The Artistic Imperative

The Artistic Imperative

* Warning – this is a self-indulgent ramble *

When I was young I was told I was very clever. ‘You are so intelligent,’ they used to say. I was also a very nice kid – generous, gentle, helpful and uncomplaining. I was full of life – ‘Fond of play’ as my form teacher wrote on my final report from the primary school. I was top of the class, number one of thirty-four, and that was in the A stream in the final year at that school – so at that time I was the top pupil of the whole school.

Allot-profile01

Me writing in the chalet/shed at the allotment. pic by Rhian

To be fair my teacher recognised this and wanted me to apply for a scholarship to go to Llandovery College – a private school around thirty miles from my home – it would have meant boarding I believe.

But, my parents didn’t have the wherewithal, either in monetary terms or in imagination to pursue the idea and the teacher realising it was an impossibility, let it go. As it happens, I’m glad about this, I don’t think I’d like the person I would have become if I’d spent those important years of my childhood in such a place.

Now, I’m approaching my 65th birthday – my mother is disappointed in me. I can see it in her eyes – and anyway, she says it often enough. ‘You used to be so clever,’ she’ll say. ‘You could have done so much.’ Continue reading

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Extracts from: “The Diary of an Ordinary Man”

Saturday

Despite the sobs, I am not sad. I know what it’s like to feel the weight of the black dog, as Churchill called it, but that’s not what I feel right now. It’s more a sort of extreme frustration, like seeing the taillights of the last bus disappear on a cold, rainy night; the mobile phone’s battery is dead and there’s no money for a taxi anyway.

diaryIt all came to a head in the Asda car park after a silly argument about shower curtains. We’re poor you see. Buying a new shower curtain is a luxury I can’t contemplate, even if it was only ten quid, and would have brightened up our gloomy bathroom, adding a little light to this dark phase of our lives.

Fuck off, she said, just fuck off. So I did. I got out of the car and walked. I cried all the way home. Continue reading

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Oggy Oggy Ugly

Bore Da

rugby-ball-castleRugby again today. Sorry about that, but since I live in Wales I find it difficult to avoid what is effectively a national religion, especially if you listen to Radio Wales in the morning. I used to tune in to Radio 4 but I can’t bear to have it on any more (click here for a video about that).

It looks like I will also have to abandon Radio Wales because of its obsession with rugby, a sport I already have major issues with (see yesterday’s post for more). And then, earlier, on Good Morning Wales, there was a discussion about a report suggesting that conventional rugby is far too dangerous for young children to play, due to the risk of serious injury and the long term consequences of the heavy tackling involved.

The presenters of the programme said they were finding it difficult to find anyone on social media who agreed with the report. They spoke to an ex-player who had to retire because of epilepsy brought on by injuries he received playing rugby, and even he defended the game. I’m not surprised – a while ago, when I worked as an IT consultant I helped two ex-rugby players with their computer setups; both seriously injured by their dalliance with the oval ball. They were in wheelchairs, one was paralysed from the waist down while the other, a quadriplegic, had to operate the computer with a plastic stick attached to a headband, and couldn’t talk properly.

Neither of them blamed the game in any way and I got the impression that they regarded themselves as wounded warriors rather than victims. The Rugby Union paid for their computers and for my time and no doubt for other equipment and services to help make their lives more comfortable. I suppose the money also helped to keep them sweet. I wonder how many other people are tucked away unseen in adapted accommodation nursing their rugby wounds for the rest of their lives.

Like all my contemporaries I was forced to play rugby in my early years at Llanelli Grammar school and was good enough to be selected for the school team, until I fell out with the gym teacher – bastard that he was. After that incident I began to hate the sport – so yes, my antipathy towards it is personal.

If it was up to me I would consign the whole game to the same bin of history as press-gangs and sending kids up chimneys. I accept that not everyone feels the same as I do and if you’re an adult and you want to play then no one’s stopping you, but please, stop forcing children to engage in an activity that can cause them irreversible damage and ruin their lives.

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St David’s Day in Wales

This is a piece I wrote this morning, on St David’s Day. If you would prefer to listen there is an audio recording at the end.

lambIf you believe the hype, the Welsh are rugby-obsessed lamb-eating choristers. As with most lazy stereotyping this is completely wrong of course. I’m as Welsh as they come and I don’t like rugby, lamb or male voice choirs. It’s not just me though, but most Welshies are too afraid to admit it. For example, a friend persuaded me to go to a rugby international in the Millennium Stadium a few years ago, to see a match involving our Celtic cousins Ireland. Because of a ticketing mix-up I ended up sitting up next to strangers in the upper hinterlands of the stadium. Continue reading

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Message to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme

A personal message to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme

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First Review of Bums

bums-hardback-cover-3-front-209x300

I’m chuffed that my novel Bums has had its first review.

Click here to read it on Wales Arts Review.

Onward 🙂

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Chilling Out

From the archives – First published on unmadeup.com

The freezer bit of our seven-year-old fridge-freezer packed in a few months ago; it had been stuttering along since the guarantee ran out, often needing a good kick or a shove to encourage it to actually freeze anything more than a tray of ice. Being skint we haven’t been able to replace it until now, and that’s only due to the grace of a new flexible friend; and what with the sun coming out last Tuesday we thought it would be nice to have some ice for the summer – so it was essential really.

fridgeCoincidentally my mother-in-law’s fridge packed in a couple of weeks ago. It was 39 years old; she’d boasted about it when she found out about the demise of our under-maintained modern rubbish. Since she doesn’t drive and since she’s getting on a bit, it would have been churlish of me to refuse the opportunity of a joint excursion to a nearby retail park.

We identified the fridges we wanted – a Bosch combo for us and a Hotpoint larder fridge for the mother-in-law., then went home to order them on the internet – a combined saving of £115 – not bad for ten minutes on a price comparison website.

We promised we would go round the mother-in-law’s last Thursday to give the decrepit old thing the heave-ho, making room for the sparkling new arrival due on Friday. Continue reading

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Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you’re right!

I found out it was International men’s day yesterday so I dug this piece up. It was written over 9 years ago and already seems dated and a teeny bit silly.

I am a man and a feminist, and no, I’m not a woman trapped in a man’s body; truth is, I love women, in all respects – they are magical and beautiful beings, but it’s bloody hard work being hitched up to one. They expect you to operate on the same telepathic level of communication that they do. They don’t like long, rambling analytical speeches about the origins of the universe; they don’t like miserable ponderings on the injustices of the world’s political systems – they just know these things instinctively and get on with it.

Women want long walks on a beach at sunset; they want to marvel at the beauty of a cathedral; they want to cuddle strangers’ (and strange) babies; they like to be given flowers (what the hell is that all about?) and they’re always right. That’s not meant to be sarcastic, they ARE always right and we men know this, perhaps that’s why we are so afraid of them. We know that the biggest problem women have with this life is the existence of men. It’s men who cause all the grief: wars, glass ceilings, debts, leaking taps and the overgrown weeds on the patio.

giving-flowersTalking about women, the queen is 80, and what a bloody fuss – she’s been given ‘endless bunches of flowers’ according to Channel 5 news. I guess that makes her the happiest woman in the world. I imagine she gets to visit cathedrals too, but probably has to decline the strolls along the sands in case suicide frogbombers emerge from the sea. Still, even the queen can’t have everything. Anyway, I don’t get it, this false fondness when commentators refer to her highness – “isn’t she wonderful”, “isn’t she strong”, “let’s give her another bunch of dead vegetable matter to show her we care.” Would a king be patronised in the same way? Continue reading

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Poetry sucks!

I was just reading through an old notebook-journal type thing and came across the following ramble about poetry. I scribbled it down over ten years ago and promptly forgot about it. I do this all the time and have dozens, if not hundreds, of such books lurking in damp cupboards and up the attic.

It’s a bit of a rant and probably only serves to display my ignorance and may actually get me excommunicated from the edges of the literary establishment where I sometimes lurk in the shadows, but, what the hell – it’s as much a question as an opinion, and I would be ecstatic if someone would enlighten me since I am genuinely puzzled about poetry.

Here’s the original piece, written on March 1st 2005 at 11.30 pm (ish) according to my notebook. Bear in mind that’s it’s a bit roughly written, but I’d like to think, raw and real.

It is titled: Continue reading

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He wouldn’t harm a fly

The link between Animal Abuse and violence against people.

(First published in Animal Prints Magazine)

I still feel a vague sense of guilt when I remember how I used to swat flies and watch their squashed bodies slide almost imperceptibly down a wall or a window pane, like fat black currants. Recently, I had to deal with an infestation of ants in my kitchen but that’s another story. We all have to come into contact with animals in one way or another and sometimes (unless you’re a devout Jain perhaps) animals suffer because we exist, but when that suffering is deliberately inflicted by a human being it can be a sign of a disturbed and violent personality.

As obvious as it is to most enlightened people that treating animals badly is wrong, there is now startling evidence in the public domain that makes a strong case for the link between animal abuse and the most heinous violent crimes against people.

For example, in Oregon in 1998, Kit Kinkel killed his parents and two of his classmates as well as injuring many more. Kit Kinkel had a history of animal abuse and killed and maimed cats, squirrels and other animals by putting fireworks in their mouths. He also bragged about blowing up a cow.

Sadly this is only one example of this disturbing link. Continue reading

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not been out

I’ve not been out the door today and it’s eleven pm already so it’s not likely to happen. Come to think of it I have been out the door, or doors, both back and front, but only to get the rubbish from the yard and put it out the front seeing as it’s bin day tomorrow.

It was a bit of a faff putting the bins out since it’s black bag / general waste week, and for once we’ve got a quarter bag of unrecyclable rubbish to put out. Trouble is, something’s gone rotten inside the bag because it’s probably been sitting there for a few weeks since we hardly ever have enough black-bag rubbish to put out.

Also, the top of the bag has been left open so it’s half full of stinking fetid rainwater, which could explain the smell that was hanging around the other day. When I lift the bag up, after recovering from the stench released, I notice that the water is not leaking, so I decide the best thing to do is to go out the front, find a drain, and stab a hole in the bottom of the stinking bag with a screwdriver, thus allowing the filthy water it contains to flow away as harmlessly as possible, then I will stuff the broken bag and it’s contents into another black bag, and another, until the smell is buried too deep to detect.

That’s what I did

Besides that I’ve been working most of the day on typesetting and applying the almost final edits to the WSSN book and fiddling about with the cover layout too.

I also made some soup. It was nice – spicy!

soupWhat was left of the Soup

Onions, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, chillies, red lentils, water, rapeseed oil, potatoes, sweet potatoes, kale, carrots – Clean, chop, chuck in pan, boil, simmer = ready!

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Glastonbury 1971 – Episode 2

Melanie_Safka_1972Glastonbury 1971 Episode Two

Click for Episode 1 or Episode 3

It’s likely that this narrative will get a little jumbled up at this point. There are a few reasons for this, principally, I suppose, is that it’s about events that happened 43 years ago, but also because the events that happened were experienced while I, the narrator, was in a state of mind that had been heavily altered by drugs of one kind or another – principally LSD, which, as you probably know tends to muck about with the brain of the person who’s taken it, causing delusions and hallucinations that may or may not have any relationship to what we know as reality. Continue reading

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Glastonbury 1971 – Episode 1

Glastonbury 71Glastonbury 1971 – Episode One

I have to tell you that even though this is about my experiences at the Glastonbury Festival in 1971, I am only now, 43 years later, writing it down in this form. I also have to tell you that in my opinion, 43 years is a bloody long time, and no matter how hard I try to make this piece an accurate retelling of what happened back then, or even an accurate retelling of what I perceived to be happening back then, it is going to be blurred by the years and by the myths about myself that I have built up over those years of my life, and by the myths that society has focused on and enhanced over the same period of time. Continue reading

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BBC Election Weblog

Not strictly an article but this seems like the right place for this.

In the run up to the 2005 General Election, the BBC Radio 4’s Today program put out a call for listeners to keep a weblog of their take on the proceedings. I sent in a sample of my writing and eventually they asked me to do it. There were about 8 or 9 listeners chosen to represent different parts of the UK.

This is a copy of that weblog, now no longer available on the BBC website. As this is an archive copy, some of the links may be out of date. Continue reading

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Creating a Text

Another one from the archives. This piece was first published on John Baker’s Blog

What phases are involved in the creation of a text?

I have created texts of all kinds and have published poetry, short stories and a novel. I have also written and produced stage plays and short films and completed television and film scripts. Despite this extensive experience, the creation of a text is still something of a black art to me. For example I remember getting up early one wet Sunday morning back in 1999 and scribbling away like a maniac until mid-afternoon. What emerged was a one act play called “Tossers”. I spent the rest of the day typing it into the computer. I’ve still got the original hand-written manuscript and there is no difference between that and the finished play. I put the play in a drawer until 2004 when I submitted it to a theatre company. Tossers was staged in Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff as part of their On The Edge series. I had nothing to do with the production apart from turning up on the night to watch it. As far as I could tell, not a word was changed and the staging was exactly as I had imagined it when it was created.

I’ve no idea where the play came from; the only phase involved in its creation was the physical act of getting it out of my head and onto the paper. But, Tossers aside, in the best traditions of academic analysis I present the following acronym to define the phases involved in the creation of a text:

WRITER = Watch, Record, Inspiration, Toil, Edit, Release

Watch
For any text to have validity it must be based on truth, and truth is derived from what we experience through our senses and our emotional and intellectual response to that experience. Sitting in front of the television or reading a classic novel is not good enough. No matter how engaging the programme is or how brilliant the book is, it’s a second-hand experience filtered through someone else’s set of myths and prejudices. A writer must watch; must observe real life in all its gory glory.

Record
Watching on its own may increase your understanding of the human condition but in order to create a text you must record your observations. Manifestations must be recorded; this could be in the form of notes on paper or of mental notes to yourself.

Inspiration
Sometimes inspiration seems to come out of nothing; your mind processes your observations and tries to make sense of them, it needs to make a story out of the characters and events it encounters. This processing takes place consciously and subconsciously in varying proportions and eventually inspiration comes, but it doesn’t come from nowhere, inspiration is earned.

Toil
So you have watched, recorded and found your inspiration. Now those raw materials have to be organised into strings of words that convey the meaning of the story to others. This takes work; you have to toil to get those sentences out in a meaningful way.

Edit
The words are on the paper or the screen but they are still a bit raw and clumsy, and there are gaps that need bridging or repetitions that need culling. The text has to be edited, it has to be groomed and pimped until it is in a form that is enjoyable for others to read.

Release
There is a Zen koan that asks: “If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” There is no logical answer to that question of course, but if a text is put in a drawer or left in an obscure folder of a hard drive and no one reads it, it does not exist as a text. The final phase in the creation of a text is its release into the public domain; it has to be published in some way. Tossers sat in a drawer for five years before it became a text. It did not complete its journey until it was released.

Come to think of it, even Tossers had to go through all of the above phases; it’s just that it happened to go through most of them in a burst of creativity on a wet Sunday in 1999.

Tossers is a surreal black comedy and plays out in about twenty minutes; please contact me if you want to read it.

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Different Directions

The days are different. Each day is different than any other day that has gone before – significantly different. Certain things are the same on many days but even those things are different when you zoom in on them. What does this mean? OK – elaborate. You can go into your (or any other) garden, or a park or a field, or I suppose, go and look at a roadside hedge. Choose a leaf. Study it. Go back the next day, at the same time if you like, and it will be different. It will have grown, or decomposed, or become wetter, or drier, or droopier, or perkier – and that’s just one leaf – even a rock – even a diamond will be different from one moment to the next. Some things will require a higher zoom, some things will be obvious, some things will cease to exist between one day and the next, and some things will come into existence. What does that mean? Time is the path through the tangled mess that is the universe – inner and outer (what a fucking cliché – sorry). Life is awareness, life is best when it is simply lived. Age comes to us, we move towards it – we are actually time travellers – we think we can only go in one direction – forward – but how do we know that? Answer – because we remember what has happened before and we can’t see what will happen in the future. But maybe that’s only because of the direction we’re looking in.

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The True Meaning of Christmas

Christmas is snow and feasting and fire and preserves. Christmas is calm and peaceful. Christmas is generous and spiritual. Christmas is short cold days and long colder nights – it is the darkest time of the year when life retreats to its lair and prays for its own renewal. The festival of Christmas sits like a light at the centre of each year’s tunnel drawing us towards it, injecting us with hope and ejecting us into a brighter future. In the Northern half of the world, Christmas is as essential to our psychological well-being as water is to our physical.

Photo: A Christmas Tree by Rhian Jones

Sadly, Christmas has been hijacked and harnessed by the dolts that profit from our human innocence and gullibility. They present us with beads of paste and glue – fake glitter that dilutes the true light and costs us our breath. We are herded through lanes edged with bulging shelves laden with colourful consumables designed to imitate the love and light our psyches crave in the darkness of midwinter. Cleverly, the Christian establishment has also hitched itself to the festivities and imposed its fable, to complete the duality that keeps us enthralled.

Christmas is neither the celebration of the birth of a man in some past land, nor the gluttonous gorging from the toxic mound of phony food. The true meaning of Christmas is in its light. It is the annual counterpoint to midsummer, when the sun’s light is at its most abundant, for Christmas is full of light too – the light that we carry inside. We bring it with us into the darkest time of the year and we express it in our fire and frolics. We don’t need churches or shopping malls, we just need ourselves – the bringers of light.

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I was (virtually) there

The mainstream media’s coverage of the student protests over tuition fee increases is completely silly. Their collaboration with the police and with the government, unconscious or not, is damaging their reputation as credible sources of news and information.

I’ve got to admit that my participation in the demonstrations has been limited to tweeting a few messages of support to the students. I’m just an ordinary bloke trying to scratch a living in the dark depths of the recession and am generally content with the way things are, being a bit apolitical. I’ve witnessed a number of such occasions on the television over the years, and swallowed the line I’ve been fed. Of course you expect nonsense from Sky News and we all know that ITV News  chases the sensational tabloid headlines, so any accidental exposure to them is tempered with a large handful of rock salt, but the BBC? I’ve always trusted the BBC – shame on me.

There was a very large fire in Parliament Square – no there wasn’t, it was just a large bin. The protesters attacked mounted police – no they didn’t, the mounted police attacked the protesters. I know because I was there, well I was there virtually at least. I saw the pictures on the television and the other pictures all over the internet. I heard the reports on the radio and browsed the news media’s websites.  I followed the trends on twitter and clicked the links to innumerable articles, opinions, photographs and videos. I made my own mind up.

Set against the current desperate financial background and the corruption, incompetence and sheer greed displayed by the bankers and the politicians, it’s a wonder the Houses of Parliament are still standing never mind a few smashed windows. Of course the biggest story of the day is that our beloved Charles – the Prince of Wales no less, had his armoured car attacked.

Like I said, I’m an ordinary bloke, just another middle-aged man; a small human creature feeling his way through this crazy universe, but come on the BBC, I’m not an idiot, you could be so much more than a mouthpiece for the establishment.

* * *

p.s. After writing this I was sent a link to a video about the Poll Tax riots of over twenty years ago.  Scarily similar.

You Tube – Poll Tax Riots London 1990

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