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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Post Category : Feeling Meh : Page 1

Taken by the flood

An impressive onrush of current

Last January, I wrote about how I keep track of ideas for topics to write about. I said, when I have an idea, I create a “ticket” a bit like a “bug ticket” in a software development process, to keep track of it. What I didn’t say, though, is something that applies to writing ideas just as much as to bugs: it’s important to be descriptive. Things you think, now, are always going to be seared in your mind, will be over and gone in a few hours. Unfortunately, when I create a “writing ticket”, I will often only write down a few words and rely on my memory to know what the post was actually going to be about. When I come back to it later: baffled.

Take, for example, an idea I also wrote down back in January, a few weeks before writing that post. “Post about the fast-flowing waters of Stockholm.” Post what about them, exactly? I have no idea.

It’s true that the centre of Stockholm does have impressive fast-flowing water, a rushing, churning torrent that pours constantly in two streams, either side of Helgeandsholmen, the island taken up almost entirely by the Swedish parliament building. When I visited Stockholm, I walked through the old town and down to visit the museum of medieval Stockholm which lies underground, beneath the gardens in front of the parliament. When I reached the narrow channel of water separating the parliament building from Stockholm Palace, I was shocked and amazed by the speed and power of the water. It flowed from east to west in a solid, smooth-surfaced grey-green mass, as if it had an enormous weight behind it. It felt dangerous, unstoppable, and irresistable.

I already knew that Stockholm, and the Baltic in general, doesn’t really believe very much in having tides. Stockholm’s harbour is technically seawater, but there are many kilometres of archipelago between the city and the open sea, and to get to open ocean you have to go all the way around past Copenhagen and the tip of Jutland. Because of that, the Baltic isn’t particularly salty and doesn’t have very dramatic tides. This couldn’t, then, be a tidal flow. It took maps to show what it was.

OpenStreetMap map of Stockholm

The above extract from OpenStreetMap is © OpenStreetMap contributors and is licensed as CC BY-SA.

You can see how Stockholm is built around a relatively narrow point in the archipelago. What you can’t really see at this scale, though, is that all the channels of water to the right of the city centre are the main archipelago, leading out to see, but the channels of water to the left of the city centre are all part of Mälaren, a freshwater lake some 120km long and with an area of over a thousand square kilometres. Most significantly, its average altitude is about 70cm above sea level. That slight-sounding difference adds up to roughly 800 billion litres of water above sea level, all trying to flow downhill and restricted to the two channels, Norrström and Stallkanalen, the second narrow, the first wide, around Helgeandsholmen. Norrström, in particular, is a constant rush of choppy white water.

Norrström

Why only those two channels? Although you can’t really see from the map, the other paths of blue that look like channels of open water, around Stadsholmen and Södermalm, were long ago canalised, blocked off with large locks. The two northernmost channels are the only free-flowing ones.

So, you might be wondering, what was the point of this post? Was there going to be some deeper meaning I had uncovered, some great symbolism or relevance to my everyday life? Frankly, it’s entirely possible, but I have no memory at all of what I was thinking when I wrote that note originally.

Right now, it’s tempting to say that sometimes, instead of trying to understand life and everything around you, instead of trying to predict what will happen and what the best course of action to take will be, it’s better just to sit back and ride the rollercoaster, and tht the sight of the massive onrush of water through the centre of Stockholm made me think of just jumping in a small boat and shooting the rapids without worrying about what happens next. Equally, I might have been thinking of how you can find such a powerful force of nature right in the heart of somewhere as civilised as a modern European capital city. For that matter, it could have been a contrast between how placid, still and mirrorlike the waters of Mälaren a few hundred metres away outside Stockholm City Hall are, compared with the loud, rushing, foaming rapids we’re talking about here.

A few hundred metres away all is peaceful

To be honest, I really don’t know. I know which of those thoughts seems most apt right now, but it might not even have occurred to me in January. At least, now I’ve written this, I can close that ticket happy in the knowledge that something fitting, in one sense, has been written under that heading. Now I’ve done that, I can flow onwards to the sea.

Be aware. Be very aware

Or, words versus deeds (part one)

Welcome to Mental Health Awareness Week! Seven days put aside specially for you to feel extra Aware about mental health. Apparently, the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is “Nature“, which is almost ironic given that the theme of National Gardening Week this year was “wellbeing”. It’s almost as if this sort of PR-driven Awareness Week is a continuous cycle devouring its own tail.

Of course, being negative about something like Mental Health Awareness Week is in some ways a bit like kicking a puppy, because Mental Health Awareness is most definitely a good thing. More people should be more aware of mental health, of the risks they face and the effects it has on all of us; and its sheer overwhelming prevalance in our society. Nevertheless, there is so much that needs to be done, so many ways in which mental health care in Britain is lacking and needs to be improved, that Mental Health Awareness is really just papering over the cracks.

Far too many businesses and organisations use Awareness as a means to an end in itself, a means to avoid directly addressing an issue. Raising awareness, in this way, becomes a way to avoid meaningful action. In some cases it even becomes counterproductive; encouraging employees to attend mental health awareness sessions that are only available out of hours or at lunchtimes, for example. It’s all very well saying “nature is beneficial to your mental health,” if you are in a position to get out into nature in a healthy way. It’s all very well saying it, but it’s no excuse for proper, preventative and easy-to-access mental health care, regardless of your situation. We do not have that, I can safely and flatly say, anywhere in the UK right now. Nowhere in this country has the access to mental health care that we all deserve, and very few of us receive sufficient support from our employers either—a phone counselling helpline and the occasional wellness event really just isn’t enough. If you want to be aware of something this Mental Health Awareness Week, be aware just how poorly served our national mental health is.

The January lull

The grey season

Life feels very tiring at the moment. Back at my desk for a few weeks and work has ramped back up to maximum. Outside, the weather is grey, wet and windy. We haven’t been able to get the telescope out, and it won’t be happening for the forseeable future either.

I know I’m not the only person feeling like this. An awful lot of friends and colleagues seem stuck at the moment, weighed down by the state of the world and the time of the year. Hopefully, things will get better soon, even things have to get worse before anyone is willing to accept they need to get better.

Hopefully, though, we are about to turn a corner. The various blockages at work will be unblocked and everything will flow freely from my mind into the computer. The emails I am waiting for that never arrive will suddenly arrive and all will be well. And then everything will, when the stars align, run smoothly.

January will be over soon, February will be here, and I won’t have to draw my blinds before leaving my desk each evening any more. At the weekend I cleared long, tangled, slimy strands of dead nasturtiums from the garden, killed by the Yuletide frosts. Soon the goddess of spring will smile, and new things will start to grow and bloom.

The changing mood and the changing season

Or, something of a lull, and the strange ways in which memory works

This blog has been relatively quiet this week. Clearly, finally completing that in-depth work-related post about inclusion and diversity on Monday must have taken it out of me. There are a number of things waiting in the to-be-written queue, but all of them are the sort of posts that deserve effort and energy and research putting into them, and this week has been too tiring a week for that sort of thing.

I like to think of myself as not a superstitious person, but the truth is that there are an awful lot of Dear Diary things I could have posted but didn’t because, frankly, if I do then it might jinx them and it might not happen. There are some things that have been lurking on my horizon for a few months now, but I don’t want to think about them too much in case one thing goes wrong and everything collapses. A couple of weeks ago it all looked to be going badly; this week it’s been going better, but I still don’t want to put too much effort into hoping everything will work out in the end in case that is all effort wasted.

The Children turned seven recently, which inevitably leads into thoughts of “this time seven years ago I was doing X” variety. At least, it does if you’re me: I think I picked the tendency up from my father, who would do it at the slightest potential reason. It’s strange to think that The Children were not always exactly as they are now. I don’t know how your memory works, but when I think back to my memories of people I knew long ago my brain tends to fill the image with them as they are now, not as they actually were then, which is very confusing when I think about things that happened, say, at school. It’s almost disconcerting to see things like school group photos and think “we all looked like children!” and similarly it’s strange to look at photos of The Children as babies and see that, yes, they actually looked like babies and not the children they are now. No doubt when they’re adults I will look back on how they were now and be surprised they looked like children.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the season changing. Enough leaves have dropped from the trees now that if I look carefully I can see trains passing the end of the street again, rather than just foliage. The skies are dark at night, and on clear nights filled and sparkling with autumn constellations. I go outside, look up at Vega, at Mars, at the cross of Cygnus, and wonder what will happen when we have turned around some more.

The nightmare realms

Or, some things are too awful to talk about

Very long-term readers, or people who have gone delving around in the archives, might be aware that back when this site started, I used to talk about politics on a reasonably regular basis. Indeed, if you look in the menus (either down below or over on the right), you can see there’s a whole category for it. Since the restart, though, there really hasn’t been anything political that I have wanted to write about, or thought it worth writing about at all.

Fifteen years ago, British politics was in a pretty moribund state. The passion that led from getting a Labour government into power on a landslide win had faded. The Tories flailed aimlessly for a few years before settling on a leader with a shiny, plastic PR-friendly exterior and barely anything on the inside beyond a passionate over-confidence in his own ability. Labour were just…tired, fading away into a party mostly consisting of bland interchangeable technocrats. The feeling I had was: it didn’t matter back then what you thought about politics. Everything was just a bland porridge of centrist-looking parties not wanting to rock the boat, not doing anything too controversial or too likely to upset the press barons, mostly interested in finding some sort of grey consensus. There was a vague sense of religious morality underlying everything, a vague tinge of disapproval of anything sexual that wasn’t straight, cis and vanilla; but otherwise nobody seemed to have any passion or aims beyond their own careers.

I somehow predicted the planned outcome of the 2010 General Election five years ahead of time, and could see that the Tories were slowly and painfully pulling themselves apart as a party, but almost everything else I tried to predict about what might happen to the world, politically, turned out to be wrong. I suppose that’s still a better success rate than most political journalists who actually get paid to ramble, but nevertheless, I still feel as if maybe fifteen years ago I should have realised the extent of the precipice we were on, and just how far we were going to fall, when people realised just how to take advantage of the online world, and of the bland vacuity that was 2000s politics. I didn’t realise the Tories would keep themselves alive by trying to absorb every opinion to the right of them. Eight or nine years or so later, their ploys all played off, and we have been in the nightmare timeline ever since. We should have seen in coming.

So now, why would I want to write about politics, when it is worse, darker, more divisive, than anything I would have ever imagined? Fifteen years ago, you often would hear people saying they didn’t trust politicians, that they never told the truth, that no politician was ever honourable. People have taken advantage of that: if nobody ever trusted politicians, why should they even try to tell the truth? Why should they even try to behave with honour? In Britain the government has made it clear that laws are for others to obey and them to ignore, whether at the level of international relations or at the level of individuals. It seems pointless sometimes to point out just how poisonous this is. All we can do is try to still behave honourably ourselves. In this morning’s news, the American president has apparently come down with the ongoing pandemic disease, one that—given his age and ill health—has a high chance of either killing him outright or leaving him even more mentally impaired than he already is. Given he has recently claimed the disease is a hoax, given that by both accident and design he tells multiple lies every single day, it seems impossible, a few hours later, to tell whether he actually has it or not.

Hopefully, one day, there will be light on the horizon and politics will be boring again. Hopefully one day all the politicians will be interchangeably bland. Looking back, we didn’t realise just how lucky that was. Maybe my ambition for the first year of this blog’s relaunch should be to end up with more posts in the “Trains” category than the “Political” one, because those posts will be much more fun and healthier to both read and write.

Equal and returning

In which we pass a turning point

Autumn is almost here, although this year feels as if it didn’t really happen. I have been working away at a little desk in an eyrie of Symbolic Towers since March. At the start, I could see trains passing the end of the street; before long, they were hidden by the leaves on the trees, and soon, I will be able to see them again. In all that time, no time seems to have passed. At work staff have come and gone on my project, staff have come and gone in the wider company, we have rolled out major pieces of work into the real world, and in all that time, no time seems to have passed. The children have flipped back and forth between holidays, home-school, part-time school, and back at school again, and in all that time, no time seems to have passed. And tomorrow, the autumnal equinox is upon us.

Whether time will seem to start passing normally, of course, is another matter entirely. Right now, it seems like that won’t start happening for a long time on the human scale. On the scale of the stars, though, the world keeps turning, and the moon and the planets are still moving in the skies.

Maybe I will still be sitting at my desk in Symbolic Towers when the leaves start falling so I can see the passing trains again; and then when they start growing to conceal them next spring. We will see. I shall try to be optimistic, that the ever-turning world and the ever-turning skies show that life will endure, and that though some things will inevitably change, others will circle and return to their starting point.

All day it has rained

Feeling sad today.

Went to the pub for pizza and beer; then strode up through drizzle to the cemetery and did a circuit of the place. Then home, and I sat quietly on my own in the kitchen staring into space and drinking a cup of tea.

Obituary

In which the cat, finally, is not going to return

The phone rang on Saturday morning, and The Mother was on the end. “I’ve got some bad news,” she said.

As a conversation opener, it’s not exactly ideal; but it is, at least, straight to the point. “What is it?”

“The cat’s died.”

The cat has been in The Parents’ care for the past 18 months or so, ever since we moved down to Bristol. Nevertheless, he was still always My Cat, and there was always the thought that one day he might move back in with us, once we had a house in a cat-friendly area (check) and cat-flap-friendly doors (uncheck).

Cat at Christmas

My dad found him, on Saturday morning, stretched out dead just inside the cat flap. No signs of injury. The night before, he’d been happy, relaxed and purring; the parents did not try to find out why he had died. He was about a month or so short of his tenth birthday.

Sad to think that I’ll never again be woken by him climbing on top of me and miaowing. He was, I always thought, an unusually intelligent cat: it’s hard to be sure, but I’m confident he understood at least five or six words of English, and when he was a bit younger he regularly wanted to play fetch. He also managed to survive three months living wild, a few years back, after The Mother lost him en route to the vet. Maybe there will be other cats one day, but they’re all distinct.

In a few months time, I might suggest to The Parents that they take on a rescue cat, because I’m sure The Mother is going to miss having him around the house. For now, though, I’ll content myself with getting annoyed at the random neighbourhood cats that dig up our back garden; and remember lying back in bed stroking one cat in particular.

The cat

Projects Update

In which nothing happens, once more

Currently, I’m trying to hunt down some second-hand picture frames. Good-looking, ideally quite cheap, second-hand picture frames. I’ve trawled through the local charity shops and the local junk shops, but good-quality picture frames seem to be in rather short supply.

This is not because we want to turn the front room into our own version of Francis Alÿs’s Fabiola, although it is a tempting idea. It’s just because I want to frame some photos and see what they look like. See if they deserve to be framed, and see what effect it has.

Apart from that, though, my creative projects have foundered somewhat at the moment. It’s the summer tiredness; or, at least, I’m blaming it on the summer tiredness. I can barely drag myself to do the washing up of an evening, never mind do anything creative. Suggestions for getting around it would be greatly appreciated.

I’ve managed not to catch swine flu, at least. Both me and K have known people who have come down with it, so far, but we’ve avoided falling ill. Maybe we’re not susceptible. Clearly a good thing, because I hate to think how we’d cope if we both came down with it at once.

Good friends

In which we think suicide clusters are overhyped; and try not to be a drama llama

There’s been a lot in the news recently about young people killing themselves, allegedly to draw attention to themselves online. The whole story seems slightly odd, with little evidence for it, but it’s been raised by an MP so it got itself in the news. Most of the people in the alleged suicide cluster are young men, the highest-risk suicide group. I fully support raising suicide awareness and suicide prevention, but it seems rather like fear-mongering to try to place blame on social networking. There were teen suicides and “suicide clusters” years ago, long before social networking was invented.

I know from experience that suicidal feelings are something which people should always take seriously, and that internet messaging, by both its speed and lack of emotion, could easily make worse. But nevertheless – and because it is that serious – I don’t like the feel of people jumping on the exaggeration bandwagon without evidence, or trying to use the threat of others’ suicide to gallop off on their own over-dramatic high horse.* I’ve been on the internet for a while now,** I was a chatroom user quite a lot when I was a student, and I’ve seen people come into chatrooms and make darkly deniable threats like: “you shouldn’t be so nasty to X. If you keep being nasty to people in here and people end up dying, how would you feel?” Whether X is in the pits of depression, or just mildly irked, and whatever your intentions are, that’s a childish and nasty thing to do.

If you’re a friend to someone, and you think they’re being upset because of people on the internet, then the only thing to do is get them offline. Get them to put down the keyboard, go outside, and get some fresh air. Go and take away their network cable yourself if you really have to. But don’t just go around telling other people what they’re about to do. Don’t go around trying to amplify the drama, because people are only going to think that at heart you’re trying to make yourself the centre of attention. If you’re a real friend, go and help them, quietly and without fuss. Because help is what friends are for.

* or “drama llama”, as one internet friend memorably said.

** I can’t believe it’s over ten years since I first got online. The internet was in black and white back in those days – no, really: this was on a Macintosh Classic II, one of the last black and white only Apple models.