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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

You've Got A Friend

As I've mentioned here before, I have a couple of notebooks, of different sizes, that I tend to carry around with me. They’re very useful for scribbling down thoughts, ideas, quotes and overheard comments etc.

In one of those I wrote down the following thought, “Music is like a life-raft on the turbulent seas of life”.
I know why I wrote those words at that time, although I’m not going to share that here.
The point being that there are times in all of our lives when we need a bit of comfort, and for many of us at least a part of that comfort comes via music. You only have to listen to the lyrics of many songs to realise that this is nothing new.

Sometimes we need music to raise our spirits, to reassure us, to cry along to, to escape into, or to motivate us. There is music and a song for every occasion, emotion, mood, mindset and situation, and if you have an open mind, musically, there will always be something out there that can work wonders in one of those aforementioned situations.
I expect we’ve all been there at one time or another during our lives? In fact I’d suspect that you’re lying if you say that wasn’t the case.

I’ve been a passionate music lover for as long as I can remember. I’ve played the drums in local bands, been a DJ on local radio and with mobile disco’s, I’ve written about music in various publications and on websites.
Music has been a constant and huge part of my life and I’m very grateful for that. I find it hard to see how it can be any other way for anybody and consequently the people that I tend to mix with and choose to be friends with, usually share that passion, albeit to varying degrees.
But over recent years music seems to have increased in importance to me and I’ve found myself turning to it more and more often, and not just because of a personal situation either, but often just because I’ve felt the urge to listen to music.

I realise that music is now more accessible than it’s ever been. It seems to be everywhere, inescapable even, in this Internet age. We can find it at the click of a mouse, or the tap on a smartphone. Whether that is a good thing, or not, is a topic for another day....

I’m not sure if I’m alone, or unusual, in feeling this way, but I suspect I’m not. The more I talk to people of my age, this seems to be a common theme. Yes, as I’ve mentioned, the people I mix with are musically minded people, but even so.....

As we grow older the amount of music that we become familiar with and hear, especially if you’re open minded to it, naturally increases. Using myself as an example, I was born in the late 1950’s and since the mid ’60’s have been absorbing music of varying genre’s. Some of that is bound to sink in, like a form of osmosis, regardless of how you feel about the music itself.
I’m sure we can all recite the lyrics and sing along to songs that we’d forgotten all about, or to songs we’d rather we didn’t remember! Why can I always sing along to songs that I dislike?

Music is also something that continues to deliver, often because no matter how many times we listen to a particular song, or piece of music, there always seems to be something new to discover within it.
I have often found myself listening to a song for the umpteenth time, and suddenly hearing the lyrics, as if for the first time, and finding that they really resonate with a particular time in your life, a situation you’ve been in, or are going through.
Funnily enough, I was having a conversation with a friend about this topic just last week. A conversation during which we both mentioned exactly the same number one song from the 1980‘s. We had both heard the song recently and we’d both been suddenly struck by the relevance of the lyrics, even though we’d both listened to the song countless times over the years.

The musical library in my head is expanding everyday. More songs are being added and old songs from the distant past, are being dredged up and remembered, often like old friends. A snippet of a song on the radio, in a film, or even on a TV commercial, can transport you back decades to another time, and another place. Music, just like the sense of smell, has the power to do that.

Music can be like that life-raft, something we can cling onto in times of need. But it can also be a time-machine, transporting us back a day, a year, or even decades, to times past.
Maybe that’s the ultimate beauty of music? It can mean many different things to many different people, and we can all use it for our own ends, and needs, whatever they may be.
What else can provide such a ubiquitous and enjoyable service?

PS: Since writing this I’ve come across another note I’d written, this time on my phone. Who needs a notebook these days eh?
It was ‘scribbled down’ some months ago now: “Music is a refuge, a safe haven and a loyal friend. One that you can rely on in times of trouble”.

Music is a loyal friend that doesn’t answer back, or question you or your actions. A friend that always says exactly the right thing, at just the right time.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Ladybird By Design

"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there"

That quote is actually the opening line to L.P Hartley's classic 1953 novel, 'The Go-Between'. If that statement was true back then, it is still equally as relevant today, if not more so.

This was brought home to me on Friday when I was lucky enough to attend a preview for the 'Ladybird By Design' exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. The exhibition, which started yesterday and runs until 10th May, is a celebration of 100 years of Ladybird books.

For anyone of a certain age, the mere mention of Ladybird books will usually transport you back to your childhood. If you were a child, or even a parent, between the late 1950's and the early 1980's you will probably have vivid memories of reading at least some of the 600+ titles that have been produced by Ladybird during their 100 years. These books have been read and treasured throughout those 100 years, but those years mentioned above were certainly their heyday.

While the books themselves will bring back childhood memories, it is the artwork and illustrations, that were specially commissioned for the books, that will really take you back to that bygone age.

Whichever series of Ladybird books those illustrations come from, be it People At Work, Shopping With Mother, Aventures From History, How It Works etc etc, the sheer quality and attention to detail of the artwork springs out at you from the page.

The exhibition itself houses over 200 examples of the original artwork that graced those books. These are the actual illustrations that went into the finished books and they come complete with the artists annotations and notes. This is the first time that such an extensive collection of these artworks has ever been collected and displayed together.

For more about the history of Ladybird books and to see many of the images used in the exhibition, it is well worth watching this offiical video. Included in this video is Lawrence Zeegan, who has written the 'Ladybird By Design' book which accompanies this exhibition.

Ladybird By Design from De La Warr Pavilion on Vimeo.

I was fortunate enough to be able to walk around the complete exhibition alone and while doing so I found myself scribbling down notes about certain aspects that jumped out at me, or struck me at the time. I'll share some of those here:

These Ladybird books are a time capsule that show a bygone age, albeit a sanitised version.
Since the late 1950's the world has gone through some huge changes, especially with regard to technology, work, class and social order.
We live in a completely different world today, but at least we have a record of those days. These books and their illustrations provide us with what is almost a mini social history of Britain. The vibrancy of the colours and the attention to detail in the artworks really bring that home.

This is a world where the family shop on the high street is still king, before the rise of big supermarkets. A pre Internet, mysterious world, where international travel was a dream, or an aspiration, rather than an regular occurrence and the British Empire is still clinging on in some far flung corners of the globe.
A fast changing, but exciting, world where space travel and nuclear power are the future and computers still fill a whole room. An innocent world, where families left their front doors unlocked and where babies were left in prams outside of those small shops.
A non PC world, where everybody knew their place.
It is also a disappearing world. Many of the trades and jobs portrayed no longer exist and have been replaced by technology, or have been 'outsourced'.

I suppose the question many who lived through those past decades may inevitably ask themselves, especially after walking around these galleries, is "was the world a better place then?"
I've no doubt that some of the grandparents taking their own grandchildren to Ladybird By Design may well think so, but I'm not so sure. After all, this is a view of the world through rose tinted eyes, with not a hair out of place.

The past is indeed a foreign country and they do do things a bit differently there. But like even the best holiday, it is nice to return home afterwards to what is familiar to you.

But don't take my word for it, go and see Ladybird By Design for yourself, you won't regret it.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Did You Ever....?

Did you ever have one of those opportunities that came completely out of the blue?
So much so that at first you didn't even realise it was there and the people you were working with probably didn't either.
Like a fire, it starts with a spark from an unforseen source and spreads from there.

Then, over the course of a few months and after many discussions and meetings, there is a creeping realisation that you may well be onto something big, something with real potential, something you had not even considered a short period before, something you weren't looking to do and something you had certainly never tried before.

But then the brick wall that has been lurking on the horizon the whole time, comes racing up to meet you. The brick wall that you knew was there, but didn't want to confront for fear of scuppering the whole project. The brick wall that you forlornly thought you may be able to circumvent, but in reality could only break through by creating big problems elsewhere. Problems you thought you could somehow overcome, but you now realise that that was a bit of a pie in the sky dream.

So with a heavy heart you collectively decide to abandon the project, before it gets too far advanced, and aim to go for something more realistic, hoping that the spirit will remain intact and that the time spent on it will not have been in vain.

After much reflection you now look back on the time, thought, work and emotion you put into the project with fond memories. The topsy turvy life you lived throughout that period will slowly return to normal and you know that the decision made to abandon the project was, most probably, the correct one to make.
That doesn't make that decision any easier to bear, but....

Now, naturally, you can't help but think of what might have been:
- Would the project have fully realised the potential you imagined?
- What might it have led to?
- Could you have done anything differently to help it succeed?
- What if circumstances had been different?

Whatever the answer to those questions, which in all likelihood will never be answered, nothing can take away the high hopes, good times and fun you had along the way.

Sometimes a journey can be as rewarding as reaching the final destination.
Maybe this was one of those occasions?
Only time will tell I guess?

Well? Did you ever?

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Another Year Over......

...... And a new one just begun.

I've written about, or at least referenced, New Year resolutions quite enough over the past few days. But there's always room for at least one new angle on a particular topic and this is one I personally think is very relevant to most, if not all, of us.
It concerns a blog post that I became aware of a few months ago and I know it's one that has generated quite a lot of publicity since it was first written back in 2009.
That blog post was written by an Australian ex palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, and is called "Regrets Of The Dying".

When I first discovered it I shared it via social media, but at that time I only saw the headline list of those regrets. Those being:
1 - I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2 - I wish I didn't work so hard.
3 - I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4 - I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5 - I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Although that list stayed with me, it wasn't until recently that I actually read the complete post which expands on those five main points and explains more about the reasons for the regrets of those patients in Bronnie Ware's care.
As she writes in that original post "For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives..... When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again." Hence that list above.

If you've not read the full post, I suggest you do.
When you have, I've no doubt that at least some of those five regrets will jump out at you and make you ponder, they certainly did for me.
I consider myself to be very lucky in that I have done quite a lot in my life that I am proud of, and have done things that many others haven't. But that doesn't mean that I don't have much that I still want to achieve, or at least try to do, in the future.
I also know that there is one point on that list that requires attention.....

I think it's probably unrealistic for anyone to do everything they want to do with their life, however hard we try, for a variety of reasons. But if you at least have the courage to try, even if you fail, those ultimate regrets will be fewer in number.

None of us can change our past, as much as we may want to. But we do have an opportunity to change our future, so why not do it and what better time to start than now? It is a new year after all.

Bronnie Ware's post ends with these words, "Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness."

What are you waiting for?

PS: Bronnie Ware has since expanded on that original blog post and written a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Walking The Walk

I'm not one for making New Year resolutions, something I've talked about here before and which I'm intending to write a new post about soon by the way. But, if I was, one thing that would feature would be getting out into the great British countryside and doing some walking.
Walking is something I started to do some years ago now, mainly as an alternative to running as my knees were starting to grumble about that.
But, due to seeming to have less time over the past two years, for the right reasons I might add and also because you just get out of the habit of doing something, I've not done any 'proper' walking during that period.
So yesterday I decided that now was the time to try and get back into that habit, but where to go?

One of the great things about walking is that it can take you to new, interesting and sometimes spectacular places, places that you would probably never visit and see otherwise. That's usually because they are a bit out of the way, which is what I prefer anyway.
Of course walking can be done just about anywhere, but I've always preferred to go to places that allow you to be in relative solitude.
Going for a walk with a large group of people, who spend their whole time talking, seems to defeat part of the object of going to these places in the first place. That's not to say that I don't enjoy company when walking, even though I find myself walking alone more often than not.
The shared experience of a nice walk, in scenic surroundings and with good company, is something not to be sniffed at. But personally I'd draw the line at a maximum of four people and to be perfectly honest would probably prefer it to be less than that.
That's one reason why I tend to walk during the week and not at weekends. There are less people around to disturb you and you often have the whole area to yourself, which can be a pretty special experience.

When faced with a choice we often choose the familiar, which is why I ended up in one of my favourite spots in the East Sussex countryside yesterday, the area around the Long Man of Wilmington.
It's an area I've walked around many times before. Wilmington is only a 40 minute drive from my home and the area contains all the elements that make a great walk. Stunning scenery, history, wildlife and the challenge of some fairly tough walking conditions, with some steep climbs, as the photo above suggests.

Yesterday had the added bonus of frost as thick as snow and natural light that was simply amazing to behold. These two videos shot from part way up and at the top of the hill, in the photo above, will hopefully show all of that?

As this was pretty much an unplanned walk, I had no idea where I was going to walk after I got to the top of Windover Hill. After much indecision, I did a circular walk which brought me back to the Long Man via Alfriston, a pretty village now rather spoiled by traffic. A victim of its location and beauty perhaps?
Alfriston does host the first property ever bought by the National Trust though, namely Clergy House and a church sometimes called "The Cathedral of The Downs".

What Alfriston doesn't have though is any mobile phone coverage, at least not on my network anyway. I know this isn't something that should concern you when you're enjoying a walk to supposedly get away from it all. But if you compare that to the top of Windover Hill, in the prescence of ancient burial mounds and mystical hill figures, which has perfect 4G coverage, it does make you wonder.
From Alfriston, in the Cuckmere valley, it's a steep climb back to the top and a final chance to pause and take in the view, before the descent back down to the village of Wilmington.
Although it's only an estimate, I think I walked a total of around seven miles. Like a fool I forgot to take my pedometer with me, next time...
Nevertheless the crisp, fresh air and exercise were what I came here for, not to worry about the amount of miles I'd covered in the process.

For the vast majority of this walk I was alone, with not another soul in sight, but one nice aspect of walking in areas such as this, is that everybody you do meet says "Hello" or "Good Morning" to you. Maybe it's a recognition that you are a like minded soul, someone who appreciates where they are and the effort that it took to get there?

It doesn't matter how many times I walk around this area, there is always something new to see and discover. That's as good a reason as any to keep returning.
The photo above is of something very familiar to me though. This tree, once again on the top of Windover Hill, can be seen from the railway line mentioned in one of those earlier videos.
I've travelled on that line hundreds, if not thousands, of times and on just about every occasion I have looked across, through the train window, and seen that tree standing there.
Over the years, from before I'd ever climbed this hill, this tree has become a favourite landmark of mine. As you can see, Windover Hill is aptly named and I suspect that one day the wind will take its toll, but I hope that that day is well into the future.

To prove that you never quite know what you're going to find, or see, when you venture out into the countryside. Just as I was approaching Wilmington at the end of my walk, I came across a man walking his dog and 'flying' his pet Harris's hawk. A beautiful bird, and one I'd never seen before, but not something you expect to see sitting on a hedgerow when you come round a corner on a public footpath!
A surprising, but very welcome, end to a lovely stroll and a reminder, as if one were needed, of why I really should do this more often.
The 'plan' is that I will do just that.
Watch this space, as this is a topic I may well be returning to in the future.

PS: All video and photo's were taken by myself using my iPhone.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

They Just Don't Make Them Like That Anymore.

Over these past few days I have had the sudden urge to watch a few classic black and white films, all from the 1940's as it happens.
I don't really know why that is, but after watching the first, "It's a Wonderful Life" (well it was Christmas Eve), I've found myself watching a couple more. Yesterday it was "Casablanca" and today "The Third Man".
If you know any of those films, and if you don't I suggest you rectify that straight away, you'd probably agree with me that films don't come a lot better than that.
I've seen these films many times before, but as I said to someone yesterday, not having watched any of them for a few years, it was like being reunited with an old friend.
I must admit that I don't consider myself to be that much of a film buff. As much as I appreciate the artform and the entertainment provided by films, personally I'd much rather listen to music. But there does come a time when I have that sudden urge to watch a film, or two, or three. In fact, I remember thinking to myself a while ago now, that if I ever had the time to spare I'd like to watch a film a day. I don't expect that to ever happen, except over short periods, so maybe I appreciate films more than I think?
Having said that, the last thing I'd want to do nowadays is to watch a film in a cinema, those days are almost certainly gone. The thought of sitting listening to people eating, slurping drinks, talking on and fiddling with their mobile phones, while trying to concentrate on that film and having to pay for the privilege fills me with dread.
I'd much rather sit in the relative comfort of my own home and watch a film of my choice, at my leisure and with who I want, or even alone if the fancy takes me.
Anyway, back to my original point....
After posting a Facebook update yesterday about having just watched "Casablanca", I became involved in a discussion about these classic black and white films and why they still have so much appeal.
For me one of the main reasons is that, generally, films from that golden era are around 90 minutes long and never seem to outstay their welcome. Everything that needs to be said is crammed into those 90 minutes, with not a minute of film wasted. Many films today don't do that and quite often go on for far longer than necessary, usually well over 2 hours, a point often made by reviewers.
Then there is that aspect of those films being like old friends that you can return to again and again and never be let down. We all like to be entertained, or maybe even challenged by the new, but there's something about the familiar that is comforting and reassuring. Most of us will reach for the familiar if we want to chill out and relax.
During that Facebook conversation I made the comparison between those 1940's films and the classic three minute Pop song. That may seem like a bit of leap of the imagination, but neither outstay their welcome, they just get stuck in, do what they have to do and get out again, before anyone starts to shuffle uncomfortably in their seat.
Maybe I should start thinking about that when writing blog posts? Hmm........

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A Man Is Not A Man.....

Well, I've been looking through some of those old note books, mentioned in my last post.

They certainly make fascinating reading, as they go back quite a few years. I can see some themes among the many jottings and notes within the pages and some very interesting thoughts and ideas too. I've no doubt I'll be using at least some of them here, over time.

There was one note that jumped out at me though and it was one that I'd completely forgotten about too. It was a comment on an old YouTube video of mine, which I'd made a note of. I have no idea which video it was, but the comment said, "A man is not a man until his father dies".

I've just Googled that quote to see if it may have been an old saying, but I can't find any suggestion of it being so. It does sound like an old quotation doesn't it and the kind of thing you'd find in a book?

I'm guessing that the comment was on a video I may have made when my own father died, back in January 2010. I may just have to go back and check.
I'm not sure that I would agree with the comment particularly, but I can certainly understand the meaning behind it.

I was already in my early 50's when my father died, when he was 92, so whether his death had any major impact on my life I'm not that sure, that's apart from the obvious grief and emotional impact that is.

One thing I would say though, is that that event was just the start of a pretty momentous year for me and one that has changed and influenced my life ever since. The whole year was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

As mentioned my father died in January 2010. My mother-in-law then died suddenly, just over a month later. My father's death was not a shock, due to his age and the fact that he'd not been well for a while. But my mother-in-laws death certainly was, so you can probably imagine the impact that had on the extended family, especially the grandchildren, to whom she was very close.

One aside from this is that, at my fathers funeral service, I gave a speech about his life and one that was very well received as it happens. Strangely enough, I didn't find that anywhere near as hard as I thought I would.
This was one area where my past experience of vlogging and talking into a video camera was a help. I treated the speech as a kind of vlog and, in an ironic twist of fate, the person I concentrated on most of the time during that speech was my mother-in-law. I have no idea why, but her's was the face that I found myself using as a form of video camera lens (I hope that makes some kind of sense?)

Part three of my annus horribilis was losing my job and being made redundant in June of 2010. Once again this was a shock, as although I knew changes were afoot, nobody expected staff members to lose their jobs, least of all me. I wasn't the only one by the way.

Naturally, this had a huge impact on my life both then and since. I was lucky in that I came out the other side in a fairly good state and am happier doing what I do now, than I ever was at work back then.
I was also lucky in that I had other interests and potential projects to fall back on, some of which were in the pages of those old note books.
So, in many ways, I am better off now than then, although not financially. But, I have learned that money isn't everything.
One possible regret though, is that I've never had the chance to go back and thank them for getting rid of me.

In September of 2010 my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully that was detected early and the subsequent treatment has meant that she is now back to full health. But, once again, this was another of those episodes that makes you stop and think about life, the universe and everything.

Since that year, my life has changed in many ways and it has also been a lot less traumatic too, thankfully. But it has changed my whole outlook on life, work, pleasure and passions. I've made many changes and I suspect there will be more to come.
I'm looking forward to it.

Change may not always come in the ways that you want it to, or would like it to. It can creep up on you when you least expect it and often there's nothing you can do about it.

Sometimes, it's not the changes themselves that affect your life, it's how you react to them. I've always tried to have a 'glass half full' mentality and I think that helped me through that year and beyond.

So, although I'm not sure that the death of my father was quite the event that made me a man, that whole year may well have been, at least, part of the reason that I am now the man I am?

PS: I've checked and I made a whole series of videos about my father's illness and subsequent death.
This is the first one: A Matter of Life and Death the 2nd is: Life is a Rollercoaster and then are a few more on the Rollercoaster theme, if you're interested. As to why I made and shared those videos? Well, maybe that's a topic for another post?