Tuesday, 27 December 2011

cashless scrap metal trading


And so a petition is underway to prevent cashless scrap metal trading. Not quite so moralistic as the campaign to get us all reading but from the same genus none the less. Its past of Zizek's chocolate laxative culture. The hole in my bucket. The wireless keyboard for my ipod touch second generation. I mean a few hours ago I wanted to begin writing this but began to ponder the delights of being able to type it into my ipod touch that has scene a new burst of life this Christmas. After much searching and ebay trawling I have come to the conclusion that there is no wireless keyboard compatibility with the ipod 2g. So now I am writing this on my wife’s laptop, which I really ought to have done in the first place. So scrap metal amendment act is akin to the finger in the dyke except the finger in the dyke is committed as a last resort and there is an awareness of this in the inserter’s brain. No the petitioners for the scrap metal bill amendment are taking the moral high ground. I mean how else can we prevent the sacking of culture by barbarian hoards with no appreciation of the intrinsic value of culture? I must state now that I loved the Barbara Hepworth two forms sculpture recently stolen from my local park but I was never able to view it in a culture vacuum. For one my sons were very fond of climbing inside its two circular openings and I would delight in taking their pictures thus posed. Secondly it had a very big sign in front of it on the grass (Divided forms by Dame Barbara Hepworth I’m hazarding a well educated guess), which gave it the appearance of a picture rather than a sculpture. Thirdly it always reminded me of how rarefied the air of Dulwich park (within a stone’s throw of shopping in Peckham and Brixton) really is. And I was genuinely shocked by its theft. Earlier in the day my young son had been asking me why people steal metal. In my explanation I focused on the morbid description of doomed attempts to steal copper coils from sub stations in the hope that this would banish any inspirational ideas it might give him in later life. So As I drove to a concert engagement that evening I was amazed to hear of the sculpture in Dulwich Park being ripped from its plinth. At first I harboured the hope that they had simply ripped it from the plinth hand then placed it on the ground beside it in a dadaesque comment on culture and plinths in general but no the language used was to imbue the news of the theft with its heathen quality.
 So if we want to prevent theft of art we have to appreciate it at the same level as life instead of separating it in cathedrals of commerce. I’m all for artists making a living but the students I teach always ask how much something is worth when we visit the Courtauld to see the Manet’s and Van Gogh’s. Amending the scrap metal law will perhaps prevent one or two thefts but will ultimately speed up the decline of the creative unconscious in the community’s scheme of things. How very apt (apophonia alert) that the sculpture in question is called divided form. The mind being the divided form that springs to mind. Now before you reach for your toffee hammer of dismissal due to having read a few of those on line what sided brain are you tests pleas read the introduction to Iain McGilchrist's The Master and his Emissary. The thesis here is that the left brain always always knows it is write to schematise life into a series of ever decreasing pigeon holes – the Romans did it and we are doing it again. It is now at the point that we have very nearly forgotten how to use the holistic brain of the grammarian to solve problems. The left brain says make it impossible to trade stolen sculptures and the right brain says value the artists and makers the shamans and shakers at least on a level with the abstract systemisers and number crunchers not to mention the fucking marketing experts. Remember we put the systems in place to help us keep up with our rapidly expanding insights and discoveries but they have now started to shape us.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Reliable Unreliable narrator

I am very grateful to one Bill Ectric for pointing me in the direction of his article on Strindberg. It is utterly enthralling. I recommend you read it post haste. Bill was kind enough to ask me about my work for an interview on his blog. Fans of David Devant may be interested in his latest post on the recently rediscovered film The Magician. I used to think I had aspirations to being some kind of polymath until I checked out the links at the side of Bill's page. Now I see I'm more of a dabbler. Toe in the ocean and all that. But as I used to say a little knowledge goes a long way. Reading about Strindberg was a revelation because it sounds like he freed himself from the expectations for literature to remain one side of fictional divide. When I wrote The latch last month I felt I had crossed a threshold and had leapt onto a horse far too wild for my wriding abilities. I think I just about managed to hold on though.
Bill Lectric's novel, Tamper, seems simply irresistible too. I mean what better recommendation than this blurb can there be?...
"If you like secret panels and
passages, pulp magazines like 
Amazing Stories, Fate, Weird 
Tales, and Argosy, Aldous Huxley's 
The Doors of Perception, 
small-town childhood escapades 
reminiscent of Jean Shepherd's A 
Christmas Story, Tom Wolfe's 
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and 
arcane historical fiction, Tamper 
is your kind of book."
Here's a picture of August Strindberg to prod your synapses. Not sure I've ever seen a photograph more full of narrative potential.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Pimico and the seamonkey tadpole people


Once upon a time there was a race of sea monkey tadpole people who lived in the deepest depths of an ocean. Of course they did not know it was an ocean as they lived in it. And they didn’t think it was deep or dark for that matter either. One day a young sea monkey like tadpole boy called Pimico was out collecting different shells from the sea bed (gathering beautiful shells was a favourite pass time of the tadpole seamonkey people) when he came across a wall of rock that he had never seen before. It was covered in lots of plants and shells that he had never seen before. He was amazed and filled with delight as he began to make his way up the rock collecting such a wild array of delicate discarded mollusc homes as he went. I will have the best shell collection in the whole of seamonkey tadpole world he mused in a non-verbal blur. His lack of understanding of literate forms of communication did not stop the joy rising through his body with each new delightful specimen that he acquired.
He had never gathered shells with such vigour before and soon he began to grow tired. He leant back on a boulder clutching his hoard and decided to nod off. The large rock however slid gently backwards and Pimico tumbled backwards and found himself falling into a cave inside the edifice. Pimico panicked and splashed about. Suddenly he became aware of a strange splashing sound and coming to his senses he noticed globules flying past his eyes. He looked down and saw that he was half submerged in a thick see-through shiny substance. He brought his flipper arm around to try and shovel the strange stuff away and was mesmerised to see more glistening globules flying past his eyes. Soon he was splashing away and laughing to himself in delight at the strangeness of realising he had not fallen into the substance but fallen out of it. And he was still breathing. Shaking his head gently and sighing half with relief, Pimico, sat back and began to place his shell hoard on the rocks beside him, savouring with pleasure the way they looked next to each other in patterns. Realising the time he plunged into the glistening gloop he had recently emerged from and headed home.
 Pimico soon began to return to the cave and spent hour upon hour arranging his fascinating shell collection. He took his family to see it and word of its mesmeric qualities soon spread. Seamonkey tadpole people began to gather in the cave to compare shell patterns and before long they had grown used to being outside of the glistening substance. Over the weeks it seemed that the seamonkey tadpole community was moving home to the inside of the cave. Only certain of their number retained the ability to dive back into the glistening gloop from wherest they came. The collecting of shells became harder and so they turned their attention to categorising those that they already had. Pimico was amongst the first to start scratching marks in the soft sandstone to remind him of which shell went where. Over the seasons the displays of shells grew more and more uniform and grid like and the marks that served as reminders grew more and more elaborate. The seamonkey tadpole people were rightly very proud of their displays and the drip feed of new shells slowed down so they were able to keep a good sense of order to them. Pimico even began to invent tunes to help him and the saemonkey tadpole community to remember the different names. He no longer felt the need to return to the glistening gloop and to his initial surprise found his body changing. One morning after sleeping in the cave (as most of the community now did) he found that he had proper limbs and tiny wiggly appendages at the end of them, which were ideal for manipulating the shells into more and more complex arrangements.
  As time went by Pimico felt a little sad that most of the seamonkey tadpole people could no longer go and look for shells so he decreed in his role as elder that a shell corridor be built leading into the depths so that they could once more look out into the realm from wherest they had emerged all those years ago. With their newly evolved limbs this task was much easier than they would once have believed possible and soon a tunnel was constructed that reached far down into the glistening gloop. Over time the gloop wore away at the shells, which became transparent. To this day the monkey people (they are no longer sea or tadpole) like to wander along its length pondering how they might one day come to under stand the dark eternity beyond its shimmering circumference. 


Monday, 19 December 2011

Adam Ant Part two

This then is the second part of my Adam Ant adventure. I am no expert on the subject and feel the shadow of an early Ant's bass player fall on the page. Mr Andrew Warren, for tis he, never struck me as someone who stood for much nonsense. I feel privileged to know this punk legend.
The three minute warning announces to the people of Tunbridge Wells that the band are about to take to the stage.
So having recovered from my fit of snake brandishing induced hysterics I return to my seat at the front by the nosebleed inducing PA. First thrill is remembering that Adam Ant always has two drummers. Already my ticket is feeling great value for money. The band, as is traditional, make a forward foray onto the stage to clear the room of all doubters. Then the way is ready for the king/prince (no not leader that’s a very bad man). Adam takes to the stage in finely crafted Nelson style pirate’s hat adorned with peacock feathers. Chief. I was never a fan as a boy yet watching now it is immediately apparent that this man is a real artist. He created a mainstream conduit to the edges of consensus reality. There is a touch of the lost boys and peter pan to this family he seeks to reunite but aside from the clich├ęs I am overwhelmed with a feeling that this is outsider art writ large. My only complaint was that the decibels interfere with the sense of presence but then again I am sitting at the front – a position more beneficial to watchers of pantomimes with stars of Eastenders in. Early tunes such as Zerox and Car Trouble are genuinely idiosyncratic examples of pop punk surrealism and Mr. Ant brandishes a guitar with such dexterity that he banishes all doubts over his musicality. Later when I mention this to other people they say well he has had a long time to practice. And yes it is clear Marc Bolan is something he’s always wanted to be but from where I was sitting his playing seemed like the most natural thing in the world for him to do.  He was saying look I wrote these songs. But that is the poisoned chalice of creating an imagined realm around your pop. Who wants to know who wrote the songs then? Sergeant Pepper get your scrambled egg coat Sir Paul is coming through.
             I was struck by how little he said between songs and a charade like quality permeated the atmosphere. We were all part, so it seemed, of a masked interlude in life's proceedings reached through a collective dream state. At times Adam was like a man stuck in a toy theatre left to embellish and perfect his moves, which then took on an abstract level of tribal communication. Later into the set when most gigs would be over he does start to talk. He tells us about Bono forcing him to only play one song at Live Aid (Vive la Rock) and how the lady at Radio One loved his love song but that it just “doesn’t sound like Adam Ant”. I think it was called “you’re Wonderful”. My feeling was that although Adam Ant didn’t write many love songs his pantomime pop had more life and soul in than the crooning new romantics around him in the charts. But clearly this concert has an element of putting some demons to bed. One demon in aprticular that strikes me is Adam reclaiming his image that seems to have been appropriated for the Pirates of the Caribbean by Johhny Depp. This would perhaps explain the self conscious use of the spectacles as a stage prop. Instead of a white stripe Adam is frequently pushing his glasses back up his nose. I would estimate that this entire spectacle takes two and a half hours and at the two-hour mark I have to bolt for the train where I re-immerse myself in the world of Jerry Cornelius a fictional character whose style, mystery and sexual appetite Adam Ant almost rivalled in the real world. Jerry Cornelius is completly fictive so has an unfair advantage of course.
This is my friend Sarah who is a far greater expert than I on all things Ant. be like ants.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

I Foiled A Gold Heist - moving along now

Hello this happened to me January of this year. This version (I've tried it several times) is probably still far too long and a tad rambling but to this day it still feels like an episode of The Prisoner.
Mikey Georgeson

I think I am at liberty to talk about this now that the felon and driver of the bandit vehicle is safely behind bars having pleaded guilty. Though I am not sure what he pleaded guilty to. The whole thing still feels like a piece of meta-fiction and having spent the last few years delving into the realms of my unconscious creativity this is hardly surprising. Several friends have indeed commented that such a colourful piece of happenstance could only happen to me. I don’t remember the impact itself (normal I am told) but I do remember stopping in a box junction once I heard a siren and saw the familiar flickering blue light in the darkness down the road. I always used to feel somehow useful as I pulled over to let the emergency services pass. This time, however, within seconds of applying the breaks I saw a white transit van heading straight for me through a red light on the wrong side of the road. “It’s okay,” I told myself, “these are highly trained drivers and he will easily avoid you”. In that blink of an eye I felt sure that whatever happened the police would take care of things. Except the van kept coming even as I looked the driver in his emotionless eye. The next thing I remember is thinking oh that was less traumatic that I thought a head on collision with a speeding transit van would be. It was clear that the driver of the van was clearly not part of the emergency services as he leapt out and headed for the nearby park but before I had time to dwell on such things a man was climbing into my car and applying a neck brace to my person. It seems a private ambulance had been at the scene thus lending the scenario an air of my own private episode of casualty as I watched the scene unfold through the windscreen of my now written off Mazda Xedos. The police were right on cue and they seemed to swarm before me on the rain speckled screen. Quite how they did this in spite of not having pursued the van down the wrong side of the road I do not know but they insist that they were not behind him as we collided.
            My initial concerns were for my ukulele and acoustic guitar on the back seat of the car that I could not turn round to look at. The private paramedic kept me talking and after half an hour an NHS crew arrived at the scene. Sean seemed to be the man in charge of the NHS team and he kept talking to me in a pleasant cajoling fashion. “If you turn your head a little to the right you’ll see gold coins on the road’ he joshed. Daring to move my neck a little (I had been advised not to move at all) I did indeed see what appeared to be large doubloon style coins glinting on the rain soaked tarmac. He reported minutes later that the vans foot wells were full of them. Together the two crews discussed how best to remove me from the vehicle and after somehow bending the front right side of the car open the four of them lifted me onto a spinal board across the two front seats of the car and out onto a waiting trolley. About now I began to think I’m fine why are they doing this to me? They wheeled me to the waiting public ambulance and placed my instruments in the vicinity. Whilst my vitals were being checked a nice young policeman climbed aboard and read me my rights. Yes he cautioned me. He was also very keen to find out if the fugitive was wearing a high visibility vest. I couldn't remember i said but even then had a faint recollection of the inadmissibility of leading questions. This really was like my own private budget TV drama. I should have known when I set off earlier full of hope for the New Year. I mean when we watch those programs we always know something awful is going to happen right? I think now that the ambulance crew were too shocked to say anything to the questioning police officer but when they didn’t things began to feel positively Kafkaesque. One minute I was on my way home the next I’m a suspect in a gold heist.
            An hour after the impact I was eventually asked which hospital I would like to go to and I rather forthrightly suggested King’s as it was nearest my home. To my surprise they agreed and I spent the next half of the night in resuss. Sean the paramedic was like a guardian angel and without him I would have felt positively terrified, as it was my fear took on a gentler upward curve the longer I was kept immobile. My urge to go home almost prevented me from acknowledging that my spine hurt but I did admit that yes the middle of my back hurt a lot. I was swiftly dispatched for x-rays, which took a few goes because “the spine is very long”. “Ooh I thought, “I have a long spine. That’s a bonus” but it turns out everyone has a long spine. As they wheeled me out of the x-ray room the nurse lent over and gently asked me if I felt paralysed? More Kafkaisms I laughed to myself. I should point out that by now I was chattering incessantly retelling the unfolding drama to anyone who appeared when I wasn’t lying by myself for long stretches at a time staring at the modular ceiling above me. The immediate world had taken on a rather narrow field of vision you see. About now the emotionally intelligent paramedic also leant over me and whispered that in his opinion I was going to be all right. Clearly he was breaking protocol and he went onto say that it might take a while but I was not going to be unable to walk forever – or words to that effect. So now cue the bombastic Doctor “So tell me about these pains in your legs” “erm its my back” I replied meekly. He was not happy and swift staccato gruff outbursts ensued to the medics around him. At some point my x-rays were examined and it was noted that there was no acute damage. “Does this mean I can get up?” I enquired. “No” came the reply "you might fall over". Now I can’t remember how but I persuaded the gruff bombast to let me get up to walk unaccompanied to the toilet. So imagine the relief of relieving myself after the relief of discovering that I could in fact walk! I was on a role and persuaded the police constables who had been assigned the duty of waiting to see if I spoke out of turn to drive me home in the early hours of the morning. My wife had not slept since I called from the ambulance at half ten and it was now 4 a.m. I have not slept well since.
            But what of the gold coins? Well when the police didn’t get in touch I began to wonder if I had somehow blown the whole thing out of proportion. That in actual fact yes it was a mere traffic incident as they kept telling me in the letters advising that they would be taking no action against me. I have a very kind friend who works in the murder squad and she was very concerned for me. So much so that she arranged for me to give a statement to the police investigating the robbery. I turned up at Kennington police station still expecting my heroes welcome but the officer concerned had been called away. Instead I gave my statement through reinforced glass to another officer. As I was about to leave feeling I had achieved exactly nothing I dared to ask about the gold coins I had imagined on the road. Oh there were two tons of them,” she proudly stated ‘and I should know because I had to log them in”. She even told me the location of the mint they were stolen from which happened to be over the road from a gym in Camberwell where I occasionally take my son to play football. So that explains why the van weighing two tons in itself was probably only able to sail a fixed course into the front of my car and why the impact felt soft in a very heavy kind of way I instantly reasoned. After my complaints I met with the police customer service team and a traffic sergeant who assured me that they had no idea they were chasing a van full of gold coins (the mint made royal wedding medallions) and had they then they wouldn’t have chased it. “But still about the time it hit me you would have called off the chase?” “Yes” came the astonishing reply and I saw a brief crumpling of the customer service police employee. Still there was no apology and I wrote to my local MP Tessa Jowell. Every time I tell the story I feel as if people will think I’m delusional and so there were several email exchanges with her office checking, I presume, that I wasn’t a fantasist. The bottom line was I did have a crime reference number. Then in July nearly seven months after the crash I had an email from a DCI, which included the word “apology”. After months of meeting with police customer services being told that I would be very happy after out meeting this felt like real progress. But the damage was already done. The police had got their man and I was only too pleased to have been of inadvertent service but then they left me in limbo spending days on the phone trying to claim not only for the car (a trifling concern) but for the physical and mental therapy I knew I would need to recover. Oddly I am unable to claim criminal damages because the felon was in a vehicle.
It’s not so much that I want compensation (would you believe I am claiming through the van's insurer?)  more that I would like to know that, yes for sooth a mint in Camberwell that mints gold royal wedding coins was robbed and the fully laden bandit vehicle was chased by the police down the wrong side of the road through a red light into the front of your car. Having the police state it that baldly would help me feel I could move on from that particular box junction. Here in my car and all that.  

Friday, 9 December 2011

Car Trouble


Looking back over the sea of fog I can now report that my Mr. Solo odyssey was an attempt to live life as cheese dream. To go hither and thither wherest it may lead me. Lately I've been in search of a good sleep. I think this began when the ultimate cheese dream manifested after a Mr. Solo rehearsal. Now I can see how this may have been to do with my karmic directors being at odds with the flow of the universe. This resulted in a transit van carrying two tons of gold hitting me head on. I thank G(g)od (the universe) that I was alone but still feel that terrifying fear of being buried alive that I felt at the time from time to time. It's wearing off a little and I find I can once more see the magical side of sitting at a set of traffic lights in a neck brace trying not to rubber neck the doubloons on the road. 
And so it was that I took a train journey to Royal Tunbridge Wells in search of a certain fermented dairy product style somnambulistic experience. It was a time to read my doorstop size Jerry Cornelius omnibus. I knew that synchronicity was returning to my orbit when after having composed a response to the question of "what is the condition of music?" posed in the Guardian notes and queries I opened said tome to see that the fourth book was indeed called "The Condition of Muzak". This was going to be good I mused. Earlier that day I had learnt that the medical term for obsession with random coincidence was apophonia so to be experiencing it now felt especially synchronistic. As luck would have it my wife had returned home early from work so I was able to get there in time for the support act. I heard the first as I headed for the deserted downstairs bar - a nod to shouty late 80's cyber punk. Rapidly I became aware that this venue was ordinarily the domain of pantomime and touring family style theatre. It was all very cosy and peeps all had their best coats on. Ladies had nice hair and men had nice slacks. All very civilised. And so we took our places (ours were four rows back from the nose bleed PA hastily installed for monsieur ant I presume). The feel of the anticipation seriously reminded me of going to Billy Smarts circus as a child. A specifically English provincial excitement wafted fragrantly about us all. The lady came to the front of the stage. A lovely girl – part athlete part burlesque part red coat except without the coat and without the blouse and skirt. The snake above her head was blanched looking – had she par boiled it to ensure docility? The music was CIA noise level bass throb beneath pastiche 50s and 80s family pop. I am sure that Michael Moorcock concocted this in his last cheese dream. I felt sorry for the static snake who ended the first song inside the mouth of the entertaining lady. I made my excuses to my friends and headed for the chilly night air. I let my hysterics envelop me – I wanted to share with anyone passing just how bizarre the whole thing had been. When someone is trying that hard to entertain an auditorium of static winter coat wearers still murmuring about the days travails one can easily have a moment of existential crisis. I am learning that such morbid thoughts can be extinguished with ease and returned to my seat well in time for the prince/king himself.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Table manners


There is a soul shaped hole in the art world. We work around it as if it were a large dining table with jagged corners. We could all sit down around its expansive perimeter but prefer instead to manoeuvre about it using our rapier like wits to dismiss its presence. An artist could incorporate the table in their work but they would have to somehow knowingly create an alter ego who was outside of the modes of knowing analysis. Mentioning William Blake is like declaring an appreciation of antique tables that existed in more innocent times but such things are frankly no longer realistic for those who eat on the hoof. I have tried to avoid the table but it makes me sick. The art world loves its finger food.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Latch - A Ghost Story

So there I was swaying in the breeze contemplating the growing pile of fag butts in the plant pot and how I really ought to dispose of them for the sake of my karma when I realised that the click I had heard was the front door closing itself. I had no key. “I have no key’ I thought. I am ill and standing in the garden locked out feeling nauseous from the guilt of not being able to give up smoking. I knew for a fact that I had left the door on the latch. But this was no Victorian manor house I found myself suddenly exiled from – this was a late sixties purpose built ex local authority brutal semi. I still had my slippers on and my phone was inside. I remembered that I had seen the magnificent Tania sauntering home after the school run and wondered about walking around the block to her house in order to phone my wife. Oh the times I had fantasised about such an occurrence but in these reveries I did not have slippers on my feet and an eye of what I speculatively presumed to be suppurating head-lice bites. I was not looking my best. Still Tania worked with the homeless she would understand. And so I shuffled out of the gate making doubly sure that I left it on the latch. Not that this was any guarantee of my being able to rely on the sanctuary of my garden in the face of the devilish activity in my home that had just then come to light.
One often saw people in their slippers on the forgotten estate. The only problem is I had never counted myself amongst their number. And so I resolved to walk boldly as if slipper wearing on a rain sodden day was the most natural thing in the world. I knew that there was a moderate to high chance of happening upon another parent returning from the school run so I fixed my gaze ahead and set a gentle smile about my lips. As the gate closed behind me I’m sure I heard my mobile phone ringing. The cat stared down at me from the top of the outhouse as if to say “well aren’t you going to answer that?” now that I came to think of it the cats had been running madly around the house just prior to my morning cigarette. I sometimes thought of myself as a sailor on a round the world yacht as I stood on the deck smoking. Staring at the sky wondering what the day had in store. And like another dreamer my yacht was permanently anchored on an island half the world away from where I regularly reported myself to be.
I made it through the residents’ car park without bumping into anyone and now stood at the side of the road where the estate ends and the proper Victorian streets begin. These are the really covetable streets I thought. These are the houses that bring parents to the area. I stood at the top of Tania's street. I had actually forgotten the name of the street. We used to see a lot of each other prior to our children attending school. Once she had been round our house and set the kitchen on fire by placing the kettle on the hob and leaving it while we played out the front with the children. I remember her clutching her youngest daughter in a blanket whilst I tried to fling dampened towels onto the blaze. It had all struck me as being like a scene from a melodramatic engraving. We got a new cooker and redecoration out of this misfortunate episode but somehow our friendship was nerver put back the way it had been before. It had somehow illuminated the class divide between us. She in her Victorian Aga styled town house and us in our functional cube.
I stopped at the window with the wooden blinds. That was always how I recognised Tania's house. I couldn't tell you now what the number is. I could see the flicker of movement through the slats and went up to the door. I decided to knock on the window. Hello” said an unfamiliar voice. “Oh its Mikey” I replied nervously. I was always replying nervously. “It’s who?” said the voice. “It’s Mikey I’m a friend of Tania's from church.’ Quite why I had said this I don’t know. It seemed to conjure up an idea of a friendship on a secure footing but equally if someone had said it to me I would have found it deeply suspicious. But I wasn’t like other people and so frequently found myself trying to second guess what the best thing to say would be and invariably when it came time to speak picked the oddest statement from the hastily complied multiple choice.
The door opened and revealed a small pretty young woman. “Hello” I said again “is Tania Home?”
Oh she’s just about to leave I think, what do you want?”
“Erm oh it’s nothing important it can wait.”
Tania's impressive frame emerged into the light from the kitchen at the back of the hallway
“Hi Mikey are you okay? How are you all?”
“Oh Hi we’re fine I just thought I’d pop round on my way to the shops to see if you had thought any more about the... the.. “
“Really sorry I’ve got to head off. We really must get a date in the diary for a dinner round ours. I still owe you one.”
“Okay that would be lovely,” I said shuffling trying not to show my slippered feet, which was clearly impossible. Tania strode past me and touched my arm. The power touch. I stood there momentarily between her and the woman I calculated to be the cleaner. “Thanks” I said to the young woman and raised my hand to say goodbye.
Back in the garden the space under the trampoline was at least dry. From time to time the cats would come out and sniff my hand. I curled up and tried to keep warm. My new coat would be a mess was all I kept thinking to myself. I could remember when this decking was pristine and now here I lay in the middle of gently rotting leaves and algae. This is the hardest part of having time to think. You can, if you are not careful, become rapidly aware of the tendency of everything to decay. If I wash my hands today they will be dirty tomorrow kind of thing. The boys scooters were next to me both missing various screws that had fallen off and rusting around the wheel arches – the football was peeling and under inflated. The log I had positioned to stop the trampoline moving was askew and now just another piece of mouldering detritus.
I somehow slept and woke to a faint click. At least I had remembered to put my hearing aids in. I looked out from my new cave like abode and caught sight of movement behind the garden door. We had chosen to have half glazed doors on the front door that opened onto the garden. “It’s nice to have a view,” I had suggested utopianly. Was the click the cat flap? I asked myself. The cat flaps that portal between the animal world and human consciousness. The cat flap – a conversation between man and beast. I crawled out trying not to catch my new coat on the decking as I did so. I gazed in shock as the front door gently opened a half-inch. My wife was right to constantly complain about what a bad job they had done of installing the new doors. We had had them back countless times to readjust them. Initially this had been to simply stop the rain from literally flooding underneath them but after several bodged attempts they needed frequent further adjustment. Finally I suggested they turn the drip bar the other way around and this did the trick. Now the doors were all ours and negotiations with the company Doors by Dores had unofficially ceased.
 I pushed the door open and sniffed. Everyone smells a house on entering. It’s the fastest way of assessing if all is well. That time T had burnt down the kitchen I had smelt burning plastic but felt safe in the knowledge that there was nothing plastic in our home that could catch light. I hadn’t accounted for someone mistakenly putting a plastic based kettle on a hob though had I? The house smelt familiar with a very faint under note of dampness. This was not a nuance I had ever detected before. Our house was well built with no mysterious areas that could evade practical maintenance. This is what had attracted us to it but now we found ourselves longing for a home with uncharted corners. I winced as I remembered how on viewing the house I had met the son of the deceased owner. We had a pleasant conversation and I had held my own as an adult house buyer. He had been keen to show me the outhouse and indeed it was a surprisingly practical space in a small block outside the street side front door. “We put everything in there” he chuckled. And I, with my brain racing ahead to visions of myself installed in there on a woodwork project had chuckled back “yeah Dad!” Now this is not the most delicate of jokes I could have chosen to make to the son of a dead man endeavouring to sell his fathers house to a flimsy excuse of a grown up. Still he did laugh and I found myself wondering if this had been a conspiratorial reflex.
The cat was pawing the cupboard doors making a swish swish noise as she did so. Nothing unusual in that I thought. She’s always wanting to get in the cupboard under the stairs. The cupboard under the stairs was not your usual kind of low level design, being more of a walk in coat cupboard at the front then curving around under the stairs where we kept the boxes of more delicate objects that had seemed better suited to our Victorian childfree high ceiling flat in a conservation area. I opened the door to let the cat in. It sometimes worried me that the cat would get crushed under a box that I had not packed away scientifically enough but still I pushed such thoughts away as I watched her tail disappear behind the bag for life of summer footwear at the back. This space was then without doubt the last mystery of the house for although I had many time unpacked and repacked it in search of some suddenly indispensable item, it always reverted to a state of unfathomable depth once the door was closed. Not knowing what was in there was a constant potential source of irritation I was reminded of this as I placed my new coat on the peg. The cat mewed somewhere from within the mound of boxes and heaped up layers of living. “Okay puss” I called instinctively feeling an urge to crawl in and make sure she was okay. My phone was still on the side in the dining room and so I pushed on in the darkness. It sounds silly but the space was cramped and yet big enough to feel like I was scrabbling into the heart of the house. I caught a glimpse of Lilly’s eyes in the far corner where I packed the Christmas tree away. It would soon be time to dig it out again so why not now.” I mean I’ve come this far so why not?” I asked myself inwardly dreading the process of packing and unpacking the various bags and boxes.
Suddenly the cat yowled and I saw a flash of red. There were no lights under here so what did I see. I thought of the antique lamp stand with the ancient wiring. This had always struck me as a hazard and now it sat in a box where it had been packed on the day of our move. A faint rustling caught my ear and from the corner of my eye deeper shadows danced in the farthest corner right under the stairs. I ploughed on past the box of cheap toys and long since abandoned games consoles. This was the one part of the under stairs cupboard I had never been into and if I was honest I had always been too frightened of even reaching a hand into that space. The cat brushed past my face and in seconds I heard the swish swish of her pawing at the doors. She wanted to get back in. Swish swish. Swish swish like someone cleaning at a step with an incriminating stain. Outside the leaves stirred in the breeze as I found myself entering the darkest part of the house. On and on I went down and down into the darkness of the mystery. The dampness was stronger here. The earth under my hands told me why. A frog, a newt, a slow worm all gently moved aside as I crawled. A small Mercedes matchbox car sat beneath my hand and I lifted it to my face to smell. Soon there was grass under my knees and the sound of small chattering voices. You may think I was going mad but I lived this. I scrabbled beyond the realm of either or and felt dimensions expand and contract around me. Fear had passed and tears streamed down my cheeks as I lay on the green grass of the traffic island outside my first love's house. Nicky’s dad choked on his own vomit. We moved away from house to house each time the dimensions a little more generous and the address just that bit more respectable. Here I lay again now with Nicky beside me on the grass. Our toy cars spread out around us. This was the heaven I had longed for but now found myself wondering if there was any way back to the place from which I had crawled. I panicked and tried to scramble to my feet catching Nicky on the side of the face as I did so. Confusion flashed across her features as I ran. I ran and without looking found myself in front of an oncoming beautiful Mercedes coupe. The pain was all enveloping but strangely gentle. I’m all right I thought as I glanced across at Nicky on the grass. She was now smiling again. Cursing as I did so I shoved the various boxes and bags haphazardly out of my way until I could here the swish swish of the cats paws on the door. Pushing them open from within I emerged back into the house. I picked the cat up and held her on her back like a child. She looked around the room and purred. I set her down and she sprang off through the cat flap into the front garden. It as about time I got on with some work and I padded into the kitchen and picked up the kettle.

Put Your Coat On

When did this all start? You know? The whole wearing a coat to school is so not cool. Except this is never articulated under any circumstances. This is stoicism writ large. Do school children act as one brain? Somehow all knowing that they must return to their respective hives and refuse to done the mantel of conformity. “I’ve cracked it.” I thought as I walked my younger coat-wearing son down the hill to school – children don’t wear coats because they are not TV advertised at all hours. Come on M&S I mused; let’s have a cool coat advert for the parents of the kids. But then on returning I enviously espied a pair of addidas gazelles on the feet of an older kid. These are not remorselessly branded onto our eyeballs by the glowing screen in the corner so why do I want them so? Ahh well advertising is branding now isn’t it? Things don’t need to be on the telly to be advertised. I mean those evil product development geniuses embed the advertising into the product. The product is a slow release covet-me bomb. Puffa jackets almost became covetable but the halfhearted stance of the kids towards them was reflected in the simultaneous desire of all of them to wear them half way down their backs. Even my lad perfected this without rehearsal. I can imagine at his age I would have had to practice getting it to hang off me like that. Have marketing people simply become very expert at appealing to the need for children reaching social awareness (most people then) to be individual and non-conformist? Er big resounding yes I would say.
 I mean Steve Jobs is revered as a man who released all our collective dreams he gave us the means to express our deepest creative urges. Um how exactly? Well he led by example. He showed that if you have a dream you can live it through hard work and vision. Believing in your self. Oh yeah right. So the fact that the Internet is broken is nothing to do with the marketing folk realising that they now needed to make products aimed at people who need to express their individuality through their consumer choices? Have you been watching too much Adam Curtis? Admittedly I really want an I-pad 2 but I have already found out that they won’t run I-Web so that particular Jobs-facilitated dream must be put to bed. So are you saying we need to go back to the wax-coated codex format? This is an adequate way of sharing ideas that can change and be added to by those that come into contact with them. In some senses wikipedia is like this. It’s free to be modified by anybody. Imagine if the gospels were written as a wiki and then became thought of as Gospel truth well that is kind of what happened.
Ah I thought that we’d arrive at this point. The point where you say that we are free to inhabit a world of metaphor which is beyond the realm of either or. That is spirituality – except what we get served up as spirituality is a schematised ritual of an idea that someone half remembered  - writ large. Oh. I see. I think. 
Well back to the coats. I was actually pretty warm as I walked down the hill and thought you know what you’re making a big fuss over nothing. Your eldest son was right not to wear a coat. He just intuited that and you turned it into a big semiotic mess. Right. Told me.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Record collections


     For the past two weekends I have been trying to resolve the sale of my wife’s and mine long playing records. This is a compact way of describing the process that has been slowly unravelling since we met and so that is the plot I shall try and detail. As I type my wife has just congratulated me on “sorting the records out”. That’s more money than I thought she declares gaily dismissing three quarters of my life’s memories. Stick to the plot. Last Saturday I packed the four crates into the car and ordered the boys into the car for the drive a mile down the road. This took longer than a non-parent record collection indulging individual would anticipate and consequently we were fractionally too late for the loading bay outside the shop. After two circuits the space had become available when the Astra van pulled off. The boys and I spotted no cameras pointed at the bay and decided to take a chance. The moment we got in the space a large whale of a bus surfaced and sung loudly. Swearing I pulled off vowing to return. This weekend refreshed and having inflated the tyres I did indeed return and this time before four and without the boys. Having parked in the loading bay I begin hauling the records into the shop and up to the counter.  The sales assistants are not as friendly as the owner had been on the phone. He had been effusive and rang me to ensure I was coming. Fair enough I thought he’s running a business. The conversation about when to come back to see how much they are worth is awkward and involves me struggling to pitch my commitment, after all I am well aware that the money is not really anything more than an added bonus to retrieving what amounts to a large area of storage space in our sixties estate house. Added to this a skinny young man begins asking me what sort of records I’m selling as he prepares to mount his fixed gear racing bike outside. Again conversation is dislocated- I er mmm – sort of thing. “Oh that’s a shame I would have liked some of them” he enthuses. Records delivered I Slide into the driver’s seat and move into the traffic being careful not to get in the way of any whale like buses.
 Work is frantic at the moment or at least the affect on my brain of lecturing to students who are now aware of the value of their education at a university that spends the 2nd to lowest amount on staff in the country is frantic. Consequently on Wednesday I get a call from the owner wondering when I’m going to come in to collect my booty. “It’s up to you if you keep the records we can’t sell”. “I think I’ll collect them thanks”. The owner is understanding and as he has done all the way through this protracted transaction he puts me at my ease. I really do not feel that I am being conned out of a gold mine. I set off after work with plenty of time to park around the corner knowing that the loading bay is off limits after 4 o’clock. Why don’t more people write about the neurosis of parking and camera guilt? Or do I just read the wrong papers? I suppose parking is like admitting you don’t cycle your fixed gear racing bike everywhere. I mean I could have hired a little cycling wagon to deliver the records. I find a space and am anxious because I know I have no change and earlier this year have had a parking fine dispute rebuffed because in Southwark you are not allowed time to go and get change. But wait a stranger is approaching me with an idea for a transaction. It seems he has just bought a ticket that he won’t be needing as his girlfriend doesn’t like the look of the restaurant. The parking official watches as we discuss the deal and to my amazement seems to approve.  “I’ve got no change, “ I explain. “Don’t worry” says the stranger “at least someone will get use from it.”
 Once in the shop I saunter up to the counter and introduce myself. Tom, the owner is keen to show me the break down of how he has come up with the figure of £85 for the records in my collection that he thinks he can sell. I believe him and recognise that this is a business transaction, which means both parties have to be happy. Tom is after all allowing me to keep the tow crates of records he won’t, in his opinion be able to sell. I like Tom, he is clear and at the same time not devoid of sensitivity. Tom understands. At least that’s what the thought growing in my mind seems to say. Tom is keen to show me the box of records he is keeping. I notice straight away the promo copy of pillows and prayers with its stapled extra tall cover sticking out the top. The record that would have been an eBay sensation… then tom flips to my copy of setting sons by the jam. These are records I remember buying. This was the album directly after the sublime All Mod Cons and I remember being vaguely disappointed with it then. Girl On The Phone will never grow on me despite containing the lyric “ she knows the size of my cock”. I mean that is a very strange choice for an opening track. I just had to check that really was the opening track and notice that it was recorded in 1979. I was eleven and I already knew what I liked. What I liked was the Modern World a far more romantic indeterminate album. With these thoughts flashing through my brain in under a second I wave my hand and demand that Tom stops showing me. Tom understands. I now realise that Tom is used to dealing with bereavement. His tone is gentle and functional. I am laying my records to rest and tom is helping me expertly through the process. I never got around to alphabeticising them and would have to look through them to know what records I had. Owning records is not always about obssesively cataloguing them. One day I would systemise my collection but until then at least each time I played a record was like diving for treasure. This diving has been increasingly rare in my days of parenthood. Parenthood is a very different process to adulthood. I seem to have spent most of my parenthood trying to pack up or jettison all the shackles that I gained during adulthood. Thinking about it most of my records were from childhood. I did start to put records onto my computer and every now and then will be surprised by the 60 min version of See Emily play popping up on my I pod. If I were to break down the time it would have taken to put my records on hard drive I would have had to reduce my sleep to a mere 2 hours in order to find the time for the thousands of farts I do every year. Setting Sons was the only record Tom managed to see me and now its after image burns into my consciousness like the reverse image of Jesus Christ in a Victorian novelty gift book. It was a rubbish record. On the Canadian release they had Strange Town as the first track. In England this haunting piece of urban alienation fell between albums. I used to like it when singles could be caught between long playing releases. It made life more interesting when you had to seek things out.
I make further small talk with Tom being careful not to be too sentimental. Neither of us needs to point out the obvious emotional resonance of this exchange. I mean Tom has seen my records and has guessed that I bought them when they came out. “I’m just happy that someone will get some enjoyment from them,” I tell Tom who reports that yes there are people who like to come in here and browse of a weekend. I leave with £85 and two boxes of unwanted albums that will all sell for lots on eBay. Girl on the Phone would never have grown on me. Now I can start again. Find myself in a strange town - which was the one Jam record I never owned. Perhaps Tom has a copy in stock.


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Football dads

 I have become a football dad. Okay I was already one last season but that was football-dad-lite and came free. For a start it was, whisper it, a church league. There was always a prayer before kick off and one of the hazards was a certain coach who seemed to enjoy asking me, in a Columbo style line of questioning, to remind him which church we went to. My son’s team, despite being an overspill squad, won the league in what turned out to be a nail biting close to the season. This season he is playing for an eleven a side team and I am suddenly one of the squad drivers. Last week in the car park one of the boys remarked on the soft suspension and I became aware of just how low I had let the tyre pressure get. Now coming from a family of panickers I always get a sinking feeling when confronted with something as simple as a flat tyre. It feels like fate has caught up with me and has decided to show me I was never meant to be a vehicle owner (Our family panicking is well founded and not totally irrational – my dad once tried to fix the gas cooker in the camper van we had borrowed off the metal work teacher. We all found his resulting lack of facial hair rather amusing but inwardly each of us decided never to try and fix anything ourselves again.) Added to this I was low on petrol last week and failed to go to a garage between then and todays game. In my defence I don’t drive to work and on the days I work at home I spiral in a panic wondering how on earth I can do anything in the window of time between dropping the youngest son at school and the eldest returning home progressively early. So off we set to the rival pitch in the southwest (we are southeast) hoping the tyre will hold out and the petrol won’t run dry. I decide that my habitual favourite, Brian Matthew is not the moral boosting sound the boys need on their way to the game so put on my cd of wry Swedish Utopian-pop by a group called Komeda, “There’s a place where you can go if you want to have fun… microwave, computer for the child” No no no that is just depressing I think and catch a glimpse of one of the boys yawning in the rear view mirror. My father never had trouble with slippage between his choice of music in the car and the need to gee up the players. He seemed to have a great time coming to my matches in a fake fur coat and giant red hand knitted scarf – all very tom baker. My abiding memory of my father at my matches is of him sharing a good joke with the fathers of my teammates. They were laughing at grown up stuff from a world that I would one day be initiated into. I felt sort of proud that I had a dad who was there to watch. That simple really. At other times I would accompany him on the longer drives with Horsham Town FC. He was always very proud of how, when the players complained that he was driving slowly, he was able to explain that his grey Wolseley actually was cruising at 60mph.
      Last season, in the church league, I discovered my untapped depths of primordial passion and quickly learnt that simply shouting "come on the Fire" (their overspill suffix) was sufficient but even that was deemed too much by my son. My own father was the same (as my son) and frowned upon parents who bellowed and instructed their sons that they were playing like fairies. I also learnt that hassling the referee in the appropriate manner does get results. If he doesn’t give a free kick the first time with enough vocal criticism he will think harder next time. To be honest the team was a real Bash Street Kids mixture of personalities with a real sense of camaraderie. This, however, is not why they won the league. No the coaches son was probably the main reason. My boy was not without his moments of inspired performance and I swear I heard his teammates referring to him as “A freak” due to his sudden inclinations to run past several members of the opposition and score from an impossible angle. My Son The Freak I thought proudly.
This season he is a centre forward in an eleven a side team. You don’t get the ball much when you’re a centre forward in an eleven a side team but he is very happy. He did win a penalty this week and fired a couple across the goal – all very useful but we are yet to see The Freak emerge.
We actually (We!) joined the squad a few games into the season and consequently had no idea that yesterday’s fixture was a minor grudge match. Half way through the second half we took the lead due to a freak free kick going through the legs of their hitherto goliath-like goalkeeper. He cried and we cheered. The anguish spread to the rest of the team, one of whom fouled and then slapped our other centre forward. Wrong choice. He then leapt and pivoted whilst swiftly removing his shirt in the same movement. I am not fluent in the semiotics of football attire and have since learnt that this manoeuvre means I want to knock your block off but not bring dishonour upon the badge of my club. After the game the coach congratulated the boy on the grounds that she would have refrained from taking her top off if someone had slapped her. She is a great coach and somehow brings imagination to a rigorous structured approach. My son is lucky to have found his way into the heart of the team. He says they are good friends after only two games. Indeed, the leaping shirt removing player had greeted me with an “hello Arthur’s dad” from the touch line before kick off and after the game I struggled to find a good line in why he should not have tried to knock the block off the member of the opposition who had slapped him. The sight of all the parents piling onto the pitch, one mother bundling up her son with the primal scream of a simple “noooooooooooo” had been the nearest I’ve been to being in a Mike Leigh film and yet I failed to find the script for myself as the avuncular newcomer who spread a message of peace through the under twelve football world. Oh well its training today so you never know.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

primordial experience

Why does the search for the primordial experience feel harder to find these days? This was a question I half formed in my mind as, en famille, we marched with a growing throng of other villagers towards the annual bonfire (resists the urge to add bun fight). I mean all the ingredients are there – darkness, smells of cooking flesh, general hubbub of anticipation, big fire (not as big as last year – never is – will be a single match by the year 2065), alcohol, explosions and lights from neighbouring villages, mud squelching under foot, barricades… but still it feels like a simulacra of the real thing. We all know what we’re doing. Think of those kerazy surrealist dudes who took up automatic drawing with gusto only to find themselves falling into a pattern of knowing precisely what they were going to draw within a few months. Well that’s like fireworks night or rather bonfire night. I stood there remembering the previous years when I had felt all poetic like I was part of a genuinely pagan ritual (except perhaps the queuing at the bar designed for a dozen people). I made films and took photos. The fireworks had seemed to add up to something beyond the realms of the rational and even then as I had watched I saw their history flash within my mind’s eye – Chinese people inventing them (in lab coats!!?) up to a factory somewhere in the former Soviet Union producing them today. Yes I knew they were a concocted item making cash flow but still as they exploded into the night sky the wonder came upon me. Yes the specificity of the chemicals and the cardboard construction married to the mysterious living lights was a perfect symbiosis of the brain’s two hemispheres. But that was then.
This year I was, if you must know, pretty happy attending the cricket club bonfire without pursuing lofty spiritual enlightenment. No I was happy to be in my sensible Wellington boots holding hands with my boys thinking about the flask of mulde wine in the bag over my wife’s shoulder. This was the nearest I could get to being in Midsomer (without the ever present threat of murder due to the associations the name of one’s locale produces). Simple pleasures. We were well prepared and there would be no overwhelming existential moments at the bar as yet another even foot successful banker/lawyer got served ahead of me. There was lightness to the proceedings - The lady at the entrance with a bucket collecting the fivers and the chance happenings upon friends and parents of children at the same school as our own. There was no over formalisation and no need to hang on to each other in the darkness. Sounds like a vicar’s dream of how church could be. A friend suggested that the temptation on the bucket lady must have been very great and yes ha ha but no I don’t think she even so much as looked in the bucket. Now I know you’re thinking such is the affluent nature of the area we somehow happen to live in but in the darkness it all slowly began to morph into a far more human experience. I guess I’m groping at trying to make something more Breugel than Picabia. The darkness is a great leveller. By the end of the evening life felt connected, even somehow realigned. The bonfire bun fight (okay okay) had acted as a vast human processing machine designed by Dickens. All the niggling irritations I had on the way down like "why are the green-wellied morons infront of me walking so slowly?" had vaporised. Now if I were designing a relaxation cd I might well ask you to imagine packing all your worries into a roman candle and light the fuse and stand back gazing in awe as they momentarily reveal their incandescent fleetingness before disappearing completely. Might have to work on the voice over. I’ve got the music covered.
But how did this happen? I don’t remember noticing. The fireworks were exceptional. So perhaps this was it. There were new varieties – we were all struck by the Catherine wheel crossed with a rocket that created mini solar systems drifting into the night sky. Or the crackling ones -started orange and fizzled into blue, which put me in mind of unwrapping a sweet from a box of quality street in a non ironic manner. Later I described this one to a parent acquaintance as she knew exactly the fireworks I meant from the sound I made (like a rapidly frying lardon) and added “very technical”. Ah you see we find the experience beyond literacy to be quaint but it’s there in all of us perhaps it even is us and we, my friends are, the parasitic wasps. Mmm. Also as we watched the wondrous melange of son et lumier I thought how jolly marvellous it was that we celebrate something that might have happened with what it might have looked like if it had. Of course we aaaallll know that this fulfils the needs of having a post harvest festival gathering around the fire as the nights draw in but it is uniquely British in terms of being a genuine act of surrealism. It would make more sense if Guy Fawkes actually had had the chance to light the fuse and we were recreating the scene above parliament that day but no, a man gets hung drawn and quartered (I’m guessing) and we go about taunting his effigy with how things might have been.
 We return home and the x factor unites the nation with a similar display of pyrotechnics. Poor Frankie Cocozza, I muse, a lamb to the slaughter. Poor poor Kitty – you can’t dance luv. All these people, I’m sure are on bonfires around this beloved nation of ours. And somehow, for one night only, it all makes sense.
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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Where I am where I am


A funny thing happened on the way to the newsagent. There I was wondering what collection of neural passages it was that led to a sense of feeling like I was where I am when I began telling myself that I could perhaps find ways of bringing a sense of the wonder I felt in the Swiss Alps to my South London proximity which might include enjoying the foliage in the local area, for example the vines growing on my neighbours boundary wall, when a leaf loomed in my field of vision and I found myself plucking a dense grape (perhaps a pinot noire) from the interwoven recesses and savouring the taste. The Lavaux vineyards are known for their pinot noire grapes and yet the Swiss, I am told, choose to find it uneconomical to export their wines.
You are probably thinking I think I’m being annoying on purpose to write in such a clumsily tangled fashion and whilst I admit there is a feint echo of my previous self that sought to prod the fleshy hard drives of liberal clever clogs’ I prefer to think of myself as the dog that actually did one day rip its own tail off after a heated pursuit.
What is it that allows us to feel we are where we are? This I asked my self, the Audi Quattro hugging the mountain corners as we climbed higher into the pre-Alps, and consulted my smart phones in built sat-nav, periodically enlarging then reducing in order to bring back the flashing blue arrow that represented where I was. After chewing the surprisingly sweet grape from my neighbours vine today, I realised that the window of a moving car was most probably a major obstruction to my grasping the sense that I really was in the heart of a landscape illustrating a certain archetypal vision of Switzerland, the like of which I had gazed at in awe as it glowed on my computer screen during my intense research sessions prior to the trip. It was effectively still glowing on a screen albeit in lower resolution and moving.
But now I want to share with you my sense of pride as I stood atop the very mountain that had been listed on the My Switzerland web site preparing to undertake my first descent in the tin toboggan. This was actually the same place that had once seemed like a distant halcyon realm accessible only too the most sagacious of mountain folk and here we were breathing the same air we had previously tried to suck through the flat screen monitor. I was close to feeling like I really was there as I gazed down the valley that I can only describe as a geography teacher’s dream. The light and space the air the rocks they all added up to me being somewhere real. Rocks are hard and real and words are thin like air but the air here was really real. Then my eldest son threw a snowball in my ear and my area of reality became more focussed. Being a hearing aid wearer I am not a fan of things that are really cold flying at high velocity into my lughole. Still. Be still.
video
 And now I am home and I long for the air the light the rocks the height. The adding up to something realness. The all at onceness. Here is a film of my second toboggan run just prior to the above-mentioned snowball incident.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

laughter in art

I've just got back from the exhibition called Quand l'art fait rire at the mcb-a in Lausanne. it was great to experience a darkened room of Bruce Nauman's clown torture although in not sure it was wholly responsible of me to drag my two sons into it. I was thinking they would find it funny but they both became visibly paler and i fear i may have clumsily provided them with a moment that will haunt then for life. Nauman's group of films do genuinely transcend the cliche of clown as demonic unlike the skull with a clowns nose in the other room. and what a treat the William Wegman films were! That man has real muscle both literally and creatively. Unlike nearly every artist at frieze this year he addresses the over awareness of our age with humanity and intelligence. He seems to approach video with the same sense of wonder that celluloid pioneers embodied (l'entracte par example.) "i should go" he says in one clip picking up the arm chair and standard lamp and leaving behind his suit case deposited upon arrival. this is A. very funny and B. a touching ode to the transience of an identity defined through possessions. another rib tickler was Yoshua Okon's canned laughter installation. A silly joke played out with conviction. we are shown a stack of various canned laughters (manly, evil, manic. ..) and an accompanying video takes US behind the scenes of the factory where hair netted workers amass like a communal choir to create the 57 varieties. tasty.
after the show we retired to LA Barbare for a cup of their legendary thick hit chocolate(the spoon stands up) and on the bus home discussed the contrasting reviving affects of chocolate and coffee. A superior hot chocolate, we agreed , makes one feel energised and calmer.
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Sunday, 23 October 2011

x factor

For the last few years I have made a conscious effort to avoid the above named program. Yes even mentioning its name might bring all manor of calamities upon my head. Having had my own brush with minor celebrity I was finding it`s visceral efficiency some how touched me where I didn´t want touching. In the pop world I get the feeling that once you`ve had your go you are expected to politely move aside and let some other young turk step up and take a swipe. My lingering on the edges of the playing field has become, I suspect a mild cause for embarassment" is that man still loitering?" There is something of the primal power of the mob about X Factor that disturbs me. (In an earlier blog I mentioned guilt over a radio shaped like a JPS racing car that my parents had bought when caught up in the whirl of a cheap market auction and the frenzied feeling that all of this is somehow of vital earth shattering importance not to be allowed to pass unacted upon permeates pores of this televisual beast.) But there is hope in the title itself. The X factor could be taken to imply an interest in the ineffable. The thing that Prisig spirals around in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanance. That magical ingredient that he calls "quality". Quality too is an almost unspeakable word. In its wake reason and rationality fall away and once uttered one has a feeling of nakedness, having somehow exposed the inner workings of the brain to be no more than a cluster of writhing worms of subjective longing . How often do we hear contestants say, "this is all I`ve ever dreamed of"?
But last night X factor took a giant leap into the realm of the imagination. It shredded the divide between reality and fictive psycho-drama. We all caught a whiff of the heady acrid bouquet of modern life except this felt like the modern world where Elizabeth Linley was yearning to escape when Gainsborough painted her as one with her beloved west country landscape. The houselights dim - Look there It's Frankie cock-o-the-town out on the prowl so lock up your daughters (or at least the ones Pete Doherty has left behind) and what's this? See yonder as the spotlight scorches through the back drop and reveals wicked Micha taunting the poor poor souls wracked with a level of self doubt she will never knoweth by dint of her nightly baths in the blood of castrati backing singers. Our torch bearers are the gods themselves sat atop mount Olympus selflessly shining a light into their own internal struggles. Hoping to somehow marry a selfless pursuit of those unfathomable essences that made them what they are with the need to reveal the putrid follies of human desire if left unchecked. So it seems the one genuine pop star on the program is to be cast as the wicked step sister and then perhaps to be redeemed as Cinderella once she has seen the error of her ways.
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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

the art cage

There is a form of ultra rationalist art that permeates institutions. This appears to me to be a facsimile of the creative process. artists are encouraged to move through everyday life and project it back in metaphorical power points rather like computers programmed to have personalities. It seems data is fed into the artist who then makes a rational manifestation of his or her processing of the information. This does have echoes of the mystery of creativity but so does a computer programmed with data. my thesis its that Duchamp is a scratch in or collective unconscious and we are stuck on that groove. in the same way that aristotle was not proposing dogmatic annihilation of intuition Duchamp was deliberately confronting the methodology of objective rationality whilst retaining the ineffable quality of individual process. We however have taken him at face value. If a work of art does not reflect the neurosi of modern culture. i.e. violence porn nihilism materialism then it is deemed whimsical. where is the soul in that?
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Monday, 26 September 2011

free fall

Still got shingle in my shoes
From saint Margarets
As I step from the train doors
My parachute of text books
Carefully packed on my back
54321
Go
Down into the city we descend
A strip of grey against the stark bright sky.
Like a swarm of bees on the horizon
In a cartoon riffing on the follies
Of urban man
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Sunday, 18 September 2011

healthy eating

Reduced sodium and fat is it seems healthy eating. In some cultures eating and food preparation are central to a joined up unified experience of life but here in the united states of mackie dee life is so fragmented our only hope is the first lady campaigning to get restaurants to reduce the salt and fast in the food. We need to be educated to follow the guide lines watch our calories because we pretend society is equal. When you see a bbc documentary suggesting that the worlds's poorest people have a long way to go until they are like us whilst a whole extended family gleefully tuck into baked aubergine with a handful of cumin and other spices you have to wonder. The more civilised we become the more divorced we are from living.
First Lady Michelle Obama: "Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice" | The White House
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Saturday, 17 September 2011

iconic

Marshal mcluhan was inspired. This doesn't mean everything he said was gospel. I think some of what he had to say about visual image making was a little off track. He believed in short that outline was closer to our primal sense of perception than the post renaissance obsession with light and shade. I believe here he is intuiting the idea that in byzantine art the surface was a manifestation of something awesome and ineffable beyond it. My problem is that now outline is part of the surface world of The Label. The quality he is grasping for is not defined by whether or not it is outlined or not but whether or not it is felt and not preconceived.
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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

white feather

As I lay on the eight foot
In diameter trampoline
Engulfed by her netted walls
Staring down the wishing
Well of infinity curve blue
A small white cloud
Was dropped
Into the azure field of my vision
Whereupon it became
A tiny fluffy white feather
Thousands of miles above the earth
Falling silently
Like a weightless bullet
Onto the tip
Of my right big toe.
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Saturday, 3 September 2011

let's get lost

With my monthly phone bill going up and up I decided to get a smart phone and a tariff I would find harder to go over. Oddly enough this has kept my bills down. Hidden within my telephonic box of delights is a sat-nav system so without going out of my way (ho ho) to do so I have now become a minor user of this wonder of the age.
 A good friend is reading a book on getting lost and how we are becoming increasingly immune to its value as an experience. Or so I conject. I think you can see where this is going but my sat-nav allowed me so re-aquaint myself with the forgotten pleasures of getting lost within a safe perimeter. Although I have always considered that sat-nav as an extension of man that reduces our ability to rely on instinct and further removes us from our sensory environment, I in fact found that my first use of the devise brought me closer to my instincts. Returning home from the brilliant Supernormalfestival I activated my navigation Ap which promptly launched me off across country in the opposite direction to the road I had taken the day before when dropping a friend at the nearest mainline station. My battery, sensing the fun to be had, swiftly died and I was left to guess which way I thought the motorway was. I was in effect lost and it was rather thrilling. Due in no small part to the fact that I had half a tank of petrol, unlike another time when I took the family into a seemingly parochial woods only for it to take on the backwaters of, ooh I dunno Transylvania? the further below zero the petrol gauge went.
 On the next family outing having extolled its values we fired up the sat nav. My wife soon refered to it as that American Bitch but we all caught on that "slide right" was infact "slight right". Due to its American preference for feet and not yards or even fractions of miles we found ourselves caught in a loop driving around a particularly nondescript retail area one-way system. It was then, turning my obvious mistake into a positive, I began to lecture my sons on the importance of listening carefully to precise distances even those suggested by a machine. The sat-nav, the extension of man most likely to erode our sense of a 360 degree environment had in fact given me the lea-way to trust my instincts and actually engage with the space I was passing through. How much of this was a result of malfunction and my own misuse of the technology is hard to say but if you have it free on your phone its definitely worth a whirl. 
     My phone wants me to install all my contacts on its google service and let me know this by deleting all the contacts I had on its internal memory. See that'll learn you not to back them up to my world-wide brain type memory devise it chirruped. Still since then I have had to reboot the whole system as the phone was behaving erratically in other tasks and upon doing so found that my sat-nav had become robotic/English as opposed to suprisingly realistic sitcom style American. It now talks in terms of yards and fractions of miles. This makes for a far better working relationship although recently she did have to defer to my greater knowledge of the West Crawley environs.

Friday, 2 September 2011

sensitive material - read eyes only

Charles Hitchcock reached for his pen and began scribbling furiously.
So here it is the system. If you are good with figures and the abstract qualities of money due to a deficit in imagination and/or empathy then you will succeed in business and financial matters. If you are somehow so unaware of your connection to humans around you and place no value on inter-relations and problem solving then you will succeed in management. Result - the non-empathetic leftbrain thinkers make all the decisions concerning how we solve the problem of the swathes of people alienated by this system whilst remaining wholly unaware of the swathes of alienated and literally impoverished people who don't happen to have a financial mindset.
      It suits the financially gifted to foster a non tactile, abstract culture because this is how money works. Thus the non abstract thinkers forget their gifts in other more tangible areas. Abstract thinking in numerical values is rewarded in a grossly disproportionate manner. If you complain you need to get on your bike. We talk about survival of the fitest and evolution as if we haven't evolved into free thinking beings. Its like a trump card in "The game of life" - your neighbour finds a loop hole in the law and charges you ground rent thus doubling your outgoings. Oh well we sigh he's good with money.
This is not an advocation of smashing the system more a note that it helps to be aware that you are nursing the left brain greedy bozos through life and to try not to let it get to you. Find wealth in the riches around you not the shiny trappings of success. Well.
He leant back on his chair sucking the end of his pen. Suddenly he felt himself flying backwards and his head smacked against the concrete floor. "Haven't you got statistics to be modularising?" boomed the shadowy figure looming above him.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

McLuhan and the Unvironment

I wanted to try and explore what I see as a misunderstanding of emphasis in Marshall Mcluhan’s thought process. in a recent blog Lance Strate writes that Marshall Mcluhan saw how the televisual environment moved us away from a characteristically linear mode of thinking. Earlier he made the point that Mcluhan, being a Catholic, down played the influence of the Guttenberg press on the Reformation. The very Reformation that was, if you chose to see it that way, the first major foothold in the triumph of the left brain in modern times. I suspect that Strate did not engage with Mcluhan’s far more visual book “The Medium is the Massage”. In this book through a less linear and altogether more cut-up style he makes it unequivocally clear that he thinks the move away from the linear mode of thinking is a good thing. Yes the Guttenberg press made it easier to share knowledge but the technology demanded that we start to conceive of it in linear chunks.This book also makes clear that any interface, the alphabet for example, predisposes us to certain ways of thinking or experiencing life.
       Mcluhan, perhaps rather naively, believed that modern electronic technology could return us to an horizonless multi-sensory state of being. He gives as an example by way of a photograph The Exploding Plastic Inevitable (EPI) in which participants and performers merge and “experience” a shared perceptual ritual. I am greatly intrigued that Mcluhan was a Catholic because despite the religion's many faults it does understand metaphor – the language of the right brain. Metaphor is not there to be unpicked and decoded, it just is. Mcluhan emphasises this point with the inclusion of the words of Wordsworth “The cock is crowing - The stream is flowing”. The writer and the reader are as one being present in the flow of life. (These "romantic" poets took the gamble of jetisoning self awareness and risking looking like fools so that we too may share their sense of wonder.)
     I am not sure that electronic technology has redeemed us from a life that is un-experienced. If anything is seems to have thrust us further towards a physically withered way of being. Of course in a rich and diverse environment technology can facilitate a cohesive communality as witnessed in the riot clean up responses but the language that comes across loudest is still that of consumerism. The objects themselves have this language built into them. Consume me doesn’t need to be on a label around a smart-phone or trainer for even the most privileged and urbane human to feel like doing just that. The objects are adverts for themselves. This is the medium and this is the message. The tools are the extension of man yes?  So what is man now? Take me, I love my smart phone. Or come as near to loving an inanimate object as a sane minded individual can come. It allows me to share and create simply and easily. Increasingly, however we are invited to share a homogenised version of events. Behold beautiful people at joyous festivals where Beady Eye are somehow messengers of the gods. But adverts don’t need to tell you to buy stuff anymore because the stuff itself is screaming that out loud all the time.
Here then is a conundrum. The Reformation sought to redress the balance of over fixation with what it saw as symbol and iconography. First this is a misinterpretation from a steadily bureaucratised mode of being brought about by enlightened thinking but secondly form and function really have morphed together into a free base version of efficiency. The function is to sell itself and if possible to sell other stuff too. How then do we stop the brooms from dividing and flooding the place? *music strikes up*
Yes in his article Strate says how McLuhan's insight was brought about by seeing the present and not the past “in the rear view mirror” but this being present is frowned upon by the urbane-cynic factory setting of modern man who is no one if he can’t demonstrate self-awareness. Perhaps if we allow are selves to be present we will see that the Victorian way of learning the basics is the wrong code. Children are sponges and we feed them the language of success from the moment they are born. I remember as a new father seeing product called “baby Einstein”. This product it seemed was all about helping your baby to distinguish black and white shapes because then when it came to reading they would be a genius. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is akin to taking the most sophisticated automaton yet to be devised and showing it off at country fairs by getting it to shout “roll up roll up!” We teach children to succeed in the system. End of. This to me feels like madness and I am sick of art that justifies itself by claiming to reflect this madness back at us like an idiot with a dead rat on a shitty stick expecting a medal. I am sure that our obsession with detectives is part of a longing for an intuitive and experienced form of life. Remember the detective can only solve the case when he’s suspended from duty. These plots are far closer to a noble and enriching form of art than anything the white Saatchi cubes serve up. Think of how Raskolnikov was haunted by the spectre of the detective in crime and punishment. The detective who seemed to understand and know intuitively what drove him. Raskolnikov had rationalised goodness away and he was no longer present, living as he did in a hall of mirrors of over awareness. Today, I feel, a culture of over specialisation means there is a danger that no one is responsible and no one needs to use their intuition. The intuition I am referring to is the “whole” intelligence not just the words off the training manual for damage limitation (As a tutor assessing I actually have to tick a box on a scale indicating the students knowledge of health and safety) So would Mr McLuhan demand more detective dramas on TV? More programmes like “Unforgiven” that explore ideas of nature and nurture and redemption.
I have digressed and find myself circling the point I’m trying to make. It's something to do with the futility of trying to teach the ‘basics” to children growing up in an un-vironment. The young generation need to be present and recently they were certainly that. In this sense they were equally as articulate as the message coming out of the language of the physical world around them.

 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Air waves

I have in my hand a biro with a round barrel as opposed to the more familiar hexagonal bic shape - designed for ease of grip. The irony being I find the round barrel both easier to grip and more pleasing on the eye. Oh how we laughed. Lots of products would have us believe that we really are useless at holding onto things and developers build their unique selling points around their improved ability to facilitate ease of grip. Even when wet! It's obvious really but the economy is driven by innovation. Innovation cross the nation instant salvation. Or something like that. Is this the same as needs must as the Devil drives? Or necessity is the mother of invention? Really it's we need something to keep all this money making more money so let's invent a process called innovation.
     I really must confess to a sense of major existential angst derived from my inherent love of a piece of gadgetry at a bargain price. There is a feeling of futilty that surrounds this. The sense of scrabbling for paper money fluttering down from a window near the top of, say, Canary Wharf. Or the child in Orwell's 1984 who steals the family's last piece of chocolate and runs off to eat it alone. All probably as a result of my catholic guilt but I'm interested in exploring this non the less. As a child I had on my bedroom window sill a replica John Player Special racing car that was actually a radio. At the time this struck us as a miracle of modern science. My parents had bid for it at a street market where the crowd are whipped into a frenzy of desire by genuinely luxurious electrical goods being sold (to ringers) at insanely cheap prices. I seem to recall a calculator selling for 50p! This is probably what the car-radio was worth but despite the shame I felt about my parents spending £10 on such an item it did bring with it a sense of mystery that has remained with me. This is the pleasure I derived from turning the tuning dial scanning the airwaves and picking up split second whafts of other worlds breaking through the crackle. I seemed to make intuitive assumptions about how far away the source of the signal was.There is perhaps a rational explanation for why, for instance, Police dialogue seemed closer. Now I ask myself if I ever really did hear the police? Don't you need a special receiver for that? I recently derived much parental pleasure as my sons conversed with a nearby mini-cab controler on their walkie talkies. I feel sure were they to have done this on face book I would not be so pleased. At the time i was sat on a bench observing their navigations around the local boating lake and our shore to vessel communications made it doubly thrilling.
    With the innovation of digital radio signals are much clearer and there are no choppy seas of static to cross. The interface is in place. Trawling through a list of radio station names (hazarding a guess as to the music they play - Gaydar, Chill, Smooth) is not the same as moving a red line across a baffling spread of complex numerals waiting for sonic cohesion to occur. On my digital radio the wait whilst the radio tunes into the selected name removes all sense of wireless sweeping. I prefered having to listen until I found out what I was listening to. Sometimes you would never find out. Scanning the radio waves in the small box of my bedroom was a way of connecting to the infinity of the space beyond the walls - the enclosed meets the eternal. I could easily imagine my bed as a small fishing trawler adrift on an endless ocean of unfathomable depths.
I can remember feeling oddly ambivalent towards the state issued stickers to help you remember the new wavelengths of the BBC radio stations. Red for the trustworthy plodding Radio 2 and blue for the yapping puppy of Radio 1. It was still up to you to place these stickers in the right place which makes it seem like a very tactile version of the initial set up on a digital set. I was never a radio fetishist in the sense of wanting to be a pirate radio dj and whilst I did get a thrill from occasionally happening on Radio Caroline, I was equally in thrall to the static between the stations. No static, however was desired when tuning into the top 40. this proved problematic when I held my new radio cassette player on the back seat of my parents Wolsey (or was it the Citreon?). there aren't many times in life when I can genuinely recall where I was when something epoch defing happened but I still have a very clear memory of us negotiating the round about just outside Broadbridge Heath as Rock Lobster came in at number 39. Here was a song that literally coalesced all the radio waves into one enchanting sonic spell. Later I bought the album and the opening track Planet Claire () tried to do this in a more direct fashion. I do believe, thinking about it now, that it was that sense of a signal beamed from another world that we (David Devant and His Spirit Wife) were trying to summon on the opening track to our first album.
Just over a year after hearing Rock lobster I came down to breakfast on my thirteenth birthday to hear the breaking radio news that family icon John Lennon had just been shot dead. It seems I remember radio news but not television.
Back then popular culture and indeed any culture seemed like the tip of the iceberg. We all knew that there were inky depths available to be explored should we be able to find a route through the earth's crust to a subterranean lake. Now all you need to do is type "what's on the tip of my tongue?" into Google to get various images of Mark Ronson's white trainers in profile. Or perhaps, if you're lucky the Fit-Flop a shoe that keeps you fit. It is the innovative brain child of a lady too busy to exercise because she is immersed in promoting a shoe she has created that keeps you fit when you're too busy to exercise.