Of broad oaks and little leaves

I know I’m not alone.


Last night, at approximately 6.37, it kicked in: the gut wrenching pangs of realising that the sweet taste of freedom has almost completely slid down the gullet towards the sour stomach pit of realisation.


I had work tomorrow.  I had to get up.  I had to interact with adults and children on a neverending pedastal of stress, each step made up of deadlines and demands.  And emails, emails, emails.  Like I said, I know I’m not alone in this feeling!  But in the spirit of things, I decided to replace my otherwise Beckettian monologue of repeating ‘Do I have to go in tomorrow?’, and do some research on the dreaded sunday feeling, and how to resolve it.


Not for me the first few sites that I tuned into, who seemed to accept that work was something to be managed like a taciturn orca.  I didn’t want to read about ‘Time management’ and Éffective strategies’.  I wanted to be inspired.  And somewhere, lodged on page three of my google endeavours, I came across some quotations from a man called Khalil Gibran, who wrote a book called The Prophet.


Granted, I haven’t read the book and I will misquote him, but the gist of his writing shed a new light on the Sunday feeling.  He believes that work is essential and a joyful act at that.  This is what he writes (with my commentary in italics):

Älways you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune  (true that!).  But I say to you that when you work you fulfil earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born (huh?). And in keeping yourself with labour, you are in truth loving life.  And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret (hmmm….okay…..).”


Granted,  I don’t know what life’s inmost secret is – hands up if you do, because I want a detailed powerpoint presentation on what that is.  And I’m also not sure on how to achieve this state of bliss while trying to drill the three sentence types into my year 9’s heads on a wet and dreary afternoon, but it was a helpful perspective today.  Instead of finding ways of managing work, to strap it down and hold it in place and hate the whole darn thing, to actually take a moment to appreciate the act of work, of all the myriad decisions that we make while working, of the processes that we adapt to and in so doing show an understanding of life.  It made a difference today: I actually enjoyed a discussion with students about two poems that we were studying, rather than marshalling them towards the right answer.  Instead of despising my commute, I enjoyed the chance to be still and see a new world emerging from the darkness.  I felt prepared and ready.


The other point that he made resonated, and that was regarding work envy.  At school, I didn’t really care what I wanted to be, I just wanted to be renowned for it.  Since leaving school I’ve tried my hand at a variety of jobs, but they’ve always had the potential for fame nd glamour: I was an actor and then I worked in television and all the time I was focussed on how to become known in these circles.  Looking back, I realise that my focus was wrong and maybe I should have enjoyed the work more rather than looking  to be the next thing.  (Or maybe stopped and realised how little I was enjoying my work and rung a few changes…).  And now I’m a teacher and I sometimes think of the phrase ‘Those who can, do, those who can’t teach’.  For a long time it has seemed like a failing in me, that I’ve ended up as a teacher, unlikely most days to even get a thank you from my students.  This feels particularly galling when I turn on my television set and see any of my peers acting their little socks off in a primetime dramas, maybe even making a move on Hollywood, the big time.  Would you like some salt with your wound, Madame?

What Khalil Gibran advises us to stay away from thinking about is of the status of particular jobs in relation to each other, but not to denounce them.  When I see a compadre doing well in their chosen field, I should stop musing bitterly on their shelf life and how it will all end badly for them as a way of gaining temporary and illusory satisfaction, I should think on the joy inherent in my own work.  The quote that I have been musing on today was something like this:

“Both the broad oak and the blade of grass feel the same sunshine’.  This is not to suggest that my job as a teacher is any less signficant than being an actor (some would argue the opposite in fact), but that relative values don’t matter.  If you are gaining joy and satisfaction from your job, it is the same feeling regardless of external recognition.

Unless your occupation is a serial killer.  Or you are Rupert Murdoch.

I’m not normally one for spirtuality, but this struck me as sound advice, certainly more practical than other guides with their talk of ‘maximising business opportunities’ and ‘learning to succeed’.  It’s certainly something that I will hold in my head until I finally learn to feel 100% grateful for what I have.

Where do the afternoons go?

The title of this blog is misleading: i know exactly where my afternoons go.  As a teacher I’ve had the luxury of two weeks off, which after a term of Ofsted and various other pressures, my first thought on having two weeks off is ‘ where is the nearest bed?’  I couldn’t get beyond the idea of sweet sweet slumber.  Once sated, my next thought is, ‘ is there a Law and Order on?’


And, dear Reader, of course there is.  I warrant that there is always an episode of Law and Order on somewhere in the universe: SVU, Criminal Intent or a any one of a rich back catalogue of the NYC standard, where MCCoy battles it out and never gives in on a variety of cases.  I love it because it fools my brain into thinking that I am, in a way, exercising it.  But this is the equivalent of putting a dog on a running machine; this isn’t challenging brain to follow and solve a series of hermeneutics, its an hour of pretending I live in New York and watching Cutter, Briscoe, Lupo – thugh never Bernard – eat Chinese food from boxes (which if you live outside the US, looks like the most fun ever, by the way).

There’s time for one more, a final hurrah before I head back to the drudgery of work.  If I sign off, I’ll have time to ance around the living room to the theme tune – how many ways can one programme please me?

An elegant ‘now’ monkey

Noises Off Experiment:  Completed!

This week has been pushing back the cuticle of noise and distraction to reveal some lovely healthy brand spanking new thoughts and sources of creativity underneath.  Like pushing back a cuticle, it has involved some commitment; not because I have particularly missed noise and distraction, but because, if you have read the rest of my blog posts, you will know that I have been preoccupied with my thoughts to the detriment of thinking about my body and ‘the moment’.

And this has been mighty frustrating at times …

Overall, I think I’ve made some headway. I’m proud to say that I don’t crave an episode of Mad Men or even John Humphreys in the morning and although  I’m a long way from ‘cured’ (which is completely the wrong phrase to use) I feel  more fulfilled and  excited by the prospect of living a quieter life.

So what have I found out from this week?

I can be more productive if I take the time to switch off external noise as far as possible and engage a little.  And my choice of words is deliberate – there is a big difference between swtiching off and blocking out, which would have required some effort on my part and would have meant that I was still having to account and repair for outside distraction.  Nope, best to cut it off at the source, which means no telly, radio or music.  Rip off the plaster!

My mind, as it turns out is not a lonely wanderer, but an amateur rockclimber.  It has all the kit, but by golly is it nervy! It clings to precipices of dark thoughts, refusing to budge for hours, dangling on the same phrase, riffing on the idea of ‘you can’t do this you can’t do this you can’t do this’, rather than loosely swinging from moment to moment like an elegant ‘now’ monkey.  How I long to be an elegant ‘now’ monkey!

But who knows? Awareness is half the battle and being forced to listen to my thoughts incessantly has made me take them less seriously than before. I feel that if I keep turning off that which I am not consciously listening to, I may be able to live more easily in the present.  A week is a starting point, and I will maintain an audio fast as a practice, maybe two days of the seven to begin with…. and take it from there.

But if you are interested in living mindfully I strongly recommend taking a break from outside noise  to foster your creativity and mental balance. One day we all might And move from the cliff-face of distraction to the treetops of fulfillment!


Enjoy the Silence

Noises Off Experiment:  Day 5

Hello!  If you’ve just found me, you may need to read the last couple of posts to work out what I’m doing.  If you like intrigue and are short of time, let’s just say I’m audio-fasting (thanks Rhi x)

Living in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, I have been blessed with an incredible view of the surrounding hills. The sky high rent affords me a sky high view of the brink of the shoulder of the Pennines, as it mooches off towards Scotland.  The weather at the moment is hormonal, swinging from sunny spells to fierce rain and the sky is a real Rorschach most of the time.  I like to think that the clouds are not the source of the problem, but its victim, pinioned to the sky, forced to obey whatever the weather throws at them (charming naivety or idiocy: you decide).  Whatever, I’m a cloud champion and today they have been majestic.  Great merchant ships of grey, looming into my window vision like the Deathstar, unencumbered by the literal sturm und drang which surrounds them.  They were immense and well ….cloud, in myriad forms right the way  to the horizon.  I tried some mental word association to see what would happen.  It went like this:



Ruby Slippers

New Shoes


I evidently need some mind opening alongside my audio fasting!  Still, taking in the clouds made me think about the term luxury and how misleading my perception of it is.  I think of luxury as a sky high apartment and a flatscreen, for example.  But at least the apartment gives me the opportunity to take in this spectacular view.  Granted, I could take in the clouds from somewhere less indulgent, but can I walk before I run?  The view is the thing, not the rest of what living here affords.

In fact, I have re-evaluated what I consider pleasurable and luxurious this week and have realised pretty quickly that a night in front of the box hasn’t made the shortlist. Television hasn’t  entered the mind-debate much for me this week, as it hasn’t been something that I have consciously missed and this is surprising.  Once through the door, the TV would habitually be on, for company, for edification (no, that isn’t true), for entertainment, for whatever reason, but rarely was it genuinely watched.  It was soundscape; all other reasons are pure subterfuge.  If I do sit down to watch something, I’m shuffling within minutes, checking my phone or my laptop or a magazine.  So my angst about losing the background sound was pre-emptive; there is no sense of deprivation, no withdrawal, just a happy change.  I realise now that silence is not an absence, a challenge, a trial; its a bona fide luxury, a true one, along with a few others, such as a chair, a window and clouds …

The Big Silence

Noises Off: Day 1

And so it begins.


As I wrote yesterday, I am taking a week-long leave of absence from extraneous sound (TV, radio, music) to see what happens to my brain and ears.  This has been on my mind for a while; I regularly wince at adverts and yell ‘turn it off’ at my husband or the remote control; I feel the glum coming on if I’m forced to deal with two different noise sources at once (i.e unexpected pop up advert from a ‘work from home’ housewife and the CSI theme tune).  And then, when you add the chatter from my own mind ….sheesh, wadda you godda do to get some peace around here?


So I’m on an audio detox and much like any other fasting/cleansing/purging programme, I started out this morning feeling great, only for this to subside and quickly replaced by a gnawing sense of abandonement and regret by mid-afternoon.  Seriously, the morning was great, without breakfast television or radio I felt almost serene and was up and ready in record time.


But it would appear that nature truly truly abhors a vacuum because by the time I was out of the house and on the way to work, my mind had decided to cover the break in transmission with some of its top drawer chatter.  I had to remind myself to observe the babble and let it drift out of its own accord – easier said than done.

The biggest challenge so far has been dealing with other people’s music.  No tune sounds good when you’re on the wrong end of the earphone and the train was replete with several mini sound stages, competing for the title of ‘tinniest musical experience that you are not invited to but must endure from across the carriage’. Of course, previously I would have recourse to my i-pod, but today, alas, no.  For the duration I sat with my hands pressed to my ears, not even trying to cover my minor meltdown with an act of public pretending, just blocking. Out. That. Sound.  Ye Gods!  The most unlikely people listen to the most unlikely things and at the most unlikely volume at the most unlikely hours (feel free to substitute the word ‘unlikely’ with the word ‘horrific’.)


Still, the positives are that living in a state of relative silence, one feels a real sense of preparedness, a constructive tension as if ready to ‘go on’, like a boxer before a fight or an actor in the wings.  If you can tune out from the random thoughts that your brain relays, you feel genuinely sharp and sort of …..excited?  I can’t think of a better word for it, but the feeling is akin to genuinely listening, waiting for something, feeling the potential of a moment.  I can’t really describe it any better than this, but underneath the withdrawal pangs, there is something lovely about the silence.  Let’s see how it goes.


“The life of sensation is the life of greed: it requires more and more.  The life of the spirit requires less and less'”

(Annie Dillard)

Moment carpet

I’m so behind I’m so behind I’m so behind.  If I were one of my students, I’d bollock me right now.  Oh look, I am bollocking me right now! Below is a response to a daily challenge from about a month ago, which I’ve only just got round to reconsidering.  I found it quite cathartic, if a little self-indulgent (the best kind of blogging in my opinion).  Let me know what you think.


I have a lousy memory.  If there is a food based trigger, I’ll be fine; I’ll remember everything single detail of a meal from 1994, but ask me who or where I was, then, forget it (literally).  So thinking about memories and moments that have changed the game is quite tricky.  They have a habit of collapsing in on each other like dominoes.  I find epiphanies genuinely difficult to isolate.  For me, however, there is one moment which stands out when the synapses cleared and all those little patches of half thought and self doubt wove together to create one long carpet of moment.  Carpet of moment is a good name for an easy listening album, as well.  Double win!

Anyhow, here’s my moment carpet.


I’m about 25 and I live in London.  I’m an actress – I went to drama school and have an agent and everything – but it’s not quite working as I’d hoped it would.


I was terrific at drama school and university and I have some great reviews under my belt.  But lately, I’ve become embarrassed to mention what I do at parties and such because of the way that the conversation inevitably turns out.


“What do you do?”

“I’m an actress. I act”

“Aaahhhh (slight pause here, because they don’t want to appear nosey).  What have you been in?  Anything I’ve seen?”

“Mostly theatre.  Which is great, because it’s what I want to do”

“Anything on telly?  Been in anything good?”

“No, not really.  Some student films, shorts, but ….”


And we settle into a shared moment carpet, woven from their disappointment and my own feelings of inadequacy and hatred for this pleb imbecile that doesn’t have the social skills to make me feel better about not getting a part in Eastenders.


You’d be amazed at how many times I sat on that bitter rug.


So I’ve felt like this for quite a long time by 25, but I don’t give up.  I say it’s because I’m not a quitter and ‘it’s my dream’ like people on X factor do, but really it’s because I’m too scared and lazy to think of anything else to do.


Today, this day, is a big day.  I have an audition for a two line part on a TV series that I have never seen and didn’t bother to watch in preparation.  It’s a big deal.  I have the script in my hand in an envelope and I’ve been told: “It’s a big deal.”


I have done some prep.  I’ve been told that it’s for the part of a ‘rough chick’, so I don’t wash my hair and wear an old adidas tracksuit top.  I’m secretly annoyed because I’ve lost an entire day’s pay at the call centre for two crappy lines in a series I don’t even watch.  My brain compensates by telling me that my bad mood will make me extra spiky for the part and I protest against being here by not reading the script.  Somehow I manage to reconcile these two polarised mindsets.  For this, my friend, is what auditions do.  They make you clinically insane.


I go in to the holding bay and it’s immediately obvious that I have never watched the series.  “Rough chick” means footballer’s girlfriend in a biker jacket.  Every other candidate looks better than I do on a night out.  The room is full of leather jeans, stillettos and glossy heads, bent over their two line mantras, rehearsing with complete focus.


They all look like me.  Better groomed but just like me; short, smiley, brunette, blue eyes.  It’s like walking into a room of half-animated clone robots, lips twitching, eyes inwards.  At first, I sense puke rising up my gullet and then the familiar fear that they’re all better than me.


And then something else.  I look at the script in the envelope which I haven’t even opened yet and just looking at it makes me feel totally different.


The envelope is sealed.  I don’t care about this job.

I don’t care about this job because I don’t care about acting anymore.

I don’t care about acting anymore because I don’t like how it makes me feel.


Boom!  The moment carpet; the million disappointing auditions, unread letters, earnest headshots, fatuous courses, half baked fringe projects, rude directors of limited talent, fluffed accents, straightfaced bullshitting, just to get through the door.  I don’t like it!  I don’t have to like it!  I go in for the audition.  I don’t get the job.  The next day, I quit my agent and do something else.


Years later with no regrets.  Life is truly more creative now then when I was working as a ‘creative’ and is 100 times more fulfilling.


That TV series is still running, though, but I still haven’t watched it.





The Joy of (Box) Sets

I am the mothership of mucus, a goblet of gobbets, a ball of cool green phlegm hurtling through the universe. When horizontal, a wave of rhumy fluid finds respite in my forehead and sinuses; when I stand up it swarms down to my throat where it sticks, like shit, to my vocal chords.


I am a snot see-saw.


I am so ill.


Sorry, dear reader, it had to be said. I can only hope in retrospect that you weren’t having breakfast while reading the first few phrases, unless you are a doctor and can diagnose me from the accurate and empirical description of my symptoms that I gave.


It sucks to be me today, on a Saturday of all days!  I realise that the best thing for it is to be still and …what?  My restless ‘should’ brain tells me that I should go back and look at the big thing I’m writing, but I feel defeated at the thought.  Do you know how many writers completed great works while convalescing?  Robert Louis Stevenson, George Orwell, Goethe, John Buchan, Marcel Proust, Hemingway, John Donne; illness seems to foster the white male creativity particularly well (probably because no-one else could afford the luxury of a good long lie-down ….)


So, I think to myself, let’s do some good old fashioned writing.  Put some stuff down.  Write.  Yeah.


And then I press play and watch the five final episodes of The Sopranos back to back.  And then it’s time to sleep.


In my defence, I have never seen the finale before.  I have enjoyed an intense relationship with the show over the past few months, a relationship which had become toxic.  It needed to end.  So I gorged myself on the tragedy of the last series, feeling every last beat of Tony’s decline as I stuffed loo roll up my nose.  For me, it was over when Adriana … well with what happened with Adriana (no need for a spoiler alert).  Watching the entire series in such a condensed time frame means that my brain is permeated with the Sopranos; I have had nights where I haven’t been able to sleep for figuring out the origins of the term ‘goomah’ or wondering what happened to Furio from seasons 3 and 4.  Like it’s real.


Oh my God.  Like it’s real.  This is the problem; box sets make you believe again.  They allow you to develop an intense relationship with a programme. Because we are so used to the medium and so able to suspend our disbelief as viewers, with box set viewing we can engage with whole story arcs in an afternoon’s viewing and feel as if we have lived it.  Defying the conventions of season finales, we merge whole series together and better see the links across time; characters stand out, relationships crystallize in our minds in a way that they didn’t when we were confined to sticking with one episode a week, sustaining our interest with water cooler chats.


I understand that Tivo and Sky Plus facilitate a similar thing; that a viewer can record a whole series and watch it back to back or store it in perpetuity should they desire, but I think that there’s still a difference between this and the box set.  Raymond Williams wrote about ‘flow’, the way that channels hold our vague attention while we move about the house, making tea, cooking dinner, working.  I readily admit that I will switch the TV on when I come in from work, get on with life and, come bedtime not be able to recall a single programme that’s been on   Television is an unheeded companion in the corner.  It babbles away and we enjoy the sound of its chatter in the background, but we don’t pay attention anymore.


I wonder if those TV record options work in a similar way, a semi-automatic flow. Obviously there is a level of selection involved; you have to choose to record it as much as you have choose when to watch it back.  But once its on, its on. And you’re free to roam once again.


A box set is closer to vinyl somehow and probably verging on the archaic now; they are both physical objects for a start. There is so much stuff to have we have no choice but to make it invisible; downloads, streaming, epics stored on thumbnail USB keys.   I like the luxury of a box set, the choice of a commentary, a deleted scene, the biography.  I control it and I choose when to watch and how to watch.


I imagine that most WordPress readers will think that I have travelled forward in my Delorian from the late 90s and I have to agree with you.  I probably have.  Box sets take up space and then you only watch them once and then nobody wants them anymore.  But all luxuries should involve a little inconvenience or effort.  It lasts and that’s a good thing; when my Sopranos collection is gathering dust on the shelf it will serve to remind me of the many worthwhile hours I spent appreciating it.  If it’s virtual, it gets deleted and it might as well never have existed for me.  I’m that limited, reader.


Now on to the novel.  Or maybe just watch that final scene again.  There has to be a way to explain that sudden fade to bla-





Radio silence

We went on a visit last week – a sort of trip into my husband’s homeland, which is actually a grandiose way of  saying we went about half an hour out of London to Hertfordshire, to visit my father in law (who was fine, thanks) and one of my husband’s oldest friends.

I didn’t notice it to begin with, but his house (apart from the sound of his daughter upstairs and the weird wheezing of his mastiff) was dead silent.  The friend has given up television AND radio.  AND RADIO!  I totally understand the desire to chuck out the gogglebox, but radio I have always identified as the acceptable intellectual’s choice.  His reason was, he was sick of being broadcast at, and now read the newspapers (the sections that interested him) and watched TV series online when he wanted to.  I really admire him for this – at university, we learnt about ‘flow’, the idea that television is an endless stream of image and sound. You may switch on to watch something at 3pm and find, because the switch between programmes adverts, adverts and programmes is so smooth and subliminal, that the TV is still on at 2 in the morning and even though you are not consciously watching it, it is still spouting forth in you living room – which is bound to affect the old brain waves.

So I’m on a mission to reduce the television and radio that I watch – and to absolutely switch it off when not engaged with it.  On the evidence of tonight it has been lovely – I’ve done some writing, had a nap and actually listened to my own thoughts (you may argue that I have now ruined this by immediately blogging about it, but I’m actually quite proud of my non-tv evening).  I even found a use for the cauliflower that has been hanging around in my fridge for a while – a delicious and speedy curry, which I shall share with you now……

Cumin seeds

Coriander seeds






Any random veg that is left at the end of the week – the more the merrier.

Get a wok on – add in chilli, garlic, ginger and fry for 30 seconds, add in dry spices and toss it around. Whack in the veg, get it coated in the spices, add a glass of water and let it cook down.  Add salt to taste.  Serve with rice, quinoa, whatever really.

Super good and a welcome break for my innards, which are still processing greasy cockney chips from lunch.  And most of my internal fluids consist of various white wine tributaries at the moment.  Not good at all.  A nourishing evening.  Please Buddha give me the strength to keep it up!

Bring me sunshine

What's their secret?

An avid reader of my blog (me) recently pointed out to me that the agenda set out in ‘A Call to Positivity’ (Date 28/08/09) has not been honoured in subsequent posts. Briefly, for those of you who are (understandably) too lazy to read it, in this post I promised to be more postive about things and point out alternative ways to maintain personal happiness in this crazy crazy world.

And I concur with avid reader – on the surface, it seems that I’m the fickle sort, promising the world but offering up nothing but sour grapes. But allow me to explain. All subsequent posts have shown, (albeit laterally) how I try to inject optimism into my day-to-day. They may lack the boldness of my first missives on Kurt Russell and cheap food, but my ideas on how to be happy linger on in more recent postings. So…for any of you who may care, here are my ideas on developing one’s own sanguinity, extrapolated from my blog and reformulated in a handy ‘chicken soup for the soul’ type list.

1 Watch Kurt Russell films.
2 Eat cheap filthy food often and in secret.
3 Write/draw abundantly, and publish the consequences on a blog that no one reads.
4 Only watch football matches where you are not attached to either team.
5 Run as slowly or as fast as you like. Outdoors.
6 Always have a book as well as your mp3 for the commute.  Otherwise you will end up playing the lousy games that I suggested in a previous post.
7 Reject all free newspapers, along with any Murdoch/Northcliffe owned national media. They will make you angry regardless of your politics.
8 There is nothing cool or ironic about watching junk television like Loose Women. Turn it off.

I assure – they’re all in my posts in one way or another.