Bouldering

I've had 'bouldering' on my to do list for a while.

Not even sure what it was, I thought it was some kind of paddling through streams, clambering on boulders thingy. And that seemed like a good 'Dad and Daughter' activity – following clambering about in trees last Christmas holidays.

So I googled it – and it turns out it's not quite that. It's low level free climbing without ropes; and what great fun it has turned out to be…

Climbing shoes tightly on, we've been three times now; and have tackled 'slabs', overhangs, bulges and 'volumes'… with a bit of traversing yesterday to boot.

The indoor walls we've found are generally full of cheerful, lean, taughtly-muscled young folk – but they're all very encouraging and just seem happy that you share their interest.

It certainly tests the muscles though! And even though you don't get that high, it's high enough to test the nerves a bit too.

What a lovely little world we've discovered – in an old disused biscuit factory (of all things) which has found a new life.

Bouldering is a keeper. There's no better place to hang out for an hour at the weekend.

Slimes of Passion

Some weeks ago I started to notice blobs of candy-pink sludge in the bottom of cups… The outbreak spread to larger food containers, before regularly plaguing all three sinks in the house…

Then my shaving foam started moving about. Tackling my eldest, she was concocting slimes. With a bit of huff and puff on the messes she was leaving, I left it and moved on.

Some weeks later there was a regular psst and a pervasive whiff of artificial fragrance seeping from her room… 

It transpires cans of Airwick 6-in-1 are the last source of ‘Borax’ left in the European Union. It was banned in cleaning products a few years back; and borax is the indispensable companion to PVA glue in the slime makers art.


She and I had a rewarding if ultimately costly and unsuccessful weekend down the seaside Pound Shops – trying to find an alternative to Airwick. But we did find some handy pots – and the following week two types of slime hit the underground school slime market at 50p and £1.


So I googled borax again – not least since all of us had developed a splitting headache from the fragranced fug in the kitchen and found… Kershaw’s Traditional Laundry Starch! 


No fug, no headaches and the slime maker is back at work – now the only psst is my shaving foam being expertly worked into a particular variant. We have styrofoam balls and glitter on the way for ‘crunchy’ and ‘sparkly’ to add to the range.

I said last weekend watching her at work: “It’s great you’ve found a passion, Honey.” She said “It’s not a passion Dad, its just fun.” And indeed it is… I took a particularly excellent slime in to work this week, which delighted two of my colleagues; reminding them of ‘potions’ and ‘flubber’ from their childhoods.

Simple pleasures, and sharing an interest with your kids and colleagues; is there any better combination?

CRACK!

It’s never too late to learn, and it’s always worth a try…

Two good mottoes – exemplified by the resounding crack my neck gave this morning; as something which feels like it’s been out of place since the mid 1990s cracked back into place!

I can now look 180 degrees right, there is no ‘grating’ sound when I turn my head and apart from a little muscle soreness – no pain in the neck!

Any number of different pillows, handlebar adjustments, panniers and changed posture on my bike, driving left-handed on long holiday jaunts; nothing got to the bottom of it… but a simple stretch, suggested by my ever-thoughtful son has…

About six weeks ago I mentioned my neck and shoulder ache again and he said why don’t you try this: 

Taught him by his PE teacher at school, a bit like Heineken it has found the part nothing else has for 20 years!

The Boy Wonder has cracked it again – five stretches night and morning for six weeks and CRACK – I’m fixed. 

Green Shoots

Spring feels like it’s almost here. Green shoots, buds, birds twittering – and the sun high enough in the sky, yesterday, to get over the building line; lighting up and warming a corner the quadrangle where I work. I stood in that couple of metres squared of sun yesterday – for a minute or two – which warmed my face and the cockles of my heart.

Green Fingers: 

A couple of weekends ago (adding to my Christmas bonsai and January’s tiny cactuses from Amazon) I potted up some tiny fragments from a tray of forgotten succulents. They were struggling through the winter under a tree, in our slightly unloved back garden. 

All five of them have taken root. Now they are catching stray photons of weak sunlight on top of a chest of drawers, happily converting carbon dioxide into sugars and plumping up nicely. 

Much like children; I’m learning – helping a few plants to grow near you is a constant joy.


Green Socks: 

Sat on the Tube, in a bit of a rush, I spotted a smartly dressed chap opposite; a little older than me, he had a very smart pair of turquoise/green socks on display. 

Following Thich Naht Hahn’s advice I reflected on ‘interdependence’ – all the things that had gone into those socks… 

The dye, the chemists from Du Pont who almost certainly created the colour and the designers who adopted that shade; the makers, buyers and then the retailers who chose to make and stock them; the man himself – probably on the internet – who thought they were a particularly fetching shade… And that’s just the colour. 

From my time in branding and advertising, I know that colour was probably selected for this year’s palate about 7 years ago somewhere in Paris. And that’s before we get into the myriad machines, the power sources materials (natural and man-made) lorries, ships, trains and more which made and moved them. 
The whole world in a pair of socks… Then screech, beep, swoosh, ‘mind the gap’ and back out into London life.



Green Run

We packed off my daughter (at 3am) this morning on her first ever ski trip – which as I was dozing back off made me think of mine… Almost the same age, I remember the flight: reading Smash Hits with Annie Lenox on the cover, listening to my (vast) Sanyo Walkman, wearing my silver C&A ski jacket as we flew over the Alps about 35 years ago. 

As my dad reminded me this morning the catch phrases of my Italian ski instructor have become family lore: “Hey Disaster Boy!”, “Don’t bend your botham”, “Knees to the mountain, shoulders to the vaa-lley.” It’s bitter sweet seeing her all grown up, but it certainly brings back memories. 

As the book I’m reading points out – you don’t need to be sat in silence to really notice and enjoy what’s going on around you. Especially at this time of year.

Groundhog Day


A simple but profound insight from both the Arbinger Institute and Chris Croft; time is much better spent making things go well in the first place, than trying to correct them when they’ve gone wrong.

Simply said. Harder done. But when the same thing keeps on going wrong, every single day, it’s well worth investing some time and thought on how to make it go better.

One such transformation has been wrought in my lovely son. No more confusion and cross words of a morning; he now falls out of bed straight into his clothes. 

And better still on weekdays, he arrives at the breakfast table to his homework which he now silently and efficiently cracks on with! Less than two months ago you would not have thought it possible.

By simply laying the right things out the night before, everything goes better – for everyone. So much so that on the one occasion the other week that I was out, he laid out his own school clothes for the morning. Unbelievable.

All the upset, anger, shouting, door slamming and plain old misery of the years of everyone trying and failing to ‘correct’ everyone else… Gone. 

No more Groundhog Day! 

Movin’ on up

I had my first cup of proper filter coffee made for me by my daughter this morning; and enjoyed two sophisticated and very funny gags at each end of the day from my son.

Me and my girl went on fairground rides and shopped for and cooked chicken, mushrooms, spinach and cream linguine; even my food-fastidious boy agreed it was pretty good.


Yesterday I left work in good order: with plans, roles and actions in place. Now I have my feet up in our very own Georgian seaside cottage; with a fortnight in Italy ahead to look forward to. 

Albeit I’m getting older, life in many ways is getting easier. From today’s perspective, the second half of my middle years are looking better by the day…

Train of thought

‘The train of thought refers to the interconnection in the sequence of ideas expressed during a connected discourse or thought, as well as the sequence itself, especially in discussion; and how this sequence leads from one idea to another.’

Our capacity to misunderstand each other (or indeed ‘misunderestimate’ as a former colleague of mine was wont to say) is legendary, in our house. 

Often considered obtuse by the other family members; we have recently realised that our problem is we don’t adequately ‘show our workings‘ as every maths teacher recommends. The result is: no-one else knows why on earth we’ve just come out with what we’ve just said; at least 90% of the time.

A recent classic was at a friend’s wedding. I spotted Manchester’s premier Chinese restauranteur arriving and taking his seat (just as the bride and father began the walk to the altar). I whispered as much. 

My other and better half, who was looking at the studiously understated vicar, whispered back “He’s a Chinese restauranteur??” I said “Yes!”. When she asked again, and then for a third time I slightly exasperatedly hissed: “For God’s sake honey, yes, he is…” (myself now looking firmly at the vicar, in full sermon). She looked non-plussed.

All became clear some time later at the end of the service, as the flamboyantly kilted, bald – and indeed only Chinese man in the congregation stood up – having been largely obscured by my head, to our left… 

Following the Vicar/Chinese restauranteur incident, we have realised: sharing a bit more of what we’ve been thinking sometimes helps. We’ve come to call it sharing the ‘train of thought’. 

Our family problem, we now realise is we’re a bit Channel Tunnel or indeed the new Swiss ‘Gotthard Base’: deep underground, thinking our private thoughts; then briefly appearing with a comment or conclusion giving no clue as to the ‘train of thought’ we’ve been journeying on. 


A day in our heads is like a day on the London Underground – popping above ground with a thought or statement – before buzzing off down a completely different line, to appear again, unexpectedly, somewhere else altogether.


Revealing a little of the ‘train of thought’ certainly helps the family dynamic – and is making us laugh out loud too. We all go on some hilariously roundabout routes in our heads.

It could be worse; describing the ‘train of thought‘ to a colleague at work, she said: “It’s like Clapham Junction in our family… everyone talks; and all at the same time!” 


I like our family’s underground ‘train of thought’; for all we’re often in the dark, it’s never dull.

Laughter; the best medicine 

 

I’m more a man for observational humour than for jokes; but perhaps the joke has been on me…

British humour tends to the downbeat. Ironic, sarcastic and even cynical – there’s always the risk of us talking everything down. With my new optimistic élan, I’m doing my best to avoid all that. 

But if you can’t ‘bitch and moan’, where are the laughs at work? Our place is dead clever, but also dead earnest. I realised the other day I hadn’t laughed all week…

Thank goodness Philosophy Now spurred me into action with their humour edition!

Two strong explanations of humour are the ‘Superiority’ and the ‘Incongruity’ theories.

Anya Steinbeck explains the first:

“The so-called superiority theory is prominent among explanations of humour. In fact, so prominent that it has been championed by philosophical heavyweights such as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes and Bergson

Thomas Hobbes’ formulation of the superiority theory is this: “Laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own, formerly.” 

If Hobbes is right, humour becomes a tool for making ourselves feel better by thinking of others or our own past selves as inferior. So if Ted is a terrible golfer he can overcome the pain of this truth by making fun of Fred who is an even worse golfer. 

Plato believes this kind of humour to be damaging: “Taken generally the ridiculous is a certain kind of evil, specifically a vice.” It counts as a vice because it is symptomatic of a lack of critical self-awareness as we ridicule others. 

I would suggest that the two most serious problems with hierarchical jokes are these: 

1) Firstly, as Plato says, the aesthetic form of a joke form is just so attractive and appealing that we may not pay enough critical attention to the moral content. 

2) Secondly, far from having a dialogue function, jokes can be conversation stoppers. As Theodor Adorno says: “He who has laughter on his side has no need of proof.” 

In other words, humour is, next to its wonderful properties, also a great potential tool for manipulation. Dress them up as a joke and you can get away with outrageous statements. 

So what of the ‘Incongruity’ theory? The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy gives us this:

“The first philosopher to use the word incongruous to analyze humor was James Beattie (1779). Our laughter “seems to arise from the view of things incongruous united in the same assemblage.” The cause of humorous laughter is “two or more inconsistent, unsuitable, or incongruous parts or circumstances, considered as united in one complex object or assemblage, as acquiring a sort of mutual relation from the peculiar manner in which the mind takes notice of them.”

Beattie may be right but he’s not exactly got us rolling in the aisles with that description.

And it gets worse… Given his well deserved reputation for seriousness, perhaps not surprising that Kant is stronger on theory than gags…

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“In everything that is to excite a lively convulsive laugh there must be something absurd (in which the understanding, therefore, can find no satisfaction).”

“Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing. This transformation, which is certainly not enjoyable to the understanding, yet indirectly gives it very active enjoyment for a moment. Therefore its cause must consist in the influence of the representation upon the body, and the reflex effect of this upon the mind.”

Kant illustrates with this story:

“An Indian at the table of an Englishman in Surat, when he saw a bottle of ale opened and all the beer turned into froth and overflowing, testified his great astonishment with many exclamations. When the Englishman asked him, “What is there in this to astonish you so much?” he answered, “I am not at all astonished that it should flow out, but I do wonder how you ever got it in.”

Following that cracker he serves up another:

“The heir of a rich relative wished to arrange for an imposing funeral, but he lamented that he could not properly succeed; ‘for’ (said he) ‘the more money I give my mourners to look sad, the more cheerful they look!’”

Whilst I wouldn’t recommend he gives up his day job, I’m with Kant. When it comes to making people laugh, I like incongruity. 

Superiority all too easily leads to the worst type of humour – arrogance, trashing others and talking people down. Now I know what I’m looking for, I realise I’ve seen plenty of ‘superiority’ humour about. It’s not pretty. 

Keep it incongruous I say. As my boy did with his little joke in the car this morning; it made me laugh out loud:

“What did one rebel sausage say to the other?”

“May the fork be in you!”

 

Peace in our time

After some months of high emotion, major change, turbulence and anxiety; this morning I woke up knackered – but at peace.

My other half greeted me, observing I looked like ‘death warmed up’; sleepy, unshaven and generally out of it as I staggered into kitchen. True, but that wasn’t the point….

Some minutes later: accompanied by a nice piece of classical music, porridge on the boil; duck ramen, a bunch of flowers and a trip to Sainsburys in my plans – normal service has resumed.

Not that ‘change’ is done. More that it’s here to stay and be lived with. There’s a stack on at work, the kids are growing faster than feels comfortable, and we’re none of us getting any younger…

But yesterday for half term, my smart cookie of a daughter and I toured the architectural wonders of my new workplace, two museums, Chinatown, saw Giacometti sculptures, bought books and ate Japanese.

Perhaps that’s what’s fixed me. I don’t feel rattled, restless or anxious – for the first time in weeks. I just am. And she’s nearly finished munching a ham and cheese croissant in front of me now, so back to it.

Rain rain – when you go away…

The wettest holiday ever – well nearly; that was in Biarritz a decade and a bit ago. Still two glorious sunny days in Cornwall fooled us into thinking it was summer… It then rained unremittingly, both there; and then on our French campsite this week. 

Yesterday we called it a day; fighting the family holiday ‘sunk cost fallacy’. This was best captured in an overheard quote, during my own childhood, which became our family standard: 

“We’ve paid for it, so you will enjoy it.”

But we did ok. We all mucked in: cycling in the teeming rain, wedging into a crowded crèperie, feasting on rotisserie chickens, washing pots and pans and squelching through bogs to the bogs. 

But, facing another uninterrupted day of pouring rain, ‘practical reasonableness’ kicked in. Aquinas would have been proud…

We checked out our options, discussed it en famille and concluded, as they say en français: “on se casse” – we’re off. And a mere seventeen hours later: four solid London brick walls, a proper roof and a warm comfy 3am bed…

Family holidays can be memorable for all sorts of reasons. Rain ensured this wasn’t a classic. But sticking together through the soakings, meant, it was a good one all the same.