Should I stay or should I go

Should I stay or should I go

If I go there could be trouble, if I stay it could be double.

Everyone of us wants to belong, to be part of a tribe, it’s hard wired in to our DNA. I self identify as coming from Yorkshire although, because my Dad was in the Army, I’ve moved around all of my life so lived in many places, but my heart calls Yorkshire home.

This used to annoy my late Mum who used to angrily say ‘you’re not from Yorkshire’ yet she still self identified as being a Londoner even though she hadn’t lived there for decades,

Trouble is I have lived for the last 35 years away from Yorkshire, but now find myself at a potential crossroads in my life. After manfully trying to resurrect my marriage (at my wife’s invitation in 2012) it became clear over the last couple of years that the relationship was stagnating and not going anywhere and we (apparently) mutually agreed that the marriage was over.

So. Where do I go?

The only things that keep me where I am are:

  • The proximity of my stepdaughter and her beautiful three children who I love very dearly.
  • My allotment.
  • Familiarity I guess.

The things that are tempting me to go back ‘home’ are:

  • My children and grandchildren.
  • Hills.
  • Decent beer.
  • Leeds United (my first love).
  • An accent that I quite like (as opposed to one I hate).

Decisions, decisions!

Live fast, die young

Live fast, die young

I’ve struggled all of my life to conform.

I come from the ‘live fast, die young’ rock and roll generation that eschewed all notion of being a responsible grown up and instead embraced a path of hedonistic pleasure, self destructive behaviours and a series of bad life choices.

I’ve smoked, drank and gambled (throw in a little light drug use too) my way through life, fallen in love with the wrong women, failed to find fulfilment in my career and struggled at times with my inner demons. Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t all been bad; I’ve had many high points and experienced great happiness, but on the flip side too many God awful lows.

Even parenthood didn’t save me, an experience that for many serves as a seminal moment of adult enlightenment. Not me. I was far too busy indulging in an ill advised and tempestuous relationship to take my responsibilities as a father (or a husband) seriously enough.

In the book I’m reading at the moment, Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain, there’s a quote by Norman Mailer who described the desire to be cool as a “decision to encourage the psychopath in oneself, to explore that domain of experience where security is boredom and therefore sickness and one exists in the present, in that enormous present which is without past or future, memory or planned intention.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me. Like the eponymous and deeply flawed hero of Californication, Hank Moody, I just wanted to be cool.
‎”Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” ~Alan Watts

Lives of quiet desperation

Lives of quiet desperation

‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’ So said the American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau.

Most of us start our adult lives excited by the infinite possibility that life offers us, the fulfilment we will find in our brilliant careers, our perfect relationships, the respect and admiration of our peers, but all too often the setbacks of a normal life confine us to a life that is anything but fulfilled.

The older we get, the more we excuse this by writing ourselves off as not creative or talented enough, that we’ve missed our chance to shine and apathetically accept our fate, too scared or too lazy to do anything about it.

Fear holds us back, so conditioned do we become in not risking the life we know for one that the fatalist in us might fear be worse. We sit around not daring to try anything new, believing we don’t have the power to change things. It’s true, we don’t have control over all aspects of our lives, but we do have some.

I’m reading Mastery at the moment, a book by Robert Greene. The central philosophy of the book is people face the same problem – that we are born as individuals but are forced to conform to the rules of society if we want to succeed. To see our uniqueness expressed in our achievements, we must first learn the rules – and then how to change them completely.

I’ll let you know how that goes!

This coming year, 2013, I’m going to spend time thinking about the things I can change — and work to change them. My list, in no particular order includes:

  • Let go
  • Meditate
  • Yoga
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Write daily
  • Reduce/eliminate debt
  • Read more

I’ve sat around for long enough waiting for good things to happen to me without any effort on my part. Time to be happy again.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita

I’m writing this sitting in my rented apartment in Florence. It’s beautiful and handily placed to walk to all of the attractions and usefully has a roof terrace with views across the city, just the place for a glass of chianti and a smoke.

Central Food Market, Firenze

Central Food Market, Firenze

I seem to go for city breaks, I’m not sure why, surrounded as you are by throngs of tourists sweatily jostling you as they swarm from one attraction to the next. I’m not a big one for queues either which explains why I’ve never been to the Louvre in Paris to see the Mona Lisa, despite having visited there several times. In fact I don’t really get art. The only painting I’ve ever really wanted to see is Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid, but the planned visit on the last day of a short stay was thwarted by the Museum being closed.

I did queue for an hour today though, at the Accedemia Galleria, to see the iconic Michaelangelo statue of David. Now that is something! How anyone can bring to life a cold slab of marble like that is quite simply breathtaking.


Duomo Cathedral, Firenze

I don’t get churches/cathedrals either. Sure they can be beautiful, as the Duomo undoubtedly is, but I can’t ever get over enamoured of them and in some cases, like the Sistine chapel in Rome, they actually make me feel a little queasy, so opulent are they.

Ever so slightly at odds with the essential message from the son of a carpenter from Nazareth I would say.

I guess what I do like about city breaks is being surrounded by different sights and smells, the food, the cuisine, the sense of anonymity from being in a strange city, and, of course, the people watching, I need to watch that though as my daughter pointed out whilst we were having dinner at a little trattoria, Il Contaldino (highly recommended), that it’s more like agressive staring at times!

I’ve even managed to engage with a few locals with my smattering of bad Italian although I did manage to say Buono Sera (Good Evening) to a shop assistant this morning.

There’s a lot of beautiful and elegant women here (my daughter says the same for the men), but I feel their beauty like a bereavement (borrowed that phrase), as I’m as far removed from a meaningful relationship than when I was a spotty, hormone fuelled teenager. I have tried over the last 18 months or so to try and develop relationships, but with very, very indifferent results.

Oh well. at least the wine’s cheap here!

Ciao, ciao!

Freeing the child within

Freeing the child within

Although through force of circumstance I am very much a peripheral figure in their lives I’m fascinated by my two grandchildren, Charlie who is 3½ and Jack who is 1½. They love to play and have fun and Charlie is a proper boy, boisterous and fearless, Jack has yet to find his feet, but is certainly beginning to find his voice.

Walking with Charlie, I am struck that, whilst I am always conscious of the dangers that might befall him, for him it’s an endless parade of fascinating sights and sounds, friendly strangers, police cars, tractors and buses. And play, play is a series of inventive scenarios, often without any physical props, just the product of his vivid imagination which he expects you to wholeheartedly embrace. To him the world is fun!

At some point we become jaded and world weary and lose our sense of childish fun. Admittedly, as adults, childish behaviour is not going to be appropriate in most situations, but there are some useful lessons we can learn from observing children at play.

1. Live life in the here and now.

Probably the most important lesson we can learn from children is to enjoy the here and now. They are really good at it and are rarely thinking about anything but, so absorbed they are with all that’s happening now. How many of us can claim the same? Enjoy the present. The past is gone and can’t be changed, the future, you can’t predict it and it hasn’t happened yet.

2. Free your creative side

Children love to paint, make cupcakes, make play dough, build Lego. Creativity is not only fulfilling, it’s fun!

3. Lift your head

Most adults go through the day consumed by their own thoughts, rarely noticing or appreciating their surroundings in much detail. If you’ve ever observed a child examine a leaf, an insect, a frog you can see that their fascination with the world around them is endless. Lift your head and enjoy the world around you.

4. Take risks

Children have no barriers when they’re growing up, very little fear of failure, they will explore new things, take risks and are rarely self conscious. What’s stopping you learning something new, taking a few risks too?

5. Be Silly!

Children are the past masters of silly! A simple word can be repeated time and time again to fits of giggles, trucks smashed endlessly together – just for fun. Let your silly side out now and then, be unpredictable once in a while, break a few ‘rules’!

The plight of the reindeer people

The plight of the reindeer people

My Mum always used to say that things have changed far too much. She was born in 1925, so she did see some dramatic changes in her life time.

Most of those changes have been positive, but the explosion of the world’s population from an estimated 2 billion in 1925 to an estimated 7 billion plus now, has had a profound effect on the demand for the world’s resources and, in turn, on groups who have traditionally lived their lives much like their ancestors.

One such people are the reindeer herders, known as the Tsaschin, or Dukha, who for thousands of years, have roamed the taiga of northern Mongolia, a wilderness of mountains, forest, rock and ice which straddles the country’s border with Siberia. The herders rely on their animals for hunting and transportation, and for the staples of their diet: milk, cheese, yogurt and dried milk curds.

For months on end they move around, looking for fresh pastures for their reindeer, hunting and camping on open ground, relying on their dogs to alert them of wolves. They do go in to town, to buy flour, bullets and salt. Apparently reindeer love salt and the Tsaschin round up their herd by rustling an empty salt packet.

Their way of life is increasingly under threat and the Tsaschin’s herds have fallen from more than 2,000 in the 1970s to less than one-third of that today. The reasons for this are manifold, from the lack of interest from the Tsaschin young, exposed as they are to the relentless advance of modern technology to the refusal of the Mongolian government to allow the import of of reindeer from Siberia, Canada or Scandinavia to address the inevitable consequences of inbreeding amongst the Tsaschin herds, which has meant a weakening of the overall health of the stock.

But there’s another more depressingly inevitable factor that will probably end the Tsaschin’s nomadic way of life, man’s insatiable appetite to strip the earth of it’s natural resources. Like all nomadic people, the Tsaschin roam great areas, but they have no recognisable rights to the land they’ve used for thousands of years and now the mining companies have moved in to the taiga. Mongolia is rich in copper, gold and coal and is home to one of the 10 largest copper mines in the world and the advance of these operations is denying the Tsaschin access to land they once called their own.

The fate of all nomadic peoples is precarious, as the march of technology and the demand for raw materials continues, and it looks inevitable that a way of life that has existed for millenia will slowly die. It’s hard not to feel empathy for them, after all, we were all nomads once.

The programme on BBC Radio 4 that inspired me to find out more

Further reading: