Sunday, 20 July 2014

Number 27

I go to Waterstones – a rare event in itself – and turn left into Fiction. I start to scan the shelves, and think about what my criteria should be for choosing a random novel. After five minutes, I decide the book should:
  •         be by a writer I've never heard of
  •        have no clues what it's about on the cover.
It's trickier than I thought. There are too many books, and most are either by familiar names, or obviously thrillers, romance, historical, etc, and so give too much of a clue. So I decide to focus on a limited area. The Waterstones Book Club bookcase seems perfect. Guess which one I eventually choose.

Did I say 'Scroll down?' No I said 'Guess' It's your own time you're wasting.

Yes – well done! I choose the blandly named, blandly covered All that is by James Salter, whose name could only be more bland if it was John Saltless. I open it and take a photo*. 
The first paragraph isn't promising. The only thing I can think of to do based on it is throw myself into a fast-flowing river at night. I quickly rule this out for safety reasons. I decide to cheat and use the first two. So, what have I got to work with? A tier of iron bunks ... hmm ... hundreds of men with their eyes open ... nope ... an endlessly-throbbing engine ... I briefly consider cheating by just looking through all the novels until I find one with an opening paragraph that includes a cheese sandwich or a short bike ride, but decide to plough on.

Okinawa is the only thing. I make a list** of some things I could do:
1. Learn exactly why they're arriving in Okinawa, and what happened. I have some images in my head – flame-throwers ... a posed photo of men forcing up the stars and stripes near Okinawa. YouTube. 
·        2. Find out what's unique about the island – I think it has the longest-lived people for a start – and its basic history.
    3. Learn some phrases in Okinawan.
    4. Cook an Okinawan recipe.
    5. Look at an online Okinawan newspaper and see what's going on there. Get Google to translate the news in Japanese. I know there's a US base there, so there might be online news in English.
    6. Find out the five best things to do in Okinawa if I ever visited.
    7. Read the book.

*The staff and several customers look worried. Photographing pages of books in a bookshop seems to disturb people.
**Staff now talking to manager and pointing at me.

Number 26

10. The potting shed. The peaceful corner where I'm sent to play the accordion. Hmm ... maybe that paintwork needs attention.

9. The shower. I am normally in here after a run, so I am high on endorphins. I also had my six ideas in here.

8. The piano. Probably has a few stories to tell. It was Ruth Gardener's before it came to us, and who knows before that. It is played a lot by me and Fred, my dwindling students, and used by Lola to make up songs. I wonder if pianos remember all the tunes ever played on them when they're drowning. 

 7. Bed.

6. The shoe basket. Always evolving. Increasingly dominated by Fred's tanker-sized trainers.

5. Kids' art going up the stairs in chronological order.

4. End of ancient washing-line in outbuilding, which was the shared washroom for the cottages behind. You can sense the hundreds-of-years-old gossip in the air.

3. Kitchen window-sill. In this area, there's everything you could need, from a giant wooden staring eye, to a Blue Peter badge, to a doll's arm. This is also where Derek lives with his girlfriend.

2. Top of the piano. An abandoned tropical corner where Aardman Animation seem to be filming an adult movie.

1. Back garden. Sit and listen to birds twitter. That's what I like to do.

Number 25

"Helen, I need to talk to you about the cover design ... and by the way, I've recently noticed the thick dark hairs on your hands. I like that."

Number 23 update

I wrote it. I posted it. I'm very proud to be his father, and I told him. It felt good to write it, and I hope it will make him feel good.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Number 24

I was quite excited when I opened this on Sunday morning, because I'd read about these 'laughter clubs' in India, and thought it all sounded like ... well, a laugh. I was amazed and really pleased there was one five minutes from our house. I'd read that simply by starting to laugh artificially in a large group, you automatically start to really laugh, which releases all kinds of beneficial chemicals*.
Apparently, laughter evolved in humans because our natural groups were too large for grooming** to work as the bonding thing. Tests have shown, and anyone who's been to a good comedy night knows, that laughing with a big group of strangers makes you feel good about yourself and about the people you're laughing with.
I set off excited about the buzz I was about to get from mass laughter, but realized I didn't have the five pounds to pay for the session, so had to nip to the cashpoint. I wasn't stressed – the laughter of 30 or 40 people would cover the sound of me sneaking in a bit late. I'd just go to the back of the crowd and slowly tune in to what was happening.
I parked up at five past six and pushed open the door. A lady of a similar age to me was standing there watching the doorway. There was no one else there. 'Laughter yoga?' I said, awkwardly. 'It's the Wimbledon men's final', she said, looking concerned. She peered out of the window. 'I don't think even Audrey's coming '.
This already wasn't the free-wheeling, hide-in-a-crowd-primal scream thing I was hoping for.
'I'm Caroline – I'm the teacher ...' - another lady appeared – similar age, similar look of embarrassment and horror - '... and this is Sue – it's her yoga room'. She leant so desperately out of the window that she almost fell out. 'I'm just wondering if Audrey will be coming ...'. By ten past six we were all resigned to the uncomfortable scenario. 'Shall we start?' said Caroline, meaning 'Please can we not do this?' 'Yes!' I said, enthusiastically, but thinking 'Please can we not do this?'. 'Let's stand in a circle!' said Sue. But her eyes didn't lie – they were saying, 'Please can we not do this?'. 'Just a second,' I said. I went over to the window, praying that Audrey was there. Whatever Audrey was.
'So ... let's start with some ha ha ha, ho ho hos with clapping!', said Caroline. 'OK!!!' I said, keenly, hoping she was about to offer the option of losing an eye. Caroline and Sue started off the activity, peeping to check I was throwing myself in to the same extent as they were.
I remembered from reading about laughter yoga that the teacher is a) not supposed to be funny, and b) not supposed to talk much at all. Caroline was breaking both these rules from the start – she was talking non-stop and, fortunately, very funny. In fact both the women were natural physical comics. During the improvised comedy-catch game, my forced laughter immediately turned real as we did ridiculous dummy throws and fancy catches. I also started to realize how surreal the whole thing was, which also made me laugh, so after five minutes, I was laughing twice at the same time, which is always a plus.
The two women were so good at slapstick and clowning, the it was impossible not to really laugh. Although it's not quite the laughter yoga invented by Dr Madar Kataria in India (they played a recording of him chuckling in the background), it did the trick. I really, really laughed, and felt all the benefits you get with that.
The last activity – humming meditation – was a replacement activity for the small group. We sat back-to-back in a triangle, closed our eyes, stuck our fingers in our ears, and hummed, with instructions to experiment with the volume and pitch of the hums. For the first minute, I was mainly checking that they were doing it too, and not just laughing while they videoed me. Once I was satisfied they were humming too, I got into it, and played around with everything from almost inaudible Paul Robeson humming to glass shattering high-pitched stuff. I was just making a mental note to take up deaf-blind humming as a serious hobby, when I realized that the background noise had gone. I took my fingers out of my ears, to find that the laughter ladies were in the middle of a conversation that had clearly been going on for a long time. I reckon I had been making a humming knob of myself for at least five minutes.
And that was it – I was feeling quite high at the end of an hour, and would definitely do a group session in the future. In fact the perfect Sunday evening natural high could well be an hour's laughter yoga followed by a skinny dip with humming.
   The laughter ladies do mental flossing.
*... and, depending on the state of your pelvic floor, some that rot the carpet
**ape-type, not Rolf Harris-type

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Number 22 update

The best way to round off a sunny Sunday lunch with friends in the garden involving a whole bottle of wine, is to strip off and throw yourself into your local river. I cycled with my wife and microscopic daughter to the 'drop-off' - one of the few places where the Windrush is deep enough to dive in - and stripped off.
Like a young Tarzan, I made my way elegantly down the bank ...
concentrated my mind with a brief Johnny Wilkinson pose ...
then unleashed the 'sea lion'.
The cold made me foolishly excited, and I was whooping as I put my boxers on my head in the classic way.
A duck* swam in front of me. Luckily it was EXTREMELY LARGE.
I'm not certain what my microscopic daughter made of this - her face was a mixture of sympathy and amusement; I can only hope it doesn't leave her scarred.
Time to hop out and skip gracefully up the bank like a mountain goat.
As the spot is pretty remote, I only bothered loosely holding the towel in place when getting dressed, and I can only apologize to the woman who suddenly appeared with her dogs. Although I suspect she must have done something pretty awful in a previous life to deserve that sight.
The swim felt like being in the Amazon, let me see a familiar place from a new angle, and was ace. A warning to any dog-walkers - I may be doing it again.

*Twitchers will recognize it as Muscoverupis danglis - a popular summer visitor to our shores.