Saturday 25 June 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

Scroll down to the video at the bottom of this post now, please. Look at the hands clapping, the hands holding the violin, the hands playing the piano. What do they all have in common?

They are human hands. Hands capable of creating, guiding, helping. Hands capable of caressing, kneading, supporting. Hands that reach out, sometimes to other human beings. Hands that build. Perhaps bridges, you could say. These are human hands, similar in appearance and functionality to the ones I am using now to type up this post. Yes, you could say that they differ, these hands in the clip and your hands, and mine. Because some are bigger whereas others are smaller. Some are lighter-skinned whilst some are of a darker blue. Some have pencil-thin fingers. Others boast short, fat digits. But, despite the differences these hands are human. Human hands that are capable of loving.

They are also capable of hating.

They can hold a gun, these hands. They can hold a ballot paper that will seal a nation’s fate, a knife (with murderous intentions) or a baseball bat on an unlit road. And even if the decision to use our hands comes ultimately from our brain, that final command to act, you could say, it is our hands that carry out the deed. The same hands you saw earlier in that clip caressing the black-and-whites.

We are responsible for what we do with our hands. We are accountable, first to ourselves as adults, then to society, for how we use our hands. Barring pathology, we should be perfectly capable of making rational decisions that benefit us and our fellow human beings. When we do not, we should not make excuses and seek refuge in amendments from bygone eras, abstract nouns like politics or easy scapegoats like immigrants. We are individuals, indeed, but that does not mean imposing an individualistic way of life on others.

And yet…

Hatred is winning. Along with its close relative, fear. We are using our hands more and more to elicit tears of sorrow than joy. The hands guiding the orchestra in the clip are losing to the ones pulling the trigger outside an MP’s surgery. We have ditched the conditional “if” for the more practical and terrifying “when” in statements. We are getting used, like it or not, to hatred and fear.

I am not. A South African opera singer performing a song in Latin to the score of a dead German composer, led by a Dutch violinist in a Brazilian city is the world I want to live in. I do not want to live in a world where a four-year-old asks his father to teach him how to fire a gun because he witnessed daddy killing a robber at the barber’s. I do not want to live in a world in which daddy says that he will teach his son in due course, obviously, but not now. When his son turns five instead…

I do not get to decide how the world shapes up. Nor would I like to, in all honesty. I am not into prescriptive measures. I would rather we, of our own accord, used our hands to bring out the best in our fellow humans, as Kimmy and André do in the clip. After all it is better to cry of joy than to cry over yet another life lost to hatred. Look at those hands clapping, playing, directing. Look at your own now, capable of creating, kneading, helping. Building, too. Bridges, you say? Yes, bridges. They are also capable of loving. And we need a lot of love today. Please, let us use them for that purpose.

© 2016

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 2nd July at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday 22 June 2016

London, my London

London’s roads resemble the branches of a crooked tree. They bend and twist whimsically, creating cul-de-sacs and one way streets all over the city. They are as beautiful as they are maddening. Luckily the road I choose today for my latest bicycle adventure is as straight as it is London-y possible.

Southampton Row starts just north of Holborn tube station, in London’s West End. However, it changes names along the way. This is a constant motif as I cycle down Great Queen St. and turn left onto Kingsway, Southampton Row’s first mutation.

As I leave tourist-magnet Covent Garden behind, I also notice that there is another pattern that keeps repeating itself wherever I go in London: parking spaces for bicycles or the lack of them thereof. The majority are exposed to the elements. It is as if all the recent pro-cycling publicity has focused more on getting people to saddle up than on creating welcoming and sheltered places for bicycles. Once again, our continental friends are blazing the trail. In Holland most cycle shelters have roofs and are designed in a way that looks inviting and appealing for still-undecided would-be cyclists. In London by contrast, bike sheds (usually just racks) are installed – if they are – as an after-thought. Today I see evidence of this everywhere. I spend about half an hour in Covent Garden's Piazza and not once do I see a bicycle park, not even the typical sturdy, thick, metallic racks to which I can chain my two-wheeler.

It is a similar situation once I get on Southampton Row. The only sheltered bicycle-dedicated space I find is at Euston Station. Before I get to this transport hub, though, made up of railway connections, a tube station and a bus depot, Southampton Row changes names five times: Russell Square (central London’s second largest square and almost opposite the British Museum), Woburn Place, Tavistock Square (with a well-known statue and bust, the former of Mahatma Gandhi and the latter of Bloomsbury set author, Virginia Woolf), short-lived and Upper Woburn Place and Eversholt Street. It is here on the corner of what one of the green signs calls the A200 and Euston Road that the neo-classical St Pancras New Church looms over the passing traffic ominously.

St Pancras New Church: imposing and awe-inspiring

As I cycle on, I am also reminded of the terrible event that took place on this road eleven years ago, almost to the day. It was here that the number 30 bus exploded when terrorists attacked London on 7th July 2005.  I shudder slightly at the thought of the tragedy.

The reason why I am undertaking this trip is mainly because I am interested in long, straight roads in London. The variety of neighbourhoods they traverse through provides a wealth of history and culture. Already I have gone from pretty, postcard-perfect Covent Garden, through well-off Tavistock Square to what now has become an urban three-branch crooked tree on Camden High Street. Straight on lies my final destination, Hampstead; if I were to take the road in the middle, however, that would bring me up to NW5, Kentish Town. Choose the one on my right, on Camden Road and I will end up in Victorian-era Finsbury Park.  I carry on up Camden High Street. As I head further up the scenery changes as well as the name of the road. I am now entering much posher and bohemian territory and the houses and surroundings bear witness to that. It is also the first time that the road has actually curved. The northwest-bound bend is noticeable because it announces ascent. I switch gears swiftly and remove my jumper. The early spring-morning chill has given way to a noon-time hot sun with not a cloud in sight.

I arrive at Belsize Park tube station and dismount. I park my bike nearby (again, no shelter) and I am amused that by the time I return my bicycle has struck up a rather “overfriendly” relationship with a woman-framed bike. I cannot leave it alone, my two-wheeler. It immediately starts chatting other bikes up.

My bike (left) being "friendly"

I have a soft spot for Hampstead Village. I love their narrow, hilly streets, with cul-de-sacs and lanes leading off Rosslyn Hill and Hampstead High Street. The area has a lot of character, probably one of the reasons why it is so pricey. There are still lots of independent shops and one of them is Daunt Books, a two-store chain with one branch here and the other one in the Heath, on South End Road.

What I have learnt, as I continue to tour around London on my bike, is that the effect of our surroundings (whatever they are, mere objects or historical places) does not have a meaning in itself. We, humans, we, amateur architects, design and build them into memories, beautiful and long-lasting, un-Instagrammed moments. That is the last thought in my mind as I saddle up and disappear down one of the branches of this urban crooked tree we call London.

© 2016

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 25th June at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday 18 June 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

Honestly, what did the Fatherhood Institute think it was going to happen? You launch a report with the word “worst” in it, next to “mums and dads” and ending with the term “childcare” and you expect the press (especially the rightwing tabloids) to give you an easy ride?

Only a self-delusional Martian unacquainted with planet Earth, its traditions and customs could think that The Daily Mail (also known as The Daily Hate) and co. would pass up such a golden opportunity to try to put one over us, forever-on-the-crosshairs parents. Dad-as-conscientious-carers is yet another bête-noire to be added to the long list the Mail, The Sun and other newspapers have chosen as their favourite targets. Single mothers and immigrants are two other categories that come in for heavy fire from their ranks.

What the Fatherhood Institute attempted to explain was that tomorrow, as most of the world celebrates Father’s Day, British men will spend an average of 24 minutes with their children compared to one hour for British women. That does not mean that “British Dads Are the Worst in the World” as a headline reporting on the findings stated. What it means is that when it comes to sharing childcare responsibilities, men and women in the UK are still less gender-equal than parents in countries such as Sweden and France.

Rather than beating ourselves up about it, we ought to analyse the reasons for this imbalance. I can think of different elements, none of which takes precedence over another.

In my view, there is still a prevalent fathers-won’t-engage mindset in society worldwide. This, despite the many examples of men adopting a more hands-on approach in creating and raising a family nowadays. There is also a tendency to see parenting at odds with business. Parental leave is almost a four-letter word for the world of retail and commerce. Yet, as Scandinavian nations continue to show, the more time parents spend with their newborn baby, the better the outcome will be, not just for the child but also for the parents. The gender pay-gap is another reason why sharing childcare in the UK is so poor. As long as women earn 17.4% less than men (according to the Fatherhood Institute) in similar full-time jobs, the male-as-breadwinner mentality will carry on unchallenged. Parity in pay plus encouraging men to opt for part-time employment in order to spend more time with their children should go hand in hand.

At the heart of this discussion on modern fatherhood is the issue of trust. Fathering a child is easy, being a father is not. What I mean by this is that the biological process of creating a life is, on the face of it, fairly uncomplicated, if you catch my drift.

However, the process of bringing that child up together with your partner (I notice the report, as well as much of the literature that comes out of Fatherhood Institute, is chiefly heterosexual-centred. In the 21st century the straight nuclear family is no longer the norm) is very, very, very messy. Therein lies the beauty of being a parent, or more specifically, being a dad. Making the baby, anyone can do it. Raising it, well, that’s the million dollar question.

This is where society as a whole has to come to some sort of agreement. It is not impossible. I am sure that Denmark and Sweden had a male, chauvinistic culture decades ago, but they realised that the way forward was inclusion not exclusion. Antenatal, natal and post-natal services must cater to both sexes. Parental leave for fathers must be equal to that for mothers and we have to trust that dad will be most of the time with baby and not at his local watching the footie. Trust is fundamental when thinking of holistic, social solutions because their impact is not easy to measure. Some fathers need more encouragement than others in the same way that some mothers need reassurance that whatever they are doing with their babies is right. Did I mention that parenting is messy? Of course, it is, we are caring for a new being. We have been entrusted this new person’s wellbeing.

Will the UK ever catch up with the likes of Norway and Holland? In defence of my adopted land major steps have been taken. When my son was born I was in the hospital with him and my wife and was present at his birth. I was told at the time by people older than me and born and bred in Britain that had that happened a few years before I would have been asked to wait outside. During the course of both my children’s early years in primary school I noticed the increase of male presence at the end of the school day. That was certainly another step in the right direction. At work now I see men more involved in their children’s education, either dropping them off in the morning or picking them up in the afternoon. Perhaps we will get there one day, but we will need government legislation to help us along the way. We will also need to highlight issues that might not be fatherhood-related such as the gender pay-gap, women’s position in society (bottom of the ladder, sadly), the economic impact of austerity in the UK (it has mainly affected women as they are the ones who perform most of the care and voluntary roles). Fatherhood is not just about fathers, it is bigger than that.

As for the dad-shaming headlines, a piece of advice: never, ever include the words “worst”, “mums and dads” and “childcare” in the same press release. We, fathers, deserve better than being cannon fodder for The Daily Hate and its gang of doomsayers. Let us push for positive change together. Have a happy Father’s Day!

© 2016

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 22nd June at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Living in a Multilingual World (The One About my Inner Linguistic Norman Bates)

I literally died that night”. No, you didn’t, I thought, looking at my work colleague straight in the eye. Although I could “literally” kill you right now. Smother you with one of the cushions from the Family Learning Room, if you like.

No, I am not a murderer. At least not of the homicidal variety. But when it comes to grammar… well, let us just say that there are a few words and constructions whose misuse awakens my inner Norman Bates.

It is ironic that I am more permissive of modern linguistic fads in my native tongue, Spanish, than I am of my adopted one, English. I have no idea what that says about me but perhaps my attitude owes more to a certain disdain for the Royal Spanish Academy and its zealous role in enforcing obeisance to the language tsars.

However when it comes to English, I have no shortage of gripes. Not to the point of a “Mr Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells”, shooting off letters to The Daily Telegraph every two days to complain about the difference between “use” and “usage", but certainly with what I call linguistic laziness. The “I can’t be bothered to do better” attitude. The English language is one of the richest lexica there are in the world, formed from the amalgamation of different cultures. To treat it as if it were an arid, barren land, bereft of adjectives and adverbials is a crime, in my opinion. Culprits should be sentenced. I can think of no better punishment than to write a thousand times: “it’s” is the contraction of “it is” whereas “its” is the possessive form of “it”. A thousand times, literally.

I know that this impassioned (fanatical, you say? Nah, please, let’s not get too heavy here, shall we?) position puts me on the side of traditionalists. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m perfectly OK with double negatives (as long as they are used to reinforce an opinion) and the replacement of “more than” by “over” as in “for over thirty years”. At the end of the day it is communication that we are talking about here.

Where I draw a line is in those words and phrases that are bandied about as if there were no consequences beyond their utterance. Yes, there are consequences! We are all human after all. There is no such thing as “more unique”, just “unique”; do not give “110%”, 100% is enough, thanks; do not “literally die of laughter” because if you die, how come you are telling me the story? And, please, please, please, do not get overexcited and do not be overtired. Just be excited and tired (not both at the same time, of course). When did we become a nation of “overs”? Is it to do with cricket? Well, I can’t play the game and I do not understand the rules.

Say "literally" once more. C'mon, I dare you

As I mentioned before, traditionalist, I am not. I love the freedom of the English language, its linguistic institution-free status. One of the reasons, I believe, why it has flourished and become the lingua franca worldwide. But, if we want to preserve the beauty of this language, we ought to be more proactive and less laisez-faire. Let us be bothered, let us do better and use the wide vocabulary that different cultures have bestowed upon Shakespeare’s language. Otherwise my inner linguistic Norman Bates will keep coming out. I mean that literally, by the way.

© 2016

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 18th June at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday 11 June 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

In a previous post about my past life in Havana I mentioned a lecturer I had in uni who loved nothing more than to roll up his sleeves slowly in the manner of a butcher whenever he tested us. All the time he made eye contact with us, his students, enjoying our fear-struck reaction to his well-studied gestures. His was an absolute display of power.

This image was certainly in my mind recently after reading an excellent article in the latest issue of 1843 (if, like me, you were subscribed to Intelligent Life, this is its reincarnation). Under the title “Does Power Really Corrupt?”, Radio 3 presenter Matthew Sweet explored the notion of power and its causes.

There was much I agreed with in Matthew’s column. People who feel powerful are less likely to be empathetic; they cheat more in games and are driven more by individualistic self-interest than collective-friendly attitudes.

Unsurprisingly, this is not a view that is shared by the 1%. For one it tilts the balance in favour of the poor. They are more giving and share more apparently. This means that the traditional scapegoat, those pesky, inferior working-class folk, cannot really be blamed for society’s ills. After all, they are not the ones scamming the nation of its funds.

What about acts of philanthropy, then? Do they not count for anything? Millionaires making donations to museums and arts centres or well-off politicians getting behind a worthwhile cause might turn this “power = nastiness” theory on its head.

Matthew expands on this. There have been two significant, ground-breaking experiments in social psychology and he refers to both. The first one gave substance to the notion of power as an isolationist and quasi-misanthropic phenomenon. The second one is more recent and it has met strong opposition. It postulates that in reality powerful people are bound to be more generous than those less well-off. They are more likely to donate to charity and to do voluntary work. Opposition to the latter study came mainly from people in the other camp, the one that dictates that the powerful are corrupt to the core. As usual, the presence of small “p” politics can be felt heavily throughout the debate.

Who are you calling corrupt?

Without having read the full results of both studies and going only by Matthew’s article, I am of the opinion that power does have a built-in corruption problem. It is almost as if it had a button which you can choose to press or not. The way to deal with this – in my view, destructive – presence is by erecting a strong wall around it. Let us call it the accountability wall. For power to triumph the institutions that hold it to account (our judiciary, the police, parliament, to mention three) must be in cahoots with it. This happens, we all know that, but my point is that it needn’t happen. Charity is not a replacement for taxation, nor should it be seen as mitigation for tax evasion. Philanthropy is an individual choice not a way to run a country’s economy.

As I wrote before, I agreed with most of what Matthew Sweet had to say. However, in my opinion, power is not necessarily always money-related. Yes, a lot of rich people behave despicably (many of them are men, so there is also a gender issue here) but so do a lot of working-class folk. The first example Matthew uses, the near-miss experience of Professor Dacher Keltner’s (the author of one of the studies) whilst commuting to work on his bicycle is a case in point. I am, sadly, exposed to the same scenario almost every day on my two-wheeler. But it is not just a black Mercedes that barrels through a right of way at an intersection and puts my life in danger, but also a white van, a Ford Fiesta or a lorry. The toff, the hedge fund manager and the plumber are indistinguishable when it comes to imposing themselves on the road.

This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to hold power to account. We tend to look at demographics and ignore individual patterns (although as I remarked earlier, those who enjoy displaying power to the max happen to be mainly men). Consciously or unconsciously, the students deployed by Professor Keltner on the traffic islands of Berkely were looking to match the drivers behaving selfishly on the road to the one behind the wheel of the Mercedes that almost killed their teacher. In so doing they might (I am speculating here) have “forgiven” slight misdemeanours committed by drivers of little, old bangers. Unfortunately, power does not work like this. Wherever you go, from the US to Russia, from Cuba to Germany, if you let absolute power grow unchallenged you will have an uphill struggle in your hands to rein that beast back in.

This is not to let rich, powerful people off the hook. The wealthier someone is, the more distant they will feel from hoi polloi. At some point our commonly shared rules of social etiquette stop applying and the individual makes up their own ones. The 1% does live in a different world to ours. The solution, in my view, is more accountability, better judiciary, a more effective police force and a corruption-free government. Perhaps the side effects will be more empathy and gratitude. Worth fighting for, I say.

© 2016

Next Post: “Living in a Multilingual World”, to be published on Wednesday 15th June at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Let's Talk About...

fitness. More specifically, running. Yep, let’s talk about running, mainly mid-life-crisis-driven-weekend-runner (and sometimes during the week, too). I realised this was an epidemic when at my former school a fifty-something colleague told me: “You know what I really enjoy about picking up exercise again? That I get to buy and wear all this fantastic gear!

And what gear! There’s the hundred-quid Garmin watch that measures heart rate, calories and movement.  The base layers that promise “to manage your moisture” (which sounds like a line from a porn film). The Adidas/Nike Run Bottle Belt. The list goes on.

Let’s talk about when “jogging” became “running”. A change so subtle that I never noticed it. One minute I was talking about “jogging” back in uni more than twenty years ago, the next minute I was discussing the miles I had “run”.

Counting the miles and the pennies

Running (or jogging) is probably the most democratic of sport activities. Or, at least it used to be. After all, you just put your old trainers on and run. On the street, in the park, on gravel, on tarmac, it did not matter; it was your body and mind working together. No wonder, corporations did not make much money from jogging before.

That has all changed in the last ten to fifteen years. I leave it to the specialists, the sociologists, psychologists and stand-up comedians to do the analysis as to why there is as much money in flogging running gear as there is in selling football kits. One thing I know: running has become sexy.

Understand that this is not sexy in relation to sexual intercourse. This is sexy as in "look sexy". We want to be seen running. This new approach is not gender-specific. Both men and women spend vast amounts of money on gadgetry and performance-enhancing gels and food. And you know what? Yours truly is part of that group. There is no way I am going to get up on my high horse. That horse has already run off and left me behind (probably with its own £400 GPS watch).

In my defence all I will say is that in order to complete my recent marathon I had to follow a strict training regime, the like of which I had never done before. Still, my Run Media Arm Pocket was a luxury. If I am going to be completely honest I have not spent thousands of pounds in my running gear. However, I know that the main reason for that is that I have not got those thousands of pounds to spend. Otherwise...

I can understand how breaking into a new pair of Lycra jogging shorts or purchasing a £20 set of Climaheat Gloves make the average John and Joanna Public feel more accomplished, more focused, better prepared, more efficient. I have had the same adrenaline rush. My run becomes more effective, or at least I think it does. In reality it is nothing more than the equivalent of a sugar rush. Shopping as an “upper”.

Let’s talk about fitness and more specifically about running. Or, as we used to say, back in the day, jogging. Simple, basic and easy. Put your trainers on. Go to the local park and do a few laps around it. After all, even Pheidippides managed the 42 kilometres between Marathon and Athens. True, he died as he delivered the message he had been tasked with. Who knows? Perhaps, if he had had a hydration rucksack with a few energy gels in it to help him along the way the outcome would have been different.

© 2016

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 11th June at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday 4 June 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

A few days ago one of my brothers-in-law was telling us over dinner how much he had enjoyed a book he had just finished. The title was The Endurance Expedition and it was about the 1914 attempt to traverse the Antarctic continent. Hearing my brother-in-law talking so excitedly about the challenges encountered by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his party made me think of one of those elements in a person's upbringing which has, sadly, gone AWOL in recent years: grit.

How you define grit depends pretty much on different factors but on one aspect we can all agree: grit is hardly ever the easy way out. Grit is the process whereby we commit ourselves to finish what we start, to get back up when we fall over and to learn from our mistakes. Based on the above, is our current generation grit-deficient?

I would not like this post to turn into a 21st-century-generation-bashing exercise. Our young people have enough with the grim prospects ahead of them: housing shortage, and rife unemployment, for instance. They do not need me to add to that list. But the question is still valid: how do you teach grit? And is it still necessary in our technology-rich world?

I admit that when I was growing up in Cuba in the 70s and 80s I was not expected to learn about grit. In a certain way my upbringing was rather sheltered, both by the state and by my family. One reason was my being an only child (just to my mum, mind you, my dad became father to two other children when I was thirteen- or fourteen-years-old). Another reason was a long-suffering stomach illness that made my already-overprotective parents (especially my mother) even more cautious. As a consequence most things were served on a plate for me. It was not until I reached my teens when, following my parents’ divorce, I broke away from the safety net around me.

What those teenage and young adulthood years taught me was that I had a built-in “I’ll show you” ready-made response to face down challenges. I also discovered a very useful skill: I could block out unnecessary background noise and focus on whatever task I had to complete. This became one of my essential coping strategies in the early 90s after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A third discovery was that, although I reacted badly to mistakes, I had the knack to learn from them.

However, with this personality change, becoming more go-getting if you like, I also acquired an unwanted reputation as a tough-as-nails, tell-it-like-it-is, harsh critic. This happened mainly in uni and above all whenever I was part of a team and we had a tight deadline for handing in course work. As I remember now, I was not very patient with people who expected to do well without putting in a shift.

The beauty of remembering is that you can choose what you want to remember and how you want to remember it. Never mind the fact that memories arrive unbidden. We still have the power to twist them to our advantage. I was a nightmare as a team leader, that much I recognise now. But I was also quite demanding of myself and therefore of other people. I was driven, still am, and perhaps that was what irked some of my fellow students. Grit can be cruel if not well managed. It is all well and good to never give up but when you assume those around have the same ability, you are bound to fail. Not only that, but also you risk losing the togetherness and focus that you are precisely advocating for.

I agree that the present generation has gotten used too much to being praised the whole time. It is all “well done!”, “you’re great!”, “wow, aren’t you a little genius?” I would not change that approach overnight (I mean, some children do need that encouragement) but I would also include some harsh criticism once in a while. Mix the rough with the smooth. In my life experience, growing up in a socialist dictatorship, moving to another country, adapting to life in that country and finding fulfilment with a loving partner and children are some of the elements that have made me. Not my final dissertation in uni. The latter was just one stage in my life. The former was all about persistence, resilience and bloody hard work.

Of course, it goes without saying that persevering when the chips are down and you’re down in the dumps might not be the go-to, perfect solution. What if you are clinically depressed? Pathology is usually excluded from articles on grit. So is poverty. Some people work their fingers to the bones and yet, years down the line they still have not got much to show for their efforts. Could you accuse them of not trying enough? Of being grit-averse?

Like other subjects educators nowadays realise they should include in the school curriculum (empathy and spirituality to mention but two), grit ought to be taught in small doses. I do think that the current generation would benefit from a termly or half-termly, three-day outdoor activity in which they would have to work their way out of a maze or be asked to build a boat using the bare minimum, materials-wise. For one, the exercise would level the playing field to a certain extent between the haves and have-nots and it would show that in order to succeed in life one does not always need a high IQ or talent. Trying, failing, falling and trying again is good enough sometimes.

© 2016

Next Post:: “Let’s Talk About…”, to be published on Wednesday 8th June at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Urban Diary

I get off at Kew Gardens tube station and straight away I realise that I will have a longer distance to cover to Richmond Park. Whereas last night it seemed like a good idea to get off a stop before I was meant to in order to enjoy the sudden burst of spring sunshine on this May Bank Holiday, now that decision looks a bit rushed. Still, the hazy, scanty, beams of light dappling this remote corner of southwest London are reason enough to make me regret my sudden, unnecessary and uncalled for moan.

I leave the station and make my way up North Road, a street so Hitchcockian that the great director could have shot The Birds here and most people would have found it hard to tell it apart from bleak Bodega Bay in California where the movie was actually filmed. It is not the absence of habitation that brings to mind the cinematic vehicle that launched Tippi Hedren’s career but the dearth of human life around me as I set off for Richmond Park. As I find out later North Road has neither ascent nor descent; its flatness extending for about a quarter of a mile. I am reminded of Radiohead’s Street Spirit as rows of trees on both sides of the street are “bearing down on me/I can feel their blue hands touching me/All these things into position/All these things we’ll one day swallow whole/And fade out again and fade out.

Fade out and fade back in is what the sun seems to be doing today. It is a peculiar spring day with warmth and cold both having a say in how the weather has shaped up so far. On the pavement a battle between light and shade is fought. The evanescent sun contributes to that. Blossoms are still few and far between but noticeable. Once in a while a car zooms past, the noise of the engine breaking the stillness of North Road.

As I come to the end of the street I think of Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, and its fourth and final stanza: I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence:/Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— /I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference. I have no idea if North Road is the less travelled by, but at least I am glad I got off at Kew Gardens tube station and added these extra few miles to journey. I carry on, a spring in my step now.

© 2016

Photo taken by the blog author

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 4th June at 6pm (GMT)


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