Observations From A Canal Barge – Life In The Slow Lane

I spent a lovely day yesterday with family and friends cruising along the Bridgewater Canal on a barge we hired for the day. We were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary  (that’s probably another post for another day!) As we sedately glided along on a beautiful July day I couldn’t help notice one or two things.

The first was just how friendly everyone we met was. Whether it was other people on the canal, or walkers on the tow path, everyone wanted to give us a smile and a wave, say hello, and is some instance stop for a longer chat. They weren’t being this friendly because of our wedding anniversary, this was the norm. The strange thing was that if I’d met these same people, on the same day, away from the canal tow path, say in the busy street nearby, they would have totally ignored me. To be honest I would probably have totally ignored them as well. What was it that was making everyone so friendly?

I wonder if it was the pace of life. Nobody on that canal was in a hurry. The people on the tow path were out for a leisurely stroll in the sunshine. The barges can only go slow, their top speed is slow! The maximum speed limit on the canal is 4mph and nobody ever does anywhere near that. You can quite comfortably be on a moving barge and have a pleasant conversation with someone walking along the tow path. The only semblance of speed we saw all day was the occasional cyclist who sped past us and disappeared over the horizon.

It reminded me of a great book I read some years ago called ‘In Praise of Slow’ by Carl Honore, well worth a read. In his introduction he says:

The problem is that our love of speed, our obsession with doing more and more in less and less time, has gone too far; it has turned into an addiction, a kind of idolatry. Even when speed starts to backfire, we invoke the go-faster gospel. Falling behind at work? Get a quicker Internet connection, No time for that novel you got at Christmas? Learn to speed-read. Diet not working? Try liposuction. Too busy to cook? Buy a microwave. And yet some things cannot, should not, be sped up. They take time; they need slowness.When you accelerate things that should not be accelerated, when you forget how to slow down, there is a price to pay.

If you would like to watch and listen to Carl Honore expanding this idea try watching this 20 minute TED video called ‘Carl Honore Praises Slowness’. What my day of slowness yesterday taught me was that there is a lot to be said for a maximum speed of 4mph.

Posted in Life, Modern Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Observations From A Coffee Shop – The Dysfunctional Family

I have neglected this blog for over two months now, time to make amends! My excuse, if I needed one, was that I’ve spent all my time establishing my short stories blog. You might be wondering why I should choose today, almost two months to the day since my last post, to return to this blog? You wouldn’t be alone, I’m also trying to work it out. It all started this morning at the coffee shop …………..

As is my habit now on a Friday morning I was sat in the local coffee establishment, whiling away a couple of hours. My notebook was open in front of me just waiting for the latest short story to leap from my pen, but nothing happened, not one single decent, or even half decent, idea entered my head. I then remember reading somewhere that if this should happen you just need to write, it doesn’t matter what, just write, any gibberish will do. I had nothing to lose so I started writing.

Instead of a wonderful idea for a story emerging I found myself thinking about this blog. I began questioning myself, on paper, as to why I had abandoned it and I couldn’t come up with any good answers. I could conjure up lots of excuses, but no good reasons for stopping. At the same time I was watching people coming and going and noticed the typical dysfunctional middle class family, mum, dad and three toddlers under school age. That’s when I had the idea of writing posts for this blog under the title ‘Observations From A Coffee Shop’

Let me tell you about this family, but first let me put my ‘grumpy old man’ hat on. Mum and dad stood outside the coffee shop chatting to friends oblivious to the fact that their toddlers were running riot, in and out of the coffee shop, in between tables and under the feet of busy staff. Everybody looked and just smiled. Then mum comes in to order drinks while two of the little ones play with the heavy glass front door and letterbox. We observers (the older ones at least) know that there is going to be an accident and we just smile. Mum is ordering drinks and talking on her mobile at the same time, having completely forgotten that she’s got children. Meanwhile dad is sat at one of the tables outside merrily changing the youngest child’s nappy, holding him up by his ankles to wipe his bum, while nearby coffee drinkers try not to let it put them off their slice of carrot cake.

Then the inevitable happens, the letterbox has its revenge and bites the fingers of one of the toddlers. The peace and quiet is shattered by a high-pitched wailing as the child lays prostrate across the doorway. Dad is too busy trying to decide where to put the dirty nappy and mum still hasn’t noticed that it is her child crying. When she does she picks him up, hugs him and mutters something about dangerous doors being a hazard for young children.

As peace returns I feel inclined to go across to my dysfunctional middle class family and thank them, not for the fact that they’ve no idea about bringing up children, but for the fact that they have inspired me to take up this blog again.

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Finger Painting

As a child did you ever do any finger painting. I used to love it. The end results were never much good (though my mum thought that they were brilliant!) but the mess I was allowed to make was great. This video gives a whole new meaning to ‘finger painting’. It is a wonderful example of how the latest technology can be used to create some brilliant art work. This is by an artist called David Kassan using the Brushes app on an iPad. Apparently it took about three hours.

Another great artist, David Hockney has been creating such work, first on his iPhone and more recently on his iPad. Here are some comments he made about the art he was painting on his iPhone:

People from the village come up to me and tease me, ‘We hear you’ve started drawing on your telephone.’ And I tell them, ‘Well, no, actually, it just occasionally I speak on my sketch pad.’ Who would ever have thought that the telephone would bring back drawing. I like to draw flowers by hand on the iPhone and send them out to friends so that they get fresh flowers. And my flowers last! They never die!

What a thought – being sent an original David Hockney on your iPhone! My favourite quote is,

I have got an iPad, what a joy! Van Gogh would have loved it, and he could have written his letters on it as well.

While David Hockney and other creative people are embracing technology, our educational leaders are still debating its place in our schools, still debating whether or not it promotes learning. While artists use their mobile phones to create works of art our schools are banning them! Why are we getting it so wrong!

Posted in Life, Modern Life | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Art Of Blogging

Trying to maintain more than one blog is like juggling a number of plates in the air, you only need to take your eye of one of them for a short time and it comes crashing to the ground. Up to now I have been posting on three different blogs – 21st Century Learning (which I have just put into hibernation!), this one and Short Stories. That would all be fine if I wasn’t so vain!

My problem is that every day when I look at my blogs I do two things. First I check to see if I’ve had any comments and if so I try to comment back, secondly I check the stats! I like to keep an eye on the number of views that I’ve had in any one day. My problem is that I feel guilty when the views per day drop – it’s as if I’ve taken my eye of the spinning plate. In recent weeks I have been posting a lot of short stories on to my Short Stories blog and the views have been steadily rising. I’ve not posted on this blog for about a week and the views have plummeted.

The answer, I know, is obvious – if I want both blogs to be successful then I need to be posting on both on a regular basis. I wonder how often ‘regular’ should be? I thought that maybe a post a day would be ideal, but on reflection I wonder if this is too often? Is too often too much and possible likely to put readers off? I have decided that I’m going to try 3 or 4 posts a week on each blog and see how that goes. Wish me luck.

Finally a word about comments. I sometimes wonder why, if I’ve had 30+ views in a day, very few of these visitors add a comment. I know that the obvious answer is that people don’t comment because they don’t appreciate/like what I’ve posted. On the other hand I know people who read blogs, enjoy them but don’t comment because they are not sure what to say. I spoke to another new blogger recently who told me that she enjoyed the comments that she was getting but didn’t think she had to reply. Of course she doesn’t have to but I have found that it’s a great way to develop links and dialogue with other bloggers.



Posted in Time, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

Where’s My Dictionary?

In my last post I wrote about the fact that I seem to be blessed with lots of ideas at the moment for writing different stories. Many of my ideas come from seeds taken from other stories or ideas that I read about from the wonderful blogs that are out there. The trouble is that the more I write the more I seem to doubt any ability that I might have.

One of the problems is reading other people’s work and then beginning to wonder if your own work needs to be more flowery. I sometimes wonder whether or not I should be using bigger words! Then I read Stephen King’s book – ‘On Writing’ – a great read. He comes up with a number of heartening ideas, such as:

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.

What a great thought – being ashamed of short words! I think that might be my problem. When you think about it it makes sense – when we talk to one another our purpose is to get some sort of message across, rarely are you trying to score points with the other person, trying to see who can come up with the most complicated words. Stephen King goes on to say:

Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word – of course you will, there’s always another word – but it probably wont be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean.

One of the reasons that I keep going back to this book is because it makes me feel much more comfortable with my own writing. Whenever I write a story, however long or short (more recently they have mainly been short!) I feel that I am trying to tell a story. I try to use words that I would if I was actually telling the story. It would be quite easy to draft out a story then grab a thesaurus and change as many words as possible. The problem is that it would then cease to be my words. It would be a story written by a thesaurus!

I will leave you with this idea:

Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story ….. to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all.

I think that I will put back on the shelf the dictionary that I have just dusted off. Instead I will stick with the words that I think best tell the story I have written down.

Posted in Short Stories, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Had Any Good Ideas Lately?

Have you ever stopped to think about where your ideas come from? For some reason I seem to have hit a period where I’m doing quite a bit of writing and it got me wondering just where my ideas are coming from. Why are the ideas that I’m getting at the moment flowing  so readily when next week the well could suddenly dry up? In my case I think that there might be a few reasons which I will share with you:

  1. I seem, at last, to be getting into some sort of writing routine where I am doing some writing every day. I wonder, is this because of the routine or because I’ve so many ideas at the moment I needed to create a routine?
  2. The weather is picking up, so I’m getting out of the house more – either trips to the coffee shop or spending more time in my ‘Studio’ – both places that almost make me write.
  3. I’m more aware of the things that are the beginnings of themes or ideas. For example, yesterday I read a poem from a fellow blogger which immediately made me think of one of my 140 character stories, or I’ve just seen a book lying on a table indoors entitled ‘How To Kill Your Husband’ and immediately I thought of another 140 character story. (Incidentally I do need to ask my wife what prompted her to borrow that book from the library!)
  4. I found, quite by accident, an interesting site called ‘A Word With You Press’. Their February contest was intriguing and again I felt almost obliged to put pen to paper.
  5. Following a link for someone who had commented on a blog that I follow I found someone whose blog is full of some tremendous photos – Mystafied. After looking at his latest post with a great photo of a spider and its web I’m again wanting to write a short story.
  6. Feedback from people who read some of my stories is great for the ego but, more importantly, it makes you realise that you have an audience, someone to write for. To me writing is just another form of story-telling and all good stories need to be listened to.
  7. I’m actually using Twitter much more than I’ve ever done in the past. The main reason for this is again linked to the 140 character stories I am writing and it’s great to read the work of others. I’ve also come across hash tags like #amwriting and #amblogging – more sources of inspiration.

So that’s what’s working for me at the moment. What about you? Where do you get your ideas from? I would love to know, just in case my present sources run dry!

The photo is from Flickr – by David Restivo (Great isn’t it.)

Posted in Self-Help, Short Stories, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Dribbles, Drabbles or Droubbles?

Those of you that visit my other blog ‘Short Stories’ will know that I have recently become addicted to writing very short stories of just 140 characters (or less.) Just as I was getting used to this new, or at least new to me, form of story writing I go and discover ‘drabbles’. It’s entirely my own fault. I read about these in a writing magazine and couldn’t help but go to my computer and google ‘drabbles’, I don’t think life will ever be the same again!


For those of you that don’t know, drabbles are short stories of exactly 100 words. There seems to be some confusion as to where the term originated. It appears to have links to Birmingham University’s SF Society, the British author Phil Drabble and a Monty Python sketch. Check out the Drabble Project, you will see that some well-known authors have dabbled with drabbles (sorry about that.) At this point I should have been contented, turned off the computer and gone off and written a drabble or two, instead I continued to search and found ‘dribbles’ and ‘droubbles’!

In a way the names speak for themselves – dribbles are short stories of exactly 50 words and droubbles are short stories of exactly 200 words. Some might say that this is not story writing in its purest sense but I would disagree. For me writing is all about being able to tell a story – how long or short the ‘telling’ is is irrelevant, what really counts is what your audience think. Do the people reading your story enjoy it, does it move them in some way, do they want you to ‘tell’ them more stories? One of the most famous short stories that I have come across is by Ernest Hemmingway who, apparently, was challenged to write a story of just six words, he came up with this:

For sale:baby shoes, never worn.

To me that evokes all kinds of thoughts and questions and is extremely clever. Others may argue that it is impossible to tell a story in just six words. What do you think? Anyway I’m now off to see if I can write a dribble or a drabble or even a droubble – watch this space.

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments