Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Art and Work # 1

Adrian Markis : Cometa Finale

 One of my favourite photographers is the brilliant Argentine Adrian Markis. His image Cometa Final encapsulates a split-second in the life of a child playing with a kite. Adrian's photo becomes a still from a movie that has been paused, and prefaced with the question what happens next?

We see a child by the side of a road focused on what he is doing, flying a kite. The innocence of the child immersed in his kite game is starkly contrasted with the proximity of danger. In the background, a truck can be seen hurtling toward the little boy, and he appears to be dangerously close to a railway line.

Notice too the muted colours, a low, fading sun (symbolising time running out perhaps or a representation of life from beginning to end), all of which gives the image a sombre, foreboding feeling.

In this one framed moment in the life of a photographer, a truck driver and a young child, Adrian Markis captures the fragility of all existence, and how it moves at a pace swallowing up time.

This movement is captured inside a frame of space (or a framed space) simultaneously with danger and the gentle fickleness of life on the planet.

How long will it take the truck driver to reach the child, will the boy notice the approaching truck in time, are there any speeding express trains due?

Staring into this photograph I am wondering about the biography of the distant truck driver hurtling toward the boy (who waits for him at home, why did he decide to drive trucks for a living?), the unseen train driver (same questions), the parents of the child.  Perhaps, in the next few seconds, or frames, all their destinies might cross for better or for worse.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Broken Down Bus, A Cathedral, And A Man With His Trousers Around His Ankles

We arrive in Durham from Edinburgh in the middle of, what seems, the northeast monsoon season. Durham, in the distance, is being battered by torrential rain.

Durham Train Station
As we leave the station a bus shelter offers temporary respite from the deluge, and checking the timetable we notice that there is an electric bus due.

He arrives (the driver and bus), we climb aboard, he takes our money, we sit, he sits and waits and hums, makes a comment about the weather, I respond, and then he attempts to start the bus. The lights dim, the bus coughs, but refuses to spark into life. After several attempts and the arrival of more people - tapping on the bus door like little sparrows - he explains that the bus won't start and will have to phone for help.

I wonder about his journey to work, what did he do before bus driver, and did he arrive at this point in his life by accident, sheer good luck or design?

This broken down bus, I think to myself, is all part of my journey, all part of the great adventure that is mine. Sometimes, tragic, sometimes comic, sometimes just ordinary and mundane and not worth writing a blog about. But, I can't help thinking, why did that bus decide to die the moment I stepped on board?

Why was the rain torrential at the very moment we disembarked from the train? Why that bus, and why today? Some would say fate, chance, luck, or, maybe just the natural course of things.

If you think about it, however, it's a bit more complex than that.  I stepped aboard that dead bus because, and exactly because, of all the decisions I have made throughout my life. Every single decision, good, bad and indifferent, which brought me to that point at that time on that day in Durham!  Decisions on what to do in terms of work, where to live (sometimes driven by what we work at), who to share my life with, loved ones, friends.

Even the decision to get out of bed, catch the train south, to travel into town by bus rather than walk were all made by me. And, that last decision to travel by bus into Durham, intersected and collided with the bus breaking down - a humming bus driver, little old ladies like little sparrows pecking at the bus doors.

The next decision is an easy one, to walk into Durham and stop at the first coffee shop we arrive at. It just happens to be the Starbucks at Framwelllgate Bridge (what a great name for a bridge and who was Framwell?)

It has a fantastic vibe this Starbucks, it has a library of books and the tables are taken by young people scribbling notes into large pukka pads or using pens to underline and highlight and remind themselves of something essential in reference books.

Some, as well as using notepads, were intermittently hammering the keyboard of their laptops. One young man with a laptop was also using a palm top, an iPhone and a small notepad. By their elbows, these students had measured piles of reference books which stood vigilant, ready to spring to life when called upon.

Where, I couldn't help thinking, are all these kids headed? Where will their journeys take them and how will their lives intersect with all the other lives on the planet. How will it all unfold for each of them? How will their lives develop from this great swirling matrix of criss-crossing individual actions? Who will cross their destinies with fortuitous or, who will cross their destinies with disastrous results? What challenges will fate have waiting for them?

Where will they find themselves in 20 years and be wondering : How can one person be so lucky? What decisions did I make that worked out so well? - or (and more likely) - What happened to all those dreams I had? Where have they all gone? What happened along the way? How did it get to this? Boy, they might think, am I glad I studied Interconnected Pastiche at Durham University in 2013! (Note to Aleisha Chrome 'Interconnected Pastiche' is not an Italian pasta dish).

My next decision was to visit the toilet, only to have the unpleasant experience of finding that the door was open and the cubicle occupied. A large, grubby, middle-aged man, was seated on the pan, his trousers at his ankles. He let out a garbled, throaty noise like aaawwwwwsh, I let out a garbled, throaty sound like oooshhh and beat a hasty retreat. It must have sounded like the start of a rap song in stereo - aaaawwwwshhh/oooosssshhh - Sittin' there wit his trousers on da floor/Why didn't he just lock the rapping door/ lock the door - aaaawwwwsssshhh/ooooosssshhh - zipco, cra, zipco cra, da da da da na na na - why hadn't he locked the door?

Later in the cathedral I stood before the memorial to all the Durham miners who had lost their lives working in their respective collieries. Their working lives spent in constant night, extracting coal that provided energy to feed the great capitalist industries across time, generated economies, built communities and sparked the nation.

But, the image is complete, here among the candles and the echoing acoustics of the huge spaces and angles of this massive structure, these workers gently rest within the bosom of the great and magnificent cathedral.

Their memory, in death, as stately and as significant as any monarch.

How extraordinary that our lives are so interconnected with the work we do, and how that, in turn, impacts to such a great extent.

Spead the word!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

State Your Intentions/So How Do You Become Archbishop of Canterbury?

My intention had been to post a blog entry every Sunday, but, things, as they say began to queue up and I had several Ideas including the latest post(below) - So, How Do You Become Archbishop of Canterbury? I also have plans for a piece I wrote in Durham with the intriguing title : 'A Broken Down Bus, A Cathderal and A Man With His Trousers Around His Ankles' ( a must not miss if I say so myself ).

Starbuck Memories

 In addition I want to explore 'Well What Are We All Worth?' and my obsession of writing about the future of work will come in useful with 'No Sleep Till Future'. I have also been really encouraged and inspired by comments received since I unleashed rushhour on an unsuspecting world (May spawned a monster), I wanted to make it kind of interactive and use comments from readers and material written by readers, perhaps as quotes, to write a sort of interconnected pastiche - note to Aleisha Chrome 'Interconnected Pastiche' did not win Eurovision in 2007.

However, I am not about to lose sight of Rush Hour and I am also toying with the idea of offering excerpts as we complete the various sections.

Post two below (Post three actually in the blogosphere) So, How Do You Become Archbishop of Canterbury?  Please read, digest, enjoy, comment, share with friends, colleagues, strangers, taxi drivers with plenty of rabbit, household pets, wild animals, politicians, friendly astronauts....

So How Do You Become Archbishop of Canterbury?

Have any of you visited Durham Cathedral? Simply awesome, and a must see. You will know the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Justin Welby, was the former Bishop of Durham.

His journey to the work he does now took him through the world of finance with Elf Aquitaine in Paris and Enterprise Oil PLC in London, before his new post in Kent.  All of which neatly links with...

...Saturday morning, April 27 2013, Bothwell Street, Glasgow. Daft Punk, One More Time, plays on my iPod - not my choice, my son helped me upload tunes onto it and he SAID it was great (hardly Guns N' Roses).

I duck into Costa Coffee.

Have you noticed Costa have a great slogan slapped on the side of their delivery trucks? : Saving The World From Mediocre Coffee - I am sure we all sleep easy in our beds knowing that....

Once inside, I order an americano, hot milk on the side - it brings out the flavour.
Seated, I am opening out my Financial Times in front of me and I immediately move from Daft Punk to Dr Justin Welby without blinking.

"In banking in particular, and in the City of London" Welby, on his new journey, is telling George Parker, the FT's political editor, "A culture of entitlement has affected a number of areas - not universally by any means - in which it seems to disconnect from what people saw as reasonable in the rest of the world." (Financial Times April 27/28, 2013).

Welby goes on to speak about the need for a more ethical and transparent banking system echoing the sentiments I heard when I interviewed members of and wrote about Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now), Los Indignados (The Outraged), Occupy New York, and Occupy St Pauls, London. Yet, nowhere in George Parker's article is the slightest suggestion that Dr Welby is 'anti-capitalist'.

Democracia Real Ya

I checked my notes, impressed again by how those I had interviewed had totally refuted the constant media suggestion that Occupy was no more than an anti-capitalist movement.
"Absolutely not!" Greek born Spyro Van Neemnen, a Masters graduate from the London School of Economics, and spokesperson for Occupy London Stock Exchange was horrified by the suggestion that the movement is anti-capitalist."The one thing we thing we stand for is democracy if you want to summarise it within one word, that's democracy." (Author's interview December 5, 2011)

Across the pond Occupy Wall Street's public relations were equally perplexed by the anti-capitalist claims.

"The first thing is that we have a wide variety of political activists in Occupy", Mark Bray a Rutgers University PhD student and spokesperson for Occupy Wall Street explained to me. "We have liberals and conservatives, we have socialists, anarchists, libertarians. But we are not anti-capitalist because the majority of the people are not against capitalism. We (the Occupy movement) just want an economic system that provides them with the things they need to get by, provides them with the opportunity to get a job, have healthcare, education, and things that I think most people can get behind" (Author's interview February 12, 2012).

This chimes with Dr Welby as he seeks to suggest the banking and financial system has been "disconnected from what people saw as reasonable in the rest of the world." (See Mark Bray's last sentence above)

Have I missed something, is there a difference when ordinary people say something and when someone with the elevation of the leader of over 75 million Anglican Christians says something? Does journalistic interpretation depend on the job you do?

And what of Dr Welby's journey, what of the good Archbishop's 'Rush Hour'? How does one get to be Archbishop of Canterbury?

Is it something we mull over when suffering a double period of maths? 'Describe a Venn diagram to me boy!' 'Is it a special chart that llustrates how Buddhists should meditate Sir?' And then you think, 'I must remember and make an appointment with my careers advisor and see if there are any vacancies for an apprentice archbishop?

Maybe it suddenly pops into our mind as a career advancement possibility while suspended in a cradle high above the streets of London as we clean the windows of multi-storey office blocks.  You wistfully think : Must be a better way to earn a living, I know, Archbishop, that's it, they get to wear great gear!

Of course, as we all know, becoming Archbishop of Canterbury is a bit more selective than that, a bit more cloistered than just nipping round to Durham Cathedral for an application form - or picking out a message on one of the magnificent stained glass windows : 'Archbishop Wanted, Must Be Able To Work Weekends'. Neither is it a box ad in the Durham Times or Northern Echo.

The Archbishop is carefully selected and has to have the nod of the Prime Minister, but he can still side with Occupy, of course.

Dr Welby left the financial industry when he felt a calling to the church, and now suggests a more ethical and transparent approach to his old business. Welcome as these pronouncements are, they are no more than Occupy have been saying for years.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Progress Notes : Progress On Journeys

Durham Rush Hour

The idea of the journey is, admittedly, such a cliche. From baby to child to adolescent to man/woman is just one journey. We also make physical journeys by train, or bus, by car, spiritual journeys, journeys of self-discovery, journeys to the jobs we do - from - see next post - window cleaner to Archbishop (is that possible, if not, why not?)

Work is such an integral part of who we are, how our lives unravel, what relationships we have and the lifestyles we enjoy or otherwise.   Yet, few of us actually sit down and consider what we actually want from life, or how our working lives could be utilised to make our existence, much, much more meaningful and enjoyable, BEFORE setting out on one of our most important journeys.

With all your help, we are rocketing along and I have four sections near completion. 'Across The Universe' - 'What Brings You To This Place In Time?', 'Starbucking' and 'When I grow Up...', as well as an introductory piece underway.

See next post, a little piece I wrote in Starbucks (the first coffee shop I came to after the bus broke down and I had to walk into Durham in heavy rain - long story) Bridgegate, Durham 18/05/2013.  I have written more about the whole of the experience of that day but have concentrated on random thoughts related and loosely related to Rush Hour.

Please note, I have, of course, written to the Archbishop of Canterbury (related to my next post) to invite him to share with us his 'Rush Hour' and journey to work, in a physical sense and how he actually made the journey to the work he does now, but, at the time of going to press, no reply has been received.

Please feel free, if the spirit takes you, to share with family, friends, strangers, pets...and please also fee free to make comments (preferably when sober and without expletives!)