Ere I am J.H.

[Last night, Monday 31st July, we scattered my friends ashes in a small ceremony near Friar’s Crag on Derwent Water in the Lake District. I naturally took the opportunity to write some more about her to share with the people who attended. It is reprinted here for everyone else.]

In Terry Gilliam’s seminal film Brazil we have an underlying narrative about existence, reality and the nature of understanding. How we can construct realities and not see the world around us. How we can live our life in a dream and be perfectly content despite the horrifying monotony of the industrialised world and corporate government bureaucracy that dominates and controls us.

The main protagonist in the film slowly has the perfect construct of his world stripped away. He is our dreamer and we get to watch his dreams, his flights of fantasy where he escapes and becomes a hero, an angel, a saviour.

He is a Walter Mitty who hides his feelings, and nature, and escapes to his fantasy world. As the film progresses, in its real world, our protagonist finds excitement and love before it is all torn from him.

The film ends with an escape from reality into a final dream world where a lost love is regained and happiness is ever after. A contrast between what is nightmare and dream, real and unreal, our dialogue on understanding.

Only we as an audience know that the dark reality continues.

“I thought the world of you
I thought nothing could go wrong
But I was wrong, I was wrong”
(Linger, The Cranberries, Written by Noel Anthony Hogan, Dolores Mary O’riordan • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group)

It is strange that I would discuss that with you as it seems to have no relationship to Jane. I mentioned in my eulogies at the Funeral and Memorial Service that Jane and I had a shared passion in art, in literature, film and theatre. We would often discuss movies not just in how we liked them but looking for their deeper themes and relationships and comparing them to our own existence.

This is generally the manner in which we spoke, this is the discourse we would fall into within minutes of seeing each other. Barely had the pleasantries of trip and life passed before some theme, meme or fancy would fly out and we would tease and discuss it. We did this type of discussion about most things and so I decided to use the same rhetoric with you all today. I wanted to talk to you as if you were her.

This film Brazil, though, came to my mind specifically when I was deciding what to talk about today, and at the end I will let you know why.

But first I want to mention what I miss the most about Jane, what is still burning in my mind and ripping away at my heart.

You might have noticed that I am a bit of a talker. I waffle along, making loose associations and connections, letting my thoughts wander and my narrative runs with it. I said before that I am a weave talker and so was Jane. I like mixing things and repeating, like a musical from the mind of a maniac.

But I also love the thrust of good argument, and like heated passionate debate. That style of discussion means that hurt feelings can occur. So in my life I have probably had a shouting rant with almost everyone I have met or come to know as friends.

Except one.

To my recollection Jane and I never argued from mere emotions. We had heated debate and disagreement but not bad feeling. We never upset each other or shouted from a purely emotional stance.

It wasn’t that we were cold and calculated, far from it, I just said I was passionate and so was Jane. It was more that the other person usually had constructed a clever position so that you couldn’t get mad it was too much fun being taxed into thinking how to counter what they were saying.

Also Jane was phenomenally good at using a sarcastic swipe to end a discussion and change tactic. I think that Jane was one of the people in my life who knew me on a very deep level for so long that we almost wore each other’s skin. We knew how the other person would think and feel.

What tears at me is that I will never have those conversations, I will never learn from her again, and I did learn from her. I know that Jane was one of my great teachers. A person who was not only my friend, my confidant in many ways, but she also had a lot to show and I had a lot that I had to learn.

The last thing that Jane had to teach me she did so after she died. I have lost a lot of people I know, we all do. I lost my grandparents when I was young and although I know I was sad, I wasn’t that sad as I was too young.

I lost my father when I was in my twenties but that wasn’t that sad, he was estranged and I hardly knew him to understand if I cared that much about his passing, even now I feel ambivalent to his death. He wasn’t that good to my mother and he seemed to care very little for me.

I have seen friends die but no one this close. Jane is the first person that I have lost who was so close to me that we were close family, we were siblings. Jane gave me a final lesson, a study in grief.

Had I lost someone this close who I didn’t have such a conversive relationship with it would be different I think. I find myself talking to her, like now, as if she was still there. This whole narrative, like the two other eulogies I wrote is made for her to hear, for her to approve of, for her to discuss with. I can wear her skin and know which bits she will smile at, which bits will make her roll her eyes and when she will touch my arm with quiet understanding or hug me to let a feeling be shared.

I wish I had never learned this lesson, I cannot really thank her for it. I wish she was still here to tell me to cheer up and not be such a miserable old bugger. I miss my friend.

I do though thank her for all the things she did have time to teach me. Jane had the most profound effect on the way that I discussed and thought about things, she still has that effect as I am drastically changed from knowing her. Meeting her at University at a point where I was expanding my thinking and seeing someone who was so clever, incisive, kind, cutting and funny without being selfish or malicious changed the way I am.

Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good
(Lou Reed, Perfect Day)

Last week would have been Jane’s 9th wedding anniversary, and the great constructs that are Facebook and Google reminded me of this. Facebook showed me memories and asked me to reshare my day from nine years ago while Google did an On This Day collage of wonderful pictures of Jane.

Once again she haunted my whole day and every time I looked around I was sure I caught a glimpse of her. I could see her looking up at me eyes glinting from some secret thought, smile broadening as she was about to share some special insight. Again I was thinking about loss and I avoided songs.

I have been avoiding some songs. Some that we knew together, some that we didn’t really listen to with each other but they make me think of her. They bring her back to be an emotion colouring my day.

I was thinking that I would share another anecdote with you. I could talk about the time we drove Jane to London just before her Kidney operation. None of us wanted to talk as we had spoke all weekend and this was possibly a last goodbye. We had Sara Cox  on the radio and she had asked for stories of things that you had to do that were scary, she was facing a horse riding adventure and was worried about it.

Nathan, Leigh and I were with Jane and she sent the message about going for her operation and a song request. Neither Nathan or I can recall the requested song.[*] We spent all of that journey waiting without relief for the song to be played and just as we pulled up to stop the text was read out and Sara played the song. It was a good sign, a sign of hope.

I asked Nathan if he could recall which song it was as my memory was failing me but like me he had so many other thoughts from that day that the song escapes us both. A fragment of history whisked away by time and other feelings.

The differences between the organic and the inorganic, the people and the machine. One remembers and the other knows how to forget.

Our technology mirrors the construct of our minds, sometimes. Designed and built by humans the machines follow the same patterns and emulate the same abilities and affinities.

Even as machines and the software that controls them start to automate the construction and design of their own systems, it too is mirroring nature. The algorithms used to programmatically determine the outcome follow numerical values and are based around naturally deterministic systems. Machines will follow a society as much as we have for we are creating them to understand the meaning and not just the structure of reality. We create complex computer languages that underpins their relationships and understanding.

The dimension we can loosely call cyberspace is an exo-brain for the species, an extension of our shared, and maybe collective, consciousness. As a species our experience of the world is grounded in our interactions and shared definitions. So too is our relationship in the growing online world.

No Last Wishes

I see glimpses of you,
They drift across my mind,
Darkness closes in,
Smiles shift to tears.

Thinking of your words,
Phrases I thought I’d lost,
Memories left to haunt,
Emphasize, and punctuate, sorrow.

I’d trade all the time we shared,
Just to hear your voice,
Just to see your smile,
Just to hold you close.
(Mark Keating, 2017)

My memory already fades and moments of my friend seem to untether and slip away, when I think of her I see a lot of pictures and occasionally a shared experience. But the photos and electronic material are so much richer in colour and definition.

What they don’t have is her touch. If I focus hard I can feel her touch on my hand, the last gentle squeeze of friendship, the last hug where we kissed cheeks and she held the back of my neck.

I loved my friend. It was the love of a brother to a sister or a child to a parent. She was my family.

All that remains are the fragments inside my mind, the human machine, and the ephemera in cyberspace.

In Brazil the protagonist’s father is called Jeremiah, and that name is used as an anagram in an unlock code. In a direct quote from the film a character reveals the code when he tells the hero:

“‘Ere I am, J.H. …The ghost in the machine.”

Jane Haggerstone, who became Jane Harvey, my own JH. I came here to say goodbye one last time.

But I keep the spectres of her as electronic ephemera, shadows and reflections in my thoughts, and the lingering pain, a loss, in my heart.

Here you are Jane, a ghost in this machine.

[*] After reading this Leigh has made the point that we may not have requested a song but merely offered a text explaining what the thing was we feared. This would likely explain why we cannot recall what song was played. Nathan attempted to contact Sara Cox but had no reply by the time we had the service.

Granada On

About Granada, Spain: tips and tricks for the urban explorer, extended visitor or people simply living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

(This is a review I posted to Amazon Kindle about this book, I liked it enough that I thought it also belonged here – go buy the book)

A confession, I bought this particular book on Granada because I had visited the city previously and attended a conference hosted by the author to whom I struck up a relationship. Since I knew he had written a guide I purchased that when I returned here on a holiday. There is a natural bias towards someone we know as a friend which I feel is now mitigated by this confession.

Granada On is not a guidebook in the traditional sense of the word. There is no index of places to eat and no direct listing of places to visit with accompanying scaled down aged stock artwork. If you are looking for a book to tell you exactly what you should look at and where, then Lonely Planet et al. have a guidebook for you.

Granada On is so much more than that. It is a history, a passion, a conversation. Juan takes us on a journey flicking between the history of the city, region and country and his own experiences. We meet him as a child and share his early understandings and return with him as an adult to re-visit those memories.

We wander, we meander, we stroll around the city not as a tourist looking for the trappings of some common experience, but as friends, as lovers sharing a passion for this beautiful location.

In his fluid writing style Juan encourages us to meander as much through the book as we would the city. Jump in and around its sections as you prepare to visit and while you are here. This guidebook will help you appreciate the reasons for why the city is as we see it today.

Unlike other books Juan will also take you on a personal, and reflective, stroll along streets literally laced with art. He discusses the graffiti (of which he is a huge fan) and the mindset of the people who created the magnificent city you are in.

To an English ear the prose is clearly from someone whose first language is not English. In this book that is a genuine plus. The writing is clear and fluid, Juan is an accomplished writer in English, but its structure and word choices are not standard they come from a more musical tongue and the rhythm and metre of the sentences match a pseudo-romance tongue.

This lyrical use of English adds to the books genuine authenticity, its conversational tone from a local, you could be walking down a cobbled road awaiting the next reveal of architecture, or a personal anecdote, or a cultural trinket. Juan helped me to picture the places, to feel and experience them, without even being there.

But Granada On, it is a ridiculously low price, and read it, dip into it, and use it to guide you around Granada. It will prepare you for the attitude best taken on visiting this region, reveal trinkets and details only a local would know (and even some details that they are oblivious to). Then, when you return or move on, return to it again and relive being here.

(Visited Granada in 2015 and 2017)

Note Bene: While visiting Granada this year we had the luxury of spending some time with Juan and his wife (and if my memory wasn’t a sieve I would recall her name). It was then that we discovered the real source of Granada history as he was corrected about his local knowledge from a real expert :).*

  • He got one small fact about a fountain incorrect when talking to us and was swiftly corrected :).

Ranking up Achievements

If by now you are getting bored of me talking about hitting fitness goals and my achievements this year you might want to give up now. Though you’d miss all the pretty graphs…

For those of you still here this blog post is all about the recent achievements.

Yearly Goal

At the start of the year( well actually a few days into it but that’s just because I don’t do New Year resolutions at midnight on the 31st I think through and make sure I want to do them after a few days) I set a goal, I wanted to beat the last recent low weight I had in 2014 which was 3 stone less than the weight I was at the start of this year (I was 18 stone 1 lb at the start of the year and my previous best was 15 stone 1 lbs).

I did that about 2 months ago, so I set a new goal. I wanted to hit by the end of the year the healthy weight band that the NHS has for my age/height. By now you should have guessed it, I did it:

This is the first time that I know of (so my living memory) where I have achieved this. I am a Healthy Weight. So I have a new goal which is about 12-14lbs under this weight and that is a lifetime goal and one to keep and maintain. I reckon I should do it for the end of the year but earlier would be nice.

Challenges

I also wanted to get more active and a good benchmark for that is to be vigorously active for 25% of the time I move around. This would be either fast walking, cycling or other exercise. That was a big challenge as it a big percentage of the active part of a days movement.

However I thought this was a goal that can be achieved, the easy way to do it would just be to walk a lot more energetically, this will be recorded by Google Fit as jogging/running. Of course that energetic state is not just swift walking it is ‘fast’ walking which is a semi-jogging pace.

I passed this as well, in fact I passed it so much I am more vigorously active than just active – I run more than I walk.

It’s also nice to note that I pass 500,000 steps in a couple of months and come close on others, which puts my daily average at about 17,300 steps.

Another thing I have started to do is to accept fitness challenges from friends and on various apps. These work out well for me as I am fairly competitive so I can be pushed, it is also nice to win for a change (at school I was generally last and considered amongst the wets/weirdos/fatties – I pretty much was in all 3 of those categories judging by the nicknames and insults hurled).

This was the most recent challenge, a Mon-Fri event. It was helped by the fact that I ran 10K each morning and ran at 4 lunches with either Leigh or Tom (names and images are purposefully blurred and Leigh and Tom were not in this challenge 😉 ).

Heart Health

My family has a history of poor heart health. My maternal grandfather and father both died in their 50s from heart attacks and my mother has suffered with Angina, my sister has a congenital heart defect. So having 3 young kids and being very overweight and approaching 50 I was suddenly filled with a lot of concern.

My blood pressure was high (125-142/80-90) showing signs of hypertension starting and my resting heart rate was averaging 75-82. I couldn’t go upstairs without being slightly breathless from the weight and fast breathing.

When I started with a fitbit heart tracker I was ‘Average’ for the heart tracking, by that point I had been exercising for close to 3 months, I was likely at ‘Poor’ to ‘Fair’ when I started. This week I was happy to sneak into ‘Excellent’ though two days later I dropped .3 points and went back to 49.2 and just ‘Very Good’ – but at the top end of that.

As you can see my resting heart rate is now around 60, though it hovers between 56-63. My last blood pressure check I was at 110/65 and I average 107-122/63-81 dependent on the time of the day and what I am doing.

All in all I am feeling happy about my health. Since December I have lost 4 stone 9 lbs (65lbs/29.484Kg) and this year it is 4 stone 7 lbs (63lbs/28.576Kg) so my current weight is 13 stone 6lbs (188lbs/85.275Kg).

 

Running Socks (Review)

The History

If you have read this blog before you will know that this year I decided to change my lifestyle. Part of that change was to exercise regularly. These days I run every day, I go at least 8Km and sometimes I do 15-20Km in a day.

Not being the youngest person in the world I do suffer from small strains and injuries. Two that were particularly troubling were blisters caused by shoes (new trainers in one case) and a pain in the arch and ankle of my left foot.

In a bid to try and move away from an ankle support I decided to try a running sock. I chose the More Mile Mens London sock as it had good recommendations of Amazon. I would like to share some of my experience.

The Review

This review can be broken into 6 distinct parts:

  • Fit: The socks are snug and tight, they fit well and do not shrink as long as you keep the wash cool and use colour setting. They also are suited to left/right division and as such are labelled.
  • Support: As promised they support the arch and most of my pain has disappeared. The compression on the toes and ankle are also good.
  • Sweat: The sock works well at getting sweat away from the skin and my feet can be dry after running (or at least they feel dry).
  • Padding: Toes and ankle are nicely padded and as such they have eliminated blisters, another big plus is the padding on the ball of the foot which helps to cushion and protect the side of the foot.
  • Comfort: They feel great, like standing on clouds, snug clouds though.
  • Wear: I have had them for a few weeks and they are only just showing wear, I estimate a lifespan of 20-30 wears for each sock, which is about 10p a run. This might seem high but I think it is a bargain for the level of comfort I have noticed.

Overall I am going to give a thumbs up to these socks. Please note that I haven’t tried their other socks, nor have I tried many other brands that are similar so cannot give a side-by-side comparison.

However I think they are worth the cost and the comfort and reduction in strain and blisters alone is worth double the daily cost.

If you are going to purchase some of these socks please consider using my affiliate link below.

[Note: I was not asked, sponsored, or otherwise tempted to write this review. I made a purchase and this is a response to the usage (personal) of the product I bought. I was not offered any compensation or gain]

Goal Stats

This is an update to the post on this year’s goals that I published back in March. One of the goals I set for the year was to lose weight. I have been working hard to achieve this goal and it has taken considerable will power. I have:

  • Started exercising on most days, in fact I run almost every morning.
  • Watch how much I eat by counting the food intake, but sticking to sensible limits as defined from the NHS website (no calorific reduction to approved intake – 2250 calories) – I use the myfitness app.
  • Changed my diet to have a lot more fruit, vegetables, fish and fewer sugary foods.
  • Try to get a balanced diet of fats/carbs/proteins, again no specific Ketogenic/Atkinsons or Paleo stuff, just balanced eating using the myfitness app. to monitor.
  • Reduced my alcohol intake and switched from Lager/Cider and predominately white wine to real ales, red wine and spirits with low calorie mixers.

So what are the stats so far I hear you cry. Well I have a few for you that I would like to list.

Stats

136  –  Days Counted

Weight

18st 1lb/114.759kg  –  starting weight

14st 3lb/90.265kg – current weight

3st 10lb (52lb)/24.5kg – weight lost

32.9 – Starting BMI (Obese)

26.8 – Current BMI (Overweight – but not by much)

The loss of close to 4 stone (26kg) feels great.

Body Measurements

Body Part / Starting / Current
(all measurements in Inches as the British are random like that)

Neck / 19.5 / 15.9

Chest / 48.6 / 42.5

Waist / 45.5 / 36.5

Hips / 44 / 41

So I have taken a huge 8 inches or 20cm from my waist, which I am very happy about.

As mentioned above I run on most days and walk a lot more than I did last year. An average month last Autumn saw me doing between 220 – 260,000 steps or between 8 – 10,000 steps a day – which is okay but I do like walking and try to whenever I can.

This year I have increased that by about 50%, in fact I have a couple of charts for you to look at below.

My average daily step count is between 17-20,000 steps now which is about double from the previous year. You might notice that the column which shows the percentage of my step count from running has increased from below one fifth to about one third of my monthly average. A last couple of stats I want to share with you are to do with the step count and specifically the running.

When I started in January I could manage to run for 2-3 minutes before being very out of breath with a heart rate that was high. I wear a heart monitor and regularly check my stats so I can give these now:

January

Heart Rate (running): 172-185

Speed: 8-8.5Kmph

Resting Heart Rate: 78-83

Blood Pressure: 135-145 over 85-98 – avg 132 over 86
(Very high end of acceptable, this was bad but it was still lower than last October where I was actually hypertense all the time)

SPO2: 95-97% – avg 96%

Distance: 3.5Km in 36mins
(walking and running 22 mins walk to 16 mins run)

May

Heart Rate (running): 155-162

Speed: 9.2-10.5 Kmph

Resting Heart Rate: 61

Blood Pressure: 115 over 83 avg.

SPO2: 98-100% – avg 99%

Distance: 6.3Km in 41mins
(walking and running 5 mins walk to 36 mins run)

I have managed to complete the Couch to 5K challenge, can run with a steady pace that makes me breathe fast and a little breathless but I am not out of breath. I have done a few longer runs of 45-55mins in length and managed 8-9.5 Km before feeling too tired to continue.

I never thought I would run as long and as steady and have until now never run as far. My longest run that I can recall, even as a child, was 25mins and I completed about 3.3 Km.

And a final piece is a couple of photos. The first was me in December:

 

And this is me about 2 weeks ago with my youngest child.

Feeling pretty different and a lot happier about my weight.* And there have been lots of nice comments about how I look, my favourite was only yesterday.

‘You have gone from the respectable looking businessman who likes his lunches to a wiry goat’ (Thanks Kay 🙂 ).

-Exunt: Chased by a bear**

*Which makes up for all the other sadness I feel at the moment which I mentioned in 2 previous posts Doughnut 1 and Doughnut 2.

** At least these days I might be able to out-distance the bugger.

 

 

Doughnut: A Eulogy in Two Parts – Fit the Second

Memorial Service Eulogy

[On 21st April 2017 my friend of 25 years died after a long and complicated period of illness. She and I shared a friendship that I find hard to easily explain, but it is enough to say that she was very dear to me. Jane asked that I spoke at her Funeral (on 5th May) and at her Memorial Service (7th May).

Since publishing part one I have discovered that this is apparently National Doughnut Week. I think Jane would have loved my timing and the fact that I was oblivious until tagged on Social Media.

I have published my eulogies in honour to my friend and for those who could not be in attendance… I miss you Jane.]

 

“You lived what anybody gets. You got a lifetime.”
[Reference not spoken, just the quote (Neil Gaimen: Sandman)]

It is a curious thing, to give two eulogies. It might seem like one too many but for Jane Harvey, and for me I always used Jane Haggerstone, but she was also always the SuperHero name that I gave to her, ‘Princess Planetary Pants’, it is an immeasurable number of too few things I want to say, all to her.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
[Reference not spoken, just the quote
(Lewis Carroll: The Walrus and the Carpenter)]

So this is the sequel to Friday’s thoughts when I spoke at Jane’s funeral and I told a story about a cake. Today I want to talk more about Jane as I knew her than I did on Friday but I still have an anecdote about her to share.

I met Jane in 1992, we were both at University, and I would loved to tell you that it was a friendship immediately forged in steel and bonded with granite.

But it wasn’t.

I think, and I cannot be one hundred percent certain with the mists of recollection, I found her a little cold, or maybe aloof. Clearly intelligent, clearly sarcastic. But maybe too insightful and too engaged on her own self.

For her part I think she thought I was a bit of a pillock.

But within the first two years of meeting I learned she was a very special person.

Caring, is what she embodied, and she could be so without be patronising.

Jane genuinely felt for the world.

It is why she believed so much in the National Health Service, to the ideal of healing without asking for recompense.

Jane was a believer in social responsibility and a duty of care.

Jane was a person who exhibited what I would like to call random acts of kindness. She would reach out seemingly at random to help someone or be kind to someone without thinking why, without even needing to know them.

Jane was genuinely empathic. She could look at you and instantly know if you were in need. If I was sad or bursting with a secret joy, Jane would know I wouldn’t have to say.

And Jane had a biting intellect.

She was academically smart but she did not use it as a platform for a state of one-upmanship. She was able to hold a deep understanding of subjects, concepts and ideas that were newly introduced to her and be able to discuss and examine them.

But the main use that Jane put her intellect to, was to understand and be insightful. She had this manner that made you question and search yourself with the sole intention of making you better at being yourself.

I learned to respect, admire and hold dear this caring intelligent person over many months of getting to know her better.

For her part, during the same time, I think she learned something about me as well.

It was that she was right.

I was a bit of a pillock. But at least a loveable one.

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
[Reference not spoken, just the quote
(David Harkins: She Is Gone (He Is Gone))
]

Now, I should warn you. I was given some specific tasks by Jane in talking to you today.

One was that I should wear pink and be shocking, which I have achieved, and perhaps, also, to berate you if you are not equally as shocking. So as I look at you now I am making a mental note of all those who are not wearing something exuberant for her.

A second was to make sure that you all at least smiled, if only briefly in recollection of her.

My role is to stop you being, as she would put it, ‘bloody miserable buggers’.

Since I am a master of bad jokes and this is an inappropriate point I have to say what do you call a doe with no eyes. I have no idea.

Jane wanted me to share some joy with you. If she was here we would be wildly inappropriate in our comments to each other, in fact I could hear most of her comments in my head as I wrote both of these eulogies.

Jane was a deeply happy person. Or at least that was the face she chose to share.

She did not like to burden people with her own troubles. It is why her choice of entertainment was things that were fun. She felt the need to be filled with joy and to spread that joy to others.

But it didn’t stop her from telling people if they were wrong, silly or in need of a swift kick up the backside.

One of the main things Jane and I bonded over, where our friendship rooted itself was in the love of art.

Jane was a person who loved a range of different genres of theatre, comedy and literature. She was also a deeply passionate soul and so was drawn to art and visual stimulus along with the written and audible.

Jane had the deep philosophical insight to examine and interpret art, often seeing different meaning than others might. She was one of my biggest fans and loved my own personal stories, poems and even the parodies that I flippantly wrote.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
were sitting in a pub,
to the Walrus, called the Carpenter,
`give my poor belly a rub,
for I have drunk enough,’ said he,
`to fill a whole bath tub’.
[Reference not spoken, just the quote
(Mark Keating: The Walrus and the Carpenter[2])
]

She believed in me when I could not. She believed in people and that they could be the best person.

Jane wrote herself and I regret that she didn’t have the time to write more as she had an insight into the human condition that she was able to express well in story form.

There was a tradition that when we would meet, whether it had been just a week, or if many months had passed, we would talk and chew the fat and go until the dawn was lightening the sky. It was easy to talk to Jane and was easy to listen to her.

Jane and I would talk often through the night. We were weave talkers, drifting across subjects and ideas, using memories and snippets of research, to be wandering minds that occasionally threw out pieces of distracted wisdom and bad jokes.

To jump in with eyes closed but heart open.

Soon as she was gone from me,
A traveler came by,
Silently, invisibly
He took her with a sigh.
[Reference not spoken, just the quote (William Blake: Love’s Secret)]

I want to tell you a short tale about Jane now, and this is all about a hole.

When Jane became very sick, or at least admitted to herself that she was very sick and much of her life and career changed she went through a period of great emotional upheaval.

Or at least that is how it appeared from the outside.

To those of us who knew her it is more than that, it was as if she turned that very insightful gaze upon herself and knew she had to change in an irrevocable way.

During this period she returned to her faith and decided to be re-baptised.

When this happened Jane asked me to be at her baptism. Jane knew what my personal beliefs were and she knew about my own past. For my part I knew that this was deeply important to her and I felt privileged to be asked. So clearly I was there for her.

At her baptism she gave a short speech that has stuck with me all these years because it was so important and said so much about her.

She would forgive the vagaries of my memory as I let you know this is broadly what she said without being an exact recital.

‘When I was a teenager I felt that I had a hole inside me, a hole I couldn’t describe but it had always been there. Just as if something was missing.

So I went to college, to learn how to be a nurse to try and fill that hole. Although I learned and became a nurse the hole was still there.

So I had relationships. I believed it was because I was not fulfilled with love. So I loved deeply, I did love enough it seemed to fill any hole. But even with someone I loved, the hole was still there.

I filled my life with my career. I had a job and I tried hard at it. I learned more and reached out for more experience. I tried to make the career fill the hole. But the hole was still there.

I travelled, I visited faraway places and searched for meaning in the new locations and experiences. But still the hole was with me.

I had a world filled with social desires. Of dancing, singing and groups and entertainment, of friends and fancies and yet this did not fill the hole, the hole was still there.

When all of that went away. When I was sick. When I cried in the night and when I was lost the hole was still with me. But no larger than before.

The hole was still there.

Then I found God. And the hole that was in me was suddenly filled up and I felt whole.

That’s when I knew that the hole that was there was where God belonged.’

Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.

Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet Delight.

Some ar Born to sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night.

We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro’ the Eye

Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.

God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,

But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.

[Reference not spoken, just the quote (William Blake: Auguries Of Innocence)]

For me, now that Jane is gone, I feel the world, perhaps even the universe, has a hole in it. A Jane shaped hole. She was so unique it feels like it cannot be filled.

And at this time I feel there is a hole in my heart. It may be filled with memories that I know must fade, but it is there and it hurts.

But Jane already showed me what to do with my hole, she spent her life showing all of us.

I will fill that hole with joy, and love for my family, my friends, and for random others.

That is all it seemed my friend wanted, what she wanted from all of us.

To love and be loved and to share that joy with others.

Do random acts of kindness for her.

Smile, wear bright and gaudy colours like pink and purple and orange.

Tell an awful joke or two and at some times, be wildly inappropriate.

Over these two eulogies I told you about a cake and a hole. Just for her, a poor dad joke pun. A cake and a hole, I made a doughnut.

If I should die before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone

Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.

Weep if you must
Parting is hell.

But life goes on.
So sing as well.
[Reference not spoken, just the quote
(Joyce Grenfell: If I should die before the rest of you)]

 

Doughnut: A Eulogy in Two Parts – Fit the First

Funeral Eulogy

[On 21st April 2017 my friend of 25 years died after a long and complicated period of illness. She and I shared a friendship that I find hard to easily explain, but it is enough to say that she was very dear to me. Jane asked that I spoke at her Funeral (on 5th May) and at her Memorial Service (7th May).

I have published my eulogies in honour to my friend and for those who could not be in attendance… I miss you Jane.]

“Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.”
[Reference not spoken, just the quote (Anne Brontë)]

I have two talks to give about Jane this weekend and together they probably make a doughnut.

Even before Jane became desperately ill we had discussed funerals and in particular what would happen if one of us outlived the other.

It’s not that we were morbid or anything, okay maybe a little, we were goths after all.

We just discussed it as we knew by then that our friendship was going to last a lifetime, in many ways it already had.

I believe at the time we had always hoped it was in some far distant future when we were very old and could be disreputable and maybe spit in the street or swear fit to burst. We could have at least worn purple.

It is at this point that I should scan you all to make sure there are no sensitive ears, and as Leigh would say ‘apply a filter to my speech’, I can see there are small children so I can’t be too blue. Many of you know that Jane could use a profane word if required to make a point but she would not wish me to offend the young’.

‘Right Markie’, Jane said, ‘I want you to smile for me.’

‘And I want you to tell bad jokes. it is, after all the, only type of joke you know.

There were these two goldfish in a tank, and one of them turned to the other and said ‘Do you know how to drive this thing?’.

Tell dad jokes and make people groan, otherwise they’re gonna be a bunch of miserable Buggers.’

‘Also I am choosing you to talk as there is a high chance that you’ll screw this up and make people laugh a little anyway.’

[The original written version used ‘Bastards’ and ‘Cock’ but was changed to help facilitate the observance to sensitive ears.]

Another job I had was to wear pink.’ I can’t stand to think that everyone will just be dressed in black, I love pink, something bright and shocking is what’s required. I hope that people are wearing pinks and oranges and purples.’ is what she would say.

‘Also Keating I want you to say something different for me. Just say something about me. I don’t want this to be a sad litany of what I had achieved or how much I did something or another.’

‘Tell them a story. Tell them something they may not know, it does not matter if they do know it. I want it to be how you saw it. How you knew me. So today for her, I want to tell you about a cake.

Think of this as I tell you this story. We all meet people as we pass through life:

  • Sometimes they make a great impact and are with you for a long time;
  • Sometimes they make a small impact as they pass you fleetingly;
  • It will be no surprise to you that Jane changed me a lot.

When we left college and Jane moved away to the south we kept in touch. For many years we had a tradition that we met up at least at New Year and also usually in the summer for a week as well.

Mostly it involved travelling and staying with the other person, or their parents and I am sure John can attest to how often we crashed his house. We just liked having a laugh.

One New Year’s eve Jane rang and told me should would be late. She would be there for New Year but would be delayed because she had to bake a cake.

I said fine, knowing that I was getting cake and Jane made a tasty sweet treat.

She arrived, late as advertised, and we settled down to talking, laughing and telling of probably awful jokes. After a while I asked about the cake.

‘Cake’ was her reply in a slightly surprised voice.

‘Yeah, you said you were baking a cake? I thought we should eat it to balance all the soft drinks we have consumed!’

‘Oh that wasn’t for you.’

‘Ah’. Now I wasn’t upset, may be a little at this point. I like cake, I liked Jane’s cake especially lemon drizzle cake with custard.

‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘I thought you were getting us all cake, I went out and sourced some custard.’

She smiled and laughed a little, ‘we can still have the custard.’

I of course got to asking who the cake was for, ‘well,’ she says, ‘each year when I come up here I use the Toll Road, and it occurred to me that the poor buggers on the toll road have to work on New Year’s Eve which has got to be pretty miserable. So I made them a cake.’

As I tell you this now it still stuns me how Jane’s mind used to work.

She had such a great deal of empathy for her fellow human beings.

People she had never met

People who were being paid to do a job.

They were in her heart and in her thoughts. She made them cake to cheer their New Year.

“And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”
[Reference not spoken, just the quote 
(Byron: She Walks in Beauty)]

Some people are with you a long time and have a great affect on your life.

Some are with you fleetingly and have almost none. They might, sometimes, change you in a subtle way.

Jane was a rare individual. She could be with you for a fleeting moment and yet make a great difference.

Imagine for a moment being the person who receives a cake as a gift from a total stranger just to cheer your day.

A small thing that can have far reaching meaning in an otherwise dreary time.

Jane exhibited what I like to think of as random acts of kindness. Part of me hopes there was some greater, more subtle plan.

In reality I know it was something else.

It was that Jane was an exceptional human being who thought far greater than most people, who truly cared beyond herself. It made her a rarity.

“But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!”
[Reference not spoken, just the quote 
(Byron: She Walks in Beauty)]

To end today I am going to follow a tradition and misquote a favourite writer.

‘She was my friend. Take her for all in all. I shall not look upon her like again.’.
[Reference not spoken, just the quote 
(Shakespeare: Hamlet)]

2017 Goals and Aims

I have spoken at some length in a previous post (see http://www.markkeating.me.uk/2016/11/11/the-me-me-goal/ ) about one side of goals, which i called the ‘me goal’ a form of internal embiggening[1] yourself. Today i am going to speak about my goals for 2017.

Well not all of them.

And this is not a continuation of the previous post just I thought I’d mention it so that you could go and look and I could make some mild link that has no value because the kittens have knitted a jumper.

…anyway…

This year I have set myself a number of challenges to do with personal, professional and family life. I have also accepted a challenge from Leigh (www.leighkeating.me).

I thought I’d share some of them with you.

Personal: Been feeling fat and unhealthy and my lifestyle in regards to food and drink has got out of hand. So I have decided to lose weight, exercise more and drink less. I started on the 5th January. I am 2 stone lighter, I am eating better and drinking less. It is a hard regime, I am not massively overdoing it, but I am being firm with myself. So that’s going well, but I need to see if i can mange a year.

Leigh: Leigh asked me to publish a book, I did do one last year and you can find it for free (or make a small donation) on The Dog Ate My Bookshop website. The last book I published was a series of Haiku’s from 2015. this time around it will be a novel of some sort.

Family: Well I have kids and a wife that is devoted to me. I have resolved this year to make the most out of that and to sort out some better way of being a better husband and father. This is not to say I am crap, just that I know I can do better and I know they deserve the best version of me.

Professional: This is a hard one as I am pretty dedicated to my professional work. But this year I am trying to extend the notice that I give to what I, and my work colleagues, do.

We spend a lot of time working with communities in groups both in meat-space and elsewhere. I want to make sure that we get the acknowledgement (this is not respect, recognition or promotion but simply awareness) of what we do. So I have been focusing o making sure I put news on the company website (go take a look if you like) and trying to blog more about the company and the people.

That’s some of the goals I have for the year.

I don’t call them resolutions and I don’t conceive of a fully structured plan. These are changes I want to make or think I need to make and as such they have few requirements or definitive aims.

The weight loss has a general goal, as does the fitness. the challenge from Leigh has an aim but I am not bound to it. And in family and company these are desires to see a change that will benefit a group not an individual-only need.

Hopefully I will report back to you later in the year on how I am doing.

[1] yeah I stole it from The Simpsons

 

The Me-Me Goal

Been thinking a lot about goals and motivational structures recently and I am not quite there when I express my thoughts. This is probably down to the nebulous way in which my brain works, there are not really superhighways of communication more a wool jungle that’s infested with kittens. But the area itself is a little flimsy.

Mostly, probably because of the yearly Nanowrimo competition, I have been thinking about how people face down a challenge or a goal that is an externally originated condition.

There are many people who crave structure, and even some who prefer an imposed structure no matter how abstract or arbitrary as it focuses them on a task. I look at this and think that they are using this to supplement, or maybe supplant, a different desire. It isn’t really a goal that this gives them as they themselves have constructed a different goal, that of completing a challenge. So it is an external challenge that forces them to perform. It always makes me think that this is more to do with an internal desire to combat an expectation.

This expectation might be a self imposed world view that they are unable to perform from some devaluation of themselves, or a perceived devaluation in the society they operate within. It is a combative approach to a challenge, it is about overcoming.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What are goals for if they are not for forcing us to achieve. Whether that is a placebo for the addressing of some other inner narrative or need is probably irrelevant.

Of course there are some darker emotional waters here. There are people who need to address a challenge not to satisfy internal structures of accomplishment but to rail against some perceived injustice or appraisal.

I see people who use a global competitive challenge, that is based in personal achievement, as a method by which to control others. I also see them manipulate people into seeing the goal not just as an achievement but as a challenge for proving their worth.

So they use an arbitrary goal of numbers as a method of distinction not by personal achievement but by the reduction of others. It is even veiled as friendly challenge. There is a certain value in being mildly competitive, there is value in supporting others and spurring them on. But for some people their cheerleading of others, whether conscious or unconscious, is actually being used to highlight their own achievement.

‘Don’t worry that you only managed two thousand words, there are still two weeks to go. I found the first five thousand words super hard and have struggled to get to thirty thousand so I know how you feel. You can do it. I think I will fail every year but somehow I manage it. So if I can do it you can.’

The above sentence is a commonplace style of this mentality. It looks supportive, but read deeper and what is actually being said is that they have turned their attention to how hard things are for them, how much they have achieved, how difficult it is for them each time, but yet they still succeed. It is a me-me focus statement.

The last sentence, which is more commonplace than you think is the painful twist of a knife. Put simply it tells the poor sod who is far behind in the challenge that you are going to complete, which means you have to now, if you don’t then you are not as good as me and I struggle every year.

Of course not everyone who enjoys sharing their numbers has this in mind. There is a certain buzz you get if you have achieved a good push with writing. I know lots of people who are just being friendly and sharing their hard work. That’s actually positive and I love seeing how surprised and happy they are. There are even those who are juggling multiple challenges and supporting others And many who are genuinely happy to hear what your word count is and to indulge in a friendly word sprint (word war).

Don’t confuse that with the harsh focus of the word-self who uses every opportunity to make the focus them. Also don’t assume they even know that they are doing it, it could be for deeply sad reasons. Maybe what we should feel is pity instead of anger at their desire to turn it all into their story.

Their goal, therefore, is perhaps to be recognised, maybe to be admired, maybe loved or respected. Or maybe they don’t care about other people as they see themselves as the principal reason that existence spirals around. The only shame is that this can be a drag on emotional equilibrium to those inside their social group.

So their goal is actually to give themselves attention. Again know what your goals are and how they fit with others. It isn’t wrong t want attention, respect or adulation, we all have an ego, it is just bad to achieve that at the expense of others.