Mind the gap!

It has to be said that second hand books are my favourite. The lives they’ve lead before they fall into my grubby little hands are written on the covers, the spine, the turned down pages, the smudged ink and the tell tale ketchup smear. Searching in charity shops and specialist book shops for long forgotten treasures that quicken the pulse when we hold them in our hands, drinking in the years they must have travelled. Not even waiting until we get home before we crack open our booty, devouring the words on the page, gorging ourselves until we are sated.

A book is a dangerous thing. It doesn’t seem all that dangerous sitting innocuously on its shelf, being ignored for the most part but when one catches a glimpse of its painted cover a thrill is transmitted electrically through the body, the breath catches and at once we are entranced. Our trembling fingers, outstretched, grasp delicately as we turn it over in our hands. Within its pages are ideas, knowledge, imagination, that when fused with our cerebral cortex open us up to the world, universes, strange lands, adventure, romance, we are able to see beyond our lives and into the lives of others. From the moment we learn to read, we are given a freedom of the mind, we start to question more intently the world around us, to ponder, to weigh up truths and logically or illogically come to our own conclusions. Books are dangerous because they are transmitters, they are viruses that replicate at an astonishing speed. During the Second World War we saw Nazi’s burning books because they knew the danger, the intellectuals and the middle classes murdered to stop the spread of ideas and very nearly, the creation of a new Dark age. Books are dangerous and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have a tactile relationship with books, I like the way they feel, the weight and the heft, the smell of the pages and the sound they make when I turn over a new leaf. They’ve been around for years. I have a student who restores books at Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika and the other week she showed me some of the projects she’d worked on: Beautiful books from the 15th Century that were virtually destroyed and she had brought them back to life to be enjoyed by future generations. Traditional books are cool but what about ebooks?

Ebooks are the youthful usurper, flashy, sexy and very now. Sales of Kindles and other readers have gone through the roof as have the ebooks themselves, recently for the first time outselling their traditional counterpart. Is it the books themselves or the readers that have fuelled this sensation? It’s difficult to say, as more of our lives move online it seems like a natural progression to move from book to ebook. I can only talk about my own experience. I’m an Englishman living in Poland and the paucity of English language books is scary. When I’m able to track a few books down they tend to be several years old and chances are I’ve already read them and they are very expensive. I think i’d been here about two months when Apple released an ebook app on the iPod, my initial feelings of despondency evaporated instantly and I was able to download new books by my favourite authors. It took me a while to get used to reading on a small screen but now I have no trouble at all. I travel a lot for my job and this app has proved to be a godsend, whiling away the long, monotonous hours on Polish public transport with a book or two or three.

I embrace the future but i’m protective of the past and will mourn the day if they ever decide to do away with traditional books. Hopefully the two mediums can co-exist happily side by side like vinyl and CD’s and like vinyl, you can’t keep a good idea down.

Fire and ice.

Raindrops slowly devoured the incumbent snow, carving rivulets, creating small rivers and all inlets gushing into a lake that was once a car park,  that will become a rink with the dropping of the overnight temperature. Manopausal Man carefully navigated the treacherous waters, his brow furrowed into an ache of concentration, willing his body into complete balance. Up ahead, the bus was early and sensing his discomfort the ice beneath his feet began to shift, every muscle in his body tensed waiting for equlibrium to restore itself. The doors opened with a shush and he skidded indelicately across the slick floor, the murmurs becoming quiet as his audience held its collective breath. Just another day in Poland.

He sometimes forgets where he is, lost in his thoughts, music blaring from his ears, it’s only when he has to interact with the world that he remembers. He reaches his destination safely and in one piece. He opens the door and a bundle of energy comes flying out of nowhere, beseeching him to be held, he bends down and picks up the only thing he has ever truly loved in this godforsaken world. He holds the girl at arms length and examines her with curiosity, she has his nose, his eyes, his smile, these genetic traits are faithfully reproduced  but rendered more perfectly. Her hair is like a flame, burning brightly, never constant, always changing. She burbles in a language he barely comprehends, the odd English word making its way from her mouth but when he speaks she understands him perfectly.

She takes him by the hand to show him her muse of the moment, some stuffed toy, a doll, some wooden blocks and from this she creates her own fully realised worlds. He can only catch a glimpse but the wonder that he sees in her eyes fills in the blanks of his stuttering imagination. Looking down at this child, he feels immense peace and a happiness that had long eluded him.

Before too long their time is over and Manopausal Man must begin the long journey back from whence he came.

No way back.

Down a side street they sought respite from the dying rays of the afternoon sun. They clung to one another as shipwreck survivors cling to driftwood afraid of slipping away and losing one another. The chatter from the other side of the street and the clang of the little silver tram broke their reverie. It was time to say goodbye but neither wanted to let go, silently praying for a few more precious seconds.

The tram trundled past, their hopes and fears reflected and refracted in its shiny exterior taking with it their endless stories to be shown around the city. A bell tolled in the distance, a marker for the end of this union. The girl’s quiet sobs soaked the boy’s shirt, he tried to remain stoic but he could feel the reservoir of tears about to burst their dam. They breathed deeply, trying to find the courage to part.

The boy regained his composure first and slowly and carefully prised the girl’s hands from around his neck, they hung limply at her side. He wanted to look her in the eyes one last time, to remember the love he knew would be there but the girl refused knowing her resolve would fail. The boy turned slowly, still trying to ward off this moment unwilling to believe in the truth of events unfolding. He could hear the slap of her sandals on the cold mosaic of the street, slowly at first but picking up momentum until it sounded like applause.

He refused to look back, his eyes fixed steadfastly on the graffiti festooning the wall on the opposite side of the street. He caught the eye of an old lady almost bent double from age, she refused to look away and merely nodded in his direction, weakly he returned the nod before hurrying away.

Again and again and again!

Einstein once said “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Manopausal Man has mulled this quotation over and over and concludes that whilst Einstein is correct, one variable is missing: hope. Hope that one day something will change and insanity will be rendered sane. He traverses the neural pathways of his brain but as always is heading down a blind alley

“Why is it,” he posits “that no matter the choices I make, people invariably get hurt?” Happiness is an illusion, as for one to have happiness another must suffer. It’s almost impossible to be selfless in a selfish world, Perhaps the secret is exile, to be away from people, to live the life of the hermit? Isn’t that just hiding away? Refusing to deal with life because it can be too painful? Maybe if he makes wiser choices he can sleep more soundly at night rather than listening to his treacherous heart, its dull thud a cacophony in the darkness.

Snow man!

Loneliness was a shadow that dogged his every step, Manopausal Man was living in a blizzard of existential chaos. His awareness of himself was acute, every twinge was felt, every outbreath a silent cry for help. He walked through the snow drifts that piled up like thoughts in his ragged mind, the crunch, crunch of boot on ice, a rhythm that soothed his fevered brow. Their was a titanic battle raging and he could feel himself slipping away, he desperately clung on to his self-pity scanning the bleak horizon for inspiration, searching for something to drown this fire of hope that was blazing in his chest.

The landscape mocked him, all around a luminescence shone, tiny ice crystals gathered on his eyelashes refracting the brilliant white that surrounded him. Deep grooves had been cut into the white earth providing some small respite as he trudged along, shoulders hunched against the arctic breeze trailing a child’s sledge behind. 

It was morning and the watery sun had yet to show its weak, washed out face, the darkness clung to the morning like a baby to the breast. He looked down and surprised himself with the monotony of walking, one foot and then the other, again and again and again traversing this frigid world. Soon he reached his destination, few people scurried about, scared that if they stopped even for a second they would be frozen in place for all eternity. 

The vast open spaces of this foreign land whispered their stories as the wind lashed the trees of the small forest opposite creating a maelstrom of moans and sighs beseeching the sky to release them from their sacred duty. A cough broke the reverie and a flash of crimson blotted out all thoughts. A few seconds passed and the plaintive cry of “Daddy!” rent the air and Manopausal Man knew he was home.

The perception of truth.

What is truth? Is my truth the same as yours? We live in a truly global age with information zipping about at the speed of light, suffocating us as we gorge daily on a surfeit of nonsense. We all perceive the world differently, uniquely, filtering everything we hear, see, feel, taste and touch through our own experience. We all react in our own way and no two reactions are ever the same, we may feel they are but this is based only on majority rules. So does the majority decide the truth? We can say the facts support the truth but facts are raw data and they are shaped into what we believe is truth, we need someone or something to interpret their meaning. Think of it like this: A colour blind person who is blind to the colour red and sees it as a kind of green has to rely on the majority of people who are not colour blind and tells them that this colour is in fact red. Their perception of the world and truth is, if you pardon the pun coloured by the majority. So who’s right? Is it possible for the colour blind person to be seeing correctly and it’s the majority that are in fact colour blind? This is only a small example but we can extend this idea to encompass our governments, corporations, banks, ecosystems etc…

When a government releases a story to the press, they very rarely give all the known information, they cite National Security, Official Secrets Act or simply omit information and we the public are none the wiser. The press then reports this story through the filter of their bias, whether they’re for the government or not and we the viewer or reader then digest this through our own unique filter. With all of this filtering how much truth do we succeed on getting our hands on? Not much I would hazard. I think that we as people pick and choose our truths and then we look for a consensus of opinion to validate our truths. This is not a bad thing, I think it’s how we survive in an information rich age.

Maybe next time you disagree with someone it’s less to do with them being wrong and more to do with their perception of truth filtered through their very beautiful and unique experience. Just a thought. :)

A winter’s tale.

The day arrived at 5am with the incessant wail of the alarm clock. Pulling his corpulent body from the bed as if rising from a sarcophagus Manopausal Man runs a hand across his hairy visage as if washing without water. The snooze button had been overused creating a tidal wave of panic that adrenalise’s his body, limbs and thoughts relying on muscle memory to carry him to the shower. Hot water, soap and a rising steam that cleanses the senses, he catches a glimpse in the cracked mirror above the sink of his bruised psyche tellingly revealed in myriad refractions.
A towel, rough from being over washed scrapes the skin as though a knife cutting bread, bringing the blood to the surface along with goose-flesh from the cold. Looking like an overripe tomato he steps into his cell his weight hanging as heavy as his thoughts.
Soon be Christmas he thought, the season of goodwill but today he can barely summon a smile as he steps out into the pre-dawn morning, a sense of urgency propelling him forward through the snowflakes that cling to his beard.
People are out walking their dogs, braving a cold winter’s day straining at their leashes to get back inside the warmth, waiting for man’s best friend to do their dirt.
On the bus, the familiar faces are there to greet him like long-lost friends but they’ve danced to this tune far too often and indifference is the expression of choice, eyes looking anywhere but at another human being. At each stop the bus disgorges and consumes passengers at an astonishing rate hissing and growling like a bad-tempered dragon bucking and jostling, dislodging half-formed thoughts into the ether. Halfway through his journey She gets on the bus and as always they share a shy glance at each other capturing in a heartbeat a potential lifetime and then the moment is gone, whisked away to be relived again and again.
On the train the heat is stifling causing the eyelids to quiver, droop, close, the nod of the head, a gasp and the world is seen through fresh eyes, stop, repeat, stop, repeat.
Later in the day he sees something so small, so insignificant that it takes a while to pierce through the fog of his consciousness. When realisation hits home he feels anger and apathy in equal measure bubbling up inside him. Two years. Two years of trying to do the right thing, biting his tongue and for what? A slap in the face so light it’s like a tear bruising his cheek and yet the pain hits deeper, pricking his heart and oozing its poison, spreading like wildfire and he knows that today another small piece of him has died.

He is insignificant, an immigrant, he is the Manopausal Man.

Tis the season to be jolly!

So 2012 is slowly coming to an end. The snow lies in intermittent patches on the ground and the air is like chilled wine, refreshing at first but ultimately numbing the brain.The manopausal man is sequestered in his monk-like cell, insomnia once again taking hold as he is surrounded by the detritus of his life. The blue glow from the computer screen illuminating the contours of a once proud face, deep crevices living in the shadows. Thoughts race across the electrical pathways as neurons fire and misfire, guilt, joy, happiness, sadness all jumbled together to create a reflective Schadenfreude. Looking out the window all he can see are Identikit Lego flats crumbling in their Communist era magnificence, a swarm of humanity living and breathing as one. In a couple of hours the man (For he presumes it’s a man) next door will awaken and with his bear like yawns signal the start of a new day, the tissue thin walls doing little to disguise the voracious appetite for air. Rolling a cigarette, a hacking cough obliterates the peaceful slumber of neighbours, dogs and small children, the sound echoing and reverberating from the walls growing in volume and stature and then a hush descends and all is quiet once more. Sleep, that beautiful place where we are reborn tugs at his eyelids, the weight transferring to his shoulders pulling him down until he is brought low, his soul weeping at the realisation of only three hours rest. Rubbing his rheumy eyes, his chest rising and falling with a sweet cadence he…