2013 in Half-assed Review

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Well hello there. Here we are! 2014. The years keep racking up. 

I am hoping that this is the year people drop the 'Two-thousand-and-' from the year number, because frankly we've only got so much time left alive and things would be sped up considerably if everyone switched to 'Twenty-'. We were doing so well...ninteen-ninety-eight, nineteen-ninety-nine...and then, just because of 2000, that gave everyone a year of saying 'two thousand' and now we're stuck with it as a prefix.

Move it along people, I've got cups of coffee to get to. Think it through - do you really want to be saying two-thousand-and-twenty-seven? Two thousand and seventy seven? What about next century? I for one shall refuse point blank to utter the ridiculous construction that is 'Happy two thousand, one hundred and thirty seven!'. I expect I'll be even more impatient by that time, having diminished my remaining years somewhat.

This year's been a bit of a mixed bag, I have to say. Krissa's accident in July, and the ensuing complications and recover was pretty terrible, but she's bounced back marvellously and I think, truthfully, that we're a stronger couple than we were before. I had to take responsibility for everything rather than us sharing it - cooking, dog walks, laundry, shopping, the lot, and while it was tough at first I think I edged out into a sort of parental zone, or what I think of as a parental attitude - if it needs doing, do it, because no one else will, and do it now. A state of ur-responsibility that made me feel a little more confident about becoming a father.
And I racked up a simply incalculable number of brownie points.

We lived in Manhattan for the first time. Krissa's ankle and the stairs at our apartment meant staying home meant becoming a hermit, and while she could have worked from home, for her sanity and her amazing Mom's generosity we moved into a sublet on the Lower East Side, in a building with an elevator. It enabled her to get to work, even when in a wheelchair, or on crutches, and finally one crutch, and then tentatively walking freely.
The noise from Houston Street meant I frequently gave up trying to go to bed before 2 or 3am at weekends, and revellers attempting to pet him drove Nano into a bit of a frenzy.

The apartment became more ours over time, with pictures and knicknacks and familiarity, but we learned we could live with much less stuff, and so we've been on a series of purges since we moved home - of clothes and shoes and games and 'maybe we'll need this one day' stuff. Another way in which perhaps we've changed this year - we're a lot less sentimental about possessions that don't warrant it in any way. (but this was the extension cord we used in Astoria!)

Krissa just got back from a 40 minute gambol with Nano in our snowy park, so I think we're near the end of Anklegate 2013, if not the insurance paperwork, and that makes me happy.

It wasn't a resolution, more a change, but I've stopped playing games on mobile devices on my commute, and started reading more, and that makes me happy. Krissa gave me a Kindle for Christmas and I've already finished three books. (one of those was a Hunger Games title, if that seems suspiciously fast) I love being able to give a book to someone after reading it, which will be tough, I think, to avoid the feeling of constraint with digital titles, but I will, selfishly, be reading more.

2013 saw my stage writing debut, if I can call it that, with a couple of funny short plays put on by a group of friends, and listening to the laughter in the audience was a brilliant feeling. Writing a play feels unlike prose writing, where you're conjuring out of thin air. Writing solely dialog feels immediately like there is something to attain, some measure of reality and verisimilitude, even if only within my own mind, and the process of getting there, editing and rewriting, feels persistently constructive, like something is being wrought.
I was working on a draft of another Analogous Jones play when I got the call that Krissa had had a fall...and while I've written one other short thing since, I've not jumped back to it. 
I should, because it's fun.

What else...oh! I changed jobs again. It was a good move, I think, but I miss working with the people I got to know at the old place.

I had no exams this year. That was good. Consequently, though, I'm thinking perhaps going back to school might be a good idea, and pretty soon. I have loose ideas...

Anyway, a very mirthful and positive 2014 to you and yours, and seeing as I'm less bloggy now than generically social media-y, here's where else you can find me:

Flickr (less so now. poor flickr)



Cucumber

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I wrote a post for Uborka's Yulevent series, about choose-your-own adventure christmas, Pinterest and the general desirability of spending Christmas inside a late 1980s movie.

Weekend Over The Hudson

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It was very high

This was at the Walkway Over The Hudson, once a rail bridge, now a public park ... and very high up indeed.

We had a wonderful weekend break in Beacon, New York, about an hour and a half's train ride from the city. We went to  Dia: Beacon, a vast and luminous modern art gallery, with some really breathtaking stuff, some more conventional but still thought provoking work, some playful (I loved an area where taut cord gave the illusion of massive geometric planes intersecting with the building) as well as some work that was clearly meant to convey some deep or serious meaning but perhaps was viewed after our bullshit-meters had topped out. I copied this from the description of one installation:

Having traveled from Germany to Manhattan wrapped in felt, Beuys spent a week in a room with coyote.

I was in stitches at this, and Krissa had to take me to a room with gargantuan iron spiral forms until I calmed down.

We were given inaccurate information by our car rental place on how to reach them, so they bumped us up to a BMW to compensate, which was great fun, and in drizzle and mist we went to the amazing Storm King, a huge outdoor art park, made all the more enjoyable by us having the big open spaces virtually to ourselves...


Storm King
A little while ago I was riding the train from Albany to New York City. The suited and respectable looking gentleman in the seat in front of me was having a very interesting conversation, so I wrote it down:

"I don't know. For as long as I've been aware of the penal code, it's been spelt with an H."

(pause)

"Perhaps someone some time ago in the state system decided that it was less exotic with an H. That spelling it with a J was too foreign or hispanic."

(pause)

"Well the law in New York is interesting because it doesn't extend to *deactivated* marihuana seeds. Right."

(pause)

"I don't know how you deactivate them, they can't germinate, or grow. Right."

(pause)

"Well the reason for this is that deactivated marihuana seeds are a principle ingredient in parakeet food. Right."

(pause)

"Well I suppose, but that's the main reason I'm aware of why the law does not extend to the deactivated seeds...to protect *pause* well...their owners."

(At this point I laughed out loud but pretended it was at something else)

"Well, you and I are probably now two out of perhaps six people in New York State that know this. Right! Anyway, you know where I am if you need me for anything else. Bye."

Rude Mechanical

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I wrote a play. I think it is quite funny.

It is a play based on an idea I had some time ago - that of a Private Eye with a metaphorical difficulty.


Entry is free, and you are welcome.

I will post pictures.

Cucumber Questions

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Krissa and I were interviewed by Uborka V2.0 today, as part of Karen and Pete's comeback tour 'Where are they now?' project and general wonderfulness.

Liveblogging The Northern Lights

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(This is taken the morning after, but the red line was at about the same latitude over Canada all night)

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Krissa is very fond of these little retrospective love notes, but I think I'll have happened upon a date that she won't have forgotten, but likely won't have been planning on declaring, so here you go darling. Everyone else, allow me this rare occasion to crow about how lucky I am.

Nine years ago, vagaries of leap years notwithstanding, I did the most ridiculous, sensible, audacious and prudent thing I have ever done, and I asked Krissa to marry me. I won't skip over anything; I tell you it was her idea. I got to say the words, "Will you marry me?" and hear, "Yes!" and down in the deep distress that we were sharing just before that moment, contemplating being apart, I had no masculine objection to the tearful, sideways and slightly cheeky, "I'll marry you if I have to," that preceded it. 
This is because it was the best idea I'd ever heard.
Let me tell you what it was like to fall in love with this woman.

Nine days previously, my ex-backpacker pride delayed me several hours from my arrival time to Shiv's apartment, attempting to save what little money I had by taking the subway and bus on my first evening in New York and getting lost in the process. I met a sun-tanned, loud and interested pretty young woman...and so began my staggering run of luck, one I can only properly communicate by a tangled web of analogies.

Our ancestors developed a set of instincts in vetting a potential mate; they'd keep an eye out for odd smells, rashes, spasms or tics, a weird sheen to the skin and they'd run for the hills looking for a more suitable and hopefully less infectious partner. Now that the lion's share of us have seemingly gotten over the visible health signal territory, in civilized society we have small talk, where the information exchanged is anything but small. 

When you first meet someone you're attracted to, you miss nothing. Odd turns of phrase, mentions of exes, parents, interests, employment, lifestyle, as well as body language, gestures...EVERYTHING and it it had always seemed to me to be a balance of judgement. Each time a new element comes up on this super-wide bandwidth of information about a new person, it's a roll of the die, and we're constantly judging their behaviour for red flags or dealbreakers, and - this is the huge thing - tailoring our own behaviour and topics of conversation to suit, or present ourselves as best we can, as we choose. That harmless self-editing might seem prudent, or deceptive, but it's in the same category as dressing up for a night out - it's window dressing, and we do it almost instinctively, even if it is marginally dishonest.

Here's the thing that started to dawn on me the first night I met Krissa - we talked and disagreed and discussed and argued and started accumulating a trail of exchanges to consider but I never for a second felt the need to window-dress myself. Every moment of shared company with this beauty was like a roll of the dice coming up six.  Talking was refreshing, completely honest sharing. And we kept talking all week. It started feeling less like rolling dice and more like picking the right number at roulette...every single time, for days on end, with an equally immense amazement growing alongside it. 

We talked all day and late every night the sensation of accumulating luck became almost dizzying. How was this possible? It was reckless and incredible to pitch headlong into each other's lives in this way but there wasn't a single hesitation or hold up in my mind or heart, nothing but sharing stories and understanding and rapid appreciation and love before I had even had time to take stock of what was happening.

That's what it felt like, inside my head and my chest, in that nine day period before nine years ago today.
Which is why when we said the words and realized we were engaged, it was insane and utterly right, and the only thing we could do for ourselves if we had any hope for life at all. 

Yes even through the haze it was a risk but with that feeling inside, of adoration and immediacy of spirit, it was a life-gamble we were compelled to take, because...what is life if you turn away from something like that?

It was only another spin, another roll, when we were breaking the bank at the casino already.

I am one of the most lucky men, if not the luckiest man alive, I love my wife, and I am happy.

Let's Not Do This Now

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I wrote this in February 2012 for my old writing group, and only got to read it last night as the group was meeting at our apartment - Krissa is still involved.

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Yesterday, this is what I saw. This is how it made me feel. This is what I think.

In Brooklyn and waiting to cross a street two women on the other side share a kiss and turn and smile out at the world and I smiled back, doubly happy to see love and its free expression, when there are places in the world where it would be possible but not prudent to kiss at a crosswalk when your lover is of the same sex. The taller of the two caught my eye and my smile and I held it , suppressing the fear of being thought a leering voyeur, but she smiled again and looked away and I was relieved at not breaking her out of whatever world they were inhabiting.

Sitting in a mostly empty subway car at twenty to seven in the evening and heading to the village, near me was a drag queen in a large curly wig and leopard print minidress adjusting her makeup with a jerky staccato movements that suggested a mixture of verve and nerves. Halfway down the car behind her, two men in white lace skullcaps and leather jackets were loudly discussing alcohol in Islam in the middle of the carriage and I realized I would be okay with living in New York for a long time.

I get a sort of mental tic from time to time, like I imagine some people get vertigo or flashbacks, of what it is I?m looking at or doing. Making coffee in a skyscraper made of hot-rolled steel and long-set concrete, three hundred feet above the ground. Sitting in a ponderous heavy metal canister propelled along rails by electricity at forty miles an hour, reading a book, under a river. Breathe in. Alveoli exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide at the gas-blood barrier, do nothing with the nitrogen. Breathe out. Stepping outside onto the office balcony for some fresh air and a view of downtown and the harbor, where a tugboat is buoyed upwards with a force equal to the weight of the Hudson river water it displaces, and moves forward due to the effect of differential pressure over the moving blades of its propeller like wings and described by Bernoulli?s equation which you can demonstrate by blowing between two sheets of paper... I have spent so much of my life learning how to isolate things...to recognize the systems in the world. When alone they can be simplified and understood. Sometimes things will ?click? into that isolation of perception when, suddenly alone on the stage, they embody a remembered fact or relationship that is completely and abstractly true but utterly irrelevant to the ocean of real movement and life in which we are immersed.

I stepped out of my office building, abrupt into streams of people and into the path of a blonde woman in a smart blue coat walking hard, crying, brushing her hair from her face and talking on the telephone.

?And now you?re trying to break up with me like this, when you?re mad at me, and you don?t want to talk. Let?s not do this now.?

Blocked by flow in both directions I was forced into an evasive intimacy with her as she listened, and a snatch of voice, digitized but unmistakably emotionally aroused in tone, briefly dopplered past my ear and I couldn?t help but turn as she passed me and heard her say, ?It?s not right to do this,? as she became lost in the crowd.

I thought of a boyfriend, an angry situation of no real importance any more and a sudden coldness of the heart like a blanket being lifted from the skin, and the ease and surgical finality of using the telephone to remove someone from your life, and how terrible it is.

I pursed my lips in sharp sympathy and crossed the street to the subway station by the church and thought that it might only be through the persistent application of humanity to time, day after day, that we ever accomplish at all. Just think of all the impersonality and restriction and structure we?ve made and have to deal with and how simple and sad it is to become inundated by it, or to withdraw into it, to be seduced by its ease or broken by its complications. It is near miraculous and bloody marvellous that we manage to reach out from behind all our thoughts and memories and ego and through our perceptions to find consensus on anything at all, let alone to love and share and risk...that we all take small steps - forward and backward - we progress and regress - deliberately, accidentally, and voluntarily for long stretches of time for a million reasons which occur to us from one moment to the next and even though we realize what we?re doing isn?t that tiring and inspiring at the same time?

Confluence

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I'm struggling to start putting down words, because there's so much to say and yet the difficulty of finding a voice for it is great; a thread to start in on the morass of feeling, but starting is half the battle so here goes.

Firstly: God fucking damnit.

Nextly, if you hadn't heard via social media feeds: Krissa and I are totally fine, no damage to property, life or dog, we never lost power, water or internet, but we were tense, and scared - that we would lose windows, that something would hit a window, that the power and water would go down and we wouldn't know for how long... and the noise was awful. All of which is nothing on the scale of what happened to others but it was our personal experience and not one I'd care to repeat. 

Our apartment is not blessed with great views, but throughout Monday we watched a tarpaulin flapping on the construction site next door, jabbing backwards and forwards and tearing itself to pieces as the daylight faded and all we had to go on was the sound and the windows rocking backwards and forwards in their frames, and I felt suddenly anxious that our loose, fine-for-now-whatever windows,a  few of which have very weak and leaky frames, would be sucked out or blown in. Sudden noises from the neighborhood, bangs, clangs, people whooping or crying out, arrived without context.

Surreally, at around 9pm I spoke briefly to France 24 on their 2am TV news bit, with a head full of confluent tides, rivers and hurricane water domes, nor'easters and the very real threat to the city, the presenter insisted on keeping discussion to my individual concerns and experience, which at that time was nothing more than seeing some downed branches in the afternoon and a worry over how we were going to walk the dog in a hurricane...and then they moved on to Ukrainian elections and the events in Syria. Sorry New York. I didn't really give you a good shake there.

At eleven pm a strong smell of smoke started seeping in the cracks around the windows with each gust, and we panicked. We stood on stepladders in the kitchen trying to see a distant light that looked orange and flickery. It was a train yard light not normally visible from our apartment because trees were being bent around like crazy in the wind.

When there was a press conference announcing that the worst of the storm had passed, we exhaustedly went to bed, after seeing people talk of green lightning and blackouts on twitter and facebook.

Squall

The next day the first thing we did was call family and let them know we were ok. Winds were still high and rain came in short frequent bursts. The dog was taken for a walk and after thirty seconds pulled back towards home. We spent time just absorbing what had happened from friends and news and NY1, and the impact had been so divorced from our own experience it was difficult to accept. This is the picture I took walking down to our nearest evacuation center, about 11 on Tuesday morning. They had more volunteers than evacuees (30:25) and had only had 115 of their expected 600+ the night before...so I was turned away. 
Sunset Park was almost normal, apart from the debris. Stores were open. The bakery smells on 5th Avenue were incredible.

I know we were fantastically lucky to have weathered the storm so smoothly, but I can't help be angry.
Could this freak confluence of storms and tide happened without the warming climate? Yes.
Did climate change contribute to making this worse? Absolutely.

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There is so much to be done, all of it needed, because there is no one easy fix, and the fact that climate change has been pettily contested so successfully that a presidential candidate can slip it into a speech for an easy laugh..makes me sick.

Blue skies for now, but I've collected all my candles and flashlights in a bag marked 'For Hurricane 2013' and I fully expect to have to use it.

Poking Things

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As I write, the dog is periodically hurking gently from his bed after a decadent chicken breakfast, and I am indulging a procrastinatory urge, the scene of which borders on the ridiculous.

I am taking the PE exam on the 26th of October - 'Principles and Practices of Engineering'..for my New York State license to practice engineering. It's sort of like a CPA or a bar exam sort of thing in terms of the professional status (although only 8 hours, not four 8 hour exams, like the NY bar). I get a stamp to stamp things with. All very official. Which is why the current arrangement of my home office room is a bit silly.

My computer sits about six feet from me and the keyboard - 'away' from the desk so I can study with a distraction-free desk and room for books. Except that I have a deep-seated and childish need to have some self-directed unproductive time at the beginning of a weekend day. I fought it yesterday and sat down to study at about 9am and was both fog-headed and cursed with the attention span of cat in a butterfly house until about 4pm, when my inner child gave up and sat in the corner while I was able to get some decent studying done.



                                  This legendary image by Asher Sarlin of elephantitis of the mind.

Beating the inner child will take more time and therapy than I have room for in my study schedule, so a morning of dilly-dallying it is. 

I'm too lazy to move the computer back to the desk for 'playtime' hence the slightly absurd scene of a man in his pyjamas browsing the internet and writing a blog post at the squinty range of six feet, twisted away from a desk piled high with books while a chihuahua belches happily in the background. I have coffee. 

This exam is supposed to be easier for the practicing engineer than the all-topic-slugfest that I took last autumn, because practicing engineering is what it's about. That's the theory, anyway. In practice, I read a question, think, I know how to do this, I've done it a dozen times...come up with an answer, and then discover that there is a much more mathematically involved method the book was expecting, which, incidentally, gives a slightly and subtly more accurate answer. The only significance in the marginal difference comes from the fact that the multiple choice answers are framed exactly so you are liable to fall victim to and be punished for the temptation of simplicity.

Other times it is gratifying to skip whole sections of a study plan...because of hard-won experience. It's not a great deal, but I'll take it. I get the benefit now, but if I am able to completely skip study of a particular topic, it means that some time in the past, I *had* to know that because someone somewhere had messed up a bit of a building or tunnel and I needed to fix things before a site foreman exploded with their particularly expensive brand of rage. (Yay construction industry)

The study is rewarding and tough in variable measure. I am constantly surprised by my own capacity to draw mental boundaries. I am an innately lazy person (he says, squinting at the computer screen) physically, but I like to identify myself with a bit of mental flexibility and verve. 

Then I come to study and I struggle to shake off the same sort of attitude I once scorned in schoolmates at the age of 14 or so - fractions? when am I gonna need fractions in real life? - this attitude of 'I'm done, I kinda know how to do this, that's enough learning, surely' settles on my shoulders like a welcome entitlement.

It's an emotionally driven personal justification for drawing a boundary between what is in the world and what is in your brain, and, when I have self-awareness enough to recognize it, it is anathema to me.

Then last weekend I took a trip out to the Poconos with a bunch of guy friends, for barbecue, cigars, scotch, 80s video games and some shooting. I was in two minds about the prudence of going, due to the proximity of the exam, but I needed a break and a bit of fun. It was an awesome weekend, with more culinary virtuosity than you'd expect, and a great bunch of friends.

We had a great scotch (thanks Luke) and a cigar each (thanks Jen and Lavina) around a fire, telling jokes in the dark in the stand of tall trees behind the lodge. And Harry showed me how you can heat copper pennies in a fire, poke them when they get soft, and drain out the zinc inside.

Impromptu Metallurgy


So despite having instant access, in this digital age, to the metallic composition of all US coinage and the melting points of same, we threw all the different types of coins in our pockets, and some aluminium foil, and a paper clip... into the fire and poked the living hell out of them for a while.

It was a different sort of spark that leapt from the real world, where I rarely get the chance to poke things with a stick, actually or metaphorically, and the world of my exam and work, where the reality of engineering is paper based and a little dry (unless you need to fix something before a foreman explodes). A new experience where my knowledge was real and applicable - albeit loosely. Rather optimistically we were trying to melt nickel (2,647° F or 1,453° C melting point) in an orangey-yellow wood fire (between 800 or 900°C), but it was a lot of fun.

When are you going to need a rough handle on metallurgy or spectrography in real life?

I think the lesson here is that your life experience has to vary and expand and change in order to stop you getting stuck in the trap of settling, mentally, where you are. 

I just changed jobs and that has rings true there too, a little. As soon as I'm done with this exam I am going to pull off a few more changes, I think. Do some different stuff.

Speaking of the exam, this has turned from an honest dilly-dally into an avoidance exercise, so I'm heading back to the books.

Be well and take care.

Words and pictures

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I've had a little free time this week, and managed to upload a bit of a backlog of photographs from, er, well, the rest of 2012, including a weekend break visting Mark and Steph in Washington, DC, our trip to Savannah in February, which was culinarily indulgent and a great weekend getaway, and myriad random photos and videos that had been lurking on my old work computer. I'm changing jobs at the moment, so I had occasion to clear a lot of (not all, alas) my files out.

So here are a few of my favourites from those photos, with a bit more about them than you usually slip in as a flickr or facebook photo description.

The trip to DC in March included a tour of the United States Institute of Peace on the National Mall, up and running (the Institute have moved in, it's not yet open to the public) since early last year. 

I worked on the design and construction of the building from 2005 until it opened (and a little bit after) in 2011, and Krissa often jokes that the white hairs on one side of my head are the result of her efforts, and the other side is USIP. It was a unique and challenging project, but it wasn't without an awesome payoff, as it culminated in a beautiful and quirky building that sits in a landmark location, and whose occupants strive for a noble purpose. You can't really ask for more job satisfaction, and that's what this picture means to me - 'job done.'

Job done.

In February Krissa and I took a long weekend break in Savannah, Georgia. It was a great trip, with lots of walking through grassy squares filled with trees laden with Spanish moss, the streets lined with grand old houses, cobbles uneven with time and old roots. We rented a car one afternoon and drove out to Tybee Island, even though the weather was grey, and walked out along a pier, watched and were watched by the long-legged birds, and visited the little Aquarium, where I snapped a photo of the happiest tortoise I've ever seen.

Krissa Likes Beaches

Oh yeah, I did that thing.

This one isn't off my old work hard drive, but it's an awesome photo. From June's trip to Key West, Florida, for Krissa's amazing Mom's birthday. After a morning of shark fishing (my birthday isn't until October, but you aren't in Key West every day, and Patricia was both insistent and incredibly generous) we zoomed back to the harbor at amazing speed, and Krissa's face as we sped along under breathtaking skies was a magical thing to behold.

Speedboat Girl

We're off to Florida this weekend to spend Krissa's birthday with her Mom and brother. I've been mixing studying and relaxing this week, ahead of starting a new job after the Labor Day weekend, and seeing as my exam isn't til the end of October, I've not been giving myself too hard a time about the relaxing part...although there are certain games I should probably remove from my computer in September if I want to pass...

Dark Satanic Mills

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Watching the Olympics made me surprisingly homesick. 

I can happily brush off that somewhat overbearing Jerusalem nonsense for its textual meaning but not so easily, it seems, for what it stands for without being played or sung, as a refrain that so rapidly evokes the nature of a country without detailing it, apart from mentioning, briefly, how it is pleasant in the countryside. 

You have to mentally edit away the actual meaning, which evokes a determination to use weapons of war or glory (or, if we're being very generous, divine energy) to create a holy land (or perhaps just a much more pleasant place) in England. 

But that's Blake's poetry for you. Always a little rapturous, a little ambitious. While wonderful, he strikes me through his writing as having been the sort of person you start talking to at a party and realize, too soon, that here is a keen soul, one with more enthusiasm than the norm, who keeps you constantly off balance conversationally and with whom you run the risk of ending up talking about the minutae of a passing mention of romantic philosophy for more time than is healthy at a social gathering.

I like Jerusalem much better than the official anthem, God Save The Queen which is a raving appeal to heaven to take care of the most powerful person in the land and damn anyone who stands against him or her, and is only considered an expression of patriotism by those who happily or intentionally conflate patriotism with acceptance of declared authority. 

I am looking at you, Piers "the athletes should show respect to our monarch" Morgan.

The <insert gender of monarch here> aspect of the national anthem is one of the things I find the most amusingly assumptive about it. Whoever you are, supreme individual, it says, we support you, and anyone you are against we want to fail. 
Unquestioningly. 
Alarm bells should be ringing at this sort of declaration.

Putting aside what it is striving for, Jerusalem is a very aspirational, let's-get-this-done sort of song, and ignoring that they are weapons of war being proposed as tools for urban construction (how does one excavate with a chariot of fire? can you weld with a bow of burning gold? hang on, are we using these weapons to enforce slave labor?) it's just a very stirring tune, hitting every psychologically nostalgic note I think I have.

So Jerusalem, and the other UK national choruses, coupled with the unabashed, unglamorized segue into the industrial revolution portion of the opening ceremony really got me feeling homesick. Instead of a bombastic, corporate-slick, brand-enhancing GREAT BRITAIN™ event, it was, beyond the spectacle and scale, a presentation of the complexity and mixed social and moral churnings of a national history given with no little pride but not shying from showing the struggles and failures along the way.

The lack of pretense or beautification of the rising smokestacks was so disarming it put a lump in my throat.

Almost exactly ten years ago, I was at a loss. I had finished university without planning to, and despite a ton of enthusiasm and a sort of puppyish optimism I wasn't making a lot of traction in the real world, looking for work or an exciting path to set out on. Living at home and watching my parents' growing concern and entirely rational disappointment as the months passed was an additional weight my morale had to carry.

When I started blogging it was all boast and bombast, a diary about the highlights of a rather dull life, written to an imaginary interested reader, whom it was important to impress. It was full of girlfriend visits, interviews (Naming the companies! Ah, the young Internet), bragging about the writing I was doing, and the prospects for that writing I might have inflated ever so slightly...it was a huge boost to how I felt about myself. A blog post was an achievement, and a feel-good event to think people out there knew about me. It reads pretty flatly in retrospect but it was charged with a lot of hope and excitement at the time.

I read a lot back then. I think I hit most of the young male touchstone authors - Hemingway, Fitzgerald... as inspirations for both writing and life. I knew that the way to succeed at writing was to slog away at it, trying all the time, and to know through all that work that there are no guarantees of success. It's a process of growth for its own sake. I worked pretty hard in that time. 

I started believing the tone of Hemingway's work, giving him great trust and a level of authority I don't think I've ever given a writer before. It was partly his success, partly his declaration of taking honor in hard work, partly the way he was so assured in everything he wrote. Even the way in which he describes himself peeling an orange is written as if there was only one proper way to do so and this was it... 

Even if I internally mocked anyone who asked to be referred to as 'Papa', I respected this man and his work, and his ever-present certainty and clarity of thought was very stabilizing.

There was a BBC TV travel show, presented by Michael Palin, with the theme of the different locations throughout Hemingway's life. I didn't catch much of the show, but I received the book as a gift one Christmas (I love Michael Palin's travel shows). Inside the cover there was a two-page picture of a stunningly orange sunset, against which a tiny seaplane was silhouetted. The photograph was by the brilliant BBC photographer, Basil Pao. A quote from John Donne, from whose 17th century poetry Hemingway drew the title 'For Whom The Bell Tolls', was written against the Florida sky.

To Live In One Land Is Captivitie.jpeg
To live in one land is captivitie

Wow, I thought. That's beautiful. Look at that. Such spirit of adventure, such beauty. I believe this. I want to see the world and do great things.

Time has cooled me off on writing and Hemingway, although the lessons of hard work and application to anything you wish to succeed in remain, even if they are hard to live up to, they are a solid, tested and proven, if aspirational. I haven't cooled off on wanting to see the world and do great things.

I find it hard to write these days, because I am so used to being certain of things I write about professionally. Once you have a handle on an engineering issue, there is very little other than clarity of message to concern yourself with. When I read online journalism or opinion pieces, or I have an issue I'm concerned with at any time (and OH BOY ROMNEY), I have emotional and structured mental responses that I could blog about, but don't, because I lack the certainty I now need to do so.

Apparently there are a lot of things I need. 
I need to be able to address things fairly. I need to be able to cover all the sides of the argument (and to do that with anything takes a lot of time and word count). I need to be confident that I'm in possession of all the facts (and who is, ever?).

In recent years I've written for fun and for a writing group, from which I've now bowed out. The best part of that was having a funny idea, getting it across well and enjoying a room of laughter. That was almost how I imagined blogging, back in the day, only I could hear it, rather than read responses in comments...it was great. I'm moving on in the world in different directions and I love to write but it isn't what I do.

I was standing in Hemingway's house in Key West, Florida, a few weeks ago now. The house is a nice big building in lush grounds, with big windows to catch breezes blocked by the trees no doubt allowed to grow in to block the view of the house from the street and encourage paying visitors. The house is not as it was...many of the wall hangings are either fan-boy like paintings of Hemingway or his boat, or portrait photos from his life.

I was standing in a dining room on the ground floor with roman-style leather slung studded chairs, looking at a wall. On the wall were five photographs. Ernest Hemingway in late middle age in the center, trademark beard evident. Around him were the photographs of his four wives, all at roughly the ages they were married to him. I thought about all the mentions of his personal life in his writing, and how condescending or outright nasty he was to women and in his portrayals of women.

And I thought, 'what an absolute asshole.'
And I went off to try and pet one of the polydactyl cats in the grounds.

On the way home from Key West we took a short hop flight to Fort Launderdale. It was a small plane leaving at sunset, and looking out from the little porthole window of that plane, I was instantly reminded of that powerful image from the Michael Palin book:

To Live In One Land Is Captivitie

...as well as the line of poetry from the 17th century from the writer who had so inspired Hemingway. When I was uploading the picture to flickr I thought I might call the photograph the same thing - 'To Live In One Land Is Captivitie'.

It was a quiet lunchtime sort of moment and I thought I might look up the poem. It is from Donne's 'Elegie III' and, being from 1633 it took me a little while to get the gist of the poem's theme...

Women, are like the Arts, forc'd unto none,
Open to'all ſearchers, unpriz'd, if unknowne.
If I have caught a bird, and let him flie,
Another fouler uſing theſe meanes, as I,
May catch the ſame bird; and, as theſe things bee,
Women are made for men, not him, nor mee.

Hang on, wait...what?

Though Danuby into the ſea muſt flow,
The ſea receives the Rhene, Volga, and Po.
By nature, which gave it, this liberty
Thou lov'ſt, but Oh! canſt thou love it and mee?

Donne was a priest by the way. It's basically a treatise on how monogamy sort of sucks.

...rather let mee
Allow her change, then change as oft as shee,
And ſoe not teach, but force my'opinion
To love not any one, nor every one.
To live in one land, is captivitie,
To runne all countries, a wild roguery;
Waters ſtincke ſoone, if in one place they bide,
And in the vaſt ſea are more putrifi'd:
But when they kiſſe one banke, and leaving this
Never looke backe, but the next banke doe kiſſe,
Then are they pureſt; Change'is the nurſery
Of muſicke, joy, life, and eternity.

While I am in awe of the water analogy - stagnant, salt and river - for the free love lifestyle here advocated (rock on, 1633), THIS is what I'm talking about. 
I held that powerful image - flight, beauty, travel, wonderlust and wanderlust same - in my heart for years. The fact that some BBC editor may have been wittier in placing that quote in a Hemingway book than I was expecting...I had no idea. It doesn't diminish what I took from that image and quote, but it gives it a different context.

This is why I think certainty is so hard to come by. This is why understanding is so important.  This is why I'm stultified into silence on matters like the corkscrew-like approach to truth in politics, insane approaches to environmental change, science and human rights. Despite the fact that it is very clearly not holding anyone else back, I don't know enough to feel happy raising my voice.

This is a pretty long 'sorry I haven't been blogging' but there you go. It wasn't for a simple reason.

By the way, when we were in Key West I caught some fucking SHARKS.

SHARK

I wanted to post something...so here's a snapshot of right this second.

I'm sitting in the cafe carriage of an Amtrak train heading towards Boston, Massachusetts. It's about twenty to six, and it's dark outside. I'm set up with a laptop and phone and mouse and water bottle in a corner, with headphones on and a colleague on the other side of the table. It's getting a little cold in here, but the orange and white lights of stray roads and houses out in the darkness are wheeling and flowing past one another to the sound of Mr. Scruff's 'Jazz Potato' and the Cinematic Orchestra's 'Flite' and it's good train music.

I'm working, on and off at least. After working on the project for almost 7 years (on and off at least) I'm attending the public opening of the new Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum extension. My suit is in my bag and I'm excited, although the bag is in a luggage rack at the other end of the carriage behind me and I am worried someone has walked off with it. I will probably give in to the anxiety and check on it soon.

While I haven't missed the concern over blogging everything in my life, it's apparent when there are gaps on flickr or here that where there was an account or could have been an account of my life (autoblography, hello) there isn't one. And while I may not feel the urge to share as much as I used to, through age, apathy, prudence or all three, that record is something I love having. So whatever it is, however infrequent or pointless, I'm just going to keep doing this. Snapshots, or small moments, tiny aides-memoire, small links to what is a much more personal whole, anchored fragments in the greater stream of time slewing past in the real world like landscape past a cafe car window.


8 minutes
11:49 AM me: My mind has just been totally blown
11:50 AM "The largest true-color photograph of the night sky ever created, shot by 28-year-old amateur astrophotographer Nick Risinger using six astronomical cameras. It’s not just the view of the sky from one location, but is instead a 360-panoramic view of the sky taken by trekking 60,000 miles across the western United States and South Africa starting in March 2010. The final image is composed of 37,000 separate photographs."
  If you've ever wondered what the view is like if you are the earth
  this is it

6 minutes
11:57 AM me: impressive, right? That's OUR GALAXY
  plus, if you zoom in
  thousands of other galaxies.
  nuts.
11:58 AM ...or alternatively you could click on the i at the bottom and think about how it's a cool representation of information with a graphic index...
  your call
12:02 PM Krissa: WHOAAAAA
  whhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaattt
 me: AWESOME, RIGHT
  
  :)
12:03 PM Krissa: fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck thats cool
12:04 PM me: I am trying to figure out what all the black cloud shit is
 Krissa: this is so cool
 me: the KEY
  is my favourite part
  in the bottom left when the i is clicked
  you are now looking at the center of the galaxy. you are now looking at the outer arm of the galaxy.
12:05 PM Krissa: ohhhhhhhhhhhh
  yes
  oh my go
 me: you are near a source of magnetic interference. move your planet in a figure 8 motion to clear this
 Krissa: this is quite literally the coolest thing i've ever seen
  HAHAHHAHAHAH
  NERD JOKE x2
 me: WOOOO combo multiplier

Hardware Failure With George

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Getting George to perform is not always easy.
Although, according to my Mum, he's acquired a dislike for cameras since I moved to the US.

This becomes obvious.
10:38 AM Krissa: DID YOU KNOW.
  (you probably did not)
  that 222 years ago
  TODAY
  George Washington stood on the steps of the federal courthouse, right HERE (points at statue)
  and became the first American president?
  I'll bet you did NOT.
10:40 AM me: I see sweaty men's balls right by there!
10:41 AM Krissa: Correct!
 me: I am a part of history.
10:42 AM Krissa: Not really.
10:43 AM me: >:(

Videogames As Time Travel

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Some people play for fun, others for diversion, competition, exploration or escape. Videogames may be many things to many people, but just lately I've realized they are scratching an itch I abandoned long ago - when I gave up the dream of inventing Time Travel.

I got hooked - and how- by Back To The Future,but after many viewings all I came away with was frustration - with all the great expanses of time to explore, Marty gets the time travel equivalent of a chore list.

TO DO: URGENT!!!

1. Ensure own existence
2. Bring Dad back from dead (secure socio-economic wellbeing of USA if time)
3. Rescue Doc from ravenous schoolteacher

PS: Do not, repeat DO NOT BOFF MOM

He doesn't get to DO anything. All he does is run around, a heaving mass of cultural paradoxes in his wake, luckily avoiding the catastrophic destruction of the timespace continuum...or his immediate family.
I could do so much more with Time Travel! Honestly. The movies were almost a waste of the entire concept.
It was settled. 
This is what I would do with my life.

So as a youngster walking through the world I would occasionally wonder when my future self would appear. I had no idea what would happen if I met myself, grown-up and travelling in time...we would probably just stand there and be incredibly smug at each other. 

I play games because they're fun, a relaxing diversion, occasionally artistically impressive and frequently engaging. Lately though, I've been feeling a hat-tip to those old desires to see other times and places and explore them. Now that a slew of recent games have made me realize this, it's obvious that I've always loved this about games.

C_France.jpgCivilization

Hard to believe, but this is the first time I felt like I was exploring a world out of time; the sound effect snippets were enough with- of legionaries beating their swords on shields, or the creak of a sail rope on a trireme - were very evocative. Civilization II was addictive as balls regardless, and I remember starting an enormous map with one city, no technology and a cup of  breakfast coffee, happy in the knowledge that I would be growing a nation there all day.
Civ 2's Best Exploration Vehicle
The next time I had that feeling was with Hidden and Dangerous. A shooter with tactics and supernaturally observant enemies, it was the first WW2 game I ever played, and it leapt around the theatres of that war and presented them with enough variety of detail and terrain that it sucked me in.

HnD.jpg

Hidden and Dangerous

It's at this time, game-wise, that the 'burden of proof' switched. From evoking times past to presenting them, my wannabe time-traveler was of course right there with all the other gamers cooing over the 'amazing graphics' and how it 'looks just like a film'. Let's just say that with any fantasy, be it a novel or a movie, there is a willingness to suspend belief in some measure, and that games of this era just required more than most other media, as they attempted to make this switch from the iconic and abstract to presenting an explorable alternate environment in three dimensions.

Then started the love affair with the Grand Theft Auto series...while GTA 3 was more geographical travel than time travel, Vice City mined that seam wide and of course the soundtrack didn't hurt...speeding around a neon-lit 1986 Miami in a sports care to Corey Hart's 'Sunglasses at Night'...this is exactly the sort of thing Marty McFly should have been doing, if he hadn't started out in 1985 in the first place. 

convertible strip.jpg

You can say what you like about the Grand Theft Auto games (most people do) but they took a quantum leap over the competition in terms of sheer volume of environmental detail. Seagulls wheeled overhead, and behind them in a blue sky, a passenger jet came into land somewhere else in the city...when not being run over, the passersby stopped to chat amongst themselves and the radio kept up with events in the game. The plot had you tearing up the tarmac whizzing back and forth across the game map, guiding you through each district of the city, and yes, the world was amazing, but some missions felt like they existed only to show off how great the game world was (which was pretty great).

Amid the slew of Playstation 2 games I played, one, which seemed to walk and talk like a Grand Theft Auto clone, but took a traditional linear game and put it in a sandbox style context - not one filed with side missions, collectibles and sardonic media crammed with pop culture references, but one that was simply more complex, detailed and vibrant than it needed to be to fulfil its role as a background. It must have been the product of some serious effort by the developer, but it wasn't gaudily shown off or exploited. It gave a wonderful feeling of luxury to the game, and I fell in love with it.

M1 Garage.jpg

Mafia was set in a fictional American city in the 1920s and 30s. Its cars were awfully slow with crappy suspension, and quelle horreur, they absolutely refused to bounce off each other if when you crashed. The amazing music of Django Reinhardt played on the in-car radios, which took a while to warm up, as though they had glass valves. Policemen fined you ever so politely. It was -just enough- like stepping into another era. I played it until I got stuck in the sadly absurd autosave system and the sound of seagulls around the harbor where I was stuck drove Krissa up the wall.

AC1_Acre.jpg
And now? It's just bananas. Titles on modern consoles scratching the Time Travel itch have more details, more environment activity and sounds, all of which are extremely gratifying. The sounds of a busy market in the Holy Land during the Crusades in the first Assassin's Creed game, or the canals of Renaissance Venice in the sequel throng with people going about their own business, talking about local bargains and gossip, along streets with great architectural detail and verisimilitude...and slightly over-amped weather and climate doesn't hurt.

AC2_Venice.jpg
Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption applied the latest facial and motion capture animation techniques to the faces of horses to ensure an uncanny accuracy of portrayal, and their reputation for quality control and period research means there's an extra layer of integrity to the gritty realism. Tip your hat to a policeman on a dusty street in the old west? Why not.

RDR Blackwater tip.jpg
It may not be time travel, but maybe it counts when a certain environment doesn't exist any more...RDR is a game about place as well as time, and I love its weather, its cactus and wildlife (even if the appreciation is something along the lines of 'Wow would you look at the detail on that cougar! The bugger it's killed my horse') 

RDR View.jpg
Recently as well, a new Mafia game came out, set in the 50s. The gameplay may have been lacking, and it was criminally short, but for the time-travelling kid inside me, there were moments that had both him and me gawping at the screen.

M2_Street.jpg
And there was no Under The Sea Dance to get to. I had all the time in the world to explore.

Good Trip Home

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Keith snowball fights with a pupil

Cascade Top

Mum and Me

Winter Wraiths

The Stuff Between The Ground And Space

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A shift in perspective of 200 miles...New York to Boston, or London to Manchester...and the sky is a sea below. 
It's a thin wispy layer, turbulent and active, thronged with the light of cities.

I've heard the atmosphere described to me as the skin on an apple; against the bulk of the earth and the breathless absence of space, it's thinner than you might think.
It's infinity is deceptive; it is far from neverending, and merely big things can change.
Especially as those orange lights spread and burn in the night.

Audioblography: Bread and Milk

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Bread and Milk.mp3

Recent entry, read.

Marital Harmony

|
Krissa: Okay, I love you! About pizza tonight...I defrosted the sauce and the dough and they're stored separately in the fridge. I'll keep you posted on when I leave class so you can start the pizzas while I'm traveling...I'll try and text from the bridge so you can preheat the oven and roll out the dough; if you decide to assemble it while I'm walking home that's fine, or we can assemble it together!

7 minutes
Stuart: I just ate a chicken foot

Bread and Milk

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"Apple."
"Eppool."
I try not to think about how I must sound.
"A."
"A."
"Pple."
"Pple.
"Apple.
"Arpool.

I am learning Portuguese - Brazilian Portuguese. Six years after marrying into a multilingual Brazilian based family I am going to upgrade from ‘gringo’ status to ‘enthusiastic gringo’. In December there will be a big Brazilian family get together. I'm really looking forward to it, but I have three months to avoid sitting in the corner smiling politely with a Caipirinha for the entire week of Christmas.

I studied French and Spanish in school, and the Gallo-Irish nun who taught me French lambasted me for choosing Spanish over German for my second language. She thought very little of the romance languages. “Thee are all the seem!” She said. As a habitually lazy student, I saw this as a rare opportunity. Learning Spanish would get me Italian and Portuguese with very little effort, and by great coincidence, very little effort is my specialty.
Fourteen years on there are some linguistic dregs still sloshing about at the bottom of the memory glass, and while my remaining stock of Spanish phrases is starting to consolidate around the ones used to complain about late takeout, I still try to follow whenever conversations with Krissa's family completely accidentally slip into Portuguese even though I am sitting right there next to them at the dinner table. Sometimes the flow of the conversation is so obvious I join in and make a comment in English.

This never works.

When I am learning on the computer, this is what I must sound like to Krissa, who speaks both English and Portuguese.
"Yellow."
"Helloo."
"Yell"
"Hell"
"ow"
"oo"
"Yellow."
"Jello."
I sound so patently ridiculous the only person I am comfortable being in the room when I’m doing this is the dog. Portuguese is fucking hard. If you read it it looks like someone was typing Spanish really fast on a keyboard with no interest in correcting their mistakes. If you listen to it it sounds like someone is urgently recounting a fairytale to a child, perhaps one with attention deficit disorder; every sentence has exciting, looping high and low tones that dance giddily with in and out breaths, coming to an end with long drawn out zzzzzzzzh and oou sounds, giving the impression of skidding to an exhilarated halt. Don't get me wrong - it sounds amazing, but if you try to mimic it...well let me change that - when I try to mimic it, I fail. Deep vowels requiring lots of breath, like OOOOO, require sudden hand-brake turns into top-of-lung vowels sounds like OI with nary a consonant to bounce off, and the whole affair is sprinkled with Js that are alternately zhees or nonexistent but punctuated by breaths and/or disappointed looks from Krissa.
I worry that the computer takes pity on me after five or six attempts.

Earlier this summer Krissa ridiculed a British character on television for their accent, and attempted to mimic the way they said ‘milk’. There is no real L in the Cockney ‘milk’. It’s a dead vowel sound instead. We spent a while in conversation about the finer points of this.
"Miuhk," I said.
"Moiiik."
"Miuhk."
"Moiiik."
...and this carried on until she got annoyed and challenged me to say ‘bread’ in portuguese. It is spelled P A O. Apparently the end of the word is not just O. It’s a dead vowel sound instead. We walked to the subway.
"Moiiik"
"No. Pow."
"No. Moiiiik."
"No. Powwoo."
"No. Moiiik."
This went on for some time. A young man who was clearly also walking to the subway crossed to the other side of the street, lengthening his journey time by one traffic light but ultimately relieving himself of the pressure of being too close to the cut and thrust of scholarly linguistic exchange.
"Pow."
"Moiiik."

Now I am learning Portuguese properly my vocabulary is expanding but my pronunciation is still terrible, and the fear I have, as my rough and ready skills expand, is that confidence and the delight in learning will lead me to completely ignore pronunciation because it’s insanely difficult. I am haunted by one of my childhood favourite TV characters - in ‘Allo Allo!’, a rompy sitcom set in Nazi occupied France over a garish laugh track. ‘Crabtree’ was an undercover English spy whose French was perfect - apart from the vowels. He would walk into the cafe and draw the owner conspiratorially aside.

"Good moaning. I am the bronger of bod toadings. The Brootosh Air Farce have dropped their bums on the witterworks."

This is exactly how I currently sound in Portuguese, but I’m getting a little better here and there- I don’t have a completely inflexible accent.
When precisely drunk enough and in the company of not-too-many people I can do an English country bumpkin accent. When slightly drunker and in the company of just Krissa, I can apply my 6 years of living in these United States and do a passable American accent, as long as a gravelly 1980s movie announcement qualifies as an American accent.
I understand that the intricacies and myriad subtleties of human expression mean that the tiniest shift in tone can change a meaning and that any language student needs to be sensitive to this, and above all patient with themselves and the natives. For example! I once bought a train ticket from a window booth in the South of France without getting arrested.
“Good morning!” I said, in French. “I would like a ticket to Grenoble, please.”
The salesman looked at me, eyebrows raised and nostrils flared, as though I was urinating into the little ticket slot.
“Where?”
“Grenoble?”
“Again?”
“Grenoble.”
“I do not know this place.”
“Grenoble...it’s one of the largest cities in France, in the mountains-”
The salesman cut me off triumphantly.
“AH-HAH! You mean Grenobl!”
He grinned proudly at me as he printed off the tickets with a flourish, happy to have educated another visitor to mother France, and I restrained the sudden urge to urinate into the little ticket slot.

Still In Short Trousers

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This past weekend was BlogHer 2010 in New York and Krissa and I met up with the luminous Leah and Kristin and Corey for a wonderful brunch in Manhattan. Eggs were eaten, much coffee was drunk, and we talked about blogs more than I have in years.

Reading Leah's post here about how strange it is to have blog relationships that go back longer than other 'real world' ones (and it is), I looked back at my banner.
Bloody hell. 
It's been eight years. 

I may have been updating at a rate of a post a month or even less, but this here page is still ticking.

This was me making my entry into the blogosphere (do we still call it that?), on a sunny English summer day when I was newly graduated from university and had very little to do. The connection in my parents' house was so slow I used to surf the internet with a book to read while the pages loaded.
I picked a standard Blogger template. It had a lot of orange.

Eight years old.
If my blog was human, by now it would be asking awkward questions about where babies come from.

Almost Home

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Almost Home


I took this last night on the approach to La Guardia after a trip to DC. The stewardess only asked me to turn the phone off after I'd finished taking pictures. It's okay if you plunge everyone to death by avionics failure if you're in first class.

I don't really buy into the mindset that iPods and other non-broadcasting electronics are capable of electromagnetic leaping ninja kicks. The whole idea of turning off anything electronic during takeoff and landing is overkill. There has to be a good debunk of this somewhere online.

Found: A Memory

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I found this in a journal while rooting through a drawer looking for cufflinks. I remember sitting at one of the tables mentioned, writing as the day faded from dusk to dark, trying to capture the feeling of being there.


20th September, 2003. Refugio de Los Albergues, Pitres.

Let me bring you to this place.

There is no road that can being you here, no train. You can only reach this place yourself. On a sparsely wooded stretch of the valley slopes there is a small flat area of land, five minutes' walk from the village, along a dusty and rocky path that smells of goat droppings. There are trees all around. A terrace below supports apple trees and pine, beneath spiky-fruited chesnuts. The mountains surrounding this place are scrubby, gold and green and brown, grey-blue in the distance. The sun is warm and low, and the shadows are long.  It is late summer and trodden-down yellow hay fills the gaps between grey stones.  It is silent but for distant cocks crowing, the bells of a church at sunset, and the village dogs. There are tables, with metal chairs painted white that sit awkwardly on the uneven ground, and there is a long, low building here, its walls covered with piles of firewood. Off to one side of the terrace there is a swimming pool, five metres long and lined with black plastic tarpaulin with a rusting ladder at one end, lined with rough stones around its edge. It is slowly replenished with water from a garden hose, covered with pondweed, and full of fish. The old German woman who runs this place sits by the side of the pool smoking a rolled cigarette, staring into the water. She is wearing thick grey hiking socks under her plastic sandals, light blue and white three-quarter length trousers and a green t-shirt. Her name is Barbara.

A spinning column of midges dance in and out of the tall frame of plant-knotted steel that receives the telephone wire.

The building is made of stone, with irregular mortar; it has a roof of terracotta and bamboo. The window frames and wooden shutters are a deep maroon, and the fly-screens are green. The inside walls are white. The kitchen has two sinks and a gas stove run from round orange bottles. The wooden kitchen shelves are covered with packets of teas from countries all over Europe, and three-quarter empty plastic bottles of oil which give the room a rich musky smell.  There is an wide open sitting room with a smooth concrete floor and a large fireplace bordered with woodpiles. Highbacked chairs surround a table in front of the fireplace. A hand-held griddle for making toast rests on the mantelpiece. There are two squat bookcases, with books in seven languages...literature, guidebooks, maps. A large chessboard rests against the wall next to the fireplace, beneath a German anti-war poster from 1924. There is a dartboard, a chalkboard and three paintings; abstract, bold lines; and a map of Andalucia on the door to the dormitory. There are 12 bunks, closely spaced, with thin mattresses. The washroom has two sinks and a shower where a tree from outside is growing through the wall.
The stars are amazing.

Is It Morning Already?

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Coy

Park Slope Wheels

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Friday Evening Cruise

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