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Posts from the ‘doogie howser’ Category

Before You Die

Looking for a good book to read in order to distract myself from the discomfort of existence, I came across this article, “7 of the best books to read before you die.”

I’ve seen these articles before. “The top ten places to visit before you die.” “Fifty great films to see before you die.”

It struck me that the words “before you die” under these circumstances might be somewhat superfluous. I would be intrigued by an article entitled “7 of the best books to read after you die.”

Titles might include “What Was All That About?” “Letting Go of Past Lives.” “Bardo for Beginners.”

Perhaps these words are simply a helpful reminder that we will indeed, die, and therefore any activities that we wish to undertake must precede this unpredictable event. In which case they are not entirely superfluous – they communicate a sense of urgency, a feeling that life must be lived now.

What are we to do in the face of this slow emergency?

What happens in that strange indefinable period of time between birth and death, where the only thing that is certain is that it must end?

The modern world offers a bewildering choice of ways we could spend our time. This is where lists could be potentially helpful. However the drawback is that they might suggest a discrimination between the meaningful and the mundane.

Navigating a period of extreme grief in which simple tasks are often all I can manage, the feeling of the breeze across my face in the morning often the highlight of my day, this idea makes me sad. Is a life without adventure a waste of time? Must we continually extend ourselves in order to experience depth? Is there a case for just being?

When I was at school we did a lesson involving woodlice. This stuck in my mind because living in a damp old house woodlice were pretty frequent guests. I also liked the word “exoskeleton” and the way this protected them even if you dropped them on the floor.

We put these creatures into what was referred to as a “choice chamber.” There was a dry section and a damp section. And then a control, which had nothing in it at all.

Maybe the control section is like just being. Protecting us from overwhelm. Without that we don’t really have a choice because we just get buffeted from desire to aversion and back. The emptiness of the control provides us with the clarity to discover what kind of louse we really are. Emptiness may not be entirely comfortable, but at least it’s honest.

7 Things To Do Before You Die:

Look at a blackbird
Look at its shiny eye
The way it jerks its head from side to side
And bounces and sings
A tiny clown
Visit the corner shop
Speak to the people there
See the grooves in that man’s face
The way he walks
His cheerful manner
His expression when he thinks no one is watching
Smell the air on an autumn night
Smoky and crystalline
Damp moss and crisp leaves
Bringing in hallowe’en
And the yawn of winter
Touch the fur on a cat’s back
Soothe your fingers with its greasy softness
Feel its sinuous spine
Curling against your hand
Listen to the laughter of an old friend
The familiar chimes of a shared history
Warmth and love
Taste water in a state of thirst
A primal quenching that has no equal
Lay down on the ground under a summer sky
Touch its vastness
Air on skin
Deep space
Know that you are all of these things and more
Ephemeral as dust
Blessed to breathe breath
Even in a crisis
Such as life is


Ostrich Eggheads

I went to a charity quiz last night. Which is a euphemism for drinking too much on an empty stomach. For charity, though. It was hosted by Barry Simmons of TV quiz show Eggheads, who happens to me my friend’s dad.

My team came second, which was pretty cool, although I can’t claim much of the responsibility for that. I did answer one or two things correctly though, including a question in the geography round, of which I was particularly proud, knowing, as I do, bugger all about geography. Except for one obscure fact that happened to come up. Which is that Halfiax, Nova Scotia shares its name with a town in Yorkshire. I’ve waited years for that knowledge to be useful, so it was a glorious moment.

We were a good team and I enjoyed it very much, but I noticed a curious phenomenon which I believe prevented us from taking the top spot. Quite often we would have the correct answer at first, and then choose something else. What held us back was simply lack of confidence.

A typical situation would go something like this. “What’s the largest cell in the animal kingdom?” And someone would say “Ostrich Egg.” We would then spend the next few minutes deliberating the relative merits of this answer, and invariably put down something else. The person who said it didn’t know why they had, and therefore didn’t feel justified in defending it.

The same thing happened with the dumbledore bee, the olympic rings, the number of London Underground lines, and so it went on. Someone would say “I have a feeling it’s this, but I don’t know why.” And then our collective intelligence would undermine the instinct that came before thought, and construct something cleverer, and wrong.

So it led me to thinking about this idea that we already have all the answers. People say that don’t they, when you have big decisions to make. It’s sort of simultaneously reassuring and infuriating.

All this time I spend dramatising and agitating myself over what I believe is a vital quandary, and deep down I already know what’s going on and what I have to do about it. The performance is a distraction because I don’t what to see what’s there and/or I have a feeling that some kind of effort is required. The intelligence that knows the answers is also very good at constructing elaborate ways to ignore them.

I am not going to end on a Doogie Howser moment though, because coming back to the quiz, I wanted to share my favourite question of the night which was: “Only two tube stations contain all five vowels; which are they?” They should put that on wall of the train for people to ponder over while they’re stuck in a tunnel.


After re-reading my last post I notice that I sometimes have a tendency to sound like Doogie Howser, MD. Waxing all philosophical at the end of the episode, accompanied by contemplative synth music. And now I just sound old. Well anyway I’m working on it. The first part, that is. How to make a serious observation without sounding like a precocious fictional character. Because in the end, we’re all just trying to find our own way. A way to make sense of it all. A way to be who we are, without artifice or apology. Agh Jeezus. Help.