Saturday, December 22, 2007

If music

               be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3

ex-KLF guerilla artist and musician Bill Drummond proposed a No Music Day a few years ago and tries, every year on November 21st - St Cecilia (patron saint of music)'s Day - to get everyone to not listen to music for a day. his argument, in a slightly Fabergé nutshell, is that the ubiquity of music in our lives is desensitising us to its richness. this argument is met, annually, with an equal mix of cautious approbation and derision, the division being along broadly speaking class lines - the approvers being broadsheet readers, the scoffers, tabloid. such is the cultural price you pay for burning a million quid as an artwork (one of the KLF's more notorious projects).

the broadsheet response is usually anti-muzak, pro-birdsong, with a polite sussurus of dismay at the universality of jingles - even on the BBC my dear!; the tabloids stress the necessity of music to blunt the otherwise intolerably tedious swarf of the working man and woman's working day. both miss the perfectly reasonable point of the provocation - that a brief holiday from the habit of consumption might refresh the appetite, nothing more.

as always, I'm in two or five minds about this. the appetite for music would seem to be a fundamental human trait - very close to, but one step up from the root traits of sex and eating: we could survive without music, but the corresponding hole that that would leave in our souls would be, to most of us, utterly debilitating. whether or not we can have too much music - well, I certainly doubt that: unlike excessive consumption of food or alcohol or (I was about to say sex, but the rider to such a statement has to be - dream on) any of the other life-enhancing and/or pain-reducing add-ons, there's no discernible downside as far as I can judge. unless - and this is Drummond's point - a surfeit might somehow diminish its effect.

most of us spent - or are spending - a great deal of our youth in this manifestly unproductive activity of listening to and/or making music. mine (because I am one of the grizzled whitebeards to whom youth's respectful deference is automatically due merely on account of his staggering oldness) was probably far less affected by the background ubiquity than yours (assuming you were born sometime later than the Relief of Mafeking). however, the broadsheet complaint about muzak should be tempered by the shocking reality of its origins - on the BBC, even, my dears! - during the war (that's WWII), when 'Music While You Work' was piped into every munitions factory and power plant and similar workplace in the land in the belief that the worker who had something to whistle to as he or she worked would be a more productive worker (actually, it was originally a US invention, which the BBC ran with, but here's not the place to go into that).

point is - this music-to-make-you-work was science, not art, and exclusive of the vital element in determining the individuality of our responsiveness that distinguishes the work of art from the work of manipulation - the element of choice. the sort of music that is, generally speaking, offered as background to our lives (with a few honorable exceptions) is actually a major component of an architecture of social control that is so ubiquitous as to have become invisible. the poly-convoluted spaghetti of manipulative wires that contributes to the belief that we - the kids! - have actually asked, nay begged the Spice Girls to reform is the stuff of an Orwellian wet dream.

old potatoes.

for no particular reason that I could readily identify, I found myself, earlier this year, at a complete loss for words when I came to writing about a release that I was really enjoying listening to. writers block? it'll pass, I thought. always does. but it didn't. it went on for weeks. the weeks extended to months. and now, at the end of 2007, I find that I've listened to a bare handful of new releases, accumulated a teetering pile of sad, neglected promos, and have actually succeeded in writing about only three of them.

if I did this for a living, this would be catastrophic, of course. fortunately, it isn't (everyone at No Ripcord Towers is indentured in perpetuity - crap contract, but what can you do?), and, as you've doubtless been reminded a thousand times before, 'crisis' and 'opportunity' are the same word in Chinese (actually, I wonder about that, too, but then, I'm beginning to wonder about everything, as you may have noticed).

the wonderful Mr Michael Eavis, who I like to think of as my neighbour (well, he is in the sense that his farm - site of a little music festival that you might have heard of - is a mere three-mile stone-throw from my own garden) has routinely, if arbitrarily, left gaps between festivals. one of his reasons for doing so, apart from giving everyone concerned in its organisation - mostly volunteers - a chance to recuperate - is to give the land a chance to recover from its regular churning by tens of thousands of wellie-clad feet. there's an old farming term for doing this - leaving a portion of land uncultivated for a year in order to let it regenerate naturally. it's called leaving it fallow.

it's hardly breaking news that the way we respond to music (I don't like the term 'use') is a reflection of our selves unlike any other experience: from the cradle to the grave we go cherry-picking in the vast orchards of available musics to assemble our own unique soundtrack - that musical 'taste' portfolio which, in turn, becomes an expression of our selves - and a standard social shortcut to identifying fellow members of our musical tribe. by default, this soundtrack works like a high-altitude aeroplane's contrail - a sharply condensed and definitive cloud of favourites at the trailing edge of the fast-moving engines of discernment, rapidly fading off into a wispy line of evaporating memories as time goes by. its continual renewal is as much a function of our will to renew as a reflection of our capacity to discern. clearly, to judge by the perennial favourites that are the staple playlists of Radio 2, there comes a time in most people's lives when the effort to keep pace with the new becomes superseded by other efforts, and the soundtrack that was playing when we were at our free-est and most emotionally volatile becomes the quarry for the remainder of our lives. regardless of age, however, the durability of some tracks - or even whole albums - in our personal playlists marks the beginning of that mysterious process of crystallisation whereby a latter-day pantheon of classics gradually emerges out of the frantic buzz of the now.

I recognise something a little lucky in being able to take as much anticipatory pleasure from cracking the seal on a new Efterklang release as I did on lowering the stylus (oh the matchless thrill of that soft crackling thud) onto track 1 of Sgt Pepper. (it was many more than twenty years ago today ...) I also recognise that there's a lot - a really lot - a really really lot of music in that ever-filling music box - so much that (one really has eventually to admit this to oneself) some of it - even some of that stuff that was totally preoccupying once, was a landmark experience even, maybe for weeks at a time - is never going to be listened to again, not by me, not in this lifetime. there is simply not enough time. I actually feel a rush of panic even as I write that - where's that 7" of 10cc's 'I'm Not In Love'? where's that Lost Jockey LP? - and a sense of impotent dismay. but it's true. I could spend every waking minute of every day for the next umpteen years re-listening to all the stuff that has ever mattered to me, and still there wouldn't be enough time. and anyway, where do you start? at this time of year, I go goobly at Johnny Mathis ('chestnuts roasting on an open fire' - joy!). but even such a protracted and hopelessly self-indulgent orgy of nostalgia would inevitably be haunted by the dismay at wondering what I was missing NOW.

there's no relief from any of this. it is as it is. it's a fast-flowing current, that ole man Zeitgeist. from even the most elevated vantage point, blink and you'll have missed something. sit back and have a sandwich and a cup of tea and whole genres, whole Himalayas of events will have arisen, flourished for a moment, and then subsided back into the bargain-bin murk at the bottom. and from that perspective, one might as well just accept that, for all one's earnest efforts to keep up, one might as well adopt the old newspaper hack's axiom - that today's news is tomorrow's chip wrapper. Travis and Coldplay were considered two of the best bands in the world only two short years ago (not by me, I hasten to add). need I say more?

so this has been my Fallow Year. I didn't decide that. but - as is often the case when a vague form of anxiety is tagged with some arcane prognostic classification - having so named it has helped it emerge from the smog of concern and unease as something that was perhaps necessary, after all, part of an active principle as opposed to an abject failure to engage. it remains to be seen whether a personal re-engagement - at the level of flinging this stuff into the blizzard out there with the careless abandon of the infant and the delusional - is imminent, but time will tell. it always does.

Friday, November 30, 2007

failed phlebotomy

so I turn up to the appointment in the town hall, remember to lie about my age, read the booklet, fill in the forms, talk to the nice reception nurses, and take my place amongst the half-dozen others waiting their turn. I really don't know why I've left it so late. even now, I'm nervous. of what? pain? hardly. humiliation? possibly. so what if I faint? it must happen all the time. I've persuaded Kim to come along as moral support. it's her first time, too. she doesn't seem remotely concerned.

after a short while, my name is called and I go behind a screen with one of the nurses - taking in, en route, the slightly mediaeval sight, spread out in full view in the body of the hall, of the eight or nine high metal bed-gurney-things and their associated clinical equipment, each with a prone person on top with a tube coming out of their arm and a nurse in blue at their side. I think this is what the emergency field hospital would look like if Glastonbury were struck by an earthquake. except everyone here looks very jolly.

my jolly nurse goes through the form with me (remember your birthday remember your birthday), skipping through my yes/no answers on the form. I resist the temptation to embellish my replies with silly comments. have you ever had sex with another man? it crosses my mind that it must be quite challenging to a few of the worthy burgers who pass through these doors to have to answer that question put by a jolly plump nurse. but a simple, unmodified 'yes' will, apparently, be enough to exclude you from donating. forever. only total normals need apply here.

tough call.

we share a jolly joke about how if I'd left it a year later I wouldn't be able to donate at all, but that now I'm registered I can carry on until I'm seventy!


she assembles a few bits and pieces on the mini-laboratory-like tray on the trolley that manage to look both cheery and scary at the same time (everything that isn't stainless steel is either blue or white plastic with nary a drop of vermilion in sight) and explains that first she'll take a prick-test to check for haemoglobin levels. anaemics need not apply. she asks me to extend the middle finger of my right hand. so specific. I actually have to think about it. it's the minutest of pricks, although I don't enjoy watching her squeeze a good glob to draw the sample into a pipette. she apologises for getting blood everywhere - we share a joke about how I'm making up for lost time - and puts a plaster around the pricked finger. she deposits the glob into a bottle of green liquid (green for boys, blue for girls) where it very slowly starts to settle towards the bottom - evidently one's eligibilty to donate depends on the rate of descent, which is governed by an electronic timer. slowly it falls. I find myself suddenly anxious that it's not going to be alright. it's OK. I pass.

I return to the back of the hall, and barely have time to conspiratorially compare answers with Kim (how do you know with certainty that you've never had sex with someone who might once have injected, or themselves had unsafe sex with someone who might have had sex with someone else who had HIV/AIDS?) than my name is called again and I'm invited to come through and lie down on my allotted gurney. it's right in the middle of the hall. I was hoping for one less conspicuous, out at the edge. it's at this point that I realise I've drawn the short straw as regards the distribution of jolly nurse-attendants - the person into whose care the drawing of my lifeblood over the next few minutes has been handed seems to have been recruited from the agency that specialises in hatchet-faced stuff-the-small-talk nursing auxiliaries. she refuses to smile. OK, I think, all coolio, she's having a bad life day, let's just do this thing.

a rotund and ruddy white-shirted fellow with a clipboard and reading-glasses perched on the tip of his nose wheezes over and asks me for my name and address in the tone of someone checking a box of frozen fish fingers against a list of suspect consignments. only when he asks when last I donated and I confess that this is my first time does his manner shift slightly - in the form of the minutest of glances between him and hatchet-face that I fail to interpret. he asks me to expose the inside of my left elbow and wraps a blood-pressure velcro bandage around my upper arm, then asks me to clench my fist, locates a vein, swabs it - quite thoroughly - warns me that he's about to insert the needle with that pathetic lie that all medical people and dentists use - 'just a slight scratch' - and inserts it. actually, I hardly feel it. then he fusses around a bit (I've averted my eyes by now - I suppose he's adjusting the gate and the tubing), asks me to continue pumping my fist throughout the donation, tells me that it will take around ten minutes, and leaves me under the watchful eye of little Miss Taciturn.

so I lie there, pumping my fist once a heartbeat, just like everyone else around me, and, trying not to dwell on the fact of my precious blood slowly dripping through those tubes into a hi-tech packet discreetly concealed below the gurney, allow my mind to drift beyond the rather spectacular chandeliers and tasteful green panelling of our refurbished town hall, beyond the slight embarassment at the fact that the nurse sitting over there at the edge of the hall not doing anything in particular can see that my heels are evidence of the need for the next five-yearly trip to Clarks, to a general kind of non-specific internal musing on the nature of altruism and the warm and glowy feeling that accrues therefrom.

pump, pump, pump, pump.

the first indication that something might be wrong comes from the slight shift in attention from my diligent but uncaring attendant: she is scrutinising the process of my 'donation' with a look of unconcealed disdain, as if I'd just farted.

"Could you squeeze a bit harder?"

I do so.

"And a bit faster?"

I do so.

"Is there something wrong?"

"It seems to have stopped."


"Your donation - it's stopped."

"What? You mean ...?"

"One moment. Frank!"

she tries to catch Rotund Fellow's eye. he eventually comes over, checks the tubes, readjusts the needle, and asks me to keep pumping.

I do so.

a few minutes later, the same thing - "It's stopped again"

it takes a while for Rotund Fellow to be found. by the time he returns again, I'm beginning to feel like a bit of a lemon, lying here, pumping away, trying my damndest to bleed, and thinking why oh why does this have to happen to me?

there's more fiddling with tubes, more adjusting of needles, a re-adjustment of the angle of my elbow - and then, oh fuck, in the middle of all this, I start to feel a bit funny.

"Do you feel alright?"

Rotund Fellow speaks. fractionally more caring than Hatchet Face. not much.

"I'm fine."

actually, I'm beginning to feel really funny, but I'm buggered if I'm going to let him know.

"You sure?"

"Well, maybe a bit light-headed."

and at this point, I actually feel myself beginning to turn grey, as the blood, quite literally, drains from my head. to his credit, Rotund Fellow's ruddy face registers my ruddiless one and stops fiddling immediately, withdraws the needle, applies a pressure-pad, and nods at the nurse who I'd noticed sitting over there apparently doing nothing.

now we discover what she was waiting for.

a well-oiled machine engages: Rotund Fellow continues to apply pressure to my elbow as she who henceforth shall be know as Fainting Nurse lowers the head of the gurney so my head is level with my body and raises my lower legs onto the sort of large squidgy play-block that they have in kids nurseries - the only red thing in the room, I notice in passing. I continue fatuously protesting my imminent alrightness - as if I were about to fool these highly trained professionals - and surrender to the totality of the moment, this squirmingly public exposure of my own wussiness, complete with meticulously applied cold compress on fevered brow and diligent wafting of face with a piece of cardboard. oh the shame of it. da-da-de-da-da. memories of playground taunting envelop me. well, actually, the calm reassurance of Fainting Nurse that it happens a lot 'with first-timers', and that I'll be fine in a few minutes, envelops me, as she brings me several glasses of water to drink and discourages me from rising too soon.

so that, bar the final slice of cake and a nice cup of tea, is that. they can't even use the pathetic cupful I did manage to donate, because the hi-tech collection bags they use have to contain a specific amount in order for it all to be processed properly.

whilst I'm lying there, waiting for permission to get up, Mistress Whoareyousmilingat asks me what I've eaten and drunk today, and takes some satisfaction in pointing out that this - clearly - pathetically small amount of food (quite normal for me) 'probably' accounts for my bleeding incompetence, and that it might be better, next time, to try eating 'a proper meal' before I donate. so it's all my fault. in retrospect, I think she's wrong about that. I suspect she was blustering around to divert me from Rotund Fellow's incompetent placement of the collection needle, but that's neither here nor there.

what's interesting is the near-fainting. fact is, I'm ok with blood and pain (others as well as mine) under the conditions in which they usually occur. what seems to be the case (because, although I've never tried to give blood before, it has happened before that I've come close to fainting during routine blood-testing) is that, in some people, myself included, alas, the knowledge that one's blood - this lifey-stuff - is being removed from where it properly belongs, and that one can't, or rather, mustn't instigate the usual steps to staunch it, seems to trip an emergency fuse that overrides the conscious decision not to intervene in the blood-letting and compels one - by dint of withdrawing the blood supply to the brain, thus rendering one imminently unconscious and bereft of verticality - to lie down and reconsider that consent. there's no clear way around this other than to try again (in three months time, when the haemoglobin levels have had a chance to fully return), maybe having a heartier breakfast beforehand, and hoping, next time around, for a more amenable team than the cheerless Messrs Hatchet & Frank.

lest we forget

Sunday, November 18, 2007

doom and destruction

so we've got ten years, give or take.

this is not a long time.

realistically, folks, it's not going to happen, is it? not as long as the global players - the Americans and the Chinese (the two who, between them, are quite happily contributing more than the whole of the rest of the planet put together towards the destruction of its ecosphere) continue to put their faith in the infinitely flexible prevarications of deniability and the Mr Fixit school of technology and free enterprise to - well - fix it. they've been caught a bit short in their hopes that the science would be proved wrong - although there will of course continue to be a few diehard morons who insist on retaining their face-saving mask of scepticism - but is the continuing untenability of their position likely to be affected by all this? really? you think?

it would be kinda reassuring to believe that the version of events that we've come to depend on from the movies - the charismatic hero's last-minute sidestepping of the unscrupulous corporations and politicians and damp-eyed people-power kicking in to save the day - will happen. but it won't. a) there's no hero sufficiently charismatic (sorry, Al, sorry, Jonathan, but it has to be said), and b) the movies are fictional, guys! in real life, everyone who, let's say, falls in love, and declares that their love is going to last forever (a common enough movie-trained assumption) is either going to be divorced or wishing they were divorced within three years. five tops.

so, almost certainly, by 2017, ten short years from now, deadline date, the steps which by then need to have been put in place in order to avert global environmental catastrophe will have been fully initiated only by New Zealand, Venezuela, Greenland, and the seceded state of California, and the rest will still be arguing about quotas. as if, by then, such will matter one iota. the die will have been cast. global temperature rise of 2° Celsius minimum, with all the attendant irreversible damage that that means. and if we don't know what that means by now, we really haven't been listening, have we? really. I'm serious. we haven't been listening, have we?

clearly, nothing ever changes for the better simply because it's better (as in morally better) - if that were the case, there would never have been slavery, cigarettes, or TV phone-in competitions in the first place. under the standing rules of the free market, the only reason for change has to be profit, otherwise the precious entropy of the whole system is challenged.

hence, whereas the comforting version of the history of abolition, for instance, has the abolitionists' righteous indignation finally being recognised and implemented - huzzah Mr Wilberforce! - the more complex truth is that the economic foundation of the eighteenth-century slavery/sugar nexus in Europe (and, incidentally, the cotton/slavery nexus in ante-bellum North America) was weakening under pressure from the urban immigrations attendant on the Industrial Revolution, when the wage-slavery of local factory production - exploiting the desperate need of rural farmworkers displaced by mechanisation for urban work at bare subsistence levels - was proving a more profitable alternative to the industrial exploitation of even slave-produced imports. the Christian principles of the abolitionists, therefore, were the icing on the cake: the cake was already half-cooked to the traditional recipe of Messrs Adam Smith et al.

similarly, whereas the health arguments against smoking had been fully exposed and in the public domain for at least forty years prior to this astonishing overthrow of the smoking culture that has taken place in Europe, at least, in the last five years, it took the final opening to imports of one very large, less scrupulous market to persuade Imperial Tobaccco and Philip Morris to finally let go their decades-long expensively tenured lawyers in prevarication and concentrate on what really matters - profit. Potential sales-loss in smoke-challenged Europe (est pop 728,000,000 in 2005) weighed against potential gains in still-happily-puffing China (population 1,321,851,888 in July 2007) - no contest.

as for oil and blood - let's not even go there.

the future of humanity seems, truly, to be in the balance, as never before.

in the long run, of course, doom is inevitable. the dinosaurs must have thought they were in it for the long haul - at their 150-million-year dominance to our puny hundred-thousand this must have seemed a fair assumption - until that pesky asteroid hit. and, let's face it, our species track record of making any civilisation last longer than a thousand years or so is poor, to say the least. so we're long overdue what the biologists would call a speciation adjustment - a winnowing of the genetic chaff to encourage more diversity to redress, in turn, the balance of all those extinctions our careless global husbandry has precipitated. and whether or not this comes about through chance - the usual method - the bolt from the blue - or through our own carelessness is of no consequence at all in the greater scheme.

maybe that's it. maybe we blew all the chances we had. we have, after all, known (that's empirically known, not just speculated about, as in "you know, there's some dude says there's gunna be another ice age unless we stop smoking so much of this shit") about this impending environmental doomsday for quite a long time. Rachel Carson's novel 'Silent Spring' - often cited as marking the popular birth of the environmental movement - was published in 1962, and was itself an artistic articulation of a set of concerns that had been around in scientific circles for many years before. no-one wanted to hear it, basically. or, at least, having heard, no-one could face the reality of it.

even now, when we're all recycling so hard our unheated homes have begun to resemble Steptoe & Son's back-yard, we're unwilling to face the truth - that, unless in the immediate - that's immediate as within the next ten years - future we're all prepared to accept a massive - that's to say, a HUGE degree of compromise to our accustomed lifestyle expectations - from travel to food to accommodation to family size - then there is, simply, no future.

of course, for the very rich, there is an extension - the usual methods of insulating oneself from the unpleasantnesses of the hoi polloi will continue to apply for a while. gated communities, gated lives, and gated minds with sufficient material reserves to ride out the kinds of social collapse that are predicted might revert to the sorts of baronial structures that, in the macro-social sense, the collapse of the USSR has precipitated in Russia. it would be nice to think that, in best Schadenfreude fashion, such micro-societies would quickly implode under pressure of aggressive rival factionalism. more likely, they would, eventually, survive (by the same principle as the floater in the toilet bowl), emerging finally, from their hellish enclaves, hirsute, lice- and halitosis-ridden, to become the temporary template for the revised future - one which, by the way, I for one would be most content to be dispossessed of - only to be immediately culled by some meanwhile-massively-mutated world-wide influenza epidemic that their in-house lab of top pharmacists had failed to predict.

what a shame.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

a day in the life

woke at nine, made myself a cuppa, took it back to bed and read for a while - a particular and totally guilt-free pleasure that only seems to make itself available on Saturday mornings. I'm reading Robert L Forward's 'Dragon's Egg' - a slightly earnest but engaging little epic about first contact with the inhabitants of a neutron star. not Dostoevsky, but it serves me well.

rose at ten. another beautiful cloudless morning. not quite as cold as yesterday, but the birdies were nevertheless glad of the seed I laid out on the bird-table I improvised twenty years ago from a bit of marine ply left over from Michael's houseboat and hung on the washing-line, and has been brought out out every winter since. I don't know why I dislike starlings and thrushes so - perhaps it's their gang-behaviour. I admire the rainbow sheen in the thrush's coat, however.

the war on the visiting cats proceeds: I get totally incensed when that sniffing and corner-of-the-mouth-rubbing thing gets going against some plant or other - there's one bush in particular that's become marker-central for all things four-legged and remotely feline - and it goes on for a bit, with the turning and the raising themselves up on two legs to get as high as possible to the delicious smells, until the build-up reaches that pre-orgasm-analogue moment when they have to turn their backs, raise their quivering tails, and, surrendering to that whole-body pleasure-shivering thing, spray a thick jet of their disgusting body-fluid across their love-thing of choice - MY FUGGIN PLANTS! a well-aimed rock will usually dissuade the buggers for a day or two. they always come back though. such is the pleasure principle.

broke fast on toast and marmalade. greeted the finally emergent boys at 10.30, grunting semi-articulate delight in Assassin's Creed - the PS3 game that they'd had me pre-order weeks ago and that was released yesterday - but managing finally to tear themselves away to go to work. at least, Bo went to work - Jack drifted off somewhere with Kie the famous traceur and joint star of their almost-finished movie, who appeared at some point.

gathered the washing together and put on the first of two loads, then set to to finish the bathroom. it's been ten days now of re-tiling and grouting and stripping and re-varnishing, a task made fearsomely difficult by the never-ending use of the shower in this house: each day I've had to jury-rig a sheet of polythene around it to protect the exposed plaster or the fresh-drying coat of varnish. condensation round the window-frame has added to the difficulty, as has the fact that these past months of grout-leakage (I first realised there was a problem when I noticed the damp patch on the stairs side of the wall between the staircase and the bathroom) had left a bloom of damp plaster behind the tiles that had to dry out.

it didn't take long. to finish, though, I'd decided to re-route the shower-curtain slightly in order to shield the newly-varnished window-ledge in future from the worst of the splashing, and, in order not to have this result in the near-total occlusion of light into our tiny bathroom, I needed to rig up one of those curtain-tie-back things that they have in the better houses. in order to do this, I decided I needed to make a couple of eye-splices in a short length of some rather nice white rope that's been sitting around for - oh, all of twenty-five years - last put to use on the stage of Gellerupscenen in Århus as part of the suspension system for some extravagant piece of scenography that I used there. I couldn't remember exactly how to do this, but - as always - the knowledge was but a google-click away (and, as always, the search spun off as much enticing trivia as treasure - like, in this instance, the close resemblance of the eye-splice to the cunt-splice - I kid you not).

then Kim phoned to say that the two modelling-light bulbs I'd given her only a month or so ago had both blown and did I have any more. so she came over to pick them up - with her mum, Issie, fresh over from Portugal for a few days. a brief visit, since the ageing Hotpoint had just then entered its final spin cycle, which is a total conversation-killer. then, just as they were leaving, Henri turned up with Jess and Finn and li'l Liza - a very pleasant surprise, as she'd rung earlier to ask whether it was a good idea to come in at all today, it being Carnival an all, and I'd muttered darkly about the impossibility of parking and the early road closures and stuff.

so I set the boys up with the PS3 and laid out tea and cakes - and barely had we touched on exhibition plans and MRI scans than Liza started kicking up a total tired-and-grizzly storm, which curtailed that conversation, too, as, if not more effectively as the Hotpoint's final spin cycle. which was a shame, because we needed to catch up a bit, but hey, babies. another time.

the Tor was busy, what with the Carnival an all.

I resist deriding it, this 'retard magnet' as one of my younger friends most colourfully describes it. it clearly brings a lot of - well, joy is a strong word - let's say it keeps a lot of people busy who would otherwise be - how to say this - not. it makes the pub landlords happy. bless.

the booze-queue in Heritage extended halfway back into the store, so I gave up and bought a bag of Colombian in the deli instead. a once-a-year visit to this national award-winning and criminally expensive shop on the corner of the street. really, really nice coffee.

during Carnival, watched 'Primer' for the second time, and actually managed to unravel one or two of the brain-knots it left me with from the first. a really intriguing little movie whose construction verges on the perverse - self-consciously reflective of its temporal paradox narrative theme - but, thanks to the performance of the relationship between the two geek friends, manages to maintain a credible core of human concern in what could otherwise have been a rather arid if fascinating generic what-if movie.

there - that's what bloggers do, isn't it?

how astonishingly dull.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

the bright side

it's perfectly possible to exist in a state both of profound despair and of militant optimism. in truth, if it were possible to assess one's place in the world from the viewpoint of a benign but withdrawn god, this is the only available position which would satisfy the demands neither of perpetual self-delusion nor morbid inactivity; the only available position, in fact, which is truthful.

the despair acknowledges that the worst aspects of the state of being human - the greed, the selfishness, the violence, the intolerance, the chauvinism - are barely modified by the best.

the optimism acknowledges that the best aspects of being human - the list is long, but might all be resolved under the single expression, 'love' - are capable of mitigating the worst.

it's very easy to reflect on what appears to have been the default state since the first ape discovered how to use a thigh-bone to bash in another's skull and conclude that progress - aside from the brutish contingencies of evolutionary progress - has simply not been made. it's clear to anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind capable of processing the data that the simple dream of all peoples who have ever dreamed - to live their life and sing their song and dance their dance without either harming or being harmed - has been consistently and unremittingly denied, since the earliest recorded times, by something, some active agent of that something, that intervenes and prevents and perverts - some naysayer whose dismal intervention has been as inevitable as a post-festive hangover.

tempting as it is to scoff at the identification of this something as 'evil', the bald fact is that, despite an overwhelming body of rational evidence to the contrary, superstition remains the axiom of preference in matters moral and ethical for the majority of otherwise sensible human beings.

'evil' is just a word, with no more supernatural connotations than any of Harry Potter's spells. it derives from the Old English yfel, which comes from the Old Teutonic ubilo, which carries the meaning of both 'up' and 'over' - in this case, with the sense of 'beyond accepted limits.' (etymology, alas, is as unlikely to persuade the superstitious faithful [the faithfully superstitious?] as any other -ology - it is probably regarded by our good ole boys the Creationists as a Satanic device to test their faith, the one true language - American - having been created by God just as it is heard and spoke today in the blessed churches of Texas and Arkansas three weeks ago last Tuesday.)

a belief in 'evil' as an original propensity and in a fallen angel as its agent is - not to put too fine a point on it - patently absurd. its pre-Christian equivalent was forgivable in the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages; it was moot at the height of its popularity during the Middle Ages; it was utterly refuted by the Enlightenment; its survival into the twenty-first century is just - well - absurd. it's also an unforgivable cop-out, because there are other, better, less inflammatory explanations for the rise and rise of the something that continually interferes with the preferred popular inclination to get on with one's fellow humans rather than forever to find reasons to oppress and butcher them, and to subscribe to these alternative reasons entails no hidden riders about oppressing and butchering they who are disinclined so to do.

that the majority of humans seem to be so disinclined - many to the point of feeling morally obliged to proceed with the oppression and the butchery in support of their right to be so disinclined - might well be seen as one of those reasons not to be particularly hopeful about the future of the race.

it's abnormal behaviour - at a personal level - to react to another's pain and distress by ignoring it; but it's perfectly possible, indeed commonplace from a position of comfortable Western affluence and relative stability, to live a life of total disregard for the welfare and well-being of the huge majority of the planet's population whose lives are cripplingly constrained by poverty, disease and ignorance. the only time these others impinge is as depicted on TV either as the unfortunate victims of circumstance - the happenstance of being born somewhere else - or as escapees from it - economic migrants whose taxes are welcome but whose cultural baggage is regarded with suspicion. in quaint old psychobabble terms the effects of such denial result - hardly surprisingly - in neurosis, manifest in the body politic as a set of transparent if inane compensatory mechanisms: the guiltier we feel, the more we spend on the welfare of our pets, our cars, our houses, our junk - all the while persuading ourselves that charity begins at home and that there is no substantive connection between third world sweat shops, child labour, deforestation, and global warming and our insatiable need for more and more of everything.

despair is the obvious option.

rationalists, alas, from Socrates to Kant, from Russell to Dawkins, have forever been hoist on their own petard when it comes to addressing the irrational - that doggedly persistent state of affairs that's reflected in many, many more ways than the so-called 'spiritual' - and that runs through the human psyche like the Blackpool in a stick of rock, so pervasively in fact as to be thought of (almost) as a trait. the reason for their (our?) continual embarassment in the face of the superstitious is that reason as ultimate arbiter is always so relentlessly colourless - in comparison with the rainbow-hued fairground of faiths and beliefs - major and minor - on offer on the other side.

for my money, there are simply too many experiential hues that, with the best analytical will in the world, are just never going to get analysed: from the effects of hugging and being hugged to the effect of 'our' song and stargazing of the non-hollywood kind - forget it, what's the point, there are better ways of passing the time, and anyway, as Shakespeare put it (as he always did) as well as it can be put - there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I do love a clattery ole cliché. why would Pope's immortal 'Hope springs eternal in the human breast ...' have enjoyed such resonant longevity unless it did - and it does - describe an antidote to that easy poison. a completely irrational one, of course, which is entirely germane - that the rationality of despair (in the face of the murderous behaviours arising from the irrationalities of faith) might be countered by the irrationality of hope (in the face of the overwhelming fact of the intransigence of those behaviours). there's a neat irony there - that the primitive faith-based weapons of the enemies of reason are opposable on their own terms, by nothing more nor less than a form of secular faith.

the dream was never sentimental - it always acknowledged the omnipresence of darkness, even if only as a peripheral event, as a metaphor for something awry and intractable at the deepest level of our hard wiring. to be afraid of the dark is a perfectly rational fear, of course, rooted in the real atavistic memory of real nocturnal threats. but it also represents a real vulnerability, which is as easily exploited now as it was when we scampered for the trees at the edge of the savannah. a nervous population is a controllable population: as long as I can persuade you to believe me when I say there's a threat coming from over there, and that I can avert it if you trust me, then you're vulnerable to the sort of opportunistic manipulation that has become the standard currency of governmental practice. and in the present climate of terror-hysteria it is absolutely incumbent on all members of our species to be deeply distrustful of whatever the guardians of democracy provide in the form of proofs of their trustworthiness, and to interrogate it with extreme rigour in order to establish what might be real and what is, more often, hysterical disinformation. it's sad, and it's shameful that it has come to this. but so, most certainly, it has.

such caveats aside, however, the future is no more relentlessly bleak now than it always has been. I doubt, personally, that, on a global scale, the ratio of malevolents to fearful acquiescents has altered much. it's part of the price we've paid for succeeding through the unstable tension between competition and co-operation. the pity is that, for all the militancy of our optimism - also a consistent historical thread - the work is still about mitigating the worst effects of the still-dominant malevolents. the time is still to come when the real work - the work that's predicated on the assumption of good rather than bad behaviour as a universal consensus - might finally kick in, and the potential in humankind for making some real progress might finally be realised.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

a word of explanation

as some of you will know, web hosting comes with a monthly allocation of data transfer - generally referred to as a 'bandwidth allowance'. mine's 10,000mb per month, which is usually far more than I need for the amount of traffic I get. this month, however, there was a tremendous spike of traffic (fifty-fold more hits than usual) a couple of weeks ago when I got linked-to by a very big portal - which is nice, except it's finally bust my bandwidth allowance. I have a choice either to buy more bandwidth (which is expensive) or bite the bullet and wait five days until the new month begins with a new monthly allowance. obviously, if this were a commercial site I'd have chosen the former, but as it isn't, I'm opting for the latter. I suspect that huge spike will prove to have been a one-off thing - the new-kid-on-the-block syndrome - and that the traffic will have tailed off now to something more like what my usual allowance can handle. obviously, if this happens again, I'll have to rethink.

meanwhile, apologies to my loyal visitors (both of you) and to those who were directed to the rhino from that major portal and were clued-up enough to discover that this is the back entrance - come back next Saturday when all should be back to normal.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

the evil twins - my sons, the criminal scourge

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Africans to Bono: 'For God's sake please stop!'

"He represents a game we have all played for nearly fifty years whose only winners have been corrupt governments and the international development industry."

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

Thursday, February 08, 2007


"the disappointment one feels on drawing back the curtains in the morning and discovering that the blanket of thick silent snow that is covering every other square inch of the country has a snow-less hole in it right here where one lives"

(cambridge inuktitut dictionary)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

tony: should I stay or should I go?
(click on youtube clip)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Moonlight Sonata

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (November 6, 1860 - June 29, 1941) OBE was a Polish pianist, composer, diplomat and politician, and the third Prime Minister of Poland.
this is a piano roll recording he made in 1914 of the first and second movements of Beethoven's Sonata Op.27 No.2: (click here)

(more such goodies here)

decisive moment

Saturday, January 06, 2007


to accept the cruel curse of mediocrity, and to scorn it

both as producer and as consumer, therefore, henceforth to eschew :

pictorialism in any form

the exoticism of poverty

the 'innocence' of children

the alluring 'beauty' of nature

the cuteness of pets

the otherness of animals

the celebration of the trivial

the trivialisation of the sacred

'war-torn' photojournalism - the porn of the culturally anaesthetised

the image whose only raison d'être is envy (that I were there rather than here)

the image whose only raison d'être is relief (that I'm here rather than there)

at least, until the snow comes ...