Moving Home

Hello!

The new home of this blog is going to be http://letsallholdhandsandtalkabout.wordpress.com/

Some of the content from this site will be making its way over to the new location along with new material. When the transfer is complete this site will close.

Thanks for reading and if you’ve enjoyed my posts in the past I hope to see you over at my new site.

Take care,

James

Obelisk

Incandescent obsolescence,

Was what she thought.

As the thought took hold,

And take hold it did.

Thoroughly.

Being rendered obsolete,

She turned in her seat and in so doing,

Lost the thread.

It’s often said,

And generally sung,

But what roared within her that day,

Is not often thought on.

And think on she did.

She thought of the incandescent obelisk of obsolescence.

And she cried.

Tears.

She cried tears.

James Cathcart

40 Minutes on Mars

40 Minutes on Mars

News broke this morning that Curiosity, NASA’s Robot Rover, has landed smoothly on Mars. It will now spend a Martian year (687 earth days) trolling about over all the rocks and craters n’ that investigating the planet’s history with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos. The lil’ guy is going to be going on quite an adventure, which will take almost two earth years. While this is a long time it will still have completed its mission before Scotland has held its referendum on independence. This means we may actually be closer to ascertaining whether or not another planet in our solar system was capable of supporting life than we are to ascertaining whether or not Scotland should become an independent country. I guess these things take time.

Time’s a little different on Mars.

A day on Mars takes approximately 24 hours and 40 minutes. Like an earth day with 40 minutes extra. Imagine if you had an extra 40 minutes in the day. What would you do? You could use it to have a lie in or you could use it to convert a breakfast into a brunch. You could go for a run, a swim, or catch up on a few chapters. You could spend it brushing your teeth. You’d have amazing teeth then. People would be like, ‘Wow he/she has got really good teeth you know, like teeth that actually make you stop, y’know? Teeth like that.’

You could watch most of an episode of the West Wing. You could do the recycling. You could do a price comparison online of that thing you read about in a magazine/heard a neighbour mention/your cousin said was great. You could spend a bit more time over dinner – do something really special. You could take the long way home, stopping at that place, you know the one you always want to stop at because you stopped there for some important reason once.

You could get in touch with someone you’ve been meaning to for ages. You could take the time to word a thoughtful message to clear up a misunderstanding. You could do that task you’ve been asked to do and that is hanging over you but you’d have the time to do it properly and you could even stick on some music in the background. You could decide that quinoa is your thing now and look up what to do with quinoa. You could share some quinoa with someone you’ve been meaning to get to know better. They might know a thing or two about quinoa. You never know.

You could cry. You could just do everything you would normally do but a fraction slower. You could stop and listen to someone who wouldn’t normally fit into your 24 hours. You could sit in contemplation. You could have a quick search for wee gift which could brighten up someone else’s 24 hours and forty minutes. You could write a song – a not very good one or an instant classic. You could get lost in a memory that’s worth taking the time over. You could do your bit to save the world.

Maybe it’s science fiction to imagine having an extra 40 minutes – there are 24 hours in the day and that is that. But what if we had a ‘Mars Day’ and decided to act as if we had an extra 40 minutes in the day? A 40 minutes bonus which we could spend doing whatever we felt like or felt needed doing. How would your day change if you thought you had an extra 40 minutes grace?

Let’s have a Mars Day.

The clock is running.

Let’s go.

Part 3/3: What Goes Down Must Come Up

This is part three of a trilogy, you can find the first part here and the second part here.

Life throws you little moments. Some of them illuminating, some of them unnerving, and others that get up in your grill and challenge your head space.

I promised, perhaps recklessly, in the eye of the storm of my preparations for leaving Scotland today to post a trilogy of posts before I go. The journalist that I am was not content to renege on this deadline. I had to file copy. So here I am, fulfilling my obligation, I am packed and ready to go. 

I’ve been cycling a lot recently and as I’ve been ascending and descending it struck me that when cycling one can invert the common phrase ‘What goes up, must come down’ tp ‘What goes down, must come up.’ In the world of cycling this is sobering reminder that the freewheels one way will become the tough uphill slogs going in the other direction. But when thinking about life, it’s quite liberating. Life’s not like gravity. Yes it will pull you down, but it’ll also throw you back up again, taking pain and making it a supernova.

In life there are smart smews, unexpected poetry and ceilidh’s round the corner.

Thanks for reading.

Part 2/3: The Only Currency You’ll Ever Need

This is part two of a trilogy, you can find the first part here

Life throws you little moments. Some of them illuminating, some of them unnerving, and others that involve serendipity, a bottle of whisky and three accordian players…

My friend Peter and I were on our way back from a concert in Glasgow the other day when he stopped suddenly and declared emphatically and vehemently,

'I hear jig music.'

I looked on, uncertain, I hadn’t heard jig music but I trusted that Peter had. Where was it coming from? What did it mean?

He said, ‘Let’s follow it.’

And we did. Sometimes you just do. We picked up the lilt and traced it through the streets. And there it was, a magical little ceilidh, hidden in the heart of Glasgow, like a hipster Brigadoon. The joy on everyone’s faces lit up the room, it was so engaging. There are not many people who would embrace the idea of crashing a ceilidh with the spirit and elan of my friend Peter. He’s perfect ceilidh crashing material. He has a sixth sense for these kind of things.

We stood at the bar soaking up the atmosphere. A Virginia Reel was broached and we were accosted by one of the combatants who asked the simple, age old question,

'Are you two men?'

There aren’t many questions in life you can answer as assuredly and unequivocally as that. Part of the joy of life is its organic, unexpected state where almost everything can and will change as I’ve talked about here. But in this case there was an argument for certainty. The question was at its core, a simple one of ontology. Yes. We were two men. 

'Great, we need two men.'

Then we were whisked off to join a set for the Virginia Reel. Then came the second question,

'Are you Scottish?'

Again this is a question I could answer confidently and in the affirmative. As it transpired the ceilidh featured a wonderfully diverse range of cultures and backgrounds where there was only a handful of Scots, we were subsequently mined as a resource of ceilidh knowledge. One grueling Strip The Willow later we were dashing for our last train, as the ceilidh melted away behind us. We were struck - yes we were men and yes we were Scottish. As I leave Scotland today it’s nice to know that I’ll always have that with me to offer. I’m an invaluable ceilidh party starter as I’m a man and I’m Scottish. I thought to myself, that’s the only currency you’ll ever need.

Part 1/3: A Tardy Smew

Life throws you little moments. Some of them illuminating, some of them unnerving, and others that get your fingers broken…

I was waiting for the lift in the library, greedily putting away a KitKat, when one of the fingers fell to the ground. All I could do was look at it. Sickening. Seeing it rendered in twain. A girl standing next to me, also waiting for a lift says, ’I feel sad now, you look so sad.’ 

I lift my gaze from the KitKat and say plainly, ‘I know, my heart’s broken.’

She responds swiftly, ‘Just like that KitKat.’

And I say, ‘Yeah, like that KitKat.’ 

Then she informed me as our lift arrived that she was going to write a poem about this incident rather than study.

Soon I am heading off on a three month adventure and while I hope to update this blog when I can I thought I’d throw a wee trilogy up before I go.

Things break.

Perhaps sometimes when you take a break and you’re fixing for some fixing a break’s the break you need for what ain’t broken can’t be fixed and sometimes a fixture is just the fix.

When things break down mechanically, emotionally or physically, it can be helpful to recognise that breaking is a necessary part of life, stopping leads to starting and breaking to joining and mistaking to beauty making. We tend to think we should always maximise and extend anything good, despite the fact that what makes something good is often its piercing, fleeting quality. Right here.

Now.

Something expiring is different to something failing.

At the moment I’m having less dairy, alcohol, caffeine and meat. Breaking the habit has had me enjoying the above more. And now there’s room for even more too. And I’m active. I’m cycling a lot. But these positive changes blossomed through a time of frustration, anxiety and stress. I had to break down in order to start fixing myself.

On a recent bike ride I hit up the RSPB centre in Lochwinnoch, a charming little place that brought back memories of trips when I was younger. There was much excitement upon my arrival, not due to my arrival (I’m not a rare avian or big in the world of rare aviary) there was in fact a rare bird being spotted. A bird  that was unseasonably still in the area. By now it should be heading to Finland, but it was dragging it’s feet. Clearly it can’t get enough of Scotland right now. And who can blame it?

Sometimes things breaking create the space necessary for something else, something else you thought completely impossible. Even when in the eye of the storm you feel like none of it is worth and all of it is waste. There’s a possibility to knit together again, in news ways, from broken parts and stained glass shards. It’s all very unlikely.

As unlikely as a tardy smew.

An Open Letter/What’s In A Name/Everything Changes

Yeah, so basically what I want to say is that people do change. This is an open letter addressed to my former self/any undergraduates/someone in their early twenties/anyone who can sense the end of the beginning or the beginning of an end in some part of their life. And my message, as I stop and take stock, is that people do change.

I’m about to complete my degree which feels very strange. It provides a handy way of bookending the last four years of my life. A lot has changed. I see the world very differently then I did way back when I was starting. For one I’ve gone brown bread. To any alarmed cockneys out there I am still alive, but what I mean is I’ve grown to appreciate brown bread. I’ve grown to appreciate taking the time to experience the genuine article when it comes to loafs and I hope in other aspects of my life too. I drink coffee as I talked about here. I’m also closer to being vegetarian than I’ve ever been in my life. And I’m a fully paid up cyclist. I cycled about 30 miles today! Even a fortnight ago that would have been pretty hard to picture.

From my vantage point it is clear that I’ve changed a lot. I started uni as a scruffy wannabe hipster. I leave uni as a less scruffy, houmous scoffing, ukulele playing, kindle reading, confirmed hipster. The people I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last four years with have changed too and it’s been a joy spending time with them and I look forward to seeing the weird and wonderful directions they’re going to go in! Time is strange, it takes fixed points in order to apprciate how much I and others have changed. It feels like aeons ago that I was matriculated at Glasgow university - that it would take radio carbon dating to pinpoint when my student ID card was printed. Yet on the other hand, it seems all I’ve done is blink since I was there tentatively holding a pen signing the UCAS form wondering what was ahead of me… But now four years has past and what have I learned? A bit about theology, a bit about comedy, quite a bit about life. And I’ve learnt that people change.

My message here to you in this open letter is that people do change, and I’d urge you not to listen to claims that people (or ‘some’ people) ’don’t change’. Because people do. The last four years of my life give me a window to see how life when examined reveals change in everything, in people’s attitudes, convictions, hopes, fears, humours. I think that people who seem really set in their ways are in fact constantly changing. The only way that they are able to appear so consistent is through constantly changing to match a world which always changes. We constantly impute new information and our response necessitates a changed outcome. It saddens me when you hear the sentiment often bitterly expressed that ‘people don’t change’ - that people have a true nature, a real nature that some external force like alcohol, or stress or tragic circumstances will suddenly reveal when their guard is down. In this view there is a core of a person that lurks through the good times and either steps up or crumbles in the bad times.

After the last four years that doesn’t ring true.

I do believe that there is some kind of an individual essence, that is individual to each individual. But the idea that this essence is something readily visible if a person is put under strain, I’m not so sure of that. The essence of who someone is, their exact calling, their vocation, what they actually are and could be is something I think that is clearly and necessarily just beyond our grasp. When people say that ‘people don’t change’, it’s understandable because we are often hurt by the changes other people make in our lives and it’s comforting to feel there are distinct categories of people. We can navigate towards the ones that don’t hurt us and away from the ones that do. But in my experience the interplay of hurt is much more complex. We can’t excuse the pain people cause us as simply a component of the way they are and use it as a grounds to rule them in or out. Just ‘the way things are’ shouldn’t determine ‘the way things have to be.’ People have to find a way of forging a common life together, a life that is constantly changing and evolving populated by networks of individuals that are themselves constantly changing and evolving.

People adapt because the nature of life is one that is always changing. Probably the most constant thing about a person is their name (although even that is not immutable). When a person’s name changes it tends to be rarely and then only slowly. Marshall McLuhan uses a quote from James Joyce’s Finegann’s Wake (“Who gave you that numb?”) to underscore the fact that “…the name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.” This is an evocative, bittersweet way of thinking about a name. My case here is that names are powerful and therefore only change slowly, but everything else is readily changeable. How that name is deployed for instance is up for grabs. That name, that numb, what’s in it? What’s in a name?

In the second year of my course I met a fantastic, highly engaging lecturer who goes by the name of AKMA. He is only ever known by his initials A.K.M.A - AKMA. He made a special point on the first day of our class to memorise the full name of everyone in the class (almost 30) by repeatedly addressing us each by name throughout. There was a wonderful warm atmosphere and by the second class he knew every student’s name off by heart, every single student. Some feat. I asked him once why he made the effort to memorise everyone’s names so quickly in the term. He replied that it was a sign of respect - if he wanted us to listen to him and get to know him - he wanted to listen to us and get to know us. This really struck me two years ago and it still strikes me now. What a great way to think about teaching. They say that interested people make for interesting people and that was certainly the case here. In his act of taking the courtesy to remember all of our names, AKMA has become a name I’m never going to forget.

As I stand on the precipice, writing this open letter, I’m thinking a lot about names and what it is to change n’ all that. At different points in life our names can be altered we can gain letters and lose letters. This can be through marriage, education, knighthood or even deed poll. In each instance the process is exceptional, incremental and gradual but - change happens. Even the numbing blow of our name can be changed. There are constants within which and through which we interact but we can always change. Kind of liberating huh? We can always change. Thanks for reading and all that remains is to ask you - what’s in a name? And perhaps - more specfically - what’s in your name?

What Are You Made Of?

I recently had the joy of seeing my mum and company perform in Tennessee Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie’ in the Cottiers theatre in Glasgow. The play is a bittersweet memory piece, elegant and stylised but written with a lightness of touch. The by turns dreamy, by turns sparse staging of this production gave the play’s four contrasting characters plenty of room to breathe as the bittersweet plot shifts gear from the outrageous and the hilarious to the gently moving. 

It was also a real trip for me seeing my mum on the stage playing a vibrant single mother of two twentysomething children… Fortunately for me there is a sufficient gap between the dysfunctional Amanda Wingfield and my mother. That said, it was startling seeing animate gestures and mannerisms I’ve known for so long being orchestrated into this character at once familiar and alien.

There are several memorable lines from the play but one that stands out is when the character of the ‘Gentleman Caller’ Jim says to Amanda’s daughter Laura, ‘I’m not made of glass.’ The fragility of glass is a reoccurring theme throughout the play (Laura collects glass ornaments of animals - the Glass Menagerie). The long exchange between Jim and Laura playing between earnest naivety and something darker and more knowing is as enjoyable as it is disquieting. When Jim tells Laura he’s not made of glass it’s a loaded proposition - yes he’s not fragile, but he’s not transparent either.

What are you made of? A question we all have to ask of ourselves and we frequently ask of others. Sterner stuff? True grit? Scottish girders? We’re all too aware of public figures with feet of clay. But if we’re not made of glass - what are we made of? Stone? Metal/mettle? MDF? In the physical sense apparently we’re mostly water, water and recycled materials. We’re green man! With a rubber soul (made from old car tyres and costing over £5 for the A5 at Paperchase).

What I’m made from I guess depends on my experiences. Nature and nurture both happen to you, and in retrospect a lot of the decisions we have made ‘happened to us’ too. Hindsight. It was always going to be this way. Stanley Hauerwas says “For what we are, our sense of ourselves, rests as much on what we have suffered as what we have done.” That means it takes everything to make me and none of it was indispensable. Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe I’m Bruce Lee.

Countless times I’ve been compared to Chris Addison and was once mistaken for him. It’s got so frequent I’m considering writing an open letter asking Armando Iannucci for a part as Olly’s brother in next series of The Thick Of It, could be a Millibands situation. A stranger comparison I’ve had recently was to Bruce Lee. In Asda the other day a shopper pointed towards a picture of Bruce Lee and a picture of me and back again. Not sure if I see the comparison myself, don’t think that’s what I’m made of. I appreciate that shopper’s estimation though, must have been channeling Bruce Lee vibes that day.

When it comes down to it, when it actually comes down to it, I’m made from my mother and my father. Both were in theatre meaning as well as everything else I’m also a little bit compromised of that side of them and their performances. So I’m taking a little bit of Amanda Wingfield and The Odd Couple’s Felix Unger with me too - talk about neuroitc! But also kinda cool. What about you - what are you made of?

The King is dead, long live the King.

Where were you when it happened? When the whole world was thrown into panic, when everything was turned on its head? The day Wikipedia shut down. That Wednesday was my generation’s Cuban Missile Crisis. Everything we thought we knew about the world, all our references points thrown askew - Wikipedia wasn’t there. Drunken bets couldn’t be resolved, or academic papers finished. Pub quizes were brought to a standstill up and down the land. The Wikipedia Game ceased to exist.

(SIDEBAR, the Wikipedia game consists of two or more combatants racing to get from one preappointed Wikipedia article, to another preappointed article ONLY through the links WITHIN each Wikipedia article. Follow the trail, be surprised how quick it can be to navigate between the combustion engine and Gandhi or Mormonism and marsupials).

Yes Wikipedia died. But Wikipedia was coronated again on the Thursday.Wikipedia para la vida! Life goes on. The more things change. Et cetera ad infinitum anon.

When I was away over New Year I had no access to internet or phone reception in our idyllic cottage. There was no Wikipedia to resolve fact disputes or clarify semantics. And know what? That was a real highlight. The lack of digital media was as refreshing as the Argyle air. Although there was one point when he had to face the limitations of a world without Wikipedia. One afternoon, while breaking bread, we were trying to name the world’s largest rodent (but of course). We’d hit a road block, by a convoluted route we had ended up here. Our conversational satnav had taken us up this avenue and here we were, with no Wikipedia fact GPS.

We had to throw our heads together. Our best bet was that it was something South American, and large, with big teeth. Then, minds still buzzing - we moved on (remember, before Wikipedia, we used to just ‘move on’?). We were all sitting round together reading just like they used to do in the 1940s and in the pyramids n’that. It was a right lark going through the mountain of literature we had amassed. Then, out of the blue, one of our party was reading a novel, which suddenly, coincidentally referred to ‘Capybara’, you guessed it - the world’s largest rodent. How cool!

There’s nothing wrong with blitzing facts through the information superhighway but sometimes it’s a bit like queue jumping. It was actually more satisfying to stumble across the info, serendepitously, in context. This wasn’t vital information that needed to be accessed straight away. Compare the experience of waiting 7 seconds for someone with a laptop to tell you the world’s largest rodent with the experience of someone suddenly exclaiming ‘Capybara’ to an instantly baffled assembly, apropos of… seemingly nothing, before it dawned on us. Joyful. Let’s all hold hands and shout ‘Capybara!’ That was an experience you have to queue for.

I was in a queue yesterday. A woman skipped. She was attempting a strange version of the Chat & Cut that Larry David identifies in Curb Your Enthusiasm. She asked the lady in front of me some information about the queue. And then did not leave. The lady in front of me informed the jumper where the back of the queue was. Her response was ‘Yes, that’s fine, I don’t mind.’ She didn’t mind… skipping. Well as long as it wasn’t a problem for her. The lady in front of me got quite agitated at the jumper but the jumper remained calm, stressing how it was ‘all fine’ and that really ‘it wasn’t a problem for her.’ Life has rhythms, and it has queues. Sometimes it’s important to follow them. The people in the immediate vicinity of this jumper did not take kindly to her or her strange logic and so she ended up filtering back anyway. Sometimes jumping in ahead is a short cut for a long delay. When life is taken more at its rhythm you get the change to take things at face value.

The other day I was walking down the street when I was asked by a friendly group if I wanted to quote, unquote “Come join us paintballing.” I was busy that afternoon but it was a nice suggestion. Yes I could interpret the fact that they were all wearing matching t-shirts and were holding pamphlets to mean they were actually just inviting me to pay for some paintball just like any other customer. But I choose to think that they just saw me and thought, it would be fun to play paintball with that guy, let’s defintley invite that guy. Face value.

As I write this last paragraph I see there’s a guy across from me wearing a proper massive signet ring, like for wax seals. That dude is committed to snail mail! Does he send emails? Sure. He’s here on one of the computers right? But he also appreciates (I assume) that sometimes, the fun is in the waiting. So take your time, let some information take it’s time to get you. Of course the irony is that in the process of writing this post I went on Wikipedia to check the spelling of capybara. Oh well, the King is dead, long live the King…

Christmas Like Jagger

This year I’m enjoying spending Christmas down at my sister’s although I’m somewhat perturbed that she refers to her Christmas tree as (and I quote) ‘Kevin’. I’m as puzzled as you are. I think we need to talk about Kevin.

In lieu of arranging to send any actual card cards, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post a Christmas blog (and I know it’s not the same but it’s already had a reference to an anthropomorphically personified tannenbaum, so we’re doing well). I’d like to wish you all A Christmas Like Jagger (Have you got Christmas like Jagger? I’ve got Christmas like Jagger, I can assure you… although I have not an idea what that means) and a Happy New Year.

I’m here down south for Christmas and will be right up north for ‘The Bells’ waxing and waning lyrical, rhapsodising and reflecting on the year past and ahead wholly in person and so thought I’d better blog now as will be largely off the grid until 2012. Reflecting on the year past will be a mixed blessing for me as the last year has been largely awful really, without question the worst of my life, coping with the loss of my Dad. And yet there have been bursts of light and laughter shooting through the undergrowth. I’m grateful for the company I keep and the wisdom they speak. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about life, and am always learning more about my Dad as I work through his poetry, plays and photographs, ‘right Dad?’ (‘Right Son’).

2011 was a grim year but as I said, one with highlights. At the end of the roughest year of my life I feel wiser, fitter, sharper and more accomplished. As I got myself together I have joined a gym and stuck to it, taught myself to play the ukulele, dipped my toe in the world of slam poetry, started my dissertation, have earned and saved, sold a violin and got a tennis racket (I am of course not the first to use a violin to make a racket).

To get through this all activity I have relied on my friends and on food. I have been cooking constantly, I have even learned how to bake a cake (I have now made 3). I wish you all the best for the feasting season, where one can seriously ‘tuck in’ with all the restorative qualities that phrase intones. It would seem in fact that our Scottish cusine is set to get all the more restorative and sunnier as international experts suggest that our food should be fortified with vitamin D, due to the lack of it we would get the traditional way (out of the sky n’that). I don’t know about you, but for me right now the idea of being able to bottle sunshine is very appealing.

Food’s already pretty full of sunshine really, as I look back on the last year sunny memories of gathering together to eat come up over and over again. Whether that be pakora on the shorefront with Mr Pickles. Or the delicious ‘Pieman’ with the Scottish diaspora at Scargill. Curry Night with Camsaq. Shepherd’s pie with my Aunt Trina. Ice Cream cones with JK & DM. Cake & Coffee with @Trioka & @joerpwaterfield. Risotto with Team Woubit. Meatballs and a singalong with the Musketeers. Christmas Lunch with Div Dept. My mum’s birthday ceilidh. Toast and tea with Cornertown. A Lamb feast at the Young’s in Stirling or Turkey with my mum and sister tomorrow.

So as I said, we needed to talk about Kevin. And as it transpires, as I have enquired - Kevin is alive! Kevin is vested with an apellation appositely as he is to maintain as a mainstay of festivities of the future. Kevin is not a one off, Kevin is to be replanted! He symbolises the rejuvinating spirit of life that keeps on going! This’ll keep me right for the year ahead. Kevin is life man! Like eating is life! Like sunshine is life! Like the Christmas story is one of life that we might live. It’s a bottle of sunshine. That’s nature’s rock and roll baby, you can’t stop it, irrepressible, unflaggable, just strutting about, evergreen, kinda like, I dunno Mick Jagger or something.

Ah yes… I get it now. So yes, I’d like to wish you all A Christmas like Jagger.