Tea Revisited

Looking at this hot mug of lemon tea, I think this is where it’s at. Your head can be such a disarray of scrambled noise that often you forget to actually pay attention to anything that is present. Yet when the smells start turning on the olfactory sensors, when the eyes are bewildered by vapour that creases the air like it were silk, it’s then I remember that I am a sentient being, and that I am feeling. And that I am reflecting. Or more so am able to reflect. What do I know about this tea? I know water-mediated existence is watching water change states of existence. I know that every whisper of steam reflects a million molecules’ energised attempt to escape the cauldron. And transfixed further, the heat and the swirling does not today take me through my own memories, but back through the minds of man at different times. While I know the pensive mind has always revelled in such simple stupor, I can’t help but be perplexed by how differently we will have interpreted the phenomena. Steam; an escaping soul to the old animist, an act of god to the ancient Greek, an illusion constructed by the visual cortex in response to fragmented light reflections, to the 21st century man of learning. And these are not just different explanations, but represent completely different feelings, completely different perceptions, completely different consciousnesses, as varied from one another as successive generations are to each other. The result is a reality so malleable, as to be as ever-changing as the water, which turns from tea to body, and from breath to air.

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50 euros for a slap on the back

In my tutoring career’s twilight, reflection cannot help but breed in the newly cast shadows. Eduardo, who may well be one of my last students, provides a ripe opportunity for pupil mediated self-dissection. He sits at the table, chugging along through rote mathematics. Rote learning, you scoff, is this 1920? No, it’s 2016 (your stupid question deserves a stupid answer). Teaching maths has bestowed upon me a much deeper understanding of the properties of numbers, and this ability is born not only from continual exposure to conversation, but to exercise. So I make the boy exercise. The explanation already presented, my work thus done, I twiddle my thumbs for the best part of an hour, only breaking twiddle to correct the odd error. The end of our time approaches, and I’ve come to realise that this is the moment I make my money; I load Eduardo with compliments, unique to him, unique to what he’s achieved that day, and I mean every one of them. There are many things I fail to do in lessons, but a slap on the back at its end, remains my ever-constant and all important feature. While I still don’t find fault in this method, reflecting as I am now, I will concede that it can however, occasionally, seem (perhaps) a slightly overpaid gesture.

 

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Military Indecision

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In the encirclement of Stalingrad, General Paulus’ 6th army suffered from two critical moments of indecision. Failing to appreciate the gravity of the Russian threat from the west flank, they moved too late. Then, as encirclement seemed inevitable, Paulus took no initiative to attempt a breakthrough before its position solidified. The result of this stagnation was a frozen doom, in their infamous ‘fortress without a roof.’

In my life in the 21st century, the closest feeling I get toward any kind of impending doom is the panic of air travel. That is not to say I fear flying, but more so, I fear not flying:

I have a horrible tendency to miss flights.

Now this defeat can be achieved through a variety of tactical miscalculations.

The most reoccurring blunder occurs in the booking operation, where I aim for the wrong date and fire with the mouse. Additional problems have arisen from logistical errors in the transport division; unexpected sabotage of railways, enemy cars blocking motorway progress… all resulting in decisive delays. The supply chain has also known to falter, where once I arrived for a Ryanair flight without the necessary papers.

However there have been victories too. Recognising the risk of a potential wrong date, a quick call to Easyjet head of commands, India division, allowed rapid recoordination without inflicting any monetary casualty. I have also been known to see danger as it emerges, and have frequently radioed in taxi support at critical moments.

While the tactics may change, as with the victors and losers, a battle it always remains. And a battle changes a man. It makes a general of a civilian; you learn to see the weaknesses,  know your surroundings, detect the scent of risks, and react unnervingly.

Reading Stalingrad made me all the more prepared for the battle I were to face this morning. Online checkin for a 2pm flight did not work at 10am, displaying ‘currently not available, try later or at the booking desk.’ Enemy deception if ever such a thing existed. Danger signals flashed, and thinking to Paulus, I reflected upon the risks of hesitation. A train for the airport left in 10 minutes, without knowing anything for sure, I packed a bag in 30 seconds and ran to the station, leaping through the enemy barrier with great bravery as I boarded the train without any papers, seconds before departure. War means sacrifice, and I hence had to lose a few euros for a taxi between the terminals.

But upon arrival at the Easyjet trench my worst fears were confirmed: overbooking! The hydrogen bomb of the commercial flight sector. My flight had cost me 250 sterling soldiers, and my mission was crucial; retreat was not an option. However the early and immediate action I had shown under pressure proved crucial, as being the first of the overbooked to have arrived, I was instantly provided a ticket. Pure exultation took me as I revelled in the thrill of victory.

Though as with any victory in war, the feelings in its aftermath slowly start to sour. Like those lucky enough to have been flown out in the final luftwaffe flights from Stalingrad, I am left with some kind of survivor complex. Why is it me who can go through? What of the others? As I write now, a man, a woman,  a child, suffers below at the trench, as the Easyjet lady does not yield. They realise the overbooking has encircled them, and that, unaware of the impending doom, they had attempted their breakthrough too late.

As many of you who read this account of battle are friend and family, I can understand that you will be grateful that I have made it.

Some of us shall see each other this evening, and rejoice.

However I hope you will also take a moment to think upon those whose place I took, and those who did not make it, and the families and friends in London that they will not be able to see again (this weekend).

To the fallen, I salute you…

General Lynn-Evans.

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Flatulent

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I divert my eyes to this screen from a fine moleskin book, its opening page entitled ‘an investigation into Sam’s bowels.’

It is my book naturally.

For this last year, you see, has not been all rosy.

That is to say that between frolicking in the rose beds, I have been exposed to their thorns, and these have come in the form of attacks to that most critical of possessions; good health.

In one sentence:

I have been suffering from flatulence.

This perhaps sounds comic, and yes I too shall join you for a laugh (ha, ha) as I recall tutoring lessons spent in great terror, farting away by necessity, only one in every hundred ever smelly, yet never a scapegoat in sight, a nonetheless fiery game of Russian roulette I was made to play.

If it were only embarrassment at stake, I would be hardly troubled. Though it is the pain instead… the constant bloating, the constant cramps, the constant wonder as to what is wrong.

What is wrong? What is wrong? The thought drones, impossible to stop.

You see the problem with pain is that it and thought are products of the same nervous system. Where does the mind end, when its fingers stretch to every inch of the body? A case in point; the octopus contains far more neural mass in its tentacles than brain, so is it these that are conscious?

These days I often wonder if my stomach is conscious.

It makes a continual mental din, over which I can’t think my usual (magnificent) thoughts.

What is wrong? I ache, what is wrong? 

Shhhhh, you ache little, and you distract me much… there is the universe to contemplate!

(a line that seldom works, for our intimate relationship allows him to know I have not much better to ever contemplate)

He does not stop. The Universe is put on hold, life is put on hold, my head in bed is bloated like my belly. My head is my belly.

But slowly, slowly I learn what is wrong. Slowly, slowly I can think of nothing else but food. Patterns emerge, my stomach throws up images of what it no longer wishes to have… we talk, we reconcile, we move forward.

For while I do not wish to hear him anymore, I forget that he is perhaps the one who wishes more not to have to be heard. That congregation of neurons lining the stomach walls does not talk at will… he is a listener… an introvert.

He only talks because he’s been made to talk.

He has been tortured by milk.

Lactose, you old devil. How many stomachs have you awoken consciousness in? How many heads have you made emerge inside their bowels? How many thoughts of the Universe have you halted?

And without you; the miracle… the pain is gone, the talk ceases, my head rises from the bowels, from the book, and back I come, to life, to this screen, to the world. My stomach quietens, conscious thought recedes to the highest organ, and I am free to think as I please.

An ocean of possibility now lays ahead of me, and I see again that endless choice of thoughts that await for humanity to only reach out and grasp.

The brain sparks a thunderstorm, like the lungs take a deep breath…

The surface of the sea ripples before him…

“What shall I have for dinner?”

It asks.

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Hot Memory

Stirring my tea in Cornwall, I pressed the teabag against the mug’s side and old John’s face came into mind from Bristol, who told me once that the teabag should never be pressed so, but lifted in and out. I watched him tell me this by the his kitchen counter and then I watched my tea again on this Cornish table. Sometimes people say time flies, but a particular memory can hit from a past that feels so distant to seem hardly even real, and can be such a rare remembrance as to stun you in realising just how many moments it is that you have lived, while furthermore how many will never be recollected. The distance between that memory and today’s tea is five years, and watching it brew further, I in turn think to my own brewing, and how in old age a surprising memory will knock me back at another tea, all the more surreal for being selected from a far bigger and worse organised catalogue, diving deeper every year, triggered unpredictably by an act that occurs every day, as the hot water swirls and chases after itself, forging a whirlpool of memory.

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