Only last week my lovely wife and I were talking about the benefits of noticing the world around us - not just having our eyes and ears and noses open, but really paying attention to the things that stimulate our senses, as well as the reactions that they provoke in us. It's something that I try to do - with random levels of success - and when I remember to do so, it can be a wonderful experience, no matter what I'm paying attention to. The act of noticing intensifies my life experience.
Today, I was fortunate enough to have a quite enchanting experience while walking my 110lb goofy dog (Bosco) on a local trail which runs alongside a rather large river. The path winds through a long and thin park which is dominated by Cottonwood trees - a tree, by the way, which in spring exudes the most delightful scent from the oil upon its new leaves - and brambly undergrowth. At this time of the year the leaves are only just beginning to unfurl from their buds on the smaller plants, and the rather more majestic trees remain naked in a quietly dignified way.
It was a grey, damp morning. The low clouds were trying their best to work up a decent rain shower, but their hearts weren't in it, and the best they could do was to pepper me with sprinkles every minute or two. It was dull, damp and all in all, rather an unpromising walk - until...
Trudging along and trying not to stare at my dog's all-too-evident bum hole (I do wish he'd lower his tail more often), I suddenly became aware of a sound that had been in the background for several minutes. I hadn't been paying attention to it, but something prodded me and awoke me from my dog-centric reverie. A low whistle, it was - rather like the sound you make if you whistle softly and hum in the back of your throat at the same time. What do you mean, you can't whistle and hum and the same time? I suggest you try harder, and immediately.
There it was, that familiar sound - HUMMING BIRDS! I looked up and towards the sound, and within seconds even my tired old eyes picked up a flitting smudge, darting around a nearby tree. As I watched, the tiny little thing settled on a branch and gave me a good looking over for about a minute. I stood, transfixed - it's rare to have the opportunity to watch a humming bird at rest. Clearly, on this occasion, the bird considered me to be much too big and lumbering to be any threat (I must say, the implication about my weight is a little uncalled for, but this was not a tame humming bird, after all: no manners).
All around me were distant sounds of other birds, and sure enough, another zoomed over my head towards my little friend (whom I shall call Norman), at which point he took off as if he'd been yanked from the branch, and the two began a spiralling dance (although it may have been a vicious fight) into the trees. I resumed walking (the dog had taken up a standing position on his back legs and was tapping one foot with his front paws on his hips) and was delighted to be mobbed - as much as you can be by creatures that weigh only a few grams - as I continued. The whistling of their blurred wings was at times augmented by some very pissed-off sounding chirps, and I had the distinct impression that I was interrupting a most important occasion.
I stopped a respectful distance away from the first sighting and watched as the tiny forms engaged in the most breathtaking aerobatic displays with one another. It was magical. I was alone (the dog really doesn't count in such situations) and I felt privileged to be granted the chance to watch these miniscule masters of the air go about their business. In the spirit of noticing the effect upon me, I also gradually became aware that I was grinning like the village idiot. I was also feeling bloody marvelous.
I love it that something so simple, so pure and so innocent can have that effect upon me. It is, I think, an indication that the child - the child who can be astonished and gawp in wonder at the world - is still within me. It means that the world is still a wonderful place to be, and to discover.
It means that I am not only alive, but living.
I can't help being generous...here's an early draft of something which forms a tiny part of what is turning into a big, fat, book. Enjoy! Oh, by the way, this will not in any way help you understand the game of cricket.
My relationship with most sports was really quite simple: I either did rather well, or I completely, hopelessly stunk – there seemed to be no middle ground, except in the realm of football, where I could, on occasion (in particular when I didn’t think about it) play as well as anyone else, but on most days I was a bit of a duffer. Odd that. Faced with the truth with regards to other energetic activities, however, I adopted a pragmatic approach and was quite happy to either accept my limitations or enjoy my successes in equal measure. The exception, for reasons which will never become clear as long as my bum hole points downwards, was cricket. As a clean-living lad, I can’t even blame it on recreational drugs; I was, and remained until I left school utterly, and - with hindsight, somewhat alarmingly - delusional about my potential as a cricket player. I was convinced that I might just be the next Ian Botham. The cold, hard evidence, however, suggested otherwise to everyone except yours truly.
As a bowler, I possessed a terrifyingly aggressive approach to each delivery. I used an enormously long run up to the crease, during which time I would cycle through a variety of emotions ranging from violent rage and murderous intent towards the batsman, all the way to panic about where I needed to put my feet before launching a blistering, unplayable delivery down the wicket at my unfortunate victim. To be fair, almost every ball I bowled did actually prove to be unplayable, although not necessarily for the right reasons. It wasn’t that my sheer pace or baffling swing was beating the outside edge of the bat – oh no: it was more a matter of the batsman not being tall or long-limbed enough to reach the ball after I had leaped into the air, tied myself in a knot and hurled the ball in their general direction. Ten feet over the batsman’s head it would go, fifteen feet to either side, and particularly worrying were the deliveries that didn’t hit the ground at all, and hurtled towards soft flesh or vulnerable, unprotected skulls for heart-stopping moments. I was bloody lethal- useless, but lethal.
With the bat, it was a different story. I was by contrast to my bowling persona, utterly harmless. This was the direct consequence of me being entirely unable to hit anything other than a ‘dolly’ ball: one that bounces in the perfect spot for the batsman (and, if you please, nice and slowly at that). There I’d stand, in shorts and wearing just one protective pad on the left leg (there weren’t enough sets of pads to go around) and absolutely nothing protecting my most sensitive areas. Instead of maintaining an inner, steely resolve in the face of such an onslaught, I tried not to shit myself at the thought of a pound of wood and leather about to be thrown at me by an enormously tall and ferocious bowler (they all looked tall and ferocious by the time they had reached the point of delivery). I was, in point of fact, far more of a danger to myself with the bat than I was to anyone else, what with my tendency to lunge and swing extravagantly (some would say wildly, but I chose to turn the other cheek towards such cruelty) at the ball, no matter where it was in relation to me. Sometimes I put so much energy into it, I swung myself off my feet. Here’s the thing: I was intent on hitting the ball as far as I could, every single time – because I just knew that despite being terrified and apparently unable to do very much very well, I could be the next biggest thing to hit the English cricket scene.
Fielding was my most successful skill set where cricket was concerned. I could run quickly, so I was good at chasing the ball as it scampered across the grass (although it usually didn’t scamper very far in the six-inch-long long grass of our playing fields). I had good reflexes, too, so that without thinking about it (which would, of course, have entirely spoiled the whole thing), I could actually catch the ball from short range. This made me ever-so-slightly useful in very limited circumstances and so quite irrationally cemented my belief in my own skills. Long range catches were unfortunately more problematic (that whole ‘thinking about it’ thing), and on one occasion I had the unenviable and memorable delight of spending at least ten minutes running around underneath a ball that must have narrowly missed dislodging the ill-fated 'Skylab' before re-entering the atmosphere at somehwere approaching the speed of light before heading back towards earth with frost on it, positioning myself perfectly beneath its final trajectory, bending my legs slightly and cupping my hands just like I’d been shown how to (by a vibrating, purple Mr. Davies), keeping my eye fixed on the ball at all times, and having the bloody thing land square on the end of my right thumb.
Three things happened all at once. First, the ball bounced off my thumb, having expended ninety nine point nine percent of its accumulated atmospheric re-entry energy in the bones of my digit and wrist, and harmlessly (I’d successfully absorbed all of the harm) onto the thick, lush grass at my feet. Secondly, my team mates groaned in unison, and at least one distant person shouted “Wanker!” in frustration. Thirdly, I dropped to the ground as a bolt of purest pain shot through my offending thumb, into my wrist and up my arm. This was accompanied by an even more excruciating jolt when I knelt directly upon the bloody, bastard, fucking ball. I hated cricket in spite of my universally unrecognized talent for it, and in that particular moment, as I cradled what was surely a career-ending injury, I decided that the sport didn’t deserve to benefit from my undoubted talents. I would spurn it just as soon as I got the chance, and teach it a bloody good lesson in the process.
If it came begging for my return in order to re-enliven its standing in the country’s psyche, I would spurn it a second time, at which point, I thought, my revenge would be complete.
In only one area of the game did I actually, genuinely do anything of any benefit (apart, that is, from unintentionally entertaining anyone who was in possession of genuine talent, and who therefore had the time to stand around and watch me make a fool of myself). I was very, very good at stopping the ball with my body. I didn’t always mean to do this – in fact if the truth be known, most of the time I was trying to do the exact opposite, but when I was out in the field, I seemed to turn into a magnet for every super-hard shot streaking towards the boundary with the flat trajectory of a Nazi eighty-eight millimetre anti-tank shell. I would have been suspicious of my comrades’ intentions, however in truth very few of us had any idea of where the ball was heading if we ever connected with it, especially if we did so with the meat of the bat. Nevertheless, I became unconsciously competent at stopping the ball with my thighs, my buttocks, my shoulders and my lower arms. My back, my chest and my shins (particularly excruciating) came in for a lot of use, too, but thankfully only once did my head bear the brunt of a successful leather-on-willow interface although it did allow me to briefly experience the interesting effects of a concussion (which included being present for, but cognitively missing an entire triple Physics lesson) for the very first time.
Twice (yes, I know that you were secretly wondering), I heroically prevented runs being scored solely through the placement of my scrotum/gonads between the evil missile and the boundary of the pitch but as you may guess, neither occasion was particularly joyful, and indeed, while a team-mate quietly retrieved the ball from next to my inert form, involved a lot of moaning, puking noises and heavy breathing, together with ever-so-gentle (and secretly enjoyed) self-massage throughout the rest of the day. Yes, I was convinced that cricket did not deserve me; I decided to avoid pursuing it any further at the age of thirteen, and thus – at least in my mind - the nation was deprived of a hundred glorious international victories…
The universe is a fickle and random place. Here was I earlier today, bemoaning the fact that due to feeling sick, and having missed a lot of sleep recently, I was simply too distracted (i.e. sleeping most of the time, and coughing when I was awake) to do any work on my next book.
Thirty minutes ago I found out that an old friend of mine - whom I've known for over thirty years - has begun his final journey, and has been admitted to a hospice. My own troubles vanished in a cloud of feeble self-pity. Writing can wait: I cannot be with him, but I can give him my time another way...remembering the times that I spent with him as I await the conclusion of his long story.
Fuck the writing - thinking of you, Paul, you old warrior.
It's been an interesting and somewhat topsy-turvy (did you know that now obsolete English word 'tervy' meant to turn something upside down?) few weeks, and finding time to write anything at all has been problematic, although not entirely impossible.
It's confirmation that I'm not living 'the writing life', but rather a life with some writing in it - and I'm comfortable with that right now.
My domestic circumstances are in mild turmoil as a result of the renovations which are ongoing (actually, nothing is happening at the moment because of the insurance company obsessing about something entirely inconsequential), but at least we know that it's temporary, and soon we will settle back into our normal rhythm.
I'm trying to write a little more this week, and so far I've been successful, banging out a couple of thousand words in a couple of hours in the latest work about my school days. I hope to get that out into the wide world - and my avid fan base of five readers - before the year is over, but I have rapidly learned that time in the publishing world has remarkably elastic properties.
Mood is so important to how I write, and at the moment I'm a little down because I'm hardly seeing my kids, and each night I have to leave my home to find somewhere to sleep (the largest local hotel). This means that I grab my writing opportunities carefully, so as to avoid creating stuff that has a downbeat flavour to it. This evening for example, I was in full flow when my attention was diverted for a short time, and when I came back to the keyboard, my mood had changed. It was time to leave the computer alone (at least with regards to the book) for the day...
I don't believe in torturing my soul to be a writer, and frankly I'm very skeptical of people who claim to be tortured by their craft, and equally so by those who claim to have to write to stay alive - it all seems more than a little dramatic and attention-seeking. I write because i want to, because I enjoy it, and when I can. If I stop enjoying it, I stop writing for the moment or for the day - it's a simple equation for me.
And now, because it's late and my energy is waning, I will bid you adieu, until next time. As always, my thanks for clicking on my page.