Friday, 23 December 2016

I Discover Happiness

I found happiness two weeks ago, and it was on the inside of my birthday card.  In response to my list - One Hundred Words for Sad - (I Bare My Psyche), my longest-serving friend had written:

Have another
  1. fun
  2. fantastic
  3. creative
  4. fulfilling
  5. happy
  6. loved
  7. loving
  8. lovable
  9. joyous
  10. amazing
  11. carefree
  12. triumphant
  13. beatific
  14. felicitous
  15. propitious
  16. blessed
  17. euphoric
  18. ecstatic
  19. exultant
  20. rapturous
  21. jocund
  22. gladsome
  23. merry
  24. bright
  25. auspicious
  26. elated
  27. laugh-inducing
  28. cheerful
  29. blissful
  30. cheery
  31. thrillful
  32. congenial
  33. delightful
  34. convivial
  35. enchanted
  36. wonderful
  37. gleeful
  38. chocolatey
  39. fizzing
  40. vivifying
  41. affirming
  42. wanton
  43. brave
  44. empowered
  45. empowering
  46. fruitful
  47. vibrant
  48. poetic
  49. lyrical
  50. confident
  51. convivial
  52. uninhibited
  53. hang-up-free
  54. rhapsodic
  55. inspiring
  56. inspirational
  57. sparkling
  58. wondrous
  59. magnificent
  60. awe-filled
  61. tremendous
  62. terrific
  63. heavenly
  64. divine
  65. guilt-free
  66. unparalleled
  67. rewarding
  68. enriching
  69. visionary
  70. dynamic
  71. beamish
  72. radiant
  73. starry
  74. exuberant
  75. gay
  76. jocular
  77. buoyant
  78. bonny
  79. blithe
  80. light-hearted
  81. exhilarating
  82. exuberant
  83. energised
  84. intoxicated
  85. playful
  86. upbeat
  87. mirthful
  88. tickled pink-ful
  89. celebratory
  90. unshackled
  91. untrammelled
  92. free
  93. champion
  94. top
  95. great
  96. emboldened
  97. powerful
  98. jubilant
  99. sorted
  100. perfect

There have been many hard things about the past year and I don't need to, won't, spell them out; enough to say that at times, one hundred words for sad didn't seem enough.

My LSF's list offers hope, and it offers a specific insight in its repetition of the word convivial (34   51) and in word number 85.  I have found much happiness this year in the convivial company of those, like her, who want to live life with clarity and courage; to live without pretence; to live with hope despite everything that's been going on around and in us; to live to grow; to live to play with words, with paint, with dancing, with fire, with food, with music, with motorbikes, with running, with trying out different hats.

Thank you, all of you.  I wish you my LSF's hundred words, well 99, for happiness for Christmas and the New Year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

I Don My (Christmas) Onesie

Getting  back from work yesterday, I made the miscalculation of thinking I'd have a quick bath before going out to the pub with the badminton club.  Quick Bath is an oxymoron.  Like Cool Polyester, or (if not in Switzerland or some other exotic place) Reliable Public Transport.  Or Exotic Switzerland.

So, my bath wasn't quick and just as I got out, Jonathan phoned to say that they'd nearly finished drinking.  This surprised me, as by that time I was planning to be only an hour or two late, and the club has something of a reputation for stamina.  But as we chatted, I confessed to extreme end-of-term tiredness and opted out, stayed in.

It made perfect sense to get straight into my Christmas onesie for the first time this year. 

People have different markers for when the Christmas season begins.  For some it seems to be August, and the start of Christmas shopping.  For others, it's the January sales, when reduced Christmas cards encourage preparation for the following year.  I suppose for these people, Christmas is never really over but exists as a background to everything else.  For me for a while, it was my sons' primary school nativity plays - those afternoons snatched from work to sit on tiny chairs in a hot and crowded hall watching hundreds of children have their individual moments of glory and disappointment. Even longer ago, it was Christmas Eve afternoon, stopping for a moment to listen to Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.  Once, when I was gloriously 13 for a moment, and in awe of adulthood, it was being in King's Chapel for the advent service.  It was absolutely possible to believe in a virgin birth under that fan-vaulting, resonant with the sounds of angels.

Nowadays, my Christmas begins when the autumn term properly ends for me, as it did yesterday.  The term which is the best and worst of everything in teaching: the one which starts with high expectations and goes on forever, and which descends from the vigour of a fresh autumn into the overwork of  'getting everything done by Christmas'. 

Putting on my onesie yesterday evening meant succumbing, at last, to rest. To not getting everything done.  To lack of any attempt at dignity or style.  To lying on the sofa, enjoying that reckless and blissful thing - an evening snooze in the hopeful light of my Christmas tree, and then getting up, heedless of the time, to make marzipan.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

I Do It Again

You wait a long time to see Malvolio when you're watching The Tempest.  I discovered this a week ago when the tormented, cross-gartered antagonist failed to appear in the wrong play.  And he did not appear because he could not.

Discussing my confusion (I Muddle My Shakespeares) whilst pulling crackers over blueberry and banana pancakes at a friend's house last Sunday, I saw that what fell out of my cracker, in addition to a joke and a paper crown, was a packet containing the three nails of the crucifixion:

This incident, coming so soon after my Twelth Night / Tempest confusion, set me thinking again about how we see what we think we are going to see and how, even after years of excellent therapy and an ever-increasing experience of freedom, I still carry some hard-wired expectation that what might fall out of a cracker is a punishment.

After thinking and thinking about both these happenings, I've begun to realise that my muddle-up over plays is a gift of a metaphor for understanding life.  For so long, you see, I was trying to act in the wrong play (though I hope never as Malvolio), and now I've ditched the old scripts, I can get on with being the character I really am.

To say I'm rather pleased about this is an understatement, and I'm pretty certain that my finally making it into the right script (an improvised one) does not include me deciding, on the basis of owning three golf tees, to take up golf.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

I Muddle My Shakespeares

Wendy Cope's lines from Serious Concerns came back to me yesterday as I was trying to work out why I'd muddled up my Shakespeares so badly:

Jesus, in His goodness and grace,
Jesus found me a parking space
In a very convenient place.
Sound the horn and praise Him

If you see life through one lens (in this case a fixation on the apparent concern of a man who died two millennia ago for the irritating details of contemporary life - a paradigm very familiar to me from childhood) events can only make one kind of sense.

On Thursday, for my birthday treat, my longest-serving friend took me to see Twelfth Night at the Donmar.  We'd been to their excellent production of Julius Caesar a couple of years ago.  I was looking forward to it, but tired after a full-on time at work.  In the warm dark of the theatre I began to unwind, drift: I felt sleepy, dreamy.

The production was interesting - set, like the Caesar, in a women's prison, with minimal staging and props, an all-female cast in grey track suits.  I thought the introduction of Ariel into Twelfth Night a little avant garde, admittedly, but was committed to my view.  The mention of Caliban, however, was a bucket of cold water, and I woke up to reality. All at once, I knew I was entirely in the wrong play.  I took an embarrassed leap into The Tempest.  And from thereon, everything made a much better and more substantial kind of sense.

"It's like that game in I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue - one song to the time of another," said my L-S-F when I confessed my confusion to her over lunch yesterday.

"It's a question of hermeneutics," said our companion.

I'm glad I cleared things up in my head before I'd gone too far into the play, and that I have such kind and forgiving friends.  And I'm glad that I have a second chance at seeing things for what they are, and that I've found everything's so much more interesting than what I was led to expect.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

I Admire A Teacher

It's afternoon, already after dark, and I'm sitting in the corner of a small music room.  I keep my coat on, though it's warm.  The radiator's providing a background swish of moving water. 

I'm pretending to be passing through, waiting to take my son home, popping in to sit in on the end of his lesson, but in reality, I've arrived far too early and I'm audience. The teacher knows this, and is kind: extends the allotted time into evening.

What I see, what I hear is this: a teacher giving of himself, of his years of accumulated technical skill and musicianship, boundless in his generosity.  He's passing on wisdom, understanding, compassion, diligence, and all this across several decades to my young son who sits, guitar propped classically on his left knee, as they chat in-between playing.

This talking is as much as the practice in these lessons.  I watch them draw meaning out of their age-differences, their common passion, their acknowledgement of what joins and separates them. For now they're discussing the various means of plucking the strings in order to achieve the warmth needed for Villa Lobos.

This is a master class.  I'm watching what it is to teach by drawing out the knowledge of what makes truth beautiful from all that's available: the music itself, the instrument, his own experience and expertise and my son's unique and forming understanding of the world.  And he does this with the tender authority of one who knows himself and his art, who desires above all that his pupil finds as much joy in its pursuit as he does.

Monday, 21 November 2016

I Bare My Psyche

I've been tidying my desk.  Something to do with jogging the Park Run has made me think I can achieve other impossible feats.  I've been tidying my desk and I came across a list.

I jogged five or so years ago as a way of trying to defeat sadness.  Sadness won, so I went to therapy.

"How do you feel?" my therapist, TP, asked each week.
"Sad," I replied, each week.
"What does it feel like, this sadness?"  TP persisted.
"Well .... sort of .... sad."
"For a poet," TP stated, never one to hold back from the necessary truth, "you're remarkably inarticulate about emotions."

What the sadness felt like was a weight I'd been carrying since Upper 3 Biology with Miss Beynon.  I could tell you about how I was working hard, copying a diagram of a radish from the board, labelling tap roots and leaves, wanting her approval.  But the point is that in the middle of recording and analysing life according to someone else's prescription, I realised everything was meaningless.  And I realised Miss Beynon preferred plants to children.

I was 11 and the afternoon sun was making things too hot in the lab, and I had a home-made haircut, and a home-made skirt and a home-made God-given attitude, and I didn't know what to do with this feeling.  These feelings.

I tried re-thinking things in History, and found a bit of relief in hearing about the Battle of Waterloo, but after that, the weight never left me.

Never one to take the truth or an insult lying down, I prepared myself for therapy, and TP's next knowing provocation, and started a list, took it as a script to my next session.  That'll learn you. We ended up laughing, a lot.

And I found out that the point of everything, for me, is to know how, exactly, to go about, and around and about, naming things.

One Hundred Words For Sad

1.       inadequate

2.       sorrowful

3.       leaden

4.       ruined

5.       desolate

6.       despairing

7.       depressed

8.       deflated

9.       damaged

10.   dead

11.   dreadful

12.   desperate

13.   anxious

14.   lonely

15.   overwhelmed

16.   vulnerable

17.   weak

18.   flat

19.   heavy

20.   sombre

21.   tired

22.   lost

23.   apathetic

24.   bitter

25.   resentful

26.   gloomy

27.   grumpy

28.   dumb

29.   condemned

30.   pathetic

31.   hurt

32.   judged

33.   disheartened

34.   shrivelled

35.   trapped

36.   frozen

37.   absent

38.   melancholy

39.   distressed

40.   unhappy

41.   discomforted

42.   glum

43.   afraid

44.   wounded

45.   stressed

46.   guilty

47.   insecure

48.   paranoid

49.   marginalised

50.   miserable

51.   disillusioned

52.   deserted

53.   failed

54.   bereft

55.   abandoned

56.   forlorn

57.   barren

58.   low

59.   blue

60.   misunderstood

61.   purposeless

62.   aimless

63.   dreary

64.   hapless

65.   useless

66.   pathetic

67.   morose

68.   fatalistic

69.   trapped

70.   resigned

71.   disappointing

72.   disappointed

73.   dissatisfied

74.   fearful

75.   pained

76.   careworn

77.   weary

78.   defeated

79.   helpless

80.   hopeless

81.   friendless

82.   alone

83.   redundant

84.   insignificant

85.   doomed

86.   destroyed

87.   pointless

88.   fucked up

89.   scattered

90.   fractured

91.   splintered

92.   fragmented

93.   bruised

94.   down

95.   negative

96.   sullen

97.   weighted

98.   weighty

99.   hollow


Saturday, 19 November 2016

I Jog The Park Run

This morning, I completed my third Park Run in beautiful early winter sunshine.  I set myself a goal this week which was not to fall over on the icy paths.

Falling over from a great height is no fun.  Garrison Keillor, of Lake Woebegone Days, describes seeing a tall person falling as like watching timber being felled.  When I first re-started playing badminton four years ago, I wore a pair of my son's trainers that he'd outgrown. My feet hadn't grown for a while and they were a bit too big for me. Whilst going for a tricky shot, I tripped over and fell hard on my bottom, which led to me sleeping on a bag of frozen peas.

The Park Run is a 5K route and in Shrewsbury it goes through the magnificent Quarry Park: 29 acres of grass, mature trees and paths sloping down towards the River Severn.  It's the best thing about the town. 

I mentioned to my brother I've been doing the Park Run and he told me to look ahead, not down, and to buy some decent trainers.  He didn't mention anything about peas, but he did talk about joints and so I went out and bought these:

It was hard to look ahead at 9am, the orange sun still low in the sky.  So I looked up, saw three swans flying the Severn's course. 

Before last week's Park Run I set myself the goal of running the whole way without slowing to a walk.  The week before, the first week of all, my goal was to complete the run.  Then, there were still leaves on the avenues of trees which line the paths.  This morning, the trees were standing strong, stripped to their dark winter skeletons, braced for the coming winds.

I've known what it is to run wheezing with asthma across Hampstead Heath for school cross country, and to run as an adult against the pain of being, as a form of self-flagellation.   But this running with friends and strangers, with the very young and the not-so-young, with the fast and the easy-as-it-goes, is becoming an unexpected pleasure in my life.

Monday, 7 November 2016

I Do My Bit (for the US of A)

Last week, I checked the statistics for my blog and discovered, much to my surprise, that my largest audience, by country, is in the USA.  My natural response to this discovery is to think that these 'hits' might not be readers but cyber robots patrolling the web for blogs to do with plumbing.  But just in case you're really reading this, my dear Americans, I want to use my influence.

In his book, 'How to Save the World', John-Paul Flintoff's thesis is that it's so easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the big things wrong with our planet that we are inclined to give up trying to make it a better place.  He argues that as a strategy, we can focus on the small things.

This is not a new idea, but he expresses it eloquently.  If you can smile at the person checking out your groceries, or grow your own parsley and then give the excess to a neighbour, he argues, the world becomes a better place by degrees.

Flintoff lists ways in which we can use our influence and advocates political action, on however small a scale.  So in response to him, I'm ditching my usual there's nothing to be done stance and urging you to vote.  And, I'll  make no bones about it, to vote for Hillary.

(There.  That wasn't so difficult.)

We in the UK (everyone, but everyone I know) are watching all agog and with  horror as the land of the free and brave looks in danger of voting in a self-declared racist misogynist to the White House.  Use your vote to make this less likely. 


Saturday, 29 October 2016

I Escape From Hell

I've been to hell and back.  Let me tell you about it.
This is the entrance to hell: an eternal conundrum of false choices and vanishing points, of concrete and staircases, Escher-esque in its confusing circularities, but without the graphic style and precision you'd hoped for.

I don't believe in hell, but I entered because I wanted something, felt a need.  Of course, like most people, I didn't set about going there, but I was tired and a sign said 'Costa' so, prompted to think about a cappuccino, I followed it.
It would seem that the road to hell is paved with what could be, under extreme circumstances, temptations.

If hell exists at all, then the opposite of hell must be heaven, or paradise.  If paradise is pleasure and contentment, then it's an autumn wood lit by sunlight; wood smoke; a view of the sea; travelling by train; laughing till it hurts; Beethoven's piano sonatas; chatting to a beloved one over a drink at a pavement café on a Friday afternoon. 

Hell must feel threatened by heaven, as it is dead set on passing itself off as paradise.  It smells of sulphur, makes a mockery of a pavement café on a Friday afternoon.

Hell is a place without concern for anything like love: a place which wraps up despair and tries to sell it to us as a sense of humour failure. 

Like Dante's Inferno, hell has many circles, each with its own sense of disorientation, intensities, and unpleasant characteristics.  No one can say what someone else's version of hell is - we must listen to what they have to say about it.

Whenever I've been to hell and sat amongst its contents, the more pointless life has seemed.  Fortunately, I've had a strong instinct to escape.

Despite mythologies perpetuated by those with a vested interest, it is possible to escape hell.  There is always a stairway, if not exactly to heaven, then at least towards something approximately Out of Hell.

What I've learnt about escape is to trust my instincts, follow my sense of direction, and the signs, which in this case, some devil has tried to erase.

And so, I escaped hell, and this is what I learnt: 

Hell is a metaphor, and in this case, the metaphor was Bridgwater Services, just off the car park that is the M5 on a Friday afternoon in the school holidays.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

I Act The Man

Not for the first time there was an imbalance between the number of men and women at badminton, so it was suggested I join the men's doubles court, as an "honorary man".  The implication I wanted to hear was, "You're a good enough player for the top group," but the subtext I heard was, "We think you can hold your own amidst the stronger, faster and (let's face it) better players.  And by the way, men are generally superior to women.  Be flattered." 

I did feel flattered, a bit disgruntled and confused all at once.  Blushing with annoyance at feeling flattered for the wrong reasons ("honorary man"!) I let rip with my smashes.  This display of an approximate sporting prowess felt powerful.  I glowed and perspired through my sweat in equal measure.

This smashing experience might have been the one which prompted my recent god as goddess poem / conversation.  "What would it be like," I asked people who mind about such things, "if the word goddess were substituted for the word god throughout the C of E liturgy?"   I believe in Goddess, the Mother almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  I don't believe anything of the sort, by the way, but I find it extraordinary how much the change of the gender of a noun shifts things in my socialised imaginings, mainly towards something Pagan, or Greco-Roman.

The status of honorary man is familiar to me. At 51, I am tall for my age.   That badminton evening's mixed emotions echoed the themes from my all-girls school days when I was cast as a man-boy in plays and country dancing.  As luck would have it, I've never been asked to dance Sir Roger de Coverley anywhere other than in the hall at South Hampstead High School.  If I had been, I would have got it all inside out and back to front.

I told a friend what had happened at badminton. "What," he asked, "did you do to attain that exalted position?  Did you comprehensively internalise your emotions? Did you use doner kebabs as a substitute for real relationships?" 

"What are you up to, showing sensitivity and insight with self-deprecation thrown in?" I responded. "Are you, by any chance, having a go at playing the woman?"

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

I Answer Some Questions

"Shall I at least set my lands in order?"

Last night was University Challenge night.  Now that my elder son is actually at a university, my younger son and I watch it a deux.  Some of the answers I got this week were: 'Platinum Blonde'; '1812 Overture'; 'Napoleon III'; 'Polaris' and 'Copper Sulphate'.  We even managed Caravaggio and Botticelli in the absence of our art expert. 

"Who is the third who walks always beside you?"

My son was particularly impressed by my knowledge of the Roman name for the city of Bath: Aquae Sulis.  Ever since I stopped understanding his Maths homework, moments like this have been particularly sweet.

"A pool among the rock"

Lines from TS Eliot's The Wasteland did not appear in last night's questions, though they and he often do. The thing about many of the answers I blurt out is that I didn't know I knew them until Jeremy Paxman reads the question.

"These fragments I have shored against my ruins"

These snippets of knowledge, however inapplicable to my daily life, feel like proof of something: of my own university years, of the reading I've done, the music I've listened to, the films I've watched and the people with whom I've learned, listened, and watched.  Fragments pop into my head in response to a question, having often lain dormant for years.  They make sense of a kind, like quotations from a life-script, and (my son always being pleased when I score points for the team) they lend a convivial peace to our Monday evenings.

"Shantih    shantih    shantih"


Friday, 7 October 2016

I Begin Again

This time, as a fox.  Each day is a new one, after all.

I saw fox in a window, and despite him being urban, irresponsible, admired him.

"Thought Fox," I thought.

He is orange, bold, corduroy.  I bought him for myself.  Called him Foxy.  Call her Vixen.

My affection for stuffed toys is rational, goes back a long way.

When I was 7, I saw the dolphin on a stall at Christ Church Highbury's annual Garden Party.   He was red, bold, corduroy.  When I returned, with insufficient pocket money, to admire him again, he had disappeared.  He re-appeared on my bed that evening.

That was when I knew for sure that my mother loved me.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

I Paint A Canvas

Back in the spring I had a sudden urge to paint.  The urge came out of a therapeutic conversation - something to do with my inner child, something, it being therapy, to do with woundedness.

I sometimes find it hard to write because I'm a poet, and so I judge anything I write with a critical eye, even stuff like shopping lists and diary outpourings meant for my eyes only.  I needed a new, uncritical mode of self-expression.

I told a friend about the urge and the next time I saw him, he gave me a set of acrylic paints.  Everyone needs a friend like this.  Being well-brought up, I had no choice then but to respond to his kindness by going to buy some canvasses and brushes.

My first attempt involved painting my inner darkness.  It turns out that my inner darkness is a sludge-greeny-brown colour.  Halfway through, sick of brown, I got out the orange, and, enjoying its orangey-ness more than expected, ended up looking at the work of my inner 5-year old half an hour later.

I sent a photo of the painting to my friend by way of a thank you letter:

Painting #1

I received an unexpectedly kind and non-judgmental response, mentioning a Star.  Even though I know that the sun is a star, I hadn't thought of it like that.

Still having quite a lot of orange left, I embarked on Painting #2:

I took this canvas to therapy, proud of the depiction of my inner 6-year-old's free-ranging spirit.  "Well," said TP, "That's a fine Picture of Hell if ever I saw one.  I'll see you next week."

For Painting #3 I decided to restrict myself to blue and yellow.  I'd like to say that this was an artistic choice, or even a therapeutic choice, but it was a choice determined by the colours of the free samples of paint available in the local art shop.  I decided to name this painting before anyone else could get in there first.

Painting #3 - Free Samples

Painting #4 occurred when I had a vase of sunflowers on the table.  I also had candles on the table and it was a lot of fun dripping molten wax in lines across the canvas, watching them set, then putting my fingers into the paint and spreading it around.  I'm not sure what this is called, or how old I was when I was painting it, but maybe someone else will tell me.

Painting #4

Thursday, 22 September 2016

I Squeeze Two Oranges

I have a new habit.

No, I have not entered a convent,  although as a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl, I did offer 'Nun' as a reply to a question a careers teacher put to me once.  I forget what the question was.

My new habit is to squeeze two oranges each morning - for the juice of it.

Orange juice is best straight from the orange.  Ever since my mother taught me this, I've been spoilt for the bottled / canned / cartoned varieties, though I've mostly made do until recently.

No more.  I begin my mornings these days by taking two oranges from my constant supply, using the pleasure of my new sharp knife to cut them in half, before turning them this way and that on the ridged dome of an orange juicer, and then tipping the collected juice into a glass.

After all this, I'm too wanton and needful to sip the half glassful, so, still standing, I down the lot in a few sweet, crazy mouthfuls.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

I Cause A Stir

Three weeks ago, young Tim turned up at badminton. 

I'd met Tim in an idiosyncratic  pub which serves excellent beer.  I had been chatting in Poets' Corner with a friend from badminton about putting up shelves, motorbikes and whether he was going to play at the next session.  Tim overheard our conversation and asked about the badminton club. 

"This is Tim," I said to Hollie the following Tuesday. "I met him when I was out with Paul."

The next Tuesday, Chelsea asked me who the new guy was with Tim.  It turned out to be young Jack.  "I hear you met Tim when you were out on the pull," said Chelsea, "I'm impressed." I was momentarily perplexed, blushing.  "Oh! No!" I insisted. "I met Tim when I was having a drink with Paul," adding, by way of explanation, "talking about badminton.  And shelving."  This suddenly sounded highly implausible.

This week, Tim and Jack turned up with young Raj.  When Chelsea arrived, she winked at me.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

I Puzzle Over Significance

A friend came round earlier in the week and saw the half-completed jigsaw puzzle my Younger Son and I have been tackling.  "I didn't have you down as a puzzle person," he said. "I'm not," I replied.

I didn't have myself down as a Mahler person either, but what I've learnt, seven symphonies and 1000 pieces later, is that listening to rousing music whilst searching through barely distinguishable tiny bits of blue card can make me behave like a different sort of person from the person I imagine myself to be - I become meticulous, methodical, patient, single-minded: satisfied in passing by the finding of a piece that fits.  Looking for Lego pieces, my son reminded me, used to produce a similar, almost forensic, effect in me.

I have also discovered that, when looking for missing pieces, shape matters more than colour as in indicator of fit.  I've learnt that if I keep looking, the piece is always there, somewhere. I am pretty sure this is a metaphor for something significant.

I am less sure whether it is significant, or merely a coincidence, that I came across the puzzle, a reproduction of a painting of Mount Lefroy, for sale in a shop in Presteigne when looking for a birthday present. Or that my son saw I'd bought it and asked to open it before I could give it away. I do know that the puzzle has provided the backdrop for several hours of gently concentrated conversation, some of it about Mahler, some of it about shades of grey, and also has resolved the problem of what to give my co-named relatives for Christmas.  It's also set me thinking about taking a trip one day to the place my Canadian grandfather was born.

The next symphony coming up on our playlist, no. 8, is known as the Symphony of a Thousand.  And next door in the charity shop, a thousand piece puzzle is displayed in the window, going cheap.  Now there's a thing.