Look Up, Head Raised High

Look up, head raised high,
Beauty hides plainly in sight,
Not just a blue sky,

In modern rushed lives,
Head oft down, in phones we drown,
Wake up! it’s a choice.

 


I recall a conversation with my mothers husband when I first moved to London. We were driving and walking around the city. My mothers husband has fond memories of walking around the city when he was younger. He has an eye for detail and was looking up at the buildings as we walked around.

When you walk around a city, it’s easy to only look straight ahead.

Even easier to look at your phone.

But when you look up a whole new world opens itself up to you. Not just the sky. Little details; ornamentation, gargoyles, feet hanging out a balcony, a lady drinking a cup of tea at a window.

This is what inspired me to have a go at a Haiku about this.

These pictures are quite striking examples of the detail to be found looking up; framed beautifuly by the sky. But even in day to day life I am often surprised by what I see just walking around the streets.

So try it out, put your phone away and look up, with your head raised high!

 

Autumn Leaves and Haiku Thoughts

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as autumn leaves us,
so do green leaves, goodbye with,
a final flourish.


I’ve been on an unnoficial search for the perfect autumn tree. I was starting to lose hope following a couple of weeks of pretty cloudy flat grey skies – that kind of weather just doesn’t bring out the colours. But alas today was bright and blue and I went to Green Park in West London. I found this beautiful tree. I think this is one of the prettiest I have seen in terms of colours.

I recently finished bloggingU writing201 poetry; my first foray into poetry. And the first form I learned was ‘haiku’. I came across a book in the Japanese language section of the bookstore on ‘haiku’ accidently yesterday. I read a few pages.

I’m almost at intermediate level in Japanese. The first thing I wanted to share with those that may not be aware of it is the pronunciation. Japanese doesn’t have consonants and vowels and syllables in the same way we do.

So for ‘haiku’, we could mistakinly think it’s close to hi-ku. But the sound is really ha-i-ku and that ‘i’ is like our ‘ee’ in cheese. So pronounce it in three parts; ‘ha – ee – ku’ at an even speed and tone.

That may not be the perfect instruction, but just to give you an idea.

Some observations from the bookshop. The haiku syllable counts 5-7-5 were never syllable counts, they were counts of the japanese sounds, which don’t match syllables, so you don’t really need to get exact syllable counts correct if you are writing in english.

The other thing is that haiku were supposed to have a positive message or thought traditional; oops – so far some of mine were about sad things!

Friends or Not

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is it only me that
friends leave like seasonal leaves,
falling out of reach.


At university I loved the TV show ‘Friends’. At the time I had three close friends; Ruxi, Clive and Serene. We used to watch the box sets as a relief from studies and exams.

In those days I felt my friends were like ‘Friends’ friends. Afterwards I realised that such a close group of friends is rare. I also realised quite quickly that normal people don’t have such beautiful apartments. Life’s real story arcs don’t always end in smiles and laughs.

I left uni a year before Ruxi and Clive. I started work in a stressful graduate job. It changed me. When I went back to my uni town for visits I couldn’t connect well with my ‘still studying’ friends.

They would never know this, but one of the ways I got through the hard days and nights of my first job was by keeping pictures of my uni friends on my desk wall.

It was a shock when they suddenly stopped talking or replying to me. Some years later I discovered Clive and Serene got married; they hadn’t even told me. I still to this day feel hurt about this. I feel like a group of people that I felt at home with rejected me.

One of the biggest challenges in life is to retain trust in people. It’s required for close relationships and is especially hard to keep if people have bullied you or cut you out of their life.

And emotional damage through life is cumulative.

Let’s be honest. I am not the best friend. I get caught up in my own world. And when I lose common ground with people I tend to just stop contacting them (so I do the same thing).

Something I have read in pyschology is that we repeat patterns in life. Somehow I seem to drift in and out of friendships. Easily making new friends, but then losing them.

I’ve never had a best friend – is it a common thing or just a myth from media and stories? I don’t feel like it is something I miss. The only problem I may have is that I don’t think I have ever been 100% honest about all my thoughts and feelings with anyone.

I would never ‘lie’ to someone in a relationship, but I also wouldn’t be 100% honest either. It’s important to filter the thoughts of the human mind.

As biological beings our perfection is in our unique imperfect nature. A big part of this is that our thoughts are not always automatically right, good or kind. Sometimes we will be annoyed by anothers values, behaviours or actions. I accept this about myself. But I try to consciously use my power of thought to follow buddhist behaviours such as right action, right thought and right speech.

The other strange thing about me is I don’t have really any close male friends and I haven’t had for a long time. My only male friends are some old school friends I see very occasionaly from a long time ago.

Recently I have had some close friends that have gone through life changes and I no longer hear from them on a day to day basis. It’s not right or wrong, but I find myself in one of the periods of little or no contact with people.

It has been a strange year for me. One anecdote – I met a foreign girl studying in London. After she went home she asked me to marry her on a chat app and to move abroad to live with her. I considered moving to spend more time to get to know her better, but when I couldn’t due to financial / work constraints she went straight to not talking to me at all.

I think with friends and relationships we sometimes get caught up in our own interpretation of events and in taking everything personally. I suspect that in reality many of us go through similar things. Some better, some worse.

Or is it just me?

(the picture is from regent park in london last weekend.)

Tower Bridge

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Stately stone towers,
Stand over the Thames river,
Watching years go bye.

An iconic sight,
That sighs when misguided types,
Say “it’s London Bridge”.

Remember ’Tower’;
London’s majestic lady,
And favourite Bridge.

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Tower bridge; often mistaken for London bridge, is one of the most popular sights of London. The bridge itself is extremely central just south of the city and right next to the Tower of London; from which it takes it’s name.

Standing on the south side you can see the shiny modern glass buildings of the city through the bridge; what a contrast.

When you get up close you can also see the beautiful detail of the stone and metalwork.

I included a few haiku that I wrote. I was trying to think of a good metaphor or simile for the bridge, but I couldn’t come up with anything concrete.

When I think of the bridge, I think of it being over 120 years old, and I think of how it must feel watching all these modern glass buildings grow around it. At one point it would have been the tallest thing in the area, but now it’s dwarfed by behemoths like the shard.

And most days it’s constantly photographed by tourists, I suspect the bridge is ‘bemused’ with modern life.

Tokyo Rail

Clean, shiny steel and birdsong soft and sweet. A place full of people, some fast asleep, where could I be?

The Tokyo metro, or one of the Japan Rail (JR) lines in the city. Rail is something of a cultural passion in Japan. It’s a huge part of day to day life in Tokyo; the most convenient way to travel around the huge city.

A microcosm of Japanese values it’s impeccably well managed. Almost always on time and masterfully maintained.

Perhaps the most famous image of Tokyo’s hectic rush hour is the attendants shoving and squeezing people onto already packed trains. Faces can be seen seen squashed against windows and doors. It does happen, but I never take part; I tend to wait out the rush hour in a cafe.

It’s quite a different story in the UK; when our aging underground stations become overcrowded the station attendants will temporary close entry.

A reflection of a prioritisation of efficiency over comfort in Japanese culture. As a Japanese friend commented, “it is very important get to work on time in Japan”.

Other thoughts of Tokyo rail; complex rail maps, female only carriages, cleanliness and modern technology. And less well known; beautiful visual design and ever helpful staff.

An example; the Japan Rail map of Tokyo and the surrounding area at the station in Shibuya – complex and beautiful.

Note the look and feel of the ticket machines. It’s modern, but yet retro. A metallic feel with plenty of prominent buttons and slots. They say to me, “I am proud to be ticket machines”, they don’t attempt streamline themselves into the human world.

It’s not only the ticket machines that feel metallic, trains are finished in polished metal; always very clean. It’s especially noticable at one of Tokyo’s many railway crossings. When you wait on trains to pass you can see the trains are clean from the ground up.

Why so clean? – Japanese people take a lot of pride in their work. I think this is in part the healthy desire to do a good job. And in part it’s the story of a society with strongly enforced cultural values.

Take for example the Japanese word, “Ganbatte” (がんばって) which means roughly “do your best”. You hear this a lot in Japan. For example if someone is preparing for an exam, has an interview, is entering a competition you might say “Ganbatte”. It’s telling in English that we don’t have a word like this and you rarely hear people say “do your best”. When I think about it, we would use, “good luck”. Do we subconsciouly place emphasis on luck vs. hard work? I heard it said that your true nation is your language.

Let’s be frank, trains in UK are disgustingly dirty, if you are on the london underground just touch the outside with a finger – it’ll come away black.

They play birdsong in some of the stations in Tokyo. On one trip I regularly used the Toei Oedo line. I would always enjoy listening to the birdsong in the background. I don’t think I consciously noticed it at first, but at some point I realised it contributed to a joyful and relaxed feeling.

A friend tells me it’s used as a warning sound for blind people. Regardless of the true purpose it has a calming effect.

It reminds me that concrete cities and high technology are not our natural environment. Perhaps we suffer from a build up of background stress from our surroundings. These small touches can bring some peace and make life a little more comfortable.

When trains arrive or depart in Japan you get jingles, tunes and tones. It makes you aware but doesn’t cause any panic or stress. In the UK we get alarms and buzzers. It makes me feel tired.

Have you ever hear of ‘cotton wool Britian’ – we have a love affair with health and safety. Visual and audio warnings are everywhere. Do they reduce accidents – I don’t know, but they certainly contribute to a feeling of constant threat.

Even though Tokyo is a huge modern city packed with people and technology, I feel like it caters to the human need for comfort and relaxation better than many others.

Perhaps the most popular rail line; the Yamanote line. It’s the circular route that you can see in the centre of the rail map. It stops at many famous places. The green colours of the Yamanote trains and the little touches of green on the clocks, ticket machines etc. make a beautiful theme.

Tokyo is a city full of amazing vibrant colours, which really pop in photography.

The Yamanote line is a case in diversity. The stations it stops at include everything from traditional temples to electronic and business districts. A wide variety of people can be found on the platforms and trains; tourists, salary men/lady, school pupils, fashionistas and even Elvis style rockers.

What a strange city. In some ways it could be considered monocultural as Japan still remains relatively closed to foreigners. But within it’s Japanese culture there is a large diversity. Perhaps driven from the need to be different.

I expected Japanese commuters to play Nintendo or Sony or be glued to their mobile phone, but it’s not completely the case. A big surprise was the popularity of books. Tokyo has big bookstores in all the main areas. And even has some cool concept stores such as the Tsutaya at the fashionable Daikanyama.

I started to realise how important literature and poetry is in Japan. I recently discovered one of the most famous concise forms of poetry ‘haiku’ comes from Japan. And only yesterday while finishing the very good book, “strange weather over tokyo” I discovered the following poem:


In loneliness I have drifted this long way, alone.
My torn and shabby robe could not keep out the cold.
And tonight the sky was so clear
it made my heart ache all the more.
– Seihaku Irako

A little of topic, but worth sharing. So a lot’s of people read on the trains. Japan has a slightly smaller format for novels. They look really cute and easily go in your pocket.

Japan is obsessed with cuteness – a topic close to my heart.

Coming into or exiting a station in Tokyo is generally a pleasure. The stations are super clear, they always seem to be staffed by helpful attendants and every station I have been to has a clean toilet! Just the thing when late night asahi and sake are common features.

You can’t escape from the rail in Tokyo, everywhere you look it’s their to see.

Life in Japan can be difficult with long working hours. It’s important the trains are clean and on time. One thing that will amaze any visitor is how quickly and easily japanese people can fall asleep on the train. If you fall asleep on a train here in the UK it’s likely someone is going to steal all your stuff.

Tokyo is very safe. Theft is virtually non existent. You can leave your bicycle unlocked at the park entrances, you can leave you Macbook, phone and wallet unattended in a coffee shop.

The only complaint I have to say is when I’m stranded after 1am, then it’s time to find a late night club, a 24hr restaurant or a manga cafe and wait it out with all the other partiers for the 1st train the next day.

But that’s a small complaint.

Kyoto Umbrella

bright orange and blue
just a small shelter it’s true
but I still love you


I took this picture in Kyoto, Japan, back in 2014. At the time I was working on my photography in a structured way. On the day I took this I was working on contrasting colours. Specifically looking for blue and orange, red and green etc.

Contrasting colours can be quite powerful, especially if you have a visual weight contrast e.g. 80% of one and 20% of the other. That’s why sometimes if you see a girl in a purple dress holding a single yellow flower, it looks beautiful. In fact some photographers will take a contrasting colour flower to a photo shoot just for that purpose.

Yesterday when I started writing201 poetry course we learned the form haiku, today I was thinking about this picture and had this short haiku in mind.

Screen – A Haiku Poem (Writing 201 day 1)

I’ve just started the wordpress blogging university ‘writing201’ course. The first poem is based on the word prompt ‘screen’, the form ‘haiku’ and the device ‘alliteration’.

Here is my 1st every poetry attempt:

just a small, slight screen
the data it can display
I can’t comprehend

bright electric light
but is it real or fake?
an imitation

staring at your screen
from early until late-night
who is the user?


Some background notes:
I joined the course by accident last night, so this is all very exciting. The exercise included a suggested form. This time the ‘haiku‘ form; three lines containing 5, 7 and 5 syllables. I tried to write three haiku, just for practice. I can see the challenge in writing a poem in just one haiku; saying something meaningful and concise.

The device the exercise suggested was alliteration; using the same consonent multiple times in proximity, the aural imprint this leaves is called consonance.

In terms of my effort, I think I managed to get the 5,7,5 syllables, unless my counting is off. I don’t think I quite got the meaning I intended as clearly as possible. And while I did try to include some alliteration ‘small, slight, screen / data, display / can’t comprehend’, it’s not that strong.

My intention for the poem was in the first haiku to contrast the small size of the screen with the depth of information available. The second was to introduce the idea that screens and online life are distracting us from real life. The third being my progression of this to question do we use computers / screens or do they use us?

The picture is from a photoshoot I did for a local coffee shop earlier this year.

I really appreciate any comments on the structure, possible alternate vocabulary, and ways to make my meaning clearer or more interesting.