What goes up...

is often a lot of hot air. In my mind I soar like an eagle, but my friends say I waddle like a duck.

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Location: No Man's Land, Disputed Ground

Flights of Fancy on the Winds of Whimsy

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Veni, Vidi, Circunambulati

It has been a strange tour of service, these past three years, showing the ghosts of the Camel and Pilot around the world for which they fought and died. Originally, I had planned to let them see, in both the present and the past which would have been their future, what had been the results of all those deaths. I wondered if they would judge the sacrifice acceptable.

Their war was a peculiar one, for, apart from the destruction to farms, villages and towns; citizens, objectors and non-combatants, were generally not the target. In fact, non-combatants did serve and did get wounded or even killed, but they did so of their own free will, not as the victims of a set of rules and regulations which decreed who should be quickly dead and who should be slow-walking dead. Those latter people did not have the choice of neutrality or non-hostility.

An ancestor of mine, I learned when I was young, was wounded by a bayonet thrust to the thigh in a charge. I had assumed he was a soldier, carrying a rifle. But, I learned, he was a conscientious objector, on religious grounds. He would not kill, but served as a stretcher-bearer. This only puzzled me further until I learned that the stretcher-bearers ran forward in company with their armed and non-non-combatant friends. And if one of them should get lost in the smoke and confusion and blunder into a small group of the enemy desperately hiding in a crater while the charge swept past them, the long shape of the furled stretcher might be mistaken for a rifle or two.

There was a small amount of action against the innocents in the Great war; bombings of cities, shellings of coastal towns, sinking of shipping, but, with the exception of the Armenian genocide, the war was fought between the uniforms and machines. As I steered the camel and pilot on towards the place we are today, we crossed the dirty smoking landscape that was Poland, and briefly visited the camps.

We leaped forwards as the throttle was opened fully, banking sharply round from our intended course and diving into today, to topical news, to satisfy their curiousity as to whether the crimes in Poland and the other occupied lands had been resolved. And found that, even now, some suspected war-criminals were never found, others found but cunningly smuggled into the victors' services, and still more, today, are not to be brought to book because they are too old, or it would cost too much.

As we circled over this ugly story, we passed across another land where yet another strange set of rules permitted decimation; Cambodia. And today, so many years after the piles of skulls were made in the centres of little villages, no war-criminals have ever had a sentence passed. They have had paragraphs written on them, that they are too old to be tried, that the stability of the country could be threatened, that the cost might outweight the benefits.

What price a life? What price a million lives? At what point does one move from saying "here is a murder, that is to be expected" to "This is a serial murderer, we should try to stop him or at least write a book about him" to "This is genocide, we should set up whole institutions to debate upon them" ? (That is so clumsy, having to put the question mark there after the closing quote, but I do not see any other way that I would do it. I didn't say could, some of you might notice.)

So what is the point of our circling flight? The title has aroused curiousity in other places. The camel and pilot were very understanding when I told them that I would not tell them. I would try to show them how they could tell themselves what it meant. Years ago, when I first read Gurdjieff, I was puzzled at his dictum that "one must strive to bury the dog as deeply as possible". What was the point of writing a book about one man's view of the truth if it never said what that truth was? I kept his books, and other writings by people like Crowley, because I hoped that one day I would have time to go back and read them all again, and maybe I could find that elusive truth. In fact, I very nearly opened "Yoga for Yahoos" the other day, but saw that someone was destroying my playground and had to rush to intercede.

But I have recently found out for myself why a truth, any truth, is best buried deeply in the soil and not beneath a marker stone either. Take Veni, Vidi, Circunambulati; which someone the other day asked me the meaning of. Suppose I had said, "well, it means dah de dah de dah de dah de dah." What would I have given that person? They would have had in their mind two linked sets of information, one saying Veni, Vidi, Circunambulati, the other saying "dah de dah de dah de dah de dah". It would have been very much the same as any of a dozen of hundred religious tenets, just resting quietly in the mind like languid lilies on a lake. Pretty, but inedible. Useless, except to perhaps amuse someone at the dinner table.

I did take pity on one inquirer because it was obvious that their English was recently acquired, and so I explained that when a Roman conquered Britain, he said "Veni, Vidi, Vici", taken to mean "I came, I saw, I conquered". And since that person did not understand circunambulate, I told them that it meant to go around the edge of, to skirt a thorny thicket, to wander obstinately in a different route to that which others had intended. To circle around. And they then asked me, now they knew what it meant, what did it mean? And I knew then that to tell them what it meant would spoil the joke, not only for me, but for them too, because it was such a silly trifling thing.

And so it is with truths. Most truths, when you finally wrest them from the friendly soil, are really quite trivial and insignificant. In fact, when you look back at them a few days later on, it seems to you that there was no mystery there at all, the truth was obvious. Our minds are full of obvious truths now floating languidly on the surface, or more often lurking in the deep of what Jung called the collective unconscious. And there they wait, sometimes nudging us, sometimes calming us, but usually ignored by us.

For a seeker after truth, the act of seeking is the aim, I now realise, not the discovery. The discovery is usually something you already knew and is therefore rarely new, but the transformation from the journey is the gift of life. I know now what Gurdjieff's secret was, and why the dog must be buried so deeply, no matter what the size of it might be.

And so back to the truth of the Sopwith Camel and his pilot, was their end worthwhile? If they had not died, if they and many others had refused to fight, would the world have gone a different way, would millions still be alive today? Well, just as with any truth, I shall bury it, and I think I should bury it back where it started.

Veni, Vidi, Circunambulati.

Curious clouds and wandering winds have made the flight path circle strangely round, and underneath us is the pock-marked scabrous face between the lines, and, not by bullet but by chance, a structural failure has sent us spinning round and round into a dance that will not stop. This mission ends in mud and blood and wreckage, just like many other missions. War is a list of casualties and decorations, and for this pair, there are no suitable medals for what they did, just a sudden plunge over the edge of the cliff where one world ends and another one begins. The terminal velocity and the soft soil will ensure the camel and pilot go deeply into that dark Jungian hiding place where secrets lie in peace.

This flight is ended. There will be no headstone, no eulogy, no flowers, and no comments.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Porn and Politicians and Paranoia too

Sometimes I get worried about my obsessions, especially when they lead me astray and I get clobbered with hexually-transmitted diseases. I like to look through the web to see what other people are fascinated by. I think it makes me feel more balanced to know that I am not alone in wanting to see or read about unusual sexual behaviour.

It is, of course, a topical subject here in England at the moment, because of the partner of someone in a high position having watched two porn movies which were subsequently included on an expense account which was then covered by taxpayers funds. The business of who paid for them is, I think, the important issue here, although it is peanuts by comparison to some other "little" fiddles that have been dragged up from the music cupboard recently.

The issue that is really being hammered in the media, though, is that somebody watched porn. I cannot understand why this is newsworthy at all. What, I wonder, is so strange about somebody watching erotic videos? That is why they were made in the first place, isn't it? Are we really still so repressed sexually that the majority of people in this country believe that sex is purely for procreation?

Anyway, I wander about the web from time to time seeing what makes other people tick, and I know from conversations that other people also do, too. Of course, there are risks involved. Some people claim it makes you go blind. Others warn you that porn sites are the ones most likely to give your computer something to make its private parts sore and itchy for a time, and it was one of these sites which I got caught by.

I knew I was taking a risk, not only because I was using Windows XP and not Linux, but because I was using an older version of Mozilla instead of the more modern Firefox. This was because I was fed up with the Firefox updates regularly upsetting plug-ins which had previously worked, and so I had reverted to a Mozilla version which would still do the little tricks I wanted. The browser itself might be irrelevant to what happened anyway, but I cannot say for certain. I had a few tabs open, because I was going through those annoying sites which have collections of thumbnails which you think are going to lead you to a page of pictures, but which instead lead to another site full of thumbnails which lead you to a page, and so on.

What happened is that I had several tabs open, and when a popup popped up saying would I like to download a codec update so I could view the page properly I clicked on the little "x" in the top right corner to kill the popup, not trusting the "NO" button. Another popup appeared claiming that a virus had been detected on my hard drive and inviting me to click to have it removed. I tried the back button to move off the page but was in what is called a browser-trap, I was stuck on the page, which had also switched the browser from windowed into full-screen mode. I clicked on the "x" in the top right corner, and this time heard an ominous beeping. I killed the whole set of open tabs and when the browser window died, I found myself facing a white-coloured desktop with larger than normal icons.

I right-clicked on the desktop, intending to reset the screen size, and found I couldn't. I tried to get the task manage window, and got a message saying that it had been disabled by an administrator. I rebooted, and there was the same white desktop, wrong screen resolution, and lack of task manager.

At times like this it is a great relief to have an alternate, and I fortunately had two; a laptop and a linux partition on the compromised machine. I went online and googled around, and soon got an idea of what I had got, and it wasn't pleasant. Smitfraud, it was called. I found several free tools to play around with and tried to make the problem go away. After a bit of fiddling with Spybot, Hijack this, some malware removal programs and the msconfig utility I managed to get the task manager back, lost the fake white desktop picture, and resized the screen. Now I could start hunting through the windows folders to see what was going on.

I added Zonealarm and began to see what was trying to ask for internet access, and got a name, twice, called Psyche. Google turned up very little about this, just a hint it was a particularly clever tool. On a whim, I called up the dos box and tried netstat, and saw the window fill up and overflow. I found my copy of Tcpview, ran it, and realised that although I had apparently cleaned up Smitfraud with the free tools which said that they would do the trick, what was left behind, or possibly put there in place of the Smitfraud collection, was a spammers delight. My machine was a relay station for 200 or more open connections.

Paranoia is a wonderful gift. Not the mad bad type which leads sufferers to stalk round parks and back streets with carving knives looking for someone that a little voice will tell them is sending them coded messages via a radio receiver implanted in their tooth. I'm talking about the one which says "If your machine is compromised, what else is it being used for besides spam? Supposing someone is using your PC to hack into the Pentagon, or to launch DDOS attacks against a betting shop web-server as part of a blackmail attempt. Suppose the authorities come looking for you based on the IP address? What then?"

My first instinct was to delete the hard disk, refresh it from a backup image I had taken a few weeks earlier, restore the few additional programs I had added since the image, and get back to the serious business of downloading porn. I had now gone for four days without any flickering images, and I was feeling the lack of titillation. But another part of me said that if I did that, and the authorities did come anyway and demand to see my machine because it had possibly been used to breach Pentagon security, the act of having recently wiped and then restored the hard disk could be taken as the sign of a guilty conscience. If the compromised hard disk were still there it would serve as evidence that I was indeed the victim of malicious outsiders.

Then another part of me chipped in to say that the large quantity of porn on the hard disk would then compromise me in a different way. True, it was what you might call "OK" porn, all adults stuffing and being stuffed, but some of it was not what you would call vanilla, and there are laws creeping into place in this country which are not going to look kindly upon people seeing images of other people doing things that are not considered normal by those who make our laws and control the authorities who enforce them.

It is claimed, by several bodies, that there is a direct connection between films depicting violence against women and instance of rape. This is one of the reasons given for bringing in the new laws, that the unrestricted circulation of certain types of films will promote a rise in a certain type of crime. There might be some truth in it, for I have noticed that one of the favourite weapons of the serial psychopath who crops up again and again on the screen is the knife, and there are claims that knife crime has risen somewhat over the past few years.

But here, we get an interesting dichotomy. The government claim that knife crime is not on the increase, rather, that it has decreased in the time that they have been in power. Their figures have tried to show that the UK, when considered as a set of statistics, is a much safer place to live than it used to be. Against this, we have their claim that viewing certain crimes in film and on TV promotes that crime amongst some of the more impressionable viewers. I think that, as an experiment, they should try banning all films which depict wounding and killing using knives, and see if there is a corresponding fall in knife crime.

But they won't bother, because they have it on good advice that they are right. And it still didn't help my paranoia any, in fact, the thought that my collection of porn might have me thrown into room 101 for thought crime against a fantasy figure inside my head made things even worse.

I have been paranoid a few times before, and got given some good, free, advice by someone I shall call Debs. She told me that the best way to deal with paranoid thoughts was to go out and tell them, out loud, to someone. Anyone, but preferably a stranger, because then you could empty your head and run away without worrying that what you had said would come back to haunt you later on.

And so that is what I did. I wiped the hard disk, restored the image, went back to hunting porn but this time using linux, and have told you all about my dark fears and nightmares. and so, if the boots do come though the door and the machines are carted away for forensic examination, the claim that I was the innocent victim of a drive-by download hijack is right here, on the web, visible to thousands of witnesses. Well, hundreds. Well, in the case of this blog, three of four, but you're enough for me. The only problem is, you're not exactly strangers, are you?

The problem still remains that our elders and betters, elected by us to represent us and watch over us, are not expected to do the same things that we do. They will never watch porn, for instance, and so will never understand what it means to many of us. That is possibly why they have decided that taking some of it away might be a good thing.

I really wish that we could be governed by peers, who know what it is like to be human, to have to struggle with masses of junkmail and self-assessment forms and nanny our children ourselves and balance the budget each time we go to the petrol pumps or supermarket or pay our utility bills or try to get onto an NHS dentist's waiting list. But no, we are to be watched over by a collection of puritans who have no inner human needs or desires.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

In praise of older stories

I have not watched anything of any great length now for several weeks. The dark nights had fled in terror of the sun, leading me into temptation outside rather than inside. And, when inside, I have a new temptation too, and so the television has stayed off, and even the DVD's of Green Wing series 1 and 2 which someone lent me are still sitting there unwatched. The last film I sat through without feeling the need to get up and do something different was "Oh brother, where art thou". I knew, within the first five minutes, that this was one of those films. After watching it, and then watching the recording once more, I had confirmed my suspicions by a-googling and a-wikiying, and knew that I had indeed spotted my old favourite framework underneath it. It was "Ulysses", Homer's second epic, first retold by James Joyce in book form, and now reworked by the Coen brothers. (My preceding post about a tour around the town for a haircut owes more than just a nod to Mr Joyce, but also to something deeper.)

I have been disenchanted with the visual offerings lately, and for several reasons. The first, which is being partly addressed by new streaming techniques, is that one cannot stop midway through a film and reflect, pop back and review what you thought you had seen earlier, to discover that you have very cunningly tricked yourself. You cannot allow your critical faculties to sit in the theatre alongside you, their mutterings and comments will spoil the show. With a book, however, they can perch on your shoulder and gibber in your ear and you can riffle through the pages, or grab another book to riffle through those pages too, and there is no detraction from your pleasure. But with visual media which advances linearly, steadily, so many frames a second on the screen or so many heartbeats a minute on the stage, you must go at the pace dictated to you.

I mentioned earlier that my disenchantment of the first reason was being addressed, in part, by the new streaming techniques, and of course, just like with video tapes and DVD's, you can stop, pause, rewind, review, and return to the point at which your curiousity got too much for your self-control and made you wriggle in your seat and rustle your crisp packet. But it spoils the flow of the film, the pace at which you need to sit and watch must not be interrupted. You must suspend your disbelief in order to appreciate the tale the makers wished to tell.

And that is my second disenchantment with the visual media, that the imagination is asked to leave the room. You are not meant to see things in your mind's eye, the producers have insisted that they are going to put the pictures there for you. Well, not a problem, you think, surely that's the whole idea? Yes, I admit, it is, but then we arrive at a more disturbing room, with a creaking door and cobwebs inside sprawling haphazard over all the strange uneasy chairs and tabula rasas. In the state of suspended disbelief, where the police enforce the minimum highway speed limits with rigor and dedication, the roadside advertising can get inside your mind without you knowing it. Not knowing it while the film is playing, anyway.

I like to know who's putting things inside my head. I don't mind when I put them there myself; say, as a result of reading a passage in a book which invites me to imagine a situation, or when the rhythm and the rhyme and the unexpected meanings of the carefully chosen words in a poem makes me cross a border into a whole new territory. What I do not like is when a producer want's me to see everything, but everything, exactly as they themselves did. Sometimes I don't mind doing that, (and the two Coen brothers films I have seen are that type of film). But at other times, I do not want to see the blood and entrails that they have spent so much time creating in the special effects department. I find the unpleasantness disturbs me too much. I cannot watch as psycho after psycho draws blade after blade across trembling flesh and lets the hidden ichor out. I mentioned this in the last post when I roamed like Mr Bloom in search of the shearing shears.

Little Petal and I have radically different tastes in what we like to watch, so much so that we now no longer sit together, and I will no longer choose a film for us to view. The last time I selected something, "Big Fish", I became enthralled at the same rate as she became bored and confused. I tried to explain to her each thing that caught my eyes so vividly, and found I was upsetting both my enjoyment, and her annoyance. And so I now leave her to her endless repeats of crime upon the satellite. Tales of "knight-faced men protecting folks like you from men like me".

I too am fascinated by the predator-prey pattern which fills most modern fiction, whether it be book, film, or television series. But I have become disenchanted with the offerings which crowd out from within the flickering screen and try to convince me that forensics will solve the most baffling and carefully concealed crimes, committed by villains who manage to combine both unbelievable intelligence with unimaginative motive and method, and wreak their wicked whims on the strangest set of victims you could ever think of as meat. It is just another circus, where the clowns wear sombre clothing and juggle things which make you all go "Ooh" and "Eek" and "Argh" and "Ugh".

"See, as I move among you, the ease with which I catch the objects that my lovely young swimsuit-clad assistant will toss to me. Do not flinch as a 12-inch carving knife streaks above your heads, for I have caught it and it is in the air. And here comes the first victim, the silly housewife, who hears a noise withing the house and calls out 'hello, is anybody there?' (Let me tell you I am not only here and frightened but too stupid to go quiet and try to listen to your furtive footsteps before creeping out to safety). Let's toss her up with the other hand, and what have we next? Oh, it's a set of razor-sharp six-inch fingernails, with which to slice you up, provided I can still open doors and manipulate the other awkward objects which are still around me. They're in the dance now, watch them catch the light as they tumble high above me. And here's another victim, I have them, up they go, the screaming teenager who will turn on the torch in the darkened room, saying 'I'm at the pointed end of this cone of light which isn't going to show me where you are because you're hiding, but let you know exactly where I am.' And what is coming next? Don't quiver, madam, I know it looks dangerous, and it is dangerous, but you are in the audience, and we don't pick on our paying customers. Yes, it's that old favourite, the chainsaw, running, I might add, (hear the putt-putt as it idles smoothly), and see me deftly catch it by the handle and spin it up to join the dance, and can we have the next victim please? Oh, I see her, it's the stupid hooker who'll take the most ominous looking customer into a dark secluded alley where nobody can intervene and then express her shock and awe when what he pulls out is rather more than six inches."

But that's enough. The intelligent amongst you have already seen my point and begin to drift away towards the next item of interest, and the stupid are beginning to salivate and slobber as I rang that cracked Pavlovian bell. Anyone with any imagination at all can see the dangers of describing too accurately an actual predator at work with actual methods on an actual victim. And, as we have seen all to sadly in the past, even the absurd offerings of the film industry have apparently inspired some real deaths. But for all that, we still have session after session of the same old bedtime stories.

There is currently a law being introduced in this country which will make it illegal to watch certain films which depict certain acts, despite such films being made by consenting actors. The law does not address those who make, distribute and sell such films, because, one assumes, there are already laws in place to regulate them, (and presumably fiscal laws as well to extract from them a proper portion of the proceeds). It simply means to target those who wish to watch some less-than-usual adventures on a screen, and is intended to stop the sort of tragic murder or four which made the news in this country once or twice. And it is just another bit of nannying from the clever animals in the farmyard who have already given us positive discrimination; let's allow recruiters to intentionally drop other candidates in favour of those who are female, black, muslim, linguistically-challenged, anything which our figures show that we have less of in our little games. Yes, they're fiddling with the rules again, but don't be too harsh on them, they're doing it with the best intentions. Applaud them, I say, wave your ballot papers high and cheer as you step into the booth.

I far prefer the older style of films in which things were often alluded to, or hidden from view by a sudden fade-to-black, letting the mind kick in. I know from my favourite films that, even as I am sitting there, rapt, following the pace dictated by the crafters who have put it all together, my mind, if tickled into life, can go rummaging around furtively beneath the surface in search of the allusion, the meaning of the muttered metaphor, and then it can suddenly pop back alongside me, popcorn in hand, whispering in my ear that it has found something and will tell me later when the show is done.

But if they show me torture and torment slice by slice, my mind cannot go scurrying off in search of buried treasure, it is transfixed, like me, by the graphic images. And when I sit up from the film, there is no following time of thoughts surfacing unexpectedly to tell me what it has realised this scene or that character meant. The film finishes with the credits. And I feel cheated. I want my money back.

The last film I watched which I would class as dark and gory but nevertheless full of hidden meaning to go hunting after, was "The Machinist". It is noir, above everything else, and it had me thinking about the implications of being beside oneself for days afterward.

The last film noir which I watched and was thoroughly entranced by, was recommended to me by my friend the Exetan, probably because he felt I was almost as obsessive as the central character. It was "Pi", and in addition to the connection with computing, mathematical patterns, and the search for hidden meanings, it also featured an amazing soundtrack. And, in true noir fashion, was shot in black and white.

What is it about the lack of colour which so entrances me? Is it just nostalgia for the past, (which I am too young to claim to really know,) when the imagination was called upon to change the shades into hues? It would fit with my thoughts about my needing my imagination to be involved in order to appreciate a film. One of my all-time favourite films, which I had to view with subtitles because I cannot speak Russian, started out in black and white as the three companions journeyed on a maintenance trolley through the dark of the night. And, when morning came and they stood in the dawn staring at their strange new world, the colour came too. It was "Stalker", by Andre Tarkov. And, because I videoed it on a three hour tape and did not realise it would last fractionally longer, I do not know exactly how it ends. As the man, back from the strange country, walks along with his disturbed daughter riding on his shoulders past yellow pools, the tape ends. I find myself often imagining what did happen next, if anything at all. And that makes the film, for me, even more special.

The last "mainstream" film I watched, (and which I watched religiously from start to finish as the makers had intended, cursing at the interruptions of the adverts,) I only decided to watch in the first place because it featured Kiefer Sutherland. I have always been a fan of the Sutherland pair, father first, then son. I don't know if it is alright for a man to state that he finds another man sexy, so I shan't say it, (I would be picked on unmercifully by two people I know, at least, if not more). But if I wanted to change myself and be like somebody else, my first choice would be to be Donald Sutherland, and if I couldn't be him, then I would opt for his son.

The film was called "Phone Booth", and it played at a pace that took me with it all uncomplaining, and it gave my imagination more of a gym workout than it had had for a long time. And, like my favourite film "The Draughtsman's Contract", it hid more than it revealed. I spent days afterward wondering how the sniper acted, what had motivated him, how he stalked and set up his target. And it didn't dwell upon the goriness of death as the bullets struck, slow-motion splatters spurting at the screen, but instead, apart from one shooting and one throat-slitting, simply mentioned them in passing. And, by way of keeping it mysterious, they never showed Kiefer until the very end, and then just a blurry glimpse of him through drugged eyes as he passed by.

There are still some good film-makers who realise that the past is not just a store of old stories to be retold with even better graphic effects or even more desirable stars and starlets to play the parts, but is instead something belonging to us all which needs to be used creatively, to stimulate the mind, not merely titillate the senses.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pale light, dark shadows

On a morning with the promise of another warm day, I have taken myself off to a small town in Dorset, not too many miles away. And there, when I arrived at the industrial estate on the heights above the town, I left my brother's car to be serviced. I stood and chatted with a woman in the dingy reception area while I waited for a mechanic to take the keys from me.

She was possibly just older than me, dressed in slightly faded clothes, and her long brown hair had fine wisps of grey in it. Not grey roots showing beneath dye, but genuine single grey hairs in amongst brown. And her face was seamed in one or two places, a tanned complexion to her skin which made me think of the gypsy ladies who try and sell you sprigs of lucky heather in the streets. For some reason I found this woman quite erotic to be with, and we flirted mildly as the cars moved in and out while mechanics juggled spaces and places. Spring was here at last, we both agreed, and we were flicking our tails and rubbing our horns together in glee, until we both had to go to our separate affairs.

And so, on a morning with a firm promise of another warm day, I took myself, on foot now, into the small Dorset town.

"So we set out with
the beast and his tail,
and his crazy description of home..."

I posted a small parcel to New Zealand, and then my missions were accomplished. I was free to do whatever it would take to fill in the hours that the car would need to be serviced. This is how my life has become now, setting for myself each day a task, a reason to be, a short spell of playing at being a useful part of a working economic system. And then, I am adrift on the sea of fate, rudderless in the head and all three sheets loose to the winds of whimsy. My hair was long, the winter was gone, and I thought to have it shortened. ("Reef all sails, Mr Christian, damn your eyes!")

This small Dorset town, not too many miles from where I live, is well-stocked with hairdressers and barber-shops. There is a reason for this, which I shall not mention to you, for if I did, you would be able to place the town, and I wish to keep it comfortably anonymous. I like it like that. And so I strolled about the streets and thought how best could I choose from all the hairdressers and barber-shops which one I would enter?

I have become fascinated lately with how one comes to make decisions when there is either too much or too little information, with which one would otherwise easily decide. I read recently on the BBC website that researchers believe that we make trivial or unconscious decisions using emotions, not reason and logic. They have based this conclusion upon observation of the behavior of people with no emotional faculties left following accident or psychotic trauma. Such people cannot go to a restaurant and grab a table, because they cannot make up their minds which table they should sit at. We, the un-traumatised, will choose to sit facing a wall in our favourite colour, or with our backs to a person in an un-aesthetic dress, often unaware that we have made such a choice. They, without favorite colours or illogical prejudice, cannot make a decision.

And so I circled around, passing shop after shop, offer after offer, (cut two heads for the price of one, bring your radiation-mutated family here and save on haircut costs), letting my sub-conscious choose for me. Until it did, and my circling ceased, and I stood outside a small salon in a side-alley, whose owner's name was feminine, unlike mine, but had three syllables, like mine, and I remembered I had once loved a girl by that name, and wondered if she was still alive on this bright spring morning with its promise of a warm afternoon.

And when I stepped to the door and found it closed, and read the hand-written sign which said that she or they had gone to the bank, I still felt at peace. The old Camel would have huffed his way off to another alternative, but today, I had let myself be chosen for, and I once more went off on my circling tour of this town.

I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.

(Veni, Vidi, Circunambulati.)

And found myself by the riverside, looking at the signs of spring, thinking that it would soon be April

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

And it seemed appropriate to me to remember that two years ago, at this same time of the seasonal cycle, my sister-in-law died, and we bade our farewells beside the sea not so very far away. The sea, which I now have not seen for so long. The river beside which I stood and thought these thoughts was going there, running away from me as fast as I tried to pick a single spot on the surface to focus on. And underneath the ruffled surface, hidden from the sunlight dancing and dappling up above, lurked dark subconscious fishes dreaming in the deep...

Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

Fear death by drowning

"Full fathom five, my father lies,"

My dead father, who went so quickly, that I had barely opened the telegram and sped off towards the other side of the country before he muttered his final words to me. (And, remembering too the moment when I was blue-lighted as I sped through Reigate or Guildford, who could tell? Showing them the telegram in response to their questions, told to "slow down sir, else someone will be receiving a telegram about you." Remembering too that this was when my own spell in the Wasteland began, when I felt as though there was no-one in the world to whom a telegram could have been sent should I have stumbled by the way.)

But, jerking my head to break the river's fatal spell, I thought again of the lurking darkness that is always at the edge of our camp site, waiting, watching. My mother, under sentence of death twice now, once for being old, the other for having an inoperable tumour, is in that state known as remission, where it has gone and hidden out of sight, and is counting up to some unknown number before the game begins again. Is this what springtime means? Is it the cruelest time?

'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
'Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

And I think too of the threat to my favourite cat, after I spotted blood in the mess in the litter tray, and wondered "not her as well?" Blood in the toilet, the forerunner of my father's fate. That which was within is now without.

I felt I understood my father better when I realised I had a favourite amongst my three cats, but knew that I didn't love the other two any less, I had to give this one cat more attention than the others because it needed it. So too had my father often spent more time with a brother or a sister than with me, but then, I had felt it was because I was not good enough, or nice enough, or one of the things I had furtively done had been found out. And now I know that there is no way in which one can manage to love all one's pets and friends with an equal love, because they do not have an equal need. I feel I understand God now, if he were to exist. And, as I think of my dead friends and father, and might-be-dead mother, I realise that God could not love all of us with any of the intensity I feel, because his heart would break so often as they passed away, he would soon be incapable of feeling love for anything. He could not love, only do.

Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

But God does not exist, and I should get away from the water.

Fear death by drowning.

And I should get away from God as well, because I have come to think that, for my own agnostic and atheistic beliefs, there is not one shred of scientific proof.

And I went back into the town. and found my way to the shop, and found it open again, and sat inside with the other men waiting their turn to be caressed by the barberess' scissors. She was dark haired and dark-clothed, black trousers and a black with white-polka-dotted top, and her body curved voluptuously in and out and around as she danced her stately way around the chair with her rapturous barberee.

I was the third in the queue, but the youngest, and so I was content to wait, and as I waited, I wrote upon my small pocket computer-cum-phone. I was as rapt in my thoughts as was the figure in her chair wrapped in her attentions, although I stopped and watched from time to time, and listened to her soft Scottish voice. And when another man came in and sat closer to her than I was, I remained calm, unlike the old impetuous Camel who would often stalk out and go in search of more secluded spots, and I listened to the radio. And when "Elbow" came I hummed melodiously, and heard her say to me, "it's your turn now."

Then, jolting, starting from my thoughts, I said, "I'm not in a rush, perhaps that gentleman would like to be next?" And so he went to the chair, and I settled back, to hum and stutter words into the little screen, and watch again as her feet, in their pointed shoes, stepped lightly through the thinning grey hairs which fluttered to the floor. Clip-clip, tippy-tip, snip-snip-snip.

He left, and I, alone with her, got up, sat down, and asked her how much she charged for shearing Black Sheep in the springtime? And we spoke of grey, and I told her that I had read upon the web that they now believed, (those hordes of scientists who by their faith maintain our world from day to day), that people went grey because they, or their bodies, rather, produced peroxide. The body wanted to be blonde, bottle-blonde, no less.

Amidst the pleasant warmth of words which wafted in the breezeless air, she said, with shocking suddenness, "I'm not this colour really, I'm a natural blonde." I could be shocked, for she had finished with the scissors and it was safe to make movements, and asked her what had made her do the opposite of what most women did. And she said it had been an impulse, a wish to see what it was like to be brunette. Her customers were startled and confused, she said, and were just getting used to it. I said I had seen her instinctively as dark when I had first come through the door, and wouldn't have thought otherwise.

Curious, I wondered, did she feel a difference after doing what she had? And she said yes, she felt that, walking down the streets, fewer heads turned as she passed, and, she admitted, looking almost lonely, she was missing it.

She trimmed my eyebrows, bushy ram's-horns that they were, and offered me the razor to remove the fine hairs on my neck, but I declined. I had a horror of the knife, I told her, and I was not making this up; I could not watch a slicing or a stabbing, or even an operation, simulated on the screen, or real. "You wouldn't manage face-lifts then," she grinned, and tilted up her head, showing me the curves of her throat. She indicated that there should be scarring there, but I did not see it, I admit, not because I was too scared to look, but because I was, instead, fascinated by the soaring lines and curves of her swan's neck. I felt she wanted me to see the price that she had had to pay to be the woman that she was, today. But I, myself, now fascinated by her fascination with herself, would rather see what she would wish the world to see. I would like to be lied to, too. I had finally admitted it to myself.

I had been shorn, and I had been shriven also.

And so I left her, Penelope shearing Black Sheep till her Odysseus should return, and went again to stroll around the town, now deep in thought as to how she had come to make her colour-change, my writer's mind now breeding lilacs out of the dead ground, water-lilies from the thawing ponds, and, by the river, seeing swans, I made her walk there, and stare at a solitary white swan as it floated sedately on the rippled water, wondering why it was alone on such a lovely springtime day, and then, surprised, she saw the darker bank behind the whiteness shift and shake, and saw a black swan gliding on beside her mate.

And in that instant, seeing light and dark, she, on an impulse drawn by the hopes of yet another spring, decided she would play at being dark too, to see what it should feel like.

And as I wondered at her daring leap, the deliberate trip to the shop to get the bottle, and clearing out of children from the house so she should not be disturbed, I walked uphill from the river until I found myself standing on the bridge over the old railway line, now derelict. As I saw her dabbing off the last few spots of colour that had splashed upon her skin I walked, on impulse too, along the remnants of the railway, the greatest change that ever hit this land over two hundred years, and which was now no longer. It had seemed so big, so strong, so impervious to wind and rain and enemy bombs, and yet it was no more.

And yet, we are still here.
And, yet we are still, here.
And yet
we are
still here.

And she too, wondering why the daylight men would only glance at sunlight women, has yet to learn the secret of the dark-haired, (which she may never learn, for I fear that she will wash the colour out to get the glances back,) and that is that the dark-haired ladies are the creatures of the moon. They are to be appreciated in the shadows, not the full heat of the sun.

"Fear no more the heat of the sun..."

I still weep in grief for those who have departed and not left me a pointer to their new address.

And so, leaving the remains of the line behind, and walking uphill steadily to where the car might now be ready for me, I made her, in my writer's mind, go shopping, go round the town, go in and out of doors, considering this and declining that, until she found, with much deliberation, a soft cream leather jacket, with a matching soft cream leather skirt which ended just above the knees, and soft cream leather boots which came to just below the knees, and, putting it all on, watched her walk through the streets, turning heads as she passed, hearing them all, in their minds, arguing amongst themselves as to what colour might her underwear be? ("Oh let it be black; no, let it be white, or none, choose scarlet, or green, or lilac even.")

April is the cruelest month, breeding

And she will be walking in the spring, making the flowers lift their heads and watch her as she passes, they wondering to themselves "Am I her favourite colour, will she choose me?" ("No," from another, "it is not you, she will choose me." ) Sweet-pea peacocks cock-fighting over a chance to mate.

And I know that, in my writer's mind, she is laughing, because she, and she alone, knows that her favourite colour is...

this, today, and
that, tomorrow, and
the other, whenever
she chooses.

(The italicised quotes are from The Burial of the Dead, The Wasteland, by T S Eliot.)

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tell it like it is

Here is a BBC news article that has made me jump for joy this morning, (this fine spring morning, as the days march on towards summer.)

"Before, I was a wage slave"

I don't know the Latin to translate that into something as pithy as Rosinante, and what's the point anyway? Particularly when doing just that is exactly the sort of thing that the article proposes should be banned.

I'm out of touch now, but a few years back when I worked for a company in an office in Longshot Lane, (what a brilliant name for a park full of venture businesses), I was drowing in a sea of office cliches. I loathed them, they made me cringe everytime I was forced to listen to them.

"Let's just helicopter over this," a manager would say, and instead of concentrating on looking at the problem from a detached and lofty viewpoint, I would think instead of hefting a SAM on my shoulder and getting his helicopter right in the middle of the crosshairs.

"We want to get people synergising together" was another one. I couldn't find an answer to it. Synergy is a fortunate and unexpected by-product of some action or activity. You can't force people to do it, it just happens.

"We're getting into bed with the customer," my immediate line-manager would explain to us in the team meeting, his beady little eyes shining behind his glasses as he licked his lips, and I used to worry about what exactly he was visualising inside his head. Fortunately, I just worked for him, I didn't have to buy any of his wares.

I took my chance to misbehave one day when he uttered another of his favourite cliches, speaking directly to me, "I want you to run with this one." So I grabbed the pile of papers from the table and sprinted round the open-plan office. "How'd I do?" I gasped, flopping back down into my chair. I did well enough to be invited into the department manager's office for a short chat on office behaviour.

I had a friend there, a kindred spirit more like, who also hated the euphemisms as much as I did, and together we began to make up a new office language. "We're all singing from the same hymn sheet" became twisted into "We're all spewing on the same pavement", or "We're all throwing up the same pizza". They got banned. So too did "Rogering the punters". I suppose I can understand their detestation for that last one.

We named our language after my immediate line manager got cross with me one day and refused to allow me to attend a training course because "I had not been 'co-optive', (huh?), 'customer-facing' or 'coercible' this past week. If I had to think of a single word to describe your behaviour when asked to do something, I would pick 'bollocks'". And so our new cliche-pastiche-patois became "ballspeak".

I wasn't allowed to develop this new skill. Firstly, they moved my friend's desk to the opposite end of the office, forcing he and I to communicate by email. Secondly, they produced a list of unacceptable phrases I was asked to sign on to, and which I was to maintain myself by adding to it any new phrase or term I had been told not to use. No problems, I thought, and pinned the list to one of the acoustic dividers which split up our office into cosy little cells. People would drift past to see what I had most recently been told not to say. In a fit of glee one day, I realised I could rebuke myself for making up new phrases, and began adding to my list whenever I got bored waiting for the compiler to come back and tell me how bad it thought my digital poems were.

Finally, I was told to stop pinning anything up on the acoustic dividers around me which had not been officially approved. Shortly after that, I learned that the company was introducing a new "Total-Employee-Care" package. Someone who had visited the first induction course, (held at Milton Keynes), told me that they had all stood in a circle, holding hands, and singing a song about how they each had a customer to give their life a purpose.

I didn't walk, I ran. I gave the minimal notice period, accepted that they would claw back from my last salary payment the cost of the day-release college course they had insisted I complete in order to show I was qualified to write programs, and strode over the edge of the cliff.

And guess what? That was right in the middle of a recession, too. Money isn't everything. There's pride in one's self, as well.

So, anyway, good luck to the new initiative to de-ballspeak the councils. It will save a lot of money when they come to translate all the council directives into dozens of different tongues so that all the ethnic minorities, (now surely a majority group when considered together), can understand what it is the local council would like them to think they're getting for their money.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Speed of Light

The days pass faster as the light lengthens. I still don't know why this is, and I've seen it many times now. Winter seems to take too long to end, spring flashes into life, and suddenly you've blinked and the August Bank Holiday has rushed past. Put on the light, and then put on the light.

April is the cruelest month...

There are signs of lilacs already. The snowdrops at Kingston Lacey are wilting now. My mother didn't see them this year. She did, last year, believing that it would be for the last time, but she was almost wrong. If she hadn't suffered an ulcerated leg she would have been taken there again this year. All being well, she will see the Bluebells at Duncliffe again. She is in that happy state known as remission, when, although death is inevitable, it will come because of old age, not because of an unexpected growth.

I have been amazed to find some unexpected growths around in the gardens. Honesty was still flowering until the snows came. Daffodils have sprouted from two compost heaps, boasting that they can go anywhere they please. Birds are singing in the trees beyond my windows. One of them has learned to imitate the Nokia ring tone, and Little Petal has spent an angry evening learning how to use the menu system and reset her phone to make an old-fashioned jangling bell. That's progress for you, when the only sound the birds can't copy is the Victorian Alexander Graham Bell peal.

And this is why the days pass faster as the light grows longer: more things come to life again, and there is only a small amount of attention to go round. Come the Autumn, come the darkening evenings, small creatures and flowers will nod their heads and curl away somewhere, leaving only us smarter beings to play with the attention. Sitting in our caves above ground, tapping away on pur keyboards, playing ups and downs with each other, dancing in the dark.

Make the most of the light.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Moon is a Backwards Fish

I had passed through Wincanton, seeing the time on the clock-tower as ten past eight, and walked out of the orange streetlights into the darkness. My eyes began to adjust to the dimness of the silver moonlight. I looked up at the skies, seeing the moon, almost full, behind faint scurrying clouds rushing onward to their appointments. It did not look as though they had the time to stop and rain on me. I turned as each car came up behind me, sticking out my thumb, but they too were chasing the clouds and hadn't the time to stop. I kept walking. I had been fifteen miles from home when I had jumped out of the car at Morrisons' car-park, saying "I'll see you back home in my own time".

Someone slowed as they past me, and I ran up, but saw it was a taxi. I told the driver I didn't have enough to pay him, but he said there was no need, he was going to Mere to collect a fare, and I was welcome to the ride. And so I settled into the passenger seat and told him I had left my partner sitting in her car screeching blue murder and shrieking like a fury. I said that I hadn't expected anyone to stop for me; people don't pick up hitchhikers as they used to. There are now too many horror stories.

He told me his one, from a few years back, when he had picked up someone from near Nottingham who wanted to go to Malmesbury, and the taxi driver had said he was welcome to ride with him to Melksham. At Melksham, the passenger refused to get out, and said he wanted to be taken to Malmesbury. (This was not a taxi trip, by the way, the man was working for a firm and collecting one of their cars for them). So, unable to persuade him to leave, and unable to make the detour to Melksham, the taxi driver had said "I'm going to find the police station", and even that had failed. And then, right around the next corner, chancing upon a police car, he flashed his lights and the policemen advised the passenger to get himself out, and they might not arrest him, depending on how he behaved himself.

I told him that I had always stopped for "platers", (men delivering vehicles on trade numberplates who had to make their own way to or from the ends of the journey,) but the last three such lifts had been strange, and I had realised that people were making up their own trade plates. They looked like platers until you started talking to them, and you realised they didn't know the platers' places for snacks or rests, and that they were just a little too scruffy for someone supposed to be working for reputable firms. But I didn't tell him about the stranger who insisted on showing me that he could stub out cigarettes on his bare skin without flinching.

Instead, I told him that my recent argument had been because my partner, struggling to get her new car, (old but new to her,) to start, had screamed in fury at me to shut up when I had started to suggest what the trick to it was. I had spent the last day learning for myself how to get it going after dealing with what had at first looked like a flat battery. So I had decided to leave her, (since the car had actually just started,) and walk home in peace and quiet. Just out of curiosity I began to hold out my thumb to see if anyone would stop to give me a lift. It looked to me as though people now preferred to keep the world safely outside the glass and not invite it into their own private space.

He told me another little story, which I will tell to you, because it fits in with what I had just said about living safely inside the glass. He and several other taxi drivers had been waiting outside the local railway station when a man came up and said he wanted to be driven to London. Suspicious, the drivers said why didn't he take the train? The man said he wanted to go to London, (over a hundred miles away), by car. One driver said the fare would be £250, and he wanted to see the money up front. The man showed him the money, but the driver, his bluff called, pleaded that he had a pre-booked appointment. The other drivers drifted away, and, as it was close to midnight, my taxi driver agreed to take the man to a hotel for the night. The next morning, picking up a fare from the same hotel, he learned that he had just missed a scene with the police. His late-night fare had locked himself in his hotel room and refused to allow anyone in. The police had managed to get him out. He had a fear of being in a place with too many strangers around. I understood then his reluctance to use the train, because the windows cannot be opened, neither can the doors unless the driver releases the locks, and the seats are crammed in side-by-side as if it were an aircraft.

We reached Mere, where he was picking up some customers from the pub, and I set off again into the chill of the night, passing out through the orange streetlights once more into the pale soft glint of moonlight on the damp hedges. I walked along, now only about seven miles from home, realising that this smaller back road was far less traveled than the road I had just come along. I was going to be very lucky to get a lift now. And yet I felt safe, secure, at home in the grey silver light. I like to rest my eyes sometimes, not by shutting them, but by dimming all the surrounding lights. Little Petal is the exact opposite, she wants all four overhead flourescent striplights on so that the room is brighter than it ever gets in daylight. That was one reason for my altering the sitting room so that she could have all her things in it, computer, sewing machine, books, television. I do not like watching the programs that she does, and I do not like to have my eyes getting worn out by too much light. And I do not like being on the end of the angry-mummy voice.

I had not told the taxi driver that, as she had begun to screech, I had already moved to release the seat belt with one hand and open the door with the other, because I had recently sworn that I would not again sit in a car with her in such a mood. It had happened only a week before, when we had set off in her old car, (she driving,) to go and look at, and possibly buy, another car. She would have the newer car, with a nice turbo-diesel engine, while I would take over her older car as a replacement for my now-scrapped Rover. That is, if she didn't decide to give her old car to her daughter's partner so that he could use it.

Armed only with a scrappy piece of paper which didn't give any sequential directions to our destination, we entered Warminster. It was my fault, I was told, that she didn't have a map, because the laser printer at home had faded so much that what she had printed out was illegible. (Why does my printer work for me but not for her?) All she knew was that the place we had to get to was close to station road. So, I directed her to the station, but as we reached the traffic lights, we saw that temporary roadworks had closed off our route, and we would have to detour round the back of Warminster to get to it. I steered us around through the edge of town, sighting the railway line and saying we should take the next left, but, at a T-junction, Little Petal decided I was wrong, and turned right. When we left Warminster and got out into the open countryside she brought up the faded printer episode again.

I got us back into the town, found us the station, pointed out that this was obviously station road, even though there was not a street-name in sight, and suggested we park and walk around to look for the yard. She decided that there was no need, she knew where she was going, and within five minutes had got us lost again. She stopped the car in the middle of the road and screamed at the top of her voice that this was the worst place she had been to for signs and directions. A car behind us hooted, and she screamed again to "fuck off", and when I glanced round I saw that the door had opened and the driver was getting out. So I got out too, fearing a scene. She screamed at me to get back in the car and just sit there quietly while she made up her mind, but I closed my door and went to meet the other driver at the rear of our car.

He was the worst person I could have wanted to meet in such circumstances, short and wiry, with cropped hair and faded leathery skin, and cold pale darting little eyes which flicked up and down and left and right; "has he got a weapon somewhere, is he right or left-handed, does he look like he knows what he's doing, shall I hit or kick first?" I looked at him and saw a ferret in ready stance. I'm not scared of big people, because they're normally just trying to loom large above you and shoulder you backwards out of their way, but these shifty nifty darty little people are the real ones to beware of. If they have a bumper-sticker on their car, it might read, "My dog won't harm you, but I will".

He told me to get back in the car, and I went a little closer and said "I want to ask you a favour."

He said "what", and I said, lowering my voice and moving even closer, "would you kill her for me, please?"

He said "what?" again, and I told him that I had just about reached the end of my tether with her, but I couldn't kill her, I didn't know how, and I whispered "Could you just go up to her door and ask her to move, and when she starts screaming at you, just reach in and throttle her, or snap her neck, or something?"

I told him I would be a witness for him, and say he had acted in self-defense.

He backed away, and I followed. I said "Please?"

He reached his car. While he was scrambling back inside I scrabbled in my pocket and pulled out some money, (all my money), a ten pound and a five pound note. I said, holding them against his window, "I can pay you, please, I'm begging you."

I had to jump back out of the way as he reversed violently into a space between the parked cars and roared off back the way he, and we, had just come from. As I turned and put the money back in my pocket, I realised, guiltily, that it wasn't my money, it was actually her money, the change from a shopping errand I had run for her earlier.

I got back in the car, this time to receive a scolding from Little Petal for being a trouble-maker. How can I convince her that I am not? I do not hit people, unlike her. I try to talk my way out of things. I had told the taxi driver that I could not do the job he did, because I would not be able to handle the drunks sprawling and squabbling in the back of a taxi late at night, that I didn't know how to relate to people who were no longer running under normal operating system conditions, and I hated confrontations as much as I hated feeling angry eyes on the back of my neck.

I am worried that Little Petal cannot control herself. She has, in the past, struck out at me and, since I was not expecting it, managed to land a good crack to my jaw that dazed me. She later said she was sorry, she was drunk, she didn't mean it, she loved me and would never do it again, and I sometimes feel how strange that scene was, that if the players and parts had been reversed, I would have not been let off lightly. And it is strange to me that she always assumes that I will get into an argument with people, when she herself has commented on how peaceful and agreeable I remained after drinking one of our pubs completely out of bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale in a single evening.

The night, and my reverie, was interrupted by pops and crackles. I saw, in the sky a couple or more miles away, floating up over the station where the taxi drivers queued for pick-ups, fireworks burst like gems against the dark velvet of a jewelers back-cloth. Pale quartz followed deep ruby, amethyst and topaz shone together, emeralds danced with sapphires. Then, spikes of flowers sprang upwards, flashing snowdrop-white and primrose-yellow and speedwell-blue glittering in the darkness.

I stopped walking to watch, but found that my feet were painful if I stood, and so I walked along slowly, looking out to my right and tapping with my left foot when I needed to veer away from the verge. The first car I had seen since leaving Mere came up from behind me and ignored my outstretched thumb. As it rushed past me, it scared away the fireworks, and so I set off once again towards my home, and went back once again towards the past.

So we found, and bought, the new car, and drove it home, there to find that we couldn't get the boot to open. It had been troublesome when she had viewed the car, and the owner had admitted that it was a tricky lock, but he made it work. Sadly, although he had shown Little Petal what the problem was, she had forgotten what he had shown her. I said I would try to sort it out, but the next morning, an even more unacceptable problem occurred; the car would not start when she wanted to go to work. She carried on using her old car and I spent a couple of days sorting out a poor battery lead and a suspect central-locking system.

My feet by now were burning, and my cheeks were cold and clammy. I had not anticipated such an evening, and only had on thin socks and a thin fleece. I tried jogging for a while on a long gentle downhill stretch, but after half a mile realised that I had blisters forming on the balls of my feet as well as on the heels, and slowed to a purposeful hobble. The moon above me shone sympathetically down and whispered that it would be alright when I got home. I looked at the pale shape, almost the full letter of an O, and knew that it still had some nights left before all became dark again. I taught myself a long time ago how to remember what the sequence of the moon was, starting from a new crescent that grew into a capital letter D, then to the O, and then shrinking to an old crescent like a capital letter C. The moon, I remember, is a fish, backwards, not a Cod, but reversed.

I settled into a rhythm that gave me the least pain, and swung my arms around, laughing in the clear silvery light. I began to see an idea forming, an idea about the closed lives that we all seemed to be leading. It was a development of the idea that formed in my mind as I listened to the taxi driver. Why did people no longer stop to pick up hitch hikers, or go out to the village pub or the pictures? Why, when they had finished working or shopping, did they rush back into their cars and then into their homes? Being out in the open air, outside the glass windows, had given me this inspiration. It is the result of the world around us expanding. More and more information floods into us through the news, through the web sites; through the television. And the instinctive response to this crowding is either to rage and push it away to give you room to breathe, or to withdraw into somewhere safe, where you cannot be pressed unless you allow it, and you can always turn to the off-switch to shut off the horror stories of senseless killings and starving millions, gloomy visions and missing billions. It is reality-management.

My eyes were wide open now, seeing the dark shapes stuck fast together by their shadows. My ears too had risen and unfurled, despite the chilly wind, hearing the furtive rustles in the twigs as little things realised that there was a bigger thing nearby and tried to keep a respectful distance. Two cars came quickly past to spoil my vision, and didn't stop. I was only a mile and a half from home, passing the staggered crossroads where the Mandrake used to grow, when a car came creeping along towards me, and I recognised the quiet rattle of a diesel engine.

It stopped opposite me, and I walked around behind it and opened the passenger door. I said cheerfully as I settled into the seat, "well, thank you, my feet have said they've made their point, so let's go home in comfort." The dashboard clock showed ten to ten, the correct time, because I had set it when I solved the battery problem. I had walked and been carried for about an hour and three-quarters, and the shimmering moonlight had been my friend for that time.

She had, she told me, driven to and fro between Wincanton and home three times, not knowing which road I would be on. I didn't say to her that the first, not the last choice, ought to have been the most direct route. Instead, I said that I had fully expected her to have gone home and unpacked everything. it usually calms her down, unpacking and putting away the shopping.

But she said that she couldn't, she hadn't brought her house key with her.

I really did not know that when I, cat-like, slipped out of the car and into the friendly night at Morrisons. I really, really, didn't. But that will never be believed.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

I am a worried man

I am worried that I will never be a great writer. I try and try, I practice incessantly, I make the letters line up properly like words, and make the words line up properly like sentences, and it looks write to me, but then I get these great moments of doubt, and so I go to these online places where the other writers are. And I see that they argue all the time, saying "no, you are wrong, it is not that, it is this", and I realise that I do not have that part inside me which can manfully ignore the various possibilities and seize instead upon only one way in which something can be, can be understood, can not be, can not be right, is, is wrong. And so I am sad because I know I can never be a writer until I learn this thing which I do not have within me. And I am sad because of this.

I am sad because I try to play with my Pookahs, but every time I think I am getting the hang of it they run around me laughing and I have to stand here like the piggy in the middle with my trousers round my ankles. Why can I not learn how to use belts properly? It is the fundamental thing to Pookah games, belting up and not being caught by an unexpected flop.

I am sad because I want to read the things other people are saying about the world and think "yes, I know, this is right, or this is wrong", but I cannot. I read and think, "I have seen this before, it is dressed up in a clever new fashion, but it is an old game". And I curse myself for having analysed so many things so deeply that I cannot watch the conjurers do their tricks any more.

I am sad because I would like to listen to rare and recherche music and tell everybody that I am listening to something that only 1024,768,640,480 other people in the world will have bought, instead of the 2^64 unthinking listeners, but I do not know how to find such things. And when I have bought some of them, they have sounded so strange to me that I did not want to tell people about how I felt while listening to them. I am sad because I like to listen to some music that nobody would want to read about, only to listen to.

I am sad because although I can be disdainful of my partner and her daughters and use them as foils to my acerbic wit, I do not hate them enough to wish that they should put paper bags over their heads while I am with them, or thinking about them, or writing of them, and I realise that *that* is why I can never be a writer, I cannot manage my misogynistic side. I cannot be cruel enough to torture, maim, and kill my creations for my own amusement, let alone my readers'.

I am sad, because I do not have it in me to be offhandedly cruel, and I do not have it in me to be intentionally cruel, I can only be accidentally cruel. And I am worried about that, because I feel that I am only half a man because of it.

I am worried that I am sad, and nobody will ever be able to help me, not ever, and things will always be like this and never change, and I am going to be sad for ever.

But I am mostly worried that I am not sad enough and can never be a proper writer.

Heh, as if I am. Bollocks to you dualistic witterers and duelistic witticists. Kiss my lying arse, on one cheek, or on the other cheek, or right between the cheeks. Yin and yang, I call the cheeks, and the Tao, I call the whole between the extremes. Kiss my Tao.

* how come all
* your poets fall
* into despondencies?
* And write it down
* for us to read
* every indignity?
* Not such worthy specimens,
* these creatures,
* hardly fit for
* what you call
* the good life

* And it seems
* the thinkers you call
* greatest,
* are the ones
* who fall ill young
* and pine away.
* How can they help
* but drag the species down?

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Oh Brave New Mobile World (3)

Once more into the blue-green-red,

dear friends, once more into the spectrum

This is it, the final part in the trilogy, the end of my speculations. And, I am going to warn you, many of you are going to feel cheated, particularly those of you who think that they already know what the end is.

And those of you who want to read that this is it, doom, gloom, "bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye", you're going to be even sorrier than the preceding class, because I won't be saying that, not at all.

And those of you who want me to spout out complex financial and economic or socio-political doctrine to prove with rigorous accuracy and geometric certainty that this, that or the other are our options are going to be even more disappointed than the "let's all crash back into the dark ages" group, because I am talking not of facts and figures, but of ideas and concepts. I will not dot the I or cross the T in history, mathematics or politics just because you have an anal-compulsion to be able to prove something is right and shut up somebody else whose idea you do not feel comfortable considering.

And, finally, those of you who are hoping to be able to watch groups of people lined up against the wall and shot, or who are applying for the firing-squad posts, are going to be even more disappointed than the "I am right, therefore I am, (and only I)" group, because I am not even going to allow you to stay and watch your visions fade before your very eyes, I am going to tell you now, impolitely, to fuck off, don't bother to close the door behind you because I am not even going to take the time to open it in the first place to throw you out, you are going to be defenestrated, here and now.

And as the last few panes of glass stop tinkling on the cobble stones below, I glance around the room, and see that it is almost empty. Only a few remain. But those of you who do, I gladly choose as my companions. Better to be one small fish in a select shoal than a gigantic water-buffalo in a mad stampede at the waterhole.

We're going back in time today, so I hope you've come prepared. There are no mobile masts where we're going, so don't bother setting your handsets to flight-mode. Oh, and there are no flights, either, so don't bring anything more than you'll be comfortable holding or carrying, there are no overhead lockers, or under-seat stowage. We are going back to a time when your baggage traveled outside the passenger compartment. We are going back to the time of the Navvies.

I feel a kinship with these people, those who built the canals and railways, (which I shall explain in more detail later on). They took part in a great adventure, without the usual bloody slaughter and subsequent ritual enslavement of the survivors (called bringing Christianity and civilisation into dark places). No, these men used nothing more vicious than a pick or a shovel and a wheelbarrow. and if they fought, (which some of them did, frequently), it was with fists and against each other, either on matters of principle, or for money. But, and here is the first part with which I feel an affiliation, they transformed the landscape and transformed the way we moved around in it. The Industrial Evolution changed us all irrevocably. It brought knowledge and enlightenment, opportunity and advancement. For the Navvies, it gave them the opportunity to move around the landscape while they worked. Unlike the weavers who clustered in the new streets of the new towns, the navvies still lived in tents and huts wherever it was convenient for them to do so. (The yurt is back, again, again.)

I shall explain about the weavers shortly. But first, I think we ought to focus on the revolution just briefly, to get it out of the way now. There are already people starting to mutter "Oh come the revolution" (with or without a comma, either before or after the word "come", any or all of the three meanings will serve my purposes here); The revolution's coming, "Up against the wall, all who have offended", who's going to be shot first? They don't realise, the revolution is here, now. It's been here for a little while. It's been quietly happening, very much un-noticed, much as the Industrial Evolution, when it occurred, wasn't an "up against the wall, itinerant workers, bang-bang-bang" type of revolution; it was very much hidden behind the marvel of the new machines, and the wonder of where the world was going as a result of the machines and their creations which was spread around by the advent of cheap papers and journals, themselves a product of this new revolution. (And, a word to the wise, much of what is occurring now is being hidden amongst the outrage and the scandals and the advertisements of glittering dreams.)

But let's step back in time, (again,) and consider what happened when the Industrial Evolution meant that people could no longer earn a living weaving in their little cottage homes. They had to up and move, and go into the towns to where the big factories were, where all the weavers were now congregating together. They had to go in and do something they had never done before, they had to work in a place with lots of other people, instead of sitting in their little home. There was noise, true, there was clocking in and clocking out, they had to be there at set times, such as start at nine and go at five, or whatever the hours were in those days, and they were effectively slaved to a regime, a timetable, a common pace of working. They had, in fact, to cooperate with large groups of other people, both managers and fellow-workers. But, they then had something that they'd never had before either; they had spare time in the evenings with divertissments all around them, and they had spare money to exchange for these entertainments and other services. They could go to pubs and clubs and theatres and congregate with other people, they could buy papers and read things, (other than the bible), if they were literate, or they could go to evening classes to improve themselves. All of these benefits were available to those who had suffered the pain of being uprooted from their remote cottages and villages and moving into the growing towns. As compensation for the loss of the comforting simplicity of their rural life, they now had the bustle and throng of other people's ideas all around them. So, although the Industrial Evolution sounded the death-knell of arcadia (up against the wall, in-bred yokels), it rang in the changes for the modern world that we have been living in.

We are the great-great-great (enumerate) grandchildren of that Industrial Evolution. We, or our ancestors, were not the victims of it, but instead, those who benefited from it. Yes, I know, the capitalist robber-baron factory owner financier class also made fortunes out of it, and if you insist on seeing the world as nothing more than a profit and loss statement then they gained, financially. But, looking at it in another way, those at the bottom ultimately gained more personal freedom than those at the top, because those at the bottom gained much of what those at the top had already had, knowledge and opportunity, while those at the top simply gained more money, and little that was new or liberating.

(And, stepping aside slightly from the big picture, I was intrigued to discover, in my readings of and about the Victorians, that the shareholders; that shadowy class of figures lurking behind every board of directors,( used by them to justify every penny-fiddling employee-cutting measure); were not the money-guzzling black-fur-coated cartoon figures that the Marxists often drew them as, but were instead widows, clerks, spinsters, vicars, all of them small people, everyman and everywoman, who had a small inheritance or a few savings which they wished to invest. I was also intrigued to read of the numbers of well-off people who were also bankrupted by incautious speculation, or by not adapting to the changing circumstances. It wasn't just the poor country people who went to the wall in the Industrial Evolution. In some sense, it was a leveler, bringing a new wealth and freedom to many, taking wealth and power and privilege from others, throwing down old establishments and people and systems which couldn't adapt, and creating new systems to support those who could.)

And it threw up another class of people, the navvies. They built the infrastructure by which the Industrial Evolution could ship that which it was making to those who were buying, to do the fetching and carrying and tripping and traveling which those whose eyes had been opened by contact with new ideas soon became addicted to. And then, when it didn't need them anymore, it threw them down, it let them go. Many of the navvies went off abroad and continued navvying on other projects, canals, dams, sea-reclamations and airstrips. Many more of them had to settle down into more humdrum lives doing whatever they were fortunate to be able to find, and dreaming of the good old days when they worked all day and drank all night. (Actually, many of them were sober religious men who sent as much money as possible back to their families in Ireland and similar places too small to be able to have their own Industrial Evolution. The drinking and fighting was, although not a myth, largely exaggerated by the newspapers who knew that stories of fights and furores sell better than those of peace and love and harmony).

Time to come back to now, to here, to this-when.

I, and many others like me; came, worked, and are now going; just as the navvies did. We laid down fibre cables around the country and under the oceans, around the world even; we set up networks of point-to-point microwave radios, we programmed computer systems to model and monitor and maintain power distribution systems and communications networks. And now that it's done, we're not needed any more. IT work is now being done in places like India, where it costs much less, because the heads at the desks do not have to pay such large bills and therefore do not need such large salaries. We built the infrastructure which helped globalisation to come about, and fell victims to the results of our own labour.

It wasn't that we weren't wanted anymore, it was more that we weren't wanted at the cost we had to charge any more. At or around the Millenium, the then IT minister, Patricia Hewitt, flew out to India to address them on the potential markets for their IT workers, because she was worried that America was taking all of them and Britain was being left behind. Her message to the Indians was that Britain was their friend of old times, and she begged them to "think of us first". And they did, and then some. Fast-track-Visa workers poured into this country, replacing nationals at a third of the cost. Ultimately, a lobby group pointed out to the government that it was wrong to have IT skills on the list of requirements that could not be filled locally and therefore could be filled by the Fast-Track-Visas, because more than a third of their membership were out of work. They won the battle, IT skills came off the list, but by then the damage had been done to the local IT workforce. Just like the disadvantaged cottage-based weavers of the Industrial Evolution, however, very little heed was given to their pleas. Evolve, or die. Become a plumber, or go to India and work there.

And then the UK began to outsource more and more functions to India. After the software, came the call centres. I, still bemoaning my own loss of contract opportunities, nevertheless felt deeply for the families up in Newcastle. Their menfolk had been thrown out of work when the pits and shipyards closed, but the women had then found work in the call-centres. Now that too was being taken away from them. This outsourcing was probably the biggest mistake of all, since the change was so very obvious, and for once, the public did take notice. Complaints rocketed, and after a few years businesses advertising on the television were making a point that their call centres were staffed by people who knew England well and only spoke with a regional accent.

Globalisation is not an "embrace-me or forget-me" concept, it can be derided, but it cannot be ignored. You cannot huddle down in your little village and forbid any visitors to cross the parish boundary for fear of them bringing in the plague, or taking away with them the jobs as they leave. Just as the Industrial Evolution impacted on all classes in society, so too will the globalisation brought by this Brave New Mobile World. Just as the Industrial Evolution introduced the concepts of knowledge and travel to many, so the new changes are going to remove the geopolitical boundaries which up till now have partitioned the world into areas of local government, beliefs and societies. Globalisation is one of the new gifts being handed out to us by the changes.

Consider: with mobile phones you are now no longer forced to stay home with the land-line when you want to talk, you can press the buttons anywhere you get a signal. And with the right package, that could be halfway up in the Himalayan foothills whilst fishing for the giant mountain carp. So what's new, you say? It is now possible to sit at home on the end of a broadband line and work, if the nature of your occupation permits it. With mobile broadband, you could be sitting away from home and still working, whilst not actually being in work. That's new. And so, from there, to another small concept: you could be living in Britain, but working for a company in India, which is actually selling the software it creates to a company in America or Brazil, while you are halfway a mountain in Wales. And that small problem of your Indian salary being insufficient to pay the local taxation bills? Well, supposing that you were registered as an employee of that Indian company, with Indian taxation rights. Your local tax bill would not be for Merionithshire rates, but for Mumbai rates.

You think that won't happen? Can't happen? Shouldn't happen? Local economics and local laws would override the remote ones? Well, think again. Already, last year, in England, serious consideration was given to allowing Muslim communities in England to apply Sharia law to their daily activities, in addition to or sometimes instead of the local law. Could Cornwall or the Shires have the same degree of devolution as have Scotland and Wales? Globalisation is not just the distribution of services and products to the lowest bidder around the globe. It is going to affect far more than that, just as the Industrial Evolution affected far more than just a few weavers and factory-owners. And, here I am laughing gleefully, (just a bit), because I do not think the current government have fully seen the implications of what they have signed up to. If they have, they've kept very quiet about it, but then, they are good at trying to slide stories under the carpet on days when everyone is walking on the ceiling in outrage. Perhaps they have seen where it will go after all, and are now jockeying to get jobs on the global stage, not on the local one, and it is the Tories and the Lib-Dems who are going to be the dinosaurs who congregate in the pit at Butte Ridge and lay down to die.

The writing's been on the wall for a while now, put in between newspaper columns on sex and sleaze and celebrity misbehaviour, so that the reader will not spend too long on it, or it has been dressed up inside a joke so that the true implications are missed in the mirth or scorn which the journalist and editor contrived at. For example, a labour politician said, a few years ago, speaking about the plans for the railways, that what they wanted to see was a first-class service for the business men, and a cheap and cheerful service alongside it for the clerks and secretaries. A labour person said that, and if I hadn't told you that, would you have instinctively felt that this was a typical right-wing politician speaking? I would have. But there it was, their vision for our new mobility was dividing us up into the old classes of which the Marxists had fumed and ranted on about.

There will, of course, always be classes. Most people do not want to be the lone wolf, the wandering jew, the nomads who come and go like the sandstorms in the desert, they want to be in the flock. But, if you are going to play the settled game, you have to fit into one or some of the principal groupings, you cannot dance to your own tune for fear of colliding violently and frequently with the more organised dancers on the floor, or of looking "out-of-place". (Kick a youth to death for dressing as a Goth). One very obvious new class is going to be those who are mobile. Not nomadic, but connected to the rest of the world by telecoms and small portable devices. There will, of course be a reactionary group, (as always), of diehards running 486 machines with DOS prompts and dialup modems. There will still be some people who will refuse to fill out their tax forms online. But the majority will be right in there with their 2Mbit connections; shopping, playing, working, voting, participating in the Brave New Mobile World; possibly even electing government officials or voting innocent or guilty in a virtual court.


There are some who have been telling me that I need to wake up, smell the coffee, be serious and appreciate how bad things are really becoming. The world is going to come to an end, they say, and this is no time to be larking around.

To those, I say that my world came to an end, with a creeping catastrophic suddenness, five years ago. I and many others found ourselves without a daily employment because of the globalisation of Information Technology activities. Our screams and protests went unheard, brushed off by a government that insisted it was all going to be for the good of the country in the long term, and ignored by the very people who are now spluttering at me that I should wake up and take things seriously, because then it was only my world that was ending, theirs was still OK, and perhaps even benefiting from my misfortunes, (which was just how the governments spelled it out the the great un-outsourced majority). Now, they've suddenly seen that it is their turn to walk over the cliff.

But I do not want to say it nastily, vengefully, gleefully. I am not going to say "it's your turn now". I am going to say, "look, my world ended, but I'm still here. Don't worry. Don't fall screaming, dive, swoop, fly and dance".

But if they still choose to ignore me, as they ignored my plight earlier, then there's little I can do.

What I can, and will do, is to point out to those who can understand the meanings behind and within words and sentences, that every birth involves some waiting, some pains, and then a lot of mess before everything settles down. I would like to re-iterate, as I have done elsewhere, that creeping bureaucracy and diminishing personal freedom is far more damaging to individuals than are fat bankers waddling off with enormous penguins. Don't focus on the gory tales in the media, look behind them to the lesser bits of news, and think, not about what it might mean to you, for you, should every email and phone call you send be logged and available to anonymous scrutineers, but instead, pick someone you like or love or admire, and think about what it might mean to them to be put into Room 101.

As I have said elsewhere, they are picking us off one by one. And I think that the least we can do is look out for each other.

I am glad that my bitterness has gone. It was not doing me any good.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Saved by my own obsession

I have become a compulsive diarist. I use a local instance of Apache on my laptop and desktop machines to run a couple of Wikis into which I can rattle away each day about what I have done, felt, seen, imagined, dreamt of. I used to scribble into little notebooks before we had easily-available personal computers. The trouble with those is that they're not so easy to search, and, in my case, also not so easy to read. But I have several large chunks of my past now typed up in the wikis, either from transcriptions of notes and cassette recording collected over the years, or from reconstructions where I have sat back and thought hard about certain times in my life which were critical.

I wasn't always like this of course. I mean, it's not as if I was born recording

B-1 Dear diary: I can tell you, I'm pissed off, whatever it is, I'm not happy. It's now four days since she last ate pickled onions. What's the point in getting me interested in something and then forgetting to eat it? And why is she moving around so much? I'm sure it got suddenly light in here, that hasn't happened before.

B 0 Fuck! You Bitch! Fuck! Did I want that? Did I hell! What's all this row about? I can't even think above it. Tell that dipstick woman to stop that silly noise! Who's slapping me? I'm not a carpet. Bloody hell, couldn't you have let me know in advance? Give me peace. Oh, something to suck? Must I? If it'll keep you all happy and stop you making that bloody row, then I suppose I must. Sigh.

B+1 Dear Diary: I am NOT pleased. Not one bit. What's all this shit thing about? I mean, just how humiliated do you want me to be? It stinks! And who designed me so that the only way I can say I've had enough or need to take a breath and pause for thought is to puke all down my front? What shithead dreamt up this for a life?

And so on.

But, probably fortunately, I didn't bother about the diary thing until much later. That's not to say I haven't got memories. I do actually have one distinct memory from my infancy. I was sitting staring out from inside a car up to a railway bridge high above, and a steam engine is crossing slowly over from left to right. It is a dirty grey colour, and the steam bursting up from the chimney fascinates me.I also know, although I can't see it, that I am in my father's arms, not my mother's.

From talking to her, I would have been about thirteen months old at this time, because from when I was born until I was one year old, we lived in the countryside, and then for just a few weeks moved into a flat in Three Bridge, where there were lots of railway lines running high above the streets, and a few weeks later on. we moved back out into the countryside again. And, yes, my father used to have me tucked inside his jacket when he drove the car and my mother was not there, she scolded him about both taking me out without her being there, and about the risk to me behind the steering wheel.

What really fascinates me about that memory is that, for a long time as a child, I had no "inner vision" faculty. I couldn't understand when people talked about picturing something inside their heads, or seeing something in their mind. I dreamt, of course, and I wondered if that was what they were talking about, but I never see things when I was awake. So when I did finally start to see things in my mind's eye, I spent a lot of time fascinated by this new phenomenon. But that was when I was nearly ten. Up till then, I read, avidly, and stored up descriptions of things in my mind as sets of words and phrases, not as images.

There was another strange thing about myself that I puzzled over; I couldn't feel things about myself. Someone, such as a doctor, would ask me "where does it hurt?", and I couldn't tell them. I didn't know where something actually was inside me that was hurting, I only knew that an arm or a stomach hurt, but exactly where, I didn't know. Again, sometime around ten, all that changed; when I fell backwards only a few feet from a tree and broke my arm. Suddenly I knew exactly where it was hurting, I could put my other hand on the very place. From that day on, I not only knew where my own pains lay, but I could also feel someone else's pain if I saw something happen to them.

So, of course, I now value my sight, both external and internal, and any threat to it is almost a threat to my very core, I do not see how I could be if I could not see, do you see? (Si senor, we see). And I also value my feelings, because I can remember what it was to be unable to really feel with any precision.

(Just re-reading that lot before getting to the point, I am struck by the fact that Little Petal might be right when she says that I am Borderline Autistic. I always thought she simply said that because it was a mummy-thing to say, a way of classifying awkward behaviour into some term or label that she could then say "Oh, that's it!" and then feel that she knew how to deal with me. But even if she is, by some strange fluke, right, it's too late to do anything about it now, isn't it?)

So, then, today, after I had worked three very hard long hours in the morning, carrying large lumps of masonry round from one part of the site to another, and then smashing them up with a sledgehammer to make the hardcore over which we were going to pour concrete, I realised I was starving. I could feel exactly where inside of me the pangs originated from. I was too hungry to think of carrying on for another couple of hours to finish everything and then go back to eat, and so I set off to the nearest garage where I thought I might fill up the car with petrol and fill up myself with some bread and cheese. I set off in the car and reached the nearest garage. They had petrol, but they only sold crisps. I set off for the next garage, which I knew had a shop, and got there to find that half of their pumps were closed off, the concrete was being jack-hammered up, and there was a queue of cars waiting to use the two remaining pumps.

So I roared off home, put the kettle on, put some red kidney beans in a saucepan, emptied a can of chopped tomatoes with olives in on top of the beans, dashed a bit of Thai curry spice over it all, and went to sit at the computer to check emails and read a few blogs.

Something was wrong. I didn't notice it while I was reading the BBC news website, because they only have a few words per line and so there is no need to scan from left to right much, but when I went onto a friend's blog and started to read his posts, I found that the words began to squirm and vanish as I tried to read them. I could read the one or two words immediately in front of me, but as I tried to read further along the line, there was a sensation of something quickly flitting between myself and the words. I took off my glasses, cleaned them, and tried again. It was still the same.

I don't read a word at a time, or read out loud inside my head, I scan whole sentences rapidly and the words are just there inside me. I couldn't make it work when I had to physically move my head along to see each word in turn; although I could read each word, they meant nothing to me. I shook my head, and had several more tries, but I had lost the ability to read and make sense of what I was seeing.

I began to panic, wondering if I had, as a result of the hard physical shocks as I swung the sledgehammer to smash up the bricks and concrete, detached a retina. I can only read with my left eye as a result of a fall down the stairs when I was a baby, and so there was nothing to be gained from covering my left eye and trying to read with just my right eye, the letters and words were just squiggles. I sat there, wondering if I should go up to the hospital, when I smelt the sweet tang of tomatoes. My lunch was ready. I decided to eat it anyway, no matter what I was then going to have to do.

While I was eating it, I had a memory of something earlier in my life, not exactly the same, but similar in a way. I had been riding hard in Norway, crossing the high mountains towards the sea, to a place called Alta. I was riding through the night, but because of the midnight sun it was effectively daylight, and I had decided to press on against the wind and not stop until I reached Alta, because of the bleakness of the landscape I was passing through. I reached Alta just before eight in the morning, and as I wandered through the empty streets, I found that my vision had been flickering, as though my eyes were switching off for just a fraction of a second. I remembered that I had stopped at a garage which was open and bought two packets of biscuits, one digestives, the other shortbread, and had wolfed them both down in less than five minutes, and had then gone back to the garage and bought a bottle of lemonade and guzzled that down in almost one go. I had ridden for too long against the wind without stopping for food or water or a breather. I had drained all my internal reserves.

And as I sat there, the food now eaten, the hot blackcurrant now drunk, I found I could see the letters a little more clearly, and I was able to bring up the wikki in which I keep the notes for my journey tale. I had indeed been shaky and flaky at Alta, and my notes said that about ten minutes after wolfing down the biscuits and lemonade, the flickering had stopped.

So then, my past had confirmed that this was probably just a similar case; I had worked too long at too furious a pace, and when I had stopped for food it was already too late. I had burnt up large amounts of glucose, which is apparently the only food that the brain can use (according to the anti-Atkins diet people), and I was also probably dehydrated from sweating copiously, and the eyes are nearly all water, so I had probably also had the fluid in the lenses thicken or increase in salinity. There was no need to go to the hospital, or even to the doctors for a checkup. I wasn't going to be visually-impaired for the rest of my life. I just had to learn how to take slightly better care of myself. Again. My obsession with keeping notes on myself from times gone by had, once again, stopped me from dashing around in a blind panic.

I am glad that I will still be able to look at things, because so much of the life that I love is intensely visual, despite my love of converting it into words that look or sound or feel somehow appropriate. I would hate to have to live with a little voice in my ears constantly trying to describe to me what was happening out there, outside of me, in the great blue. I would miss things like this video clip, (which I found quite accidentally when I went searching YouTube for a Talking Heads song to use in the Oh Brave New Mobile World (2) post. I couldn't find the song I wanted, and instead happened upon the Al Stewart song from The Year of the Cat, which was far more appropriate anyway.)