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Rated: 13+ · Book · Experience · #2223922
A tentative blog to test the temperature.
Ten years ago I was writing several blogs on various subjects - F1 motor racing, Music, Classic Cars, Great Romances and, most crushingly, a personal journal that included my thoughts on America, memories of England and Africa, opinion, humour, writing and anything else that occurred. It all became too much (I was attempting to update the journal every day) and I collapsed, exhausted and thoroughly disillusioned in the end.

So this blog is indeed a Toe in the Water, a place to document my thoughts in and on WdC but with a determination not to get sucked into the blog whirlpool ever again. Here's hoping.

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February 21, 2024 at 12:25pm
February 21, 2024 at 12:25pm
Morbid Alert

I find myself writing about death quite frequently these days. At the same time, it has dawned on me gradually that Americans really don’t like the subject. Not that anyone does really, but Europeans have a somewhat more stoical and accepting view of it. In America it is definitely not a subject for polite conversation.

That’s perfectly understandable, considering how much more optimistic and active Americans are - death is the last thing they want to think about. But Northern Europeans especially are much more depressed about life (I would say “realistic”). And death is, after all, a part of life. It’s why the Danes are the happiest people on earth; their pessimism means that they are never disappointed.

As far as I am concerned, this thing about death is the natural addendum to my interest in ageing. I’ve always chased some imaginary benefit in the process, things like wisdom, having something to say, and the time to write, for instance. So the details and changes that age brings are fascinating to me. I am, in effect, my own scientific experiment.

And old age brings the consideration of how it all ends, of course. This might, as in my case, be speeded up by some brush with the grim reaper like a heart attack, but it’s always going to happen sooner or later. The interest, I mean - the event itself is obviously inevitable.

So I write about it. Not so often in article format but my poetry these days is positively steeped in it.

Which means that I have to apologise to those readers that might be offended by too much harping on such a morbid subject. There’s no way I want to rub anyone’s nose in it. You see, it’s my death I’m always considering, no one else’s. And, though there are a few who might notice my disappearance, the rest of you are not really going to be affected much, are you?

So be of good cheer, happy readers. There’s no need to get too wrapped up in my doleful maunderings. There are plenty of days left and most will be filled with sunshine, I’m sure. Rejoice and be merry for tomorrow we… Oops, sorry about that.

Word count: 368
February 20, 2024 at 7:59am
February 20, 2024 at 7:59am
Toddler No More

It’s nearly five years since I joined WdC. I know this because I checked the date under my Account details. And I remember very clearly why I joined.

My oldest son, Mad, was the cause. He had suggested that I write a blog to document my experiences in America and he, being a web designer, built that first blog for me from scratch. Together we set off into the net, me providing the content while he honed and perfected the blog mechanics and look.

I’d been involved in internet chat for many years and my friends there provided an instant readership to begin with. Some of them were writers too and a few decided they liked the idea and started blogs of their own. Very quickly, we formed a little group, writing, reading and constantly commenting on each other’s blogs. Most comment systems became forums for long discussions that wandered from the subject of the post to matters wide ranging and multifarious. When chat began to collapse under the weight of trolls and idiots, it mattered not to us; we had already built a refuge of conversation that formed the centrepiece of our days.

And then it fell apart. First one member disappeared without explanation. Andrea found out what had happened but it was such a sorry tale that I won’t repeat it here. Then Harry went and died, and that was really the death blow to the group. Without Harry, the fun had gone and we all wandered off in despair.

The years passed and I had no incentive for the blog anymore. It became hard work and eventually petered out, leaving me exhausted, dispirited and fed up. I needed the companionship of other writers and the spur to write that they gave.

What saved me was the realisation one day that maybe what I needed was prompts. That would provide something to kick me back into action - the initial spark from which I could build a fire. And I knew where to find prompts. I googled “Writers’ Group.”

WdC was the first name on the list. I had a look, liked what I saw, and joined up. That was in May 2019. It took me a while to find my way around its complexities but there was so much here that I kept at it. I never did find a list of prompts (I’ve since found them in other sites on the net but they’re so putrid as to be almost unusable) but I stumbled on something much better. Contests attracted me and, before I knew it, I was writing like fury again, occasionally winning, and building a portfolio in record speed.

It wasn’t long before I realised that I was writing more than I’d ever written before. With a never-ending supply of prompts, spurs and temptations, I was not only producing lots of short stories but the demon of poetry was reawakened. I found myself being dragged into genres that I had never before considered (thanks, Schnujo) and even enjoyed some of them.

Angus helped me a lot in those early days, giving lots of good advice on WdC and persuading me to give horror a try. And there were plenty of others that offered friendship and conversation. In time, I found that it was WdC that was keeping me alive - literally. In allowing me this place where writing matters and everyone cares about it, I have truly found a home that I was needing desperately. Without writing, I have nothing and I know from experience that, without it, I fade away and die.

Which would not be the end of the world, I know. Everyone dies sooner or later. But I feel as if I’m in a hurry now, that I need to get things said that have waited all my life for expression. It would be a pity to leave without emptying most of it over your unsuspecting heads.

So now you know that I’ll not shut up until life shuts up for me. Enjoy it while you can, folks - I’m 75 years old and there’s no guarantee of much more left in this old body.

Word count: 692
For I Heart WdC Contest, February 2024
Prompt: Write your remembrance of WdC.
February 19, 2024 at 12:36pm
February 19, 2024 at 12:36pm

I was asked the other day about which aspect of writing I liked the best. There was an answer that suggested itself immediately and so I wrote it down and moved on to other things.

But today I’ve found that there is another answer and it’s nearly as good as my first. What I really love doing is reading through a bunch of my old stuff and finding something I’d completely forgotten. The best ones are those that don’t even stir a faint flame in the bottomless pit of the forgetory.

Most enjoyable of all is the feeling as one reads that, “Hey, this is really good, wish I’d thought of it - wait a minute, I did!”

Word count: 117
February 17, 2024 at 5:09pm
February 17, 2024 at 5:09pm
You’re Okay, How Am I?

Listening to yet another Jordan Peterson video the other day, I realised something that has struck me many times in the past. It’s the kind of thing that makes a big impact for a while but then drifts away in the busy-ness of life until something happens and it’s enormously apparent again.

Jordan was in the middle of one of his complex explanations of something psychological and deep when it occurred to me. Psychologists are just rediscovering things that writers have known for hundreds of years. And it’s because they’re Johnnies-come-lately that they invent new names for everything and dress things up in such complex language.

I know it sounds big-headed but there’s truth in it. Do you think Freud knew anything that Shakespeare didn’t? And Jung wiser in the ways of humanity than Aristophanes? No, they just used different language to muddle their way through to the same understandings.

Humanity has been the study of humanity since the invention of language. And its our own complexity that makes it endlessly interesting and variable. There are more schools of psychiatric thought than there are denominations of Christianity. And all that in not much more than a hundred years. Making up new words is a task that can go on forever.

Which is not to belittle psychology or Mr Peterson. They make a lot of sense at times. But let’s not forget who got there first.

Word count: 235
February 15, 2024 at 4:37pm
February 15, 2024 at 4:37pm
The Eternal Hunt

I would join in the hunt for the TV controller but people say I get this remote look in my eye...
February 13, 2024 at 2:25pm
February 13, 2024 at 2:25pm
Tiny Snowflakes

Interesting weather we're having. You may have read that the northeast is having a bit of a snowstorm today. But that's not what I wanted to talk about. It's just that it reminded me of a snowfall we had several years ago that was rather special. It was a fearfully cold day when the snow started to fall.

The flakes were so small and cold that they fell more like rain. At first we were uncertain whether we were watching snow, freezing rain or weird hail. Anyway, Andrea happened to be wearing a black coat that showed the flakes really well and I noticed that these tiny flakes were all shaped like six-pointed stars. Except for those that had clubbed together for the descent; those were more like globs of snow or ice.

Now, I know some bright spark is going to tell me that all snowflakes are shaped as six-point stars (and that they're all different in detail). But usually it takes a microscope to see them. And our tiny snowflakes were quite visibly star-shaped and, apparently, identical to each other. So my conclusion is that we received abnormally large snowflakes as individuals, instead of the clumps of snowflakes that we normally see. It is still the only time that I've been able to see snowflakes as the scientists tell us they are. I must presume that it was something to do with the intense cold that made them large enough to see with the naked eye.

Word count: 252
February 12, 2024 at 9:34am
February 12, 2024 at 9:34am
Geriatric Metrics

You know you're old when your nightly pee-time bumps into your wake-up hour. And that makes more sense than you realise. It's not that you managed to last through the night - that's so unlikely as to be out of the equation. What's happening is you're going to bed late!
February 11, 2024 at 3:18pm
February 11, 2024 at 3:18pm

As the man with a wooden leg said, it's a matter of opinion.

And I've been thinking about opinions. It's true what they say: everyone has an opinion. What is less often noticed, however, is that some people have more opinions than others. I have known people who have an opinion on everything; you mention a subject, any subject, and they will be able to grace you with their opinion on it. Such people are rich in the currency of opinion and are always very generous in sharing their wealth.

Others, however, seem to have been at the end of the line when opinions were handed out; they have few and compound the fact by hoarding those that remain to them. Which brings to mind the parable of the talents, although I am not convinced that it applies in this instance. Both money and talents have a value, after all, whereas opinions are so common that they have become almost worthless. A penny for your thoughts, say you? Hah, a hundred years ago that might have been the going rate; these days you can't give them away.

I know there are a few who manage to squeeze a living out of their opinions; newspaper editors and television talking heads, for instance. But these are not really selling their opinions. To a large extent they are preaching to the converted, sharing their opinion amongst those who already have that opinion anyway. There is little real trading that goes on, just mutual bolstering and encouragement.

So we tend to collect in groups, sharing our opinions with those of like mind and applauding one another as we do so. If someone from another group intrudes, the immediate result is a fight, with opinions thrown in anger and scorn exchanged in copious quantities.

The problem is that we all think our opinions are based on the facts and must be correct, therefore. It does not seem to occur to us that facts are so numerous that we must pick and choose which ones to take and which to leave. Being human, we will accept those facts that we like and ignore those that make us uncomfortable. Then off we go with our chosen collection of facts and we construct our opinions around them. Small wonder that we emerge with so many different opinions.

The ideal would be to wait until we have all the facts before forming our opinions. Like most ideals, however, this is impossible, so great is the weight of facts with which we are confronted. Some people, a very few, will reserve judgment, knowing that they do not have all the facts. The great majority of us will shrug and enter the fray with whatever we have managed to glean.

It is tempting to see those who are slow to form opinions as the wise amongst us. And, if that is so, surely the man who has no opinion at all is the wisest. Since he is staying silent while he adds to the facts at his command, he must be gaining a far wider view of things than those who go out to battle with only a selection of their favored facts at hand.

I wonder whether it is possible to have no opinion on anything. Being a dreamer, I ponder on this and try to imagine how an opinion-less person would function. How would such a person be received in society?

A philosopher and thinker of the past, Desiderius Erasmus (1466 - 1536), said this: "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." It seems a good saying until one thinks hard about it. To refute it, H.G. Wells wrote a short story entitled The Country of the Blind, in which he shows that the blind would regard someone with sight as a madman.

In point of fact, Mr Wells need not have bothered with his story for we already have a perfect example of what he wanted to say. Jesus Christ had better vision than any of us and remember what we did to Him.

Which all leads me to think (yes, it's my opinion) that our hypothetical opinion-less person would receive rough treatment in our world. In fact, I suspect that we have already prepared our ammunition against such a phenomenon. We have all heard the saying that it is better to remain silent and be thought stupid, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt…

Word count: 743
February 10, 2024 at 8:41pm
February 10, 2024 at 8:41pm
Geography (or How I tried to remain sane and failed)

Through a fairly straightforward journey of the mind, I found myself thinking of my old geography teacher today. His name was Mr Cock and this occasioned even more amusement among his young students than we can imagine since it was so easy to confuse him with the school’s Afrikaans teacher, a Miss de Kock. Having opted for French rather than Afrikaans at the relevant moment, this was not a problem for me and I rarely had occasion to mention the no-doubt-saintly young lady in question.

I was, however (and I may have mentioned this in other posts), of a geographical mind and so was quite willingly subjected to the ministrations of the aforementioned Mr Cock as a result. This meant that I was present at the breathtaking and unexpected transformation of Mr Cock from a feared and fierce taskmaster into a man of mystery.

The event was occasioned by something quite ordinary. Some hapless offender was receiving a fearsome explanation of the terrible punishments prepared for him were he ever to repeat his offence (I forget now what it was). To the class’ horror, the poor miscreant burst into tears. We were young teenagers at the time and properly trained in the British stiff upper lip; such a display of weakness was embarrassing and shocking in the extreme. What we did not realise was that the sudden collapse of his victim had as strong an effect on Mr Cock as it did on us. The legendary tyrant of the geography class ceased his tirade immediately and turned to other things.

We discovered the next day just how deep a change had been wrought in Mr Cock by the incident. Class commenced as usual until some poor fool committed an accidental offence. The class hushed in expectation of the usual terrible response from our teacher. He allowed the silence to reign for a while and then spoke.

“I have decided that discipline in this class will be maintained by a rather different method from my previous preference. From now on order will be enforced by the application of psychology. You have been warned.”

He paused then and allowed us some time to absorb this news. Then, without further explanation, he returned to the subject of geography. We were hushed in wonder for the rest of the lesson and, if truth be told, for all geographical lessons thereafter. Mr Cock had us confused and fearful of what exactly he could mean by “psychology”. Knowing him so well, we were sure that it was some awful form of mental torture and none of us chose to discover his intent.

Of course, I know now that the “psychology” had needed only one application to achieve its goal. The simplicity of the scheme was impossible for our young minds to grasp, so used to dealing with devious and complex forms of punishment (the ghastly refinement of torture by Pinky Palgrave, for instance) were we. How could we guess that the first explanation of the new system was all that was required?

In later years I came to know Mr Cock much better as he allowed us the occasional relief from school by a field trip to gaze at rock strata in a road cutting or quarry. He taught me much that has remained in my head for more than sixty years and changed my view of the world to encompass air currents, physical features and weather patterns. But I did not formulate an understanding of his “psychology” until long after I left school. I think, maybe, that I preferred him as a man of mystery wielding an invisible and phantom weapon that was never used.

Word count: 610
February 9, 2024 at 9:44am
February 9, 2024 at 9:44am
Computer? Computer!

Way back in the nineties, I decided that it was time I learned about this newfangled thing called the computer. I had actually had some contact with it in the sixties as a friend of mine was employed in the business, but he had scared me off by showing me their inhouse computer. It filled a large room with rows of cabinets containing tape discs and flashing lights and dials. That was enough to scare me off the things for the next thirty years.

By the nineties, however, it was quite clear that computer experience was needed if you were going to get anywhere in most jobs. I signed up for a six-week training course.

Perhaps it was ironic that I should take to the thing like a duck to water. For the first time I understood that the thing was a tool and an incredibly versatile one at that. I dived into it and learned everything the instructor had to teach in the first three weeks. The rest of the time I spent finding out just what the machine was capable of in the areas that interested me most - writing and graphics.

The point is, during those thirty years of my estrangement from the computer world, two inventions had transformed the thing and made it usable by the layman. The first was the invention of the graphic interface, so that we were in a world similar to the real one, instead of lines and lines of incomprehensible code. And the second was the mouse, the device that allowed us to interact with what was on the monitor.

Somehow I had entered the new world at precisely the moment it had become open to me. Word processors had changed from complex programs that required the knowledge of all sorts of secret key combinations to function, into buttons and keys that I could press with the cursor. It still helped to know a bit of DOS code but it wasn’t essential if you were happy enough with what Bill Gates had prepared for you.

Arriving at that moment, I learned from both worlds. The old knowledge was still useful as it was never done away with. If you wanted to change the look and way the machine functioned, it was possible to do a bit of simple coding in DOS and make your computer personal to you. And useful little programs from the early days lived on and were still available, if you knew where to look. Just today, I had occasion to tell someone about Charmap, a program that helps you enter unusual and accented characters into your text. And that is something from the very prehistory of the computer.

The upshot of all this is that there are always more ways than one to get things done in Windows. Want to paste something into a document but there is no Paste option or button in the menu or toolbar? Just hit Control and V on the keyboard. To copy something, use Ctrl and C. That’s really archaeological in origin and, hopefully, it’ll never go away.

It really is a wonderful machine, as long as we remember that it’s a tool. When we start trying to make it into a companion or servant with its own thoughts and feelings, that is when things get a bit dodgy. If you’re lonely, find another human, don’t try to make one.

Come to think of it, isn’t that the lesson of Pygmalion?

Word count: 579

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