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We are what we are

binocularsHave you noticed how we label things in an attempt to understand them? It’s not too bad with the simpler nouns -like “stone” perhaps: Stone, small, round, and maybe if we’re more knowledgeable about stones we can add other label to include categories like: basalt or granite. And thus, gradually, we come to understand the stone. But when it comes to people our understanding is often simplistic to the point of uselessness, because the labels are too small for the essay we each deserve, yet this doesn’t prevent others from attaching those simplistic monosyllabic labels to us.

My schooldays were made difficult by disruptive children in class. They sparked chaos, turning the teacher’s faces beetroot red with rage – a rage that was turned on all of us, both innocent and guilty. I don’t know what makes kids behave like that, other than stupidity. Nowadays I guess they’d be labelled as suffering from something like ADHD. Diagnosis is made via a tickbox of responses, and thereby we create the illusion of an understanding, of a “category” of person. The kids are still disruptive, still cause nightmares for the sensitives ones – who could possibly also be labelled with any number of acronymic anxiety disorders. Drugs can be prescribed for categories of suffering – downers to stupefy the violent , uppers to make the passive ones less shy. But is this really what we want?  And why am I harping on about my schooldays when what I want to talk about is binoculars?

Yes, binoculars!

When I go for a walk in the wilds I carry a pair of lightweight binoculars. Other walkers will often stop and ask me if I’ve seen any interesting birds. This happened twice today, during just a few hours’ walk up Great Hill in the Western Pennines.

I had seen no interesting birds – just a couple of crows, and no offence to crows but they are rather too common to be labelled as interesting. Birds are a feature of any walk of course and I do like to tell them apart, but I’m not a bird watcher. I carry binoculars for another reason, which is:

From the summit of Great Hill, I saw the Lake District fifty miles away, ditto The Yorkshire Dales. I spotted a new cairn raised on Darwen Moor, or possibly an old cairn grown much bigger – a thing that warrants further exploration. Conversely I saw the cairn on Round Loaf was tumbled flat, prompting a note in my diary to go and build it up again. I saw the giant Wind Turbines on Scout Moor with their arms arrested in the late afternoon sunlight, their leading edges seared with fire. I saw the coastline, from Liverpool to Preston taking on an amber glow. I saw the curious brown pall of an atmospheric inversion, running the length of the Ribble Valley, and wondered, in an era of de-industrialisation where the smog could be coming from- just traffic, I suppose?

Yes, binoculars add another dimension to the appreciation of any high altitude walk – even Great Hill’s modest 1200 feet . I get to enjoy both the near and the far distance in equal clarity. But how to explain all of that to the particularly inquisitive, woolly hatted gentleman I met today:

“Is that what you do then? Birds?”

No, that’s not quite what I do. What do I do then? Why the damned binoculars, as if it’s anybody else’s business? If I must wear a simple label for the day, then let it be “walker”. But just because we have a diagnosis, and therefore a cure for the curiosity of passers by, it does not mean we grant them any more of an understanding about what’s really going on, about what or who we really are. I might also have said, writer, since I was also unconsciously gathering material for this piece. Romantic is also a good label for me since I always at least partially envision the land through my imagination. But this complicates things, deepens them too much for passing conversation.

Returning from Great Hill I was accosted by a noisy bunch of lads who looked like they might have been the disruptive type at school. They each held by the leash a killer dog.

“Seen any interesting birds mate?” asked one.

His associates tittered approvingly.

“Not many interesting birds up here, lads,” I replied.

Jocular titters all round – the feathered variety is not what they meant, but I was too slow to realise. Either way my reply sufficed.

Perhaps I should leave the binoculars at home next time, or hide them in my bag and spare the tiresome ritual of repeated explanation? Or just pretend to be a twitcher.

No, we are what we are, and that needs no explaining, or excuses. To anyone.

olad-aviaSo, seventy five years from now no one will be interested in the date of manufacture of my first generation iPad. Even I don’t remember. 2010, perhaps? All I know for sure is I’d only had it six months and it was already obsolete. Such is the march of consumerism. I still use it though, resisting the inevitable upgrade because like most people I’ve less money now in real terms than I had when I bought it.

But if it still works, why worry about it?

Shame on me. This is not the spirit of consumerism.

Perhaps the internet will preserve the history of my iPad for posterity. Who knows? That’s more than can be said for the AVIA watch company, its history being something of a blur – no one seeming to have considered it worth the writing down. Like the iPad, they shelled their watches out like peas, entirely in accordance with the bean counter’s credo  that making things has never meant a damn beyond the selling of them.

But I’m an engineer, not a bean counter. I make things and I like making things, and I’m interested in the history of making things, and how things were and are and will be made. And I like AVIA watches, but don’t ask me why. They were a quality Swiss manufacture, the designs possessed of a certain nostalgic elegance that appeals to me. I’ve no idea what my first gen iPad will be worth in seventy five years, but a seventy five year old Avia wrist watch is worth,.. well, it varies, but I just paid £12 for this one, which is next to bugger all.

It still runs, just about, but cleaning and oiling will have it back on form. As for the rest of it,.. well,.. it looks knackered to be honest. The case is very worn, the gold plating rubbed through to the brass, and the face,… well,… let’s just say it’s suffered from a long term overexposure to damp. Clean it up all you like, this old watch is never going to look like new.

I’ve seen pictures of Patek Phillipes, Omegas, Rolexes, all with crusty dials – they call it patina on watches like that, aspirational watches, but on an old consumer grade AVIA, well it’s just junk, isn’t it? Sure – with a bit of patience, I can get it telling time as if it were new – get it going for another seventy five years. But who cares about that? Patina’s only worth it on a watch worth ten grand, and in the eyes of the pillock who’s prepared to afford it. To anyone with less money and a damn sight more common sense it’s just going to look,… well,… knackered, and why don’t you go and by yourself a new watch?

So, maybe I should just have my fun, learn a bit more about what makes old tickers tick, then chuck this worthless old junker away.

What’s that? Sell it back on Ebay?

Why should I? If I’m more honest than the original seller who sold it to me (nice condition, running a bit fast), it’s hardly going to make much of a profit, is it? (Old AVIA, generally knackered in appearance, but keeps good time.)

A fiver?

I asked this question on Instagram. My thanks to @grandadbeard for the reply. If it still works you shouldn’t throw it away. You should use it. But I have several dozen watches, some of them much older  and all of them a damn sight better looking than this one. I’ll never wear it, never use it.

But someone will.

It’s come a long way since those first nimble fingers put it together. Maybe in another 75 years it’ll be more valued than it is now. I sense the responsibility, reach cautiously for the screwdriver.

durleston wood cover smallIt was Mark Twain who said: “Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

I disagree, but then I would – having been writing willingly without pay for considerably longer than three years. Indeed I write these days without actively seeking any pay at all. As a round rebuttal of Mark Twain’s opinion on the matter, I offer instead the five rules of contemporary independent authorship:

 

 

1) Writers write.

2) If you can’t get anyone to pay, it’s okay to write for nothing, for as long as you want.

3) Publishers pay writers. (Sometimes).

4) Writers never pay publishers. Anything. (Ever).

5) Writers need not saw wood.

Most of us who write online for free are doing more than avoiding sawing wood. What we’re doing is bypassing a system that stands in our way. We’re seeking readers without having to negotiate the quaint arcana of the commercial publishing world. We write for free because experience has taught us that to seek payment from others is to close the door on our self expression, that to persist we might as well slide our work to the bottom of a drawer where it will remain for ever unread. Perhaps we lack the necessary persistence, perhaps we lack the talent. But neither of these cautionaries matter. We do it because we can. And in doing it we will find readers.

We can do it in a number of ways:

In the first instance, we can pedal our wares from the margins of our blogs. Click the cover-pic and you get a download from the public folder of our Dropbox thing. Simple. This way our work is completely independent and virtually immortal. Our stuff stays online until the sun goes supernova. The downside is unless you can game the system to achieve a monumental blog following, downloads are likely to be small. I manage a few per week. Not great, but who cares?

For more readers, you sign up to websites who grant a bigger exposure in exchange for plastering your stuff with advertising, or by tempting you into paying for “author services” like editing, proof reading, or marketing. Need I repeat my advice not to pay anyone anything in order to publish your work? It’s one thing to write for nothing, quite another for it to cost you money. The other thing to bear in mind when considering such sites is how many downloads you’re likely to achieve. There’s no point in signing up if their download rates are no better than your self served blog.

I use Feedbooks, Smashwords, and Wattpad. Feedbooks was always the best for downloads – even stuff I’ve had on there for years was still getting ten or fifteen downloads a week. I say “was” because it looks like Feedbooks is now dead so far as indys are concerned. Smashwords is less successful, but still garners a steady, if more modest exposure to potential readers. Wattpad,… well, Wattpad is a strange one. Put a novel on there in one lump and you’ll be lucky to get a single hit, ever. Put it up a chapter at a time over a period of months and you’ll do much better, at least until that final chapter goes up and then you’ll get not a dickie bird again. There’s a social media angle to Wattpad of course. Virtual networking. You like theirs,and they like yours. You need to use it to get the best from it, but I’m usually to busy with other stuff, like writing. I’m also an unreformed introvert who finds anything “social” a bit awkward.

Just recently I’ve been looking at other avenues, namely Free eBooks.net, putting my novel “In Dureleston Wood” on there by way of an experiment. The Free eBooks’ business model requires both writers and readers to sign-up. Readers are limited to five downloads per month unless they pay for VIP membership. Writers who contribute get VIP membership automatically, which suggests to me this may end up being a writer’s only hangout.

But anyway,..

Unlike Smashwords, there’s no option to charge for your work, but that doesn’t bother me. You can add a donate button so readers can tip you via your Paypal Account, should they feel so inclined, but let’s not fool ourselves over the potential. The site is heavy on advertising and it’s keen to sign us up for a premium marketing package, but again that violates my principles, so we won’t be going there.

Upload is simple, requiring a .doc formatted manuscript and a cover pic. Then you fill out your blurb and it’s done. Publication isn’t immediate – the info says it can take up to three working days for a submission to be considered. Mine took just a day. I wasn’t overly optimistic regarding my potential for downloads here. I’ve tired various sites like this before and managed no more than a dozen hits in a year – but I achieved my dozen here after the first day. The rate will probably dwindle over time, but so far it looks like Free eBooks and I can do business without violating too many of my principles.

And without sawing any wood.

 

 

 

 

greenbelt

My walk home from school was more pleasant than my walk to it. The meadows were darker on the way there, more restless and brooding, but brighter, greener, fresher on the way back. Thus the land reflects emotion, amplifies it, responds to imagination. To know the land for long enough is to have it become a part of who we are, mirror to our mood. To know buildings is not the same. It is only in the land the spirit of place can dwell, and when the land is gone, covered over with the built environment, the spirit dies.

There was a little brook by the roadside where we used to stop on the way home from school. I remember it as a dappled oasis, a stream full of little stars and reward aplenty for the indignities suffered during the school day. I remember too the faces of my pals, hear the echo of their voices, feel the mood of joyous play.

The brook has gone now. It was a nuisance to grown-ups, and is diverted through a culvert, buried beneath the entrance to a housing estate, as indeed every meadow along that mile long route to school is similarly built upon, the spirit of place expunged by “development”.

In similar vein my childhood bedroom looked out over the green of the Yarrow Valley, a place of quiet contemplation and leafy walks, to which I am still regularly drawn. To lose oneself in the quiet of a moving meditation is to envision the land with a magic others cannot see or feel. The romanticism of past ages touched me there, rendered me sensitive to dimensions beyond sight and ordinary knowing, and it’s to that place I owe my writing. But like my little stream of stars, there are rumours it too will soon be gone. Others say the rumours are false, but I’m unsettled by them all the same, grown cynical and lacking trust in my old age. Housing has encroached so much in past decades, it seems a natural progression for them to take what little remains here. 

I remember coming up from the river once, crossing a particularly lovely stretch of meadow. I was brooding on a girl I knew – or rather a girl I wanted very much to know. It was a glowering dusk, and against the skyline there was a huge, wind-blasted tree, sculpted by centuries of leaning against the prevailing wind, and there was the gentle curve of a hill, very feminine in outline, and a hint of thunder in a hot wind that rendered the leaves restless – all of this a perfect mirror for my mood. The meadow too was dewy, my footsteps forming a lone trail, lightly drawn as if upon a silvery veil, reflecting the fragility of the moment. It was such a long time ago, but whenever I return I am reminded of that night, the way my imagination connected, and how the land spoke.

Today that same perfect curve of skyline is broken by the jackknifed outline of houses, and there are these possibly pernicious rumours that speak of ripping up the meadow, as the houses move yet further south into this still glorious belt of green. I have watched the inexorable march year on year with a mixture of profound regret and puzzlement. Can it really be that, like my childhood stream of stars, it will be gone? And why do so few of us value it so much, when others value it so little they can blithely trade it on the market and dig it up.

Developers talk of greenbelt as if its preservation is an encumbrance, a distraction from the target to build and monetise an otherwise unproductive resource. But uninterrupted green is important too, its value intangible of course, at least in terms of pounds and pence, and if all we have left is a quarter mile belt around our towns, sufficient only as a place we take our dogs to defecate, we have already lost too much.

Of course there can be no permanence in the material world. All things must change; we all grow old and die, and sometimes the storms will come and fell the mighty oak, known and loved by generations. Likewise our footsteps, traced across the dewy meadow, will be gone by morning, lost to a new dawn. But let them be dissolved by sunlight, taken back into the eternal memory that is the spirit of the land, not obliterated by the ignominy of several thousand tons of brick and concrete.

 

 

surface-hands-ellerbeck-abt-1913

Surface Hands, Ellerbeck Colliery, Coppull, 1913

The valley of the River Yarrow has suffered much under the march of modernity. Greenbelt erosion from the north has extended Chorley’s suburbs over meadows I’d once thought sacrosanct. Even the historic and achingly romantic Burgh Hall was flattened to make way for a housing estate. It was there, legend has it, Livingstone spent his last night in England before embarking for Africa, or was it Stanley who went after him? I forget now, but this alone is surely interesting enough a fact to give pause, while in another, entirely irrelevant. I presume the developers took the latter view before sending in the wrecking ball.

All I know is I miss the hall when I walk along Burgh Lane at twilight – often a lone lamp in the window flickering out a morse code of myth across the misty green, now extinguished by the alien orange brick of modern housing. I suppose those massed ranks will weather in eventually and take on a more authentic ownership of the land, but for now the betrayal of my memories by their harsh present day reality is too much to bear. I am left wondering if perhaps I dreamed the past as a prettier place, and it troubles me, the thought the world might always have been this ugly.

Meanwhile to the south, across the Yarrow, at Coppull, there are rumours of plans  for several hundred new homes, this on the 108 hectare site of the present Yew Tree Farm dairy – indeed an entire village addendum, including a school and health centre, overlaid like toy-town across a particularly picturesque run of pristine, sylvan glade. I find the planner’s pastel shaded impressions disturbing in their simplicity, conveying much in terms of bold change, yet nothing of the quiet treasure of green that is to be consumed in the process.

The location also surprises me, sitting as it does atop extensive disused Victorian mine-workings, and in particular the deep shaft of the Coppull Colliery. Unlike the stories of Burgh Hall, disused workings are not so easily dismissed as myth, since a void in the earth has a somewhat uncompromising quality about it. I would certainly be afraid to live there, no matter what assurances I was given. As children there were two risks we ran when exploring that side of the Yarrow – one being the boot of the farmer, the other falling through into old workings. And insurers have always taken a dim view of properties prone to subsidence.

The shafts and tunnels of the Coppull Colliery link up with workings of the similarly vanished colliery at Coppull Hall, just a little to the south of Yew Tree Farm. Coppull Hall Colliery is quite another story, being the site of an appalling disaster in 1852. Here the ground shook and the shaft spat out a column of soot and slack, result of an explosion of firedamp. 36 men and boys were lost, many burned, others suffocated by chokedamp. 90 were pulled out injured.

It was not an unusual occurrence in Victorian coalfields, nor was it anywhere near the largest of our losses to King Coal, at least in Lancashire, that particular grim accolade going to the Pretoria Pit near Westhoughton for its 1910 explosion that claimed 344 lives. But the Coppull Hall disaster was sufficient to have rendered the echo loud, at least in local memory, and especially for later generations of pit-men and their descendants. The combined shafts of the Coppull Collieries are now but dimples in the meadows that hug the river. Unfenced, void of warning, they are ominous only to those with local knowledge. The mine-buildings are gone, demolished, buried under the council refuse tipping that went on here until the 70’s, and now all nicely grassed over.

There is a quietness to this stretch of the Yarrow, and a sweet melancholy in the sound of the river. It’s hard to imagine such horror taking place underground when the environs above are so lovely. The shaft of the Coppull Hall Colliery is over six hundred feet deep, and miles of tunnel fanning out dendritically among the seams, joining with other tunnels from more ancient mines dotted all along the vale. And wandering their traces I imagine the ghosts of lost men and little boys.

One such man was John Turner. He and a friend were escaping towards the shaft that morning, when Turner went back into the mine. Men often worked underground in their smalls because of the heat, and Turner had gone back to where he’d left his clothes, perhaps his dignity demanding he did so irrespective of the risk. He was later found, head pillowed on his neatly folded garments, his clogs beside him, removed as if for bed, sleeping the eternal sleep.

I am struck too by the boys, as young as seven, the so called “pit-lads”, who died that day, and I’m reminded that in a culture of unbridled avarice, the poor man, no matter how brave of heart, is lower even than cattle to the man who owns him.

In the churchyard at Coppull Parish, there is a memorial to the mine manager’s son, John Ellis, a young man of 24, killed in the blast. It’s an unfussy flagstone slab, barely legible now, but with patience one can make out mention of the disaster, as if staring back through the mist of time. It is the only memorial to what took place. Ironic, how I once sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful” in that church, innocent as all the lambs who died. Older eyes tell me now there is but a thin gloss to the world, that while it’s stories aspire to godliness and beauty, we do well to remember it is mostly a vile scramble for loot in a world built upon the broken backs of working men, and their children.

There are no deep mines in Lancashire any more, indeed none in England. Even in modern times they were terrible places to work, and I might be glad they’ve gone except we have only exported the danger and the tragedy to the poor of other countries. Wherever in the world men still dig coal, their stories are the same as those of the Lancashire coalfield and of the Yarrow Valley. In this we find grim fellowship as, in a smaller way, there is fellowship among those who have seen their once precious green sacrificed to the god of progress and little orange houses.

If the development of Yew Tree Farm goes ahead, if my fond memories of place are to be once more betrayed by the harsher reality, I hope at least the story of Coppull Hall Colliery will be remembered, that they will teach it in the new school, that the residents of those new homes will pause in the mowing of their lawns, and the washing of their cars, that they will spare a thought for the likes of John Turner, dreaming the dream of eternal sleep, deep beneath their feet, just one of many thousands of forgotten souls, brave men and boys, all lost in the earth.

References:

Lancashire Mining Disasters 1835-1910 – Jack Nadin

The Chorley Standard, May 22nd 1852.

Is Feedbooks dead?

bookshopcoverAs a self publishing writer willing to give his work away in exchange for establishing a readership, Feedbooks is where it all began, back in 2007. You loaded your story up to the Feedbooks site, and it became available at once to a worldwide audience, downloadable directly to smartphones, tablet computers and kindles. If free fiction was your bag, reading it or writing it, Feedbooks is where you went.

In those early days, when the web was a little more anarchic with its dreams, Feedbooks was hot stuff, and I moved a lot of stories through them. But no longer. My Aldiko and Moonreader apps now link only to Feedbook’s paid content,  or legacy works that have entered the public domain due to copyright expiry. Contemporary, free, original titles are no longer accessible from the platforms they were aimed at.

You can still get at them from the non-mobile webpage version of the site, but the graphics are winking out one by one, and there’s a sense of something falling down, falling over and being left to rot.

There has been no announcement by Feedbooks, but this is not unexpected. Their support, indeed their interest in the free stuff we’ve given them over the years has been generally poor. In the early days independent authors provided a wealth of free content that got Feedbooks on the map, got their business model off the ground, and we’ve been ignored ever since the paid stuff came online. That they’ve finally ditched us comes as no surprise – my only real surprise being it’s taken so long.

I do feel a keen disappointment in this because their penetration of the market has always been really good. If you wanted readers Feedbooks found them for you. Smashwords couldn’t match it, and Wattpad was even worse. It’ll be a chillier place I fear in the search for readers from now on. But as authors we should not despair. Readers like free stuff, and they’ll get it wherever they can. Smashwords here they come?

I hope so.

Is Feedbooks dead?

For authors of free original content, sadly, yes it is.

 

 

 

downham-phone-boxSo, I signed up for Instagram in the summer and got busy posting a pastiche of pictures of my imaginary life. As usual though I’m a bit slow in catching on to how you game the system so I get a thousand likes on my pictures. Sure,… I saw a blurry picture of a rusty nail knocked into a piece of wood, and it had twelve hundred likes. My picture of a broken watch got ten. The best I’ve done so far all year, a picture of a red telephone box in Downham village, is about fifty five.

This is not to say I’m disappointed by the response, only that I do not understand the game, how you massage the waves, tickle up the perception of a much liked life, rusty nails and all. You have to follow other people, I know. You like theirs and they like yours, but you can only take this so far. My fifty five max likes is garnered from a followship of about a hundred, which is itself garnered from my following of two hundred and fifty others. An equation governs the relationship – something to do with game theory I guess. But if you follow people, their stuff gets added to your daily feed and you have to spend a while going through actually liking their stuff, so your Gravatar pops up in their feed and piques their curiosity and hopefully inspires them to be kind enough to like you back. But at some point this becomes impractical in terms of the sheer time taken in the nurturing. I mean, I have a real life, you know? And I was always quickly bored with games especially when the rules were so arcane as this.

In short, perception of personal worth through any form of social media then: we fool ourselves. Nothing controversial there. It’s just a game. Get over it.

Of course, our nightly scrolling through this stuff is where the business model cuts in. The adverts appear, cunningly disguised as content, so before you know it you’ve liked that ad for Scarlet Johansson’s latest movie, thinking it was a pastiche artwork by a talented amateur.

I get those inspirational pieces as well. You know the kind: the teenage lifestyle gurus offering me a world as perfect as theirs, if only I’d learn from their canned quotations, taken fresh from the quote-o-mat machine.

And speaking of lifestyle gurus, Ekchart Tolle is on there too. I follow him. He puts stuff up of an inspirational nature, and truly I like it, though I suspect it’s not really Eckhart putting it up. I don’t mind this. What can I say? I like the guy. Recently, Eckhart, or someone channeling him said something like: pulling back into the “now” is often sufficient to make a difference to the adverse circumstances of your life. This won’t make sense unless you’ve read his stuff, and you’re familiar with this idea of letting go of striving and pulling back into a detached awareness of the present moment. And you know, it works, but we forget, so it’s good to be reminded.

Anyway, I thought to myself, okay, pull back into the present moment, and sure enough a lot of the bad stuff I felt was coming at me fell away. I felt re-energised because bracing yourself against adversity takes up a lot of energy. This suggests to many a paranormal effect, but I don’t see it that way. It’s more simply to do with perception. So much of what we take to be a real and imminent danger to our well being is in fact imaginary. We imagine danger and it sours our lives. Happiness is therefore not another life, more a change in the way we perceive the one we’ve already got. Hey, that’s good, I may Instagram that one later (twenty five likes?) But you heard it here first, right?

Discussion of cars in the office, two colleagues seriously questioning the purchase of older cars on account of them having no central locking button, one you can hit when travelling through a shady part of town, so the trolls don’t come and drag you off down a dark side-street and eat you. I’m perplexed by this, wondering if I inhabit a different world, one where there are no trolls, and where the shady parts of town are simply the parts of town you do not know. I’m sure my car has a central locking button, but I’ve no idea where it is, nor have I ever felt the need for one.

Perception of  danger therefore: How easily we frighten ourselves, and mistake the unknown for something sinister and threatening!

But jumping back to Tolle’s “now” there’s also a misconception about what it means. There must be zillions images on Instagram, and all of them the valued nows of Instagrammers. I see a cross section of the nows of people I follow. Look again in an hour and those nows have sunk, no longer fresh, buried under new nows, new images. It is a dizzying dynamic and it reminds us of the fleeting nature of existence. But these former nows are not lost, just forgotten. The machine soaks them up and my mind boggles at the terrabytes that must be devoted to the storage of this stuff no one ever looks at. What use such an accumulation? What use the mediocre picture of sunset over suburban Manchester a week last Tuesday? And that rusty nail? Are there algorithms that can interpret them, profile us and target advertising in response?

Misperception of the “now”: it is not something to be preserved or captured. We observe, we let it go.

I was stuck on the motorway for an hour last night, a pitch dark, misty night, and a string of red tail lights leading off into the distance – ten miles of it. There was a temptation to eye up the angles, the light, the geometry, to squeeze off a few shots for Instagram and say: hey look here’s me stuck in traffic; what a drag!

Sack that. An hour’s a long time in a traffic jam, sure, but our perception of it is improved if we can observe the present moment without judgement or agenda – like: I really need to be somewhere else right now. The lights, the contrasts, the sounds, the scents – there was an aliveness and vibrancy to the experience when viewed with a relaxed detachment, but even attempting to share it as I’m doing now dilutes it, because before we can describe a thing we must gain a perspective that’s remote from it. And then we do not live it. It becomes like a butterfly pinned in a display case – a dead thing. They are dead moments then, these Instagram snaps, these terabytes of server storage nothing more than a mausoleum of dead things.

It’s just a game.

Misperception of reality, and craving. They render us vulnerable to control, to suggestion by people who understand these things better than we do. I’m thinking of charismatic politicians, and other sellers of stuff. We are most of us asleep, but every moment offers an opportunity to awaken. The perception is one of a bumpy ride, that we’d better hold on as the going gets tough. Awakening is having the courage to let go. To switch off life’s record button, and simply observe without a thought for how one can game the system.