I have a complete aversion, aggressive even, to Blogger Award schemes in much the same way as those chain letter scams pre internet days. Remember them? Just copy this letter you received to 10 others with your own address, include a £1 note, and within weeks you’ll receive hundreds of similar letters each containing £1! I suppose the Blogger Awards are a bit like that; you get “tagged” via someone’s blog post, asked to answer 10 of the most inane questions known to man, add 10 more names of blogging friends, post it, then you can put a sticker on your blog saying you’ve been chosen as A Super Dooper Blogger of The Year. Tosh!
So you can imagine my initial reaction when I discovered a post from Michael at Yardifacts saying I’d been “tagged” to answer 3 questions in a post of my own. My finger hovered over the “delete” key but something made me stop and read the whole post first. Three things stood out; firstly the questions and their background were really quite funny, second the poster and his tagger seemed to be of a similar age, gender and disposition to myself, and third there were only 3 questions and 2 people tagged. For the sake of completeness the questions were about American cheese, American stereotyping, outdoor life. My interest was piqued ……. this was not just a piece of fluff aimed at getting more followers or joining a global crèche network or mums net! (That should get me a torrent of abuse!) It seemed a bit of fun with challenging AND tongue in cheek questions.
So, let’s have a go at answering the three different questions that I was posed in turn by Michael, and to answer them in the spirit I think my fellow Victor Meldrews would approve of. (My non-Brit followers may have to google that and watch a few YouTube clips!)
1. As a blogger, what brings you back, week to week writing, publishing, taking photos and interacting with your readers?
I have absolutely no idea, I’m not trying to build a monetised site, I’m not reaching out (why do we use that awful phrase instead of just saying “communicating with”?) a large and scattered extended family, I’m not even trying to create a mega number of followers. I’m not trying to influence anybody, to score points over anybody, or to educate anybody. There are times when “I just don’t believe it”, that I am sitting somewhere in a pub or wine bar, in bed, on a train, and I suddenly think …. “must write that down, maybe it’s a blog topic”. I spent most of my professional life completely avoiding technology and in one company in the 1990s became infamous as the director who threw a new shiny computer out of his office door saying “I have a bloody secretary to deal with mail and type memos why the effing hell do I want this in my office!” Working as an organisation psychologist I spent most days listening to individuals, or talking to groups, so maybe on retirement I suffered a complete personality change and morphed into a rampant introvert. Hang on while I go and lie down in a dark room and think about that for a while.
OK I’m back now, still trying to find a cogent, enlightening or even just a witty answer. Nope, nothing coming through yet.
What I CAN tell you however is that I subscribe to “the brain as a black box” concept, though I am not a behaviourist. The black box has inputs and outputs but little or nothing is relevant or known about the processes occurring inside the box to turn an input into an output. But to take it further, I consider that the box has rooms in it which has different machinery in each, all working at different rates and capacities. So, my persona craves inputs …. as you will read in answer to question 3 below, but intellectual inputs rather than noise from people, tv, radio etc because my black box rooms like to be full, not partially full or empty. So I cram them, but this results in lots of outputs I turn into writing such as blog posts. Good grief, this is getting heavy or ludicrous, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know!
At a more emotional level, unless I fill my head with stuff which includes lots of reading and related writing, my head gets filled with thoughts, experiences, incidents …… I don’t want to see, hear, feel, not ever! There, that’s a bit personal.
However, I’ve often been told I should write a book or two but I’ve always resisted. Anyway, I’ve now started one book to be called, A Year In Nepal: How to survive and thrive. It’s not a guidebook or travel book, but something full of stories and anecdotes from all the times we have spent in Nepal, so a lot of my past blogs and friendship with Sid, Buddha to all of you, are becoming quite useful.
2. What three books did you read & enjoy in 2018?
Oh dear I really hate this question, because I read around 100-150 books over 12 months! Asking me to choose only 3 is like asking an Egyptian Pharaoh to name 3 concubines he enjoyed having sex with in the past year. I have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited, it’s a bit like a library where you can have any 10 books out at a time and read an unlimited number overall. I buy a few too that I want to keep as reference digitally, though I buy physical books mostly on art and wine because they are often table top sized and with colour photos too.
Most of the books I read are non fiction and related to, but not necessarily about, philosophy, Buddhism, wine collecting (oops, there’s a hobby revealed) or history …. especially English medieval stuff. So, there ARE three books that stick in my mind as either making me laugh out loud, changing my perception of something, or adding strongly to the number of synapses still surviving in my declining collection. I suppose I’m a bit of a “learning freak”, a perpetual student as I was once called after finishing my PhD in chemistry and then a little later going back to university to read psychology. Anyway here’s an eclectic mix that probably shows you what an introverted nerd I am, how my extroverted wife puts up with me I’ll never know …. or as Victor would say, “ I don’t believe it”!
Travels With Epicurus (Daniel Klein)
I have just reread this book for the second time with a different focus from my first reading. Originally I was more interested in the “travel” aspect, but now my focus was much more on Epicurus, his philosophy, and the authors experiences in Greece seen through an Epicurean lens. Here is an early paragraph from the book:
“I have returned to this Greek island on a personal quest: I am an old man myself now—seventy-three—and I want to figure out the most satisfying way to live this stage of my life. Having spent, over the years, several extended periods in Greece, I believe I may find some clues in the way old people live here. The old folks of Hydra have always struck me as uncommonly content with their stage in life.”
The book is very easy to read, you do not have to be an expert on Epicurus. It is not a theoretical textbook on Epicurean philosophy either. It is written as a series of day to day incidents and experiences of the author and a few locals on their island; playing cards, observing a beautiful young woman, a meal together, a walk in the hills. Each is interpreted within the Epicurean way of life and Epicurus’ time in The Garden. This book has stopped me in my tracks, made me reflect on a number of very positive aspects to our lives over the past 10 years we had previously viewed as negative. It has almost made time slow down and become Kairos instead of Chronos with a more existentialist-Epicurean savouring of every moment. Maybe the journey IS more important than the destination….. but that’s a heck of a leap in our case! As to The Forever Young Brigade, it’s become almost a game to spot them on our travels, whether on the beaches of Southern Spain, a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, at the Trevi Fountains in Rome, at the leisure club pool in our Budapest hotel ….. all denying themselves the mindfulness of the moment and their surroundings.
The Pedant In The Kitchen (Julian Barnes)
There are very few books that make me laugh out loud, maybe the stuff I read is too dark or overly academic. But this book had me in stitches, with the author and his wife differing intensely over shared cooking and how to follow recipes. What IS the difference between slicing and chopping an onion, how much is a cupful or a handful, what is a pinch, and when does a drizzle become a torrent? Are we on the same wavelength here, have you experienced this with cookbooks?
Barnes tries desperately to understand and to follow recipes exactly as a pedant would, his wife just goes with her gut and chucks things around. The humour of it all is intensified for us personally because he has more or less written about Dr C and myself, as we argue regularly over some of the “nonsense” in cookbooks written by TV chefs that are misleading at best or, at worst, just cannot be followed.
“I set the chops aside, left the chicory in the pan, and boiled the shit out of it. Thus did this ‘thirty-minute supper’ become a forty-minute one.”
This quote from part way through the book typifies Barnes’ style and the problem: first the recipe didn’t work because it didn’t state the need to reduce the liquid, and secondly it took 10 minutes longer than specified. Thus is a pedant aggrieved ! But the author isn’t just a pedant, he may be a novice cook but he is an expert on cookbooks as he demonstrates the gulf between celebrity chefs and their audience on page after page.
Longitude (Dava Sobel)
To be brief, discovering a method of measuring Longitude in the 1700s was a “bit of a pig” until an amateur clockmaker entered the fray and battled royal astronomers, politicians, mathematicians, The Admiralty, and academics who believed that the “moon and stars” method was the answer. John Harrison was a simple carpenter from Yorkshire who they delayed, hindered, cheated, lied to, threatened ……. but they were wrong in their assumptions, and John Harrison eventually proved it to claim the £20,000 prize with his H4 model. It’s a heck of a story you can read in Dava Sobel’s book Longitude, “The true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time” and you can see all of John Harrison’s models H1 to H4 at The Royal Observatory, Greenwich. These four mechanisms inside glass cases changed the world, saved countless lives, enabling navigation not only on the high seas but also within our modern day satnavs. We stood in awe of Harrison just looking at them, the final day of our Tour of England South Coast. You can also watch a marvellous 3 hour movie in two parts of John Harrison’s struggle on YouTube here Longitude
3. Other than blogging, what other hobbies do you have, from dabbling to full-on assault hobbies?
Im not sure I’ve ever actually HAD a hobby! I tend to see hobbies as things which have some creative purpose, like making model aeroplanes, making castles out of matchsticks, crocheting, painting stones you find on the beach, or collecting things like seashells, wine corks, teapots, paperweights, corkscrews …. you get the picture. I’ve had plenty of BIG obsessive pastimes however, I’ll mention only one … mountaineering, having been born in the English Lake District and married a girl from the Himalayas. So, at varying degrees of difficulty I learned to read a map and use a compass before I could walk, then when I could walk I hiked up, over, around all 214 Wainwright peaks in Cumbria, when the strength in my fingers and arms matured I learned to climb a bit, but I wasn’t very good at it, so I switched away from rock to snow and ice. I now clawed (literally with rigid crampons and twin climbing axes) up frozen waterfalls in the French and Swiss Alps, then began the masochistic pursuit of climbing really really big buggers in Nepal ….. mostly in the snow and ice bound altitude range of 20,000 to 23,000 ft. Technically damned hard too. At the age of 60 I climbed my last big one on the Nepal-Tibet border, descended back to Kathmandu, and gave away my ice axes, crampons and thermal boots to a relative just taking up a new “hobby”.
I suppose my current hobby, if you can call it that, is centred more on intellectual curiosity rather than physical suffering. I like looking at things! I’ll say that again, “I like looking at things!” In the last couple of years I’ve looked at, The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, The Hoover Dam, Niagara Falls, Yosemite, El Bosco’s The Garden of Earthly Delights in Madrid, Alphonse Mucha’s The Slav Epic in Prague, the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, the ruins of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia Antica…. all in Italy, the Alcazar in Malaga, the Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy …….. I’ve also looked at thousands of wine labels, hundreds of wineries, and scores of vineyards and grape varieties on the vine, I’ve looked at John Harrison’s 4 longitude clocks, Britain’s only desert at Dungeness, the Mappa Mundi, Textus Rofensis, Magna Carta, and scores of English medieval churches oozing culture and history. Apart from that there’s not much spare time to blog, but it means I do have a head full of content!
So what three questions would I now ask of two other bloggers? Here goes:
1. Which philosopher do you most admire and if they were alive today in your country/town how would they focus or direct their main theory and to what end?
2. If you could completely “remove” three things from this planet what would they be and why? By “things” I don’t mean poverty, disease, discrimination etc, I mean tangible items, goods, or artefacts that really bug you.
3. Magic wish …. you can visit and see anything or any place on earth for a week, what is it, where, why?
And who will I nominate and tag to write an article answering my 3 questions?
My two best blogging mates, different genders, different ages, different nationalities, one writes about travel and enjoys wine from a cracked jug the cheaper the better, one is a trained sommelier and writes about fine wine whilst living in Italy as an American expat. Do visit their blogs and work out who’s who.
1. Andrew Petcher of Have Bag Will Travel
2. Danell Nelson of Vinthropology
I apologise now to both of you and if you never want to post a comment on my blog again, recommend a town to visit or wine to drink I’ll quite understand! Peace, Om!
Footnote: A bit of Victor Meldrew, he’s in all of us!