It’s dark outside. It’s not night, but rain-gloomy and grey. It feels dark. Winter is on its way. Soon, it will be dark.
Lots of things have come to an end in the past year; but lots more have begun. The year may be coming to a close, but the next one will be just around the corner. So much has changed for me in the past 12 months, that for the first time in a while I’m thinking like an optimist. I’m a changed person. I might not still be sure who I am, what I’m looking for, and where I’m going, but I’ve taken several steps along the path. I’ve made mistakes, but I don’t regret making any of them.
I can’t say where I would be if I hadn’t done X, or Y, or Z. You never know how things would have changed if you’d taken a different path one morning. Driving to work today, I saw a car parked on a sharp bend, and slowed down. Its driver was stood by on the phone, and an unconscious biker was laid by the side of the road. The ambulance was still on its way. Maybe, if I’d left home five minutes earlier, it would have been my crash.
This isn’t meant to be a melancholic post, by the way. I don’t know what’s coming round the next corner, and I’m not sure I want to. I’m just going to see what happens, and make decisions as I get to them. I don’t have a strategy; I don’t have a plan. I’m probably going to make more mistakes at some point, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m not going to stop anyone else making mistakes either, because they deserve to learn things too.
Ambling around the house the other morning with the radio on, I heard a trailer for a documentary about Denis Diderot, the French Enlightenment philosopher, writer, and general all-round expert on everything. Indeed, the trailer described him as a “true polymath”, an expert at any field he turned his hand to.
Which set me thinking: is it possible to be a polymath any more? Can you really be an expert in a huge range of fields any more, or is the field of human knowledge just too wide? If you want to be a real in-depth expert in anything, it can be a full-time job just keeping up with everybody else. You might be able to skim the surface of another field, but how can you find the time to probe it deeply? Two hundred years ago, even, it was probably barely possible. Today, it’s not – the best you can do is know how to learn things quickly.
Then again, was it possible two hundred years ago? Was Diderot himself really a polymath? A philosopher and a writer, an art critic, but a polymath? How much did he know about science? He edited an encyclopedia, but didn’t write it all. From the point of view of someone whose main field of interest is philosophy or politics, or literature, he might seem like a polymath, just because he knew more than one of those fields; but he wasn’t an expert at everything. Was being a polymath ever possible? Could you ever be a master of all trades? How far back do you have to go?
It’s Friday afternoon, regular reader K is texting me at regular intervals to tell me she’s safely driving up to Scotland on her own, and I’m here at the office watching the clock tick around ready for my own weekend to start. Nothing much ever happens on a Friday afternoon. Noone phones up and reports faults; noone breaks anything very serious. The other staff always claim that this is because they’re far too busy on Fridays to report faults; I’ve always suspected that it’s because they’re not doing enough work to break anything.
Room 3B – our office – is full of banging and crashing, as we finally get air conditioning fitted. I’m glad there aren’t any oysters about, because the noisy noise…
An oyster writes: The idea that “noisy noise annoys an oyster” is, as it happens, a common misconception. I myself am a Stereolab fan, and have attended several gigs. The music there, whilst being too melodic to be pure noise, is certainly very loud, and…
A Towers Of London fan writes: Bah!
An oyster writes: Well have you ever been to a Stereolab gig?
The Plain People Of The Internet: Stop talking rubbish! We know there aren’t really any oysters writing to you! They don’t have arms! They can’t speak! They all live just outside Whitstable and Herne Bay! Whoever heard of anyone in Whitstable liking Stereolab? I know silliness makes a change from in-jokes, but … I mean, really.
There’s still an hour and a half left until the weekend. I’m not going to anticipate anything, I’m just going to see what happens. Barking, I know.
Samhain is coming up, so here are two vows for the next year.
Avoid getting close to people you don’t trust utterly. If you’re wary about somebody, you’re wary for a reason. The closer you let yourself get to somebody, the more you’re risking being hurt, even if neither of you realise it at the time.
Let people make their own mistakes. Some things can’t be taught; they have to be learned. Even if you can see they’re going to hurt themselves, sometimes you have to stand back and let them. If you try to stop them, they’re not going to listen, and you’re only going to make things worse.
This isn’t about you. Sometimes, when I post here, all I’m doing is talking to myself.
After I whinged to her about life for a while, my friend (and regular reader) K set me a challenge. Think of six happy memories, and the places they happened. It took me a long time, but here they are:
- The first night I spent with another person (in a flat on South Clerk St, Edinburgh).
- The Shimura Curves gig I went to with regular reader Miranda (at the Notting Hill Arts Club).
- The first time I escorted someone on a kissogram job (in a bar in Castleford)
- Climbing a hill in Dumfriesshire with friends
- Going to an event in London a couple of months back with my friend Wendy (in the catacombs beneath London Bridge station).
- Snuggling up to one of my exes, in their kitchen, which was painted bright blue and yellow (on Mayfield Road, Edinburgh).
There are probably more happy memories, somewhere, that aren’t too tainted by bad things. These were the first six that came to mind, though.
I was supposed to be off up to Scotland again this weekend, incidentally, with K. She was planning a trip up there to visit various places with another friend, who had to drop out, so she invited me along to take up the spare bedroom. Annoyingly, though, I can’t get the time off work. “Oh, no, you can’t have that day off,” said Big Dave, “I booked it months ago.” Grrrr.
Glasgow just wasn’t Glasgow last Saturday. Why? We walked down Queen Street, and there weren’t any goths or skater kids standing around outside the art gallery. None. Not one. The pavements, though, were wet. “They must have all just been hosed away,” said C. We looked around the art gallery, but the main gallery was closed off for installation, and none of the rest was particularly impressive. Being too lazy to get on the subway and go out to Kelvingrove, we ambled back up Sauchiehall Street and got ready for our night out.
Sunday morning, I drove C to her ferry, out along the Clyde shore. I tried to admire the scenery, but it was full of mist. We stopped off at a supermarket in Greenock for breakfast, and talked about ourselves, each other, and everything. I worried I was being a bore, or a geek, and then worried I was worrying too much. “You worry too much,” said C.
I dropped her off at the ferry terminal. Feeling suddenly at a loss, I got out the camera, before setting off for the drive home.
Today’s big news item: the National Wildlife Crime Unit has been launched. Based in North Berwick, a small village on the coast east of Edinburgh, it’s the first specialist police unit devoted solely to wildlife crime. I can’t wait until the police dramas start…
“What’s on the menu today, Sarge?”
“It’s a bad one today, chief. A dead goose in Clarence Gardens. All the signs are, a couple of squirrels ganged up on it, then got away up the Haxby Road. There’s something a bit suspicious about it, though, can’t quite put my finger on it.”
“Don’t trust the signs, Sarge. Remember the Pocklington case – all the signs pointed to sheep, but it turned out to be wolves all along. Round up a few of the local squirrels, just for show, but bring some rats down to the station too – they’ll know what’s going on. What’s next?”
“Three badgers held up an off-license in Netherthong, got away with the contents of the till and a few cartons of fags.”
“I don’t care about that, let the local cops sort it. Anything else?”
“One other thing, chief: a stoat holding three gerbils and a priest hostage in Wemyss Bay. Wants a week’s supply of rabbits, immunity from prosecution, a fast car and a ticket for the ferry.”
“Sarge, it’s a hard job we’ve got, and if there’s one thing these years on the force have taught me… Sarge? Are you listening? Stop daydreaming, man!”
“If there’s one thing these years have taught me, Sarge, it’s never trust a stoat. They’ll weasel their way out of anything. Let’s get to work!”
Today is apparently One Day In History, a day for creating a “mass blog” which will be stored by the British Library. It sounds like an interesting idea, but I’m not convinced.
The grandfather of this sort of event is Mass-Observation, an organisation set up to record everyday life in the 1930s, and still going today. It, though, was directed centrally by anthropologists, and still tells its writers vaguely what it would like them to write about. One Day In History, by comparison, is broad but shallow. It wants to know what people did, not what their opinions are. It wants you to talk about an ordinary day, but also wants “history” to be an important part of what you do.
In any event like this, there’s always going to be a contrast between the drive to make sure people write about “ordinary things”, and the pressure to write something interesting. My day today will probably be fairly boring. Get up, office, home, dinner, spend the evening sorting and filing the photos I took at the weekend. If One Day In History had been last Saturday, say, I’d have had something much more interesting to write about. It’s also a very self-selecting event.* How many people are only going to write if they have something interesting to say? How many are going to feel an urge to do something special, to paint a slightly more interesting life? I’m going to write about my own boring day for them tonight, if only to balance things out a little.
* But then, so is the current incarnation of Mass-Observation
When I looked out of my hotel window, I remembered why I missed the place. In a tower block above Charing Cross station, the random architecture of the city looked lovely in the early morning light. To the west, I could see the spire of the university.
I sprawled across the hotel bed. An enormous thing, it took over the entire room. I was alone in my bed that night, so I laid right across it diagonally, just because I could. An awful lot of things over the weekend, I did just because I could do.
Not bothering with breakfast, I showered, dressed, and wandered across Blytheswood Hill, up St Vincent Street and down towards Central Station. Glasgow always seems slightly American in flavour to me, with its city blocks, the street plan ignoring its hills, its urban motorways slashing through the city and over the river. It makes it awkward to navigate, though, if you can’t remember street names. I found my way without too much trouble, though, down towards the station. I was scared, and excited, but I wasn’t scared for very long.
It’s Friday afternoon, and the office is in a cheerful mood. I keep hearing little babbles of laughter when I pass office doors. Noone has been phoning me up with stupid problems, and Big Dave isn’t here at all, having gone off to Italy for a week. No doubt he will come back with tales of bizarre events he stupidly got himself into, going by previous holidays – sneaking out of the country incognito after an accidental run-in with the local Mafia boss, or something along those lines.
I’m in a cheerful mood too. I know I haven’t been blogging much lately, but it hasn’t been because of gloom and doom. I’m going away for the weekend, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m taking the camera, and I’m going to come back with a full memory card.
Anyway, I’m going away to clear up lots of those little jobs that are nice and easy to get cleared; and then, come five o’clock, I’m zooming off down the motorway. See you soon!