the art of self discipline

Some time ago, The Times ran a weekly series of interviews with “celebrities” (my speech marks) and took the form of a timetable of events making up their day. I don’t know whether this would be their typical day or their perfect day, but it did give the impression of a life run like clockwork. I wonder how true it was.

My own life could do with an injection of discipline along these lines. I’m too carefree and lazy. It’s okay while I’m being paid to do work, in work, but while I’m taking a break from work – which can be months these days – a lot of my endeavours go to pot.

Back in 2009, when I took my first major sabbatical since my youth, I had the good mind to draw up a weekly timetable of jobs and activities to do. It looked like a school timetable. The days were divided into large chunks around lunchtime, and between breakfast and tea. The “subjects” comprised things like major DIY jobs, working on the allotment, practising art, and days spent out walking or cycling. It looked impressive and it looked doable. But I didn’t do it. Events, other people’s demands on my time, and the randomness of my moods had the upper hand. I spent a disproportionate amount of hours down on the allotment at the expense of all else. I had a great time, lost weight unintentionally, felt fitter and even developed a farmer’s tan – in February! – but when I went back to work – that is, paid work – I looked back with a slight tinge of regret and failure.

It won’t be long before full retirement beckons. I’m already receiving advisory letters from the pension companies. I don’t know whether I should accept who I am and simply go with the flow, something I do naturally and more or less enjoy, or knuckle down to commitments. Making the most of it, as life coaches and the self-help industry invariably prescribe.

So, timetables or cheerful randomness, which to choose for a happy life? I honestly don’t know.

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life drawing

Last week saw me returning to Life Drawing class. I’ve included my efforts though I feel I was a bit rusty and unprepared. Five terms have passed since I last drew a human figure from life.

We chose our own medium for this lesson; I’d brought along a selection of charcoal sticks. Paper was provided, a very smooth, white cartridge paper of moderate weight. I would have preferred mid tone sugar paper to begin with, wonderful for charcoal marks. The studio was unfamiliar, not the usual one but probably better suited. Still, these are all excuses. I need practice to get to the point I felt I attained last time. I’ll post my weekly efforts to see if it’s working.

We had a very professional model for the first week, I hope she returns. From past experiences, good models seem difficult to come by. She gave us four quick, seated poses and one longer one at the end.

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those albums

Rainbow Bridge (original motion picture soundtrack) by Jimi Hendrix

My go to cassette of choice for relaxing in the bath (see here) was a C90 on which I’d taped a friend’s Led Zeppelin debut album on one side, and another friend’s Rainbow Bridge album. It was rare, I think he had it mail-order direct from the US. I’ve never found a copy in the UK. As mentioned in the post, i’d play the C90 all the way through – 90 minutes.

I like Hendrix but it’s been a while since I heard Rainbow Bridge so I put it on this afternoon whilst looking over some old linocuts. The first thing to say about it is it’s not and never been a movie soundtrack. How it ended up being called that, I wouldn’t know. Secondly, it’s a posthumous release, a compilation of recordings which Hendrix didn’t approve of for release. Despite this, it’s a pretty strong album, probably thanks to the additional work of the remaining members of his band and the studio.

The band by that time had fallen back to comprising Hendrix on guitar and vocal, his army buddy, Billy Cox on bass, and the original Experience drummer, Mitch Mitchell.However, the compilation is taken as far back as 1968, with a studio recording of the original Experience with Noel Redding on bass. Two other songs are essentially backed by Hendrix’s interim band, Band of Gypsys and one other recording of a solo arrangement of the American national anthem. There is no chronological order in this collection, the album has a wonderful, seamless quality to it.

The opening songs on each side of the original album, Dolly Dagger and Look Over Yonder, are typical power rock numbers. Earth Blues sounds a little funkier, a bit fuller in the band and The Ronettes on backing vocals gives a hint of gospel to it. I’m not sure whether the Earth is an ecological reference or a cosmic one. I think he must have liked sci-fi and fantasy themed lyrics.

With certain songs, there are clues to why Hendrix was unhappy to release them. Mistakes and slight pauses on the instrumental Pali Gap, for instance. But Hendrix’s standard set the bar high enough to overlook this and enjoy a psychedelic guitar jam. This is one of my favourites.

So to is the following song, Room Full of Mirrors, with Buddy Miles on drums. With its funky bass quite forward in the mix, this appears to bowl along and has lost none of its energy for me.

The long, slow electric blues of Hear My Train a-Coming is an exemplary Hendrix Experience mk II live performance. I would have loved to have seen it. The steady improvisation on the guitar, switching to a delicious wah-wah pedal momentarily for the middle piece, shows how he might have developed into a modern jazz performer. Miles Davis was interested in a collaboration, I read. When I think of Hendrix’s style of playing, I think of this.

Yet the one I love to hear, second only to the Royal Albert Hall version of Little Wing, is the final song, Hey Baby. I love its false intro, I love the way the band fall in with the main tune and, of course, the guitar. It’s kind of a farewell song, but an optimistic one as well. Too sad he didn’t make it back. This is still a great listen.

Dolly Dagger
Earth Blues
Pali Gap
Room Full of Mirrors
Star Spangled Banner
Look Over Yonder
Hear My Train A-Coming
Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)

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reminiscing the long soak

I’m in the bathroom, mulling over the differences between taking a shower and having a bath. This isn’t as random as it might sound. For a long time now, we’ve been considering moving house and, naturally, once you’re in the swing of the idea, you begin making lists of the things you would like to have, maybe the essentials you won’t part with or those desirous things you haven’t enjoyed.

Like Elton John’s Dirty Little Girl, I haven’t had a bath in years. I’m a shower man, it has to be said, not by thoughtfulness but through habit. In my youth, I had a mate who swore by the efficacy of thorough bodily cleanliness by quick and easy showering. It kind of rubbed off, this idea, even though we didn’t have an actual shower in our house.

Our house, meaning my parent’s house and my home, had just one of everything but a shower. One bath, one wash hand basin, and one toilet (separate room). The separate toilet was essential, there being no alternative in the house. This meant that during certain hours in the evening, you could be at liberty to soak away in the tub, undisturbed.

In my earlier youth, years before my mate put the notion of showers into my head, I would enjoy a long bath. This enjoyment probably relied on the fact that most folk of that time would only have a bath on certain days of the week, perhaps twice a week on average. This was considered fine and dandy. Especially for boys.

Incidentally, it’s interesting that some current thinking on the matter suggests that daily full body washing is actually harmful, particularly when done in conjunction with antibiotic soaps and shampoos. Apparently, in removing a lot of natural oils and friendly bacteria, 24 hours in insufficient time for the body to normalise itself before the next thorough scrubbing. This new thinking advocates washing less may be healthier.

Back in the bath, having chosen my moment, free from harassment, I would soak for one hour and thirty minutes. I know this with a good deal of accuracy as on the bath mat would be placed my shoebox-sized portable cassette recorder, a C90 cassette playing two of my favourite albums, in their entirety. Yes, I’d climb out of a cold bath. Well, not exactly cold cold, but somewhere between room temperature and body temperature.

I’m not thinking of retrying the hot to cold bath experience but I am thinking better of regular submersion. Say, once in a while, and shower for the rest. I like the idea of relaxing in a tub and easing the muscles to the sound of music. But I believe a proper degree of enjoyment would rely on a good quality tub. Not what we have now, in the family bathroom, something squeezed down the far end between three walls, narrow at one end and the plug hole and taps at the other. I want one of those stand alone jobs, big and wide, with nice rolled sides, like a Chesterfield sofa. I’d like it positioned so the light from a long window streams in; early morning light, early evening light, moonlight, I don’t mind.

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2018: here we go…

I’m pleased to see this new year started like a car with a flat battery, requiring an early morning jump-start, begrudgingly supplied by two burly, hungover blokes in bubble jackets drawn over their PJs. I can tell when a bad year is before us: it always begins with a bang and a rush. A bad omen.

I don’t normally go in for resolutions. I’ll make only the one; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; if it is broke, don’t start it. Therefore the old year should roll seamlessly into the new. But just for fun…

I’ll keep up with art classes. I have to do these to ensure I do any art at all. I’m a tad lazy. This term I’ve enrolled on to the Life class once more, after a gap of four terms. I’m afraid I’ll be rusty but I will post my efforts, along with my thoughts.

For the previous four terms, I did Relief Printmaking, mainly linocuts, with a very inspiring tutor. She mentioned how a couple of her students on a similar course made their own presses based on an hydraulic bottle jack. This, I hope, will be my next personal project, building it mostly from scrap and recycled wood. I’ll probably have to buy the jack and the fixings.

Contemplating the press project reminded me I had sketched plans to make a zoetrope last year. It didn’t happen. I’ve been fascinated by zoetropes, and their ilk, ever since childhood when a good collection of them were on hand at the London Science Museum. They could be made to work by the public, first by crank wheels and later by a button switch connected to an electric motor. I was disappointed to find there weren’t any to be seen on a recent visit. Time moves on, interests change.

I’m considering a new bike before the Spring. I need to decide which kind. I’ve long had an all terrain bike which is fun and handy for nipping down the road. It’s an old Raleigh with a steel frame and heavy. The problem is its brakes are stuffed, and so are the rims.

Three years ago, I treated myself to a road bike, an entry level Cannondale. As I usually do more road riding than off-road, I get more miles out of it. What I didn’t realise was how scary is it racing downhill with rim brakes – and there’s no getting away from hills where I live. So, really, I ought to be considering upgrading the bike to a model with disc brakes, to give me more confidence.

There’s also a further consideration around a touring bike as an old mate has hinted at a cycling week in France. I quite fancy the idea of a road trip ever since reading Edward Thomas’ book, In Search Of Spring.

I’ve just four longish walks in my Jarrod’s Cotswold Walks book. I’ve had this since 2006 and decided to tackle them in order, 28 walks in all, and each year’s end, I’ve been disappointed at how few I’ve managed to fit in. I aim, as I have done the past three years, to complete all the walks before the end of Autumn.

Reading is another long term love which I find harder to fit in than I once did. I’m an avid reader of books but struggle to read much more than one a month, or twelve in a year. I didn’t set a personal challenge last year; the year before I read only books by women authors in an attempt to address my bias towards male authors. This year I’ll try to read more recently published books to address my bias towards classics and modern classics. I may not last the year on this one.

That’s enough. This has turned out to be a little like Miliband’s Ed Stone, a stunt by the unsuccessful UK Labour Party election campaign in 2015. I hope it isn’t like it but hey-ho if it turns out to be.

Remember, all great years rarely got started before February.

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I’ve posted before how I’m in the habit of picking films to watch on Youtube. It’s free but it’s not at all easy. Finding good ones is usually down to luck and the idiosyncratic character of niche channel subscribers. But finding a good one has its rewards as it’s rarely a mainstream film rather than something off the beaten track, something you might normally overlook if the choice was broader or if you had to pay.

The one downside is when you’ve hit pay dirt and found a certain film which carries along other similar recommendations, it only lasts a short while before you’re back to digging a little harder amongst the dross and bad copies to find more gems.

Also, I have an good interest in worldwide cinema which, for me, means having subtitles. Being an international platform, Youtube content isn’t guaranteed to have English captions, something which often brings disappointment. However, not to be deterred, I have watched some entertaining foreign language films recently.

La Moustache. French, 2005

This has to be one of the most challenging, surreal, mind twisting films I’ve ever watched.

It begins quiet normal, mundane even; a middle-class, possibly professional couple are getting ready to visit friends for dinner. The man is shaving whilst taking a bath, and the woman is coming in and out, while dressing. They’re happily conversing like any normal couple. Nearing the end of his shave, he calls out to ask whether he ought to shave off his moustache, the implication being he’s had it a long time. Unconcerned and slightly disinterested, his partner replies she might not know him without one. So, for mischief, he shaves it off and for the rest of the time they’re getting ready, he hides the deed from her.

She doesn’t notice and still doesn’t despite his prompts. Then during dinner when even the friends don’t seem to notice, he becomes offended and then thinks they must be double pranking him. When they continue to deny the existence of a moustache, he begins to get anxiety about his identity, slowly, by stages, going off the rails.

The thing is while he’s having a breakdown, the drama is ambiguous. It’s not clear whether what we see is really happening or whether we are seeing a POV reality of a mentally stressed man. The whole thing arrives at an end without a clear conclusion. What just happened? It’s the kind of film I like.

Written and directed by Emmanuel Carrère and stars Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos as the couple.

Die Wand. German, 2012

Die Wand, in English, The Wall, unusually for this male dominated medium, it casts a woman as the lone hero, in this fantasy survival drama. She’s holidaying with an older couple in the Alps. When the couple head off to the village, she stays in the house. When they don’t return, she decides to walk along the quiet road between the hills. Suddenly, inexplicably, she literally walks into an invisible barrier; she can’t get past it. Turning back, she eventually discovers she is surrounded by this wall. In desperation, she drives her car down the road at the wall but only wrecks the car, the wall remains.

Thereafter, the plot continues with her living out her life, surviving as a kind of Alpine Robinson Crusoe, keeping a journal, as Crusoe did, in the holiday house with a found milk cow and a stray dog. It’s a tough and intriguing drama.

It’s been some time since I watched this and it’s getting hazy enough for a worthwhile second viewing.

Directed by Julian Pölsler and stars Martina Gedeck as the woman. Pölsler also wrote the screenplay, based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Marlen Haushofer.


A record of watchable full-length films I discovered on Youtube can be found here,

B-tube @ Pinterest

It’s an ongoing list. Unfortunately, some have since been struck off or taken down, such is the way of the internet. It will be evident by following the link. It’s possible they have been reinstated elsewhere. All have something worthwhile about them. I haven’t posted any duff ones, at least in my honest opinion. Happy hunting.

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1331. I opened my iPad at 29 minutes to 2, a purely random time, and as you know, the first thing you see when opening iPads is its digital clock. Maybe it was the palindromic nature of 13:31 which caught my imagination first and made me think it looked like a date (though it didn’t ring a bell). So, did anything happen in 1331?

The town of Cividale del Friuli, tight in the upper calf region, just below the back of the knee of the boot of modern Italy, was under siege (the first recorded case of using cannon), The Genkō War began in Japan, some shogunate tussle, apparently, probably involving armies of silk clad samurai, and someone called Ibn Battuta visited a place known as Kilwa.

In my home country, not much to report. Edward III was on the throne, 19 years and looking forward to a long reign. Meanwhile, The Butchers’ Guild were granted the rights to regulate the meat trade in the City of London. A relatively quiet year for the English, then.

Of course, something must have gone on. Supposing I had come into the world during 1331. Chances are I wouldn’t be writing. Nor reading. Being a child of the working classes, education wouldn’t have been a priority.

My mother, on leaving school, went into the rag trade so maybe she would’ve done something similar, sewing tabards or wimples. My father was a welder, a technology not known to the 14th Century. He may possibly have been a blacksmith. Had he been, it’s likely I would have followed him into that trade, instead of going to grammar school and gaining some easy social mobility in the process. Instead I would have been complacent in my ignorance of the world, shunning all learning other than how to strike a hammer, how to calm a stallion needing a shoe, how to read the colour of heated steel, at what point to quench it decisively to make a keen blade.

Yet the dreams of an internal time traveller are fantasies. Times arrow flies one way and as Alan Bennett’s History Boys, put it, “history is one fucking thing after another”. There’s no working back. No reliable trail of breadcrumbs to follow. My Dad became a welder because he had been taught metalwork in state school. Who knows what his father did? He wasn’t around when my Dad was small. I heard he ran a small hotel.

I think it was the historian, David Starkey, who defended the traditional teaching of history, of significant dates, monarchs and politicians, laws, wars, victories and executions. No doubt he’s right but it doesn’t stir the imagination of us ordinary folk as much as how folk like us might have survived those times.

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