Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bus Therapy

Have you a moment to join with me in praise of the much-celebrated London bus?
Not for its iconic status (remember its appearance at the Beijing Olympics?), nor for its comprehensive coverage of the city, not even for its reliable service.
No, I want to praise the London bus for something quite different . . . for its therapeutic value.

I'm sure you'd agree that, unlike the tube, the bus seems to foster old fashioned qualities such as consideration and curiosity. People speak to each other on the bus. Seated side-by-side with a stranger, your attention captured by the activity outside the window, there is a curious sense of intimacy. Strictly speaking, I don't know whether the word 'intimate' could be applied to this story. But it certainly demonstrates the power of bus therapy.

I was feeling tired, slightly irritable and rather frazzled. It had been a demanding week. I'd not the slightest desire to travel to the City, and a profusion of roadworks meant that the journey would take longer than usual. With considerable reluctance, I scrambled aboard the bus and lowered myself into the first available seat.

My mind was far away until it was penetrated by a distinctive aroma. Taking a cautious look sideways, I saw, seated beside me, a small, elderly tramp . . . a very hairy and somewhat aromatic tramp!
Did I look as though I was in need of some conversation?
Perhaps. My fellow traveller, who clearly knew all about bus therapy, was willing to rise to the occasion.
"Do you like buses?" he demanded.
I was a little taken aback. Nonetheless, civility being part of the ethos of bus travel, I assured him that I did.
This reply gave my companion the green light to wax lyrical on a favourite topic. There was little he didn't know about the London bus. He could identify every model and, with one marked exception, thought highly of them all.
The solitary exception was the new Roadmaster, not yet launched on the public, but in the process of being heavily promoted by the Mayor . . . and
clearly well scrutinised by my new friend.
"There's going to be a strike in a fortnight," said the tramp firmly.

I was startled, I'd no idea that a bus strike was in the offing.
"A bus strike?" I queried.
"Not a bus strike," said the tramp dismissively, "I'm going on strike."
I tried not to look surprised.
"I'm going on strike," he continued, "to get rid of the Mayor. Can't stand the fellow. A strike should do the trick."

It didn't seem the moment to enquire how a solitary striking tramp could remove Boris Johnson from office. Instead, I plumped for looking supportive.
A few moments later, arriving at a bus stop, my new-found friend caught sight of another vehicle on a route that he needed to follow.
"That's my bus!" he exclaimed, leaping to his feet.
And, with a jaunty wave, he had gone, leaving nothing behind but an unforgetable memory . . . and a distinctive aroma!

As for me, no longer irritable or frazzled, I sat there chuckling quietly for the rest of the journey.
Do you see what I mean?
As an ideal form of therapy to counter any stress or anxiety, may I recommend the reliable prescription of one London bus per day?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Drought

Have we forgotten how it is to weep,
And taught the very clouds to curb their rain?
Have we anaesthetised all joy and pain
And trapped creation in this arid sleep,
Where dreams are mean and dry-eyed spectres creep
With begging-bowls? If we could weep again,
Could care sufficiently to break the chain
That binds our hearts and offer what we keep
Imprisoned there, would earth recuperate
The mercy in our tears? Would fields that slept
Awake; would fruit and flowers proliferate
And streams make music from the sobs we kept
Held tight in burning throats? Tears consecrate:
Christ looked upon Jerusalem and wept.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scraping off the greasepaint

Do you suffer from an affliction that troubles me? I only realised it recently, but I seem to have a compulsive need to share.
Is there a medical term for this, I wonder? Compulsive-passing-on disorder? Must-share-with-others addiction? Either would fit the bill. Given a memorable story, helpful advice, or just a good joke, my first impulse is to pass it on.
Yes . . . you can guess what's coming. I heard a thought-provoking analogy the other day and it's crying out to be shared.
Have you a spare moment . . . ?

We seem to be living through a time of fast-moving, dramatic change. There are natural disasters, political upheavals, economic stresses . . . I don't think we need to add over-population, climate change and a shortage of
resources, the first three provide more than enough material to occupy our fevered minds. What's more the topic grabbing the day's headlines changes so rapidly that it's hard to discover an up-date on the drama that gripped us yesterday . . . this has now been relegated to the back pages.

Into this foetid atmosphere came the gift of a wonderful analogy. It was offered by Leonard Jacobson, and it most definitely needs to be circulated as widely as possible.

Imagine, we were told, that a film is being made of your life. Imagine that this film is being shown at your local cinema, and that you can wander in and take a seat in the audience. Imagine that you are looking up at the screen and watching all those daily drams being enacted there in front of you. Now, take a step back. Leave that person sitting in the stalls watching the film, and imagine that you are yet another person entering the cinema. You are sitting behind the original 'you' and you are now watching a member of the audience watching the enactment of a story on the screen.

Has this exercise enabled you to step back? Each time we realise that we are observing our lives, we also realise that we cannot be that role. How can you possibly be something or someone that you are watching? How can you be something or someone that you can evaluate and consider? And when the second observer then watches the first observer . . . well, how beautiful detached is that viewpoint? Detached, but not uncaring. In fact, it could be that we can only truly care when we are doing so dispassionately. Involvement provokes opinion . . . emotion . . . taking sides . . . but if you're sitting there in the cinema there are no sides to take. There is a play, a beautifully-written and gripping play, there are also fine actors and a masterly director. But it's a play. The onlooker can step back and occupy another dimension.

Yes, I know. It's all very well to pass on a fine analogy, but am I, personally, capable of putting this advice into practice?
I wish that I were. Nonetheless, there are moments, every now and then . . . when captured, perhaps, by the beauty of a flower, or the song of a bird . . . or when I momentarily pause, forget the past, stop imagining a future, and take a deep breath . . . then I can see the play for what it is, my role for what it is, and, just for a moment, relax in my cinema seat, look around me, and scrape off a little of the accumulated grease-paint!

How about you . . . ?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who needs ducks!

Please . . . don't tell Chloe that I've told you this story. It's one of those confusing and embarrassing stories that happen to cats every now and then. Stories which, from the point of view of the cat, should be discreetly and permanently forgotten.
However, as I know you'd enjoy hearing this tale of an intrepid cat and a pair of even more intrepid ducks . . . very quietly, whilst Chloe is sleeping . . . here goes!

Every spring our garden pond is visited by a pair of mallard ducks. They arrive in the morning, enjoy a peaceful day, and leave in the early evening. This daily routine is repeated for several months until the ducks finally depart, not to be seen again until the following spring.

The other morning Chloe and I were sitting peacefully by the pond when, with a flurry of feathers and a chorus of quacks, the ducks flew down and joined us. Chloe, who had never seen ducks before, couldn't believe her eyes . . . or her good fortune!
Two ducks . . . ? On her pond . . . ?
Deep inside her something stirred. It was the genes of her ancestors, the hunting instincts of the Bengal Tiger.

What was she supposed to do?
She knew perfectly well what she was supposed to do, it was imprinted on her DNA. Under such exciting circumstances, Bengal Cats went hunting! First, her instincts told her, they went into stalking mode, keeping well hidden so as not to startle their prey. Slowly, by these cautious means they got closer and closer, only coming out into the open at the very last moment for the chase . . . and then the attack!

Oh yes, Chloe knew perfectly well what Bengal Cats were supposed to do.

However, as she quickly discovered, it was not quite as simple as her Bengal Tiger ancestors were intent on telling her. The initial problem was the question of actually sighting your prey.
If the cover you chose to hide behind was too bulky . . . well, the ducks could not be seen. If, on the other hand, the cover was too thin . . . then perhaps the ducks could see you . . .?

It was all very baffling for a youthful cat. After several abortive attempts, Chloe decided to forego the initial strategies and move straight to the end-game. After all, it was the end-game that mattered. Crouching down, she wriggled her way to the edge of the pond in full view of the alert and interested ducks.

Poor Chloe, even this plan was foiled.
Perhaps the ducks had a more ancient gene pool? Perhaps their ancestors went back to the benevolent days of The Garden of Eden? Whatever the reason, in reponse to the sight of the advancing Chloe, the ducks lifted their heads in pleasure and started to swim towards her in greeting!

Chloe was dumbfounded. This, she was certain, was not what ducks were supposed to do. Should she join in this general amnesty and reach out for a friendly sniff . . . nose to beak . . . or would her Bengal Tiger ancestors rise up in unison, never to forgive her?

Ancestry proved stronger than amnesty! Studiously looking in every direction other than that of the approaching ducks, a disconcerted Chloe pretended she hadn't seen them.
Ducks . . . what ducks . . . ? She hadn't come into the garden in search of ducks. Backing away from the pond, she made an ignominious retreat and rejoined me, in very chastened mood, on the garden seat.

Perhaps her ancestors had got it wrong . . . perhaps cats and ducks were supposed to be friends . . ? Chloe had only one answer to these baffling questions.
Her Tiger ancestors had lived in a different, more violent era. Why hunt when you had no need to hunt? Far wiser to go indoors for the guaranteed satisfaction of a roast chicken lunch followed by a snooze on the carpet.

A 'thought bubble' above her contented stomach would surely read: "Ducks . . . ? Who needs ducks . . . !"