Monday, December 6, 2010


Putting Dylan to bed last night he asked me, Do you like to go thinking? Well of course, I reassured him; if we didn't think, we couldn't talk, or decide what to ask Santa for Christmas, or...  I know that, he yawned, but do you LIKE to go thinking Daddy, that's what I want to know?

It's a strange question for a child to ask, but perhaps understandable given the time I spend in my study. It's also a good one, because it allowed me to think about thinking, which is about as near philosophers get to being paid double time. For thinking, I'd say, is one of my favourite pastimes. 

This isn't new. As a teenager I'd muse on deep and troublesome issues as I ambled home from school. Problems like: if I can hear myself think, then who exactly is doing the talking; or why can't I imagine a new colour; or more frequently, is it wrong to think of Tracey Burnett when I'm snogging Sharon Simpson?

And I'm afraid the habit stuck - the thinking bit, if not so much the snogging.

At university I studied political philosophy, which might have got it out of my system, had not my first proper job been so fatefully lonely. A sales rep for a local newspaper my territory was loosely defined as Northumberland and the Lake District; I was given an old Vauxhall Chevette and drove fifty thousand miles a year occasionally bumping into customers - I loved it. Two years later my manager told me my car was being upgraded with a cassette radio! Oh, there's no need, I said, I never listen to music in the car. I'm sure he thought I was trying to impress him.

Still today, I seldom listen to music in the car; I prefer the silence of long journeys as an opportunity to work things through. Walking is like that too. Yesterday morning, I drove ten miles from my house, parked the car and tramped home along the old railway line. I did this partly because it was a beautiful morning, but also to have some time to ponder. I spent most of it contemplating two films I'd watched this week. 

The first was the Diving Bell And The Butterfly. It is the story of Jean Bauby, a victim of locked in syndrome who could communicate only by blinking. Bauby was physically paralysed but fully conscious: able to hear and see and smell, and eventually to 'dictate' the book on which the film is based. But his condition was perhaps as near to 'life as thought' as it can get. There was a scene where his eye was sown up to stop infection - it made me shudder, as if he was being further reduced to the bare essence of life. 

The second film was Restless Natives, about two youngsters who dress as a clown and a wolf man to rob tourist coaches in the Scottish Highlands. It's a quirky feel-good movie with a fabulous soundtrack by Big Country. But it's nothing like the stuff I normally watch and the ending is bordering on the ridiculous. So why did I like it so much? I'm really not sure, except maybe it's that hope and spirit triumphs over tragedy - which in a way has parallels with Jean Bauby's story. 

Aristotle said that the best existence was a one of contemplation. That may be so, but he was a professional thinker and by the time I reached home I was in need of more physical pleasures. Personally, I'd add good food and wine, the joy of landscape, a sense of love and security and a hot bath to his singular proposition. But then I've always have been greedy for life.

Interestingly though, as my walk confirmed, if I had to pick between my knowledge or my wealth, my mind or my body, the absence of love or loss...   I know precisely the choices I'd make. 

So yes, Dylan, I like to go thinking. I like it very much.


  1. Right below your post it said "you might also like: Genius at work. mmmmm. Dylan is a remarkable young boy. I liked this post very much. Thank you.

    The Diving Bell...compelling...have never forgotten it.

  2. Fab post Mark. Have just read it before popping off to bed: far too late, far to much local lamb, far too much good red wine (is that not the essence of life?!). Love the snogging thoughts and the Vauxhall Chevette. I was one up on you - my parents had an ice blue Vauxhall Cavalier (yuck! - mercifully they upgraded to a black Alfa Romeo Guilietta after that - dream car and the only reason I'm with my husband - but that's another story!). Often drive these lanes around here in silence with just my thoughts and the landscape around me. At night, though, I love to play music, really loud - but always something which makes me think. I swear I have my best thoughts alone in the dark with my music and my car.
    Goodnight, sleep tight. Dylan's a star.

  3. My first permanent job was a (not very) civil servant in Durham. We had to complete a timesheet each week - Thinking Time was one of the allowed categories.

    I thought it was very enlightened!

  4. Some of my best internal journeys have arisen from me taking a few hours to go thinking...

  5. I love to go thinking. From time to time in my life friends or loved ones have said some form of "You think too much". I am not sure how that can be. Worrying, which is not thinking, yes - I can see that, and any of that going round and round in the head stuff which drives you down deeper into a hole. These you can clearly do too much of. But thinking, musing, analysing, thinking yourself to some extent out of your shoes and into the shoes of others, all that seems to me something which helps one to live a good life. My husband loves to have the radio on as background noise almost. I tend to go round switching things off!

  6. So nicely written Mark. I am looking forward to when Dylan writes his own post.

  7. I just read a good book that proves a tree falling does not make a sound if you are not there to hear it. That and what is in the room you just left disappears when you close the door. Amazing.

  8. This post made me think! I think thinking is an art form. We do our utmost (well some of us do) to avoid being alone with our thoughts. I think that I try to avoid thinking as much as I can. Thinking is overrated. I prefer to BE. I am therefore I am.

    I think.


  9. This is a great post! I too have been criticised for "thinking too much," but where would the world be without those who think??

    Thanks for visiting my blog; I'm flattered but haven't been writing much lately, trying to stir my creative side a bit...