Diary (July 16, 2014–September 4, 2018)

September 4, 2018

6.00 am: Did I sleep or not? GA plays havoc with my grasp on reality, Circadian Rhythm, and blood pressure. On the basis of prior experience, I anticipated that the latter would plummet, both today and tomorrow, and, thereafter, return to normal. My days this week are going to be punctuated by periods of rest, as well as bouts of comic one-armed wrestling with jam jars, milk containers, and canned food; one-handed typing and camera-phone operation; cautiously slow shaves; and precarious showers with a plastic bin liner strapped to my arm. As the nerve block injections into my hand began to wear off, I experienced an irritating and unrelievable itch under the bandage and, I suspect, a plaster cast too. (Which would explain the residue of white powder on my fingers.) I’d taken two heavy doses of Ibuprofen and Co-codamol (which exacerbates the experience of perpetual drowsiness), in the hope that these drugs would keep severe discomfort at bay. If not, then, I’d suffer like Paul Atreides with this hand in the Gom Jabbar.

Around 1509, Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) drew a full-length nude self portrait. He’d have been about 38 years of age at the time. It has a remarkable honesty, unselfconsciousness, and vulnerability. There’s no shame, indulgence, or eroticism to be found in its fearfully penetrating vision of frail flesh. He died eighteen years later, at the age of 56. (I’ve outlived him.) In the 1520s, the artist came under of influence of the religious Reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546), and subsequently converted to Protestantism. Around this time, Dürer began to be concerned that he was losing his sight and the freedom of his hand:

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: I wandered around the house in track bottoms, looking like a chav. (With only one hand, negotiating the buttons and belt of slim-fit regular trousers would be … well … a challenge.) My concentration level was sporadic, so I caught up on Instagram tagging, with King Crimson playing in the background. (My elder son and I will be seeing them, again, in November. Note to self: I owe Mr Fripp a letter.):

In my head, I could still sense that my little finger was bent over at 90°. This must be akin to the experience of ‘phantom limbs’, wherein amputees can still mentally visualise and ‘feel’ the absent body part. What had been true was now an illusion. That, in itself, was a proposition worthy of further consideration. The finger appeared to be straight, because I could see it was strapped cosily to the normal finger. But my brain told me the contrary. I believed the truth with one part of mind, but not with another. A curious sensation:

The painkillers gave me chest-rattlingly loud hiccups. (‘Man-up, buddy’, I could imagine my ‘muse’ saying; ‘Some people have nausea, stomach inflammation, and vomiting too, you know’.) True.

After lunch, I rested for a while following a minor ‘wobble’. (The lower blood pressure had kicked in.) The site of the operation had begun to sting. 3.00 pm: Back to tagging. I turned to my scholarly journal, periodically.

7.30 pm: An evening off. My younger son wished to watch The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine (1968). I was all for that. My parents had taken me to see it in Cardiff, when I was nine years of age. It really wasn’t for them. I was mesmerised, though. It remains a remarkable piece of animation. And who could forget the joke about the ‘University of Whales [Wales]‘. Never did suspect that, in later life, I’d be studying and working at the Aberystwyth branch for most of my professional career.

This is the one thousand and last post. The Diary began on July 16, 2014. It has continued, with breaks for feet-finding, holidays, and short periods of respite, for over four years. Initially, its aim was to provide an insight into the day-to-day experience of a university academic. Inevitably, other aspects of my life seeped into the narrative. Academics are only human, after all. My decision to bring this story to a conclusion today is arbitrary, in one sense. One thousand is a large and rounded number. And that many blogs was more than sufficient to the task. I anticipate that another diary will emerge in another place and at another time. (This present Diary will remain readable.) When, and what its form, content, purpose, and regularity will be, and who (if anyone) will be allowed to read it, is as yet undetermined. The events of my life will decide. My thanks to all of you who’ve followed ‘the story so far’ as either dedicated or occasional readers, and for your encouraging comments, wise counsel, good humour, understanding, and sober reflections along the way.

The bed of fallen leaves
that Ophelia laid,
Is drawn away upon the tide.

The box, resealed and bound
within another now,
Is cast down in the teal sea’s drop

The wind blows westerly
across the cloistered park,
Towards the shore where he’d look out.

The sea that heard his heart
recite, his tread and breath,
Retreats and bares the cold shingle.


September 3, 2018

5.30 am: I awoke and readied myself. The last time I visited Neath Port Talbot Hospital, on October 16, 2017, Storm Ophelia was battering Ireland and the western seaboard of Wales. (There is no diary entry for that day, oddly):

I recall taking the train from Aberystwyth to Mid Wales, and being followed by a cloud of dusty amber light. The landscape and sky took on the complexion of a mellow apocalypse. Today, there was only driving rain.

I arrived at the hospital at 9.10 am. The building’s interior looked like the type of shopping mall that you experience between airport security and the flight gates:

The care nurse dealt with me promptly and thoroughly. By 9.30 am, I was in the waiting room biding my time until my call to the ward. My case was fifth on the list of operations. Currently, the surgeon is performing the second of the day. I’m hoping that the procedure, the second on my left little finger, will finally right the problem. This condition is genetic and skips a generation. Likely or not, one of my grandparents had it, and one of my children’s children will get it. It’s a frustrating, but not a life-threatening, illness. I’ve much for which to be grateful. I was glad to be in South Wales again, among reassuringly motherly accents: ‘How are you my love?’ I was surrounded by patients with complaints that weren’t visible. A few appeared to be wearing their partner’s/spouse’s dressing gown. A TV game show bleated-on mindlessly, just out of view. Me, I was googling surgical procedures for a fasciectomy. ‘Yikes!’ The room was soporifically warm:

I met, first, the anaesthetist, who explained the various options with regard to nerve blocks, general anaesthetic, morphine, and their combos. There’re always potential dangers. Both of us were keen to minimise the risk to muscle movement and nerve response after the operation – particularly in view of my ambition to remain a guitar player. And post-op pain management was a serious business too.

I noticed the scar on my knee, which was caused when my penknife slipped while I was whittling at the age of ten years old:

A doctor of no fixed role talked me through the ‘disclaimer’ form at 1.00 pm. The surgeon confirmed my routine, with helpful explanations, fifteen minutes later. By 1.45 pm, I was on my back counting down from 5 to 1, breathing in and out on every count. I got to 3 and … .

3.15 pm: ‘How are you feeling?’, an ‘angel’ asked. I was in a different place, at what seemed like a moment later. (Is this what death will be like?) Once the discharge nurse was convinced that I’d got my head around the pain-killing regime, I was let out into the world. The staff had been, to a woman and a man, polite, reassuring, efficient, and, above all, professional. My hand had been in good hands. All praise to the NHS.

September 2, 2018

I woke at 7.00 am, but persuaded my body to remain prone until 8.30 am. The period gave me time to consider tomorrow’s ‘adventure’ in South Wales, and how I’ll map out my week in the aftermath. 10.00 am: I prepared for Morning Prayer at Holy Trinity Church. This week, I wasn’t involved in the service’s delivery. The countdown to Diary‘s conclusion continues. (ETC: September 4.):

10.35 am: Off to Church:

The services at Trinity are traditional, serious, and unspontaneous. We sing hymns (some of which go back to the Protestant Reformation), chants, and psalms accompanied by a pipe organ, have a robed-choir, affirm creeds, read from King James Version of the Bible (sometimes), confess our sins, intercede for others, and give thanks and praise using the scriptures and patterns of prayer than go back to New Testament times. There’s no ‘worship group’, raising of arms, claims to charismatic gifts, or TVs and overhead projectors. All in all, its very formal. But for me, the services have been, at times, utterly transcendental. God has met with me in that church, often. And it’s a mode of worship that fits my personality like a glove.

2.00 pm: Running was too comfortable for comfort over the Summer; so, today, I ran in the rain. My course was determined by the principle of maximum surface contrast. My boys have been ragging me about how I get sock to foot, left to right, assignations wrong. Here’s evidence that I can get it right (or is that left):

2.50 pm: Home, wet, in need of a iced water. Then it was off again on a walk to the promenade and a favourite coffee shop:


September 1, 2018

5.30 am: I awoke. Since I’d be one arm down for the next month, I put in a final session of floor exercises as the day broke. I suspect that my running also will be curtailed, at least until I’m out of a sling. I’m not good at press-ups, but I’m determined to be. The Harvey Boys are committed to maximising the health, fitness, and wellbeing that they’ve been given.

6.30 am: Saturday is toast day. An indulgence (for me). Marmalade and butter on a well-baked slice of brown bread is a very painterly proposition. Utterly sumptuous:

7.30 am: A communion. 8.00 am: On with the paper. One-hand typing will make for slow progress next week, so I tried to make good headway throughout the day in this respect. I’ll work at the mixing desk next week (which can easily be managed single-handedly). Yesterday evening, I’d drafted the bridge to the next idea, and to the first image/sound case study. This now needed to be written up and illustrated. Then followed a half-hour tussle with a directional animation, moving upwards, slowly, and in a straight line. I needed to produce a scrolling text by this means. The outcome wasn’t exactly the opening credits to the Star Wars films, but it did the trick.

I reviewed the text and PowerPoint together before moving to the next idea. One must keep an eye on the whole, constantly. On, then, to a fun bit: constructing a sound effect to superimpose upon a static image. At the very least and lowest, the result will entertain the audience. The presenter should, in any case, take responsibility for maintaining the listeners’ engagement.

12.45 pm: Apple fall from one of two fruit trees in the back garden. These are a little tart to the taste, but edible … especially when stewed:

After lunch, I headed for town, drawn inexorably to my usual watering hole, where I went berserk: I purchased a ‘skinny blueberry muffin’. This was the ‘lite’ version (319 Cal) of the ‘proper’ combustible . It was tasty, but impossible to eat without making an embarrassing mess. Sticky little fingers:

I needed time out to reflect upon the week behind, and the one before, me. Decisions had been, and will be, made that effect not only myself, significantly, but also others in my personal and professional spheres. My choices have been directed by circumstances, consultation, counsel, and conviction. Having accepted my own determinations, I feel at ease. Now begins an exciting period of transition. Before the roots of my current life are pulled up, I must prepare the soil for replanting elsewhere.

2.30 pm: Back at homebase, and the finalisation of the soundtrack recording, using a handheld digital recorder, which gave me a higher bit rate and a better bass response (via the subwoofer) than could any audio-capture software:

Once edited and applied within the PowerPoint, I dedicated the remainder of the afternoon to image/sound analysis. 5.20 pm: ‘Ssssh! Rest now.’

August 31, 2018

5.30 am: I looked towards the narrow column of partial light between the bedroom curtains. Was this too early for me to rouse? ‘I shan’t always be like this’, I thought. But the ‘it’ had no specificity. 5.50 am: I placed my feet on the carpet, with a determination to push the day to the limit. 7.30 am: A communion. A subtle, sweet, and welcome sense of another life in another place – of wellness, happiness, resolution, and possibility – entered my spirit unannounced. I’d never experienced the like before. One can only respond with benediction at such gracious visitations.

8.00 am: I played Purcell’s ‘See, Even the Night is Here’, from his The Fairy Queen (1692), as I caught up with postgraduate admin and attended to my appointments’ diary in-fill. Thereafter, I set my face towards the more substantial work of the morning. 9.15 am: I pressed on with the paper until 10.45 am, when I made for the School and two postgraduate tutorials:

Grace attended both. There’re times where the tutor/tutee binary dissolves, and we become but two people journeying together, holding one another’s hand, to goodness knows where. The idea that fine art teaching is about imparting subject knowledge is very wide of the mark. Certainly, it includes that dimension. However, the greater part of teaching cannot be reduced to, or expressed in, aims and objectives and curriculum content. And some of that part cannot even be articulated in words. Instead, it must be shown by example.

1.00 pm: I returned to homebase. After lunch, and throughout the afternoon, I pushed (inched) the presentation further. I knew what I was writing about, but not how it would connect with the next idea. In such situations, I stop what I’m doing and go on to write about the next idea. Then, later, if possible, I build a bridge between this new idea and the previous, recalcitrant one.

As this Diary comes to a close, I’m consciously considering other diaristic modes that might contribute to the character of the ‘New Diary’, should that materialise in the future. To date, the visual aspect of the Diary has been represented predominantly by photography and, to a lesser extent, schematics. Photographs render the objective referent in a fraction of a section. As such, the camera’s perception of reality and time is alien to our own. As John Berger once remarked, a drawing doesn’t render in time, rather, it embodies time. The set of six 1-minute drawings was conceived in order to capture small portions of my day by this means. I’d found the experience of making a time-limited composition for Pedro Bericat’s 1-Minute Autohypnosis sound compilation, in 2016, rewarding. The drawings applied the experience to the visual realm:

Visual Diary: Marking Time (1-minute drawings): 10.15 am, 1.40 pm, 3.00 pm, 3.45 pm, 4.00 pm, 4.10 pm

7.30 pm: I kept up my engagement with the writing. It was tempting to put it aside. But one ought to get back into the saddle as quickly as possible after a fall. Confront the difficulty.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements and ruminations:

  • We can fritter away our lives on distractions, non-essentials, small things, and those things that’ll have little consequence in the long term. Instead, we should do only what’s necessary, what’s required of us, what we alone can perform, and create something of substance and endurance.
  • To build something new, you must first demolish something old.
  • It’s more than metaphor; it’s equivalence.
  • Art is life lived.
  • You can’t learn to cook merely by watching TV programmes. The skill requires a messy, odiferous, wet and dry, fingers and hands engagement with ingredients and technologies of mixing, teasing, tasting, pouring, setting, proving, and heating. It’s a sensual and methodical affair. If you aren’t in love and involved with the means of manufacture, you’ll never be a painter of worth.
  • Don’t allow your inability to be a reason for giving up, especially if art hasn’t first given you up.

August 30, 2018

5.30 am: I stirred … restless. The night was passing. Gulls screeched in the near distance, and then also passed. In the silence, I heard the hum of electrical devices. My thoughts were in disarray – like flakes in a shaken snow dome. I heard a hum in my head … and my heart beating slowly, dividing the day up. I reviewed email before preparing myself for what was likely to be demanding day. But I’d much prefer to be on my side of the appointment panel’s table than on the candidate’s side. By the close of the afternoon, one person’s life will have changed significantly. And, thereafter, the School will change measurably too, once they make their contribution to its life and work.

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Off to School to prepare for the morning’s presentations:

Each candidate gave an account of a notional seminar they’d hold with students, based on an artefact in the School’s collection. In the audience were staff and postgraduates. This was a tough assignment: it tested the candidate’s research, adaptability, presentation skills, and pedagogy. And I learned a great deal about all three during the course of the morning. Quite apart from the occasion, it was good to sit at the feet of the next generation of academics. 12.00 pm: I took an early lunch and time to review their application forms in the light of the morning’s performance. This was an instructive exercise.

12.45 pm: The interview panel convened. An exhausting afternoon ensured. But the candidates worked the hardest:

They fielded a body of very searching questions. (I should address them to myself at some point.) The rigour and transparency (a much overused word, these days) of the proceedings was impressive and tiresome in equal measure. By 4.30 pm, I was addled by the interrogation. But we’d all kept our heads and focus throughout. Back at my office, I proceeded to second-mark a pair of resit essays:

7.30 pm: I continued double marking, and posted emails (with Henry Cow’s Legend (1973) in the background). 8.30 pm: Back to my paper, and a review of the writing and presentation to date. Now the ‘voice’ has been established, I proceeded to redraft the earlier sections and bring them in line with the tone of the later excursions. Night fell, and Thursday August 30, 2018 passed into history:


August 29, 2018

Not a model man
Not a saviour or a saint
Imperfect in a word
Make no mistake.
(King Crimson, Model Man, Three of a Perfect Pair (1984))

12.45 am: Enough! I could no longer think in straight lines. My cold and the tiredness had won out. Already pyjama clad, I slipped beneath the duvet, turned to the window, and let the phantoms and remembered voices of the day that’d been – now thin, fused, and garbled – recede into the darkness. There was a part of my mind that continued to ruminate. It thought in neither images nor words but, rather, through the language of the heart and spirit, in expressions of affection, joy recalled, regret, longing, and that hope which can sometimes feel like an ache. I slept.

7.00 am: ‘Up, Johnny, up!’ (The ‘muse’ is a taskmaster.) 8.00 am: I dealt with last night/this morning’s important incoming email before readying myself for a walk to the Old College for a PhD Fine Art tutorial at 9.00 am. We took it at the watering-hole:

There’s a long tradition of café-tutorials going back many generations at Aberystwyth. In eighteenth-century London, much of the city’s intellectual and business life was conducted over coffee. The practice is one of the hallmarks of high civilisation, in my opinion. 9.45 am: Back to the mothership via Plas Grug Avenue, where the first fall of Autumn had begun to gather:

10.00 am: Cup of tea to hand, I prepared for my 11.00 am MA Art History tutorial. At noon, I had a work appraisal with my Head of School. It was an occasion to make known my plans over the next three years (or sooner). An end is in sight. Negotiating the transition will require a great deal of thought for all concerned. There’re many uncertainties ahead. But they don’t daunt me. Certainty and endless repetition can make for dull living, in any case. 1.00 pm: Homebase, and a delicious bowel of spicy noodles (+egg, +mushrooms, +cabbage, +meatballs, +chilli sauce):

2.00 pm: On with the paper and the PowerPoint presentation. The two are now like a motorbike and sidecar. In the background, I familiarised myself with the materials required for the appointments panel, which will convene at the School first thing tomorrow morning. We’ll be choosing a new Lecturer in Art History:

4.30 pm: I’d made good progress. The ‘voice’ was finding its confidence … it’s poetic form. For me, this occurs when I begin to conceive of the presentation as speech written down, as opposed to writing to be read. Speech is an emanation of the body. Thus, writing becomes a far more physical process when this occurs. My words weren’t merely my brain’s secretions any longer. New ideas emerged in the act of writing. One couldn’t have hoped for more at this stage. The endeavour had become organic.

7.30 pm: The Harvey Boys collaborated to set up the amplification system for the presentation, using a pair of Bose Revolve+ active speakers:

My younger son has an innate gift for this type of technology, and he enjoys the challenge. For me, it’s just more gear to learn how to deploy. He’s been a great help. 8.30 pm: Back to writing for the remainder of the evening.

August 28, 2018

6.30 am: I’d slept from 11.30 to now, which was good for me these days. On waking, decisions to be made, transitions to be either planned or completed, and projects awaiting, pressed in upon my, as yet, unfocussed consciousness. My field of vision has, now, contracted to a three-year span. I’m not planning major enterprises beyond that period. The caveat to this is, as always, that I ‘do not know what a day may bring forth’. This day, tomorrow, or the next day may unseat everything thereafter. One’s life, and the lives of loved ones and friends, can be swept away in an instant; consistent rude health is guaranteed to no one; and the securities of home, employment, and finance are illusions. Anything beyond the now is conjectural.

7.30 am: Breakfast, followed by a communion at 8.15 am. (There’re times when tears are our food and drink.):

8.45 am: May this day count for something. The pullover season had begun again. Hospital appointment confirmed and some incoming emails put to rout, I began constructing a complex PowerPoint slide to encapsulate the conceptual map of the theology of sound that I’d sketched yesterday. It was only at this point that I fully comprehended the existing whole into which I’d need to shoehorn a discussion about sound, art, and theology. My mind perceives of, and organises, complexities in terms that aren’t so unlike its approach to pedalboard design:

PowerPoint slides should be illuminating without being distracting, to the point, well-designed, and (where appropriate) inventive. One’s creativity ought to permeate all aspects of a presentation: writing, delivery, and illustration. Having applied the animations, I returned to writing.

Over lunch, I worked on postgraduate admin and preparation for teaching tomorrow:

2.00 am: On with writing. I’ve a background cold fogging my thoughts. (‘Keep hydrated and bring on the comfort snacks, John!’ That’s what I appreciate, a ‘muse’ who’s sensitive to my bodily needs too.) Dark chocolate square in one hand and iced elderflower cordial in the other, I rallied and pressed forward. By mid afternoon, I’d developed some traction and a ‘voice’ – I could now imagine (hear in my mind’s ear) myself saying this stuff at the conference. Afterwards, I took a little respite listening to the experimental guitarist Joileah Concepcion. (Shades of King Crimson, post-1981.) She’s one of those guitarists who makes me want to play.

7.30 pm: After dinner, I’d watched a fascinating self-disclosure by the sport’s presenter Adrian Chiles about his drink dependency. He has a heroic battle ahead of him. One feature of his lifestyle that struck me was how much time he and his drinking associates had for socialising. Academics, these days, have little if any social life. Almost every evening is set aside for work. It’s not that they’re workaholics; the job demands it. (School teachers and doctors share this experience.) For such, drinking (and alcoholism for some) is domesticated. And it’s often the pressures of the job that drive them to it.

Back to it. (A whip is heard cracking remorselessly in the background.) Keep writing! I was so tired that I could hardly focus. And there was a late night ahead of me, still:

August 27, 2018

Bank Holiday

There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked (Isa. 57.21).

3.15 am: Sleepless in Aberystwyth (reprise). I tossed and turned and stared into the darkness until 4.00 am. After which, I put in an hour’s work before returning to bed at 5.00 am and waking again at 8.00 am. 9.00 am: Saturday’s agenda hadn’t been fulfilled. To begin the day, therefore, I finished updating the account of new research outputs on my website. This gave my higher-reasoning functions a lie-in, and an opportunity to rev-up on several cups of tea before it moved into writing gear. (‘Get go, Johnny’o!’, the ‘muse’ exhorted.)

11.20 am: (‘Off your backside, buddy!’, whispered the ‘muse’.) I took a pause, picked up my headless guitar, and wondered whether the forthcoming operation on my hand would be sufficiently successful for me to continue as a four-fingered guitarist. But a guitarist I’m determined to remain, even if I have to relearn everything I know about playing scales, chords, and arpeggios using only three fingers. That would still give me 50% more fingers than the great Django Reinhardt had at his disposal. Very rarely have I ever thrown in the towel. And then only because I recognised that the enterprise was not either in my best interests or worth pursuing:

Don’t give up on a cause simply because its: very difficult, frustrating, getting nowhere, complicated, beyond your abilities (it’ll stretch them), directionless (it’ll find its ways, eventually), apparently hopeless (if you remain optimistic, it may yet come to pass), cold shouldered by others (your own enthusiasm should always be enough), or criticised by others (your own integrity will see you through).

Fortified by the demon tannin, I reviewed last week’s work on the conference paper:

It was good as it stood. Now, it needed to build upon itself, deepen, thicken, and keep moving at a fair lick for the first twenty minutes of the delivery.

Lunch: I’ve always found the straightforwardness of cream of tomato soup to be utterly satisfying. It has been one of my comfort foods during times of illness, since I was very young. (Fish fingers and mashed potatoes, baked beans on toast (with lots of butter), and chip butties, come a close second.):

1.40 pm: A map was required, one that would delineate the network of scholarship, themes, groupings, and contours of the field that represents the theology of sound. I need to know what I don’t know and, as importantly, don’t yet understand. As I proceeded, the complexity of the potential interactions became increasingly evident. One must survey the landscape before deciding where to build the house. Presently, I’m attempting to lay my foundations in the middle of what a theological Spaghetti Junction (in my head, at least):

5.20 pm: Enough of this madness! I determined to honour the Bank Holiday with an evening off and vanilla ice cream.

Taken from their world