Category Archives: life in general

Taking pleasure in the small things

I moved to Luxembourg at the end of last year – a move which, to be honest, quite a few of my friends would not necessarily have considered doing because they had Commitments. Children. Houses. The like.

I did not have Commitments. I have had a singular failure in hanging onto any Commitments longer than about 5 minutes, and the net result is there haven’t been children either. Not having a house is a feature of having lived in Dublin and having had a deep desire not to endebt myself to the tune of 10 years gross salary. This has meant, however, that I have had choices at certain points in my life that other people have felt as though they have not had choices and so, I took some rather serious decisions which eventually resulted in me getting on a plane with a suitcase, some clothes, a kindle and an iPad and an illusion I could live without a laptop for very long at the end of last November.

That being said, while I was angling towards a big international housemove, the truth is, I did not expect it to be Luxembourg. This is a pity because Luxembourg has turned out to be a rather happiness inducing gem. Possibly if I were 22 I would find it a bit quiet but so far I have been able to create a life here that makes me feel a lot more content, a lot more relaxed and in general, sleeping better. It has a great concert hall where I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Yuja Wang and Joshua Bell already this year; I am planning on getting a ticket to Anne-Sophie Mutter in a month’s time too. But that isn’t really it. It is possible that my view at the moment is coloured by the fact that for the past 3 weeks or so, the weather has been singularly stunning. The place is a gorgeous golden colour when you walk around it. It is swimming in parks. Lots of it is picturesque. For the most part, the services are very decent. There is nothing really to beat the feeling of walking around a place and just feeling happy all the time. Possibly this is because I get to walk around most of the time, rather than driving.

Who knows what the underlying reason is. Point is, life seems to me to be better when it is relaxed rather than when it is not relaxed.

on attitudes to others

This is one of a few pieces around the piano which will come up.

Yesterday I signed up for gold membership of Piano Street. A couple of their features drew me to do this, namely the sheet music library (okay it’s not petrucci but it has some useful stuff and also, annotations for learners), there is access to the full Naxos classical catalogue. Naxos have a great search too. Access to International Piano as well. I found that quite interesting.

Piano Street is something I hadn’t paid for before but I had signed up for silver membership years ago and via that, got limited time offer for a reduced cost access. I might not have done it for the full whack. It fascinates me as a resource. Clearly, the key attraction has to be the Naxos library followed by the sheet music. The part which most people have access to, however, is the forum and to be honest, I find it a bit hit or miss in terms of the community. I might ask for advice about a piano, but not necessarily about playing it.

This is not to say that the average community of contributors to Piano Street are bad musicians. There are some very knowledgeable people there and I’ve found some interesting threads on repertoire there – it’s through that site I have found a lot of the less well known piano concerto works, including Paderewski, Medtner and a couple of others. I don’t always find their attitudes to be less than somewhat jaded. In certain respects, I can’t blame them. Two threads caught my attention yesterday, one relating to someone whose teacher had told them to give up on their dream of being a concert pianist. The other related to a 14 year old looking for advice on playing a rather highly rated piece on the difficulty scale.

There were a variety of answers to both questions although both voiced dissatisfaction with the idea that they might take time to respond to people who might be trolls.

I have mixed views. I used to mod two internet fora in Ireland and the issue of bad faith posters, well it’s just one of those features of the forum. However. Neither got an answer that I felt was really useful.

If we take the 19 year old who wanted to be a concert pianist, the first thing any 19 year old should be concerned about is where they are relative to their business competitors. Being a concert pianist is less being a musician and more being a business person. If you are 19 years old, you need to look at the people you want to be competing with for engagements, and where you are. We were all 19 once, and we were all probably clueless once. But I had established by the time I was 16 that I wasn’t going to make it as a concert pianist, key amongst them is that even though I might have been one of my teacher’s star pupils, I wasn’t yet playing what you might today call the sexy music. I was 15 by the time I got to Fur Elise which with the best will the world, is definitely on the easy side of repertoire. A 19 year old who is at Ronda Alla Turca is competing against people who have been in the Julliard School since they were 14 or 15. Of that class in the Julliard School, it’s not likely that many of them will make it either. If you have reached the age of 19 with a desire to make it as a concert pianist and do not know whether it is too late or not, the likelihood is that it is too late. If not, there’s a lot of rehearsal ahead of you. I was working on Rach 2 – ambitiously – at the age of 14  but I knew at that point that playing it on the stage of a concert hall as a star was a dream and it was not likely to turn into reality any time soon. Didn’t stop me spending hours at a time working on tiny sections of it, because that wasn’t why I did it in the first place.

But.

One of the things that in hindsight got on my nerves is that when one of my co-students saw I had got the Rachmaninoff two piano script for the second piano concerto, flicked through it and pointed at bits that said “it’s impossible. You’ll never do it”. It’s a rotten seed to plant in someone’s head. It didn’t help on the journey which I am still nowhere close to finishing.

I’m much more in tune with people being realistic about how likely it is going to take. I think sometimes we tend to want to protect youngsters from stretching themselves. So I’m more in favour of saying to a youngster that if they want to try it, perhaps they should, but to recognise that a journey which is worth while may occasionally take you in a different direction to what you expected. The piece of music in question was the Chopin Ballade No 1 which is on my wishlist but not high enough up it for the moment. It is unquestionably a lovely piece of music, but, almost like Rachmaninoff 3 is getting a bit hackneyed owing to a reputation.

I remember reading an article about Rachmaninoff 3 – never my favourite of his works – in which someone asked was it really the hardest in the repertoire. This was sometime after the David Helfgott biopic, and a senior teacher from Julliard responded to the journalist in question that yeah, you know it’s really hard. Then he paused. “But I have 25 16 year olds in a class who can all play it perfectly, you know.” The point is, the standards move and sometimes, when a lot of people target something, something of its mystique leaves us.  Ballade No 1 is iconic, so yes, teenagers are going to want to play it. And they approach problems in a different way to adults in many respects. Adults look at the risks and the pitfalls. Teenagers look at the opportunities.  I don’t regret starting Rach 2 when I was then, and in many respects, still am not, technically tooled up for some of the challenges in it. I do regret though that parts which are not in my view, the hardest parts in that work were pointed out to me as “impossible”.

And so, I tend to favour supporting teenagers attempting to do something hard but laudable. So many of them are not attempting to do hard stuff after all.

Handel

I spent some time yesterday and the day before considering whether to restart piano grades or not. If you spend any time around some of the piano forums on the internet, you find this is a question which quite a lot of adults who have gaps in their piano playing life address at some point, and a question that beginners want to deal with. Since most people doing grades tend to be children or teenagers, it is a question which causes a certain amount of nerves. A bit like someone going back to school after 30 years away because they never did do a school leaving exam. In many respects, on account of being completely out of whack with the rest of your cohort, it can be very nervewracking to be different, older and behind. Plus, children and especially teenagers, can be quite cruel sometimes.

On balance there’s a part of me that would like to finish things out. I made it to grade five with the Royal Irish Academy of Music before school got in the way and then I started on a journey through life where access to a piano was erratic at best. It is the same part of me that tries to tempt me into signing up for a PhD. I don’t have time to do all the things I want to do because unfortunately I also have to work. And I like my job. I like the meeting of other people. Anyway it is in that context that I was considering this. I had a look at repertoire for the Royal Irish Academy and against, that, for ABRCM and Trinity in the UK. I could not find a local centre that made sense to me, but ABRCM have an exam centre here in Luxembourg

From what I can see, the RIAM offers the grade structure, but also a couple of recital options. ABRCM seems to be double grade – performance and musicology. I can’t remember too many details about Trinity. Anyway, I had a look down through the assigned pieces for each of the examining authorities and one of the things that struck me was this: There are pieces I want to play. And there are pieces on the assigned lists. The overlap was sadly, rather limited. On the basis of this years sets of lists, I will not be starting back at grades.

One of the many things which cratered my attachment to music as a child was an assigned piece for grade 3 or 4 – so not exactly beginner but not very high up the scale  – by Bela Bartok called Pentatonic Tune. I continued on because I knew enough to know that in general, this awful, awful piece of music which I hated but which some examiner had thought valid for a young person was not representative of all music. You will have teachers who consider this stuff required to have a well rounded musical education. I am not sure I agree – Bartok existed way after the piano repertoire – Liszt seemed to survive okay without him, as did JS Bach who didn’t per se write for the piano. What came into consideration for me as I reviewed these lists was this question: do I want to play these pieces, do I want to put the very minimal time I have free to do this into pieces I wasn’t really inspired to play in the first place? Where Bartok is concerned, the answer is a straight no, and I’m not too enamoured of Prokofiev either. They could both be avoided

I’m not afraid of hard work with the piano. When I have the freedom to do so – and I am having increasingly more of it – I am well capable of sitting at the piano for 2 to 3 hours at a time, breaking the hearts of my neighbours upstairs in constant repetition of parts to master fingering. I’m also not afraid of the piece I am learning taking a long time to learn. I’m aware that I have a massive gap in my practice, and I have some weaknesses with sight reading. But I also have some pieces I am motivated to learn, some easier than others. I spent a good chunk of yesterday with a piece of Handel which, if fortune smiles on the spare time front this week may well be finished by Easter. It’s a short piece. It’s an easy piece. And it is something to play for when people say “Play something there”. People tend to want the well known.

But I have a couple of serious stretch targets, here on my desk beside me is a book of the Chopin ballades of which I started work on the second the last time I had reasonably dependable access to a piano (thanks to the nice people at the music department in UCD). There is a choice to be made between hours into a Chopin Ballade which really interests me – challenging and a bit beyond me yes – and hours into a few pieces, most of which I am not yet familiar with and of those, not on my radar. It may be that I would be better off sitting down with a teacher and considering the recital exams with the RIAM instead and selecting three pieces which appeal to me, or possibly 2 plus one obnoxious piece of modern stuff which I don’t much like to round off completeness. It is a hard call.

In the meantime, if it comes to me to spend around 4 hours with the piano transcript of Sarabande by Handel, I’m not sure I’ve lost anything because I’m not doing the grades. I suspect it is a decision I will be revisiting on a year to year basis.

Old habits die and return all of a sudden

Most of my perfume is in Ireland but I must confess that at some point between around 2005 and 2010 I stopped wearing perfume regularly. I don’t really know why – it was around the same time I seemed to stop wearing rings on my fingers. Every once in a while, I reviewed the whole perfume situation and cleared out the stuff that made me feel vaguely nauseous if I sprayed it on (indicative of a bottle gone bad). So when I say my perfume is left in Ireland, there is a lot less of it than there used to be.

Somewhere along the lines, I discovered Hermes perfume – of course I have to have expensive tastes here – and theirs was the only perfume I bought over about four years. Three bottles of perfume in total. I even managed to finish out one. This was seriously at odds with my life 10 to 15 years previously.

For those who know me from the beach (most of the people who “know” me on Facebook to be honest), the fact that I might spend a good deal of time in perfume shops might be a surprise. It’s not as if I noticeably wore make up – which I still do not for various reasons – so what would I be doing in there.

I used to buy lots of perfume. Until the great clearouts with no replacements, I typically had around 25 different bottles of perfume to hand. Some dropped in and out of fashion for me. I started wearing Poison by Christian Dior when I was 16 because someone didn’t want a bottle they’d gotten as a present, and it moved to me. For the next five or six years, it was mostly that I wore – mostly because it was carefully eked out and also, because it really was the only one I knew. At some point though, I realised that I had changed and it wasn’t me any more. It dropped in and out of fashion a couple of more times but I don’t own a bottle of it any more and I can’t remember when I last did. It must be at least ten years, and probably longer.

But I liked the Christian Dior perfumes a lot, and for years, I tended to have at least one bottle of J’Adore in the drawer. I still have a few bottles of it, at least one opened, in Ireland. I need to see about moving perfume to Luxembourg.

I brought one bottle of perfume with me to Luxembourg, and that was one of the Hermes ones, Un Jardin sur le Nil from the Garden series. It is a light, fresh perfume which I’ve tended to wear daily, and is one of the few perfumes I’ve tended to replace. It is, characteristically, very different to Poison, which I wore as a teenager, and I suppose if I am honest, more than a few people would suggest that Poison was not exactly suitable for a 16 year old. I’m inclined not to argue with younger me – we should wear what makes us feel good in our skin and Poison certainly did that for me for a long time.

I’ve run out of Un Jardin sur le Nil for a second time and when I went to buy a replacement, it somehow didn’t happen. Instead, I bought a bottle of Un Jardin Apres le Mousson. Owing to some confusion in my perfume drawer (I blame the house move and the lack of fixed habits even yet) I actually managed to buy two bottles of it across a few different trips to the shop in question. It could be a while before Un Jardin sur le Nil makes it back in. Hermes market both these perfumes to both men and women, although in my local perfume store, I find them in the women’s section. Your mileage may vary. I like the idea of them not being fixed as directed towards women or men. But I do also think they are quite light, and fairly different to what I traditionally associate with men. I don’t have much experience in buying men perfume.

One of the things about buying perfume in foreign countries (assuming the base is Ireland) is that in many ways, it is much more enjoyable.

One of the things which broke my heart about Ireland for the 18 years that I lived there as an adult was the lack of a branch of Sephora. Buying perfume online is not the same experience. It’s fine and dandy to be able to order all this stuff online but it truly is one of those things that is much more than pressing a button on a computer. There is no way of knowing what a perfume smells like without smelling it and the internet cannot do that. You cannot serendipitously find a new perfume in an online store.

We have a few branches of Sephora in Luxembourg and although I have tried to buy stuff in there, it doesn’t happen for me.  There is competition from what I think is a local chain – Paris 8 – and also from one of the big Belgian chains – Ici Paris XL. They bought out the small perfume shop where I used to spend quite a bit of money when I was living in Brussels. All that time, I tended to still prefer Sephora if I was in Paris though.

Now, I mostly buy in Paris 8. There isn’t really a chain like these things in Ireland. There is a shop called The Perfume Shop which, like a lot of stores in Ireland, is a UK chain. But they were small, and you couldn’t really browse. The department stores tended to be vendor specific – there wasn’t really a wall of perfume – you had to tour the different brands. When I think of it like that, this probably contributed to the fact that I wasn’t buying perfume in Ireland much and why I wasn’t wearing it. It wasn’t really the same pleasure.

Anyway, the thing with buying perfume is they give you samples. Samples are what introduced me to most of the perfume I wear. Basically, I spend an almighty fortune on some perfume, they give me a “free” sample and a week later, here we are looking for more perfume. Or three months later if I bought the perfume in France and lived in Ireland and had to wait until I went back to get a bottle. Hermes were a nuisance for this. I bought bottles of Eau de Merveilles (they have several items in that range) and look here is a sample of Un Jardin sur le Nil and goddamnit, they didn’t have it in Brown Thomas, and when they did get it, it was in 100ml bottles.

I don’t buy bottles of perfume bigger than 50ml, and if I can manage 30ml, so much the better. Sure, you get more perfume per euro the bigger a bottle you buy but then, I used to have about 25 bottles of perfume on the go at a given time. And I’ve had to clear out perfume which has turned. It’s expensive to be tossing. My advice: unless you will only ever wear one or two different perfumes, do not buy 100ml bottles.

I had more or less forgotten this sample thing because the amount of perfume I had, and the frequency which which I had bought it had more or less fallen off a cliff. However, because I ran out of the one solitary bottle I brought from Ireland, and also, needed skin care, I was lately shopping. The net result is 4 new bottles of perfume not including the one I actually went to get but still have not managed to buy because I’ve been distracted – and suddenly, the memory of the beauty of perfume.

I feel great when I wear perfume. I’d forgotten how great me wearing perfume felt. It comes in gorgeous packaging. In a lot of ways, it can be a journey. Some older friends, some new acquaintances. Some new loves. If you were to data analyse my purchases over the years, two brands stand out as suppliers to my perfume habit – Christian Dior, for Poison, J’Adore, and assorted different versions of Addict. In the end, Addict went the way of Poison, and Addict 2 which wasn’t universally available went the way of J’Adore.  – and Givenchy. At various points, I was wearing three to four different Givenchy perfume products, namely Hot Couture, Very Irresistible, Organza and possibly one or two others which I cannot now remember.

A couple of others stood out as being regular features – for me, it was unusual to be without a bottle of L’Eau d’Issey and indeed, I’m fairly sure there is a bottle of that in Ireland at the moment, and I’m almost certain it’s unopened too. And of course, recently, Hermes have been doing well out of me.

Now, there are two bottles of Hermes on my shelf, along with one Givenchy, and one Sisley. The Givenchy is one of the newer ones – one of the Dahlia Divins, and I picked that up randomly in a shop. I was so out of touch I just did not know it existed and there was a time I could identify every single Givenchy perfume on the market. The Sisley is notable for me because it is the first time in about 5 years I bought a bottle of perfume on the back of a sample – on this occasion, Eau Tropicale. The two Hermes are Un Jardin Apres le Mousson and Eau de Merveilles Bleu.

What is striking for me about this is I had forgotten how beautifully designed perfume bottles are. Part of this, I suppose, is because in Dublin, I kept perfume in a drawer in the dark to protect it from the sun in the small rooms I tended to inhabit. And because I wasn’t often in perfume shops where these things were on display. They truly are things of beauty.

I wear perfume daily again. If I’m absolutely honest, I don’t wear it to make myself feel great – but I am more likely to wear it if I am feeling great already. I think that knowledge of myself should have a lot of meaning the next time I somehow stop wearing it.

I’m not sure I can go back to owning 20 bottles of perfume although as my relationship with fountain pen ink can show, it is awfully easy to do so. But I am back in a zone where I feel like having the choice. In that context, it may be that I wind up not buying a replacement Jardin sur le Nil for quite a while yet. I’m too busy spreading my love rather than playing for easy predictability.

 

Movement motivation

In the way that you do, at 5.30 in the morning, I found myself looking at running pins on Pinterest this morning. I’m reasonably sure that I did not find what I was looking for but that’s life on the internet. What I did find were a lot of motivational quotes. They varied in quality. The one that sort of stood out this morning was this one:

No matter how slow you’re going, you’re still lapping people on the couch.

Or words to that effect. Anyway, it was nice and snappy and had an image, so I drew two people, one on a couch, and one running. I’m not very good at humans but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. The point is, while I was planning out the drawing, it occurred to me that this was a fierce judgmental way to go about things. And a lot of the motivational quotes were of a similar vein. If you go running, you will be better than other people. There were a few where they went with “the old you” being the other people you were better than but I’m not sure that’s any better.

I’m not getting anything near enough exercise at the moment. This I know to be true. But I do know from when I used to, that starting off is hard work, and then it gets enjoyable. I didn’t really see this anywhere in the motivational stuff for running.

And there’s lots of it. Run to beat yourself. Run to beat others. Run to be healthy. Run to reduce the risk of [some illness].

All good laudable things. But the most effective way to get yourself to do something is to enjoy it and very little around running involves the words “at some point it will get more enjoyable”. It must do but when the motivational quotes include “It won’t get easier; you’ll get stronger” well that’s really not motivating.

It’s the same with swimming. You see articles like “Why do we swim? It’s really hard. Why do we overcome this?”

Well personally, it’s because I enjoyed it. I actively like swimming and even though it’s rough going when you’re not fit and it’s been a couple of years, even the individual lengths are enjoyable despite not being fit enough to chain very many of them together. It’s that little spark that keeps you going.

I was browsing magazines in Easons a few weeks ago while waiting to get a train south, and picked up something that focused on trail running. I’m more interested in that than anything else. In it there was an article that pretty much hit the problem from how I could see it. No one talks about running because it’s fun. It’s not fun. If you haven’t run for years, it’s not fun. And if the big selling point is “you will a) get used to it and b) feel sanctimonious in some way”…

I can’t believe that this is all there is. If someone asked me, I’d say “look, swimming is hard to start off. No word of a lie. But, you know what, if you’re making it too hard for yourself, you’re not doing it right. What matters isn’t so much how far or how fast you swim, but how often you do. Just keep on going to the pool. Do one length, do 4, go up, go down. Just keep on going.” Three months later, I was doing 64 lengths.

Meanwhile, running motivations are “start thinking about the treat, like a massage, or a smoothie or a….whatever”. You need to be bribed to do this? Every single time?

And running gear. Art is a bit like this. “Oh you don’t need much. Just a pair of shoes and somewhere to run”. Sounds incredibly easy, doesn’t. Fantastic. Dead fecking easy.

And then there’s this kind of fabric top, shorter shorts, longer things, stuff to keep you warm, stuff to keep you cool. I read one piece on habit forming this morning that said “lay out your running gear the night before cos if you have to rummage for stuff, you will put it off.” Strictly speaking, this is true. I have two swimming bags so that there is always one ready to go and one drying if I am swimming daily. I need a new swimsuit but we’ll deal with that later. She then proceeded to list an amount of gear for running that was a bit kind of long to say the least.

It’s not very helpful in my opinion.

So, this long essay on motivation. What is it going to do for me? Well sometime ago I figured that I needed to start building time into my life to get more exercise. I’m going to be honest and say that while other people manage this, I struggle in Dublin. My efforts to find 2 hours a day to go swimming (time to get there, change, shower before and after and all that) have been seriously kiboshed by the fact that Dublin sucks as a city to try and move around in. Whether you’re driving or bussing, you’re losing a lot of time. I started walking early in the morning and while that has benefits in that there’s a marked lack of traffic and it’s reasonably quite and I did it on occasion even if it was raining, the truth is it was also concrete jungle.

But I want to trail run and to at least be able to run trails when I can find them, I need to be fitter than I am now. I need to walk more and I need to run more. And I have figured, having looked at what the running world has to offer me, that the best way to approach it is the same way as I approached swimming. Always do it. Never trash yourself for doing worse this time than you did the last time. You only ran 400m this time when you ran 600m the last time? Treat your body like it’s your partner, not your enemy. It’s a journey, not a war.

As an added bonus, I’m leaving Dublin and I expect the change of scenery; the novelty of nice European buildings will make it a more entertaining activity.

 

Two headphones…

Alexander Gansmeier wrote a piece about The Interpreter, that movie staring Nicole Kidman some years ago, from the point of view of assessing whether she accurately portrayed being an interpreter or not. He points to it from the front page of his site but I don’t appear to be able to point to the exact space where he does so I’m pointing at the document as well as the index page. Anyway that’s all by way of an aside. One thing which Alexander noted, and which resonated big time for me this morning was this:

While interpreting, Kidman covers both her ears, which – while not a dealbreaker – is rather strange as most practising interpreters will confirm.

It casts me back years because I remember learning how to do that when I trained as an interpreter years ago and still have the habit. If you see me sitting at a desk with headphones on, no matter what I am doing, if I am in a work environment, I am most likely to have a headphone covering one ear but not the other. This allowed me over years to shut out most of the extraneous noise in various open offices while still retaining enough information about the outside world to catch when someone wanted my attention.

I miss interpreting. I occasionally practise at home and I did CPD interpreting in April at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh. I work in the tech sector and you’ll find software engineers talking about the zone. I never once, while developing code, got into a zone the like of which you can get into while interpreting. But things which I did will learning to interpret still resonate in my life.

How to draw dragons

I drew a dragon yesterday evening and you can see her here:

 

#dragon #coloredpencils #dailysketch #carandache #pablopencils #craftpaper.

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

It has shown me two things 1) I have gotten better at drawing in the last 2 years or so, and 2) I’ve a bit to learn about coloured pencils. Either way, I am not here to talk about how to draw dragons directly, but more…metaphorically.

Most days when I am talking to people, we talk about stuff with a small s and Stuff with a big S. Rarely, however, do I get a 10 minute speech from any friend along the lines of “You have to listen to this for 10 minutes because It Will Change Your Life”. But lots of my friends post such screeds to me. Yesterday, I had some time tossing up between doing housework and drawing dragons. I find drawing challenging. I wasn’t really taught how to do it properly as a child and we tend to assume the ability to draw is innate rather than a teachable skill. I can only hope this is changing. Anyway, the net result is that I’m often wanting to draw something but too terrified to start. Every time I lift a pencil or pen, it takes an enormous amount of motivation. I liken it to the motivation required to starting to get exercise.

Since I started doing this, and since I started summoning up the courage required to try and, probably fail at something, I have seriously started to question the reasons why certain things go viral, why many of the advice pieces on making your living blogging and related items seem to focus not on creating something, or even teaching someone to create, but on telling someone how to live their lives, and to explain to them, they’re really not happy.

I’m really not happy about a lot of things but a ten minute video exhorting me to think about someone else isn’t the solution. This morning’s one – before I bailed on it (it helpfully had subtitles so I did not have to listen to it) went on about being caught by your dreams and risking all for it. Like many of these things, it ignores circumstance and has an unspoken message of if you’re unhappy, it’s your fault.

In a way, it’s part of the trend we have of over simplifying life. This guy was prancing around some nice landscapy place and the overwhelming message I was getting was that we were sheeple who hadn’t seen truth the way he had, and frankly, we should all be living our dreams. It is the sort of message that I look at and think, you know, this guy has no idea how privileged he is. I used to use the word “lucky” there but I’m not sure how much luck has to do with it in the end.

The thing is, the dragon turned out (in my opinion) quite a lot better than I expected. It’s not getting loads of social media love but I’m coming to the conclusion that’s not why I do this anyway. The key point is that while it is far from perfect, it is far less of a failure than it might have been 12 or 18 months ago. I’m not in favour of the try/fail paradigm of making progress particularly as it frequently doesn’t include the bit that goes try/fail/learn. In the tech work, the whole try/failure thing is often presented as a success in itself. It becomes party of the myth and narrative of successful founders.

I find that just a little bit toxic. The whole try/fail thing really doesn’t work unless it’s try/fail/learn and I suspect any founder who eventually makes it would probably agree.

Anyway, back with the dragon. I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s art, and especially, decomposing what they do into lines because I can draw lines and the whole problem for me is drawing lines together successfully. Sometimes, I wonder, if we do take enough time to decompose what other people are doing, when they are doing something we want to do. The whole

  1. idea
  2. ??
  3. profit thing

really does not work with drawing dragons. But I will say this. It’s a metric tonne easier if you have a battery operated eraser for dealing with those little slip ups.

I suppose the lesson I’m hoping to give away for free here is “use the best tools you can get, and use them properly”.

For my next trick, there will be more lighthouses.

 

12 Sketches by Leonardo da Vinci

I always get very disappointed when yet another survey demonstrates that the biggest tourist draw in the country is the Guinness Storehouse. All the more so bearing in mind that we have, in Dublin, a gem of a Museum of Archaeology, and, especially, a gem of a National Gallery.

At the moment, and until mid July, you can go to the National Gallery to see 12 sketches done by Leonardo da Vinci, on loan from the Royal Collection. They are wonderful. Not only are they wonderful, they are inspirational. Some of his drawings make things look so easy. I know they are not (for me at least) easy but…Anyway his sketches of cats are worth going in for anyway and entry is free. There really is no major excuse.

Thursday mornings aren’t mad busy either.

I must confess I loved the cats, I loved the work being done to support other major work he was planning. And in some sense, I found it remarkable to understand that this drawings, on cotton rag paper, have existed for the guts of six hundred years. The average piece of electronics hardly lasts five years lately. These drawings provide a line of communication to a man who is dead for ages and people who were his contemporaries. In a way, they are as much a piece of social history as they are a piece of the history of science and art.

I wish I had been able to see these things when I was 13 years old. I might have started drawing sooner as his lines just make things look very clear and comprehensible.

Small pleasures

I do not know what time sunrise is these days but as I left the house at 6 this morning, it was to face the sun coming over the roofs of the house across from my own.

It was truly beautiful.

I woke at 5 this morning, which might seem awfully early but for someone who regularly wakes with a view to getting up at six (with varying degrees of success), it is only an hour in the difference. I read some, mostly about SpaceX this morning. I realised sometime ago that a lot of what I read in bed in the morning was so utterly meaningless that I had forgotten what it was, by the time I got to breakfast, cursing my tardiness in the morning.

Today, however, I don’t have to be anywhere at 8, but I was still awake, and failed to talk myself out of going for a walk. It wasn’t a long walk, and it took me around the estate I live in. However, it was far more than I tend to get. In an ideal world, those 15 minutes would happen every morning but they haven’t been.

I love the early morning. There’s something utterly peaceful about it and one of the things which has made my life feel very stressful is the disconnect I have had from enjoying the peace of the early morning. The world looks very different and you hear sounds very differently as well. There is not the constant sound track of traffic. This morning, I am not hearing the aircraft taking off either. It is utterly gorgeous as a feeling.

Working in the city has a major downside and that is trying to negotiate the thorny question of “how long will it take me to get to work”. In Dublin this is not a question with a consistent answer.

The thing about it is, if you get up in the morning generally feeling good, it sets a tone for the day. It is not yet 7am and I have been for a walk, I have done some needlework. I have done some reading about SpaceX. I have coffee beside me and shortly, there will be breakfast.

A lot of what comes into my inbox lately is exhorting me to be better. To be more successful. To do this. To do that. I don’t read very much of it, and I cleared down some of the bossier elements of it lately. I sometimes wonder if we know what better and more successful is. Whether we have a superficial view of what life should be like. Much of our discussion in that area is by comparison to someone else.

I am not in favour of exhorting the rest of the world to get up early and go for a walk. The beauty and solitude I enjoyed this morning would be destroyed if 800 people leaving around me all decided to go for a walk at 6am just to get some fresh-ish air. What I am in favour of is people identifying the small pleasures that put some shine on their days. There’s an article somewhere on the web – I did not save the link – but it includes a list of 10 things to make your day better or some such. Maybe 11 because it’s being hip and edgy. The underlying idea, I like. Make small pleasures through your day so that even when things are hard, you have a something small to look forward to. And make them a part of life rather than a reward for life. They do not have to come from a blog list and I’m not in the business of telling anyone else what those small things should be. Some people might call it “being kind to yourself”. If it is something as simple as blocking accounts on twitter whose primary objective is to make you feel outraged about something, so be it. If it is fifteen minutes with a newspaper, so be it.  If it is an early morning walk in the dawnlight, so be it.

For me, the small pleasures are a small cup of coffee in the morning. A non-rushed, non-piecemeal breakfast. Fresh bread from Marks & Spencers. Time to myself. I wrote last week about how I struggled with the fact that I just didn’t have time to do all the things I wanted to. I still don’t. I have to set priorities. And my primary priority is to try and set aside time that is sacrosanct to me and which doesn’t include the remotest possibility that the word “should” in terms of “you’re not good enough and you should…” gets to get in the way.

It seems to be hard, sometimes, to take time out for ourselves. So much so that the world appears to have decided that we need loads of advice to do so.

There is a section of the film Le Vrai Destin d’Amelie Poulain where the narrator talks about how Amelie likes the simple things in life. Skimming stones at the canal, the sound a spoon makes as it cracks through the caramelised sugar on a creme brulée. It is very evisceral as a sequence.

I like getting up early. I like the possibilities the morning gives me. I like the way that sometimes, I might do nothing between 8am and 5pm on a Saturday, but what I did between 7am and 8am has made the day massively more productive than it might have been if I had stayed in bed until 9am. I have never, ever regretted getting up early. I have always regretted getting up late.

And this morning, that bought me a little bit of sunlight that made the world of a north Dublin suburb look beautiful.

 

Places in my time line

Most days, I listen to the radio on the way to work in the car, like most people. I don’t much like driving in Dublin but for all that, it’s ten thousand times better than getting the bus was. Out of ecological collective responsibility grounds I tried that for 4 months. It was not good.

But I have between 30 and 60 minutes in the car most mornings, depending on what time I leave home, and I listen to the radio because I can’t read, and I can’t do study, and I can’t do other things I might do with an hour free. For one thing, there are cyclists and for another there are Audi drivers. I maximise the use I get out of that time by listening to foreign language radio. I start off with NDR from Germany, and usually, around half way through the journey, or when the sports news comes on, I switch to France Info. Sometimes, on the way home I listen to RTBF. RTBF is the Belgian/French language equivalent of RTE and I listen to it because I used to live in Brussels. I don’t often care too much about the content of the news, but I value the fact that it forces me to keep a level of foreign language comprehension skills active. Switching between them is good for me too.

On Monday evening this week, I was listening to RTBF and for various reasons, in a rush, RTBF was what remained on the radio at twenty past seven on Tuesday morning. I never listen to it in the morning – my default is always NDR for the morning – so it was pure chance that I tuned in just as reports were starting to break about the explosions at the airport in Brussels. I can remember my blood running cold…I can remember the presenters frantically trying telling people not to go to the airport, that all access was closed, frantically trying to find out what had happened. They had no reporters on the ground at the airport and this was less than 30 minutes, I guess, after the first bomb had gone off. They had so little information at that point in time that they weren’t sure where in the airport the two bombs had gone off. Initially, there was a report that one might have gone off on the tarmac. I worked at an airport for more than 10 years of my life. How on earth, I wondered, in shock, could an explosion happen on the tarmac?

I drove to work not hearing the words “gas explosion” or “accident” but “people are being very careful not to identify the cause of these explosions”. I also learned that both explosions appeared to take place in the check in hall in the terminal building.

By the time I got to work, scant reports about Maalbeek were starting to come out and on that, it seemed clear that the odds of finding a benign – for want of a suitable term – cause of the incident at the airport – were growing much, much longer. Smoke pouring out of underground stations is not generally a good thing.

I’ve been over and back to Brussels a lot in the last 24 months. The last couple of times I had cause to stay overnight there, it’s been at the Thon Hotel in the EU quarter. It’s about 20 metres from Maalbeek. On Tuesday, its lobby became an A&E incident room for the casualties from the explosion below.  I lived 2 metro stops along the same line so pretty much everywhere I went by metro in Brussels when I was living there took me through Maalbeek. TBH, this felt awfully close to a person I used to be.

One of the running themes in the Vimes collection of Discworld books by Terry Pratchett talks about how, in staying alive in the face of an attractive bounty on his head for the Assassin’s Guild, he needs to be lucky every single day. The would be assassin only has to be lucky once. That’s the balance of luck between us, the public, and anyone who wants to cause chaos. And no matter how much work we do to minimise risk in the face of attacks like this, it’s still the case: terrorist only has to be lucky once, we have to be lucky all the time. No matter how much we balance the odds in our favour, they have to be lucky once.

I rail against calling them terrorists, as it happens. That gives them the status they are looking for. They are mass murdering criminals, and it is as criminals we should be treating them, not some special snowflakes.

Brussels is an extraordinary city. I loved it for the fact that pretty much anything I wanted to do, I could. I came home for family reasons in the end, but there are a lot of days – particularly sitting in the car watching yet another Audi A6 driver trying to whip off the front of my car – where I wish Dublin was more like Brussels. In the way of public transport, for example, in the way of shopping. It has a lot of the pluses of living somewhere like Paris without too many of the minuses, like scale. There are days I truly miss the smell of fresh bread from the bakery that was near my apartment.  I love that it has giant comicbook murals. I love some of its street art. I love the architecture of the buildings. And I love the shops.

I am immensely pissed off that anyone would bomb it. And I am heartbroken that the families of more than 30 people are coming to terms with a life less ordinary and that for 300 more people and their families, yesterday was a lot different to how all the tomorrows will be.

For all my friends in Belgium #brussels #bruxelles #brussel #lifeboat #friendship #birdsofaclef

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on