Monday, April 27, 2009

DIARY 104 - The Finishing Touch

The final handover to my replacement draws nearer (May 1st- Hurrah!!!) I've devised a Handover Ceremony, which will take place in the context of a Sevenfold Puja. This week I've handed over what might flatteringly be called my 'managerial portfolio'. My daily in-tray is pretty empty most of the time now, so at any hour of the day I can frequently teeter on the edge of tedium, without fully embracing or toppling over into it. Fending off boredom can become soooo utterly- utterly- exhausting. Staying in the present moment, and not looking forward to a time of future release, can be made more difficult when that present moment is as dull as ditch water.

The beginning of last week, though it was all too familiar, was just taxing. With one member of staff on leave, and one suddenly off ill - 'we two left together clinging' - were - I believe the common parlance is - 'holding our shit together' - but only just. It may objectively have been no busier than usual, but subjectively, it did feel a more severe strain than I felt happy to accommodate. This is just how it frequently is in Customer Services - its one of the things, by stepping down, that I want to get away from. By the time the 'ailing one' in my team did return on the Tuesday, it seemed every cranky, confusing, uncooperative customer we have on our books, was ringing up to place orders, or chase up a delivery. In the run up to a Bank Holiday, there are often such mad stampedes the week before. Through the unique eyes and pressures of the moment it seemed worse than usual. I handled it all OK on the surface,though I was finding myself handling a side of my psyche that's a trifle crotchety and intolerant. The underlying state was bedraggled with ragged edges - my mental states weren't always saintly. As the weeks pass, frustrated impatience, if not weariness, is becoming an increasing trend I need to remain aware of. I never realised before that simply waiting could be so tiring. I've not been sleeping soundly, and I'm not sleeping soundly because I'm unsettled, and I'm unsettled because I've been waiting to step down from being Customer Services Manager for eleven weeks. Still only another six weeks to go - six weeks ! Agggh !! calamity!!! - why did I agree to this? Because I was considering other peoples needs, and prioritising them before my own. So I have only myself to chastise on this one. If my rewards are not be in heaven, I want to know where they are - right now!!

I appear to have survived relatively unscarred by the last three weeks without David. Two weeks absence away on retreat is quite normal, but by next week he'll be clocking in his first month in Ghuyaloka. Many people have asked how I'm doing without him, and generally I'd say I'm OK. I'm not the moping type, at least never for long. I'm keeping myself busy, I have a number of creative things to be getting on with, and friends to meet up with. Obviously, I do miss him not being around,if only to share thoughts, confidences and experiences. I notice it most in the little rituals, the things we invariable do together, where it doesn't seem quite the same when ones doing it on ones tod. I have yet to find myself clawing at his picture and tearing open my shirt in wailing desperation, at least not yet. I've a very convenient way to manage the lack of sex - if you get my meaning. Given time, perhaps by the last month of his course in July, I might be clambering like a mad baboon looking for sight of him. Who knows?.

I've almost completed my first 'seed syllable' picture, the Ratnasambhavsa one I'm doing for Paco. I did his first because he isn't staying the full four months in Ghuyaloka, he's back at the beginning of July. Though in the end its come out quite well, there was one tense moment on Saturday. I'd bought some gold leaf paint to outline a lotus design. I'd shake the bottle to make sure the golden bits were suspended well, I'd turn away to paint a few brush strokes, but by the time my brush and I returned to the pot the gold would have separated out again. I was shaking, stirring and painting repeatedly all afternoon. This unsatisfactory process, didn't help in producing a result I was entirely happy with, but its now so bedecked with jewels no one else will notice a slightly blotchy wobbly edged paint finish. Only I will know and continue to be creatively aggrieved by it, should I allow myself to be. Learning to be creative in my responses to imperfection has been a cutting edge in my practice for many many years.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

FEATURE 25 - John Cooper Clarke - I travel in biscuits

I've been rediscovering the delights of John Cooper Clarke's early albums - Disguise in Love - Snap Crackle & Bop - Zip Style Method. The rich variety of musical styling that Martin Hannett glues Cooper Clarke's poems into, is impressive. It brings aural longevity to his work, which despite the obvious grittier punch of his naked live delivery, can become a bit wearing without these musical embellishments. There is only so much of the cynical tone and strangulated Salford vowel sounds you can comfortable stomach. But he is almost the archetypal performance poet, he has to be seen to be believed.

Perhaps we may have forgotten now how he almost single handed(Lynton Kwesi Johnson & Benjamin Zephaniah were two others) made poetry an acceptable and vital part of popular culture once more. The impact of this revival has somewhat diminished now, but Clarke's influence on it is still huge. For sheer energy of delivery, verbal facility and dexterity with which he makes his observations, Cooper Clarke is unmatched. My current favourite is 'I Travel in Biscuits' from Zip Style Method. I've been trying to find a You Tube video of John Cooper Clarke performing it with Martin Hannett's backing music. So far I have failed. I like this poem, not just because of its a good example of his trademark sparky word play, but also for the genuine sympathy he communicates for the dreary nature of a travelling salesmans life, selling products he doesn't care anything for. Anyway, here is the text version.


the sound of the daylight
the smell of the urine
the rain on the drainpipes
the filthy two-two time
i should know better
how an animal feels
a real go-getter
a wolf on all wheels
white collar whizz kids
button three mohair
i travel in biscuits
getting me nowhere

munchety munch
this is the punchline
crunchety crunch
they last you a lunchtime
who can resist it
who can be so square
i travel in biscuits
getting me nowhere

can you afford it
this is the crunch
orders are audits
a kiss or a punch
a dangerous neighbourhood
don't push it too far
i feel like
i'm made of wood
i stay in the car
i have to risk it
i have to go there
i travel in biscuits
getting me nowhere

they keep their crispness
more than just one day
got some for
ate them last
if you resist it
i'm gonna go spare
i travel in biscuits
getting me nowhere

the critical daylight
the smell of the urine
the rain on the drain pipes
the filthy two-two time
life is precarious
a long way from home
in alien areas
always alone
i look like a misfit
no one i know there
i travel in biscuits
getting me no where.

From - Ten years in an open necked shirt.
Published by Arena Books Ltd 1983.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

DIARY 103 - Back to Basics ( Part One )

The days immediately following David's departure, I still held a half-acknowledged delusion that he was still around somewhere and would pop his head round the door at any time. By the weekend I had fully adjusted to the longevity of his absence. I reflected then on quite what it was I wanted to develop for myself over the next four months. I resolved on three broad areas - practical, spiritual and creative.

Practically, its mainly to improve my general fitness through swimming and specific exercises to strengthen my back - plus having a general health check up at the Doctors surgery. Also I need some reassurance about the current state of my hearing. Lately I've begun to notice mild changes in the effectiveness of it. I can mishear, or strain to hear if people talk quietly, or with their backs to me. In a noisy street, or places with a lot of background noise, I can struggle to catch everything that's being said. There is also the 'getting a will written' issue that I put in a pending tray until after David had gone.

Spiritually, I want to increase the general frequency and tenure of my meditation and devotional practice. Meditating twice a day, plus doing my sadana, a puja and additional visualisation practices at weekends. I see it as a four month experiment with my practise to see what results. I also have regular study preparation to do for a retreat I'm going on in May based around Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara. Also there was a feeling that when David comes back from Ghuyaloka it would be good if I too was in better spiritual fettle, which might help ease his return to this context.

Creatively , I have two designs for paintings of seed syllables to work out, that I want to give as ordination gifts to David and Paco on their return. Plus I'd like to develop other artwork ideas as an ongoing thing, and to start selling them as I've mentioned previously. On top of this to continue adding regular content to this blog and to my dharma writing,with the occasional report in to Shabda (the WBO's monthly order journal).

It was clear from this, that if any of this was going to happen, plus maintaining a healthy amount of down time, meeting with friends etc, I would need not only to be more disciplined, but also get more organised. So I've set about revamping my Google Calendar, and worked out a basic weekly programme, where most things have some sort of regular slot, or slots. In the light of experience, I've already adjusted the frequency of some things. The exercise regime needed a more gradually build up or I'm going to be exhausted by July, which would sort of defeat the purpose. What I can fit into a morning routine is limited so I've adjusted timings and moved some practices to a later evening slot. It might be a tad ambitious, but I think I can adapt it as I see fit, even allow myself to fall back from it. To have a more flexible approach without feeling any sense of guilt or of having let myself down, or off the hook in some way.

I had a letter from David today, that he wrote over a week ago. They were just about to seal off the valley for the duration of the retreat, and were allowed to right some last letters before the Ordination Course starts in earnest. He sounds to have settled in quite easily to the new routine, and to be enjoying it too. I knew he would once he got there. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

At work we've decided the date of my handover to my replacement it is, auspiciously, to be the 1st May. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

THEATRE REVIEW - Gethsemene by David Hare

It was David who spotted it first, 'its got Tamsin Greig in it', 'oh yes we must see this.' Star of 'Green Wing', 'Black Books' & 'The Archers' - are we fans?-Yes we are! Two of your best tickets for the Gallery please. Jesus!! the Gallery in the Brighton Theatre Royal has a steep rake. Any steeper and you'd be propelled over the balcony if you sneezed. Once you got used to it, and made no sudden head moves, it was fine. Looking down on the open stage set, it seemed at first to be ridiculously minimal, like a large white sound proofed booth. During the play, fast action film of London traffic at nigh time was projected onto it, bits opened out to become doors, walls, staircases dropped down, lines of red or pink light turned it into a squash court or a wine bar. This was funky, but good funky.

The play revolves around the Home Secretary of a New Labour government (Tamsin Greig) and her daughter (Jessica Raine). This rebellious daughter has taken drugs, and done something else she wont talk about, that have resulted in her being expelled from her private school. What unfolds is a cover up,within a cover up, the need to avoid being seen to know about it, and to not be transparently complicit in the construction of the charade. There are two main themes; one, that no one can afford to be honest anymore, so everything has either to be cleaned up or made to look blamelessly innocent - and second, that each of these characters whether politician, news media or teacher has doubts about the ethics of what they're doing, they either can't afford to fully acknowledge it, run away from facing it most of the time, or hold onto some residual sense that what they're here for is to do good, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Each is painfully trapped in the sometimes pernicious consequences of their decisions. Each has chosen this cross that they bear - hence the reference to Gethsemene.

There were clearly some obvious factual parallels, the husband of the Home Secretary is an entrepreneur who is wanted on corruption charges in another EU country, for instance. Echoing the Tessa Jowell affair, right down to them arranging a trial separation. Otherwise the story was entirely a political fiction. David Hare is not interested in making sweeping generalisations in order to score party political points, nor in tub thumping polemic. No character is treated two dimensionally as a cipher or a cardboard cut out baddie - this is not a play by Howard Brenton! In the post Thatcher, post New Labour world we live in, the comforting certainties of Socialism v Capitalism now seem ludicrously simplistic. The current situation in British politics is far two subtly nuanced, so finding the mark so you can intelligently hit it, is difficult. Hare is clearly a skilled political observer, as well as a witty dramatist. Everyone is treated with a genial frankness, and a knowing honesty. His most salient points often executed with a deceptive kindness and lightness of touch. Demonstrating very carefully and succinctly how political self serving behaviour and self-sacrifice, all for 'the public good,' make very uneasy bedfellows, whatever your political colouring.

Present day politics is not a pleasure filled garden of delights, its incestuous relationship with the media often turns schizophrenic; from preening attention seeking to mistrustful sulking and bitter resentfulness. By the end of the play one strongly empathises with how caught they all are in an intricate tangle of desire and deceit - both individually and collectively. No one can opt out of being responsible because that collectivity also includes us. Politicians and the media behave in the way that they do because of us, and our unrealistic expectations of them. We set a higher moral standard than we ourselves live by, and then hypocritically deplore and ridicule our political leaders when their flawed humanity is ignominiously revealed. In psychological terms I believe this would be called projection. This lingering perception is just one of the things that this superb and strongly engaging play conjures up.

Random Strange Things Overheard In Brighton

  • He still hasn't worn his thong! Why Not?
  • His Mother - she only took a photo of his hair - right - on her mobile - and now she's showing it to everyone ! - its really out of order
  • Thing is with me, once I get a bee in my bonnet about something, I get stuck I can't move - I dig my heals in - everything becomes just black or white - black - or - white - nothing else Well, perhaps you need to create a bit more grey. But I can't- I'm just that sort of person - if it says - Don't Park- you don't park.

FEATURE 24 - 5 Good Things About Brighton

1) Paskins Guest House
David had raved about this place. Decorated in Art Deco style this guest house is a real gem. The hostess/proprietor was unfailingly kind, helpful and attentive. The breakfast choice, is not just your usual mini packs of cereal and palid racks of toast. To start with there was yogurt, a range of stewed fruits, cereals, and fruit juices. Followed by a cooked menu whose spectrum ranges from porridge, to fish, meat, vegetarian or vegan fried breakfasts. We had the vegetarian fried breakfast every day,which consisted of home made burger and sausage, fried mushrooms, baked beans, organic eggs and fried bread. All topped off with as much coffee as you could swallow. There was one day, I kid you not, when it got to the evening meal before we realised we'd gone completely without a midday meal. Our room though budget sized i.e. small, was perfectly adequate for lying in of a morning to watch old episodes of Will & Grace.

2) Food for Friends
Another David recommendation, we booked our evening meal days before when we were still in Cambridge, its that popular. The food itself was simple fair but just of such good quality and cooked to perfection. Even the olives and dips for starter was superlative. Our main course was a Mezze with various baked vegetables, a couscous stuffed red pepper with a slice of goats cheese as a lid, sliced courgettes with feta cheese crumbled along it,perfectly cooked aubergine, not mushy, firm but still melted in your mouth, all off set with a salad in a sweet dressing.

3) Bill's
A favorite of David's, we went here twice. Once for lunch with Sahananda, and for an evening meal. Housed in a converted bus garage, it has canned and bottled produce lining the walls and wholefoods for sale on stalls at the front. The centre is just packed with tables and chairs for diners. For the evening meal we had a gorgeous macaroni cheese, vegetables were mixed in with the pasta and was all topped with breadcrumbs. The desserts, well, they are never less than substantial. Unless you are a glutton, or really like the sensation of being stuffed like a haggis, always order one dessert and share it. Ours was a Bread and Butter Pudding, but very unusual one in that it used croissants layered with rhubarb and white chocolate. Served with vanilla ice cream this was simply a rich but rustic delight.

4) Brighton Pavilion I've been to Brighton at least three times before, and each time failed to see its major attraction. Too small to be a palace, it ended up being called a pavilion, which makes you imagine it as rather petite or tent like, but say not so. Everyone recognises its exterior, this mongrel confection, or more accurately, conglomeration of Indian mogul stylings. The interiors are less well known, but if anything are more impressive. The chinoiserie of The Banqueting and Music rooms is laid on richly and thickly, by Georgian designers who had clearly never been to China, nor understood the culture. They just borrowed heavily from a design pattern book and created this wonderfully ludicrous concoction. The effect of walking into The Banqueting Room is to be overwhelmed with awe. Both David and I stood gob smacked, astounded and amused. Commentators of the time thought the Pavilion 'effeminate' whilst today we might call it 'camp'. But, this is the highest of high camp, but one that I am deeply impressed with. It has instantly becomes one of my favorite buildings in the whole UK. Quite simply remarkable and unique.

5) The Mock Turtle
In our search for a tea room that served cream teas, we came across this little gem. So many cafes have a desultory range of cakes, this cafe has an enormous one, with a table literally heaving with dozens to chose from. From outside The Mock Turtle looks just like any quaint English tea shop, with ceramic plates, odd portraiture, plaques, dull landscapes, and brass ornaments decking the walls. But this instantly took on a surreal edge when you realised all the waitresses are Thai ,and they could hardly string a clear English sentence between them - 'A eet A Eysta Eugg' ( I eat a easter egg),' E awredy tidee' (It's already tidy). Very sweet, cheeky girls, who were a real handful for their English boss.

The cream teas, when they arrived, were of a stupendous size. There was the obligatory pot of tea, each cup had its own tea strainer. Then came the scones, four in all, the size of a small loaf, a pot of butter, one ice cream dish full of jam, and one full of clotted cream. The tea service design was the ubiquitous 'willow pattern.' Considering the all pervasive orientalism the Pavilion engendered, this seemed all too appropriate. Though it does seem strange that these Thai girls were serving up a quintessentially English thing, in this bastardised version of an oriental culture. I had the same response in the Pavilion when I saw Chinese tourists gawping at its half baked, cranky version of their own cultural aesthetic It made me realise how mixed up, and appropriating English culture, has, and continues to be.


1) Crossing the Road
If there is one thing about Brighton that is more than a bit scary, its the roads and the pelican crossings. Brighton needs a bypass, a huge amount of traffic travels through it and along the coast road, which rather ruins your walks along the Brighton Promanade. Pedestrianised areas have cars driving up them at all times of day. You take your life into your hands merely crossing an ordinary street. When I stand at a pelican crossing, I always look across the road I'm wanting to traverse to the lights opposite to inform me when to cross. In Brighton there aren't any. You are expected to look immediately behind you, to your right for a little walking green man to light up. This does not make any sense what so ever!

2) Brighton Marina
Admittedly it was on the greyest dullest day of our trip, that we walked along the beach to the Brighton Marina. David had read there were other exclusive and enticing shops, restaurants and cafes to be explored there. What a let down we were to have. The approach from the beach is truly dreadful, walking down this horrible, badly stained concrete walkway, reminiscent of entering some decrepit subway. Once you emerge what do you see first?- the far too familiar frontage of Asda. Brighton Marina itself is all car park and delivery bays, at least lets be charitable and say its hidden behind them. When you do find your way to the correct level for the shops and things, it is a very miserable, and very disappointing experience. The restaurants and cafes are your predictable multiples and most of the shops are discount clearance warehouse outlets. Who on earth would believe it was feasible to buy a true designer bag for ten quid, anyway? It maybe a 'Chav' or 'Wag' heaven, but as far as I'm concerned its one place on gods earth to be avoided at all costs.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

DIARY 102 - Comings and Goings

There is no prescribed thing that you must do before you go on an Ordination Course. Some folks turn travelling to the Spanish mountains into an rambling epic journey across Europe. I chose to revisit all the places I'd ever lived or worked throughout my life up until the year 2000. David chose to spend five days with me in Brighton. In many ways this was an opportunity for both of us to escape, myself from a job I was eager to step down from ASAP, and David the anxiety inducing bardo of waiting for that day of departure. Why Brighton? Well not particularly because its the gay capital of the English south coast. David visits there regularly as part of his work, and had a number of places he wanted to take me to. Most, but not all, involved food in some way. Weather wise the days were bright blue skies, sunny, with a chill driving wind you felt if you ventured into the shade, or stayed out past sunset. Only one day of our mini break was foggy, grey and very cold, which for early April was fortunate. So there was a lot of walking, relaxing, sunning ourselves, shopping and idle chatting. I think it was an ideal place for both of us.

Arriving back David suddenly felt the enormity of what he was about to set out to do in only a day and a half. Myself? well I began to feel sad at the sense of a forthcoming aloneness. There were a few things David needed to get Monday morning, and I needed to buy some acrylic paints. So we went for our last coffee and muffin in the Cafe Nero at the back of Heffers bookshop. The chunky Italian barista who knows our requirements off by heart, was surprised to see us midweek. David's calmness began to crumble as the day went on, and by the evening when the packing began in earnest, he was sweating profusely and had an air of flustered panic. It was quite a difficult state to be around and not find yourself getting anxious too. Once the rucksack was tightly stuffed almost beyond being zipped up, David sort of calmed down. Now all we had to do was wait for the time for the taxi to arrive. We went to bed early, he sleeped, I didn't. I never can relax when I'm aware of an imminent event. So at quarter past two the alarm went off. The taxi arrived a little before 3.30am. David turned to me and said 'this is either the most wonderful important thing I'll ever do with my life, or the most stupid' In nightshirt and dressing gown I followed him downstairs to the lobby, kisses, hugs, parting, a kiss, and he walked out to the cab. I couldn't see if he was waving as the taxi drove off, but I was.

I'm writing this three days later, and the Ordination course will have set itself up, and will be well into its stride by now. I feel a bit of a time lag, in myself. I'm only just getting my head around David's absence, and what I'm going to do with myself whilst he's away. There has been work, forcing myself to adjust and get used to it once more. This week my replacement as Manager was chosen, a person from my current team. I've been asked to stay until a replacement is found for her, which may not be till the end of May. I'm sitting rather uneasily with the nature of this exit strategy, it's getting rather too prolonged and drawn out for me. But at least I know what I'm doing next, helping with painting jobs in the Property Team over the Summer, and in the warehouse over the Christmas period. For which I can't wait, but will have to.

Monday, April 06, 2009

FEATURE 23 - Gooing Gooing Gone

These two adverts are just so bizarrely wonderful - building on a series of adverts released over recent years where a Cadbury's Cream Egg engineers being smashed to smithereens by a variety of ordinary objects like a whisk, a typewriter or a hairdryer. This years adverts seem to verge on being an arty parody, of something of other. The 'eggsitential' scenario develops an uneasy edge with a mass suicide with Japanese overtones - where exactly are they taking us with this? They do somehow still manage to remain a real hoot. Impressive.