Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Confetti for the brain. A little bit of history regarding a use for holes and a couple of quotes.

Confetti - noun: small pieces of coloured paper thrown over a bride and groom following their marriage ceremony. Also the bane of church yards and wedding venues - who wants to exit church after their favourite spinster aunt's funeral and slip on the papier mâché mush of last weekend's weddings, or step, in your wedding gown, onto a pink spattered step when your colour theme is lilac?

Confetti - derived from the Latin confectum, meaning something prepared. Which suggests that there is something missing from the traditional wedding rhyme 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue ... something prepared.' How about something shared ... declared ... or ensnared??

Nature's confetti is all over the ground at this time of year -

The garden, footpaths, and pavements are covered in blossom snow. And, when he falls asleep beneath the apple tree, it speckles Four-legged-friend's black coat.

The confetti we know today - bits of bio-degradable (church and venue friendly) coloured paper or flower petals or died flowers - replaced the seeds or rice which were showered over the happy couple in the past. These were thrown as a blessing and sign of fertility but like hail-stones, rice and seeds hurt and pricked the skin. I guess the seeds presented another, longer lasting headache to those charged with overseeing the upkeep of church yard gardens. I guess also that which seeds were chosen might conceal a hidden message for the wedded couple - lily seeds, harbingers of funerals; blackthorn of impending death; orchids for love, friendship and fertility; morning glory for peace and happiness. You could get quite schemingly and secretly poetic with your intended message and no one would know until months later.

The first paper confetti was produced in Milan, in 1875; the invention of a textile manufacturer, called Enrico Manglini. He produced silk and housed his silk worms in hole-y paper. Being an inventive type and one to seize an opportunity to avoid waste, he looked around for something to do with the bits of hole and noticed that the discs of paper - the holes - created a snow-storm when thrown into the air. Why did he throw them? Perhaps, at first, he didn't; perhaps he observed his factory workers throwing the holes from the prepared paper sheets of hole-y silk-worm-hotels. This snow-storm became the confetti that replaced the sugared coriander seeds or coriandoli that had, prior to Manglini's papery snow, been thrown at performers in the Milan carnival. I should think they were very grateful to him. Bits of paper wriggling down between you and your clothes would be far less uncomfortable and less sticky, than sharp coriander seeds and less likely to attract mice to you discarded clothing.

Confetti as metaphor: I was discussing books at the weekend and described my teenage reading of John Buchan as confetti for the brain. I know - I'm not entirely sure what I meant either. Something along the lines of trifling, entertaining, unchallenging, enjoyable, inspiring and unthreatening - a pleasant stroll through bright and lightly literary fare.
My brain confetti was swiftly drenched as I leapt from Buchan to Tolstoy and Turganev and Nabokov and found their Russians too serious for paper holes.

Confetti is fun. It is beautiful and imbued with love and happiness. And it gives inspiration to others:

Ray Bradbury said 'I'm interested in having fun with ideas, throwing them up in the air like confetti and then running under them.'

John Updike (much rearranged and condensed) wrote 'to distribute ... one's memories and fantasies ... as ... dark marks on paper ... as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind ... is surely a great privilege.'

Confetti - topical: will Meghan and Harry have some; what will it be (I'm guessing petals ... or, if they're feeling mischievous, bubbles)

Confetti - topical: the trees are full of it

Showers of butterflies can also mimic confetti; even one dances lightly through the air, floating much like a disc of paper before flitting back to a flower

Friday, 13 April 2018

If I put up my hand

If I put my hand up,
if I try to have my say,
will anybody listen? 

If I tread softly in a wood of silver trees
and whisper susurrations;
snippets sparsely spoken from my soul -
my supplications rising in the warming breeze,
will my words rustle any of the paper leaves
and stop them falling?

falling to our precious fragile earth.

Fragile is our world.
Fragile our grasp of what - it - is.
One world. Precious. And us,
holding on,
mere atoms in a surging sea of selfish, greedy strife.
Fragile is our hold, our will, our voice. Our life.

To right a wrong with words
is right.
To hit back with fury risks a monster
roused. Stirred to act; tit for tat.

Tit for tat.

Tit for tat.
An eye for an eye.
Think on that.

If I put up my hand
and cry. And cry. Will it stay
the will of leaders who capitulate and bluster
and risk throwing our lives away.

Let us not forget.
World Peace - that illuminated icon,
precarious as a glass balanced
on some far away, razor-edged horizon.

That hard-fought dream of peace.
Hard-fought on fields in France.
Hard-fought in dessert sands.
Hard-fought on sea,
in sky and mountain lands.
Hard-fought. Hard-fought.

Hard. But not impossible to shatter.

Let History speak. I am one. I am weak.
Yet words are not. Words have power;
more power than guns or bombs. Or tears.
Words create change.
Words can. With words we can survive.
Give words a chance.


Give words a chance.

If I put up my hand,
will anyone hear my words?

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Walking and thinking. A meander, some quotes and lunch.

I own dogs - Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins. 

I own dogs and therefore I walk. I walk the dogs. And I walk me, obviously.

Learning how to walk is one of the milestones on our journey from infancy to adulthood. So ordinary. So fundamental. So universally ... well, ... useful.
We walk to the sink to brush our teeth. We walk to the kettle to pour a hot drink. We walk to fall into the arms of those we love. We walk to work. We walk to the cinema. 
We walk to .... 

We don't always have to walk to do or achieve something. 

We can walk aimlessly. In Old Scots this would be daundering, as in 'I go out for a wee daunder wi' my dugs.' Like this -

Walk - definition, (mostly) from online OED: verb - to move at a regular pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, while never having both or all feet off the ground at the same time (that would be a jump!)

In the English language, we have lots of words (... again, mostly from the OED) that mean walk - stroll, saunter, stride, stomp, amble, plod, trudge, tramp, trek, march, traipse, roam, shuffle, perambulate. That last is used frequently by the bipeds in my family to avoid the quadrupeds becoming overexcited when asking 'Is it time for a ...' and 'Fancy a ...' and 'Who'd like to come for a ... later?'

Per-am-bul-ate; a secret code word for walk. Or, per from latin, meaning through and ambulare, also  from latin, meaning to walk. So perambulate means through walking. And this is the definition of walks that I like the most. It's not just the act of walking; the useful, (almost) universal, physical, one foot in front of the other purposeful travelling - the get me from a to b or away from c act of walking - but the through-walking perambulate that this walker wants to think on.

Yes, I walk - a target of 13,000 steps a day - every day. Yes, I take it for granted (and I realise the arrogance of that statement and that this discussion excludes all those who for some reason can't walk but stay with me because I think we all - if we can - also go for walks seeking entirely other intentions and outcomes). Yes, I walk for exercise. Yes, I walk because I want to have healthy dogs not dog-food-filled barrels on stick-legs. Yes, I walk because the dog-owning community expects me to. And I walk because this blog is called Walking the Dog and I have to have something to walk about. Hah! There it is ... something to walk about. It's the something to walk about that takes me on a walk far more frequently than the physical need: it is the mental need to walk. To think. To find answers and dreams and stillness and healing and ideas and stories and peace and existence through walking. 

Nietzsche said, 'Only thoughts conceived while walking have value / All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.'

And Hippocrates claimed, 'Walking is a man's best medicine.'

I agree with both. Walking takes us out of our lives. It shows us things that we otherwise pass by without noticing. It gifts us time. 

These pictures were taken on several recent soul-restoring walks (... 'soul-restoring', too much? Not if you consider the spring clean afforded to your head by fresh air, wind in your ears and the cutting beauty of sunlight and blue sky and the new green everywhere at this time of year that assaults your eyes. It's like you've taken the mess inside your head - stacks of half-thoughts and teetering pillars of emotions - to a mind-librarian and come away with catalogued shelves of ideas and a personalised re-written route-map for the future).

Three weeks ago, on a beach in Suffolk -

... 'never doubt the clouds will break' ... Robert Browning; slightly misquoted -

Perambulating affords us time to notice things. Reflections in a boat filled with rain-water

and sun highlighting the white gable edges and the winter-worn colours of beach huts against a back-drop of grey clouds.

'Each time he took a walk he felt as though he were leaving himself behind ... he was able to escape the obligation to think, and this, more than anything else, brought him a measure of peace, a salutary emptiness within ... ' Paul Auster

'Walk neither faster nor slower than your own soul. Because it is your soul that will teach you the usefulness of each step you take.' Paolo Coelho

From Suffolk to Staffordshire and the Dales. More clouds and more head space.

Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins walk in order to walk. And to keep in the company of their two-legged family members. They also walk to sniff and smell and stop at every tussock or gate post or puddle that takes their fancy. Slurry overspill was a particular favourite in the Dales. Like artisanal chocolate poured across the road, apparently.

A dog's rule of walking - shared with a Bear of Little Brain - is that 'It is more fun to walk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?"'

... how close can we get to that sandwich?

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Saunter, dream and sometimes marvel

Sometimes, when I visit an art exhibition, it is enough to spend an hour or so getting lost in the paintings.

Sometimes, the paintings are not to my taste and rather than getting lost in the art, it loses me and I leave feeling that I have walked through a sweetshop and failed to eat any of the sweets.

I have been to art exhibitions where every picture is a wow - Turner, Lowry, the 2017 BP portrait award - and to some where none is - Rauschenberg at Tate Modern. And I have been to some unexpected gems - Ernest Shepherd's illustrations at the Winnie the Pooh exhibition at the V&A and a marine art exhibition in 2016, in a small maritime gallery in Mystic, USA.

Special exhibitions or event exhibitions are expensive and I have devised a private, retrospective is-it-worth-it score. If there is one picture that makes me stop and stare. And stare again. That pauses time. And takes my breath away. If there is one of these - there only needs to be one - then the is-it-worth-it worthiness is confirmed. A good exhibition might have several wow pictures but it takes only one for me to consider my money well spent.

Of course, what is a moment of art-appreciating bliss for me might leave others non-plussed; cold even.
For example, Littlest doesn't get Rothko. I do.
Gerhard Richter (look him up) paints sublime abstract interpretations of music like a woven watery landscape of colourful threads - I love them but I know others who don't.
Van Gogh's iconic blurry, swirling yellow moon in the inky dark, star-pocked sky, of The Starry Night 1889, is all the more astonishing when you understand that it was painted while he was within the Saint-Remy asylum and probably suffering the side effects of digitalis treatment. This perhaps explains the almost child-like brilliance of the painting but it's that garish naivety and the troubled addled mind behind it that half turn me away. It gets a half-wow from me (though The Whitney, NY, where this Van Gogh is housed, was worth it - the self-portrait of Hopper a big, big wow).

Paintings tell stories. And I love stories. The picture an artist produces has a narrative, intrinsic to what he or she is seeing or trying to say. We see what the artist painted. But not necessarily what he or she saw. There is a difference.

Edgar Degas (he of the ballet dancers) said, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."

We might understand the artist's picture but each of us will interpret it with our own ideas; our own stories. We bring all our previous experiences and beliefs and sometimes prejudices to formulate what we see. And what I see is not necessarily what you see. Or what Mrs Blogs, recently widowed and on holiday alone from deepest darkest countryside, sees. Or Jenyfyr, whose parents didn't know how to spell and were puzzled by her decision to leave their drafty yurt and become a legal secretary, sees. Or retired Frank, who wrote the definitive guide to sixteenth century artists' pigments and still receives invitations to speak at universities, sees.  Or Poppy, who sits on the floor and twiddles with the volume on the black box dangling round her neck and has to hold the too-big head phones with her other hand, sees (when she can see past all the knees). We're all different and no interpretation is right - except perhaps one might argue because it makes no sense otherwise, the artist's. Ultimately, the artist's picture is a gift for us to take and do with what we like.

Here are some pictures and their stories that I have recently marvelled at. At risk of being boring - because I'm not sure if I can legally insert images here - I could say shut your eyes and listen and see in your mind's eye but as you're hopefully still reading this and need your eyes for that, it might be better to say 'let me tell you a story' but bear in mind it's my story and if you do see these paintings one day, you might see something entirely different.

1) Modigliani - on at Tate Modern until 2nd April. If you visit, look for The Cellist, painted in 1909. I see a man in a collarless shirt, in a tired apartment and bathed in a warming glow probably from a single candle, with the room behind him in partial shadow. The cello looks a little battered, it's wood slightly mottled, almost bruised in places. But while these observations are pretty and have a weak narrative, the story comes alive in his face. His head is slightly bowed; his face expressionless, unlined, framed by thick dark hair on his head, chin and across his upper lip. Still just a picture. But ... but, but ... Modigliani shuts the cellist's eyes and suddenly the narrative is there - so strong that you almost hear the music. Who is he? What is he thinking? Why does he look so alone? Absolutely intriguing.

2) The Turners at Tate Britain, now and at any time you want to visit. And free. Saunter and dream and marvel at them all. All are incredible. I could lose myself among them for hours; days. However, for this purpose here take one - the one that Littlest flopped down in front of and sat staring at until I dragged her away. My work at encouraging her to enjoy art - well and truly done. A wow moment for me in itself. All the exhibition fees that went before, worth it. Worth it with bells on. The painting? The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, 1817. Huge, striking, dramatic - yes, all of those things but also storytelling at it's very best. Imagine: a doomed, soon to be ruined stone city, stragglers of it's population who failed to flee on the ships that left the port earlier that eventful day, scattered broken belongings on the quayside, a calm estuary reaching out to a distant golden sea and the sun glowing ever nearer to the horizon illuminating the now impassible path to salvation. Look at the huddles of people clinging to each other. Look at the despair on their faces. Imagine the impending, inevitable sacking of their city, their lost hopes and smashed dreams. The sun is setting. Setting like it always does but this setting sun is magnificent and terrible; the last rays of searing light sealing the fate of an abandoned people. Beyond lies darkness and in half-shadow in the right foreground sits a woman, crumpled and clinging to a wall, with her head in her hands. See what I mean by great storytelling? That one hopeless woman in the shadows, beyond the thinning light of the dying sun says to me all that Turner distills into the whole picture. Brilliant.

3) Tissot, at the magnificent Impressionists in London exhibition, at Tate Britain until 7th May. I had not come across Tissot until this exhibition - another that Littlest and I visited at half term (after I had dragged her away from the Turners). The Impressionists were remarkable. This was an exhibition of many wows. Definitely worthy on my is-it-worth-it score. But it introduced me to Tissot and to the finer points (excuse the pun) of dry-point and etchings. And this lifted it high in my worthiness rankings and encouraged me to visit the Desboutin's (more etchings) at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge last week (also very good).
Back to Tissot and specifically Emigrants, drawn in 1878. Littlest had to drag me away from this picture. Imagine a drawing of a mother carrying her infant child; steadying herself because the load she carries is heavy. She is in an elevated position in the centre of the picture because she is about to step down onto the deck of a ship. A weathered old man, perhaps a sailor, reaches up to help her, his face slightly hidden beneath the brim of hat. His clawed hand gripping the ladder hints, in my head, at desperation and neediness - what are his motivations in helping the young woman and is he entirely to be trusted? Above her is a forest of masts and flags and gathering clouds. It's dark and brooding; quite Victor Hugo-esque in it's bleakness. And - here the story stirs - behind the woman, still on land, is an older man and the face of a wondering, curious, confused child. Just the face. From the picture's title, she is an emigrant, as Tissot was, and is leaving somewhere with her baby and small bag of belongings. Is she also leaving the wondering child? What is she fleeing from? Where is she going? Tissot teases us with questions and sends our imaginations spinning off into myriad narratives; little stories that answer some questions and sprout more. Wonderful.

If you have got this far, you either think I'm mad and living in a fantasy world or you agree that flat static pictures are capable of telling incredible stories. Am I alone in thinking that they would lose something if they moved; if the figures were animated, as in the world of Harry Potter?



artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection - The Emigrants

Monday, 22 January 2018

Oh bother ...

I can't believe I've let #WinniethePoohDay pass without posting something about the bear of little brain who is and always has been my favourite literary character. Were I ever cast away on a desert island, the collected tales of Pooh would be the book or books I would choose to have with me.

Alan Alexander Milne created a character who has universal appeal.

Whether we are young or old, in China or Dubai or Greenland or a windy village in a wintry England, we all have Pooh days. Days when we 'stop to think and forget to start again.' And days when we fail to 'pay attention to where we are going and without meaning to get nowhere.' I have those days all the time.

There is Winnie-the-Pooh thinking or philosophy or whatever-you-want-to-call-it in all of us.

For a birthday treat this week, my big children invited me to London. It was one of those 'I'll come down* to London and spend the day with you for your birthday doing whatever yo want to do' that turned into a 'I know it's my birthday but for my birthday treat my brother and I want to take you, our mother, to a surprise treat for you. ** And until we get there we're not telling you where we're going.' Well, we went past all the tube stops that I knew. The stops where I could have made a guess where we might have been going. We strayed into city realms where this country-mouse felt - well, I'm not sure what I felt exactly - I was having such fun simply wondering. And if I felt lost, I knew that I wasn't. Because to misquote Pooh, the place where I was wasn't lost.

When we - in my case narrowly, having avoided being turned into road jam by a taxi that appeared quickly from nowhere - reached our slippery destination (slippery due to the white ceramic-looking tiles on the ground. Outside! In the rain! It made the ground look edgy and bright, and like a head-injury waiting to happen), I still didn't know what we were going to see. I knew now that we were going to see something. I'd seen the excellent Ballenciaga exhibition here last month. But I couldn't remember what else was on.


of course.

Perfection. I can't think of a better treat. I can't think why I didn't cry. I (nearly) always do. Actually I nearly did. Quite a bit closer to the crying side of nearly crying than the nearly side. This is what did it - Christopher Robin saying his prayers:

I read this as a child with a whithper - the little me had a lithp: 'whithper who dare-th, Chrithtopher Robin ith thaying hith prayerth.' Years of elocuthion lessons got rid of the lisp. Almotht.

The exhibition was all about Pooh but more about EH Shepard, the illustrator whose pencil drawings are at the heart of my Winnie the Pooh memories. Somehow he conjured graphite and paper into the stuff of magic - pictures that moved long before Harry Potter had moving photographs

Zoom in on this drawing to properly see the shifting outlines of a bear bouncing - bump! Bump! Bump! - down the stairs. Brilliant!

He was also strikingly good at trees

which is just as well given that the adventures of Pooh take place in the Hundred Acre Wood.

It's difficult sometimes to tease apart the original Milne from the familiar Disney Pooh. I have children and when they were growing up the Heffalump and Tigger Movies were favourites. Unlike some,  I can forgive the American gotten that slips into Tigger's vocabulary but I have an uncomfortable tingle that runs up my spine when the gopher whistles and wheezes his 50s gangster beavery form into the films. He even says 'I'm not in the book y'know.' He shouldn't be in the films.

Oh bother. It's going to be another tomorrow - and another - before I post this. Winnie-the-Pooh Day Plus One  T'woo Three Four ...

I'm sure Pooh would have something to say about this delay. All life is in Pooh after all. Let's see ...

People say it's impossible to do nothing, but I do nothing every day.

Yes, the procrastinating bear. Perhaps, that's why I am so fond of him.

Another quote, that I live by is this

One of the advantages of being disorganised is that one is always having surprising discoveries.

And, finally, this honest, tear-jerking, sentimental quote is sincerely and with all my love for my children

If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever.

up to London or down to London? Does it matter?

** Thank you. Thank you.

***Country Mouse might be hibernating for a week or two while she contemplates writing course applications and what she wants to do when she grows up or grows beyond her current state of perpetual procrastination and mid-life unease. Is there life beyond procrastination? Here's to hoping there is.


Sunday, 14 January 2018

On snoring, barking and (un-)stable geniuses


Snoring - go on; say 'snoring.' And again. And again. Play with the word; roll it around your mouth - sno-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-rrrr-ring.
Try it again.
I defy you to do this without a tiny twitch appearing at the corner of your mouth. A tiny twitch plus a slight wrinkling of the skin at the outer angles of your eyes. Why is snoring funny?
Why, for example, did I find it impossible to discuss snoring yesterday without smiling; in a professional situation where smiling was probably inappropriate? Snoring is funny. In the same way that everything about toilets is funny to a seven year old boy. It makes us smile; childishly. It's something only other people do; isn't it? It's funny! Unless you live with someone who snores. Or you are the snor-ee ... snor-er ... ? ... one who snores ... and live life in a permanent fog of day-time exhaustion.

Snoring is not restricted to humans.

Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins snore: they sprawl in front of the aga paws twitching as they chase a rabbit/fox/pigeon; facial muscles doing an Irish jig; muffled, whimpering barks as they bravely fend off haystacks-that-weren't-there-yesterday. Then, comes the snore and they're awake! And on their feet looking around for the 'Who', who did that! They always stretch after this, as if to say 'I'm fine, me - no I didn't just wake myself up snoring. No no no. I was about to get up anyway. Snoring - pah! Not me.' Or maybe I'm putting words in their mouths. Which would be pointless because they can't speak. They do however bark. Often in the middle of the night.

Which raises the question - is it better to be hauled from the realms of sleep by noisy snoring humans or barking dogs?


Maybe, consider it this way - think about the creators of the noise. The snorer who gets kicked. Or shoved. Or rolled off his back. Or smothered with the nearest pillow. The dogs who are let out. Chase the noisy fox out of the garden. Wake all the neighbours. And then, satisfied with a job well done, go back to bed. The person woken-up either commits a snoring-related murder or by being the owner of the dogs is responsible for waking the local babies, inserting baying hounds into neighbours' nightmares, teasing the cockerel that lives somewhere, and alarming the herd of deer sheltering beyond the fence. Deer have eyes. A whole herd of deer have dozens of them. All brightly still and staring in the torch-light. A sudden sea of eyes that makes the dog owner yelp in alarm.
The only beings that win here are the dogs.

... would I rather be woken by snoring or barking? Barking - every time. Despite the cold and often rain and staring deer eyes, when the dogs come back in, I can return to bed and sleep. Sleep - impossible next to a snorer.

Why am I writing a blog about snoring? Partly because snoring is funny but it also isn't funny and snor-ees need help and sympathy and arnica for the bruises on their legs. But also because I can't be bothered adding my voice to the shithole debate. I am fed up with being outraged. I have outrage fatigue.

Though ... returning to snoring - the dehydrating effect of the caffeine in 12 cans of diet coke a day and a body habitus that is more late-Brando than lithe-Al Pacino hint, perhaps, that the very stable genius snores. I wonder ... Bet that won't be mentioned in his medical report!

One final non-snoring-related point - I think 'stable genius' is an oxymoron. Stable implies a regularity of thought; unwavering, steadfast, concrete. Very unlikely, in fact, to drift off into inspired, out-of-the-box thinking. Stable suggests that the box is rigid, intransigent, hard-line, even mundane. Most geniuses are none of these things - they are unstable, dynamic, restless, quick thinkers who learn from their mistakes. To learn from one's mistakes, of course, would first require the stable genius to recognise and acknowledge them. Trying to lie one's way out of one's mistakes is not the mark of a genius. Unless we're talking evil ones ...

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Brain farts and other absent-minded moments

Fart - definition: do I have to spell this one out? We all know what a fart is.
It's Bertie Baggins emptying the room faster than even he could leap up at the rustle of wrapper and hint of a biscuit. Perhaps it's his passion for all things biscuit-crumby and sticky and generally curled up and slowly decaying that he finds on the kitchen floor or dead in the middle of a field that leads to the efficacy of his room-evacuating talent.

The picture of innocence

Farts are also the bubbles suggesting the early morning swimmers are using some internal combustion engine to propel themselves up the pool and that the changing room toilets are probably best avoided when the swimming session ends.
Farts are universally unpleasant and embarrassing; always and instantly orphaned and totally necessary. We all do them. Yes ... we do; all of us. At all ages; next time you're near a very young baby watch it jump in  surprise when it noisily passes wind.
Fart as flatulence is from the old English feorting but with possible German origins from ferzan or from the Old Norse freta. I have no idea why I should find word derivations interesting but I do (follow Robert Macfarlane on twitter if you also enjoy ancient words and their resurrection).

In English, fart has other meanings, too.

The old fart; the one who knew a cousin of your father's and corners you at a party and spends the evening discussing the relative merits of the different routes he could have taken to get to the party but didn't and wished he had because his journey had been delayed by first a minor accident and then a closed road. And you listen wishing that your father didn't have a cousin and that the minor accident hadn't been so minor and could perhaps have involved some more cars - one in particular - and then you feel guilty and you try to listen. But as your eyes start to wander and settle on the face of the one person you hoped would also have been invited and your head explodes along an unspiralling reel of picture stills - silver sand and squealing gulls; blue sea stretching to a horizon dotted with islands; a hot sun shimmering in the sky; and a warm hand folded into yours - the old fart twitches slightly, and blushes and your nose is suddenly assaulted with a stench of stale cabbage. The old fart has farted.

There is also the fart of foolish, irresponsible things. The fart of farting around. It is naughty and shameful and sometimes illicit. It belongs almost exclusively to teenage boys. And sometimes to an orange-hued adult whose day-care handlers should know better. This older, oranger fart is on a limited-run ticket and racing towards possible impeachment but, like the younger farts farting around, is essentially a time waster; particularly when playing golf. The fart of farting around is silly and disrupts the norm. And, in the case of the orange one, sometimes argues - until he is even oranger in the face or gets someone called Sarah to argue for him while he chain-sips coke in front of the television - that the unprovable is right and the science-based wrong. But as the orange-hued one has just banned - yes! Banned! - the use of the word science-based, along with evidence-based, vulnerable, diversity, transgender and fetus, I guess he is creating his own little world (... getting littler after Alabama) where he and Sarah can continue to fart around and not care about the health of other human beings and human rights and climate and all those boring things that might require reading more than a paragraph and interrupt the next opportunity to tweet narcissistic nonsense. Untrammelled farting around is globally hazardous and must be stopped.

Time to breathe. To count to ten. To gaze upon a nice picture. And remember that the words ridiculous, risible, ludicrous, stupid and impeach have not been banned.

Lastly, there is the fart which is the brain fart. This could be called forgetfulness. It is the disorientation when walking into a room and wondering why you are there. It is turning the radio on to listen to the forecast and realising ten minutes later that despite standing next to it you managed to sip your coffee and eat your porridge but heard absolutely nothing of the impending weather and still don't know if you will need an umbrella. It is describing to a stranger that you write a blog and in the moment of realising that you have shared this personal thing with him, struggle to grasp at any good words to describe it, and instead tell him it's "basically a brain fart." What!? I have never described it thus before. A ramble - yes. A rant - yes, sometimes. A slow meander through some thoughts and comments and happenings in my life - yes, because that is what it is. The dreams of a champion procrastinator - yes, often. But a brain fart? No. No. No.
Littlest frequently has self-confessed brain farts when there is a temporary disconnect between what is in her head and what comes out of her mouth. She has the agile brain of a teenager and sometimes its too-fast agility spills gibberish into the air. My brain no longer possesses that agility. The irony of the words I used is that I stumbled upon them precisely when I was suffering the moment of absent minded panic that we call a brain fart. My brain, if you like, suffered a brain fart and farted out the words "brain fart." Which is not what I wanted to say at all. The bubbles in the think tank of my brain rose to the surface and turned into words. Just not the words I expected.

Why do we suffer brain farts and where do they come from? I didn't really expect to find an answer to this but I did.

Imagine telling your granny at Christmas that you are studying brain farts. After she'd checked the settings on her hearing aids and if bringing up the subject of flatulence hadn't shocked/embarassed/confused her too much or convinced her that you were the liberally raised idiot she had always suspected, you could - if from the team at the university of Notre Dame in Indiana - explain that brain 'f's' are now called "doorway effects." Imagine watching her relax at this euphemistic substitution and wait for her lips to thin again as you proceed to tell her that we all suffer from brain farts. Even grannies.

While it might at first appear surprising that anyone would study brain farts - maybe for an April 1st publication or the Christmas Edition of the BMJ; the only BMJ worth reading cover to cover. Sorry if I've lost you - the BMJ is the British Medical Journal and to prove that doctors can be funny it publishes the whackier research articles from the previous year in its Christmas edition. The brain fart study, featured in the New Scientist (see link below), is not however whacky. It is serious. It looks at what happens in the brain when we forget things or appear absent minded or substitute the wrong name for something or commit a Freudian slip. And it's not just happening in Indiana. There are many teams in many different parts of the world looking into this phenomenon because, as I have indicated already, we all do it.

Studying brain farts leads to a classification of sorts.

There is the walking into a room and wondering why we are there sort, which is common and always peculiarly discombobulating. It can be solved by retracing your steps until the lightbulb comes back on and the thing you had gone to do or fetch is lit up within your consciousness and you can now do it or fetch it as previously planned. This phenomenon is thought to be caused by our brain compartmentalising our surroundings. It copes with creating an image of place inside our heads and there is a temporary blank moment when we walk into a new room when it readjusts. In this moment, we can't process both what we left behind and the reconfiguring of our new surroundings, so we forget why we are there. This is the 'doorway effect.'

At times of extreme stress we can experience a cascade of brain farts. We forget the details that define us; the facts that we previously thought so familiar that we pictured them branded into our conscious self. But no - after an accident or in moments of extreme embarrassment we blank: our address, our phone number, our date of birth evaporate. Our brain, flooded with panic, struggles to retrieve any meaningful memory. Gibberish is what comes out instead - brain fart after brain fart after brain fart. It feels like a nightmare. Like we are watching ourselves implode. This awareness makes the panic worse and as the tide of stress rises, we lose sight of ourselves and in extreme situations the brain fart nose dives into panic attack.

Milder, less distressing, brain fart types are these - calling your children by the wrong name (I do this all the time); seeing a face in the pattern of knots in the wood on the back of a door; calling your teacher/boss/doctor 'mummy'; signing off with kisses in a text to your builder/plumber/bank manager; fixating on a word until it becomes meaningless - the comedian Miranda Hart does this well when she over-repeats pet words until they no longer make any sense.

I suspect I have repeated brain fart rather too often here. Part embarrassment. Part hey-this-is-something-funny-that-also-has-meaning-and-could-be-interesting-and-perhaps-has-a-blog-in-it. And let's face it, I should be wrapping presents; turning several brown bananas into banana bread; hemming a pair of curtains; ordering last minute stocking fillers; writing Christmas cards and taking this pair for a walk

All of which I will go off and do now. And prepare lunch for the friends I had forgotten were coming. Soon!

This is the article in New Scientist on the study of brain farts


And on the subject of flatulent farts, here is Canada, very amusingly punching a hole in the social smoking habit of young Canadians - worth a giggle