It has been another busy couple of months for me on Medium. I’m continuing to learn a lot, engaging with other writers, exploring links with publications and pushing my creative writing in different directions. Here’s a little glimpse of what I’ve been up to.
Music has been a big part of my life for the last six years. It has been a wild and bumpy ride – and not just for me.
I’ve never been a particularly family-oriented person. My family are just fine; I love them and think of them affectionately. However, we do seem to get on best when we’re on opposite sides of the world.
I was taught to be independent and self-reliant as a child, and well, I took the lesson to heart.
Dad later apologised to my newly-wed wife for that. The seed of independence was sown in fertile ground, Dad. Don’t give yourself too much credit.
So … it was a bit of a surprise to everyone, including myself, when I embarked on extensive family research on Ancestry several years ago. Probably Dad’s sudden death in 2012 prompted it. I realised that my family, particularly its senior members, wasn’t going to be around for ever, and that there was a lot that I wanted to know.
Writing for fun may seem a ‘busman’s holiday’ for a professional writer. In fact, I’m finding it refreshing – and educational. Which may be ironic, as I’m an educational writer.
In my ‘day job’, I write English coursebooks for 14–19-year-old Austrians and Germans. These are bright kids, interested in the world, and creating content for them gives me occasional scope for literary self-expression. More often it allows me to explore ideas in an essayistic (if that’s even a word) or journalistic manner.
In England, I was a keen dinghy sailer who raced every Sunday with my local club and spent a few weeks every year chartering yachts or sailing as crew. Moving to Australia presented my wife and me with the opportunity to buy a small yacht of our own.
The downside was that I had to sell my beloved Wayfarer and Supernova dinghies. However, the prospect of owning a yacht more than compensated for that. In the UK, even a small yacht – and a marina pen in which to keep it – was beyond our modest means.
I think I actually said, ‘I’m only moving to Australia if we can buy a yacht.’ I was only half-joking.
Being on the water is special. Particularly in a sailing boat, kayak or canoe, you can glide along (almost) effortlessly and silently. It gives you time to enjoy the babble of the water, the song of birds, maybe dolphins playing in your bow wave or fish just visible in the deep.
I’ve sailed and paddled coastal waters, lakes and rivers in the UK, in the Baltic and in the Ionian Sea and around Victoria, Australia. It’s just magical. To be able to move across this beautiful, alien, sometimes terrifying element through your own skill, but always by the grace of a primal power which can put you, an insignificant human, in your place – there’s nothing better.
I have been baking sourdough bread more-or-less regularly since March 2013. ‘More’ in the first flush of my enthusiasm; ‘less’ when the routine became a chore after a few years; ‘much more’ since the coronavirus pandemic has given my leisure pursuits a more homely focus.
My sourdough culture has survived the vicissitudes of those eight years remarkably well: it remains ever ready and willing to rise to the occasion. This loyal little community of bacteria and yeasts has stuck with me through the lean times (six weeks in the back of the fridge while I was travelling in Europe) and the times of plenty (two loaves a week during the pandemic).
Like so many kids of my generation, I left school thinking that I had no musical ability. Music theory just baffled me, and my croaky, deep, unruly singing voice embarrassed me.
I envied my mate Jon, with his electric guitar and his apparently magical ability to understand what the hell our music teacher, the fearsome Mrs Dix, was talking about. (Four beats to a bar? Really? Why?? Who decides where the bar starts and ends? And where’s the four in 3/4 time?)
Later at uni in Kiel, Germany, one of my friends was a competent sax player and I’d tag along to his Dixieland gigs. I loved music, was moved, delighted, captivated by it, but music wasn’t something I was ever going to make. I couldn’t even keep a beat while dancing.
Back in the day, I was a keen amateur sculptor. I was lucky enough to live in Oxford, England, where there is a strong tradition of carving and sculpture going back to the Middle Ages. There was a broad spectrum of adult education classes in the visual arts. I used to take my entire annual leave in Wednesday mornings, so that I could attend life sculpture classes. (Yes, I was still an employee — that’s how long ago it was.)
My favourite medium was wood. It is such a wonderful material for carving. The sculptor has to go with the flow, follow the wood’s infinitely varied nature – a product of its species-specific characteristics and the environment in which it grew as a tree: the cycle of the seasons, flood and drought, heat and frost, trauma from fungal and insect attack, etc.