Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Nothing else matters (poem)

Nothing else matters

If I close my eyes
And listen to
The cries of the seagulls
I can be at the seaside
With the wind in my face
And you by my side

If I stay like this
For long enough
It will be true

I can hang on to that
I don't have to open my eyes
I don't have to lose you
As long as the seagulls
Stay here with me
I am with you

And nothing else matters.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Why poem

Why poem

Afghanistan why?
Poverty why?
Homelessness why?
Hunger why?
Racism why?
Homophobia why?
All men
And all women
are created equal why not?

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Music musings

Regular readers of this bog will know of my struggles with music that go back to my primary school when my music teacher told me to mime rather than sing out loud in the choir. I have been learning piano for nearly 2 years now since my daughter first showed me how to sound a note and how to read music in 5 minutes flat. To someone who loves maths like I do music scores are just logical.

I get tremendous satisfaction out of playing music - watching my hands go where they need to and hearing it when I hit a wrong note. But it is a slow process for the would-be performer in me.

My patient piano teacher Rebbecca has been also working with me on singing the past few months. I have written before about the struggle and the delight I have had in learning to sound a note accurately. In the last two sessions I have finally been able to hear the difference between two notes only half a semi tone apart (that is the smallest possible internal) Not only at long last can I hear the difference but I can finally say this one is higher or lower than the last one. This is a huge step forward for me.

Get this it's a major breakthrough and I am 60. It's been almost something akin to dyslexia without denying the challenges that presents. I have not previously been able to distinguish these minor differences, not able to hear even when I could sound it right from memory. I can know hear it and know whether it is above or below. I am staggered at what it is possible for me to learn with no obvious music ability. No one put an instrument in my hand as a child. I did mess around with a guitar as a teenager not very fluently, and without any help. A year ago we put a clarinet in my daughter's hand at an open music do at the Northern College of Music. She loved it we got lessons and on my birthday we heard that she had passed grade 2 with a merit!

Well one of these I will be ready for grade 1 music. Last night Rebbecca did some of the singing I with me that i will need to do for grade 1 for the first time. Oh boy!

Mourn the past and do what it is in your heart to do with gratitude!

Bill on bike

Friday, 15 January 2010


[creative writing]

He couldn't figure out why she had spent four months, four months(!), in the Arctic - summer or winter it didn't matter which. One week of snow in England was enough for him.

But.. but something had happened to her, some deep hibernation of the spirit, staring at the snowscapes, walking or driving through those strange twilight zones in which the sun was barely awake at midday before turning over and going back to sleep again.

He could understand the attractions of a simpler life, a more basic life, just surviving. He could even understand how someone might want to stare at the wall or even at the snow and the sky. But to seek it out, to embrace it still seemed weird.

But there she was now changed for the better(?) by her snow odyssey and he remembered when he had to lean out against the fates to see if he could and would survive.

That was it. The testing of the inner spirit, the tempering of the inner steel. He knew that from old. That which does not destroy me makes me stronger. Modern warriorhood perhaps. I suffer therefore I am.

Getting started

[creative writing]

- It was an ordinary dark winter morning, and snow was still falling- she began
- No it wasn't
- Don't interrupt
- Will
- Wont
- Stop it

There was a silence.

- OK, it was summer and the sun was shining-
- No
- No better
- Oh

There was another silence.

I am sure Tolstoy never had this problem.

- The river flowed all through my childhood
- Yes
- Yes, go on
- The river flowed all through my childhood, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes just wanting to hang out and wait-
- No
- No

There was a longer silence this time

- The river was black, Bible black
- Nooo
- Noo
- OK it's your turn

There was an even longer silence, then a tiny voice said, 'It was my 60th year to heaven-
- No
- No
- Never.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Now I am sixty part two

OK so I am getting my head around this being 60 stuff, I think. It has got several upsides:
1) Senior railcard. This is a serious bonus (1/3 off!) and gives me dreams of post retirement travel as does the free bus pass.
2) I am choosing to be a bit out of the loop at work. I have seen it all before and I don't want to work myself to death pretending to be a young thing. I would quite like to offer a slower, deeper more wisdom(!) based approach but my bosses don't understand what I am trying too articulate.
3) I am physically OK thanks to cycling not bad diet and lifestyle and also my genetic stock.
4) I know I am not physically immortal and i don't hold with a Christian resurrection of the body so death is real. I am afraid of a painful drawn out dying and of becoming frail and forgetful or even worse dementia etc but I know that when I am dead if that is it then so be it. I hate the idea of not being with my family and friends but if I am completely dead then I wont know it. I rather suspect there is some kind of afterlife based on my own 'experiences' of ghosts etc but it is not clear enough (to the inner scientist in me) nor satisfying enough a lot of the time. Part of me knows this to be true, part doesn't. It rather depends who is in charge at the time!
5) This death stuff and my age causes me too be profoundly grateful for being alive and well and knowing that there is maybe nothing more than today and the people I meet today. So it is all a bit precious without me getting too daft about it. So I notice more and acknowledge and thank you for reading this! (And do look me up on Facebook if you like)

Bill on bike wearing my walking boots because of the snow.

Monday, 11 January 2010

5 things I have learnt so far

OK so now I am 60+ I can demand a bit more respect - fat chance :) or perhaps act as if I have that respect and status. So what are the 5 most important things that I have learnt in my life so far?
1) People die, everyone does even me.
2) Not a lot really matters but loving people does
3) You can't take much with you when you die and you don't leave much behind.
4) I am thankful for the gift of being alive today
5) I am thankful for my health right now.

Tell me yours if you can be arsed!

Best to all,

Bill-on-bike - well will be soon if the thaw continues here in Manchester

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Sixty plus

OK so work is snow closed and I am 'working from home' actually I got more done at home yesterday than I would have at work. It was so quiet as my nearest and dearest were out at friends and sledging in the local park. I really enjoyed the solitude and it gave me a flavour of possible future post retirement life. When I can have times of quiet and writing I become calmer and I like myself more. Then out of this solitude I can then move out into the world. So the one feeds the other. It matches my sense for some time now that I don't have enough time alone.

Anyway I have applied online for a senior railcard and I rang up yesterday for a free bus pass - well I might as well make the most of it! - and the young man there treated me with respect. This being 60 could be OK if if was being treated with respect rather than being patronised. I rather like the idea that I could choose when to reveal I am 60+ although my thinning greying hair might give me away in any case :).

I want to feel that being 60 is not the end but merely another stage in my life and that I have something to contribute whether or not I continue to work full-time at a prestigious university. I am hoping that the recent increase in the number of gigs* I have been getting will continue into the future.

*Gigs is where I get invite to speak for an hour, or run a workshop for an afternoon, day or weekend. Until recently I used to accept these offers somewhat sparingly but last year I accepted almost everyone just to see. I have had a whale of a time doing them, taking my ideas out on the road. If you add to this my recent poetry readings as a Manky and birthday poet (no I didn't say birthday suit poet - what an idea!) and a future of various audiences with William West emerges. That would be 60+ living for me.

Best to all,

Bill on bike (well not actually in the snow and ice!)

Monday, 4 January 2010

Now we are 60


I am now 60 years and one day old! In some ways it is no different to be being 59 years and 364 days but in other ways it is huge. 40 was bad enough, 50 sent me into a low level depression for months or rather the run up to it did much as this year has been. Again when I look in the mirror I was no different on 59 years 264 days and 60 years no days!

But, but, I have sent off for my senior railcard and am about to apply for my free bus travel pass. That's a bit absurd for a cycle freak like me and also weird doing this on my salary but.. I guess it shows something at 60 I am expected to be frail and maybe short of money... But also I want to accept that this is my age. I can't pretend and I want to find the goodness in this age of mine. (One goodness is that I care even less about what people think about me).

I do want to move on from my job before I reach 65, I am called to do some other things which hopefully I will enjoy at least as much as I have enjoyed my working life these last 16 years within universities. I want more time for my existing hobbies and some new ones and I hope I can survive earning much less money.

People keep dying on me and even now I have one friend under a medical death sentence. So I can make no assumptions about my continuing survival let along my flourishing. Some of it is in my genes and I can't do much about that. The rest I try and live reasonably healthy without becoming dead(!) miserable in the process.

But I am mortal and I don't have a fundamentalist trust in a good afterlife. So now really matters to me how can I live to the fullest how can this encounter between you and me be as full of grace as possible? I don't have a clear answer to that one - sounds like a question for my spiritual director Q doesn't it. But for now it is important for me to pose questions like that to myself. What is the best thing I can do just now?

My birthday do last Saturday was treat despite the weather keeping all of my long distance guests away. I read one of my poems (Bleeding Bikes) and Red Letter Day by the Pets as a poem - it worked well. My daughter and I did a duet based on 'Your are old father William' by Lewis Carroll. My wife sang 'When you're 64'. My daughter and her best friend did a clarinet duet of 2 Abba songs which the rest of us sang along to. My friend Rosie sang 'Summertime' with my sister-in-law playing piano and later on a lovely French song. My friend Vee (Howard-Jones) gave me a birthday poem which I read out:

As the Sun Sets Slowly...

How old? I asked -wide eyed and credulous.
But his smile says Twenty-five!
His dancing agility says Twenty.
His humour says Ten.
His inquisitiveness and curiosity definitely says five.
So I suppose - when you add it all up
It makes sense.

Best possible New Year to you all,