What the actual f**k do any of the things in the title have in common, you may ask yourself as you dive into my latest cauldron of words. Read on curious minds, for I shall tell you a tale of how they fit together as neatly as jigsaw pieces. If this was a film, I’d do my best mysterious David Blaine face and some kind of grand, magic wavey-type gesture. All very tongue in cheek of course. I love being silly and making people laugh.
I also like a good rant, in case you hadn’t noticed. Manufactured music is a particular hatred of mine, as many of my long suffering friends know. I am a self confessed music snob. I spend hours on nerdy music forums discussing the finer points of every second of every track on every album of my favourite bands. Utterly boring to some, but I take great delight in meeting someone with the same passion for music as I, instead of beginning to talk in my overly enthusiastic manner, only to trail off embarrassed and disappointed when I see their eyes begin glaze over and I realise they have no idea what I am talking about. I know being a music snob is really wanky and hipsterish, but I cannot abide shite music. Listening to it makes me feel physically ill.
Everyone is entitled to their personal tastes, yes, I am not disputing that, but after having studied such topics at university, I now have screeds of evidence to back up my strong opinions and hatred of all things manufactured. All I need now is someone to intently listen to my rants – preferably for hours. I am not kidding.
IMNSHO (In my not so humble opinion to those that ain’t down wit de kidz) there are two types of art – art that has been made purely to make money, and art that someone has made because they needed to and have poured a piece of their soul into. There is a universe of difference between the two. I’m using the term ‘art’ here to cover a multitude of cultural activities, music, sculpture, painting, sewing, poetry, light installations, plays, novels, furniture making, graffiti, knitting and any other creative pastimes.
Theodor Adorno calls it ‘The Grain’ an immeasurable something that makes one individual stand out from the rest. Technical ability is all very well, but for me, pouring your soul into your art is just what you do, almost like anything else is lies, or cheating in some way. I always wanted to carry out some kind of experiment where people with commercial tastes were introduced to a wider selection of music for a set period of time to see if their tastes changed with a little musical education, but my academic studies didn’t stretch that far, so I had to settle for a feminist tirade, a compare and contrast on PJ Harvey and Cheryl Cole (or whatever her stupid name is now) and how they present themselves in the media.
Anyhoo, I am getting a little sidetracked here. Try as I might, mere words doth not accurately express my loathing for terrible music. I am also a hater of exercise, largely due to being a lazy sod. However, my distaste for feeling like I am going to have a heart attack and keel over brown bread every time I climb a flight of stairs was beginning to outweigh (did you see what I did there pun-fans?) my love of laziness. I have been making small but effective changes over the past few months, cutting out sugar, making healthier choices, walking more, starting tai chi, and attending a block of nutrition classes. I get bored very easily and want to try a few new things to keep me active during the winter, as I don’t want to undo all the positive action I have taken so far. I’m in this for the long haul.
Rather than being closed minded and judging everything on old experiences, I decided to accept an invite to try a class called ‘Fitstep’. I went with an open mind and a healthy attitude. I left with a strong conviction never to put myself through such a harrowing experience again. It isn’t that the class was shit, I want to make that absolutely clear. The place wasn’t wall to wall gym bunnies in full make up and regalia, it was a relaxed, mixed age/ability/shape class, welcoming and not intimidating at all, although I was a bit self conscious and scared, but that was purely my stuff – this was a completely new thing for me and I was in the terror zone.
There were two main problems. I’m not professing to be a great dancer. Anyone that knows me, knows that when I go out dancing, I find a corner, close my eyes and generally jump about like a neep in it. The music moves ME, I do not move to the music – this is my dance philosophy, which ties in neatly with my theories about music feeding your spirit/soul. When I am dancing, my Higher Power or God or whatever you choose to call it (for me it is the universe, which I recently discovered has been labelled Pantheism) is speaking to me through the music, and I am tuning my spirit (or soul) into that message and answering by dancing. I have had some of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life at gigs and festivals through this connection with music. It is something I feel rather than just believe.
So here I am in this class, emanating waves of self-obsession, feeling so uncomfortable that I can’t even bring myself to take off my hoodie. I try in vain to make my feet move in the way that the tutor is trying to explain to me, but my soul/spirit/essence wants to freestyle and do its own thang. I feel embarrassed and stupid because I keep getting things wrong, but I manage to laugh at myself and accept it as a bit of fun. That was problem number one.
The second problem comes back to the music. In terms of music-snobbery-rubbishness, the tracks weren’t actually that bad, until a Take That song comes on and my spirit recoils, whilst my limbs begin to refuse to move anywhere but out the door to escape the horror. As I gasp ‘Eewww gads, is that a take that song?’ and can feel real bile rising in my gullet, I am informed ‘Naw, that’s Gary Barlow’ by the lady next to me in a manner that was clearly meant to be acceptable AND make me feel better (can you guess it did neither?). My grimace of disgust continued to adorn my coupon until the dreadful ‘song’ finally ended. I could not wait to get out of there, thank God it was only a half hour class. Everyone else seemed to enjoy themselves. It was kind of like an aerobic dirty dancing lesson minus any decent songs and Patrick Swayze. Definitely NOT my bag, baby.
I am killing myself with these puns. Okay, I will stop now. I know it is a terrible thing to be your own favourite comedian.
The discussion on alternatives to Fitstep in the car on the way home was an intriguing one, which covered going out to dance like a mentalist for exercise (which I do at gigs, but going to a gig every night would be a geographical and financial challenge) but both options we came up with were ruled out by shit music (ordinary clubs) and ming mongs (ordinary clubs and dancey places – ming mongs are very inebriated and/or wasted individuals). Further options included building our own nightclub in the back garden, attending even more gigs than we currently do (I’m all in favour of this, just need to find the moolah) and boxercise. It was a great conversation.
I’m not allowing the experience to put me off trying any more new things. I am still open and willing, because it is the only way that I will find an array of things that I like. I love swimming and am going to local aqua aerobics classes, which I tried and loved when I was on holiday. I am power walking and taking the stairs instead of lifts at work. Small changes have made a world of difference so far and I want to continue making them. There are a few of us doing the same thing and it is all rather brilliant.
We are influencing one another, which in turn is influencing other parts of our lives. Positivity breeds positivity. Carl Jung calls it ‘synchronicity’ although his concept takes the idea a little further. Take our walk on Sunday for example. I had been on a sleepover at my best friend’s house, watching her son, who has been my best pal since he was weeks old and is now the ripe old age of 10. I have grown up with ‘The Boy’ who I named so because I find it highly amusing and also it fits my ‘gruff love’ stylee of not admitting I am a sap, yet acting completely like one.
Oh gies a break! Progress not perfection, people – away and judge yersel. The Boy also has impeccable taste in music, and so he should. His Dad is a rocker at his core but moonlights as a soul boy, his Mum is an out and out soul girl with a heart made of reggae. His coolest auntie (ahem, here’s mih! *waves*) is open to pretty much anything that isn’t commercial, manufactured or heavily accented (Kate Nash is particularly irritating) and he has a whole host of other wonderful people around him. The Boy is a Fortunate Son (sorry, I can’t help it, honest). This is currently one of our favourite tracks:
Once more, I meander off the written path, but considering the track above, I hope all is forgiven and there are no glazed eyes anywhere. Back to The Boy. Music aside, laughing is also one of our favourite pastimes. We while away the hours watching comedies, YouTube videos or cartoons and giggle away like Beavis and Butthead (but not at the same things they do, obviously!). We have always had the same sense of humour since he was little, which says a lot about me. I adore silliness, surrealism and slapstick, the sillier the better.
For example, The Boy’s homework had to be done on Sunday before we could round off our day. I was to supervise The Boy whilst Mum finished the cleaning, with the strict instructions of ‘I do not want to see ‘My name is Jeff’ written ANYWHERE on this homework’. Cue lots of giggling, capering and me rubbing out ‘My name is Jeff’ several times from the homework jotter.
Our walk earlier had consisted of me trying to keep pace (we were meant to be power-walking after all) but of course The Boy cannot leave me alone for longer than minutes at a time when in my company, which is very endearing and also a vast improvement from only seconds at a younger age. I’d go to the loo, just manage to get the door shut and I’d hear this muffled ‘Jojooooo’ (he may have been trying to push his entire face and head through or underneath the door) and then these tiny little sausage fingers would appear under the door wiggling at me to hurry up. So, after spending less than five minutes with his uncle (my brother – who The Boy also ADORES), I hear him gallop up behind me and demand to know the truth about the giant poisonous toads that his uncle had just told him about. Between me and my brother, we have told The Boy some whoppers in our time and he knows we are winding him up, but he loves the banter. I mean LOVES it.
I lie to The Boy about the toads, gasping ‘Maybe that’s one there!’ and watch as he cautiously creeps over to the plants at the side of the path. My brother sneaks up behind him and shouts ‘Raaaarrrrrggghhh’ and The Boy jumps out of his skin, throwing back his head laughing in glee. He runs over to me and I tell him that maybe the toads aren’t real but the shadow eaters are definitely real. Those glorious green eyes light up with curiosity as he asks ‘What are the shadow eaters?’ So I tell him the short version. There is huge potential for a short story in that, so I’ll save it for another day.
We watch an old man tottering along the path with his walking stick, he is wearing a cap and has his head bent down, concentrating on his next step. I half convince The Boy that he is a zombie about to eat us and he clings to my arm with suspense until the last second, when I am revealed to be a liar. It was a close call though. I tell him that all stories come from real things, even very old stories. I tell him that the idea of zombies comes from rabies and I explain what that is to him. I have no idea if that is true, but it sounds great doesn’t it?
We make up a story together about the man, who owned a dog that turned into a zombie, but he loved the dog so much, he couldn’t bear to kill it, so he kept it locked up in a basement on a chain. Eventually the old man dies and the dog chews through the chain and escapes, free to turn the world into zombies. We decide that if this were true, The Boy would have lasted around 5 seconds in the zombie apocalypse because he forgot to take his zombie survival kit with him.
By now, we are far behind everyone else on the walk, but we are lost in the stories and don’t care. ‘What other kinds of monsters do you think might be in a place like this Jojo?’ The Boy asks intently, and I tell him the story of The Death Bogle.
‘Well, there might be a Death Bogle on a path like this,’ I say. I remember reading a short story years ago in a book of Scottish stories about the Death Bogle of Pitlochry, but I have no idea if what I say to The Boy is a true repetition of that story or just my version of it.
The story went a bit like this: Many hundreds of years ago, when narrow paths like these were the main roads, no cars or buses existed, there were only a few people with horses and carts. Landowners called Lairds ruled the common people with an iron fist and savage cruelty. Each Laird had his own boundaries for the land that they owned and this particular Laird was mean and treated his subjects very badly indeed. All along the borders of this fiefdom, and especially on this path, there were a number of poles knocked into the ground at half mile intervals. From the top of each of these posts, an iron cage hung, no bigger than a small boy, glaring menacingly down at the peasants below.
Inside the cages were the rotting skeletons of thieves, peasants and anyone unfortunate enough to upset the Laird. The offender would be hoisted up the posts by the guards and shoved into the small cages, often breaking bones to get through the tiny door. Skin and flesh would be shred from limbs too large for the small gaps between the bars, but the cage would remain forever locked, for there was no escape from this punishment but death. Occasionally, a kind peasant would end the prisoner’s slow and torturous demise mercifully with a deft stab of his farming tools, but would risk the same fate if caught by any of the Laird’s guards. Usually, only relatives of the captives would take such a risk.
The poor souls who were left to languish suffered excruciating pain as cramps, dehydration and hunger set in. Scavenger birds would circle around them, impatiently waiting for their supper to die. They were replaced only by another victim once the birds had picked the bones clean. This kind of torture rips a soul from its flesh in a profound way, meaning that the spirit cannot move on. These haunted souls were forever trapped in the place of their final pain-racked hours, and they hungered for something to sate their rage. The only fitting thing to appease the tortured spirit was to claim another soul.
None of the locals would travel these roads alone after dark, for the Death Bogle would smell their fear and devour them, along with the night. Wild stories circulated amongst the farmers, eerie tales of sightings of an incandescent glow appearing in the distance, fooling the unsuspecting traveller into thinking it was the torch of an approaching passenger. A single blink of the eye would send the Death Bogle nearer to you, the shape becoming an indistinguishable something oozing rage and evil. Your next blink would be your very last, as the Death Bogle envelopes you in its terrible arms, cutting you off from your own world and dragging you screaming into theirs, cursing you to an eternity of pain, suffering and dreadful loneliness.
No Angela, I did NOT put this much detail into the story I told The Boy. The peer thing widna sleep for a week! Although I did tell him that the shadow eaters dissolve little boys from the skin inwards, so that their brains are the last thing to die. That’s not too far from zombies, really. Ahem. *shuffles away whistling innocently*
So, that was the short version of the story of The Death Bogle. Small life changes led to walking, we invited the Boy along, which in turn gave me ideas for at least six short stories to flesh out, and the walking led me to the Fitstep class. Okay, the class didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, but it inspired me to write this blog, which will in turn spark the writing of my ideas into fully fledged short stories. I am practically overdosing on synchronicity here.
and perhaps for some people it is. For me, synchronicity and spirituality go hand in hand, but you need to be open to it to benefit, they are like yin and yang, two parts of a whole. In a way, we are all Lost Souls, immeasurable somethings searching for our own personal grain, the thing that makes us whole, makes us who we are. Some of us find what we are looking for and connect with kindred spirits who share our loves, losses, joys and sorrows. Some of us aren’t so blessed. Today, I have a grateful heart, but sometimes I still cry for the Lost Souls who are still out there searching, or have passed into another realm.
Sleep well soldier, your fight is over now. Peace out X