Damned those Fates!

Do you ever get the feeling that The Fates are against you? I can almost picture the three of them, huddled in their little cave, cackling like witches as they play their little games, weaving the threads of our lives to their own rules. Artists in the past have often depicted the Moirai as young and beautiful. Personally, I picture them as more akin to the traditional view of Shakespeare’s three witches of Macbeth, old and wrinkled, with skin of leather and sharp pointy noses. Well, whatever these three stalwarts of Greek mythology look like, they have certainly got it in for me this year. I had hope that the new year would be positive and a good one. Unfortunately, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos seem to have a rather different plan for me.

2017 had been a mixed year, but overall things had turned out well. Health, family, relationships and work were all looking good. Even our finances, which have so often been precarious, were looking encouraging. So I went into the new year with the renewed hope that we had turned a corner and everything was going to be just fine.

But then the Fates threw in their little twist. In a little over a week, I have lost one of my best friends, my father-in-law, and been told that I am now at risk of being made redundant! We all know January can be a bad month, but really?!

Despite these two proverbial spanners that have been thrown rather unceremoniously into our lives I am determined to keep faith with the positive mood in which the new year began. Whilst it is always sad to lose someone so close, I take some comfort from the view that my father-in-law has been spared any prolonged suffering. His health was in decline and his mobility all but gone. We will be celebrating his incredible life this week, remembering the wicked sense of humour and the seemingly bottomless well of knowledge that he possessed. He will be sadly missed, but so long as we continue to share our memories of his life he will live on.

As for my job, I had been unhappy for some time, but to face the potential of losing it just as I had found a way to make it palatable and even enjoyable is a severe blow. And at my age, finding another is not going to be easy, particularly as everyone wants apprentices these days. But I am determined to look upon this as an opportunity rather than a disaster. After all, staff restructuring may bring an opportunity for change and offer a new challenge. Even if that is working for someone else, there is still a chance to do something new and exciting. I like to think that even a creaky over-fifty has something to offer, given half the chance.

Life throws us these little challenges every now and then and it is only by embracing the possibilities that we can overcome them. I have faced redundancy twice before and each time I have found opportunities I hadn’t previously considered. Hopefully, this time will be no different, but only if I can shake off the disappointment of being at this particular crossroads once again without a map or compass.

I will say that as I get older I find the prospect of the challenges that a career change can bring ever more daunting. IT support is a young person’s game and I am finding it ever more difficult to keep a pace of the rapid changes in the whole technology industry. I no longer have the enthusiasm I did for spending my evenings pouring over new ideas and keeping up with the rapid developments in both the hardware and the software. Maybe I should have stuck with printing!

What this year will bring only those pesky fates can know, but of just two things I am certain: I will miss my old friend and debating partner and I will end the year in a different job (or none at all!). Everything else is up for grabs.

 

They sold me a dream of Christmas

At the risk of being likened to dear old Ebenezer Scrooge, and a possible tongue-lashing from the family, dare I suggest that the imminent arrival of the Christmas season is possibly not the magical event that the media would have us believe.

Yes, I know, it’s the season of goodwill and all that; a time for giving gifts and being with family and, if you’re lucky, days in front of the fire, eating to excess and watching endless repeats on the TV. There’s the shopping! Shopping for gifts, shopping for the food and drink we need to see us through, and then there are the sales. What would Christmas be without the sales? Well, relaxed for one thing!

In the days before Christmas, you can see whole families staggering out of Asda or Tesco, trollies positively laden with enough food to feed a small army for a month. I often wonder just how much of those essential, must have provisions end up in the bin. I hold my hands up here; we have been guilty of this in the past, over buying food that we simply cannot eat before it goes rotten. We get wrapped up in the excess of the whole thing and felt compelled to buy up anything that looks remotely festive, even if we aren’t sure we would actually ever eat it.

And why do we buy so much? after all, the shops are only closed for two days, if that. It’s not as if there is going to be a shortage of food in the days immediately after Christmas.

Then there are the sales. Forgive my ignorance here, but why does anyone need to be out at the crack of dawn on Boxing Day? Whatever happened to the January sales starting in January? Do those retail addicts who insist on pandering to the retailer’s greed give a moments thought to the poor souls who have to give up their Christmas just to ensure that they can get their hands on a half-price jacket before the turkey is cold. Maybe if they all stayed away from the shops until after Boxing Day the staff would get to have their holiday as well.

I really feel sorry for the shop staff who have to work over the holiday period for no good reason. I know that there are others who also have to work normally over the holiday season; our emergency services, nursing and care staff, and utility providers amongst others.

As far as I can see, Christmas is a very stressful time of year. The pressure to buy the right presents, to stock up with the right food and drink, and trying to get around all the family, to spend time with people you only see once a year, and to keep on smiling no matter how bad the whole things gets, can be immense. Why do we do this to ourselves?

We do it because, despite all the commercialism and the stress, the spirit of Christmas remains as strong as ever. Whether you are religious or not, it is difficult to avoid being swept up by the whole religious thing. But whatever our beliefs or circumstances, we all need something to look forward to, something beyond the everyday routine. And for most of us, Christmas provides just such a break from the mundane. I for one am going to make the best of the break. It may be over commercialised, it may be stressful and often feel meaningless, but it is one of the few times of the year when most of us, me included, can relax and take stock.

And that is exactly what I intend to do.

And finally… the title of this little blog is taken from one of my favourite Christmas songs: I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake. I love the sentiment as much as the tune itself. Nobody writes good Christmas songs anymore.

We survived Friday 13th

Now I am not a particularly superstitious person, but even I take extra care on Friday 13th. Well, who doesn’t? But other than that I don’t take much notice of the usual signs and portents that seem to send so many other people into paroxysms of fear.

It is all nonsense after all. The very idea that simply by smashing a mirror or walking under a ladder you are opening yourself up to any more bad luck than you would face anyway is absurd. I have deliberately walked under many a ladder in my time, and nothing has ever happened as a result. I haven’t even been the victim of the most obvious piece of bad luck, having something fall on me as I passed beneath.

But the coming of Friday 13th is something different. With enough people believing in the worst, it is inevitable that eventually, the worst will happen. So I tend to take more care than usual. But as the days of the calendar are arbitrary and not linked in any way to anything natural, the whole idea that this particular day is somehow ill-fated is particularly absurd.

But there are some very different view of superstition. Some of the worst people for taking superstitions seriously are actors. There are so many things you can’t do or say backstage at the theatre it’s a wonder they manage to do anything at all. Never say good luck, never mention Macbeth (it is always referred to as the Scotish play), and never whistle are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Almost every actor seems to have their own little rituals that they must go through before, during or after each performance.

Another thing I have noticed is that the people who avoid black cats and cracks in the pavement are generally the same people who fall for tales of hauntings and visiting spirits. And once again, theatrical types fall into this trap as well. So many theatres claim to be haunted, but it is only those who work there that seem to believe it all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good ghost story or horror film, but that is all they are, stories. It isn’t real.

So what exactly is a superstition? I think it is best defined as a belief that by some form of magic or other ethereal power, simple actions or objects can influence events around us. Basically, it stems from ignorance and a desire to apportion blame when things go wrong. It is not too dissimilar from the way people pointed fingers at “witches” in the Middle Ages or God. Rather than accept that we ourselves may at fault for something that has happened, we naturally look around us for someone, or something else, to take the blame. It is a lack of understanding and a willingness to welcome the easy answer that leads many people to accept a belief that something else is guiding or influencing our actions.

Aside from the obvious absurdity of it all, I have often wondered where some of these ideas come from. I mean, why should putting shoes on a table, or opening up an umbrella inside be linked in any way to misfortune or disaster? Aside from the obvious that is. I mean, anyone putting up an umbrella in a house is inviting trouble by their very proximity to light fittings, ornaments and other people. It stands to reason. Many old wives tales and myths have some basis in fact. Even some religious rites can be traced back to practical considerations of a more ignorant time, but superstitions are a little different. I suppose that in some cases they are born out of a form of reality. You make a change in your routine and something bad happens, there is a natural inclination to see the change as the cause, concluding that it was the deviation from previous acts that are to blame.

To me, superstition and religion and inexorably intertwined. I can see very little difference between them as they are both built on the premise of a belief in things we cannot see or explain, and a desire to pass responsibility for our actions on to someone else.

Whilst I have no time myself for superstition or religion, I do have sympathy for those that do. People can become obsessed with their belief in them and it can make their lives unnecessarily difficult. But however irrational their fears or ignorant their beliefs, when they are sincerely held they need to be handled with care and understanding. I have never mocked or ridiculed anyone for the beliefs. I may question them, but I would never dream of trying to undermine anyone’s faith, at least not to their face.

It’s all in the eyes of the beholder

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Now, I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking “Why on Earth has that Wally posted a photograph of two strangers staring into a shop window.”

Go on, admit it. You were weren’t you?

I mean, anyone who has flicked through these pages before will have come to expect something critical, either of politicians in general or Donald Trump in particular. I know, I do like to aim for the easy targets, but why not. That’s what they are there for.

No, tonight I was inspired, not by any particular event, but by a random search through my recent photographs. The picture above was taken in the early evening as my wife and I strolled through the wonderful streets of York. At this particular point in the day I was just taking random shots of the buildings in the fading light. But when I got back to the hotel and perused my snap shots of this really beautiful city, this particular image just seemed to leap of the screen, beat me about the head a bit, and scream “post me” down my ear. Which of course I did.

That was back in April. Tonight I went back and looked through them again, for no particular reason other than to remind myself of the photographs I have taken so far this year. Which reminds me, I really do need to post some new images to Flickr.

Anyway, back to these two shoppers.

As I said, when I originally took the photograph it was intended as just a snapshot of the buildings, but instead I had inadvertently captured a moment.

The first thing that attracted me to this picture were the colours. The illumination from the shop lights up the young woman’s face, giving an almost fiery glow to her hair. The eyes are drawn to the window itself, trying to make out what it is that has caught this couple’s attention. Maybe it’s jewellery. Maybe they are looking for rings! Or an ornament as a memento of their visit. Or maybe it is a gift for a friend or relative.

Of course, we will never know what is going through their minds, or what they are discussing as they admire whatever it is they have spotted in the window. But do we really need to know?

Each of our lives is made up of fleeting moments. Some are good. Some are bad, but most are transitory and inconsequential. But whatever they are, each moment in unique. It will never happen again. It has gone. At least with photography you can capture those moments. The special ones, or the momentous ones. Even the everyday boring ones. Each picture represents a moment in our lives that we can never experience again, so each one is special in its own unique way.

Pictures like this one offer an opportunity not just to remember the moment itself, but also to create a new one, a new moment that can be whatever we want it to be. We all see something different when we look at pictures, whether that’s a photograph a drawing or a painting. The image in front of us tells each of us a different story. I am sure that some people will look at this particular image and wonder about the footprints on the path. Others may admire the architecture of the buildings or the grid (yes, there are people interested in grids!). But I am sure I am not alone in feeling drawn into the possibilities presented by this young couple as they gaze into the shop window.

This picture is never going to win a prize. I don’t think it is even technically a good photograph, but it does something for me and I just wanted to share that thought with the world.

Don’t worry, I am not going to make a habit of rambling on about photographs, but I don’t rule out posting another in the near future. You have been warned.