A storm in a wine glass

The life of a freelancer is like balancing on the cliff edge. The abyss is always a foot slip away – there are no safety nets. It is also an empowering life. You may earn more than the equivalent on a contracted salary based job. And it is not usually 9-5 – it is whenever necessary – but the days can open up sometimes. You hustle, you work, you know the days count – but a gig is not a life.   In a survey of people who were terminally ill, something that came up was that they wished they had not spent so much time fretting about work, wasting time – literally.

Freelancers, generalising of course, tend to love what they do and that’s why they can throw the dice with more confidence they’ll pick up work. But obviously, stress, especially with family to support, will gnaw away at the brittle nerves like a thousand termites are nesting in your insecurity.

It can be increasingly hard therefore to find ways to relax. Like almost every media type who has reached 4O and is clinging on to sanity, I tend to have wine to switch that switch to off (ish) but last night I sat on a chair in the garden – the day’s heat still radiating from me – thinking about problems I didn’t want to think about and then it began.

A good storm – if you immerse yourself in it – is like the ultimate spa. I was in the garden, it was pleasantly dark, I was shirtless and with an almost empty wine glass, trying to breath some air in after being indoors on a hot summer afternoon – when the first cracks of thunder shuddered through the clouds I gasped. It was 1:30 AM. The sounds were like God’s warnings of what might follow, hard and deep and beyond the human realm. The lightening that erupted lit the clouds from behind and framed them in micro moments. Massive clouds, I realised, were above me – invisible in the dark and awe provoking me with a flickering back light of electric energy.

I heard myself say ‘wow’. I don’t say ‘wow’ ever. It was a ‘wow’ revelation.

A fast wind smashed through the nearby treeline – an invisible dinosaur had charged. I could feel it pour into the spaces around the house and then it slammed me with its sudden power.

Following that came the rain – tropical rain – so hard, sweeping and relentless that it almost had a personality. It was as if a deep feeling has become weather.

I took enormous pleasure in not going back indoors, in holding my wine glass and feeling sensations on me. I felt, as people do on these occasions as if this was just for me, despite the fact all the lights were going on in houses nearby.

The lightening forked to ground about a mile away, but by now every other second was punctuated with lightening or thunder. The air pressure released, my head became lighter and my sinuses cleared in a perfection of hearing and smelling, from a dull senselessness. For the first time in a long, long time I relaxed. I was enjoying the storm throwing everything at me in one go – it was like getting it out of the way.

I sometimes feel that I am listened to like antennae picks up sounds. I feel no connection to a listener. As a writer that feels like isolation. Writers are not talkers, they have chosen a different medium.

I did not reach for a phone camera. That would demean the experience.

This was written about two months ago – I just thought I would publish it as didn’t at the time. 

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Bad Form

I have just realised how much I hate forms. They are the opposite of life. Tick the box if you understand the terms or conditions they say – so I look at the t’s and c’s and it is written for a 16th Century high court judge, but you can’t proceed to your desired outcome unless you agree so you agree.

What’s worse – now they read you the terms and conditions over the phone – they read them in a dry 30 minute monologue where you phase out in the first 30 seconds. At five minute intervals they ask ‘ do you understand’ when in reality you might be staring out of the window looking at a crow that is sitting like the grim reaper on your garage roof inwardly laughing at human idiocy.

What is rare is precious and today trust is rare and therefore precious – especially so in business. Forms – long ones – in insurance and banking and hire cars! They are like a secret code which is more about telling the buyer – ‘do not cross us or we will crush you like an ant’. The devil is in the detail, the medium is the message and the syntax is the meaning – so it’s clear that these overblown terms are merely threats – legal warning shots from the higher order to the muggles.

The complexity of legal issues is obviously something that business needs to understand and guard against but I wonder if in court you challenged a panel of the public to interpret many legal terms and conditions what you would get back – probably not much – which makes the whole premise of ticking boxes a bit of a farce. Something I hope in decades to come we will look back at as medieval – unless we evolve badly.

Forms to me are time parasites, as they literally drain your personal time. Ironically I live in a small village in Wiltshire where all the country’s most important forms are stored underground in guarded vaults. Government, Blue Chip and legal forms – hard copies – are tucked away and buried in secure alarmed vaults for that rainy day when e-war destroys digital records and politicians and bankers can wave paper in each other’s faces saying ‘I told you that you said this – so there!’

I can’t help thinking every time I sign a form – of a beach and a seascape – like I am psychologically self-medicating. Forms are getting worse. I hope one day a business breaks through to recognise human beings.

I will end with a positive – as moaning rarely points in the right direction – the best form filling to date I have gone through would be UK car tax disc renewal – God bless them!! Someone or some team worked out a way to do a legal binding transactional process that takes minutes without BS and crazy paranoid legal bumph. Well done whoever you are – invisible behind the scene team – good work as you were thinking of normal human beings!

The things we choose to keep

Today the oldest man in history, Jiroemon Kimura, died at 116 years old in Japan. It is something to understand the limit of your life but what you leave is important.

When people die they leave their houses full of clues to their identity for relatives to sift through, turning their grieving loved ones into fossil hunters, detectives or archaeologists, able for the first time to have full access to the treasures that sift to the surface after death, the personal moments from their parents and grandparents lives now gone.

All my grandparents are dead now. It feels like a layer of time has been ordered into a drawer somewhere, the ever growing filing system of time where zillions of memories and lives get marked by a single photograph or wedding ring or an antique.

My grandmother, Ivy, lived the longest so was the most poignant in many ways because she was the last to go of a generation I knew – I was old enough to understand truly what it meant. She was 101, was born in 1908 and had seen things I could hardly imagine, including two world wars. The treasure box she left behind harboured precious black and white photographs, news clippings and personal letters. There was one photograph of her in a field of sunflowers (albeit black and white) as a young woman, another of her first love before she met my grandfather – this man was in a small rowing boat on the oars, with braces and white shirt, somewhere on a Cornish river. He died of TB. She met my grandfather and that eventually led to my birth. When I was about eight, my grandfather – her husband gave me a photograph of himself on a navy ship, fishing with a long line with a thrashing shark on the end of it, when he was in the war. I somehow lost it – despite keeping it in a top drawer of my chest of draws in my room and I have always regretted that loss bitterly. These tiny morsels and scraps are like diamonds in a field of earth. My grandfather talked of stalking U boats with depth charges and I remember his wife, my granny, talking of the street being bombed in Weston Super Mare, with her neighbour hiding with her adorned in her fur coat under the stairs – to go out in style as it were if the house was hit by the German bombers.

My other grandparents – my mother’s side – were two souls that shaped my early life. I remember my granny cooking me traditional Cornish pasties – which were nothing like Ginsters! Big pasty white crusts with huge combinations of onion and meat inside that were completely delicious and so far removed from shop products that I feel she really did show me something of culinary history – a lost palette. She was straight talking and her legacy of personal items was small but equally endearing. Her husband – my other granddad – was a saxophone player in his youth – belonged to a band – wore leather jackets on his days off and was cool. His photographs were of friends and one I remember was of him in full dinner suit with bow-tie blowing the hell out of a saxophone, a glorious moment in time.

I miss them all now, as the step ladder we climb into age descends a rung, for us to step upon. I am not sure what legacy I will leave. I love my family, my parents, my children and I do not feel like I have lost my grandparents in some ways. I feel like I have discovered them a little more since their deaths. Those little photos and mementoes tucked inside boxes – they are wonderful. They are the living memory that we need after death.

Written on 12/06/2013

Politics and Facebook don’t make good bedfellows

‘There is a disturbance in the force’ an old man on a spaceship would have said when Margaret Thatcher passed away. It would not have been a planet blowing up that would have caused such a ripple through the fabric of space and time but the passing of an elderly lady – it would be triggered by the amount of emotional outpouring; anger, love, disgust, humour, repulsion, celebration, alliance and about every emotion you can feel that can bubble up through social media like Facebook.

Facebook has always been a way to reconnect with people, to level communication with those from the past, the present and future, from different backgrounds and families, from work and from socialising. But if there is something that will drive a wedge into all this pleasant ‘community’ feeling then it is announcing your strong views on politics in a public forum. You are not preaching to the converted like you would be in a small closed room of like-minded mates. Facebook is an organically growing party room where the guests are always there listening to your every word and sentiment. You don’t get to hide and confide without controlling the settings exactly. Where there were smiles there may be gawps and whispers. Political views come from places like close relatives, personal difficulties or even hate, they are usually emotionally rather than analytically driven in my experience.

Deeper can be darker

In the UK an individual’s political alliance is often a bit like a dirty secret. Announcing who you vote for – if you vote for anyone – (usually people don’t vote because they hate all the parties) will instantly alienate you to half of your friends.

Thatcher has always been around in my growing life – a staunch upright lady with an iron hairdo. I have my own stance on that. I take both positives and negatives on how she affected me and my country but the views that have been framed on Facebook have made me feel pretty sad. Extreme right wing views and then extreme hatred of a dead body just reveals some pretty nasty stuff in my eyes.  Whilst social media is affirming to every voice it can also be a portal media for an outpouring of bile from sentiments that hint at a love of hating foreigners or on the other hand a medieval ‘burn the witch’ rant.

‘Likes and comments’

I like to see people as people, to support them in their bad days, to make them know you are there for them, to care, but when political party views comes into the mix in social media it’s like shattering an ornate glass – it makes a platform like Facebook a soap box rather than a network. Politics when shouted through a megaphone into your ear, presents a black hole that will drag you in – if you even glance at the event horizon. It’s no wonder such a high proportion of our society is simply sick of hearing rhetoric and political PR.

Yes, it’s important to know whether you support or don’t issues that affect people but since the death of Margaret Thatcher I now have a good idea of the political colours of most of those in my connections and I may in some of the cases not have wanted to know in all honesty. I am sure some will say it doesn’t work like that – you cannot separate politics from the person but for Christ’s sake – people are full of crap, have enormous filters through which they sift the world and the beauty of posts like ‘I’ve had a bad day’ is the response from an unseen army pronouncing love and friendship.

I don’t want to know everyone’s political motives and ‘now-not so secret’ hates. Facebook isn’t the right place. It’s just not British!

Running the Cornish cliffs

jaunty angle cliff

The north coast of Cornwall is one of the most beautiful places on Earth to me, specifically the coast between Porthtowan and Chapel Porth.

I grew up there. You can smell the sea on the wind. The cliffs are 100 ft high and the waves curl and roll into them with roars and cracks. It sounds alarming when you get up close to an Atlantic roller slamming its tonnes of water into rock. When I was young, I remember hearing a mature oak tree split and crash to ground from a lightning strike one night and the noise was terrifying. It had the same violence and power as the sound of coastal waves.

Despite their power, you listen to the natural rhythm of the incoming waves and it slows your heartbeat.
Running these cliffs is close to the perfect way to appreciate them.

shadow runThe ground hugging gorse and heather crowning the cliff tops shiver in the gales and the barren terrain. The crows and the gulls glide alongside you as you run the cliff top – inches from the sheer edge as you run, where the cliff has eroded dangerously to the side of the trail. Vertigo almost makes you veer into the shrub when you peer to the sea, your survival instinct pushing you away from the deep expanses beside your fast moving feet.

You can see goliath chunks of rock that have broken from the cliff and become islands.

The surf crests shred white clouds of spray against the force of the wind and they hover high as suspended wisps of water, which turn the colours of the spectrum. The surf spray literally becomes a cloud of rainbow.

There’s a feeling of ancient worlds, of King Arthur’s kingdom where warriors held fortified land and then there’s the skeletons of tin mine chimneys, stone gravestones to a lost society.

There are legends cast from the rock faces. The best is the legend of a tyrannical giant called Bolster who ate adults and children at random and who fell in love with a girl called Agnes. Agnes tricked him by giving him a task to complete before he could marry her. She asked him to cut his wrist and let the blood fill a small hole in the cliff but the hole ran through the rock to the sea and Bolster bled to death – his blood staining the cliff rock red forever. The Cornish coast line is thick with stories, from shipwrecks and pirates to the paranormal. If these tales serve to distinguish the location, they do not come close to the power of it in reality. gorse

But it’s the air that makes it all unique. The air is cold, laced with salt water, and the scent of cliff flowers. It feels like the ghosts of those lost at sea are in the wind. The wind from the ocean is so fast it makes you drink it in.

PorthtowanI run the sand on the beach – through the spreading delta of water from the river that feeds the ocean. I find the base of the cliff that leads to the higher plateaux. There are paths to choose – the one next to the peril of the cliff edge or the one which has loose scree and small rocks to trip you and gnarl your ankles. I choose the edge and concentrate hard on my foot falls. I reach the top and there is a stone seat, it is the best seat in the world. This is a seat for a king – a seat that may change your feelings, empower you and fill your blood with nature’s awe. The sea gales slam you in the face, you have an horizon as far as the eye can see on three sides. You can see the curvature of the Earth. It takes your breath away. I sit down for a minute or two – it would be a crime not to.

Then on again, curling around with the cliff path, seeing the secret caves and coves where men don’t venture below, the waves exploding into their echoey hollows. On a good day you might see a seal or a basking shark in the waves, this is nature raw – it feels prehistoric. Later the mine shafts emerge from the landscape, the filled in capped holes and the remnants and ruins of the old buildings a top the mine. The ground turns rocky – grey and red and feels like another planet, a lunar or Martian landing site.

Finally St Agnes appears – and there is a large stony outcrop overlooking the narrow beach of Porth Chapel and the adjacent mine chimney. If there is ever a moment you can steal for yourself it’s something like standing here without anyone else around.
Some places are unlike any others and become meaningful in a way that they cement into your consciousness. They become hardwired feelings, not a single spot, nor a single view but like art they inspire you – they become your silent melancholy friend, your reassuring hug, your embrace with the elements. It feels religious and sacred.

stone and light

chapel porth end run

That crazy gazelle will be the end of me

I’ve done it. I’ve signed up for an ultra marathon in the summer. This is the defining moment of my midlife crisis – to endure 50 kilometres of multi-terrain hell – limping through bogs and fields like some crazed Neanderthal in leggings.

run with kat

That’s me with the gammy knee and thumb in the air – running with a good friend called Kathryn at Ashton Court 10k.

I’ve done the marathon – that was my mid-life crisis achievement last year – but now marathons are for whimps – now my eyes are alight with the idea of an ultra marathon medal around my neck. Sometimes, as the saying goes, ‘you have to go too far to see how far you can go’ and the crazy gazelle trapped in my head is kicking the inside of my skull, braying ‘Do it ahahaha….run like a fool until your legs fall off and they find your body in the fields like some mummified running shop mannequin.’

Your buzz needs

When I was a boy I got excited about space rockets and toy tanks. When I was a teenager it was all about staring shyly at girls in the hope they would stare back without the speed dial to the police. My 20’s and 30’s had a lot to do with drinking and travelling for kicks. Now – in my 40’s – it’s testing the lifelong abused body hanging beneath my head to see what it is capable of – a bit like tuning up the engine of a beaten up old Alegro and taking it to the F1 circuits to race the Redbull team.

My tuning up consists of running every other day, eating fish, drinking less and doing yoga. The simple patterns of exercise, self-monitoring and stretches got me through most runs since I took running to heart but the ultra is like the holy grail of the running world, to do one is like conquering the unconquerable, there is no room for error and that is why it’s so exciting.

The clincher

If a year goes by where I haven’t accomplished something I’m proud of I’d notice it now. Time is riding my spine like a parasite.

It took a dull day of grey skies and being bogged down with work to make my mind settle into the right place to make the decision. A friend called me and said ‘You want to run an ultra marathon..?’ And without a second of thinking I replied ‘Yep, I’ll sign up.’ And that was it. The next day I woke up smiling. It made me feel that good.

The first and last marathon I did I remember several points on the run where I thought ‘wow – this hurts – this really hurts – my legs feel like they are made of gravel and sticks,’ but then I got to the end and my son ran out to meet me and my family and friends were there and it was the ultimate buzz. We oldies have to take the buzz where we can get it. I am so excited I could wet the bed at the prospect!

I’m also fundraising too if anyone can spare anything at all for a really worthy cause.

http://www.justgiving.com/Richard-Forsyth4

Swings and roundabouts

elsa swing

These are just some observations of a part time dad, and by part time… I mean full time dad and part time worker. I am self-employed and after one of the larger contracts came to an end I agreed with my wife who works too, to opt out of further child care minders and to look after my kids for the best part of the week. I don’t know how many men actually take on this mantel but where I live I am a rare specimen turning up with my small daughter at the school gates, to pick up my son – a lone dad amongst the gaggle of mums. I feel like I am infiltrating a secret society and breaking a code of the Universe. I hear in my eardrums the booming voice of a ‘gorilla-man-thing’ version of me, who is grunting ‘Man make fire and bring home buffalo, not do shopping and play sock puppets in cardboard box theatre.’

There are some funny things that I have noticed about my brand of Man-care, which I will share…

Does Thomas ever want children and his own place, and other metaphysical questions?

First of all I can’t help question some of the plot lines in the children’s TV. For instance, Thomas the Tank Engine is like a sci-fi horror story.  These are trains with genetically engineered ultra large human faces on them being controlled and made to feel incompetent by an intimidating man clad in black, in some industrial-military experiment on a secret island no one has heard of. Noddy in Toyland – Noddy is an exploited underage taxi driver and pilot in a place where their only currency is muffins. There is something sinister about all of this. Clifford the Big Red Dog, this one is obvious – that thing could eat people and poo a house on a car – you’d need a digger as a pooper scooper. I digress – but after years of noticing plot problems in films to then be exposed to children’s TV, the hard-line critic emerges like a criminal lawyer shaking a rattle at the telly from the sofa. ‘Noddy!’ my daughter says with glee. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘The postal service should be investigated!’

Guilty of treats                

A recent study stated that children in the UK don’t eat main meals because we give them treat food too much so when it comes to real food they just say ‘no’. I am guilty as charged that on occasions I have given my children some evil corporation made crisps in response to them saying to me –  ‘please dad, can I have some crisps’. Such a simple trap within Man-care!

As a consequence there are a lot of initial ‘first attempt’ meals that are flat rejected by my children. From here they either go in the bin or in me.  Needless to say I think my stomach wants to occupy more of its allocated organ space than intended. I have become a mopper-upper of noodles, broccoli, carrots, fish fingers and mash – a crow-like scavenger of left-overs. Can a man sustain this regime of ten meals a day? Luckily – the running around after children whilst playing tig, hide-and-seek and dance-off seems to have not set off the fat alarm yet.

The daytime sleep

I’m not referring to me! Not having that daytime sleep in the case of a toddler translates to early evening malfunctioning. When you have the two kids, and the pick-up from school is a set time, then you have a window of opportunity for the daytime sleep for the younger sibling. You may notice the eyes looking tired, the behaviour change (again – not me!) and then you have a choice of doze-inducing activities. Driving will make children sleep, it’s boring – like being in a womb with low rumbling sounds, and also everything is flying by the window in a way it can’t be focused on. I have a circuit I drive around but I think it makes the neighbours suspicious or confused– they keep seeing me go by in five minute cycles wondering if I am spying on them or if they are having an episode of vivid de-ja vu.

The others

Parenthood in this format for a man can feel a bit like proper unemployment. Walking around Sainsbury’s with a child in the trolley in the week in daylight is a little bit…well… embarrassing. There is a deep unmanageable need to explain yourself to anyone and everyone: the cashier, the doorman, the dog tied to the bike bar near the main doors. ‘A man?’ you hear them think, ‘not in work, on a weekday – and buying lots of stuff!! – is that my tax money paying for him and his…!’

It is the same at the school gates. The mums congregate – they observe – they no doubt may judge a bit, and who doesn’t? And then my son bounds out of the school and shouts ‘Daddy!’ and is delighted to see me, then my daughter who is in my arms turns and shouts her brother’s name and – bang – like a plane in decompression – I am sucked from the fuggy cloud of uncertainty about what I am doing, straight back to what’s important… And it’s an amazing privilege!

5 TOP TIPS FOR MAN-CARE:

1. A casual coffee and cake introduction at the PTA means you will be volunteered for jobs like door to door fundraising – worthy causes, yes – but not coffee and cake.

2. Instead of going to the gym for a serious workout, carry your toddler with one arm for about a mile, whilst carrying shopping bag, and bag of nappies with the other hand. Prepare to sweat. This will make your biceps bigger but your back like a twisted staircase in a derelict house.

3. Don’t inadvertently become your child’s pet- butler- robot. Make sure you are at your speed and remember you are the grown-up. Example – daughter demanding I pick up her dropped crayon – literally three inches from her foot.

4. When cooking meals – portion control! Your little one has a gut the size of a conker, so when presented with a pasta mountain she can’t see over, she may thinking literally – does he want me to climb up it?

5. Go outside. Walking in the woods or the park is good for both of you. In the woods especially – you can be a God of nonsense and explain that you are on a trek to see tickle bears and laughing giraffes.