Thursday, 31 March 2011

So Now I Know.

Inspired by a visit from Memphis TN, I finally got around to Googling ‘Benson, Arizona.’ The song with that title (from the film Dark Star) has been running through my head, off and on, for a couple of decades at least.

Surprise, surprise. It really exists.

Pricking the Poetic.

I just watched a beautiful and haunting little British art house film called Frozen.

Filmed mostly on Morecombe Bay in north west England, it had all you’d expect of such a production: starkly beautiful shots of this most eerie and treacherous bit of coastline, the mystery of an intriguing image on a videotape, a rare level of emotional depth, superb performances by the lead actors, and a beautifully evocative theme for cello, piano and marimba.

And in the midst of all this ethereal fare there was one particularly memorable line.

The weird guy with the squinty eyes is trying to chat up the heroine Kath in a bar. She rejects him and walks away, at which point his mate standing behind him says:

‘Well, that went down like a cup o’ cold sick.’

You have to love that Lancastrian directness, don’t you?

The Transatlantic Trend.

I watched a pretty decent film tonight called Infamous, about Truman Capote’s research for his book In Cold Blood and his relationship with one of the murderers. What I don’t understand is why an American studio making a film about an American literary icon should have used so many British actors doing American accents. These included both Truman Capote and the murderer. And I have to say that, for me, the best and most elegantly restrained performance came from Sandra Bullock. I do believe she’s much underrated.

On a related note, there’s a measure of dismay over here that some glamorous young Hollywood star (forget her name; never heard of her) has been engaged by an American film company to play the next Miss Marple. I must admit, that is a bit rum – as if Helen Hayes wasn’t bad enough. It’s a bit like asking Hugh Grant to play Huckleberry Finn.

Searching Speculation.

I think it might be interesting to speculate on the psychological markers contained within Google search terms. Ones that have brought people to my blog in the last twenty four hours have included parsnips is daft, define petulance in a picture and tortured victims in Ulverston, Cumbria. The only thing I’ve searched today is do relined chimneys need sweeping more often?

On second thoughts, such speculation would probably be pointless. Anybody considering my search term would probably conclude I was normal.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

What's Going On?

While I was out shopping today I was scanning the headlines on the newspaper racks. The Daily Express, supposedly one of the slightly less sensationalist of the British tabloids (which isn’t saying much, I admit,) had as its lead story the revelation that Britain is known to be getting nuclear fallout from the damaged Japanese reactor.

Given the distance involved, this struck me as fairly unlikely, but I’m no expert in these matters and it seemed a pretty extreme ‘lie’ even for a tabloid. None of the other newspapers, however, made mention of it – at least not on the front page. I checked the TV text news when I got home and there was no mention of it there either, neither is it listed among the Yahoo headlines. I haven’t had a chance to see a TV news bulletin yet.

So what’s this about? Is it just another example of a tabloid newspaper trying to sell copy by peddling sensationalist crap, or is there something going on that the authorities don’t want us to know about?

That Others Might Live.

I’ve been both lopping hedgerows and crawling through them today. (Why? To get to the other side, of course.) So now various parts of me, especially my scalp, are itching mercilessly. I assume I’m providing sustenance for microscopic life forms. Not quite as extreme as the Buddha sacrificing himself to the tigress in an earlier incarnation, I suppose. I have some way to go yet.

Neighbours Come A-Calling.

I had a rare and welcome visitor today. The farmer was checking the fences in the field neighbouring my garden, when his dog came crashing through a small gap in the hedge. Once she’d afforded me the courtesy of a tail wag, reclined ears and the offering of her head for a pat, she spent a happy ten minutes exploring the unfamiliar scents of my little piece of ground.

A few years ago I had visitors on a grander scale. A herd of cows had escaped from a field a mile or so away, and had taken themselves off for a perambulation around the lanes before ending up in my garden. They trampled all over my five vegetable plots, and yet they didn’t tread on a single plant. Long odds or considerate cows?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Avoiding an Essay on Togetherness.

Just to pick up on something I said in an earlier post and in a bit of correspondence with Andrea. I said that I wish I could do the togetherness thing, but I can’t. True, but it doesn’t mean I can’t get close to people, and I have no difficulty being loyal in a general sense. It isn’t closeness or loyalty or connection that I have difficulty with, but the concept of togetherness. The very word ‘together’ sounds alien to me. It frightens me because it feels like entrapment, and I have a terrible fear of being confined. It also smacks of compromise and the willing conveyance of some part of my being into the hands of another. They don’t sit easily with me either.

I could go on and on about this, taking in issues like commitment phobia, emotional immaturity, the axioms of social structure, the value of a divergent gene pool, and even the practice of raiding the neighbouring tribes to carry off their women.

But it would become tedious and I can’t be bothered. Let’s just say that eschewing togetherness has its pros and cons, and there are times when the cons have the upper hand. Even a confirmed commitmentphobe like me sometimes feels the want of practical or psychological support quite keenly.

So there you have it, briefly. Maybe I’ll be different next time. Hope so, because I’ve entered into a couple of rash undertakings for the next life.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Resisting the Objective View.

I was sitting alone in the mediaeval churchyard today, soaking up the warm spring sunshine and sinking into the peace that imbues such places. I looked around at the familiar scenery - the mediaeval masonry worn and weathered by the centuries, the massive, ancient yew tree that might well pre-date the present 14thC church, the many-shaped headstones in greys and browns, some of them standing at alarming angles but standing yet, and the fresh young daffodils springing in riotous profusion, oblivious to their wanton precocity in such a time-honoured place.

My eye was caught by a show of primroses growing in a group by one corner of the church wall, close to where I was sitting. I was suddenly and randomly struck by the fact that what I was looking at was a coalescence of primary, vibrating, sub-atomic particles being bombarded by other particles forming the suns’ rays, some of which they were absorbing and some reflecting, for such is the simple explanation for what we call colour. The primrose with pink and yellow flowers and green leaves was, in essence, composed of the same material as the stones, the trees and my own body. It’s just that my brain is wired and conditioned to see it as something different.

Pity, really. I rather like the subjective version.

Who Are You?

According to Google stats, I’m getting a lot of visits from Slovenia lately. I don’t suppose you’d care to declare yourself? Slovenia is such a nice name.

Don't Ask.

Our clocks went forward an hour yesterday, which means that for another week, Sydney NSW is ten hours ahead of us. This is a matter of some import to me. You wouldn’t understand.

Random Reflections.

Boring and uninspired gobshite that I am tonight, the four most mind boggling reflections I can come with are:

1) Coleslaw is remarkably versatile. I make my own and I’ve had it as an accompaniment with three different sorts of meals on three consecutive days.

2) Andrea is uncommonly pretty, and her bloke looks like he’s well able to take care of her and their children. That pleases me, but it also makes me wish I knew how to do the togetherness thing. I don’t.

3) The current 75cl bottle of scotch has lasted six days. That’s pretty good going, but I fear it’s one short step from being on the wagon. Boring I can just about accept, but respectable? F*** that!

4) People who use big words just to sound impressive never do, except to proclaim their immaturity.

4a) I like bulleted lists.

I hope you’re impressed.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Other Kafka's Problem.

Let’s imagine a parallel universe in which you name is Franz Kafka and you’ve just written a most unusual, ground breaking novel called The Trial. And let’s suppose that, unlike the other version of you in the other universe, you would like it to be published. And let’s also suppose that, just like that other version of you, you have no wish be a career author, nor any interest in writing commercial best-sellers. So you delve into the world of book publishing and find that there are three ways to proceed.

1) You can try to get a mainstream publisher interested. Publication by one of those will ensure that your book will go onto the shelves of book stores and be seen by a lot of people. It will also be reviewed, favourably you hope, by critics who respond to quality as well as commercial potential. You discover, however, that to approach a mainstream publisher you have to go through an agent, and agents make their living from commission so they are primarily interested in representing career authors who have the potential to turn out a string of best sellers. They’re unlikely to be interested in somebody like you who lacks ambition, and they’re unlikely to be interested in a book that’s difficult to read and doesn’t have a thrill on every page. Furthermore, even in the unlikely event that they recognise the book’s classic potential, they won’t want to wait fifty years to make a decent amount of commission.

2) You can try one of the countless small press publishers who don’t have plush offices in London, New York or San Francisco, but who work mostly from home and use the internet as their portal. The advantage with them is that they’re generally a little less commercially focussed than the mainstream, and so are more open to one-offs. There are, however, two disadvantages. Firstly, their books hardly ever get into bricks-and-mortar bookstores; they are almost exclusively available through the internet and will only be seen by people who choose to access that publisher’s website. This means that the potential for being read is massively reduced. Secondly, they mostly use part time editors who are aspiring writers themselves, and who tend to have an irritatingly self-important attitude to the job and their own capabilities. They also tend to view literature in a ‘correct,’ formulaic sort of way. You know that there’s more than an even chance that you will eventually have to withdraw your book because you won’t be able to tolerate the hatchet job these editors are likely do on it.

3) You can self-publish. You discover that, with a reasonable degree of computer literacy, this isn’t so difficult and costs relatively little money. The problem is this: how do you market it? Because of the way in which print-on-demand technology works, buying up a load of copies and trying to place them in book stores would be prohibitively expensive. Besides, you’re no salesman; you’re just a thinking sort of person who happens to have written what you believe to be a decent novel. That means you can only sell it via internet mail order, and who the hell is going to find you or have any reason to want to buy your book?

So what does this version of Franz Kafka do?

Now, although this problem pertains to me to some extent, I make no claim to be a Franz Kafka. Neither do I labour under any delusion that my novel is a work of any sort of genius. But it seems to me that there’s a general problem here. How do we maintain the tradition of publishing mould-breaking literature in the current climate? Are those days over now?

In Lieu of a Post.

Since I have nothing to say at the moment (my state of mind is a pile of shite and I’m sure this blog reflects the fact,) I’ve decided to break my rule and post an unpublished story at the other blog. I feel justified in doing so because I’m sure it never will be published.

I love this one; it represents a little piece of my history.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Land of Contrasts.


This was recorded in Australia of all places. No thundering men here, just a woman glowing.

Future Habit.

Oh Sarah, she of high renown.

Her jeans were hanging upside down
Upon the washing line today.
They flapped and stole my heart away.

I swear that young woman hasn’t a clue how beautiful she is, and I’m rather too old to tell her. The prospect of becoming a Zen monk seems increasingly inevitable.

Risk and Retribution.

Now, here’s an interesting fact:

Research demonstrates that every cupcake you eat in excess of three a week statistically reduces your life expectancy by seventeen minutes.

No? OK, I made that one up, but a hell of a lot of the lets-find-something-else-to-frighten-people-with crap that the experts seeking a reason for their existence throw at us is nearly as bad. Like:

‘If you don’t drink five litres of water a day, you’ll be dehydrated and become ill.’

I didn’t make that one up.

And on a completely different note, I’m pleased to see that the panel of doctors is still badgering the government to hold a proper inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly. I wonder whether Tony Blair has got his suitcase packed.

Another Odd Occurence.

I was in my garden the other day when I heard a turbo prop aircraft approaching. The engine noise grew louder and louder until it sounded low and directly overhead, and then died away again.

Problem: I have a good view in all directions from my garden, and there wasn’t a plane in sight. Neither was there a cloud to hide one. Wall-to-wall blue sky. So where the hell was it?

I don’t make these things up, you know.

Damned with Faint Praise?

It must be obvious by now that I’m no fan of either adverts or flashy cars. I am, however, interested in the philosophy behind advertising and the psychology of car-consciousness. And so my eye was caught by the contrasting approaches I saw in the tag lines of two car makers.

BMW: Joy is Futureproof.

Volvo: There’s more to life than a Volvo.

Now, if I had the money and mentality to be in the market for such material accoutrements, which one would appeal to me?

Er...

I would say that the ad men at BMW are aiming at the one-brain-cell man, whereas Volvo are going for the slightly superior one and a half.

Friday, 25 March 2011

A Small Postscript.

I just picked up two voice mail messages from Sachiyo (see last post.) She’s so sweet, that woman, and she’s trying to be so helpful and diligent in giving me what assistance she can with my circumstances. And what’s interesting is that she speaks clearly and is perfectly easy to understand, despite her strong Japanese accent. What a little treasure, and what an engaging encounter.

An Unexpected Benefit.

I’ve just come back from a meeting with a lovely Japanese woman called Sachiyo. She was impressed, apparently, that I pronounced her name right. It was written on the front of her diary, but she said that English people rarely know how to pronounce it. She touched my arm in congratulation.

I’d forgotten how nice it is to have my arm touched; it happens so infrequently these days. In fact, it always was a rare occurrence. It’s almost as nice as having my ear licked by a Springer Spaniel, something that fortunately happens a little more often. Dogs and children respond to me readily. Adults tend to be much more restrained.

Unfortunately, the legal advice was of relatively little value.

Being Really Interesting.

Too tired for any more posting today. I’ve had two consecutive short nights, one because I had to get up early to do something, and this morning because I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep. I suppose it set the tone for the day, really. And tomorrow I have to get up early again because I’m off to take some legal advice over the house business.

Early night in the offing.

And here’s a bit of mind-blowing intelligence. I forgot to get my yoghurt at the supermarket this week, so I intend to remedy the mater when I go to town tomorrow. Problem is, I’ve realised that the parking fee is more than the cost of the yoghurt. Isn’t that interesting...?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Day Continues...

The latest e-mail to drop into my inbox is from the editor of a prospective new magazine called The Seahorse Review.

The Seahorse Review looked good; the website was well designed and looked professional, and they wanted intelligent stories with an existential bent. It seemed that something of quality was in the offing, something different and interesting, something I fancied being associated with. I had one story that appeared to fit the bill, so I sent it and they accepted it. It was scheduled for the first issue which was due out about now.

The e-mail informed me that, due to certain unforeseen circumstances and funding issues, the project has been scrapped.

It’s been that kind of day.

Move on.

The Day So Far.

I received a letter from the landlord’s agent this morning. Battle number two is now joined.

Then the builders turned up to start work on my late neighbour’s house, so my space is being well and truly invaded by their presence and noise. If there’s one thing that sets my nerves on edge, it’s having my space invaded.

I checked my e-mails and the only one was from the literary agent, declining my novel. Rejections don’t normally bother me a bit, but this one disappointed. That’s because I’d been foolish enough to think that the synopsis and first three chapters might arouse sufficient interest for them to want to read the rest. They said they couldn’t envisage a market for it. I intend to persevere, but I might have to consider going to the small press. That isn’t so bad these days, since electronic publication is in the ascendant. We’ll see.

All in all, though, not a good day so far. Off to the post box now, to send a carefully worded letter back to the landlord’s agent.

Talking of Which...

Talking of aspirations, it amuses me now to remember that there were two things I wanted to be between the ages of about eight and thirteen.

The pre-pubescent me wanted to be a missionary. Imagine that. Me. A missionary! Ha! I think I would have ended up being de-frocked, or whatever they do to recalcitrant missionaries, or at least become a character in a Brian Friel play.

The post-pubescent me wanted to be a film star - not for the fame and wealth, you understand, but because it would enable me to spend my life being lots of other people. I would get to have lots of fun playing at soldiers and mediaeval knights and gangsters – and missionaries. It also occurred to me that I might get the chance to have a fling with Hayley Mills (seriously!) She was a bit older than me, but I preferred older women in those days (when I was twelve I had my appendix out, and didn’t want to leave hospital because I’d developed a crush on one of the nurses. She was the first of many to get over.)

Later on I came to a belief in the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and started to consider what I might want to do in my next life. (That’s long term planning, right? Not exactly living the moment.) So far, the two favourites are astronaut and Zen monk.

Come a long way, haven’t I? Right.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Feeling the Now.

It was a warm, still, sunny day today, and since I’d got most of the early spring gardening work done over the last few days, I decided to go for a walk.

As I walked down the path I could see the kids playing in the sunshine, over on the village school playing field across the lane. For a second or two I was taken back to my own childhood. I felt again the innocent joy of going out on the first warm, sunny day of spring without a coat. I remember taking a simple, spontaneous delight in the feel of the sunshine and the sight of a world that had been coloured dull browns and greys and whites, but now looked resplendent in vibrant greens and yellows. I remember sensing that there was a mellow freshness and life about the air. I remember feeling alive and happy.

As I started my walk down the lane, I asked myself the question: what was that feeling all about, and why don’t I get it so easily any more? The answer, I think, is simple. Children naturally live the Now far more readily than adults do.

As we grow older we create a history, and we become inclined to remember and reminisce. The older we get, the bigger the history becomes and the more there is to reminisce about. We even use that history to define ourselves, because we naturally see ourselves in terms of our experiences.

But we don’t only look backwards. As we grow out of early childhood, we become aware of expectations – those we have of ourselves and those that others have of us. Expectations are all about future consciousness, and that consciousness leads us to consider where we’re going - or think we are. We begin to have aspirations, and aspirations lead us to plan and set goals. But we also come to realise that the future is essentially unknowable because luck plays a part, as do the actions of others. And so we develop the habit of worrying about what might or might not work out, or whether the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune might pin us to a stake or push us over a precipice. It affects some of us more than others, but I’ve never met an adult yet who didn’t suffer from it to some extent.

And the more we look back and forward along the conveyor belt that is life, remembering the past and fretting about the future, the more we forget how to live in the present moment. There are plenty of self-professed sages telling us it’s what we should be doing, but I haven’t encountered one yet who can tell me how to do it.

Happy footnote:

On my way back from the walk I was slowly overtaken by Sarah (she of the inner beauty and possessor of a lovely Cocker Spaniel) and her sister, Rebecca, out riding their horses. Sarah was friendly and talkative, which she hasn’t been for some months, and even Rebecca spoke amicably to me, which she’s never done before. (Rebecca usually stares at me silently and inquisitively. I don’t know why.)

As nice as the experience was, I really must try not to remember it, mustn’t I?

To Continue...

I mean, come on! We’re just at the start of the most vibrant season of the year. This is a time for buds and birds and bunnies, when the real imperatives of life fill the air with optimism and the prospect of procreation.

Why do those grotty little politicians have to choose now to stand self-importantly in their stuffy chamber, sporting their swish suits, posturing their self-proclaimed superiority, and telling me how much poorer I’m going to be from midnight onwards?

BECAUSE THEY SAY SO!

Have they no soul?

Stupid question.

Still Ranting.

And another thing. It’s Budget Day tomorrow. One problem with this complex, centralised culture we live in is that it gives damn politicians far too much influence over our lives. We become pawns in their game, the point of which seems to be about nothing more than the exercise of power.

I'd prefer to be writing silly ditties, or posts about the unfolding vernal splendour in my garden and the landscape generally. One day.

Major and Minor Complaints.

I’m too serious at the moment. I dislike being this serious. It’s what happens when there’s a real or imagined enemy camped just over the hill, if not actually battering the door. The kid I love so much takes shelter while the boring grown up concentrates on keeping his weapons sharp. I hate it, but there you are.

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I’m sick and tired of the flashy car adverts on my Hotmail home page. Cars flashing in and out, cars driving in and out, cars jumping up and down. They’re nearly all ‘prestige’ cars, but not quite. There’s one ad showing a bird electing to crap on a nondescript little blue car because it isn’t a shiny red Seat. Hateful. Pathetic. Who the hell is taken in by this rubbish? Why can’t I just retire into the mists and wander among the apple groves?

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The waning gibbous is the oddest, sickly shade of yellow tonight. ‘Jaundiced’ is the word that springs to mind. Like me.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Trouble with Freedom.

Lucy is talking about freedom today. In her case it’s the freedom to do pretty much whatever she wants for a while, now the exams are over. I know the feeling well, as we all do. We even have a name for it: the Friday Feeling, because it’s what we get every Friday night when we leave work or school behind for the weekend. I have noticed, however, that a lot of people have a problem with too much of this kind of freedom.

It’s a well known fact that some people struggle with retirement, and it’s hardly surprising. From the day we start school to the day we leave work for good, we’re conditioned to walk a regimented treadmill, doing what the employer requires us to do rather than what we as individuals regard as priorities. In most cases, life at the workplace isn’t so much about doing what needs to be done, but rather what the employer expects of us. It might seem like a small distinction, but it’s a very telling one.

This is largely a product of the industrial age, of course, when factories needed to establish the treadmill principle in order to increase efficiency. That process has been given a name, too: the ‘work ethic’ we call it, and generation after generation has been conditioned to regard it as one of life’s most honourable qualities.

And it seems that a lot of people like it that way. They like having their life regimented and organised for the benefit of an employer; they like being told what to do because it saves having to make decisions. It avoids having to decide whether today is a day for sowing seeds, or mending nets, or building a new barn. They turn up for school or work every morning at the same time for fifty or sixty years and do what’s expected of them. And they’re left in no doubt from an early age that the major goal in life is to ‘get a job,’ because that’s the best and easiest way to become successful and prosperous, and the only realistic way to make their contribution to society. What’s more, because of the way society is structured in the post-industrial age, it’s right. Walking the treadmill is the easiest way to belong, and the modern age couldn’t even function as it does without it. And that’s how people come to view their job as their primary focus outside the family.

So what happens when they retire? That focus gets removed and replaced by a measure of freedom that they haven’t been trained to exercise. The freedom to come and go as they please might be enjoyable for a week or two, as it was when they used to go on an annual holiday, but there’s no going back to work at the end of it. The freedom is now open ended, and it seems that many people don’t know how to use it. And so they feel lost, lacking purpose, lacking direction, lacking focus, and maybe even lacking a fundamental belief in the right to be here. Even those with hobbies aren’t necessarily let off the hook, because hobbies are generally things you can choose to do as and when you want. They’re part of the new freedom; they lack the treadmill principle. I’ve even heard retired people say that they had to go out and get a part time job with fixed hours in order to ‘have a reason to get up in the morning.’

I find this sad, but I don’t know what we can do about it now without the most radical restructuring of society, and few people would be happy to accept the cost of such a change. My hope is that the small number of people who, like me, find the treadmill torturous will see what’s going on while they’re still young enough to push their lives in a more independent direction. I left it until I was thirty two, and by that age most people have got commitments hanging around their necks that make the change of direction more difficult.

The Right to Freedom.

It seems a Christian church in Belfast recently ran an ad that condemned homosexuality, and were ordered to withdraw it by the Advertising Standards Authority who ruled that it was ‘homophobic.’ The church took the case to court, where a judge today found against the ASA on the grounds that they were denying the freedom to legitimate expression of opinion. The ad can stand.

Whatever my opinions on the gay issue, I have to say that I applaud the judge’s decision. We live in a society that not only allows but still encourages the following of religion, and the major religions in the western world are all Judaic. This means that they all use the Old Testament – the Jewish Bible – as the bedrock of their code for living, and according to the Old Testament, God specifically forbids homosexuality. I fail to see how any Christian, Muslim, Jew, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Rastafarian etc, etc can do other than object to homosexuality, since they believe that God regards it as a major sin. How duplicitous and downright idiotic would it be if we allowed people to follow a religion, yet denied them the right to express an opinion that accords with their holy book?

I can’t help thinking that this is another example of the liberal alter-establishment becoming totalitarian. It wants to enshrine in law the freedom of the individual to express and practice his or her sexual orientation, but then deny those of a contrary opinion the freedom to express their view. This is not liberal, but merely confused thinking. Freedom of expression, if it is to be allowed at all, must be allowed to all sides.

And just in case you’re wondering, I don’t follow any religion; if I have a leaning at all, it is towards Buddhism. That means I regard homosexuality as neither right nor wrong; it just is.

A Little Reminiscence.

I just remembered something, having listened to The Parting Glass for the umpteenth time (the Wailing Jennys’ version this time.)

Way back in the nineties, I went to an actor’s first or last night party. An actor called Roger Delves-Broughton sang The Parting Glass, and I followed him with a harmony. When we’d finished, one of the actresses came over, put a hand on each of our shoulders, and said ‘thank you.’ That’s a nice memory. Little things sometimes mean a lot.

Fine Worts. Fine Cabbage.

Quoting the words of sages, poets, authors, even celebrities, is much in vogue in the blogosphere. Many of them are fine words indeed. Impressive stuff - good advice, some of it, on how to approach life and deal with the challenges it throws at you. And yet I wonder just how much notice any of us really take of those words when the crap comes a-flying. Not much at all, I suspect.

One of my favourite quotations is this one from Shayna’s blog:

"My dress is old but at night the moon is kind; then I wear a beautiful moon colored dress.”
- Native American Indian Child

This doesn’t come from some person of great gravitas advising us on how to approach the meaning of life, the universe and everything, nor even how to survive in a cruel world. This comes from a child creating her own reality, before some dumb grown up comes along and tells her that magic is only for maniacs. I’m with the kid – 100%.

Monday, 21 March 2011

A Minor Inconvenience.

I was watching Waking the Dead tonight – one of my favourite drama series on Brit TV. There were two actors in it who I knew during my time at the theatre. When that happens I find myself reminiscing, maybe remembering the last time I spoke to him or her. And then I go back to the programme and find I’ve missed five minutes of the bloody plot!

Compliments of the equinox to everybody. It was tonight at 11.21 GMT. Only seven weeks to go to Beltane. I think I might light a fire this year, in honour of the Old Ways. Pity there aren’t any maidens about who share my interest and feel inclined to rekindle the tradition. Then again...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A Message of Some Sort?

Something odd happened this afternoon. One of the strings on my guitar sounded when I was nowhere near it. I was startled, as you might imagine, and checked to find out which one it was. The B, or second, string. A few minutes later another one sounded, but much deeper. That turned out to be the bottom E, or sixth.

I assumed at first that it might have been due to the strings twanging through a sudden drop in tension, which can happen on a guitar if a string hasn’t been wound properly. But then the guitar would have been well out of tune, which it wasn’t; it was still perfectly tuned.

So what’s going on? Should I assume that some communication is taking place, and that BE is significant? Are the letters the beginning of a longer word, or are they contained unto themselves? The fact that they happen to be the first two letters of my surname is surely mere coincidence.

This happened in the same room where the CD player developed a habit of switching its own power on recently, and the TV made an odd noise before what appeared to be a shadow passed across it. My living room. Mmm...

I did say that strange things happen to me sometimes, didn’t I?

Rooting for the Wrong Side.

I went to a Christian service today, in a Christian church. It was my late neighbour’s memorial service and I went out of respect to him and his family.

It might come as no surprise that I didn’t bow my head in prayer, I didn’t sing along with the hymns, and I didn’t enjoy it. To make matters worse, the vicar set my nerves on edge with his irritating God-certainties and his curiously contrived way of speaking. It struck me that vicars probably come second only to weather presenters in the curiously-contrived-way-of-speaking stakes. I’ve often wondered why they do it. And I suppose all this indicates one of the reasons why I enjoyed Mists so much; I found myself identifying with the heroes for once.

And on the subject of identifying with the hero, or not as the case may be, I wonder whether anybody out there is familiar with the MR James story Casting the Runes, or the film Night of the Demon that was based on it. If so, did you find yourself rooting for arch-villain Dr Karswell, as I did?

A little postscript on the above:

The day wasn't entirely a failure, since I did make friends with two beautiful dogs. One Springer Spaniel even licked my ear, which was the nicest thing that's happened to me in a long time. I'm tempted to recall that there was a time when Springer Spaniels weren't the only biological life form that occasionally paid oral attention to my ear, but wallowing in the past is a most pointless exercise.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Four Little Notes.

I had a letter from the landlord’s agent today. It appears that, on the face of it at least, the first point of conflict is now resolved – by him capitulating rather too easily. This makes me suspicious.

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I finally finished Mists of Avalon. I feel inclined to write a decent spiel about it, but I think I’ve probably said enough already. I have a space by my armchair where the current novel resides for the duration of its reading, then when it’s finished it goes onto the pile of read books and gathers dust. I didn’t want to do that with Mists. I’d grown to love it so much that it seemed only proper to let it remain in place for a while, there to be venerated like a dignitary lying in state. Or maybe I just didn’t want to let it go.

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I find it amusing when somebody writes some short stories, gets a few of them published by the small press, and then sets up an ‘author’s website’ to crow about their elevated status. I won’t name names.

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It surprises me a little that the Irish made St Patrick their patron saint, and now make such a fuss about his Day. It seems to me that he was the first of the Brits to go stomping around Eire giving orders to the natives. Not as brutally as some of the others, maybe, but still...

Friday, 18 March 2011

Winds of Change.

My little world is under threat at the moment. The death of my neighbour and the new system of managing the estate properties are bringing changes that are not to my liking so far. It seems that my personal five-year golden age might be coming to an end, or at least being substantially depleted.

In my virtual world, I’m now almost at the end of the epic novel Mists of Avalon. As I said in an earlier post, this book has drawn me in like no other, and it’s set against the backdrop of the major social, political and religious upheaval that followed the withdrawal of the legions from Britain. When you get that drawn in by a story, you feel what’s happening to the characters.

But, of course, this is minor stuff indeed compared with the devastation being wreaked on people’s lives through the unrest in the Middle East and the natural disasters in Japan, Queensland, New Zealand, Brazil, and so on. It has me thinking of people throughout history who have had the winds of suffering and destruction forced upon them – the German Jews in the 1930s, the victims of imperial aggression, the Midwest farmers during the dust bowl days etc, etc, etc.

I suppose all this reminds me that any reliance on the concept of security is foolish. Any one of us might be lucky and have a settled, peaceful life this time round, but we need to be forever strengthened against the possibility that something beyond our control might come along and turn everything upside down tomorrow.

This might sound like a pessimistic post, but it isn’t really. It’s just a recognition of how life is, and it’s all pretty obvious. We all know that the only certainty in a material life is the inevitability of material death. It’s why I’ve always been so concerned to find out what lies beyond the material, and it's partly why I find the modern obssession with material ambition quite laughable.

Another Explanation.

There are things going on in my life and inside me at the moment that might prove useful in the long run, but at the moment they don’t feel good. Going beyond those parameters of existential enquiry to which one has hitherto been accustomed can be enervating. It leaves a big question mark hanging over any sense of self-worth, it dilutes one’s belief in the capacity to deal with the mundane world, and it precipitates an image of oneself as an empty vessel from which any attempt at communication would be pointless. Hence the lack of blog posts lately.

This isn’t a mere case of the winter blues, nor is it only about the current problems with the new agent and the uncertainty over my home, unpleasant and complicated though they happen to be. If only it were that simple. Neither do I make any exaggerated claim for the dark night of the soul. This is just what happens when you go a-walking beyond the cultural and spiritual tram lines without leaving them behind once and for all. Until you learn to exist routinely in the greater reality beyond, you have a habit of losing your way and ending up in some dark places. It’s happened before and I sense it happening with other people, too; it’s just that they haven’t clocked what’s happening to them yet. Instead they tend to tear their hair, weep copiously, and ask questions like ‘Why am I so worthless?’ and ‘Am I going insane?’ Probably not, although the people who never leave the safety of the tram lines generally see it that way.

I intend to be back once the fallout has settled and I can breathe freely again.

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Just a little footnote, something that hasn’t done much for my mood over the last few days:

I was watching a news report from one of the coastal areas in north eastern Japan. They were in a small town that had been badly damaged by the tsunami, but not destroyed altogether. A local man was describing the event in such a restrained, phlegmatic way that the horrors seemed almost commonplace. And then he made one little remark that arrested my breathing:

‘I saw a child being washed out to sea.’

How the hell am I supposed to process a statement like that?

Monday, 14 March 2011

A Kindred Spirit.

The Parting Glass

Oh, all the money that e'er I spent,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that e’er I've done,
alas it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
to mem'ry now I can't recall;
So fill to me the parting glass,
Good night and joy be with you all.

Oh, all the comrades that e'er I had,
They are sorry for my going away.
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had,
They would wish me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and I softly call,
Goodnight and joy be with you all.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Responses.

I was watching news footage of the Japanese earthquake yesterday and felt the sudden urge to weep. I didn’t, but it’s the first time in my life that such an event has triggered such a reaction.

I wish I could find something to feel passionate about. The leaping fire of passion is much more familiar to me then the flowing water of emotion, and I miss it. Maybe we reach an age at which passion becomes inappropriate, if not wholly redundant. That’s a sad thought.

Strangely, though, I’ve always been drawn to people who are resigned to being quietly and chronically sad. I think it might have something to do with the stories my mother used to tell me as a kid.

I’m not sure why I’m posting this. I think I might be talking to somebody. It would be so much easier to be normal.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Enemy.

However much the sages tell us that enemies are there to be learned from, to the imperfect human held in the gin trap of a human’s ego the enemy is there to be defeated. So when an enemy looms in sight, the mind becomes focussed on the means to do that, while every other consideration dissolves into the periphery and becomes torpid.

And still I have to ask myself: who is the real enemy?

Difficult Prospects.

I’m nine tenths of the way through Mists of Avalon, and I’ve been struck by a rising sense of sadness that I’m coming close to the end. This is a unique experience for me. As much as I enjoy the plots, characters, atmosphere and so on, I’m never really drawn into novels the way some people are. Part of me always remains dispassionate, viewing the world between the covers from a distance. Part of my brain always sees them as exercises in conveying something about the nature of being or the human condition, and I’m always quite happy to see that exercise rounded off with a suitable conclusion.

I didn’t entirely switch that faculty off with Mists, either. I could level a number of criticisms at it from a literary point of view, and I wouldn’t hold it up as an example of great literature to be compared on equal terms with the likes of Kafka, Sartre, Dostoyevsky and so on. Its one great claim to academic achievement, I think, is in the way it takes the standard themes of the classic Arthurian Romantic canon and re-tells them in a different and much more believable way. And it does so from the point of view of the women in the story, not the men.

The fact is, however, that none of this is the point as far as I’m concerned. What makes Mists unique to me is that it’s more than just a novel; it’s an experience. It’s an experience so rich, poignant and powerful that, for once, I stopped thinking of it as a novel. It drew me in like no other book has done. I stopped being a reader and became a close observer of something strangely real. It provided an alternative world to live in for a while every night, a world in which I came to genuinely care for the people playing out their lives, loves, pains, pleasures and adventures. I cared what happened to them, and that’s why I’m sad at the prospect of them leaving me. I almost don’t want to read the last hundred pages.

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On a more downbeat note, the developing saga of my dealings with the new land agent took more twists today. It’s becoming ever more disquieting, and is occupying vast amounts of my waking thought. It even disturbed my sleep last night, which is most unusual for me. And there’s plenty more to come yet.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Tram Line Publishing.

I read the following on a publisher’s website tonight:

If we feel your work is a good fit for Buzzy Mag we will contact you via email. At that time we will assign you to a Beta reading group consisting of two or three other authors. There your work will be read by two other beta-readers who will give you feed-back and criticism. You will be expected to do likewise for each of them in return.

What is this modern mania for writing by committee? Can you imagine any of the great authors of the modern age having anything to do with this sickly, sanitised approach to literature? Is literature one of society’s creative forces or isn’t it? Because if it is, there’s only one approach that’s worthy of the fact. You say what you have to say in the way you want to say it, using your own judgement and experience to say it as well as you can. Then you accept that people either like it or they don’t as the fancy takes them. It’s how Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Franz Kafka, Flann O’Brien etc, etc, etc did it. If it was good enough for them...

And while I’m ranting: What person of discernment would ever consider calling a publication ‘Buzzy Mag?’ And since when was the word ‘feedback’ hyphenated? And who the hell invented that idiot term 'beta reader' anyway? It's become one of those buzz terms that people don't question because people like that don't question things. Perhaps 'Buzzy Mag' isn't so surprising after all.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Agent.

The landlord’s new agent came alone today, and although I wasn’t wholly unsuccessful in defending my difficult corner, his visit left me feeling more unsettled than I have for a long time. I didn’t like him one bit. For all his pretended affability, his impeccable politeness, and his protestations of the rational and reasonable, there was an air about him that was almost palpable. It spoke of assumed superiority, of the need to control, and of the unchallengeable rules laid out in the narrow, professional and implacably materialistic code that is the mainstay of his mindset. His upper crust voice, his big, brand new Volvo, his county set clothing and generally dismissive demeanour left me in no doubt that he and I don’t really belong in the same world. And after he’d gone, this house and garden that have become almost sacrosanct to me, and which have come to represent the essence of who I am these days, felt polluted.

Unfortunately, I have to play the game by his rules or leave. And so there are things I have to do, and I’m likely to feel unsettled for some time to come. I won’t bore you with the details.

So then I watched some bits of things on the TV, including the news, and it seemed to me that there is a hint of unwholesome change taking place around the world. I began to get the sense that from Wisconsin to Libya, and from Whitehall to Beijing, harsh religious, commercial and political interests are trying to take ever more narrow and exclusive control. I have the feeling that there’s something in the air, and that there are difficult times ahead. I would like to be proved wrong.

Maybe Tomorrow Night.

I’d like to make a post tonight but I have a meeting with the landlord and his agent tomorrow. It seems likely that I shall lose at least one battle, probably two, and maybe even three, because the only grounds I have to argue from are reason and consideration. Landlords aren’t generally interested in such things, and the agent is the landlord’s man. So I’m likely to get pretty pissed off. That’s why I’m tense and not in the mood for making blog posts.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Fairy Music.

Certain pieces of music have a strange power over me. They suck me into another world and close off the portal until they’ve finished. I’m locked in there unless I can find the strength to click the ‘off’ switch, which I rarely do because I like it in there. My feet tap, my fingers rap out the rhythm, and sometimes I’m even moved enough to jump around the room like a mad thing. And my head is full of pictures – usually with a leaning to the surreal.

Some famous composer once said that pictures meant nothing to him unless they suggested music. The converse is true for me – which is why I could never get on with Mozart, as much as I respect his genius. But give me the Christy Moore classic Dance to the Reel in the Flickering Light... Even the title of his album Smoke and Strong Whiskey is enough. A world to my liking.

The women in my life often thought me a bit odd, but the dogs loved me.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Alone Again.

I’m feeling utterly flat now that the novel edit is done and the first three chapters are printed and parcelled up. Tomorrow they wing their way to the metropolis. I just hope the agent bothers to read them instead of stopping at the synopsis, as the others have done. It would be nice to think that somebody has actually read a bit of it.

This isn’t merely a story about somebody taking a journey, you see. This is my journey, coalesced into a single short work of apparent fiction. The Lady is real, and now she’s gone back to the water. I hate partings.

So where do I go from here? I would quite like to write something else, but I can’t just make things up. Stories need to present themselves to be set down. Until something does, my fingers will have to remain idle.

Talking of stories, I find the response to L’Etranger on the other blog a bit strange. Most of the stories have had between thirty and forty page views, and most of those came within a few days of being posted. Helping Jennifer has had fifty one views, and The Thirteenth Tree eighty. L’Etranger was posted three weeks ago and has had just four views. Since nobody can know what it’s about until they’ve read it, I assume it has to be the title that’s putting people off. Oh well, enough said on that subject.

Worst Post Ever.

Somebody told me today that I’m ‘intellectually sexy with a hint of naughtiness.’ Gosh. I wonder if you can get frontal lobe enlargement pills.

It must surely be more than mere coincidence that willy rhymes with filly, silly, hilly and Philly. You must admit, those Ordnance Survey triangulation points on top of hills do bear a passing resemblance to nipples standing firm and erect in the wild frenzy of sexual abandon. Or so I seem to recall. (I wonder if I should try writing romantic fiction.)

My search for a toasting fork goes on. What’s the point of having a coal fire if you can’t toast bread on it?

People whose Tumblrs I read have started adding moving pictures. Don’t you realise this is eating up my bandwidth? I have to visit you after midnight now. You know who you are!

I was thinking of favourite lines from movies today. So far I have:

‘That’s the sanity clause.’
‘Aw, come on! Dere ain’t no Sanity Claus.’

‘If that plane leaves and you’re not on it, you’ll be sorry. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day and for the rest of your life.’
‘Oh, Rick!’

‘He says he wants toast.’
‘Woof.’
‘Shut up, Toast.’

‘They say: “Good morning, Gerald. How are you today?” And I say “I’m completely mad today, thank you.” “Not much change there, then, is there Gerald?” “No. Well, you’d have to be mad to expect any, wouldn’t you?” I’m Mad Gerald. Mad, mad, mad...’
‘Shhh.’
‘Shhh.’

I’m bored, restless and feeling uninspired tonight. Does it show? Time to exercise my liver.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Drink and the Artist.

During my time working at the theatre we used to get occasional concerts given by a well known Scottish fiddler – a giant of Scottish traditional music who shall, of course, be nameless. During my forays backstage I used to notice how much more florid he became as the night wore on, and how much more belligerent his responses if I tried to so much as pass the time of day.

One night, Rob the bar supervisor told me how many scotches this brilliant fiddler had drunk before the show, and how many more he’d imbibed during the interval. It put my meagre capacity to shame, I can assure you. And yet his playing was flawless and magnificent. What a guy! My admiration for him knew no bounds. Still doesn’t.