12 May 2012

something broken

I wrote this over a month ago. I forgot about it and it just sat there, digitally speaking. So here it is. 

So the microphone on my phone died the day before yesterday. There was no cataclysmic event to signal its passing, just a phone call from a friend who couldn't hear what I was saying. At first I suspected one of the periodic bouts of terrible signal my flat suffers. But then the second call came and went with yet another person screaming "What?!" and "I can't hear you!!" followed by a small explosion of expletives cursing their phone, my phone, the networks and technology in general. I hung up and did much the same. Folks claiming we have replaced god with technology may be on to something - we curse both virulently when we feel they fail us.

My love-hate relationship with technology is such that I hate that I love it. There's a side of me that wishes I had only a landline, never had a Facebook account and thought the biro to be the only writing tool I would ever need. It's not a sense that technology is evil, it isn't, it's just a discomfort with my reliance on it.

And there's no more painful reminder of that reliance than a microphone dying. Or a hard drive failing. The things for which there are no real means of prevention, only measures to make the inevitable less painful.

So on the only day of snow this year, I jumped in the car and drove to Aberdeen and the quietest Apple store I've ever visited. The young genius checked my phone and then took it into the back room, no doubt checking to make sure that I hadn't dropped it in the toilet after hitting it with a sledgehammer. I hadn't, and so he gave me a shiny new iPhone (not a new new iPhone, sadly) and with an update and a login, I had my phone back, minus 2 texts I'd received between my last backup and my replacement. Fairly painless, and I enjoyed driving past the snow-blanketed fields of Angus and Aberdeenshire.

On a run about eight weeks ago, I sprained my right ankle in a fall so bad that the elderly couple I had been attempting to pass heard the crunch of tendons and ligaments as I collapsed. Only in the last week have I been able to run again, and it's been tough going. The weeks intervening, the recovery weeks, drove me slowly crazy with immobility and, most importantly, the sense that my body had failed me. Failed attempts to run again saw me barely able to make it around the block.

Rehabbing included stretching, ice packs and swearing profusely. Then there were the aches and pains that came from elsewhere, because of my limp. Injury begat injury.

I curse my reliance on technology and simultaneously fear its failure. I complain, whine and grumble about an app crashing or a corrupted file. But when I'm the damaged hardware, that's a different story. It throws it all into sharp relief. I'd rather drive to the Apple Store than Ninewells every time. 

10 May 2012

muscle memory

This is always a sore time of year for me. Once, longer ago than I really like to consider, I played shinty for the University of St Andrews.

Shinty, for those who don't know (probably most people), is a sport played mostly in the Highlands and on the Islands of Scotland. It's a stick and ball game, frequently described as field hockey without rules. It does have rules, but not very many. If you get hurt, and lots of people do, it's generally considered to be your own fault. The pitches are huge. Camans (shinty sticks) are made of wood and are wedge shaped at the business end. Shinty balls make a pleasing whistling noise when you hit them hard. It's thought to be a progenitor of both golf and ice hockey.  

I didn't play very well, but I made up for it by drinking hectolitres of beer on their behalf. That's one of the joys of sport in higher education - lack of athletic ability is easily forgiven for drinking prowess.

I'm fitter than I was then. I drink less and smoke zero. Depending on how happy my legs and joints are, I run 28-35 miles a week. And so, the first weekend of May, I look forward to playing in the annual old boys match and sixes tournament in St Andrews. Sixes shinty is much like rugby 7s for five-a-side football, except for that it's 6 players on each team.

It serves as a reunion, a general booze up, and an opportunity to play a huge amount of fun, dangerous, sport. There's also a large number of middle aged men doing a lot of 'back in my day' grumbling, which is always good for a laugh, if you're into that sort of thing. Most folks aren't. 

What it also serves as, is a reminder of just how much the years and the mileage take their toll. By the end of the two days, my joints, bones and muscles shrieked in symphonic discord. Any part of my body left untouched by the sport was amply shattered by the colossal hangover. This year was tamer than some. There were no fights and nobody set their rental car on fire. But it left its mark nonetheless.

And so, battered by attempts to recapture the remains of my youth, this week has been spent in pursuit of my future. Job-hunting and book-writing have already polished away most of the memories of pain, discomfort and aches. I know I had them, but I don't really feel them anymore. Writing about them now seems dishonest; memories that actually linger to touch are those of fondness for old friends, the unmatchable deliciousness of the first pint after a day's sport and the hope that it's not a whole year before we all meet up again.

If it is a year, though, no doubt I'll dive right in with both the shinty and the beer, the joy of reunion blocking out entirely the memories of aches and realisation of age. My muscle memory is short, and quite selective. It's quite happy to forget the pain.

08 May 2012

music in a library

A few weeks ago I met with an old friend. She's a musician, and a bloody good one. She's also successful, which means her time is somewhat scarce and catch-ups are usually a juggling act of multi-tasking, rather than a relaxed pint or cuppa. On this occasion I sat in on an interview and an acoustic session for a podcast. The session took place in an ancient library; the sort with high ceilings and a balcony. On the windowsills sat busts of great thinkers. Islands of wooden bookshelves created a grid of words. I found a seat at a desk placed near a section of ancient Hebrew texts. I switched my phone off and sat as comfortably as possible, willing my entire being to be quiet. It's so much easier when surrounded by books. The instinct to soften all noise in their presence is one of humanity's more civilising traits. A warm silence results, even in a cold old library. 

Two cameramen and a sound engineer spoke softly, readying everything. The countdown switched from vocals to hand gestures and my friend plucked and strummed and sang. The sound was soft and warm, even when the songs were sad. The music bounced off the books and this temple of words and silence changed and filled with harmonies. The quiet retreated for each song and filled the room between them.

I sat in awed silence, moved by the music in the library. 

When it was over, she packed her guitar with little noise and greeted the next band with a hushed smile. The silence took the room again. The music was only borrowing it.