Wednesday, 26 November 2008

960 - In Which I Dream of Bears

This post is at the rigorously honest, introspective and probably tangential end of the spectrum. 'More for me than for you' kind of thing. But included on the off-chance.

Not one but two dreams about bears last night. In the first I attempt to herd wild bears back into the paddock by the primary school where they have been at play. I ride on the back of one, and friends shoosh the others, and (knowing bears) I am fearful for my friends and also my legs. Hair-raisingly, because no-one has alerted the primary school, a nursery-room is full of little children playing. The most violent of the bears makes his way in and hides, or is pressed by my friends behind the furniture, as I progress towards him, scooping the children out of the room one by one with an urgent 'Go!' as I do so.

In the second dream the Buffy DVDs I've been watching set the tone. It is power-hungry teachers calling up the spirit of a great and vicious bear, and knowing not what they do, and I (which reveals a flexibility I certainly don't share with Sarah Michelle Gellar) leaping to the top of the symbol-rich wooden framework that they have constructed in order to summon the animal. I drop onto the back of the enormous bear to thwart it. Again I am fearful of a mauling. The bear is somehow a spirit seeking wings, and when I throttle it the spirit is still at large. I trap it between two picture frames, 'so that it can look at itself in Hell for all eternity!', but the frames break and disappear, leaving the spirit invisible, untraceable (and a part of me?).

What to make of these dreams? I'm being far too heroic, but at least I'm dreaming that I'm with friends. I want to identify with the bears in the first dream - I've been reading Brody about shamanistic dreams as intuitive means for hunters to know the animals they hunt, by meeting them, even becoming them. This is about the possibility of incarnating. These beasts are not being anything other than observably wild bears. The bear in the second dream is more problematic. The spiritual dimension of the bear is apparent - its urgent aspiration heavenwards. I am the one who throttles it into submission and who seeks to cast it back the way it has apparently come. But I am left uneasily aware that the spirit is probably in me, and I need to live with it.

Conclusion: my waking life has to be open to expressing this 'bearfulness', without unleashing it on others, including my friends. It fits with the work I've been doing around being fully myself, and reminds me that with passion comes responsibility - a good, if predictable lesson. The Christian word is maybe 'holiness', in the sense of 'wholeness'. And there is the sense, to pick up the Brody quote from Sunday, that as well as 'a profound and intelligent uncertainty' to the hunter-gatherer life, there is an unavoidable engagement with it.

The force of the dream, perhaps, is to take these truths 'out on the road', which, sorry Whitley, means stretching my 'essence of bear' muscles around here.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

961 - Spoiler Alert

Sneak preview of one of the four images on this year's christmas card.

Love Steve and E x

Monday, 24 November 2008

962 - What I Believe May Be Happening

[Advance warning - too many words in this post!]

A Whitley Bay Thousand is a local blog, but I'm using it to explore a big idea.

This, in a nutshell, is that we are moving beyond the dichotomies by which we've been living as agrarian and hunter-gatherer civilisations, into a new assimilation of the two.

If, in broad strokes, hunter-gatherer societies have known their ecosystem before they have changed it, and farmers have changed their ecosystem before they have known it, it is also true that both philosophies have brought benefits and damage. In no sense can we say, unequivocally, that one is better than the other.

But we can say that enormous and immediate pressures are influencing us, as civilisations, to change the ways we live. Population growth, and what appears to be an increasingly unsustainable pace of consumption, are depleting the biodiversity and mineral resources of the planet. Or, at least, rearranging them in ways that are starting to boggle our minds. Scientific models predict a boggling in reality too, in ways that may compound one another; in ways that, through complexity, become more and more difficult to anticipate.

At the same time, and perhaps as a response, some of our big ideologies are starting to change. Christianity, for example, with which I am perhaps most familiar, is seeing a rejection of traditional forms of church in favour of new, 'emerging' structures. These are increasingly open to ambivalence, doubt and equivocation, not, as the stereotype would have it, because the core of Christianity is rejected, but because it is actually seen to be a celebration of such attitudes from the very beginning.

Simultaneously, the most cutting-edge science, that which it is quite easy to portray as antithetical to Christianity, is itself embracing ambivalence, doubt and equivocation in the pursuit of the greatest precision. A case in point might be psychology, which increasingly understands consciousness, and all its emotional and cognitive underpinnings, in terms of homeostasis - our preservation, as minds and bodies, of optimum internal and external survival conditions - for sound evolutionary reasons.

Homeostasis is about the middle ground, neither too hot nor too cold, too pressured nor too free, too drunk nor too sober, too extreme in any direction. To use a Christian image, it is the narrow gate, not the walls stretching out on either side. It is the passage through life, rather than the graffiti about what that life might be. It is perhaps, were the choice to be required, a preference for the event, the experience of life, over a definition of that event, together with an understanding that defining life can only ever be the most provisional part of coming to know it.

Once again, Brody puts it well: "Everyone must pay close attention, be careful, use every faculty to be aware of the land and all that it may hold....There is a profound and intelligent uncertainty. No one knows what is going to happen or which decisions about any part of life will turn out to be correct. Hence the importance in [the Inuit language of] Inuktitut, for example, of expressing caution and qualifications of all kinds. The analogue nature of myth mirrors a sense that the world itself defies digital ways of speaking. " The Other Side Of Eden, p.246

If we are seeing a renewed commitment to this core truth on a societal as well as personal level, it makes sense to celebrate it in public. How best to celebrate it? Perhaps in story and myth, made relevant by its expression in local and relevant idiom. Hence my attempt to know the place I live, know the land around Whitley, and to celebrate it in words and images.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

963 - Melting

E and I climbed onto our second bus of three at around ten in the morning. The X66 from the Metrocentre to Gateshead. The snow, shallowly crystalline as we left one set of friends, and melting fast, had all but disappeared from the bus route as we headed to our second set. But it had been enough to launch the conversation between our fellow passenger and us, if not the sledge dragged by the girl we had passed on the way to our first bus, up at Rowlands Gill.

Our companion told us how, at five, as she left for the morning shift at the shopping centre, the snow had fallen pristine. "I love to walk on the fresh snow," she said, "Just a big kid; my son's the same." We drove past the forecourt of one of the light industrial workshops scattered between the Metrocentre and Gateshead proper, and I imagined her son, burly, confident, scuffing through Geordie snow with his workboots on.

Then she said, "I've still got their first snowballs, you know. I'm a hoarder. I can't get rid of them. The first ones they made. They're in a tupperware box. I'll give them to my son and daughter when they're thirty."

"How old are they now?" I asked, meaning the snowballs.

"He's twenty eight, and my daughter's twenty three."

After a moment she continued: "Ee, I had a panic when we changed the freezer. I put them in a coolbox, all wrapped up, and took them to my sister's! And my son's girlfriend, when she came round, my son said, 'Take a look what me mam keeps in the tupperware - '"

Now she laughed, aghast at herself: "He said, once, 'See what I can get for them on Ebay -'"

"What do they look like?" I asked.

"They're a bit smaller now than they were." she admitted.

We got off the bus at Gateshead, with cheerful goodbyes. Twenty minutes later E and I were on and off our third bus, in Birtley, and the meltwater was making music on the town's greystone walls. We walked the Durham Road to the church, and the christening of our friends' new baby in it.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

965 - Railroading

"Once I built a railroad, I made it run. Made it race against time. Once I built a railroad, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?"

Whitley Bay, Park View, 8.00pm last night, I'd left the house. I don't bring money in, with what I try to do. E does that. I placed my wallet on the sidetable as I passed her, on the phone, on the way out. Rain-flecked, icy sky. Needed to let it burst in my head, to happy-slap me out of a sallow mood. Why does no-one pay me when I follow my vocation? Why must I vocate and work for cash at the same time?

I was near The Celtic Path. A man passed, drunk, shaven-headed, tough. Small smile to disarm him. He sussed me out.

"You got twenty p for a telephone call?"
"I've got no money, no wallet. Left it at home - "
"You got twenty p?"
Shrug. "No wallet -"
"You got twenty p?"
Shrugging; backing and turning. Still -
"You got twenty p?" he asks.

Happy-slap. I brought fifteen quid into the house last year. But I'm not poor the way he is. My desperation is a luxury. The meeting leaves me quiet.

Did it quieten him? Not in a way I could see. His desperation had set him on a railroad: forward, forward for money that simply wasn't there. And it reminds me of the song: the shock of deprivation after a lifetime of graft.

"Brother, can you spare a dime?" - But no words with which to conceive of your need, no manners with which to articulate them, save those that have helped build the railroad system, the finance on which you depend, in the first place. Probably words given to you by that very system.

They say you need a quiet hope to get through life. Hope is what is left when the words are taken away. But you have to have the words taken away to see it.

Monday, 17 November 2008

966 - On Hunter-Gatherers and Us

Another quote from Hugh Brody. Long one. Important. On colonial education:
The residential school was part of a process of ethnocide. The plan that shaped these schools, and the attitudes that informed their daily regimens, emerged from the agriculturalists' need to get rid of hunter-gatherers. These schools represent a dedicated and ruthless attempt to transform the personalities and circumstances of "native people" into ... well, what? Farmworkers and industrial labourers? Domestic servants and housewives? All of these, and yet the project is easier to understand as a negative rather than as a positive undertaking. The intention was to stop people being who they were - to ensure that they could no longer live and think and occupy the land as hunter-gatherers. The new and modern nation-states make no room for hunter-gatherers.

The Other Side of Eden, p.189

No room for hunter-gatherers. No room for the mindset where survival depends on knowing rather than changing a landscape. Not surprising then, perhaps, that people in our society who adopt this mindset - and there are such people; it is a tool of mind the capacity for which we all possess - should find themselves outside and against the systems within which the rest of us are happy to fit.

But it sounds like a challenge - a gauntlet thrown down. No room? then let's make room. If, for a while, we've had enough of changing our environment, if we are losing our faith in the enduring value of doing so, then it wouldn't be surprising to find more of us choosing to change our worldview in order to know our environment more fully.

I'm convinced this is happening. People I meet, books I read, trends I see around me, here in Whitley and all over, tell this story again and again. Therefore the need to accommodate such people within our accepted understanding of society becomes more and more imperative.

967 - A Dream

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Samuel Coleridge, Kubla Khan

Girl it looks so pretty to me
Like it always did
Like The Spanish City to me
When we were kids

Mark Knopfler, Tunnel of Love

Where do you go to dream for England?

You pay to live in the Dreaming Spires - average student debt on leaving education is twenty five grand. And in Newcastle you cannot sit inside, chatting, dreaming, reading, writing, drawing, except for the outlay of the price of a coffee. That lasts an hour, give or take, so not bad rental - two quid an hour for the use of a table. But it's still rental.

Church buildings should be dreaming spaces - as should mosques, temples, all places of worship. But price of entry is too often doctrinal conformity. The same goes for shopping malls - love us, love our capitalism. Libraries are great. But shhhh!

Home then, after work? But the best dreams are dreamt in company. The dreams that change communities - surely they should be dreamt as communities? The dreams that change work should be dreamt at work, out loud... and not imposed on others, as Kubla Khan in Xanadu imposed his.

Perhaps the Spanish City Dome has a future as a gathering space for dreamers. It has been inspired by poetry, inspires lyrics. It's watched over by statues of the muses of dance and music. And our town, like pretty much every other, lacks places indoors where the community can gather freely to dream, delve inside its daily activity, celebrate the story that kindles underneath.

Could it happen? Honestly, I doubt it. Not yet. Until then, and perhaps it's no bad thing, and shouldn't change, everywhere's fair ground for dreaming on...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

968 - Whitley - The Movie (1)

Robert McKee delivers a seminar about Story. His homepage states that some 50,000 screenwriters, actors, directors, novelists and journalists have attended in the 15 years it has been running. Former students have written WALL-E, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Enchanted, Scrubs; have won 27 Academy Awards and 141 Emmys. You get the picture.

His book (from which I've been quoting already) expands on the thesis of the seminar. What you realise, pretty soon, is that it is not just about screenwriting - it's about the ways we make sense of life. This from his website:
in ALL creative work, everything works in the shadow of classic story design.

So if community development is creative, then it is story. If taking reponsibility for your life is creative, then it is story.

Religions realise this - traditional Christianity is the invitation to participate in a massive story arc, one of cosmological as well as personal scope. So too Islam, Hinduism, a myriad others. Though it would be a truism to say that, realising this, we live in a post-religious age.

Still, we cannot avoid seeing life in terms of story. The regeneration of Whitley Bay is a story. Here's a pitch: tiny seaside town blossoms as pleasure resort, but internal and external pressures conspire to see it fade. Will it succomb? When all seems lost, it rediscovers its heart. Belief returns. A newer, braver, wiser Whitley rises.

Robert McKee charts twenty five movie genres - twenty five basic pitches: love story; horror film; modern epic; western; war genre; the coming-of-age story; redemption plot; punitive plot; comedy; biography; animation; fourteen others. It'd be very fun to pitch 'Whitley - The Movie' in terms of each of these. Then, having selected a pitch, to make the movie by living it.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Thursday, 13 November 2008

971 - Words

Two quotes, one from each of two books I'm reading: The Other Side of Eden, by Hugh Brody, and Story, by Robert McKee. McKee's first:
You may think you know, but you don't know you know till you write it down.... Explore your past, relive it, then write it down. In your head it's only memory, but written down it becomes working knowledge. (p. 73)
And Brody's:
I found myself thinking about the grief that comes with loss of words. What must it mean not to be able to put names in your own language to the things that you care most about? (p.173)

Between the two ideas lies the territory I'm trying to work in. McKee is optimistic. He assumes that to write down is to make usable. But he is also urgent: not to write down is to abandon. Brody is pessimistic. To abandon a culture is to lose something quintessential. But he is also generous: he measures the weight of this loss, gives it its worth.

How to remain generous without compromising urgency? Elegiac whilst celebrating change? Words must be used, I think, but those words that exist before they become words, that don't need to be written, only because they are written already in the deepest part of us. We must keep faith with the power of silence to change things. And we must write the silence down.

972 - Baggage...

From time to time E has had to listen patiently as I roar frustration at Whitley Bay. Its not being London. My alienation from it. I dip low - not into depression exactly, but there's definitely a cycle of moods. And E asked, early on into this blog, 'What will you write when you're down?'

Well, I'm down. Yesterday and today. So yesterday I stuck two posts up, and objectively, you know, they're not nearly as bleak as I feared they'd be. But today I want to try and dredge the mood a little. Pull up a few images and word them, so that they become handleable.

So this is me earlier today, walking on the path up our street. I'm feeling the concrete. I'm feeling the absence of grass. A part of me yearns through the soles of my shoes, down through the paving slabs, to be flat-footing the mud. Whitley is like everywhere - everywhere named - because it bears the mask of human culture, thinner than cellophane, over it. I can't punch through this plastic - it smothers everything beneath it, and I did not choose for it to be there.

When I was seventeen, once on the way to school, I imagined the roads in Barnet being torn up by the life force in the earth they covered. Part of me willed it. Non-violently, and in a controlled manner, I'd still like it to happen. It's part of what I think a reparative society might do - a society that draws its satisfaction from the constructive process of unmaking the excesses of consumerism. Removing some of the ideological cellophane of culture, as well as its objective bricks and barricades.

I suspect that we are going to get a reparative society. But we are in a period of transition. I'm dedicated to smoothing this process of change. And when I'm down I see the size of the hurdles ahead - sense the intractability of our present society, allow myself to explore its pain (which is my pain too), allow myself to be daunted.

That's not the end of it, though. At my height I sense the potential inherent in our present culture, just as much as in all possible future variants. Then on my walk down our street I delight in the terraced houses, the flagstones, the funky cars and the funky people in them. And with these two poles in mind, the high and the low, Whitley utopian and holed in the bow, I begin to be realistic again.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

973 - My New Stick (1)

Look what I've just found!

974 - Mimble (definition)

Mimble (noun) - a mini ramble, a very very short walk; (verb) - to hike an exceedingly small distance; (quote) - "I mimbled lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o'er dale and hill..." - William Wordsworth, famously recounting his mimble to the daffodil clump at the foot of his garden.

Today marks the launch of the WBM - the Whitley Bay Mimblers.

It will be dedicated to the meticulous planning and execution of mimbles in Whitley Bay and surrounding areas.

Short walks, with maximum impact. From the car-park to St Mary's Lighthouse. Around the lake at Marden Quarry. Around the block. In to and out of the Briardene.

Full hiking equipment required - boots, jackets, rucksacks and sticks; Kendal Mint Cake; GPS; Map and Map Case; copy of CAMRA pub guide; gaiters; hip flask; emergency whistle; emergency back-up hip flask; sun-cream, scarf and gloves; fleece (cat design on front optional); scissors (for scrumping cuttings from National Trust gardens); ball of wool (for attaching to tea shop doors, and unravelling, to prevent loss); compass; shades, and Werther's Toffees.

This post is dedicated to someone who'll ramble again, one day. But in the meantime, we'd like to help you get your walking strength and confidence back, and we reckon mimbles are the way forward. You know who you are, Hectoria.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

975 - Jack Frost

Fickle thing, the Spirit of Cool.

With my test card pattern sweater and pimpin' fake fur winter coat - the one with the fur at a downward slant, the one that ratchets the sweater sleeves down my arms and over my hands whenever I swing them - I was - admit it - drop dead gorgeous. And I'd drawn a pretty nifty picture for the front of our annual Christmas Card. And then I'd dropped into Waterstones to hunt for a book of Bob Dylan lyrics, and explained to the girl behind the counter that it was for a piece of art, and she'd more or less said so: "Cool," she'd said.

So I was high on Cool.

After lunch I took a trip to our local supermarket, basketing the BOGOFs nonchalantly, sauntering to the checkouts. I unloaded the basket onto the empty conveyor belt, and waited.

"Two minutes," said the checkout girl.

Uncoolly, I bridled, but collected myself. Though there was no queue, a handsome lad on the other side was waiting by the plastic bags. Perhaps he's her bloke, I thought, perhaps they've just been arranging to meet up. Then, as the girl started running the groceries through, he began to open one of the bags.

"Don't worry," I said, suavely sliding my rucksack off my back and onto the checkout. "I've brought my own."

"I'm not packing for you," he said, "I'm waiting for a DVD."

It arrived. He took it. I felt a bit more cool evaporate. I packed my rucksack quickly, pinning in my card number, fiddling shut the zipper, and walking away, subdued.

But the girl called me back. "Hey!" she said, "You've left your card in the machine!"

So that's the Spirit of Cool. You've either got it, or you haven't. In the morning I had it and in the afternoon, it went.

This is like the occasion I visited the Alnwick Gardens Treehouse Restaurant with E, when, in the Gents, admiring the sleek new shape of the upmarket urinals, and contemplating quite why there was a need to stick taps on them, it slowly dawned on me why the man at the urinal opposite had looked at me so strangely. I left without washing my hands.

Monday, 10 November 2008

976 - Money is a Work Battery

This is just a cool idea. Not sure if I can tie it in to Whitley Bay. Not sure if that matters!

So we've got this thing called money, and nearly everyone uses it. Friend I spoke to at the weekend told me it was used by his managers to try to entice him back into a Big Company, when all the reasons he left are about morale and values, not financial reward.

They assumed the inherent good, or at least inevitability, of money. They were so sure it was all they'd be able to motivate him with, that they were unable to develop an alternative strategy to keep him. And he's good.

But is money inevitable?

I asked myself what money does, and I decided you could call it a work battery. It stores up work done previously, ready for discharge when you need it, to reciprocate for work done for you now. It's a handy size. It fits in your pocket, or a handful of digits on a computer. It retains the core ethos of community - reciprocity. I can imagine it developing out of the need to survive like this:

In a trusting community, work by one is 'repaid' by work in kind. But where no such repayment is possible, the produce of earlier work may be offered. A harvest of potatoes perhaps, or a metal it has taken much effort to find or extract. And in time, rather than humping your produce around with you, you might choose, within your community, a symbol to represent such produce, which is printed on paper, and portable.

So here's the rub: a battery carries a charge, but it takes energy to store the battery under the right, dry and cool, conditions - energy which is unaccounted for by the battery itself. And in the exact same way, maintaining the environment within which money works requires energy. It requires stability, the freedom to flow, an investment of trust within the community using the cash. The bigger the community, the greater the investment. And that investment cannot come from the money itself, or the money is drained of its usefulness.

What this extended thought helps me to do is tie money right back into hard physics. It is the physics of effort expended, which is about burning the calories we consume, which are subject to universal laws like the conservation of energy. We are survival machines, and 'work' is ultimately what we do to survive. If money is simply one, rarified and highly developed, tool for survival, it is no more (or less) useful than any other tool. Screwdrivers are useful, but not to pump up bicycle tyres. Generating money is no more (or less) valuable than anything else that helps the community survive.

Another tool might well, under certain circumstances, be preferable. I wonder if, credit crunching, now might be such a time.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

977 - Amore

... is the name of a great new Italian restaurant, where Casa Bellissimo used to be (corner of Whitley and Station Roads, opposite The Station pub - which, by the way, looks like it is about to reopen).

E and a couple of friends and I went for a meal. The food's good - solid homespun feel, with a little extra that's not just down to the presentation (though marks for that, too). Nice mussels dish, with canneloni beans and spinach; meatballs that feel beefy enough they'd stand up to a game of squash; chicken livers in a thick, sweet wine sauce; pizzas and pastas and some top end dishes around the fourteen quid mark. Home-made apple pie for desserts.

The owner's got an infectious enthusiasm about the place: it's the first he's owned, though he managed the place when it was Bellissimo, up until a year or so previously, before moving to a restaurant in town. Now he's back, bravely. It's a tough time to grow a restaurant, I've heard. He's taking the patient route and, not least because the food is so good, I hope it pays off for him.

978 - Suburban Anarchy and Storytelling

At the checkout, at the local supermarket, I piled an average basket of groceries onto the belt. The checkout girl told me that her car had been broken into the day before.

"They put a crowbar to it - " she said, "In the car-park, here. But they didn't take anything. I had a brand new stereo in it, but they didn't take it."

She was shaking her head, with a rueful smile, that her thieves should have been so stupid.

I bought the groceries (too much chocolate) and took the story with me.

This is my big ponder: is storytelling the key to unlocking the power of anarchy in suburbia? Stories only work amongst equals. And everyone loves a story. The sharing of a story - the listening to, as well as the telling of it - is the fundamental democratic act. It transcends material economy, because whether material goods are present or absent, a story can be told about our engagement, or lack of engagement, with them. With each other, too. And everything is a story, isn't it?

Robert McKee, a lecturer on scriptwriting, is good on the tools of narrative:

"A storyteller is a life poet, an artist who transforms day-to-day living, inner life and outer life, dream and actuality into a poem whose rhyme scheme is events rather than words...."

Story (Methuen, 1999, p.25).

He's talking about the medium of film. What he says holds for all forms of storytelling - novels, journalism, blogging, dance. And, I think, the medium in which anarchy is most at home - real life itself.

We have remarkable freedom to arrange the events of our lives in poetry schemes. Emma and I married on my birthday. She achieved a doctorate on her own - she aimed for it, but it was a realistic aim, and life fell in such a way that she achieved it. I developed cancer in the months after I left my job - not before, not after: there's poetry there. It is possible to live your life as a story, whether or not anyone is watching. Life lived as a warm, engaging story will probably engage others warmly in it, and if not, do you really care? Generation Y, who are often accused of living lives as if they are on TV, have grasped something fundamentally important here.

So, to Whitley. If Whitley Bay is lived warmly, if it allows for itself the thrills and risk of an adventure, if it builds romance and a deep interior life, it will thrive and be remembered. To live like this means, by definition, to allow that all are equal in the sharing of the tale, and suburban anarchy grows.

Monday, 3 November 2008

979 - Fireworks on Whitley Bay Links (4/4)

More camera shake! This one I call 'Swans'.

The thought of swans gliding transformed my perception of the speed of the original event.

980 - Fireworks on Whitley Bay Links (3/4)

981 - Fireworks on Whitley Bay Links (2/4)

982 - Fireworks on Whitley Bay Links (1/4)

Camera shake!