and the Revelation of what technology is capable of, I am now experiencing it in real life.

Before The Revelation

Broadband brings the internet to Lola Towers along wires as far as the router, and from there onwards we have wifi, which nowadays forms the backbone linking everything together. Some of my gadgets were already making use of the wifi - the laptop I'm typing on, the tablet I mainly used to play my chosen radio programmes on BBC iPlayer, and my phone.

In contrast, my old iPod has to hook up to the laptop to suck up all my music, podcasts and audiobooks through a wire. I can listen to the iPod through earphones, but I also have a speaker for it in the kitchen. I love the iPod because its battery lasts for ever, and it fits in my pocket, and as well as listening on the kitchen speaker I can plug it into the car stereo and listen to my music and podcasts and audiobooks, and it remembers what I've listened to and starts up exactly where I stopped, and it holds every single CD and audiobook I've ever bought and is still very much less than half full. But neither the iPod nor its speaker is wifi enabled, and neither was the television, and neither is my ancient hifi system in the living room which can play records, CDs, analogue radio and cassettes (except I found out last week it can't play cassettes any more).

Then the television expired, and it was time to think about what the modern world can offer. I'm not actually interested in broadcast TV - the few programmes that interest me might be available via the Internet, and I don't care if they aren't. What I wanted in the kitchen and living room was the option to play audio directly from the Internet as well as all the stuff I've bought over the years, and I wanted a new television in my future 'Screening Room' where I hope to stage the Gulloebl Film Festival (Midlands franchise).

After The Revelation:
  1. Spotify - brilliant
  2. Chromecast Audio - not a success so far
  3. What you can do with a television these days - amazing
  4. Sound bar - magic
  5. Wifi extender - does what it says on the tin
  6. What's next?
1. Spotify

Spotify is an Internet repository for all the music in the world. Actually, as I have delved deeper I have discovered some of the more obscure music that I have acquired over the years is not to be found in Spotify, but 99.9% of all the music in the world is there. Using the phone app or the web player I can play individual tracks and albums, and create playlists of my own or listen to those compiled by other people. If I want, Spotify will play me music that it thinks I will like based on my previous choices, and so far it has been broadly correct in its assumptions. And all of this can be sucked off the Internet to my wifi-enabled speaker of choice, for free if I'm prepared to listen to a 30-second advert every half an hour or for a monthly subscription if not. I don't have to own any of the music to listen to it as long as my speakers can hook up to the Internet via wifi. I may never have to buy music ever again. I hope the artists get a cut from Spotify or we will have no more musicians able to make a living.

2. Chromecast Audio

I bought a gadget from Google whose function is 'Chromecast Audio'. When plugged into the old kitchen speaker and configured via a website it connected the speaker to my wifi, so I could play anything from Spotify on my kitchen speaker. Unfortunately the ancient living room hifi didn't have a spare line-in socket, although now I plan to investigate whether I can make use of the line-in socket so recently vacated by the cassette player. Then (see below) I installed a wifi extender and the kitchen speaker option disappeared. Then I switched broadband supplier and eventually I bullied it into appearing on the network but I can't use it as a speaker. To be honest I almost lost the will to live with the Chromecast Audio and ended up actually shouting at it and then I broke the tablet by hitting it in frustration. So I'll save that problem for later.

3. Television

Television used to be delivered by a broadcaster via an analogue aerial plugged into the back of a large cathode ray tube that allowed you to watch what they chose to broadcast at the time they chose to broadcast it. Then the number of channels increased dramatically, satellite and cable transmission options were introduced, everything went digital, and now you can watch all sorts of things any time you like within certain constraints. Despite all this flexibility, or perhaps because of it, I stopped watching television programmes some time ago. But I carried on using my old cathode ray tube to watch DVDs until it died.

Mr MXF helped me choose a suitable TV which arrived a couple of weeks ago. It is enormous, but weighs less than the set that it replaces. The most interesting thing I have realised is that the fundamental function of a television in the 'olden days' (to watch television programmes as they are broadcast) is the only function that I can no longer use it for, because it isn't connected to an aerial, satellite dish or cable. My new 65-inch television screen is, in reality, a huge but stupid computer screen without a keyboard. It connects to my wifi and will play music from Spotify as well as television programmes and other stuff streamed from the Internet, most of the time. There are still a few things I haven't managed to stream, such as BBC radio.

Many people don't even use a DVD player any more because they watch films streamed or downloaded from the Internet, but I am still using the DVD subscription service because they have the films I want and Netflix and Amazon don't. But this new television will play Blu-Ray and Ultra High Definition movies, which Mr MXF wholeheartedly endorses. My DVD player can cope with Blu-Ray, but I'd need a new one for UHD. Due to 'heritage' issues I haven't yet watched a Blu-Ray film, but one should arrive pretty soon.

4. Sound bar

This is a bit of kit that hooks up to the TV and/or wifi to produce directional sound, i.e. makes your ears think there is sound coming from all around. It comes with a nice sub-woofer for super bass noise too. I got it for films really, and it will sit in front of the TV most of the time, but I've also tried it out separately in the living room for streamed music (e.g. Spotify) and it works OK as long as the music is actually being picked up by the TV and sent to the sound bar via an HDMI cable or wifi. It's just a bit of a nuisance having to carry the bar and speaker from room to room.

5. Wifi extender

While Mr and Mrs MXF were here it became clearer that the kitchen is a bit far from the router and the wifi signal was quite weak. The gadget to fix this plugs into an ordinary power socket and boosts the signal, and should be as straightforward as that, but it seemed to disrupt the connection to the Chromecast Audio gadget until the new broadband came into play, and maybe it doesn't now. More investigation is needed. But the kitchen wifi signal is now excellent.

6. What's next?

So now I have a super huge high definition screen, great sound from DVDs or streamed from the Internet on the TV in the Screening Room, or in the living room if I physically move the sound bar and sub-woofer (which aren't intended to be portable), and the old hi-fi in the living room to listen to CDs (and analogue radio and vinyl but not digital radio or cassettes). I'm still able to use the iPod for music, podcasts and audiobooks but only on the kitchen speaker. It would be nice to be able to listen to all those things through the sound bar, but it looks as though I need one more item to connect my laptop to the TV (an HDMI to DVI cable). Then I could think about either trying to link the old hifi to the Chromecast Audio gadget so I can play digital sounds through my old amp, or I could get new wifi speakers.

But first, I really ought to finish the kitchen. Just the tiling left to do.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

by Dorothy Whipple
"Ambrose went on talking, but she did not listen. He gave her, more and more frequently, the same flat exhausted feeling she had when she tried to carry a mattress downstairs unaided."
I was given this book by Sister D when I mentioned that I find modern books to be a bit disappointing. It was written in 1932 and I really enjoyed it, despite many of the characters being unpleasant types - all of the men were horrible, and all but two of the women. This isn't Sister D's favourite book by this author but it was one she was happy to give to me, so I'll seek out a few of her other recommendations.

Image of the book cover

The Far Pavilions
by M. M. Kaye

narrated by Vikas Adam
"A story of 19th Century India, when the thin patina of English rule held down dangerously turbulent undercurrents. It is about an English man brought up as a Hindu, and his passionate, but dangerous love for an Indian princess. It's a story of divided loyalties, of tender camaraderie, of greedy imperialism and of the clash between east and west."
What a marathon saga - more than 48 hours of audio narration, some truly dodgy Scots and Irish accents, but on the whole a thumping tale of India under the Raj with an excursion into Afghanistan at the end. The final battle took hours; I could have managed with a little less detail before the hero and his love rode off into the sunset.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Buddhist weekend

Doorway inside museum, Ronda, November 2016
It's been ages since I returned from my time away with dad. Since then I've taken a trip north, played three badminton matches (2 draws, 1 win), my huge television and sound bar were delivered, I have had dinner with an old friend, spent a day engaged in the pastime of Quilling alongside Lola II and some other friends, switched broadband supplier, and I've been away on a Buddhist retreat.

Buddhist retreats usually take place in a residential centre in a rural location, and take you well outside your normal routine to allow full immersion (or some would say confinement) into the spirit as well as the text of the retreat topic. I've been on a couple of single study days already, but I recently tried out a weekend retreat. It wasn't the usual rural immersion type because during the day we were in the Buddhist Centre in Shrewsbury, and bed and breakfast was provided by some of the local community - in my case, the old friend who got me involved in Buddhism in the first place. We'll call him VP.

The retreat leader was a chap who has written quite a few books exploring different aspects of Buddhism, the next of which will focus on Time, so this was our topic for the weekend. There were about 50 people there, about half being locals, but VP was the only person I knew beforehand. There was lots of waffle, some pleasant chatting, and I came away with a few nuggets that seem worth pondering. Discussion drew upon Buddhist teachings rather than neurological research, for example about the way that time seems elastic and sometimes appears to drag or fly by depending on whether you're waiting for a late train or enjoying a pleasant or engaging activity.

There was an interesting discussion about what exactly is 'Now', or the present moment, and I drew a comparison between the mind constructing sound from waves interacting with the ear drum, the mind constructing colour from light interacting with the retina, and the mind constructing the sensation of 'Now' from 'existence' or 'reality' or 'matter' interacting with consciousness. Our perception of time ceases when we are asleep or unconscious, and almost disappears when we are so absorbed that our consciousness narrows to a point of focus. I can work along with all the spiritual guff when it isn't at odds with my scientific viewpoint. None of it is of any practical use, except we are told that exercising the brain can stave off dementia, and also a change is as good as a rest.

Outside the formal sessions it was very easy to talk to people in the breaks, and after our vegan curry on Saturday night I found myself sitting next to someone who teaches creative writing. I have been thinking about this ever since reading my old school books, and even made a little sortie onto the Internet to look for local courses. It felt a lot like when my kitchen designer was the first person I met on my first Meetup walk. Sadly, most of the Meetup walks happen during the week now - I think the organisers are now retired so they don't have to limit themselves to weekends.

Just before I went home, VP just happened to mention that it would be good if I could put together something about nutrition for people who are thinking about becoming vegan. Of course I haven't got any time for this at the moment, but VP knows me too well and I've been thinking about it ever since. The idea has found its way into my Book of Lists, so it may happen at some point.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Another short story

Self portrait by 6 year old speccy swot
Self portrait, 1970
This is from the same treasure trove of school reports and toddler artwork as the previous story, but was written a few years earlier, when I was 7 or 8. Again I am copying verbatim - spelling and punctuation left entirely unchanged, although I have substituted my blog name for my real name.
If a magician gave me one wish I would say "I will save it untill I went to have a holiday and I would try to be famous and I would ask for a pair of wings that will never never break and I would fly over the town and everybody would look up at me and say "look who is that up in the clouds. and I would shout It is me [Lola Blogger] with wings to fly with. Oh it is lovely up here. "I wish we were up there." the people will say.
I suppose I'm still trying to be famous, although in my world 'famous' means appearing on Radio 4 rather than being recognised in the street. And, of course, I still want to be able to fly.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Short story

A 1971 drawing by a 7 year old of a paint can and bottle of white spirit
Still life, 1971
While I was being Nurse Rosenberg I took all sorts of things from home to occupy myself, and one of these was a plastic bag full of my history - music exam certificates, school reports, some of my childhood art, a letter I wrote to my American cousins. A treasure trove.

Here is something I wrote for an English lesson when I was 12, in 1976 or 77. I have copied it verbatim without changing so much as a comma.
My Visit to the Past

It is now 1960. The weather is very gloomy and everyone around me is running. There is a shrill noise.

Everyone had gone by. A solitary woman was left, coming out of a shop door.

"That was better than usual," she remarked.

"What happened?" I asked.

"You got caught in the rush hour," she said. "You ought to know by now to head for the nearest doorway."


I carried on my way. The streets were now deserted, apart from a few early morning shoppers. I looked into a shop. It was a stationers. I wondered if the goods would tell me what time of year it was. Nothing. Not a firework. No Christmas cards. No Valentine cards. Not an Easter bunny in sight. This wasn't getting me very far.

A lady was standing admiring some notepaper. I asked her for the date. June 6th.

I started down a sideroad. Everything around me seemed much quieter. There were no babies crying out of 3rd floor flat windows. Then I realised what was really nagging me. The difference in our clothes. They were wearing two piece garments, at least, the men were. The women were sometimes in one piece dresses or dresses in two pieces. I wondered how they managed to get them on. Now, I was wearing the normal amount of jewelry, with all my rings, and a 5-piece suit, and it looked very advanced beside the primitive clothing of these people.

I heard another shrill whistle. Expecting another mad rush of people, I pressed back into a doorway, but I could only see one man coming towards me, dressed all in blue, with a tall hat, and brandishing what appeared to be a large metal or wooden stick. In his mouth was a little silver thing that was making the noise. He looked extremely fierce, and I just turned and ran, right back to my machine. Seconds later, I was safe again, back in my own time.
It's very strange to read your own composition more than 40 years later, but I find this so interesting. The story isn't much in itself, but the first four paragraphs hook the reader, make you want to know what's next. The rhythm of the writing - sentences, phrases, paragraphs, even the direct speech - I thought it was really cool that it was written by my 12 year old self.

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