Monday, November 29, 2004

the fourth plinth
Trafalgar Square might be not be the first place tourists would think of when asked to name a London landmark. But still, anyone who has spent a bit of time in London wil recognise that the Square is a vital part of the centre of the city, geographically tying together various cultural elements of modern and historical British life.

From its centre we can radiate outwards to Buckingham Palace, or to Parliament Square. On the North Side of the square you can visit the National Gallery, or wander up Haymarket either to the theatres or to Piccadilly Circus and on into the bars, clubs, restaurants and strip joints of Soho.

Sitting in the square itself, you can look upwards past the pigeons and into the cloudy grey skies where your eyes will meet the man whose efforts made the Battle of Trafalgar worth building a monument for. It was at this battle in 1805 that Admiral Lord Nelson defeated the combined Spanish and French fleets, assuring Britain control of the world's seas for the next 100 years and setting the scene for the peak era of the British Empire.

Three other figures have statues in the Square, all of them people you'd almost never have heard of, all of them intimately involved with the growth of the British Empire in Indian and Asia. Yet these three men, seated on plinths at three of the corners of the square, are missing a fourth illustrious comrade.

The fourth plinth, pictured above, has never been permanently filled. Even now there are no clear ideas about who or what to put up there, and so it has become a home for all sorts of opportunistic marketing exercises, and temporary displays of contemporary art.

Whilst I don't want disparage the obviously great cultural contribution the "Hotel For The Birds" has brought to the British nations and people, I can't help feeling that all these ideas are completely off the mark. Whilst it is slightly more noble than a Ford Fiesta covered in pigeon poo, even the idea of a statue of Nelson Mandela is still just not cutting it for me as a serious candidate for permanent residence.

The whole of the Square is dedicated to victory, glory, conquest, empire. The period of empire has left an indellible mark on modern Britain, shaping our diet with tea and curry, shaping our society with immigrants from the former colonies, and shaping our language with words like pyjamas, ketchup, gingham and tattoo. And yet the empire is no more.

The empty fourth plinth seems to me to capture that essential problem we seem to have as a nation - the problem of moving on, away from past grandure into something unknown. As it sits empty it is a comment left unsaid about our history, and as it is filled with the temporary and the ridiculous it is a diversion from the business of our future.

I can't think of any more suitable way for Britain to move on historically than for a statue of Mahatma Ghandi to be put up there on that patient spot.

Not only is Ghandi one of the most revered historical figures or recent times, he was also the most influential figure in the effort of colonised nations to achieve independence, thereby bringing empire to an end.

In placing Ghandi on that plinth, Britain would be admitting and symbolising even in our very infrastructure that the empire is the past. We would be accepting the changed face of the nation that has resulted from that period of history, humbly denting the image of white supremacy. It might even help us find the confidence we need to take our next historical steps.

Given the choice, which would you take? Ghandi? Sarah Lucas' pigeon poo car, which apparently would be "a recognition of the abandoned car culture of less salubrious areas of London."? Or something else salubrious?

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Saturday, November 27, 2004

french kissing habits
It didn't take me long to get used to the kiss on each cheek we have over here as a greeting. I am talking about greeting girls of course - I'm not having any of that kissing boys lark that some French guys do.

The map below stolen from a newspaper and photoshopped reveals the interesting fact that there is no standard French pattern for the number of kisses kissed. Some regions go for only one, others for three or four.

It looks to me a bit like most of the places where there are only two kisses are on the borders, whilst the deeper into France you go the more kisses there are. I wonder if there's a reason for that?

Whilst Toulouse is certainly lacking a couple of kisses compared to other regions, the people on the edge of Poitou Charentes seem to be getting the worst deal with their one miserly kiss. It's not on land border over there, but there are some ports in the area seeing as it's next to the Atlantic.

Hmmm, what do you reckon? Why the differences?

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

it's the week for it, apparently
So after Gav and Yoko, Owen and Jo, pictures of couples and romance being in the air and stuff, a mate I haven't seen in about 8 years sends an email out today, all happy families and pictures of babies. Any more, anybody?

Jon is obviously well up with the habits of an ex-pat though. Another one of us Blogger / Flickr clones. Some fantastic photography from New Zealand. Look forward to catching up with you at Christmas Jon.

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romance d'automne

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

gav and yoko, owen and jo
You know when you see two people together and are just struck by how right it seems for them? This weekend my Australian friend Gav popped over from London with his Japanese wife Yoko. This was the first time I'd met Yoko, and I was quite touched to see them looking so happy, and to see how well life is working out for my friend.

I first met Gav in Tokyo in 1998. He was one of a gang of five or so of us who always used to go to this little foreigner friendly bar called Makkas in Urawa. We used to spend those early days together drinking Asahi or Kirin beeru, playing cards and generally exhausting our culture shock grievances.

I haven't always had good things to say about Japanese women, which is a massive generalisation I know but understandable considering some of my experiences. Lets just say that a western man in Japan tends to attract some rather materialistically motivated people. That's why it was so good to meet Yoko and be reminded of what I find great in the Japanese character.

The Japanese mode of expression can be so delicate and subtle, so dispossessed of a verbal form, that it is often lost on more boisterous Westerners used to throwing ideas and concepts around freely, debating and challenging each other. Yoko reminded me of this way of communicating, but showed me it in a style and with a humour that was clearly her own. In my limited experience, that's not something I saw achieved very often in Japan. Gavin was totally right to describe himself as a lucky man.

Just as I was feeling warmed to see one happy couple, my mate Owen emailed me today to say that he had just been on holiday to Thailand where he asked his eerily well suited long term girlfriend Jo to marry him. I've known Owen since I was 6 and words cannot begin to describe my gladness that I have this rock solid gentle funny man as a friend. If anyone deserves happiness it's Owen. Congrats Owen and Jo :)

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Friday, November 19, 2004

beaujolais nouveau
Our neighbourhood tramp was apparently a bit pissed off with people stealing his gig last night, since when I bumped into him in the epicerie he was buying not a bottle of wine, but a bottle of coke. He said he didn't fancy drinking that evening, which was quite amusing considering that the whole of France was spending the night on the streets knocking back the wine.

Far be it for me to pass comment on the quality of any wine, I'm certainly no expert, but the French themselves tell me that the Beaujolais nouveau festival is basically a piss up organised for the purpose of offloading a sea of otherwise unsellable wine.

Certainly I'd say that last night's offerings were a little sharp. Not very good for the head either, if drunk in the quantities I drank it in. Although I did actually get out of bed around the normal time, by the time I had finished stumbling still drunk around my bathroom, I had decided it might be wise to take a half day holiday.


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the start of the surf season
They say every cloud has a silver lining and around here it that is certainly the case. We've had some pretty bad weather recently, but atleast this means that the Pyrenees have had a ton of snow dumped on them. See all that fresh white powder!

Apparently Ax Bonascre will open tomorrow which has got to be the earliest start to the season I have ever seen. Ok, I've only seen 4 seasons here but still, snowboarding before the end of November is quite impressive.

I won't be going this weekend however, since my Aussie friend Gav is coming over with his wife Yoko. This means I get a bit more time to figure out how I am going to pay for my holiday in Japan over Christmas and a new snowboard complete with boots and bindings.

Hmmm... I do like this Hammer Private. At the end of last season I gave it a test drive and spent a happy couple of hours scaring myself shitless going stupid fast. Now if I can just find that credit card...

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

english yobs, french snobs
Standing in the blustery arms of strange air, the English and the French face each other. Each army bustles in the dim twilight with the pitching of defensive camps on top of opposing hills, the enemies surveying each other with hostility across the grassy expanse of an open valley.

The English are gathered around their fires to keep warm and burn chunks of slaughtered beast in the roaring flames. The best spots go to a few talented ancestors of Lennon or Albarn who are keeping spirits high by strumming instruments and banging pots, just as they would back home in the pub, yodelling anything as long as it rhymes and is about whipping French ass. The quartermasters are kept busy rolling out barrels of beer to the men who get busy playing drinking games, lying under makeshift holes tapped in the side, ale spilling freely until exhausted.

Meanwhile, across the valley, the French soldiers are seated away from the flames as an army of cooks tend to the boiling of vegetables, the making of sauces and the braising of steaks. An army marches on it's stomach after all, and what with the gallic noses being bathed in smells of home, their General fully expects them to be fighting hard for their own corner of La France tomorrow. The soldiers ravenously wait in the dark, talking to each other about tomorrow's demise of English scum. Wooden crates packed generously with straw are cracked open and the timeless shape of wine bottles is revealed twinkling in the moonlight, ready to be passed around.

The wind blows around the valley, carrying the drunken but tuneful sounds of the English camp across to the ears of their French foes, and the lifting the scented aromas of garlic and herbs back to the underpriveleged noses of the English. As each side talks, as each General stirs hatred and sells propaganda, the soldiers grow instinctively to despise what they know of their enemy. The uncourtly music and beery yelling of the English is transmuted by the French mind and discourse into the ignorant howlings of a barbarous rabble, indulging in drunkeness and reduced to facing death without dignity or honour. The English for their part cannot believe the French are going to the impracticality of preparing what smells like a banquet. What arrogance and pretence, to luxuriously cart all the ingredients, cooking kit and crew around when it's weaponry and soldiers that are needed for a battle. But the battle's tomorrow, and the English turn back to their beer to squeeze some final pleasure and revelry out of what will be for many their last night under the twinkling stars.

In the morning at the crack of dawn, the armies are raised and readied. Sharpened swords are sheathed and unsheathed, the harnesses of cavalry saddles checked and double checked. Signals are watched for and nerves grow tense, as do hatreds, kindled and rekindled, ancient wounds remembered and bitterly sworn for avengement.

With cries and yells the two sides launch at each other in blind fear and fervent anger. Men are cut in two, disembowled, de-limbed, beheaded or blinded, left lying in pain with the shrieks of their friends and brothers ringing in their ears as death watches on, notching his stick busily. Blood runs so thick on the ground that the grass is as crimson as the last gasp of sunset.

Hours later, the survivors have gathered behind their lines sullied, stained and exhausted. The general and his lieutenants, where still alive, huddle in tents to digest the implications of the slaughter. A side won, a side lost. Terrain has been ceded, bounty gained, reputations established or destroyed. Just as the dust is settling two lone messengers stir it back up into the aggrieved air, racing off on the strongest horses to the national capitals, keeping the politicians informed.

As time passes by, viewed under the frozen stony gaze of monuments of remembrance for the heroic dead or for victory's glory, the stories of the survivors become gossip and cultural folklore. The habits and qualities of the enemy seen from afar across the valley become ridiculed stereotypes. Music, beer and roudy good cheer is contrasted against cuisine, conversation and dignity. Each set becomes a more rigid identity against the emotional undercurrent of a hundred thousand grieving hearts.

Once chosen, the identity grows, but growing misshapen and distorted against it's cultural cousin. Dignity over-emphasised becomes snobbish arrogance, good cheer yobbish loutism, each extreme prevented from finding integrity through embracement of its opposite by the mental walls of patriotism and political identity.

Hundreds of years later, events and thoughts and cultural shaping forgotten and consigned to deep within the subconcious, the nations continue their contrasting lives.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

a creative day
This afternoon Thomas emailed me about the new Toulouse Wiki he has set up. This seems like a great idea for gathering all sorts of living and changing information about Toulouse and stuff to do in Toulouse, so I added a couple of things and will be adding some more whenever I get a moment.

This evening Dena came around for our final art lesson before she goes back to the states. After managing to fill the room with a dense fog of burning olive oil, a testament to my cooking skills, I got down to my assignment of 'bringing out the engineer in me and exploring the theme of inside and outside'. Don't ask me, I'm not the one who makes this stuff up :/

Anyway, here's the result. Not sure I completed the assignment, but I thought I'd put it up here for you all to laugh at anyways.

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Monday, November 15, 2004

c is for Chartered
It's over 11 years since I started down the road to the not so glamorous profession of engineer. Even though most people in the UK would associate the idea of an engineer with fixing cars or washing machines, it's the profession I chose and I'm glad that it is.

There has always been something about technology that has fascinated me, and from the earliest of ages it has been part of makeup. It was a logical progression to choose my role in life based on my passion and interest, even though I can hardly say that it is still my passion. Dealing with technology on a daily basis means it is now my responsibility.

I guess that's what makes today so significant, since this afternoon I sent in my application to have my level of responsibility formally recognised - to become a Chartered Engineer. Becoming Chartered is basically just a way of establishing your level of experience and competence, but it also means you can put the letters CEng after your name.

Now I'm not big on status symbols, and I'm not going to suddenly start thinking that I'm superhuman simply because some organisation blessed by the queen has given me permission to have a poncey business card. But what will make me glad about being Chartered is the knowledge that I am a part of a worldwide community of people who can shape the world we live in, who can open up new possibilities.

Man has always interacted with nature with inquisitiveness, creativity and imagination. In that sense engineering and technology are expressions of the same drives that give us art and religion. Like all these things, there is no denying that we don't always use our ability for the best. Environmental destruction and weapons that could blow the planet to smithereens are clearly not in our interest.

Still, having been to some of the poorest countries on the planet and seen desperate poverty in action, I can only thank and respect the ancestors who helped to drag us out of the mud, away from disease and hunger, and who built the systems of communication that now bring our species together.

Despite the fact these things were achieved on the back of greed and exploitation, and even though the benefits are not yet universal, there is much there that is admirable, and much that is beneficial to mankind.

In our time, we are seeing the need to shape what we have created into the life of the planet in a way that is sustainable, and which assures our happiness and dignity, not just our wealth. There are going to be a lot of challenges to overcome before we achieve this, but I for one am glad to be an engineer at the time when we face them.

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Friday, November 12, 2004

entente cordiale
Take a quick look at this list of wars between England and France. Apparently, since Guillaume conquered England at Hastings in 1066, there have been no less than 28 separate wars. How crazy is that?

Given the choice between blowing each other up or not blowing each other up, I freely admit that I am glad we live in an age where we are learning how to achieve European co-operation. Today I read in the Guardian that the 2007 Tour de France is likely to start in London, and not in France at all. Cool.

Taking the theme of international co-operation a bit further, whilst I was looking for images to include on this post I came across the one below, with the American Trek team winning the TDF in 2001, with Lance Armstrong in the 'maillot jaune'.

I guess the surrender monkeys are good for something then, even if it is just organising nice bike rides. Looks to me like with all the wars that they had with the English and stuff, they just got plain tired of fighting and instead took up nice friendly healthy pursuits that don't involve killing.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Whilst I was back home recently, my neice Alex announced that she was going to draw a baby. She's been getting into her drawing recently, and even writing letters too. The results of her 'baby' effort, done on the back of an envelope, are just too funky to go ignored. So here they are.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Gordon Arthur Davenport
A real family occasion today, with my mother's brother and my cousins Ross and Louise. My grandfather died two weeks ago at the age of 89 after 4 years of illness, and today was the funeral. Since Gordon never liked organised religion my mum decided that we'd do it ourselves.

I haven't been to many funerals but this one was certainly the most intimate and truthful - a personal, honest and heartfelt testimonial to Gordon's life.

Gordon was a private and reclusive man, so much of his story has disappeared along with the incisive mind that contained it. The vague details of his life I know are a combination of influences from a past which seemed today to finally drop into written history. They illuminate only a little of this intelligent but stern man, who was to me at the same time the most fascinating and the most difficult to reach of all my grandparents.

Gordon was born in 1915 in Croydon, South-East London. His father had been in the Norfolk regiment during the 1st World War, and it was in Norfolk that his parents met. Gordon was the oldest of 4 brothers. Sadly the family disintegrated under the strain of the loss of the youngest child, and the emotional conflict appears to have scarred Gordon's ability to trust.

At the age of 12, in 1927, Gordon won a scholarship at Whitgift Middle School in Croydon. This was a fortunate step since Gordon's educational routes had previously been limited by his family's poverty. No doubt it was this poverty, together with the Great Depression and then the Second World War, which caused Gordon to be such a frugal man.

Despite his utter refusal to make any purchase beyond that which was justifed by practicality, he never failed to be generous or to help his family financially. It was in his generosity and in his fairness of generosity that I could tell he was a principled man. We know most significantly from the story of his life that he was against war. When the 2nd World War broke out in 1939, Gordon registered as a conscientous objector, a choice which caused him considerable difficulty in integrating into post-war Britain.

Since he wasn't a soldier during the war, he was instead involved in the country's efforts by driving ambulances organised by the Quakers. It was this vocation which was registered on his marriage certificate to Rona Adair in 1942.

Gordon and Rona had met at the Tolsworth Manor Youth Hostel in Caterham, Surrey. Rona was the Head Warden of the Youth Hostel and Gordon sometimes the Assistant. They both shared a great love of the countryside and of walking. In Gordon's house today, there were still pairs of walking trousers that Rona had thoughtfully made for him for their camping holidays in the British hills and mountains.

Beyond Rona's own death in 1991, Gordon never failed to walk. Right up until his liver failed and he started regular dialysis 4 years ago he would be out on the South Downs almost every day, whatever the weather, hiking for hours at a time. Even under dialysis he would still drag his ailing body around Eastbourne. Two Christmases ago, when his car failed to start for a trip into town to buy his great granddaughter Alexandra a rocking horse, he didn't call a taxi. He just trotted off for the 3km walk into the town centre, and trotted back on the return, carrying the clumsy box.

It was in his relationship with Alex, who called him Great Gordon, that we noticed an ever so slight change in temperament. The total frostyness became edged with just a faint dab of appreciation for Alex, which rubbed off a little onto other people. He began to smile and joke on occasion. It's hard for me to describe how these limited glimmers of his hidden humanity gave me hope and appreciation for Gordon. My mother more so than me.

In these later years of his life, it was her who looked after him the most. By necessity, their previously distanced and estranged Father-Daughter relationship developed into one of much more mutual respect. My mother helped whilst respecting Gordon's need for independence and privacy. In return, Gordon's stern and authoritarian attitude, which so marked her own childhood, softened.

For myself, I am glad that I managed to see him on the day before he died, lying in constant pain in a sterile hospital bed. The last month had been getting harder and harder for him, his mind clear but his body fading away. He knew it was time and was not afraid to discuss his options or to give instructions.

As I said goodbye I took the risk of touching his arm. He didn't jump away as I expected but reached back to me and looked at me in the eye with emotion, decades of stern glare gone and just Gordon the man, in his naked human state, looking at me and I at him.

All the best, Great Gordon.

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Monday, November 08, 2004

recently I have mostly been... England (again), so I haven't had a chance to blog. I have been busy gathering stuff to post though.

Noemi left on Thursday to go back to Madrid, and we spent the evening down some Basque style bar eating tapas and drinking sangria until 3 in the morning. I said Noemi has left, but this is about the 5th time she has left since I have been there. When you coming back Noes?

After leaving work and going to watch the 'Jacqui Chan Band' practicing a few songs in a dingy hole out by Jolimont, Friday night was spent at Tanyas. Larry had come over from London to see her and so we went around for a curry, and stayed. I apparently turned green around 4 in the morning after one last cigarette, and then decided I would be wise to stumble my way back home. I still managed to be up for sausages beans and mash in the morning though.

I arrived back in the UK on Saturday night and haven't been doing too much apart from sleeping, eating and reading. Tonight I put my 4 year old neice to bed. We had a cool conversation just before she dropped off.

"Uncle Daniel, do you like cuddly toys?"

"Not really Alex. I'm 29 and a boy. Boys don't like cuddly things very much. We prefer toys that are gadgets like digital cameras, computers or cars."

A quizzical look came over her face as she digested this response, and then she said, "But computers don't talk do they".

To which my sci-fi brain said "Well, not yet no. But one day I expect your computer will ask you things about what you want to do, and you'll tell it what to do."

"Don't be silly Uncle Daniel, computers aren't magic."

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

up on the bridge with the captain

Ten thirty is a pretty crumby time to be leaving the office, but that's what happened last night. Actually it was the second time I had left the office that evening. The first time was about 1830 and I was literally just parking the car when my phone started jumping around inside my pocket.

Part of my job is to do 'standby' on occasion, which is where you get called in to work in the middle of the night to help out an airline in need. We usually get called for what is known in the aviation industry as an 'AOG' or Aircraft On Ground, i.e. your holiday not happening.

Resigned to being hungry for a few more hours, I pulled off my tie and turned the car around. Ten minutes later I was at the company gate, climbing over the passenger seat to flap my badge against the reader, which is always standing on duty on the inconvenient side of my English car.

The people who called me weren't the customers themselves. We have a special 24hr hotline number that they call. The engineers the clients speak to on that line then call me if it is anything to do with the hydraulics, the landing gear, the brakes, the braking system, or the steering. I hopped out of my car and went up to see these guys, grabbing a muesli bar out of the vending machine on the way.

I wasn't aware that they had been decorating up there, but when I arrived I found that their office had now sprung a security door. Flapping my badge again, I let myself in.

No sooner was in than I was transported 500 years into the future and a distance of 78.2 light years out into the galaxy Zog. The flashy bastards, not content with having their own rest and relaxation room, had done their AOG control centre up to resemble the bridge of the USS Enterprise.

As I stepped cautiously into the room, watching out for Klingons marauding around with phasers set to kill, I saw two steps rising from the floor to my left. I took the first and a set of electronic double doors opened in front of me with a shhhe-woosh (you know the one, you trekkies). I found myself in front of two parallel rows of wireless workstations, tiered so that the ones at the back overlook those in front, NASA Style.

All of them were facing the walls, and what walls! Directly in the centre of mission control there was a huge screen displaying an image of the world, its flattened representation covered in darkness or illuminated by the sun according to the location. All the major cities were marked, and also all the locations of the places which needed our help.

On the walls surrounding the world, we had displays of the email hotline - all the messages that were coming in crying for assistance, asking for answers about their misbehaving mating flanges and bleed nipples (you gotta love English technical vocabulary).

Now I won't bore you with the details of what I did, except to say that it was a Frenchman who handed me my mission, a German who gave me the answer, and a Philippino who was our customer. God knows what various tourists and businessmen from all sorts of nationalities were on the plane, but it gives me pleasure to live and work in a hub of this diverse and co-operating world.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

me me me
So I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was reading 'Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig. There are a load of reviews on Amazon that can fill you on the many angles this book covers, but the one I liked the most was the philosophical side.

Pirsig starts by noticing that there is a big difference between Eastern and Western modes of thought. The East expresses the fundamental metaphysical unity of the universe, while the Western philosophy is based on the separation of subject and object, as per Greek philosophy, giving us our rational scientific mindset and language.

The main idea of the book is the concept of 'Quality'. Bear with me now, this gets a bit tricky. Pirsig says that "Quality is a direct experience prior to intellectual abstractions... [it] is indivisible, undefinable and unknowable in the sense that there is a knower and a known...".

This leads to a re-evaluation of the way we look at the world. Pirsig's basic contention is that we ourselves impose the division of the world into subject and object. It is a division that does not really exist. What exists is Quality, from which we are undivided.

Now I'm not going to go into trying to explain what Pirsig perceives Quality to be. That's the subject of his second book, Lila, which I would like to read because I'm fascinated by this idea that objects and subjects are, outside our perception, undifferentiated. If objects and subjects are undifferentiated, then how does that effect the object that I call 'me'. Apparently I am not what I think I am. I am actually not a 'me' at all.

This sounds crazy of course. It's clear from looking at my hands tapping on this keyboard that there is something very differentiated about this lump of molecules. But on the other hand, the ideas feel good. So many of the world's problems are caused by our insistence on ourselves. You don't have to look as far as today's politics in America to see that. It is plainly right under our noses, at home, at work, in the street and on the roads.

What is it about that annoying colleague who is constantly trying to get a promotion? It's his ideas about himself, in relation to a social hierarchy. What is it that is so funny about comedies like 'The Office' or 'Little Britain'? It's their ridicule of people's ideas about themselves. Wherever there is an 'I am' or a 'we are', we see stupidity, we get conflict.

A bit more than 3 years back, I had a seriously difficult time. I'd previously been in Japan for 2 years and during that time I was very isolated for the most part of the day, free to wander in my mind. When I wasn't isolated, I was standing in front of classes of 14 year olds being paraded like a celebrity chimp, repeating Japanese stereotypes of English people as if I was a human tape recorder.

Experiencing this bizarre contrast of drudgery and local celebrity had an intense effect on my self-image, with my ego clinging to images of a successful future profession, and simultaneously lapping up the elevated status of privileged guest. Being so far from the normalising influences of home, and pushed further into fantasy by painful doses of daily prejudice, this cancer of conciousness grew beyond me.

While I was in Japan, this fantasy world could exist. When I got back to England though, reality made itself felt.

I can remember episodes of life's confrontation of this walking imaginary person, and I can remember the lies I told myself to protect the fantasies. I can remember life getting gradually more insistent, starting with gentle knocks and getting harder and harder, until finally the whole edifice of my life crumpled and I was left in a trembling personal void where I knew that nothing I thought about myself was true. A concealed layer of previously subconcious motivations had opened up before me.

Since that time I have been unravelling this layer, peeling it back to find other layers, following the trail and going deeper and deeper until... until this idea that 'my' life isn't quite what it seems. Here, what I am calling 'life' is what Pirsig calls 'Quality'. It's the best explanation I have found so far for what happened and where the remedy seems to be.

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Monday, November 01, 2004


The good news this weekend is that the snow is not just coming, it has arrived, and I have been walking in it. On Friday night eight of us drove up to an appartment we had rented for the long weekend in Vielha, Catalunya.

There was no special reason for going other than it was a long weekend and we thought we should get out of town. Plus, Sara, Oscar, Noemi and Jorge being Spanish they fancied getting back home. I was the only one who didn't speak Spanish, so you can imagine that I spent a good deal of the time with a puzzled expression on my face.

We basically took it very easy. There was a fair bit of lounging around the appartment drinking, smoking and singing. Jorge was playing his guitar and we terrified the neighbours with a lot of English songs like Travis, Robbie, Radiohead and stuff. It was really good to sing. I haven't had the chance to do it much since I left Japan and Karaoke behind over 4 years ago.

As far as Spanish music goes, I got introduced to Chambao, who are great - sort of flamenco chill out with Spanish vocals, which always sounds exotic.

We did a couple of hikes, one on Saturday in the sunshine, and one today in the snow. Whenever I am in the mountains I become very peaceful, and just gaze at the white mountains, splashed as they were with autumn leaves and red berries. Or maybe it's because I need to get more exercise that I didn't feel like talking very much ;)

See complete photoset

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