(This is a personal note to myself – please ignore.)
I’m a writer. There’s no doubt about that, as you would see if you bothered to explore my website. It’s mostly about writing and most of it has been written – by me of course. Problem is ‘writer’ is too wide a term to be meaningful to anyone who doesn’t identify as a ‘writer’. I mean, what am I? I write blog posts like this, and . . . well . . . here’s a list of the other things I write:
Plays for the theatre
But if I was forced to define more finely what it is that makes me a writer then I would say: “Call me a novelist”. I would say this even though I have not published a new novel for three years because there is something divine about writing a novel, something that takes a direct line to the absolute essence of my being – it is an experience, or a conglomeration of experiences, that means everything, forever.
Extract from Work in Progress novel – The Flying Boy
You. You.You. It’s all about you isn’t it? Yes of course, you think. Who else is it going to be about? There is only you, in your life anyway. Is that sociopathic? Or some kind of pathic? You only know about yourself. You can’t know about anyone else – only what you are allowed to know by whatever this universe is. Ah – there it is, it’s about a u-niverse, so, yes, it is all about you.
But you still have to breathe air, share, and even you admit you don’t know everything. In fact you know hardly anything, possibly nothing. For example you tell people you are writing meta fiction but you don’t even know what meta fiction is until you look it up in the great big dictionary in the sky, just to check that you aren’t talking crap and could be called out by a first year literature student. But you are talking crap aren’t you? You are talking crap because for one thing the great dictionary told you that what you think is meta fiction probably isn’t – for one thing it seems to be spelled metafiction as one word, and the rest of it, well, there’s too many subtleties in the definitions of the word and not many come close to the sort of thing you’re writing. So yeah, you are writing something that is probably not metafiction, but you’re not sure – maybe it’s meta fiction or even meta-fiction.
So what. You’re not writing according to some spurious literary rule. You are writing the truth. You don’t know who Jill is. This is important. Because Jill is . . . Jill is what? Hmm. You can’t deal with all this now. You have bigger fish to fry, or maybe you would if you fried fish. But you don’t fry fish; you don’t do anything with or to fish except look at them now and again in a friend’s pond or dead on the slabs of a fishmonger in the market.
There was that time, maybe thirty years ago, when you were involved with fish more than you wanted to be, more than you should have been. It was an actual fishing competition organised by your brother. He was a fisherman. Not a professional fisherman. He didn’t sell them or anything, though he no doubt traded the odd fish for some other advantage because that’s the sort of person he was, but he had a boat and loads of tackle, and he organised a sea fishing competition. You helped him by creating and managing a little computer database to record the details of the fish the competitors brought back to the weigh-in.
Stop! Pardon. Pause at least. OK.
When you’re writing like this it’s like applying the first daubs/splodges/lines of paint of an abstract painting on a canvas. You step back to look and at first it’s just random marks, random colours, random shapes and textures. Then you catch a hint of form. It starts to mean something and you start to realise that that meaning was there all along, it possessed your hands, your eyes, your brain. It used you to express itself. This is a divine thing – its form and its meaning will reveal themselves.
(Martin Amis is your inspiration. Is he? Yes. Every time you read something about him or by him or see his name on a book cover you find yourself writing seconds later. Is that true? You’re doing it now. Ah! OK.)
Now really restart, resume maybe.
So helping your brother out at the fishing competition means sitting in a damp portakabin behind a makeshift desk, typing bits of information into a computer database. Things like contestant name and number, boat name, time of weigh, species of fish weighed, weight of fish.
Each species of fish has a specimen weight attached to it. So, a sardine say, has a specimen weight of a few grams, while a great white shark has a specimen weight of almost two tonnes or whatever. Not that you weigh any sardines or great white sharks, though there is a shark the size of a spaniel dog and some kind of flatfish with the circumference of a saucer.
At the end of the day there is a winner, the person whose fish is bigger than its species’ specimen weight by the largest factor. The spaniel-sized shark doesn’t win but the saucer sized flatfish might do. You can’t remember. You don’t want to remember.
All that must have been around the same time , late 80s, early 90s, that you read the book London Fields by Martin Amis, coincidentally, you’ve just read an interview with him in the Guardian (online) about the film that has just been released based on that book – London Fields (the film is rubbish apparently). Maybe that’s the reason you’re thinking about your brother’s fishing competition, some feint connection from three decades ago.
So yeah, maybe you have to admit that Martin Amis is your inspiration, your muse perhaps? I wonder what he would think about that? Being a muse for an also-ran novelist. You know what he is. He’s not a muse, he’s the sort of arrogant male artist who employs muses, uses them at least. He’s as much a muse as a jockey is a horse or a fish is bait.
But there you are, there he is, each in your respective universes, and there you will remain. Though Mr Amis does remind you of a dope-smoking friend you had for a while as a dope-smoking teenager. That friend was called Martin as well. He was not a tall person and used to walk around in a thick woollen coat that was too big for him.
Your Martin used to knock around with Jill. Hold on. You’d better stop there to think about it. Jill? Even that far back? Half a century? Is that possible? Are your memories real?
There seems to be nothing there, but there are the uncountable billions of past experiences in this or other lives. Then there are the uncountable possibilities of future experiences plus of course the endless experiences occurring now.
And out of this nothing something new has to emerge . . .
Discovered this snippet in a ‘journal’ from 2 years ago
The other day I was reading something – or listening to someone on the radio – a writer who said that him/her/they write by hand in unlined notebooks because him/her/they don’t want anyone or anything to tell him/her/they, guide him/her/they where to write- i.e. between the lines.
Well Mr/Mrs/Ms/Mx ‘Rebel’ – ‘Free thinker’, whatever – you’re constrained/restrained by the page, by the pen, by the letters and words, by the language, by everything you’ve ever thought, felt or experienced in any other way – so shut the fuck up – if you don’t want to be constrained/restrained by the lines then fucking don’t be.
So now you’ve got to the point where you’ve had enough, done enough, know enough. You don’t need to learn any more about any thing. Well, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, that’s a bit too arrogant. You still learn at least one small lesson every day, you will always learn. But all the rest of it, well, you don’t need any of that any more – you don’t need anyone else telling you what you need either, or telling you what to do and how to behave, how to think. No! Fuck them.
You are who you are. You know everything. You know it all. You know as much as you need to know anyway. Note – how much ‘you’ need to know, not what ‘they’ think is how much you need to know. That’s what it’s all about really – you know everything.
Up to this point what has been written was written ‘before’. From now on what will be written will be written ‘after’. You don’t believe you know everything anymore. In fact you believe you know nothing, Take water for example, you know nothing about water, truth is no one does, not even the most scientific scientists. Electricity – that’s another one.
We live in a world which should not exist, it’s so improbable it’s impossible. You are impossible. Yet you are, you know that at least, you are, you do exist – whatever existence is.
Can it all be true? Can you know everything and know nothing at the same time?
Everything is ordinary, birth, life, death, flying, swimming, running, climbing. That’s what this world is. You can take any one of those ordinary things and zoom in and you’ll find that the closer you get the more it fragments, the more complex it gets. Zoom in some more and you get lost in the endless billions of sub-atomic particles. I mean, did you know that there are like 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in just one grain of sand?
Now you have to admit that’s ordinary. It doesn’t get much more ordinary than a grain of sand; there are plenty of them everywhere. Nothing is really ordinary, in the sense that it’s banal, run of the mill, ‘normal’ – even those attributes ascribed to things or concepts are in themselves infinitely complex and interesting. Take a word like banal. I mean, what does it mean? Where does it originate? What are the other words that come from the same roots? In what context is it best used? Where is it best avoided? Does it have to be negative?
Sorry, I have a tendency to repeat, repeat, the things I want to say, maybe I’m subconsciously trying to build up a rhythm – I don’t know. I’ve also got a tendency to end up at the ‘10,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in just one grain of sand’ thing when I get too analytical. But that’s OK really, because it’s ordinary. I mean even the most seemingly unaware human being, and I would probably extend this to all animals, has these kind of thoughts, even if not in the same word patterns; maybe they manifest as feelings, or emotions, or something that isn’t so easily defined as language is.
So the point is: All things are ordinary, but ordinary isn’t dull, or worthless, or unremarkable.
Ordinary is extraordinary.
Here’s a short video of something ordinary.
the river Taff from Fitzhamon Embankment in central Cardiff
The Sixties are finally ending. The signs are everywhere. The characters that populate the sixties of our shared imagination are shuffling off their mortal coils faster than newly elected politicians shrugging off their promises. It won’t be long before finding a genuine sixties survivor will be almost as impossible as getting an honest Tory to open your village fete.
So, from our vantage point half a century in the future, what was it all really about? Well, it’s kind of defined my generation’s life, coloured it in at least. But did it really mean anything? Was there a cultural revolution? Did we achieve Sexual Liberation and Gender Equality? Did we Ban the Bomb and Make Love not War?
I don’t think we did any of the above, but did we at least stall the inexorable rise of capitalism? Nope, never got far with that either. But, the sixties were special, with the music, the art, the fashion, the technology, the social movements – weren’t they?
Maybe The Sixties was just an idea. Ideas are powerful, everything comes from ideas. I mean, the music, the art, the fashion . . . and all the rest of it, they all started with ideas and then they happened. But – so what? Nobody wears mini-skirts and hot pants now, nobody marches from Aldermaston to London demanding nuclear disarmament – yet the nuclear arms are still there, more than ever. The reasons to do all those things still exist.
So, what’s happened then? Maybe the sixties were about hope, and now we’ve given that up in this topsy-turvy post-Trump-election world. There are too many billionaires, there is more wealth concentrated in the pockets of a couple of percent of the population than all the rest of us combined. The sixties itself has been commercialised more than any other decade in history – it has become a product, a facsimile designed to mesmerise, and squeeze money from, naïve punters like you and me.
Now that The Sixties is finally expiring maybe it’s time to bury the last of its warriors or at least let them sink into the shadows in retirement homes. We need to get on with now – the future.
In the meantime if you can think of anything positive that’s stood the test of that half century then write it on a banner and parade it proudly around town – or maybe just make a jpeg out of it and stick it on Facebook – job done.
(i) As the planets roll I am caught in a bubble on the sub-atomic motorway Trundling at the speed of light there is only one view, an overall that covers all and warms this creature All the magic of all the ages is contained in my pocket.
(ii) The balls of our vision roll as I roll bubble beneath the lowest life form So slow, the speed of light.
(iii) There is light, there is love There is no doubt no sullied nag no wind to blow the sun away no darkness deep enough to stay
(iv) Create, begin to live again another flame-flash try A gleaming clear stack of light AAAAAAAAAA*
(v) Undulating via carpets of cloud I ride another tiger tail catch a star and put it safe for when I need to get away.
(vi) Survive – and when survival’s beat when time grows longer when the silent air threatens to lay bare the screaming of the soul what remains but self (expression).
(vii) Garbled Gobbledy Gook gooks garbled on my face and many loving arms wrap the long nights in their comfort.
(viii) More words spilling falling perhaps until my arm is empty and needs a fix to stay (alive).
And at the end we all must ask all the (same) question.
Inside the darkened life it’s too weird too much to cope too little as it is without you going.
(ix) So where will this creature find its rest where it can make a comfy nest where will it lose itself in joy where in the world is its new toy?
(x) It’s a night of sadness of meditation a night to forget a night to sigh again.
(xi) Scratching dudes create the tunes Caring hands caress the bands All around the people shout Let me out, let me out.
Today we went to the National Museum of History at St Fagans, a village on the western outskirts of Cardiff. They’ve recently revamped their visitor centre and we wanted to check it out and to visit the famous castle that is situated there.
The outdoor museum is spread over a one hundred acre site emanating from the castle and consists of reconstructed buildings from all over Wales, including farmhouses, chapels, shops, a woollen mill, a blacksmith and many others. It’s definitely worth a visit since it does throw some light on the kind of places people in Wales have lived and worked in over the centuries. The visitor centre alone is a gem; it’s been well designed and is a lovely airy building full of space and light, though this is partly because it is still in development and they haven’t crammed too much stuff in yet.
We found our way to the so-called St Fagans Castle – the former home of Lord and Lady Windsor as far as I could tell from the kitsch memorabilia propped up in some of the rooms. It doesn’t look like a castle and in fact it reminded me more of a prison with dark dingy rooms and a dank stink of rotten privilege and oppression. I came out of there strangely disturbed due to the nauseous feelings it stirred up in me. If it was up to me I’d blow the bloody monstrosity up and let the ruins decompose into a sickly sculptural reminder of how inherited position and privilege is a disease that has infected society for too many lifetimes.
I would probably have crumpled into a gibbering wreck if I hadn’t escaped when I did. And it really did feel like I was escaping; it was as if I was connecting with a version of myself from a previous life who had once worked there as one of the servants and I imagined that self doing a runner from the hellhole before dawn in the dying days of the nineteenth century when Lord Windsor’s power was at its terrible peak.
Today, as I looked back at that monstrous building from a safe distance across the ornamental ponds I felt utterly relieved and imagined that former self bounding off into the wild Welsh mountains to commune with mystical nature spirits.
As I bathed in the relief of my escape I noticed a huge beautiful tree which probably existed at the same time as that previous incarnation of myself; it had a tiny metal plaque screwed into its bark.
I am not a number, I am a free tree! *
The little oval of metal had been stamped with the number ‘0014’. After that I noticed similar plaques with different numbers screwed to other trees and wondered if they felt as trapped as I had and whether they would like to uproot themselves and head off into the hills.
Then I realised that they were trees and didn’t have the disposition to move anywhere other than where they had first sprouted from the earth, but I still hung on to the idea that they might resent being tagged with a silly scrap of metal. I guess I needed to make a connection to ameliorate the awfulness of the feelings stirred up by that dreadful monument to greed and inequality.
* This is a reference to the 1960s TV show The Prisoner.
it goes like this
it goes like this
you understand me
there are gaps
where you can fit
the theme is the same
it doesn't care
it doesn’t matter
m a t t e r
- - - -
As a vegan of over twenty years and a vegetarian of more than twenty years before that, one of the questions that has always perplexed me is why do vegans like to share their lives with and look after cats, particularly rescue cats.
Cats are obligate carnivores – they must eat meat, their physiology is based on eating meat. If they don’t eat meat, they will die. I know there are supplements available made from non-animal sources; for example the amino acid taurine that comes from meat can be synthesised and added to vegan foods like lentils. This then in theory gives cats the necessary nutrients. But this is unnatural, and cats, if they are left to roam outdoors at all, will in any case kill and eat small animals like mice, birds and frogs.
Most vegans accept that cats are carnivores and will buy standard cat food to feed their feline overlords. To me this is blatant cognitive dissonance, A domestic cat lives for fifteen years on average. How many chickens or rabbits or fish or bits of cows and pigs does a cat consume during its lifetime? Even if it’s only the equivalent of one chicken a month that’s twelve a year; so one hundred and eighty chickens have to die to keep that pet cat alive. And some vegans have more than one cat – many more.
How does that square with living a vegan lifestyle?
Then there are all the other animals in zoos or in rescue centres or in the wild that vegans in particular get very emotional about – like the lynx that recently escaped from such a zoo in Wales and was eventually tracked down and shot. There was a huge outcry from people in the vegan groups on Facebook – how could anyone kill a beautiful innocent animal like that lynx? Yet in the few days it was on the loose it had killed many sheep at least, and most of the bodies of those sheep had been abandoned and left to rot in the green green grass.
I admit that I love cats myself and if my wife wasn’t allergic to them I’m sure we would have at least one in our lives. I’m also sure that cats and other companion animals contribute hugely to the mental and emotional health of the human population but I can’t pretend they’re benign and benevolent creatures.
We had a cat once that found a family of shrews and played with them until they all fell dead in a circle on our lawn. At that point our feline psychopath lost interest and wandered off to bother some birds who were innocently flitting about in the bushes at the bottom of the garden.
So that’s why I won’t support cat rescue centres and cat charities. Cats are killers, gratuitous killers at that – just because they’re cute and fluffy doesn’t excuse them. In fact they have evolved to be cute and fluffy to facilitate their murderous lifestyles. Their prey animals and their human enablers are mesmerised by their big eyes and their soft purrs and I can guarantee that if they were bigger or we were smaller – well you can guess what our fate would be . . .
Yesterday, after a breakfast of tea and toast with tahini and yeast extract we went to the Farmers’ Market to buy organic vegetables. We’ve been going to the market for years and once ran a stall there selling our own handmade soap and body products, so we know a lot of the regulars and stallholders.
I know that last paragraph makes me sound like an over-privileged hippie but I’m not, we actually spend a lot less on food and suchlike than most people do and cook everything from scratch in our pokey little kitchen. We just like to eat healthily.
I got chatting to a friend next to the fair-trade beverage and snacks stall, and, as it does when you engage in a bit of small talk at the Farmers’ Market on a Sunday, the subject got around to the nature of reality, involving life, death, and the hallucinogenic drug DMT.
The theme of the conversation was that we, i.e. human beings, or possibly all beings, project our own realities. We are all from the same source and each of us is an expression of that source but essentially we are one.
While we were pondering the imponderables, my wife carried on walking alongside the stalls. When I caught up with her she was talking to one of the other stallholders. He was nattering about aliens and about how there is incontrovertible evidence that they walk amongst us. He described a species of very short (compared to humans) hairless aliens. He also said that there are many proven examples of UFOs visiting our planet but that it’s all been covered up.
When I got home I did a bit of googling about DMT and discovered that those who take the drug sometimes ‘see’ small alien-like creatures, similar to the ones described by the UFO man. On my Twitter feed was a quote from the work of the Irish poet Medbh McGuckian: “There is only One universe at a time”
So, that’s the point – yes, life is so random there’s no way of working out what it’s all about. Maybe aliens do zip around our skies; maybe the universe is a personal projection, and this is only one of an infinite number of possible universes. Certainly, in the context of all time and all space then whatever our world is it’s less than microscopic.
But, you can only deal with what’s in front of you now – one universe at a time, no matter how insignificant it seems. If you need to have a purpose then your job is to contribute to the coherence of it all, because without your contribution then none of it would matter, or even happen.
Due to my cisgender conditioning the inside of women’s public toilets are not familiar to me, but as someone who seems to urinate twice as much as I drink I am a frequent visitor to the Gents. Maybe I’m anti-social but I’ve got to the point where I prefer to use a cubicle even if all I want is a pee. I’m not comfortable standing thigh-to-thigh with strangers as we merge our steamy urine against the ceramic. It’s not them, it’s me, and that’s just the way it is.
The consequence of this is that I do spend more time than most out of sight behind a closed door, so get to hear the comings and goings of others as they use the facilities unseen. I hear them come in, position themselves at the urinals, and release their streams. Sometimes you hear only one person at a time and sometimes you can hear more. After they’ve wetted that wall I’ve noticed that people behave differently, depending on how many others are in the toilet at the same time and where they are.
A row of urinals in the toilet at an arts centre
For example, in scenario one; if I am alone in the cubicle and a solitary bladder-emptier comes in to the room, it’s more than ninety-percent certain that when they’ve done their business they will leave immediately without bothering to use the hand-washing facilities. That is probably the most consistent behaviour pattern I have observed but there are many other scenarios and responses, for example:
Scenario two: If when I walk into the gents there is only one person already relieving themselves, then after I’ve gone into the cubicle and they’ve shaken it dry the probability of them walking out without washing their hands is reduced to around sixty percent, although I think that more than half of the people who do visit the sink don’t actually wash – they just push the tap and walk. The other half of those ‘gentlemen’, splash about a bit then put their hands under the blower for a couple of seconds in a pretence at cleanliness.
In scenario three, when there’s more than one other person using the urinals then the first one to finish will actually wash and dry their hands. All the others will behave the same except for the last one to finish, whose behaviour will revert back to that described in scenario one above.
Scenario four is a variation of scenario three, based on the times when I finish and come out of the cubicle and there is still someone lurking or peeing. Of course I walk immediately to the sink, wash my hands then dry them thoroughly. If the other person is ready before I leave then they too will walk over to the sink and go through the motions. If I leave before they finish then my educated guess is that they revert to scenario one.
There are many other variations on these scenarios but the moot point is that if no one is looking then the overwhelming majority of people using the male toilets to urinate do not wash their hands or at best make a feeble pretence at washing them.
I don’t even want to think about the other things they do in the Gents, especially when they’re cosy and invisible in a cubicle.
Before we start let me say that I love dogs – well, maybe love is too strong a term, let’s just say I respect them in the same way I respect all other living things – who all have the same right to make use of the facilities our shared planet offers. Obviously you’re not going to let a person-eating tiger lodge in your kitchen, but as long as an animal doesn’t directly threaten your well-being you should just leave them alone to get on with things in their own way.
On the council estate where I grew up hardly a dog had a lead, let alone a poop scoop or a biodegradable poo-bag. Dogs used to shit anywhere they liked and nobody judged them or their humans. We had a dog ourselves and like its peers it didn’t usually wear a collar, but it did crap on the pavement. We generally side-stepped the decaying stools until they were washed away by rain, or dried into white powder and blown to the gutters by the wind. The powder was something to do with the massive amounts of calcium in tinned dog food then. I suppose the manufacturers, to save on costs, added the calcium-rich bones from the uncountable carcasses of animals whose flesh had been stripped and swallowed by omnivorous hominids.
Of course these days, every local authority is cracking down on dog fouling. Now, according to the BBC, South Ribble Council is taking it a step further by restricting the number of dogs allowed per person.
That’s probably a step too far but despite my respect for dogs as fellow living creatures of this universe I could never ‘have’ one now. What it boils down to is that I cannot bring myself to follow a canine around and pick its poo up. Is this where human evolution has brought us? God I hope not.
Cat people are just as bad. I mean, since when has it been the done thing to allow cats unfettered access to every corner of our dwellings. My granny’s cats lived in the alleys behind her house and sometimes sheltered in the coal-shed; they were fed scraps and if they got ill they crawled into a dark corner until they got better or died. When we first had cats ourselves it was a given that they were not allowed upstairs and were put outside before we went to bed.
Now pussies sleep on people’s faces for goodness sake, and their human companions bring them gourmet snacks on blue velvet cushions trimmed with gold braid; they are so pampered and spoilt they have begun to think we are their servants. And maybe they’re right, because cat-shit can infect rodents with a parasite (Toxoplasma gondii) that makes them in thrall to cats, and helpless victims to their murderous claws. A growing number of people are convinced that the parasite can infect humans in the same way, turning us into mindless slaves desperate to do the bidding of our feline overlords.
But then again, sharing your life with pets, or companion animals to give them a more respectful term, has been shown to have positive effects on your mental health. So maybe it’s a trade-off. You pick your dogs’ shit up and they will reward you with a sloppy tongue and a cuddle now and again, while in turn you can give the same love to your cats and get lost in their beautiful eyes . . . .