A fading hero…

‘Hero’: a person who is admired for their courage,
outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

A few weeks ago, I got to spend an entire weekend with one of my heroes.

He’s a shadow of his former self, but holds on to an incredible memory, and intelligence that dwarves my unparalleled 33 years.

I had to pick my moments for conversation carefully – not at risk of upsetting any kind of balance, but because his old body needs rest. Whilst watching the TV, there were fleeting moments, between dozing, where he burst into life. Regaling tales of growing up, family life, and travelling the world.

He was a proud military man; a marine, in fact. And over the years, his quite meticulous and soldierly nature has softened gracefully, as his hair has greyed, and movement has slowed to a laboured shuffle.

On the first day of my visit, I got a bit of a fright. He didn’t get up. I assumed the whisky and Guinness we shared in the evening past, had helped him with an extra few hours in bed. Sadly not; the short (300 yard) trip to the local pub the night before, had left him quite breathless. I checked on him a couple of times, and brought him coffee – I could tell he was embarrassed and felt like a burden. He slowly started to perk up – but I couldn’t help notice, as I stood in his bedroom, just how small his exhausted body was, as he lay blanket-wrapped in his old bed. In my head, he’s still that fiercely fit and commanding presence; taking me swimming, ski-ing, cycling and walking – across some of the most beautiful parts of Highland Scotland.

Morning turned into afternoon – and he surfaced, very slowly. The body might fade, but the steadfast determination and willingness to put on a brave face, keep calm and carry on, never falters. He apologised – which humbled me; what did he have to be sorry for? Living an honest, courageous and rich 93 years – and getting tired? I welled up when he explained to me that ‘he and his body were just slowly wearing out’.

We had lunch, dinner and breakfast together – his portions paled in comparison to mine, as he can only manage very small amounts; his appetite isn’t what it used to be. But as the weekend and small meals progressed, the banter flowed. We reflected on the way in which the world had changed – harking back to a time where things were simple. And better.

I love hearing about his past – he’s an incredibly interesting guy. Well-travelled, very well educated – and from that, has nothing but great stories and wisdom to share. Each time I opened my mouth, I worried that my words were insignificant compared to his. But his eyes widened, and ears twitched when I told him about my life and world. It’s so different to his. In a really good way. Two diverse generations colliding and sharing their knowledge, like trans-continental tribes meeting for the first time, and being equally impressed by each other’s unusual wares.

It was hard to hear that he doesn’t get out as much anymore. And that many of his close friends have passed away. Yet, I smile when I find out that he still lives a reasonably enviable social life; taking himself down to his local on a Sunday most week for the roast dinner, and keeping in touch with his old business partner at weekly lunches.

When I left him, it was with a feeling of absolute joy, and genuine sadness. He’s a gem of a human – probably in the top 0.0001% of bestest people in the entire world. And I got him all to myself for two days. But I did that awful thing people do, as I drove off to his waving hand and huge smile; will he be ok on his own? Are his days in his house (without help) numbered? Will I see him again?

That’s a stupid way to think; I know this. What I was lucky enough to get my hands on that weekend, was more incredible memories, of time spent with my hero. And unlike younger me, I appreciate these times more than ever – with a wistful respect and gratefulness for being able to spend time in his company.

Grandpa, you’re amazing. I’ve always thought that – and I think it more each time I see you. I know you’re not going to last forever, but I thank my stars for every second I’ve been lucky enough to spend with you – and every precious second to come.

You’re a hero.

x

My killer creativity – five things I believed as a kid

Big thanks to a recent FB article and Channel Four’s ever entertaining, ‘The Secret World of Four/Five/Six Year-olds’ for inspiration with this piece.
When you’re small, you see the world in a very different way. That’s not purely down to your physical size (always staring upwards). It’s because you think in a fundamentally different way.

As a wean*, you’re in a pretty unique position – you don’t know a great deal.

This is a bit of a blessing for two reasons:

  • Firstly – you’re likely protected from, or vaguely unaware of, the bad in this world (though sadly, not all children are quite so lucky). You’re hopefully oblivious to the horrors of war, the tragedy of insidious substance abuse and the ridiculousness of Donald Trump being leader of the free world.
  • Secondly – you get to make your own mind up. And you get to make your own connections. The rules aren’t all written in your head. It’s time to get creative.

Sure, your parents, family, friends, school-chums et al can help guide your understanding of Planet Earth, and all its things, great and small. You’ve also got the information super-highway** – where you can search for all of life’s answers and consume ‘content’ til your heart’s content. But despite these epic knowledge support tools and sources, there will be the odd occasion, where you have to make up your own mind.

I asked a lot of questions as a kid. A lot. Almost drove my parents insane. And they (quite rightly) sometimes took the piss, just to shut me up, by providing answers that were, to say the least, light on the truth. Filling my head with, plausible, yet incorrect facts about our lives, the world and the way things are.

To amplify this – I indeed made my own assumptions about certain things. I was a fairly confident little chap – and when there were gaps in my knowledge or blanks on the page, I’d make shit up. I’d connect what I had in my head, with whatever seemed most likely (to a five year-old). And I’d accept it as truth.

The funny thing is, looking back, I truly believe these were some of the most neurologically interesting and cognitively creative thoughts I’ve ever had.

Here are five of the many things that I thought were true, as a kid:

ONE:

Remember VHS? Man, video was awesome. All that tracking adjustment and rewinding. Good times. At the Smith household, we recorded a lot of TV to video. I guess that’s just what you did in those days – for rainy days, before Netflix and VOD. In my tiny, creative mind, I believed that when you recorded something from TV, it could only be played back once. After it had been watched from the recording, that was it. Gone. Up in a puff of smoke and lost forever. This almost broke my heart circa 1989, when we captured Jim Henson’s magical Labyrinth on tape – and I thought I’d only get to see it again once. I got to work; planning how/when would be the best time to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to see Magic Dance once again (and Bowie’s crotch)… Then mum told me I was being stupid, and it was ours to keep/watch as many times as we wanted. Mind. Blown.

TWO:

Here’s another and one I can thank my dad for. “How do I get hairs on my body, like you, Dad”, four-year-old me asks… “Well son, you’ve got to rub a lot of salt on yourself. Then you pour a big glass of water – and put it next to you. Very slowly, all the wee hairs will start to come out, because they’ll be so thirsty, and desperate for a drink. When they do, you’ve got to CATCH THEM – QUICKLY! And tie each one in a knot – so they can’t escape back in again. And that’s how you get lots of hairs on your body.” Once again, mind blown. Though, I never got round to actually trying this (before I found out the truth), because it seemed like a right hassle. “Who needs hairs!?!”, I thought.

THREE:

Seeing black and white photos of my parents when they were wee, or my grandparents and their families really, really threw me. I thought to myself, “Our world and photos are in colour. But looking back, the old world and photos and movies are in black and white… So, there it is. The world must have been in black and white back then. Of course!” I truly believed that one day someone simply worked out how to ‘turn on the colour’, and hey presto! Realising years later that it was technology (and not our physical existence) that was unable to process colour in the olden days blew my mind once again.

FOUR:

In the late 80s there was a monster living in my house. Genuinely. A big, black one – like a mixture between The Wolfman and a Minotaur. And he was absolutely terrifying. I’ve got my parents to thank for this one too – as they planted the seed, and good lord, watered it daily and let it grow. Every kid has his or her monster story – sometimes they live under the bed, or in the closet. Ours dwelled in the attic, and was known affectionately as ‘The Hairy Monster’. What didn’t help things was dad owning a horrible black/hairy Halloween mask – which he took to wearing on the odd occasion and scaring the absolute piss out of us. I also vaguely remember him having a full-blown ‘fight’ in the loft one night, after he convinced us he could go up there and ‘sort the monster out’. This fucking thing literally haunted my dreams. I can still picture him now (exactly what he looked like in my head). Rather than blowing my mind, growing up to realise he didn’t actually exist, let along live in our house, actually gave me the greatest sensation of relief I’ve ever experienced.

FIVE:

As short-lived as this last belief was, the mind-battle I went through wrestling with the truth on this one still lives with me today. At the end of our garden is a big tenement block (flats). One breezy day, as child, I looked up to the top of the building, only to be horrified to see the building moving. Literally, moving. It looked like it was slowly falling towards me. Panicked, I swiftly retired to the house. Only to return later, and experience the same dizzying (and terrifying) sensation. HOW HAD I NOT NOTICED THIS BUILDING FALLING INTO OUR GARDEN BEFORE!?! After a few anxious days, I eventually quizzed my lovely mother about this horrifying situation – to which she replied, “It’s just the clouds blowing in the sky. It’s called an optical illusion.” Tiny little mind, like the clouds in the sky, blown…

I think these are all examples of creativity at its best.

If you boil it down, ‘being creative’ (which everyone on this planet is absolutely capable of, before someone says “but I’m not creative,”) is about making connections between things***. These connections can be obvious, they can be interesting, and they can be complex, or cathartic, thought provoking, or Machiavellian, you name it. As long as you’re connecting one thing to another, you’re effectively ‘being creative’. Mankind is obsessed with connections. Physical or psychological. It’s scientifically proven that they’re one of the ways we make sense of our broad, and somewhat complex, spectrum of human emotion. We look for them in almost everything we do, day in, day out – probably without ever realising that’s what we’re actually doing****.

And so, my mission (and I urge others to try the same) is to regress a little. When you’re facing a challenge (in work, personal life, or with family/friends) – try a little five-year-old YOU logic. Throw away a bit of what you already know, and make some connections – like you might have done as a kid. Before the world got you all wrapped up in its ways, rules and beliefs.

You might just come up with something pretty cool – like a black and white world, a hairy attic monster or buildings that move by their own accord.

🙂

FOOTNOTES:

*One of my favourite Scots words – meaning ‘children or babies’.

**As it was called on News Round in 1994, before people realised that was a shite name.

***I’ve formed this opinion after working in the creative industry for the last 10 years or so. It’s not new, nor mine – Steve Jobs is at least one dude I admire, who talked about creativity in this sense. Some of the most creative peeps I’ve worked and work with, are those that make these connections with ease. Quite often, the obvious ones, that no-body else is quick enough to get. Old-fashioned lateral thinking, dad would say.

****One of the most fascinating ways we do this is actually with people’s faces. Upon meeting someone new, whose face we’ve not seen before, we’ll immediately start flicking through our mind’s eye records of memorised faces to see who’s they’re most like/most closely connected to (whether the logged entry is someone we know personally, or not). That’s just how we’re wired.

[Headline image credit to the awesome Scott Murphy. Check out his incredible work – http://murphyillustration.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/new-magic-minotaur-younghorn.html?m=1%5D

[Growing, growing]… Grown

It’s really funny how little things can inspire you to get off your arse and do something. Not ‘ha ha funny’, rather, the scary but deeply motivational kind of funny that makes feel like all the planets have aligned for a microsecond.

I don’t think I understood or appreciated the true value of art until now. Wait a minute; I’m not talking about paintings and ballet and opera and antiques – that’s still above my head (for now – one can aspire). I’m talking about something unique and beautifully crafted, that’s unleashed on our hypercritical world to be totally absorbed and cherished.

Or massively pied and forgotten about.

In this case, it was a story. Well, a continuation of a story – and a visually compelling/cherish-able one at that, to say the very least. Nae pies here.

I saw Trainspotting 2 the other night. And it made me want to write. Any rhyming there was entirely unintentional, but hopefully adds some kind of melodic significance to the point.

HOLD ON. Before you switch off, at the prospect of reading another rambling (and slightly late to the box office table) ‘home-schooled critic review*’, hear me out:

The movie works magnificently on a number of levels. Bullet-points are probably the best way to articulate this, so I don’t miss anything (and because attention spans are seriously waning** these days):

  • Trainspotting 2 is a sequel. Bear with me. Nine times out of ten, they’re shite. They normally stumble around a nostalgia that reeks of the desperate little brother/sister*** who couldn’t quite match their shining older sibling’s storytelling ability, but tries nonetheless to re-tell the same fable, lacking any of the originality, excitement and poise. Not T2. Wow. Boyle, Welsh, McGregor et al collectively nailed it. In fact, I was more engaged with this one than the first. Trainspotting, the original, shocked and excited me as an awkward 13 year-old lad. But Trainspotting 2 well and truly perma-scorched itself into the back of my retinas in a way that only a scattering of movies have done in my lifetime. YES, they came close to crossing the ‘don’t try it again just for the sake of it’ line with Renton’s rebooted Choose Life monologue – but, surprisingly, rocked the absolute hell out of it second time around. Better and more brutal than the first – and a very perfect dystopian commentary on our ‘connected’ society (whatever the fuck that means).
  • The soundtrack, IMHO, rocked beyond that of the first movie. It cleverly remixes some of the original movie’s tracks (with enough rosy hue to get you excited), but also introduces a number of other, classic and modern pieces that complement the on-screen savagery, beautifully. I hummed and tapped the choons when I got home that night, and bought the soundtrack on iTunes the very next day – mostly so I could dance round the kitchen during my LSB-w/c cook-off (Lorne Sausage Bagel with cheese – seriously, try it). The album purchase wasn’t part of my Apple Music package and set me back a whopping £10.99, but, I didn’t care. I wanted to re-live it all, again and again. My 18-year-old self would be cringing, not just at the dancing, but the fact I’d PAID for music. Who does that!?! I’ll tell you who, 32-year-old me, with a quiet fear for the now way more powerful, yet strangely invisible internet music police, but also out of sheer admiration and gratitude for this awesome aural amalgamation of beats.
  • It’s entirely an Edinburgh story and film. There’s nowt better than seeing your hometown on the big screen. It fills you with pride. Particularly when you’re reminded of its humble grandeur and volcanic beauty (the Arthur’s Seat scene made me beam).
  • It’s a mental rollercoaster; hurling the full spectrum of emotions at you (some I had never before experienced, like ‘angrow’ – a confusing mixture of anger and sorrow – only made-up words can accurately describe Boyle’s drug-taking scenes). I also haven’t laughed out loud in the cinema for years and the Loyalist pub bit made me guffaw. Ironically brilliant, on a number of levels.
  • The visual effects are ace. Particularly in a day and age where CGI is the norm, and quite often done to death. The first film used some nice yet properly horrifying animated pieces (remember the dead baby on the ceiling?) Well, number two does it just as well for me, with the likes of some lovely wee stop-start camera masterpieces that enhance the banging soundtrack and brilliant narrative.

But I guess this could all be considered insignificant, even trivial when you think about how subjective film can (and always should) be. Movies probably move us in profound ways and move us all in profoundly different ways) because they connect with us, and our lives, on a much more personal and subconscious level.

For me the best takeaway wasn’t actually the music, or the effects, or the ‘ride’. Likewise the most message wasn’t really one of drug abuse, friendship, revenge or extortion. It was growing up. Mic drop. It was kinda rites of passage-type stuff. A nostalgic reflection of what was, and what could be. And how they’re deeply intertwined (whether we like it or not).

My childhood movie memories have been constructed with the solid pillars of 80s coming-of-age classics, and their associated anthropologies. Think The Goonies, Stand by Me, and The Lost Boys.

But there’s one big difference – watching those films as you’re growing up isn’t the same as seeing them when you’re grown up. Cue penny-dropping moment.

Seeing Renton, Sick-boy, Spud and Begbie reminisce about the good times and the bad, forced me to do the same. And despite their inevitable, downward-spiralling and melancholy outcomes, it made me feel really good.

Take a pinch of forgotten pride for your city, some nostalgic warmth and mix with a stark, but strangely reassuring reminder that you’ve ‘grown up’ – and you get a great feeling. So great, that I wanted to share this experience.

I think that’s what makes good art. Something that affects you (and alters your perception of things) on a deeper level. Something that makes you do something. Evidently this works both positively and negatively. I wouldn’t shy away from the fact that on occasion, video nasties (as they were called when I was growing up) can encourage those who’ve lost their way on the path to explore, and act on, the much darker and more dangerous sides of our psyche.

But for me, and hopefully others of the same age & breed, this trip down memory lane (mega pun intended) was surely nothing but a good thing.

Thank you, Trainspotting 2. You’ve woken up something inside me. You’ve helped me realise that I’ve grown up, some things have inexorably changed, but that’s totally cool and life’s kinda what you make of it.

🙂

FOOTNOTES:

*One of those incoherent, and mostly self-righteous social media posts, that vaguely critiques some form of art/content, with the writer’s primary agenda being one of ‘I saw this/tried this/did this before you, so check me out’. All hail the trend-setting fountains of knowledge, who ironically (and annoyingly) struggle between your and you’re. Wankers. And this proves that I’m now totally one too. Fuck.

** Apparently, human attention spans (how long something actually locks our true focus for) are now a whole second behind that of the goldfish – our woeful seven seconds plays deputy to their solid eight. For actual real. I blame banner ads. What were we talking about?

***For the record, my brother and sister aren’t desperate. They’re both rather lovely. And can both tell a jolly good story. But I’m still way better… at everything. Including life.

[Headline image credit to Film4]