Not Your Failing, Mine…

You would think we would know all about our failings instinctively. Well, I would anyway. They’re my failings, after all, who could possibly know them better than me?

That’s probably one of my failings right there. Thinking that I should know my own failings automatically and with consummate ease.

That’s not really the way it works, is it?

Our own failings are elusive things, to ourselves at least. Oh we think we know them, we can reel a list of them off in a neat litany if required. 

It’s like when we were very young and were brought to confession by the school teachers. We came up with a few superficial sins quite easily, something to carry us through the process without incurring too much sanction. “I told a lie, I was rude to Mum and Dad, I peed in the holy water thing…”. It’s just the same in real life (for me at least). I can list a dose of my failings for you, if you like, but they’re only superficial ones. They don’t go right down to the bone.

The reason I’m writing this is because I think I noted one of my real failings recently. One of those ‘bone deep’ ones that keep themselves hidden from me most of the time.

What happened was that I found myself in quite a good mood and, as I took my good mood from door-to-door (figure of speech) on my daily routine, I suddenly found that everybody else was in a better mood too. People were a bit more outgoing and chatty and fun. “How odd,” I thought, “that just when I got happy, everybody else got happy too.”

That’s the moment I got reminded of this failing of mine.

I say ‘reminded’ quite deliberately. This revelation shouldn’t have been any news to me. I’d seen it clearly demonstrated at least once before. I think we tend to forget our failings, after we find them out. It’s probably quite understandable that we would.

The first time this failing became apparent to me was not ‘today-or-yesterday’ either. In fact, I remember exactly when it was. It was on 4th January 1986. I was driving back to London after a good Christmas back home and I had a couple of friends riding along with me. Some of them stop by here for a read now and again so Hi, guys, I hope I tell this right.

I remember the date so vividly is because it was quite a memorable one. It was the day that Phil Lynott died. It was utterly miserable. We were leaving home yet again, we had two hideous car journeys and a ferry journey ahead of us and Brush Shiels was crying on the car radio for his poor lost friend.

Awful…

Here’s the thing.

My friends – the other people in the car – were being awful all the way along the first part of the journey. They were being miserable, self-centred, ill-tempered, cranky and utterly without joy. In fact, they were getting me down. When we arrived at our pit stop in Dublin, one of these friends – a very great one – took me aside and had a quiet word.

“Can you please just stop?” she said.

“Stop what?” I said.

“Stop being miserable. You are being ill-tempered, cranky and utterly without joy. Can you just stop?”

I learned one of my failings that day and then promptly forgot it again. What it is, I go around thinking the whole rest of the world is being miserable and stupid while actually it’s me being miserable and stupid the whole time and the rest of the world is just treating me in kind.

That day in the car? Everybody was fine. Everybody except me. I was being a miserable git but all I saw was myself being reflected back at me in those other poor people who were unfortunate to be present.

I’m a Silly Git.

This happened all over again recently. As people became chattier and generally happier in themselves, the lesson I learned back in ’86 slowly came back to me. It is one of my failings that I impose my own misery on other people’s countenances and then blame them for that.

It’s important that I remember my failing this time around. Maybe this post will serve as a reminder. It doesn’t mean I’ll change or that I’ll do anything differently. I actually reckon I won’t.

But at least I will be aware of what I’m doing.

That’s gotta help, right?



Rubik Heart

My heart is like a Rubik Cube
Everyone knows
Get one side of me right
and another side goes.
When you think you’ve got me cornered
My centre goes away.
My heart is like a Rubik Cube
Take it and play.

My heart is like a Rubik Cube
You can hold it tonight.
But you’ll turn it and turn it
and it still won't be right.
You'll twist it for hours
as the dark fades to day.
My heart is like a Rubik Cube.
with six shades of grey.

My heart is like a Rubik Cube.
But you don’t have the key.
Without it you’ll try
but you’ll never crack me.
It's a hard cornered toy
that you hold in your hand.
My heart is like a Rubik Cube
to solve if you can.






(c) Ken Armstrong 2013

Milking the Weekend

I think I have something to say about Time and Duration and Enjoyment but I haven’t exactly figured out what it is yet so I will just have to take a run at it.  

Some bits of writing are like a wall. To get over them successfully, you have to step back a bit and then take a run at them and jump and just see if you manage to do it or not.


(Steps back, takes a run...)

 


I love the weekend. Like a lot of (lucky) people, I work through the week and so I look forward to the weekend and love the moment when it comes and rather dislike the moment when it goes away again. Nothing unusual there, I hear you say.

My point is that I think I now have my weekends rather sussed. I seem to have made them work for me so that it feels like my working-week/weekend ratio is more 4:3 than the actual 5:2 that it is. The span from five thirty pm on Friday to eight am on Monday now seems quite lengthy and good.

There’s no rocket science here so don’t be expecting any. It can all be pretty-much summed up in one simple sentence. I start my weekend early, I finish it late and I stay awake for quite a lot of it.

Of course, I would never tell you what to do. You know that, right? It’s not my style. Besides, the things I do would not suit everybody so, if I tell you a bit about what I do, don’t feel that I’m trying to get you to do the same. I’m not. Although, if you find something here you can use, be my guest.

The breakthrough was the jogging. As some of you will know, I like to get up early and go jogging down at the lake before other people get there to see me make a spectacle of myself. I do this on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s the key. By nine o’clock I’m all done, showered, dressed, looking forward to some breakfast. I’m awake and buzzing and my battered old frame feels stretched and utilised. The day lies ahead, long and free.

What I do during the day isn’t relevant to the point I’m trying to make. Among other things, I try to get my writing done, it’s a time to bulk up on words and pages, to consolidate the stuff I managed to grind out during the week. Like I said, it’s not relevant so let’s just fast forward to the evening. No rocket science here either, I’m going to stay up late, that’s all there is to it.

The weekend is a precious thing. Why waste it on sleeping and general insensibility? I will turn fifty later this year, the majority of the best years of my life are doubtless over. It’s time to relish the days, hours and minutes that remain, be they five thousand or only one.

I think of a line from a Tom Waits song (as I often to). This particular one from ‘Shore leave’. The guy in the song is on temporary leave from his ship (the ‘Ticonderoga’) in some steamy exotic city and, as he says,

“…I was pacing myself trying to make it all last. Squeezing all the life out of a lousy two day pass.”

That’s all we get, we weekend-types, a lousy two day pass, and while, as I said, I don’t want to tell you how you should use it, I suppose I do want to say this much: Use It.

There’s a pretty obvious question that arises now and it’s this, “If you get up early and stay up late and work all week then when do you sleep, Ken, when do you sleep?” Easy. I sleep a little more during the week and I sleep a little less at the weekend. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The weekend waking hours are more fun, more ‘yours’ that the weekday ones so why spend so many of them akip?

I also believe we need less sleep than we think we do and this lounging in bed beyond a reasonable hour is like staying in a bath for too long. The positive effects get reversed pretty quickly. If you don’t believe me, try staying in bed all the time and see how that works out for you. Indeed.

My drinking habits probably help with this too. I don’t drink very much, hardly anything at all, in truth. A can of beer here and there, a glass of wine, a sip of whiskey, I like it all but not enough to want more of it. That’s got to make this weekend routine of mine easier, I know. But I would suggest, if you like a weekend drink (and why wouldn’t you?), try a weekend off it sometime. Avoid the hangover, get up early, have a big pre-breakfast walk out in the cold air. See how marvellous the weekend can be.

Gosh, I’m starting to sound preachy now so I better stop.

There is a point though. This stuff I do, this getting up and jogging and staying up late, I couldn’t/wouldn’t have done it as a younger man. There were parties and drinking and sleep-ins and debauchery to be had. So I know, I do know, this isn’t for you. I get that. I just wanted to set it down as the place where I am at and how good I am finding it. It doesn’t have to be for you. Go party, you’re young.

Okay, so I’ve run and now it’s time to jump.

Here goes.

We tend to value our holidays more than our weekends. Why? Because they are longer, that’s why. They are more valuable because they last longer.

But I no longer think this is true. Weekends, I reckon, are just as valuable and lovely as a whole two week holiday, if you can approach them as such. The two week holiday goes in daily increments and all too soon it is gone. So it is with the weekend, exactly the same.

I think there’s a useful thought here and I am still struggling to nail it down.

It’s a bit like the way I approach chocolate now. I love chocolate, man I just love it, and I could eat a few bars in one sitting no bother at all, because I love the taste. But now, now I eat one square of chocolate and all the taste, all that is good is right there in that one square, if I can only take the time and the concentration to know and enjoy that. After that one square, totally enjoyed, the rest is just excess and empty calories. It was all in that smallest of tastes, everything I needed from the chocolate.

If I can grasp this truism and apply it to my weekends. Then every week can contain a holiday, an adventure, something to love.

Perhaps this mentality can even be pressed down into every single day. “Work is over now, your time is your own for the next fourteen hours. What are you going to do with it?”

I’m working on this.

Can’t you tell?



Falling in Love All Over Again, with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra

Friday was a good day.

To top it all, we brought Sam to see the RTE Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall in Dublin in the evening. Sam is twelve and loves his music so we figured a chance for him to see the full-whack orchestra going full tilt was too good to pass up. As for us, maybe we would enjoy it a bit too. At least it would be “something different’, you know?

I had quite forgotten.

I had forgotten how much I used to like a Symphony Orchestra when I was younger. I lived in London then, you see, and had a few quid, so there were opportunities to catch a concert or two. I liked to go, I liked to hear the music. I liked, I liked, I liked…

But I am older now. Significantly older, if truth be known, and this…

Well this… I simply loved.

I hadn’t been to the National Concert Hall in Dublin since I was in college there and that, as we have long-ascertained, ain’t today or yesterday. It’s a very lovely place. That very first glimpse of the performance space through a slender glazed panel gave me a great buzz of anticipation.

We heard Dvorák’s Carnival Overture, Op. 92 [10'], Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 [33'] and the Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 'Organ Symphony' [36'] or, as the last one is better known ‘If I Had Words to Make a Day For You’ as used in ‘Babe’. This latter meant that the wonderful organ in the Concert Hall was giving a welcome airing (see what I did there?) and very impressive it sounded too.

Ilya Gringolts was the violin soloist on the Tchaikovsky centrepiece and I am in no way equipped to comment on what he did beyond saying that he blew me away with the passion he wreaked from the music.

Hannu Lintu was the personification of my romantic idea of a Conductor. Tall and chisel-featured, commandeering and elegantly cow’s-licked, he seemed to offer me a greater understanding than ever before of the (to me) somewhat mysterious subtleties of the conductor’s work.

For me, it didn’t seem so much like we were in a theatre as in a studio. The stage was set low and the generous seats were gathered right-up-close to the orchestra. Little things like the microphones dangling precariously from wires from the enormous ceilings added to a feeling. It was the feeling that we were not just here to hear a show. It was as if we had all gathered here to make some Art and that we, the audience, were also a precious part of that, not just here to witness but to partake with our live-presence, our carefully withheld applause and even our breathing or occasional subdued cough. It was like some piece of Art existed only on flat parchment and we had gathered here to add life to it, to make it soar at least one more time.

How can anyone be bored at such a performance? There is so much to see, so much to hear. The orchestra exuded pleasure in the work they were about and that pleasure pervaded the hall almost as much as the notes themselves. And the sound. Oh the sound. Not ‘loud’ per se, not an assault on the senses. Rather a deep sonorous, soul touching immediacy that cannot be matched outside of that room.

I’ve never been one for drugs but, when I came out again onto the damp streets of Dublin after it was all over, I fancied I felt a little like one much feel when the very best of drugs are in play. It was Friday evening and the world seemed slightly more elegant and bright and full of possibilities. It seemed a little better, you know?

It’s Sunday morning now and the feeling has pretty much gone again. Only the memory of it remains. I miss it. I know I will try to seek out an opportunity to do it all again as soon as I can.

To those who won’t get this, I guess this will sound pretentious and a-bit-arty and ‘up-its-own-arse’ but what can I tell you? All we can do is like what we like.

I realise I’m not talking about my wife or son’s reaction to the evening. They had a great time too but I don’t think I’m equipped to say very much more on their behalf. It’s certainly a communal experience, I guess, the Symphony Orchestra, but it’s very much a private one too. When the playing begins, there is very little left to stand between you and the music. It’s your thing. Just you and the orchestra and the music.

Oh, look, can I just go back again soon?

Please?



Twitter Ain’t Gonna Find Your Cat

You can put in out on the radio
You can hang it in the shop
You can discuss it with that mate I know
You can shout it at a cop.

You can stick it on a hashtag
I won’t stop you doing that
So long as you just know for sure
Twitter ain’t gonna find your cat.

You can wear a billboard round your neck
Or do ‘Show and Tell’ in class
You can scream it until you’re a wreck
Or tattoo it on your ass

You can get your friends to pass it round
Retweet it til they’re flat.
But I’ll tell you this just one more time
Twitter ain’t gonna find your cat.

Cats will come and cats will go
That’s just a fact of life
And you ain’t ever gonna bring them back
Through no social network site.

So let's get on with both our lives
Don’t worry ‘bout it no more
The cat will show when dawn arrives
Miowin’ at your door.

And even if it’s on the road
And a car made it go splat
It still don’t change the facts of things
Twitter ain’t gonna find your cat.





Redefining Small Miracles So That I Can Believe in Them

Miracle (noun): An extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.

Something happened to me. It was only something small and very insignificant but it still made me think. I’ll tell you about it if you like.

But first a brief warning. This small thing that happened to me… it… well, look, it happened on Christmas Eve but, wait, this isn’t a Christmas Post. I swear it isn’t. I know you would run a mile if you sensed this was a Christmas Post (which it’s not). That ‘Spirit of Christmas Present’ fella did his thing, got old, got a bit smelly and died and that’s enough of him for another year. So… it’s definitely not a Christmas Post.

Okay?

Okay.

So…

It finally happened on Christmas Eve morning that I admitted to myself that there was really only one present I wanted for Christmas. It also happened that I finally admitted to myself that there was no way I was going to get it.

The present in question was very small. My needs are slight. You see, I have a very nice pair of earbud headphones for my old iPod and I use them when I’m out jogging around the lake, as I do. I really like them but, for some years now, I’ve been slowly working my way through the little packet of rubber earbud covers which came in the box with the headphones. Over time, the number of little rubber things had depleted until I only had two left – the two that I was using. Then I lost one of them. Suddenly the earphones were useless. Without the rubber-thing, the earbud would just tumble out of my ear. I searched in shops and online but I couldn’t find a replacement rubber-thing for my beloved earphones. So the earphones became redundant, tossed on my desk and, instead, I had to borrow my son’s traditional white iPod earbuds which are too big for my ears.

It was all I really wanted – a little rubber cover thing to bring my beloved earphones back to life.

I even went so far as to drop an elaborate hint to my eldest son that, if he wanted to get me a nice cheap present for Christmas, a couple of these would be welcome. I subsequently found out that my son scoured the shire for those little beauties, walking many miles to try and get his old man what he wanted. That’s nice, that is. He didn’t succeed but his attempt is better than any present.

But back to this day, which just happened to be Christmas Eve. I got on a bit of a tidying kick and started removing the recycling cardboard and paper that amasses in our underused utility room sink. I brought the recycle bin up to the back door and started chucking stuff in. As I got down to the bottom, I found that there were various bits of debris littered on the stainless steel sink floor. A few copper coins, a sweet wrapper, that sort of thing. There was also something else and I know you’ve guessed this already. Yes, indeed, one of my rubber earbud covers was sitting down there, looking at me.

I have to admit that I was stunned. The very thing I had wished for, an outlandishly small but still-unlikely thing, had come to pass. I cleaned up the rubber thing and fitted it to my earphone bud. It was perfect. It’s been perfect ever since.

Good, eh? Good story? Cute and nice. Yes but, wait, I’m not finished. I took the earbud into the Living Room, where Trish and the guys were watching the telly and I told them what had just happened. That’s where I heard about John’s quest to get me some of the earbuds. They were impressed with my find but not nearly as stunned as I still was.

Then.

Then I went back to my study (I call it a study, it’s a lot of things). Maybe I figured I should scribble something down for a possible future blog post (heh). Wait for this. There, on the floor, in front of my computer chair, was another rubber earbud thing. I literally could not believe it. I looked in my hand. The ‘sink’ one was still there. This was a second one, right there in the middle of the floor in front of me.

I sat and stared at the two rubber things on my desk. For all of their smallness and insignificance, this seemed to me to be as close to a miracle as I had ever witnessed first hand.

Wait.

Stop.

Rewind.

A miracle, Ken? A miracle?

Let’s not get carried away with ourselves here. If people throw down crutches, if blind dudes see, if thousands get fed on a single sliced pan and a tin of sardines, that’s miracle country. A small rubber thing in your sink, even another on your floor, is not. It’s just not.

I agree. Of course I do. What’s more, the only trait I think I share with Mick Hucknell is that neither of us apparently believe in many things including, I would imagine, miracles. I don’t believe in Fate, Karma, Destiny, Predestination or the Existence of the Perfect Taco. Not anymore. Sorry.  Even if such things do exist, it always seems quite egotistical of people when they attribute every little loss or gain in their lives to the work of some omnipotent being turning its beady eye onto them. It feels like an all-too-convenient passing of the buck for those simple everyday benefits and vagaries of life.

But this thing – this little thing - did seem like ‘something’ to me. It seemed hugely unlikely and also hugely beneficial and life affirming. I wanted to call it a miracle but I didn't believe in them so what to do?

In the end it was easy. It turned out that it had been done for me already.

I simply went back to that dictionary which I used to get that definition at the top of the page. It turns out that there are other definitions for a miracle and they don’t all require some hard to swallow divine intervention. There are three definitions of miracle and the second one will do me, I think. Here it is:

Miracle (noun): A remarkable event or development that brings very welcome consequences.

That’s it. That’s what happened to me on that Christmas Eve morning back in 2012. A miracle. It was a miracle.

This doesn’t change my life or anything. I’m not putting on sandals and hitting the road. Nothing so extreme. But it’s a positive, isn’t it? It re-affirms for me that all we can ever really do is play the cards that we are dealt and that sometimes those cards will be miserly red twos and sometimes they will be the sweetest and most valuable of trump cards. It reminds me not to get too comfortable with the ups and not too uneasy about the downs.

There’ll always be something different just coming down the line.


Afternote: I am a pretty-meticulous ‘saver’ and ‘backer-upper’ of my work. Halfway through writing this little miracle-celebration piece, I inadvertently kicked a plug under my desk and shut my computer off. When I got back into it, every word of this piece had gone. I generally save after every line, so this kind of data loss is unheard-of. I wrote most of it again, kicked the plug again and, despite saving diligently this time, most of it was gone again. I was inclined to give up but, being pig headed, I rearranged the plug and wrote it all a third time.

It’s like I was saying.

The miracles giveth and the miracles taketh away…