Archive for September, 2004

Going postal?

My post came through the door at 8pm the other night. Yes, that would be eight o’clock in the evening. I’d be willing to bet money that it wasn’t an actual postman delivering it, more likely it was some kindly neighbour who’d come home to find it on their doormat.

Which begs the question: just how hard is it to put mail in the correct door?

This isn’t an isolated incident. In the past six months I’ve had things stolen from my post, things just not turning up, and more post for people in the next street than I can shake a stick at. I actually chased a postman down the street the other day, waving a handful of mail and yelling “it’s not mine!”

I got home, one day towards the end of July, to find a card stating that not one but four parcels were awaiting collection at my local delivery office. Three trips there over the space of a month and still no sign of these mystery parcels. I’ve complained to Royal Mail, and although they sent their deepest apologies my parcels are still a mystery, and look likely to remain so.

It really does make me angry. The fact that my post (when it arrives at all) doesn’t turn up until late afternoon (4.30pm, a fine time of day to receive your first post, honestly…) means that it’s difficult to chase up cheques or anything else that I’ve been expecting. I’m terrified of having anything sent to my home address lest I never see it again. I’m placed in the awkward situation of having to order gifts and other items and have them sent to my partner’s work address.

It’s a ridiculous state of affairs, not knowing when, or even if, your post will turn up. Not being able to pick your postman out of a line-up because ‘casual workers’ have been assigned to your street and are never there two days in a row. Why should I have to spend all my time making phone calls and writing letters to complain about such downright shoddy service?

It’s little wonder that e-mails are becoming ever more popular, at least one can verify whether it’s been sent, and resending any rogue ones is a simple matter. But it’s a shame because letter writing is becoming a lost art; and there’s nothing quite like receiving a parcel in the mail. Sadly, though, if the standard of the postal service in my area is anything to go by, it looks as though we’ll have to get used to this state of affairs.

A world where we have to collect all our bank books and cards from local branches, for fear of never otherwise seeing them. Where children no longer receive colourful cards containing money and vouchers on their birthdays, or where grandparents never receive clumsily wrapped presents from the grandchildren they rarely see.

Is that what we have to look forward to? If so then it’s a disgusting state of affairs. I think I’ll write a letter to complain…

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Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horses’ necks
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing, and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
God, for a man that solicits insurance!
[‘Bohemia’ by Dorothy Parker, published in ‘Sunset Gun’ 1928]

It seems increasingly difficult to find people who do ‘regular’ jobs. Gone are the days when the people you met were likely to have good, solid, jobs like builders, salesmen, bankers, accountants. These days all the people I meet have quite interesting occupations: musicians, authors, actors, or they’re doing praiseworthy things like working with orphans or children abroad.

I’m not complaining; it certainly makes conversations more interesting (“what did you do today?” “oh, nothing much, just taught a one-armed child to juggle”), but it makes me wonder if perhaps these people are setting standards that the rest of us are going to end up trying to live up to. Are we going to end up nursing enormous inferiority complexes?

A case in point: I met up with a friend a few days ago and we spent the day catching up. In the last eight months she’s been to Madrid, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago. During that time she’s been, to name but a few things, snorkelling, up the Amazon, and has watched baby sea turtles hatch on a beach somewhere. Oh, and she’s managed to do all this because of her job. In the last eight months I’ve been to Brighton and the Midlands, and I’ve pruned a lot of plants and designed a couple of gardens.

It doesn’t really compare, does it?

It’s strange though, my friend’s adventures interest me – hey, I’d love to do some of the things she’s done – but in an oddly detached way. I think she’s incredibly lucky to have done the things she’s done, but I’m not burning with the desire to go off and emulate her. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m not jealous, and I don’t feel as though her exciting life belittles mine at all.

Maybe it’s because I’m comfortable with where I am in life, because I’m confident that, at some point, I will have time to go and do all the exciting things I want to. Or perhaps it’s because I love my friends that I don’t resent them their achievements – would I feel the same if it were a stranger telling me all about their travels? I think I would, because at the end of the day we’re all different, we’re all driven by different things – if we were all off gallivanting around the world, who would take care of the mundane tasks that make things run?

Perhaps there is hope for the quiet life after all.

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Nil desperandum?

Despair is a very distinct emotion, and a diplomatic one too. Unlike some other feelings it doesn’t confine itself to those who deserve it. Love and happiness seem to visit only those who merit them – despair, on the other hand, can descend on anyone without cause or warning.

Which does seem a little unjust, but at least it’s even-handed.

So it’s a common enough emotion – but why? Short of bereavement or serious financial disaster, what reasons do people have to despair? It’s a common emotion and a highly abused one. People can despair over the simplest of things, which seems a shocking waste of time. There are few problems that can’t be overcome with a little work, and despair can be eradicated simply by looking at the positive side of things. I was sent a, for want of a better word, poem the other day and it really did make me think. I shan’t copy it out word for here, as it’s a little long, but these snippets will convey the general feel of it:

“I am thankful…
…For the taxes that I pay, because it means I have a job.
…For the clothes that fit a little bit snug, because it means I have enough to eat.
…For the lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because this means I have a home.
…For all the complaining I hear about the government, because it means we have freedom of speech.
…For weariness and an aching back at the end of the day, because it means I have been able to work hard.”

The next time you’re tearing your hair out because things have gone wrong, stop and look for the silver lining – you’ll find it’s closer than you think.

In the words of Eric Idle: always look on the bright side of life…

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…and remember what peace there may be in silence.” – Max Ehrmann, 1952.

Sound words of advice, or are they? To go through life unperturbed by the cacophony of crises and disasters that befall both others and ourselves seems an almost impossible task. Only if one were cocooned, enclosed in a bubble, would this seem feasible. I suppose it might possible to shut oneself off from the world, to remain untouched by the madding crowds.

It seems such a cold solution though, doesn’t it?

To cut oneself off from everything, to put up an impenetrable barrier against all the “noise and the haste.” Placing oneself, and ones soul, in isolation may aid in “remembering what peace there may be in silence” – but it must also be unutterably lonely. What is it like to pass through life as an impartial spectator, unaffected by all of the things life brings? It’s full of trials, yes; but there are also the joys. We learn from our mistakes, and those of others; we learn from the emotions we feel, the pain we endure, the delights we enjoy.

What would we be if these things did not touch us?

Cold, unapproachable, looking at the world through a glass, disdaining to let it close, refusing to become involved.

It’s all of life’s little knocks and bumps that help make up what we are: resilient, experienced, alive.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste…and remember they make us human.

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I was at a party recently when I was re-introduced to a man that I’ve met on several occasions. I remembered him immediately, and he peered at me with slight recognition and then exclaimed “I remember you – you’re the woman with loose sexual morals!”

Surprised? Damn right I was.

He caught up with me a bit later in the evening and proffered an explanation: “It’s because you’re an artist and live in Kilburn,” – when I opened my mouth to comment he added “It’s ok, I used to live in West Hampstead, I know what it’s like.”

I thought it was funny at the time, and I still see the humour, however it has made me think. The old adage “first impressions count” springs to mind – although I must say that I never thought it could apply so drastically. I suspect that when I first met the man I was still studying for my A-levels, art being one of them, and the friend who introduced may have said ‘Queens Park, near Kilburn’.

It’s amazing how a little misinterpretation of the facts can land you in trouble.

I’d love to throw that old adage out of the window – after all, you can regard people with distrust, suspicion, and even loathing, after just one meeting, but then find that you actually have a lot in common several encounters down the road. But what of the people you only ever meet once? How many people, for instance, are wandering around out there having been given the impression that I’m a woman of loose morals who lives in a rather dubious area of London? I dread to think, even though I might never meet any of them again. So what’s a girl to do, behave impeccably at every moment lest she be misinterpreted?

Of course not, we have to take our chances and believe that those who are meant to see the truth do; we have to believe that anyone who can’t see beyond their preconceptions aren’t worth our attention. Well, it’s that or hand out a CV and character reference to everyone we meet…

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You probably know the feeling very well. You’ve asked someone how they are, have listened to a litany of complaints, but when you’ve then enquired what they’ve done to remedy their problems the answer is “oh, nothing.”

I don’t know about you, but it drives me mad.

Excuses common to the apathetic include, but are not confined to, “I can’t be bothered”, “it just seems like so much effort”, “what’s the point?”, and the classic “I just don’t have time.”

Time is a limited resource for the majority of people these days, I’m perfectly willing to concede that. However, when someone is nursing a cold/cough/broken limb and claims they “don’t have time” to see their GP…well, if they aren’t prepared to find time to worry about themselves, why should you bother?

It really is infuriating – all the excuses that people find for not doing the simplest of things. Not to mention the time wasted complaining – surely they can find better things to spend ten minutes on other than complaining?

They are supposed to be ‘busy’ after all…

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Beauty in the beastly?

Can there be beauty in violence? It’s a question which I’m sure has been addressed before, but I haven’t checked.

Violence is, well, violent. It can be horrific, it can leave people appalled – but it can also leave them fascinated. If you’ve ever witnessed an accident that involves a lot of blood then you’ll know what I mean; it can prompt a whole gamut of responses from revulsion to concern – but very often one just can’t look away.

We may not find violence, or its aftermath, appealing, but it’s difficult to deny that it holds a certain fascination. It’s something that’s emphasised by films; seeing someone decapitated on screen is thrilling, even if we do wince as we watch it. Seeing someone have their throat slit is chilling, and stunningly violent – but it’s also entrancing, the moment when the blade makes the cut, the expression on the person’s face – changing from fear to pain to utter blankness, slack-jawed and lifeless.

I’m not by any means advocating violence, let me be clear on that, but when something is put in front of you why shouldn’t you try to make the best of it? We are exposed to violence almost every day of our lives: assaults, car-crashes, war footage on the news. Violence surrounds us, and if all we do is weep and cover our eyes we won’t get very far. Don’t condone violence, but when confronted with it try and make sense of it. There are those who say that violence is senseless – perhaps they’re right, but isn’t it our right to at least try and find meaning where there is none?

The blood stains on the windscreen at a car accident…a strange symmetry to the pattern of the splatters, radiating out from a central point. A limb imprisoned by a fallen girder at a bomb site…the juncture between flesh and steel strangely hypnotic. Blood, a clear red as it pumps from a wounded body, transforming to a tarnished brown as it dries.

Is there beauty in these things? Can the violence that ensues from crimes of hate and senseless war evoke a sense of beauty? It must do, or others would not have already used phrases such as “breathtakingly violent.” Breathtaking, a phrase used often to describe vistas like those seen from cliffs and mountains, scenes which inspire awe, and even fear. Breathtaking scenery, breathtaking violence; both, in my opinion, with the potential to be beautiful.

But then it’s often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

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Garden of the soul…

If your soul were a garden, what would one find? Would it pulse with the hot, glowing colours of kniphofia and crocosmia, vibrant and representative of a passionate heart? Would lush grasses give way to arid expanses of sand and stone, symbolic of your broken dreams? In the garden of your soul do sweet peas twine around canes, curling around to conceal your innocence with their fragrant blooms, or do the questing aerial roots of ivy seek to hide a darker secret altogether? Do bamboos and grasses rustle and sway with your discontented sighs?

In my soul there are swathes of lavender, its silvery foliage soothing my hurts with each fragrant breeze that blows. There are pathways of chamomile and thyme leading me safely past corners where my demons hide. The exquisite scent of honeysuckle on the warm evening air cossets and envelops me, drowning out the voices of doubt and confusion. There are hints of a darker side here too; away from the sunlit borders, amongst mossy stones beneath the trees, ferns uncurl their feathery fronds, the very act itself almost overtly licentious. Bindweed creeps and twines around everything in its path, establishing a choking grip from which release often comes too late.

What is the garden of your soul like? Barren or lush? Open for all to see, or a hortus conclusus surrounded by high walls which no-one may scale? Is it awash with colours and scents, or a midnight garden of muted tones?

If your soul were a garden, what would one find?…

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