Reverse. Pause. 1998.

I remember only just being able to see over the dashboard of the maroon VW Passat estate which my grandfather used to drive. It had an extremely distinctive smell, one which will stay with me for a long time, a uniqueness promoting fondness on reflection. We always drove with the window open, so my grandad could smoke his pipe as he drove, looking at me smiling, as I smiled back, thinking he’s the coolest person on Earth. I remember the smell of his tobacco, it didn’t linger anywhere, but only in the small green pouch with German writing in which he kept it. The small bungalow always smells of cooking, fresh jams and compotes, soups and baking. He’s a chef.

We parked in a side-street of bustling Manchester, on double yellow lines, not that my grandad minded, he can talk his way out of anything in his classy, laisses-faire attitude. He opened the boot wide, and we sat there and ate our sandwiches, listening to the streets of the late 90s roar of the capital of brit-pop; the occasional horns and sirens mixed with birds and shouting in the midday sun. It’s amazing what a twenty three year old remembers of his life as a four year old, as clear as the day.

After we’d eaten, he moved the car a mere twenty metres so that the dreaded parking-officer wouldn’t mention a thing for being on double yellow lines. We crossed the street and went through what looked like a fire-escape. It was the back entrance to the best museum in Manchester, at least, I thought so. The science and transport museum. Cars and gadgets galore – but still something that wasn’t worth paying for. A crafty, wise fox, some might say.

At this stage in my life, everything was taller than me. Planes looked ginormous, even telephone boxes and cars looked too big to be real, especially inside. How did they get there? I remember thinking.  Though, as we were wandering around, nothing quite mesmerised me like the bright orange and multi-coloured Kinect ferris wheel, spinning and spinning. I was totally in awe, just as I was about that whole day, a sensory experience that has lasted eighteen years in my memory so far.

Thinking back now, too, I feel that I’ve shared a close affinity to car rides back in the sunset. Even prior to this trip, I have vivid memories of putting on Dire Straits with my father in his silver Audi A4 as we set off for my grandparents on a Friday evening, the sun a deep orange, mixing with the intense pink of the skies. People often say that your memory isn’t you thinking about the time itself, but the last time you thought of the memory. I don’t know how much that holds true, or how much my imagination has taken hold of the trips I went on with my grandfather. Alas, it makes the memories nostalgic, and magically inviting to occasionally think about on a midnight bike ride back from your evening job. In these moments, you manage to remain very much aware of how your life has turned out, and conscious of the foundation which allowed you to pursue the life you want to.

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How can you knock on somebody’s door and expect them to answer?

You run into certain people in life. Some, you’ll never see or come into contact with again, some you will, but they continue to have a lasting effect on you. Sometimes, as much as you wish you’ll see these people again, you won’t, and for some time you’ll have to live day by day, rethinking your conversation over and over. A simple exchange of words and opinions dramatically affecting the way you live life, and the way that you see it.

Cycling home with the bitter wind in my face, confronted with cold, harsh reality. Back to normal.

Wanting to help people is a beautiful thing, she assures me. It’s not simply the words spoken, but the demeanour in which they’re slowly contemplated. Every word uttered has a precision to it; every syllable a meaning, every sentence an opinion, every paragraph a purpose.

The gifts you receive from your mother as stocking fillers are perhaps the most thoughtful; presents which manage to touch your inner 10 year old, despite yourself being a 25 year old semi-professional, far beyond the realm of the average 10 year old. You’re clinging on for dear life as the world rotates a little faster than you can counteract, a never-ending, impossible treadmill. Holding an R2-D2 hot water bottle cover in your hands as you unwrap it on Christmas morning, knowing that, 15 years ago you’d have loved this. But all it carries now is a certain attachment and sentimentality, but that’s all. As much as it doesn’t fit in the here now, it fitted well in the there and then.

When we’re parents, one day, we’ll think back to this conversation. We’ll look at something and think, ‘yes, that’s something our 32 year old son/daughter would love’. No, it’s not. It’s what they would have loved, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful, just a little bit useless.

If there’s one thing I was able to pass on to seemingly infinite wisdom at the tender age of 25, it was going it alone in a different country. Something I applauded the woman for. She saw it as a great opportunity; for how was she to know what she didn’t want, without spending some time out of her comfort zone, experiencing new environments she hadn’t know existed? Will she return? Who knows. But, that’s the point; the poetic and melancholic point to it all.

It’s the people who pass you by that can have the most significance in the way that you act, the way that you are and the way that you simply exist. Yet, the people who pass you by can also be the closest to home, in a perverse and surreal way. We live opposite each other, wholly unknowingly. We used to work at the same restaurant, lamenting over the failings we both shared. Winding up in a small bistro miles away from either of the two, crossing paths and sharing them so intimately and so swiftly is something I will not quickly forget. She lives opposite. For one more week.

A knock on the door and a cup of tea may be all it takes;

A longing to share a similarly insightful conversation;

However, we both have contrasting, but similarly busy lives;

How can you knock on somebody’s door and expect them to answer?

A Conscious Effort – Maastricht Goes to Calais

A Conscious Effort

My readings for this week’s tutorial presented me with a number of interesting, believable and profound statistics I felt were worth sharing, and commenting on. Sandra Mathison states that as of 2017:

  • The world population is 7.5 billion people
  • Half of the people in the world live in poverty
  • 22,000 children die each day due to conditions of poverty
  • 805 million people do not have enough food
  • 5 million children die each year before they are 5 years old
  • 165 million children under 5 are stunted from malnutrition
  • 750 million people do not have adequate access to safe drinking water
  • 2300 people die each day from diarrhoea
  • 214 million women lack access to family planning
  • 1 in 7 children in NYC are homeless
  • This year, in British Columbia 4 people will die each day from opioid overdoses
  • 34,500 people flee their homes every day to avoid violence
  • 1 in every 113 people on Earth has been driven from their home by conflict, violence, or human rights violations
  • Two thirds of illiterate people in the world are women

Most of these, I found rather staggering and quite incomprehensible. But if these statistics are correct, on reflection, I can see how believable they are – and this is the problem. There’s an element of this article which is subliminally reiterating how lucky many of us are. Myself, writing this in the (relative) comfort of my student house will probably never suffer any of these injustices in the entirety of my life, and there I am, critiquing the comfort of my student house when 1 in 7 children are homeless in New York.

These statistics are simultaneously useful and useless. Indeed, they make us think that we’re lucky and we may take two or three minutes to reflect on happenings around the globe. But for many of us, like myself, it rarely extends beyond a momentary thought. This, I believe, is because we are so far removed from the things that are happening throughout the globe, that they almost seem surreal. It is perhaps why, I was mostly staggered by the statistic about children homeless in New York. I am writing this, because that was the statistic that shocked me the most. This disappoints me, considering Mathison states that 805 million people do not have enough food. Incomprehensible – that is the problem. We ‘lucky ones’, are so far removed from these problems that, even though we are aware they exist, our help does not often go beyond a momentary thought.

I go back to the 1 in 7 children homeless in New York. A much more ‘real’ statistic that many of us can perhaps relate to, despite being unable to relate to the millions, almost a billion, without food and water. I suppose the problems are relative. Though, this shouldn’t be the point, and one should treat the more significant problems with the same consideration for children knowingly homeless. But indeed, it’s difficult to relate to, and with a pinch of salt, I ask, what can we do?

Maastricht Goes to Calais

A number of people I’m in contact with at university, including my housemate, are part of an independent project– Maastricht Goes to Calais. A volunteering project providing material and emotional support for the 800 refugees in and around the destroyed camps in Calais, France. The problems faced by these people, again, are incomprehensible, and a lot closer to home than one might ordinarily appreciate. Some perspective, for those unaware of the severity of the global refugee epidemic. According to Amnesty, the number of people fleeing their homes due to war and conflict, environmental and social degradation stood at 92million. Today, the figure is 244million, an unprecedented increase, and something which cannot be ignored, especially when the global problem is becoming a European problem, too.

My point here with regards to Maastricht goes to Calais also relates to those affected by homelessness in New York, in addition to those included within all of Madison’s statistics. One can become involved with the project in Maastricht by simply providing a baked cake for a fundraising sale, a retweet or repost of information, to encourage knowledge and participation alike, that can go on to make a huge difference, knowingly, or unknowingly. The problems around the globe are a shared problem, whether we hold them to be far from our day to day lives, or close to our hearts. What I am trying to convey, is the magnitude of such problems that I had done little more than think about until now; the global issues are not something which you can easily, or perhaps should devote your life towards combatting, as the problems are seemingly endless. This was something that I had not quite appreciated until I spoke to my housemate about the project and issues faced by those at Calais. I reiterate that the problems are seemingly endless, but nonetheless, any contributions of time and devotion can make a larger difference than you may have initially appreciated.

A Burning House Cannot Keep Anyone it Harbors Safe

A house is not a home. It requires a certain characteristic, more than four walls and a roof. Somewhere you recognise the smell of the spring air, year in, year out. Somewhere which provokes fond memories of a near or distant past. Somewhere you’re eager to return to after a few days, or months of travel. A place which is inherently part of you.

Now you have your house in your head, hold it. 

On the way into the area you live, and there’s a breath of relief. You’re nearly home, a dinner waiting, perhaps a pet or a loved one. Notice how your door has its own unique quirk to it, requiring you to insert the key in a certain way, lifting the handle up before you unlock, or perhaps a quarter turn extra. It needs oiling, the flowers need watering. You press your car key once more, to double check its locked, and turn to face the hallway.

Look around, and absorb the environment. Who is the first person you see, interact with?

It is a terrible cliché to talk of a home as a person. But, the love and familiarity you can share with somebody, and find in someone, can closely resemble the love and familiarity you can find in a building. I wish to draw your attention to the details which make a house a home, and the details of a person which make finding a sense of comfort in yourself so easy because of them.

Who do you have in mind? That first person. Right there. Even if it’s the person you do not wish it was, and want for somebody else, you must keep thinking of the first person you thought of.

Embrace them, in whatever capacity. Touch their hair and look into their eyes, or a kiss on the cheek, maybe, even a simple smile.

You sit down and have dinner, it’s a world away from the bustle of the day, the mix of pleasantries you exchange daily, which, when you think about it, mean absolutely nothing; an unwritten formality you go through so you don’t appear rude, before going about your business. Your radio is playing, you’re eating from your cutlery, with your own company. Everything about it is yours, and still, you couldn’t be further from home.

Think about a time a shower has washed away such negativity, and grounded you.

Consumed by the humid, steamy warm air, you feel your open pores and your dripping hair, a slight sting as you open your eyes without wiping the water away with your hands, and let the shower trickle over your back. Watching the water flow along the curvatures of your body and skin, thinking about this home, you’re burning up inside, not knowing the meaning of it, of anything. It’s 2am.

What the fuck are you doing taking a shower at 2am?

Sometimes, it’s necessary to extinguish the flames.

 

Goodbye

Cliché surrounds making yourself happy: the ‘do it because you’re the only person that matters’ type ethic is used to fill blank walls with similar sounding quotes, and appears meaningless and almost laughable that somebody needs a daily reminder to make themselves happy. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it? The pursuit of happiness. That’s what counts, and what matters. Whichever method you find tranquillity in pursuing this ongoing journey towards finding fulfilment, satisfaction and contentedness, you physically cannot let anybody tell you otherwise. If you do, it ceases to be an individual journey, and ruins the ethic entirely, however cliché, it must be individual.

It starts with a ‘lightbulb’ type epiphany: you’re sitting in a car doing 140mph on the German-autobahn and somebody in the seat next to you tells you that they don’t care about a life changing decision you’ve made, or you’re wandering through a field and stepping over a small brook, and the wind which rushes through you shifts your mentality, or you’re deep in the metropolis, surrounded by people following a similar pursuit (however many of those metropolis dwellers confuse money for happiness) and you look up at the skyscrapers and realise it’s futile. It does not matter where you are when you gain this certain light, but what matters is that it usually occurs at a critical juncture in your life, at a crossroads when you’re looking around and observing, trying to make a snap decision which exact route to take.

Scarily, it is individual, so intimate and personal that you fail quite to put into words just how this scene or scenario has made you feel and changed your entire outlook as a result. It’s been a long time coming but hits you as a wave of rushing cold water, soothing and refreshing, but cold nonetheless. You realise there are certain aspects of your current life that you have to change and other avenues that you have to pursue, deciding in an impromptu fashion to take a small cobbled street to the left of you in the hope that it’s quicker to get where you’re heading.

As you pierce the shell of an egg with your two thumbs in order to crack it, you don’t think about the shell being torn apart and ripped in two. Instead, you think about the bright yellow yolk inside, moulded into the white about to trickle into your pan of melting butter. Indeed, as you slowly start to cook your egg, and grind some peppercorns on top, place the bread in the toaster, you realise that the splitting of the shell was necessary to accomplish this. Similarly, coming to a realisation that there may be certain people or things in your life which at the moment seem vital to who you are, but to get where you want to be, may become a hindrance is a difficult thing to comprehend. It cracks your outer skin slightly, and slowly makes its way down to your core, perhaps even influencing your important decisions.

This is the danger with an individual pursuit like happiness; you must, to a certain extent, dwell on the equal amount of loss and sadness before you experience any type of meaningful gain, and it remains an impossible task, to know what’s right. Putting into words such an intimate walk of life risks being so wrong, so far away from the reality of it, and what is happening in another person’s soul. That is the beautiful intricacy of the human spectrum, there is as much Individual struggle as collective struggle. Perhaps that is the reason why many people choose to laugh at a constant reminder that you have to do something to make yourself happy; seeing such words which have been unexperienced cracks their shell slightly, only insignificantly, it is a mere dent on their exterior, nothing has quite penetrated their being yet. Without realisation and comprehension, however difficult, what hope can there be of action?

An Aura

An aura consumes you, it takes over your soul. It isn’t negative, it’s simply overwhelming and all-encompassing. Certain notes of the piano which just seem to ‘hit the spot’. A sequence of words in a completely illogical order that transpire into a profound, and deeply meaningful sentence. You stare out over a calm sea, standing on the edge of a headland, and all you can see is a small sailboat, gliding, being taken by the wind. The sudden sense of quiet you feel whilst trudging through untouched snow in the middle of the forest.

I cannot hope to explain to you what all of these scenes have in common, not precisely however. What I can tell you is this, they are all auras, the touch you cannot quite put a hand on, a feeling which you can’t shake off, not easily anyhow. Something which forces you to stop completely in your tracks and take a whole step back, sit on the floor, or stand in utter silence with outstretched arms, in awe of the whole scene. These are the moments which matter, and one’s which you must take hold of.

Putting these feelings into words is as difficult as holding air in the palm of your hands, trying to capture miniscule figments of dust and air particles in your hand. It’s impossible. Nevertheless, it’s a wave of feeling you must ride and embrace. Of course, it is extremely difficult to let the sudden sense of serenity take you surrounded by people. It’s not fitting. You must be entirely alone.

The sense I’m talking about isn’t as simple as bliss, or beauty. They are things which you can create, and easily observe. Simply go into an art gallery, you will see beauty around you, before you. Go out to dinner, somewhere nicer than usual. Your overindulgence will grant you a simple sense of bliss, but nothing more than that. Momentary sensations of sweetness, richness, smoothness, sharpness, all hit your taste buds at once. It lasts a matter of seconds, just like the sense you crave.  And still, despite the different flavours, the exquisite company and the overall wonder of the evening, there’s that sense of something missing, a sensation that you long for.

It’s peculiar, because it can be obtained in a form which is almost anti-climatic. You can certainly obtain this feeling materialistically, but, really, what good would it do? What would it achieve to say you’ve ‘made it’ because of the four-figure Rolex too heavy for your dainty wrist? Instead, it can be obtained almost spiritually, an internal harmony that becomes present as a result of various mechanisms of happiness…

The sunset you see before you will be the only sunset like that of its kind, just like every snow flake that gently lays itself upon your thinly woven, grandma-knitted gloves is individual. The contrast of romantic reds with the slightly obscure and deep oranges with the sea as you look on over the bay manages to induce the feeling that you crave, but in the most unusual fashion. The colours manage to seduce you to a point of despair. You reside yourself to the fact that nothing can get more beautiful than the way the pink sky is bound with the deep blue of the ocean. There it is. It overcomes you. Not as a caress that you deliver to a cat, it’s fur stroking in between your fingers, but it’s a sudden barrage, a tsunami, being hit by the full force of an atomic bomb.

A wave of spiritual contentedness passes through your body, swimming through your veins, filling you with a warmth that cannot be achieved by a £600,000 property in Hampshire, or a car worth a quarter of your yearly salary. You still think the same though. You’ve made it. Somehow, looking at this scene is not to dissimilar to being able to afford a wardrobe of Ralph Lauren. However, it is still oh so different. Beautifully different, challengingly introspective. No matter the clothes you wear or the business deals you manage to complete, there is a bigger picture. The entire spectrum of colour mystifies you so much so that you still have to check you’re on solid ground. The world manages to gift to you a moment of its beauty, and you have to stand, completely still and let it consume you.

The search for this type of contentedness is almost impossible on a day-to-day basis. It’s exactly that which makes it special, and so remarkable. You cannot find it, like you can find wealth and search for happiness through your significant other. Rather, this sense of beauty finds you, every once in a while, touches yourself to remind you that there is more out there than you can possibly hope to rationalise.

That’s why it flies over you in a figment, a fleeting moment of calmness. Not only would you fail to accept such constant serenity and happiness, but it would become normalised. What then, once happiness is normalised?