I once taught a kid who was a good downhill skier. There was a theory going about the staffroom that his ability went along with a sort of fearlessness that allowed him to barrel down a (literally) slippery slope at the best part of 100mph without fully appreciating the potential consequences. Which, if I understand correctly, are like that bit in Cool Runnings when John Candy goes on about bones not breaking, but instead shattering. It's a question to be asked: if you don't feel the fear, are you brave? Isn't what bravery really is exactly the ability to master the fear that one really feels? I suppose you could set up an analogy with physical pain: someone doesn't have a high pain tolerance if they just don't feel the pain in the first place. You need to feel the pain to tolerate it. I sometimes wonder about myself, actually, whether I feel pain more intensely than others in some situations or whether I am just a wuss about it. And that goes for both the physical type, and the even-less-easy-to-quantify mental type.
After coming off my bike, I was surprised - and, truth be told, marginally disappointed - to be diagnosed as having a grade 1 sprain of my AC joint. I was expecting to be told I had least broken a few bones for my trouble, and to be wrapped in several layers of bandage and perhaps even plaster to show off my predicament. But no, a cloth sling and physio were my only 'rewards' to show for it. When a kid does something physically destructive (and painful) to themselves, they get told they are brave for dealing with the pain. I didn't even get a hint of a nod that it might be uncomfortable. Indeed, they recommended paracetamol, which gives a very clear indication of how much they though it hurt.
I've never been brave. When I was playing rugby or cricket, I was not the one willing to put my body on the line to win. In fact, I was generally the one finding the excuse to stay out of the way of the fast bowler or the big fella on the other team. I've never had the sense that I can master the fear and be calm even when it gets to me. I wonder how different I would be if I could. Although that said, there have been a couple of occasions when I have stood up and performed in front of people and felt nervous, and been able to channel that into something positive. Maybe 'nervous' just isn't the same as 'afraid'. Whatever, I'd love to be able to get near a stage and feel nervous at the moment...
What takes courage? Admitting you're wrong, perhaps, is something that doesn't have that physical edge to it, but still takes courage. Staying silent when you could open your mouth... I'm not very good at that one. Saying 'no' to someone who wanted 'yes'... Or the other way around. These are the run-of-the-mill situations in which someone average like me might find themselves called on to be courageous. Being kind to someone who is not kind back, perhaps. Sometimes, it's not clear which is the brave option, which the selfish, which the craven, whether to act decisively or be passive and let it happen. Sometimes it's not clear which is the kind option, and that's both looking inwards and outwards. I'd pray for guidance, but then I find that I'm arguing with myself, telling myself I'm not superstitious. This, usually, as I watch a pair of magpies and smile, or a single one with a frown. I don't even know whether I'd like to be brave(r) or not. I suppose I don't want the responsibility of making decisions that might hurt others, even though I find myself with that responsibility here and there. And when there are no clever workarounds, such as creating a second, human, Doctor to let Rose have him (can you tell that I've been watching Doctor Who from the 2005 (re)start recently?), no hitherto-undiscovered magic powers to solve the otherwise unsolvable, then you're left with the decision as to which you'd rather feel: is it regretting the one thing or the other? Accepting that it will hurt either way is probably the first stage of coming to an actual decision, but anyone even remotely like me, with a mind that ruminates as a matter of routine, will know that 'decision' is probably the toughest thing. Because no decision ever feels made until it is acted out. Perhaps the monkey on my shoulder will one day fall silent and I will be content to settle on one course rather than dwell on the possibilities of the choices, but I doubt it. What we do in life echoes in eternity...
A memorable post-exam run-down from a former student who was trying to find the words to explain just how badly it had gone, which culminated in him trying to express the idea of the slow-motion-ness and the sheer scale of the Titanic sinking, after having moved up through the gears of a car crash, a train wreck and so on.
I'm sure no one could possibly imagine what could have set me in the train of thought that led to me remembering that particular moment. Root has just about kept England in it, hasn't he? I suppose Sheffield United's season is on the same sort of scale, with both the slow-motion-ness and the epic scale fully represented in their pathetic (in its old-school sense) efforts so far.
Bereft of a chance to go and play music even for fun because of lockdown, as I've mentioned on here before, I've even taken the rather uncharacteristic decision to try to learn what it is that makes Jazz sound like Jazz, other than the obvious riposte of them intentionally playing the wrong notes in the most upsetting order they could think of. Music has proved to be a bit of a release here and there, but it's kind of not the same when it's such a solo, inward-looking pursuit. I'm left wondering how it is that anyone manages to make any kind of sense of the singer-songwriter approach to music when it is so lonely. Of course, I suck very hard when it comes to writing the sung tune and the lyrics, so perhaps that's worth bearing in mind. Much like when I watch Joe Root batting and he makes it look so easy, but I just can't map my mind (and my body, but that's another matter entirely) on to his such that I could understand what it would be like to be him.
So we're left wondering: are the government really as bad at this (governing - albeit in difficult circumstances) as they appear? The question as to whether they really think they're doing a job runs alongside, and I think the answer to both is revelatory. They really are making as much of a balls of it as they appear to be, and the thing that is now becoming clearer is that they honestly do think they are doing a good job. I had to look it up, but it's called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and this version of it combines two dangerous ingredients. The first is a desire for power, and that desire seems in many cases to be fuelled by the thought that power is an appropriate destination for one of 'my abilities', a kind of self-assessed merit that is then interpreted almost as a divine right to be in charge. The second is a sense that since I am in power, I must be capable of wielding it properly, and as such my decisions - however much they are sniped at by my political opponents - were the right ones. This one allows those in power to read those in opposition as scoring political points, rather than challenging what on the face of it seems to be dangerous incompetence and a total lack of moral principle, and to look - and again, if I read it right, to genuinely be - offended that the (political) opposition could be challenging the decisions of the government.
It's a big challenge, then, to bring politics back in the direction of actually being about governing in the country's best interests. Why do I put it that way? Because political parties and individuals of every stripe have to be seen in the light of the imperative to gain and keep power, and that seems to have overtaken any sense that they might represent people regardless of whether that leads to government. It's niche parties like the Greens who have always existed outside that sphere who seem to be able to propose the policies that look to be the ones inspired by humanity and care. In any case, the current cabinet appears to be composed of people who really do think they are the right people for the job, and who really aren't in the most robust way possible. Anyone who could convince themselves that the corrupt practices of awarding contracts or pushing through planning applications or ignoring serious workplace conduct issues or the utter shambles that was the first day back after Christmas and indeed whatever the next will turn out to be is not fit for power. But it seems that the imperative to be powerful has overtaken the need to be competent. The PM can't sack cabinet members for being incompetent, because the logical conclusion of that move is his own immediate resignation. That, I think, is the engine that moves this ship. Not for them the accountability of performance management, because what judge could possibly rule on the competence of someone who is in the role because they are simply meant to be in charge?
Ho hum. It seems that this current government has finally perfected the metaphorical teflon that others have aimed for, in that criticism doesn't really seem to have any effect. No matter how bad they are, they constantly surprise us by carrying on as if they were doing a fine job..
As the various elements of the world of normality come crashing down around us (again), I realised that I had been listening to some of the tracks off the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack over and again. It's a memory that was jogged a few years ago by a cricketing mate of mine who said that, were he to play in the kind of T20 where you get a song as you come in to bat, his would be The Touch by Stan Bush, which is what is playing in the film when Optimus Prime rolls up to win the battle for the Autobots. If you don't have any conception of what I'm wittering about, fair enough. The Optimus Prime who appears in the current (ish) run of Michael Bay films is a poor excuse for the character, even though they've got the voice pretty much spot on. But here's the thing: Optimus Prime genuinely was a proper hero when I was a kid. Even though he's a robot who transforms into a lorry, he was what you wanted to be. So when he dies twenty minutes into the move, it really hits hard.
What I realised over the course of a few listens is that I can actually picture the scenes in the film that are accompanied by the songs. I also realised that - at the age of seven or eight, when I would first have seen it - the 80s rock stylings must have been a huge formative influence on my later 'taste' in music. I even took the plunge and listened to the actual soundtrack music - the stuff that is the score, rather than more-or-less complete songs - and that was even worse. The death of Optimus Prime music still - and I can't believe I'm writing this - makes me sad nearly thirty-five years later. Apparently time doesn't heal all wounds.
I have half a notion of writing a lengthy and detailed post about the current goings-on, but I don't think I'll have anything to say that hasn't already been said better by someone else. It's a great shame that there are selfish and incompetent people in charge of a wide range of things at a time when even the best people would be struggling to make it work, and it really is staggering what a colossal balls of it - the pandemic, the US election, Brexit, whatever you care to mention - can be made by folk who think they are good enough to be in charge.
So, instead, I'll keep it short: I hope that good vibes accompany you in this strange, unsettling and dark time. I hope that you are able to enjoy life, and that hope for the future remains real. Time is a strange thing - it will seem, when all this has passed, as though it did not last as long as it did - and whilst it most definitely does not heal all wounds, it does allow perspective - and situation - to change. Those things that seemed important, or were a barrier or a frustration, will one day no longer loom so large. Those things that really did matter, hopes, dreams, feelings, experiences, people... One day, perhaps not that far in the future, those things might take their right place once again.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought