Monday, February 28, 2005

Freedom of speech.

Well Friday and yesterday went pretty well, 1200 and 1500 words respectively, so I’m going to stick at it. I am going to try and do a minimum of 1000 words a day. I may have days off, I haven’t worked that out yet. If I keep this up I may get the thing written by the summer.

An update on the Free Mojtaba and Arash campaign. Arash Sigarchi was sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment on Thursday for various offences including aiding foreign anti-revolutionaries and insulting various Iranian big wigs past and present. The BBC News story can be found here. So more letters to write, I guess.

I really don’t understand the logic behind censoring somebody who says offensive things. Of course, everybody has a right not to be subjected to material which is offensive to them and society as a whole has a responsibility to protect children and vulnerable parties from material which might confuse or disturb them. Even in the UK there is a periodical fuss made about those offence, whether it’s Ken Livingstone comparing a reporter (who happened to be Jewish) to a concentration camp guard or Jerry Springer the Opera or whatever.

John Stuart Mill was right about this stuff. He said that people should be allowed to say what they like within the boundaries described above and so long as they are not inciting violence (i.e it’s okay to speak out against corn-sellers so long as you’re not stood in front of an angry mob outside the corn-seller’s house). He believed this for three reasons;
  • What is being censored may be true and by censoring it we risk a great loss of knowledge if we imagine ourselves infallible.
  • What is being censored may be partly true; there may be at least something useful in what is being said.
  • Even if it’s a load of bunkum (not his term), a doctrine remains vital and rational by meeting challenges. Even if our belief is spot-on, without challenge it becomes no more than a prejudice as opposed to the reasoned argument around which we make our decisions.
Strangely enough, the grounds upon which folks most often object to freedom of speech are religious. However, if God is omniscient, omnipotent and good, us mere mortals can’t really do any harm. If what you believe in is the truth, then what book, speech or article could possibly pose a risk to it?

Friday, February 25, 2005


Yesterday I had a really good day on my book. I've really been struggling lately because I have been unwell and my concentration just times out. I wait around for a time when I'm really in good shape to do some work and it either never comes or else it comes and goes in ten minutes. This means I haven't been managing a good workcount at all. I am on the third draft so I'm having to chose my words very carefully - I don't want to have to do this again, if it can be avoided. On the first draft I could manage 3000-4000 words on some days, even a bedridden day, my thoughts were just flowing onto the paper - or the screen at least, via the keyboard, but you know what I mean. Thus I had completed an 80,000 word novel in a few months.

Anyway, yesterday I tried a new system of disciplining and pacing myself. I really struggle with this stuff. In particular I struggle with lying down flat and doing nothing when I'm not ready to sleep, even when I am completely knackered and neither use nor ornament (well, maybe a little ornamental). I worked in five, ten and fifteen minute slots, depending on how I got on, then had a rest or did something else (listened to music, read the news etc), then after five or ten miutes I would go back. Very stop-start, but the breaks were short enough not to lose my flow - if I had to work for half an hour, I would time-out before the end and then half an hour's rest would break the flow completely.

Thus I wrote 1860 good words yesterday and am quite chuffed. Hopefully if I stick to it I can make some real progress and have the thing wrapped up before the summer.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

On feeling something like normal.

Although I got out on Monday, it was attached to a doctor’s appointment. Last night I got out for completely non-medical reasons for the first time in six weeks when I went to the local wargaming group. If you don’t know what that means, it’s a really sad hobby which I may be forced to explain at some point. Let’s just say that in the same room they hold the role-playing group and that’s much, much sadder - a whole other level of tragedy.

I am quite into this, but it only really justifies my energy because the folks there are a great bunch of people who mostly fall within five years either side of my age. This is important; most of the other people I spend time with are much older than me, [...] is 39 and Pete, my closest friend in Whitby, is 51, the same age as my mother and although this poses no problem between us, I need to remind myself that I am a relatively young person from time to time.

Anyway, I had a really good time, not doing any gaming, but just chatting to people about stuff, life, music, books and films. This was the first time I had been up there since before Christmas. Apart from this long crappy spell I am coming out of, things go up and down and there’s no time of the week where I can be depended upon to be conscious, fully cognoscente and reasonably comfortable. I imagined this would be a problem, that I would have to explain my long absence. I think quite possibly others wonder whether I just can’t be bothered, but if they do they don’t act it. They don’t ask. They are interested as to how I’m getting on, how the book is going, but they don’t need to talk about my having been ill. Perhaps they are embarrassed, but I hope they are simply uninterested. I have even met some of them in the street in my wheelchair (which I don’t take to the group) and they haven’t needed to comment on it at all.

I have wondered whether [...] lectures them on my situation in my absence so they’re all clued up. Then again, perhaps they really don’t care about my disability. Perhaps it really doesn’t make a difference to them at all. Which would be great for me.

Sometimes when you’re unwell and managing symptoms all the time and when illness dominates your life because it stops you doing so many of the things you want to be doing, you feel like this must be written all over your face. You feel humiliated by it; for most people, especially young people, the idea of being out of action for six weeks would be pretty dramatic and yet for me this happens several times a year. And very often people do feel the need to talk about it; they want to know what was wrong, what I might have done wrong, how I occupied myself. The absolute worst thing is when somebody says that they were worried about me. There aren’t many people who, being concerned about me, are unable to make contact by post, telephone or e-mail and yet the very people who feel the need to express their concern in retrospect are the ones I wouldn’t hear from if I had been in hospital for six months.

Then there's the fact of my appalling social confidence of course and how much it helps to be around people I feel like an equal among, but that's another story altogether. My point is that it’s really good when I can be myself and not [...]’s sickly girlfriend who turns up once in a blue moon. Or at least it’s really good when that’s not the way you’re made to feel.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Goldfish Facts #4

Well, yesterday was about human rights, but today is Tuesday and it’s time for Goldfish Facts.

Actually we have a family story involving the Iranian Embassy. I was born on Christmas Eve, 1980 and my parents became certain of my conception at the beginning of May that year. My parents went round to tell my maternal grandparents about me, but were unable to get the news across to them that evening on account of the fact that the SAS was storming the beseiged Embassy live on television. My coming into existence was a mere trifle in comparison. You can read all about it (the siege, not my conception) here.

As for my conception, well my Mum once hinted that I was conceived to the great Adam and the Ant hit “Stand and Deliver”. That’s a whole heap more than I ever needed to know.

So then, today’s Goldfish Facts;
  • Goldfish were first kept as pets in China and are considered “baby dragons” in Feng Shui. Thus they are very lucky if you have them in your wealth area (apparently the south east of your main living space). Ideally, you need eight goldfish and one black fish (the black one symbolises protection). Sounds like a load of carp to me…
  • The first successful goldfish farm in the United States was opened in Martinsville in 1899. I discovered this on a page of Indiana facts. I guess that’s a state with a lot of history.
  • There have been many songs written about goldfish. A search for the word goldfish on the UK version of iTunes produces 45 matches including the songs from Inspiral Carpets 1992 album Revenge of the Goldfish. (Can you tell I’m scraping the barrel here?)

If this is the first time you’ve read Goldfish Facts; check out previous editions #1, #2 and #3.

Oh and while I’m here, I earlier blogged about Yusuf Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens) having nothing to do with terrorism. Well last week a Judge ruled that allegations by the Murdoch press to that effect (i.e. supporting claims of the US government) were libellous and unfounded. So there. Read about the guy’s good work here.

Free Mojtaba and Arash!

In Iran, two bloggers by the name of Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad are held in detention, apparently arrested following decedent remarks on their blogs. Click above for the Committee to Protect Bloggers or here for the story on BBC News.

The Iranian press is heavily censored and blogging is one way in which journalists and ordinary Iranians feel able to speak their minds, both amongst themselves and to the outside world. Tomorrow, 22nd February, bloggers all over the world are hoping to voice their protests. Below is the letter I wrote to the Iranian Embassy in London and if you feel the same, I suggest you also write or at the very least, e-mail them. The address is: The Iran Embassy, 16 Prince’s Gate, London, SW7 1PT

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you regarding the detention of “bloggers” Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad in Iran. It appears that these young men are being imprisoned because of things they wrote on weblogs or on-line journals which displeased the authorities in some way.

I am very lucky to live under a government that protects my freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is the most fundamental human right there is, perhaps even more important than physical liberty. Without listening to one another, we cannot learn anything, we cannot differentiate between what we believe and what we know and we cannot progress as human beings, as a society or as a race.

There is nothing to fear from freedom of expression. A bad idea can only revealed as such by being aired. Bad ideas, when heard against the good ones, can’t bring down worthy governments, shake true faith or confuse the minds of adults as to what is right or wrong. I struggle with the idea that anything said by a man can insult any God who created the universe.

Iran is a country often demonised in the West, especially in recent years. Many of us here remain open-minded, seeing Iran as being in a state of transition and not the big bad dictatorship our governments may like to portray it as. However, this sort of action against bloggers flies in the face of all our optimism about the country and offends the sentiments of the very people who support respect and moderation in the West’s dealings with Iran.

It is for the sake of international relations as well as the democracy and stability of Iran that Mr Sigarchi and Mr Saminejad are released and that nobody else is arrested for merely speaking their mind about political affairs.

Yours faithfully, etc, etc.

My day out #2

Today I officially got out. Hurrah!

I had a doctor’s appointment and my friend Pete coincidentally had the appointment directly before me. Apparently it’s another case of having nothing wrong with me except multiple chronic viral infections. I was hoping for anaemia, really hoping for it. Then I could take pills and expect to feel a lot better very quickly, but no such luck. I guess it's good that some of my vital organs are in perfect working order. It's just my brain, my nervous and immune systems that are kaput. It could be worse, right?

My doctor was sympathetic and attempted some morale-boosting proverbs, which were all rather unnecessary now I’m getting better from whatever has been wrong. But the mystery frustrates me. Things have been fairly dramatic, lots of pain, the fainting thing and it’s been going on for about six weeks. Viruses are very mysterious things, there are millions of as yet unidentified viruses constantly mutating – folks occasionally suffer brain-damage or die of a mystery virus. It’s just when you go through this stuff, you want it to have a nice handy label, a mechanistic explanation and preferably a course of tablets that make you feel better.

Anyway, Pete and I decided to go for a coffee. We went to a place cunningly named The Coffee Shop on Skinner Street. I had a middling slice of coffee-cake (it didn’t really taste of coffee, but that might have been just me) and the lady in there was very friendly, letting me borrow her phone - I, having forgotten my mobile and needing to call a taxi home. I know. I don’t go out in weeks and when I do, I manage to forget my mobile phone. What’s with that?
So that was it, my trip out. I am about to go charge up my wheelchair batteries which will have flattened without use in all this time and hopefully I can venture out again later in the week.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

All Along The Watchtower

Still not a lot going on here. I have been comparing versions of “All Along the Watchtower.” Can’t make my mind up between Bob Dylan (who wrote it) and Jimi Hendrix. Both are very exciting, but in different ways. Bob Dylan planted the seed, but I think perhaps Hendrix actually gave birth to the song. Perhaps. Although there is an appealling rawness to the Dylan version and I am always in awe at anyone who can make a mouth-organ solo sound edgy and cool.

I also downloaded a Paul Wellar Version from iTunes, but it was rather disappointing. If wet paint made a noise while it dried, that would be it. It lasted six full minutes and the song had finished within three – I keep trying to work out what happens for those last three minutes, but every time I listen to it I get bored and distracted and the next thing I know it has finished and I have been thinking about or doing something else.

This is my exciting weekend; listening to the same song over and over and comparing the merits of different versions.

Meanwhile, the novel is progressing slowly but surely. I want to be writing a thousand words a way but at the moment it’s something if I average five hundred. Someone once told me that Bertram Russell published 2000 words for every day he was alive, but I don’t believe that for a minute. And let’s face it, he didn’t produce too many psychological thrillers, did he? No, exactly. And I’m sure I’m better looking than he was. So there.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Top Three Best Musicals on Film

3. Fiddler on the Roof
When we are trying to play a simple little tune like a fiddler on a roof, what keeps us from falling? Traditions! Our traditions help us to know who we are and what God expects of us.

It amuses me that when I searched for the precise quote I found it on a Texan Baptist website which was trying to emphasise the importance of tradition, totally missing the irony in Tevya’s quote; by the end of the film all Tevya’s precious traditions have been turned on their head and yet he still keeps from falling, because he has found something else. The Fiddler on the Roof, like all good musicals, is about passion. But in particular, the rather domestic (but nevertheless deep) passions of an individual for their God, a father for his daughters, a husband for his wife and a man living in a changing world for the traditions he thought would be around forever.

Tevya is a Russian Jewish peasant living at the time of the Pogroms. He has three daughters approaching marriageable age who he expects to find husbands for through the local Matchmaker – this is the way it has always been done. However, each daughter in turn defies tradition and picks an entirely unsuitable husband for herself; an impoverished young tailor, a student revolutionary and finally, unforgivably, a Christian. As Tevya struggles with the gradual erosion of the ideas he took for granted, he is in constant conversation with God, with whom he has a very honest, if not always straight-forward relationship.

The music is quite unique for musicals, the best tunes dominated by an eastern European/ Jewish influence in minor keys which helps spin out the various tensions and conflict, both internal and external that the characters are subject to. And Tevya played by the great Topol is such a thoroughly believable and sympathetic character, perhaps the most realistic portrayal of a father in film ever.

What keeps us from falling from the roof is not tradition, but love. Tevya can gradually come to terms with his daughter’s defiance because he loves them more than he loves history, and they quite obviously love the men they chose. They can even cope with the entire community being evicted because it is really love which helps us to know who we are and what God expects of us, whatever God means to us individually.

2. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Six inches forward, five inches back;
I’ve got an angry inch.

The synopsis to this film is going to sound really weird, rather crude and probably rather rubbish. A young East Berlin man named Hansel meets and falls in love with a US army officer who wants to marry him and take him home to Kansas. For this, Hansel needs to become a Hedwig, but the operation goes horribly wrong, leaving her with an angry inch, so to speak. Shortly after her arrival in America, she is deserted by her husband and she begins a musical career. She discovers, fall in love with and embarks on the musical education of Jonny Gnosis, who then steals her songs, sours to stardom and pretends he never met her. This story is told, largely in song, as Hedwig and her band of Slavonic musicians (The Angry Inch) play in cheap restaurants close to the arena venues of Gnosis’ national tour. Okay? Hmm…

When we rented this film, we fully expected it to be very silly, which it is. But believe it or not it’s also very moving, not nearly as outrageous or pantomimic as it might have been and the songs are really very good; great lyrics, great tunes, real rock/ pop songs as opposed to the sort of rock and pop songs often written for musicals by those who have no real interest in popular music. They stuck in my head after the first watching but not in the annoying “Follow the yellow brick road” sense (sorry if I’ve now put that song in your head, but you know what I mean). If Hedwig and the Angry Inch were a real band, I would have all their albums.

Despite the outlandish premise, the film rarely relies on shock for humour (although given the subject matter, it’s far from universally inoffensive) and somewhere in the mix the film does make some serious points about gender and identity, fantasy and denial.

The Moulin Rouge
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

People who don’t like the Moulin Rouge usually have very rigid ideas about the form; about musicals, about films and about the way stories should be told. In fact, the makers of this film are expert story-tellers; they break the rules and use a lot of narrative short-hand but in doing so they manage to make a rather mediocre, clichéed story into a dazzling and deeply moving masterpiece.

The biggest short-cut they use is by only writing one original song in the entire score. They rework pop songs, stick lyrics onto Offenbach, and mix the chorus form Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit into Lady Marmalade. This way, the love story in particular, the pace in which two people fall in love, the intensity of it and the tragedy of its conclusion is effortless absorbed. It may be cheating using other people’s words and music but in a way it is ingenius. You feel for these characters after two hours as you would feel for characters in a book you were reading for eight.

Other short-cuts include the Shakespearean trick of letting us know that it’s all going to end in tears before the two lovers have even got it together, then teasing us with the fact throughout. Then there’s the rather dubious yet entirely loveable characterisation of Toulouse Latrec, who is almost in love with both the lovers and willing as desperately as we are for it all to turn out all right. Which it won’t. But the greatest thing you’ll ever learn…

Christian (Ewan McGregor) comes to Montmarte to live La Vie de Boheme and write his novel in a garret. Pretty soon he is roped into writing a musical with a motley crew including Toulouse La Trec. They want to put the show on at The Moulin Rouge; a night club, dance hall and bordello rolled into one. Christian meets and falls madly in love with Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the show. But unfortunately she has also caught the eye of The Duke, a possessive, inadequate but rather comic fellow on whom everybody is relying for funding. To cut a long story short, love prevails but it all ends in tragedy. It is like Orpheus in the Underworld meets La Boheme meets Summer Holiday. Perhaps.

I have spoken to some people who seem to have expected it to be about the Moulin Rouge in Montmarte at the end of the nineteen century. But when did you last see a production of Romeo and Juliet that went to great lengths to recreate fifteenth century Verona? Neither Verona nor life in fifteenth century Italy is not what Romeo and Juliet is about, right? Exactly.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Goldfish Facts #3

Well, I am feeling a wee bit perkier today (actually a lot better, touch wood, cross fingers, and have no digits left for typing) and I actually know what day of the week it is. That day is Wednesday, which means yesterday was Tuesday and you will all be wondering what happened to Goldfish Facts. Well, here they are;
  • Goldfish lose their colour if kept in dim light. Apparently a goldfish will eventually turn completely white when left in a dark room. I don’t know whether my black moors would turn more black or perhaps go a little grey.
  • The common goldfish is the only animal that can see both infra-red and ultra-violet light. Imagine seeing a greater spectrum of colours than you already do? Would the world be a more beautiful place? Well, I think it’s just splendid as it is (can you tell I’m feeling better today?).
  • A goldfish-swallowing craze swept the colleges of the United States in the spring of 1939, starting in Harvard. You can read an article about it here if you don’t believe me.

That’s it for this week. If anybody’s got any exciting Goldfish Facts they would like to share with me and the rest of the world please feel free to drop us a line. Also, if you are coming to this page for the first time check out I begin to keep a blog and Goldfish Facts #2 in order to put this goldfish trivia in the context of more goldfish trivia.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Sickness and lies

I’m sorry that my health is dominating most of my posts just now. I really don’t have that much to complain about; I’m not in hospital and my life is not in danger, but it is kind of dominating everything at the moment. Yesterday I managed to have a bath with considerable help and spent the day lying flat out listening to radio comedies through the Internet and a few bizarre Radio 4 documentaries. In particular I listened to a sociological analysis of sexism in Gangsta Rap, which was very entertaining, these south of England academic types attempting to deconstruct the culture of Da Hood. And I have been having trouble with talking to my family. Talking to anybody come to think of it.

You sometimes have to give people information about how you’re doing. For example, I think it’s reasonable for me to mention my health on here to explain the fact that I have hardly done anything since I started this blog on the first day of this month. And when folks ask me what I have been up to and I say not a lot, well that often warrants an explanation. Trouble is people worry and fuss or else tire of me always giving them bad news. So pretty much every time I speak to anybody I say I am picking up, even though I’m not at all. And then when I still haven’t left the house a week later I have to back-track. This weekend I have been struggling to sound bright and perky for the length of phone calls before returning to the pathetic mumble that comes naturally to me just now.

So on the one hand, I wish people just didn’t know, didn’t ask and didn’t worry when it is obvious that I am doing badly. Then again, just now, I have a strange but overwhelmed wish that someone who send me a get well soon card. Nobody does this when you’re chronically ill. I guess it would be unrealistic to wish me completely well any time soon, but still.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

One of an infinite number of monkeys.

[...] says blogging fulfils an essentially adolescent need to feel that what you have to say is interesting to other people; it’s to do with a lack of confidence as opposed to a genuine need to say something. This may well be true, but it’s very frustrating saying so much, all day long, and have no-one hear and have no idea whether it’s even worth saying. At least with the blog it gets aired. And anyway, in his Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development, Eric Erikson, the father of the identity crisis (he actually chose to call himself that, for goodness sake) defined adolescence as being between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. Thus I have another year for such pursuits, another year for the battle between my search for identity and role confusion to reach its dramatic climax.

A friend once said to me, “You know that theory that if you get an infinite number of monkeys give them an infinite number of type-writers, you’ll eventually get a Shakespearean work? Well, I think the Internet has well and truly disproved that one.” So at the very least, I intend be part of this disproof. Surely it is better the monkeys to express their own thoughts and feelings as opposed to aping (pun intended) the work of a long dead Englishman?

The oddest site I have seen this week (directed to by my nearly-but-not-quite-yet brother-in-law) is - “a real-time on-line home in the Netherlands” including such enthralling information as when the refrigerator was last opened and how long it was opened for. I’m sure this information could be useful. I’m just yet to work out how.

I’m hoping that I will be able to do something exciting to tell you about soon. I could tell you about how the book is going but it's very dull - how it is going, not the work itself which is okay so far as I can tell. Managed to feature a knife with a berated blade as opposed to a serated blade and I managed to use the word "buttocks" at a moment of tension (in summary there was someone in the cellar, the power had gone from the house so we're in total darkness, our heroine slid down the stairs landing on her buttocks - unfortunately even in this completely reasonable context the word sends me into hysterics).

Maybe next week I'll get out of the house. I haven’t fainted in a few days but I have forgotten to make another doctor’s appointment. If the weekend goes all right I will wait for my normal GP to return; he is very groovy, gives me eye-contact, rides a motorbike, says that medicine is more an art than a science, is training to climb Everest and once complemented me on my jeans. I presume he meant jeans with a j not genes with a g, although he also once carelessly said that there would be nothing wrong with me if I wasn’t so seriously ill. That wasn’t very helpful.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Random thoughts on illness, disability and unemployment.

On the recommendation of a friend, I recently joined an on-line support group for people with my condition. I used to belong to these things but haven’t for a while and was rather shocked when nearly the first message I read began “Hello fellow sufferers,”. I had forgotten about being a sufferer. Over the last year I have finally embraced the idea of being disabled and thus not having to suffer any more. I am no longer housebound because I have an electric wheelchair. My unemployment is no longer demoralising or embarrassing because I’m writing my book. Whilst others on the support group talk about treatments potentially giving them their lives back, I already have a life. The whole shebang would be a damn site easier if I was able bodied and healthy, if I had energy and money to spare, but it’s all right like this; life is good.

People say your health is the most important thing, but is it, really? I mean, it is precious; I greatly value the parts of me that work and I wouldn’t risk damaging myself further with excess or drugs, even the cannabis which about two thirds of my unwell friends reckon to be the dog’s dumplings for pain relief. And if you had to be entirely self-sufficient, bad health would mean that you didn’t survive. But we’re social animals; we support one another through a variety of crises and bad health or disability shouldn’t be a default obstacle to survival, prosperity and the ability to contribute to the lives of others. If we had to be entirely self-sufficient, procreation would be impossible.

Unfortunately, in our present society, we are expected to be largely self-sufficient and each individual is valued in financial terms, so that disabled people who can’t work, or disabled people whom it would be very costly to employ are without value and nobody wants to support us. Even people close to me have commented “Some of us have to work” as if unemployment, relative poverty and the constant scrutiny of fraud-obsessed agencies is a privilege. They imagine that we live an easy life on £74 a week, less than the legal minimum for a sixteen hour a week part time job. The vast majority of those incapacitated for work are over 50, so this usually comes after years of hard work and paying taxes.

To add insult to injury the government and media rhetoric implies that some of us have chosen this path. We get letters stating “Some disabled people actually want to work” as if some of us do and some of us are quite happy to stay home and catch every episode of Countdown. The rules surrounding incapacity are currently inflexible; you must either work and earn enough to eat off your own back or else do nothing. Most of us cannot work and earn enough to eat off our own frail backs, so we must do nothing. The newspapers describe malingerers and the “work shy” even though the BMA insist that the system would be difficult to defraud.

Then there’s the fact that many people have disabilities which should not actually prevent them from working, but employers are not prepared to take them on. The idea that a disabled person is a social and financial burden sustains even when that person is a PhD.

Folks’ attitudes continue to disable people far more profoundly that any medical problem. I guess that includes the attitudes of those with disabilities and health problems as well as society at large.

Sorry, I did have a deeply profound and meaningful point to make but I’m not really with it today. ;-)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Top Three Best Bad Movies

3. Dark Star
“Don’t give me any of that intelligent life crap – find me something I can blow up!”

Considering that this was directed by John Carpenter (The Fog, The Thing) and co-written and starring Dan O’Kannon (who wrote the script for Alien), this is a bit of a surprise. Four mismatched astronauts are floating many light-years from Earth, mostly idling around the ship, getting increasingly irritated by one another and occasionally nuking unstable planets. Unfortunately, current DVD production is pretty poor; the sound and picture quality hasn’t been cleaned up at all, so it may be worth waiting for this to be done.

Highlights include;
  • The cheapest alien you ever saw; it’s a beach ball. It’s just a beach ball with a bit of paint on it.
  • A man trapped in an active lift-shaft. Not only is there nobody using the lift as everyone’s accounted for but this lift shaft has no doors in it.
  • An atomic bomb undergoing an existential crisis.

2. Plan 9 from Outer Space
“Future events such as these will affect you in the future.”

Plan 9 from Outer Space comes top of a number of polls of the worst films ever made, but undeservedly so. Having gained its title because the Baptist sponsors considered “Grave-robbers from Outer Space” a little problematic (the entire cast and crew had to be baptised in order to gain funding), Plan 9 is a plan whereby the aliens, frustrated by their failure to get the Earth’s attention, decide to start resurrecting the dead - come on, their logic is undeniable. Director Edward D. Wood Jnr (subject of Tim Burton’s bio-pic Ed Wood) was doing a bit of resurrecting himself, mixing random silent footage of the great but by then deceased Bela Lugosi with footage of his, somewhat taller, chiropractor with a cape held over his face.

Highlights include;
  • A graveyard with extremely wobbling gravestones.
  • Iconic flying saucers over the Hollywood hills.
  • A peace-loving alien with far superior intelligence throwing a tantrum.

1. Tongan Ninja
“That fish looks just like the one that ate my father.”

I am on a personal mission to make this New Zealand based Martial Arts spoof a cult classic. I honestly can’t remember having laughed so constantly throughout any film, although I expect some of you may sit through it straight-faced. Tongan Ninja is sent from his home on some South Pacific island to New Zealand in order to protect Uncle Lee’s restaurant from being shut down by the So-Called Syndicate. A number of assassins are sent to prevent him including the appropriately named Knife Boy, Gun Man and finally his boyhood enemy, Action Fighter.

Highlights include;
  • Some of the worst CGI effects ever put on general release.
  • Parodies of Crouching Tiger, the Matrix and every Jackie Chan film ever made.
  • The climatic fight on The Patio of Death – an impressive open-air temple-like structure with writing carved into the stone, something like In memory of those who gave their lives, 1940-45

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Moan moan, whinge whinge and Happy New Year

I’m really struggling with the pain just now. It is with me all the time and when I’m asleep I have dreams about being crushed by landslides, vehicles and those ceilings that come gradually down on folks in horror movies (without the spikes – so it could be worse). You can do quite a lot to control pain if you can relax and concentrate in the same way that you can consciously control your heartbeat; you never make it go away (the pain I mean, although stopping your heart by conscious thought would be a neat trick) but you can significantly reduce its impact. And then of course, if you can engross yourself in some activity such as writing your blog, that can help. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly small percentage of the day that I am able to concentrate or engross myself in anything just now.

Plus I’m getting miserable about not being able to get out. Tonight was another event I was looking forward to that I’m not going to be able to go to. I imagine that all my friends will soon have forgotten who I am. The power on my electric wheelchair batteries will have run down to nothing over the period of time I haven’t used them. And I haven’t been able to have a bath since the weekend so I stink.

On a lighter note, it’s Chinese New Year’s Eve today (although we’d forgotten about this and so have no Chinese food in). This next year is the year of the Rooster. Especially for you, I read about what the Year of the Rooster might hold for us, but it was all very vague. I’m hoping it will be a good one for you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Goldfish Facts #2

It’s Tuesday, it’s some time in the early hours of the morning, it’s time for Goldfish Facts! [...] made a point about my previous facts, which included the assertion that Jaws was the most popular name for a goldfish. Despite their sharp appreciation of irony, most goldfish have never even seen the film Jaws. In my experience, they prefer romantic comedies, in particular Richard Curtis movies about the charming if hapless lives of the British upper-middle-classes. Thus, they are much more likely to christen their offspring Sebastian or Henrietta. So my facts could have been wrong. And it may not be the last time.

So then, this week's three exciting, enlightening and perhaps, since it rhymes, frightening facts about everybody's favourite water-dwelling yellow-metal-coloured organism;
  • In 1999 a Heron dropped a live goldfish down the chimney of a London family. The fish survived. There’s got to a punch-line to this one but I haven’t thought of it yet.
  • Goldfish are thought to be (only thought, mind you) the most popular pet in the world. More popular than cats and dogs. I don’t find this surprising at all. Goldfish may not be able to fetch your slippers or purr when you stroke them, but they never bring wounded birds into the house and they scare the bejesus out of potential burglars. This is because of the direct link between anti-social and criminal behaviour and an irrational fear of having one's eyeballs sucked out by a goldfish. Honestly, I read a study all about it.
  • And finally, a semi-fact. All over the Internet I find reports about the existence of a breed called the Chinese Lettered Goldfish; goldfish with Chinese characters on them, something apparently achieved by many years of cross-breeding. However, my subsequent research has concluded that there is no such thing and worse, nobody’s even bothered to doctor a jpeg of a normal goldfish in order to persuade me otherwise. I suppose will have to do it myself.
Having slept so much today I now can't sleep. I have been researching Pre-Raphaelite pictures and all sorts of useless nonsense. Now I will try and write something brilliant and then try going back to bed.

Monday, February 07, 2005

My day out

(Well about half an hour).

Today I went to the doctor’s, which was very exciting. Well, not really. I had to see another doctor as my GP is away for a fortnight (having had six weeks off between November and December, but he is a nice chap so I don’t mind too much). This new doctor today was incredible. I have never held a ten minute conversation with someone in the same room as me without making eye-contact once, let alone a doctor. Most of the time I was talking, i.e describing my new and unusual health problem, she was tapping merrily away on her computer, presumably looking at my notes and making new ones. I know I am being over-sensitive about this, but some of the stuff I was telling her was pretty sensitive. She said I was extremely pale (whatever that may imply) and I almost asked, “How would you know? You haven’t looked at me yet.”

Finally I got sent for blood tests and these were really cool as they’ve got news sorts of syringes. I had a period a few years ago when I had about a dozen blood tests within the space of a few months and I grew to dread these things; every time it seemed to hurt more - not a scratch not a prick but a stab in the arm sometimes - and I was growing increasingly squeamish. But this one was painless. I mean really. I could have just been lucky, but now they’re extracting blood in a different way. The viles contain a vacuum, so all that happens is the nurse sticks a needle in (the needle with a plastic cone thing to hold onto) and attaches the vile to the needle. And the vile sucks your blood out; no pushing and pulling and the nurse no longer risks contact with the blood. And you can detach and reattach the viles one by one until you’ve got all the samples you need (and I’m even paler than I was when the doctor saw me).

Sorry, this stuff fascinates me; new ways of doing stuff. And frankly, this was the highlight of my day which I have otherwise spent (a) asleep or (b) half asleep. Oh and there was a nun in the waiting room, tapping her foot along to Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene, which is not something you see every day. I guess Oxygene was an appropriate tune to play in the doctor's waiting room. The next track was the Harry Lime Theme (the balalaika music from The Third Man). Odd kind of compilation.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Matrix Reviewed

Yesterday we had the Matrix Marathon where our friend H, [...], Klutz, Schmuck and I watched all three Matrix films back to back. So, since I told you I was going to do this, I guess I ought to tell you what I thought. Naturally my comments don't reflect the opinion of the fish, who have an entirely different perspective on filmmaking and the arts in general.

The Matrix.

The first Matrix is a fantastic film and if you haven’t seen it – or if you didn’t follow it the first and only time you did, then it is well worth watching. A rather isolated young hacker who goes by the name of Neo finds himself subject to mysterious warnings from an unknown group of people and is told “The Matrix has you,” before suddenly being taken into custody by three very suspect “agents” who might have been general understudies in Reservoir Dogs. Then things start to go weird. Really weird.

To cut a long story short, we’re actually in the future, where machines have taken over and human beings are unknowingly trapped in a virtual world (the Matrix) created to occupy them whilst the machines use their electrical activity and body heat for energy. Neo is woken into the real world, into the future and taken on board a hovercraft which is floating around what used to be the sewers of cities. He has been chosen because he is “The One” who, it has been prophesied, will become the saviour of the human race. But first of all he has to learn Kung Fu…

It is a very well-made film. Keanu “no way dude” Reeves is in a safe role moving fairly smoothly from nervous bewilderment to messianic confidence and the strength of Lawrence Fishburne as his mentor Morpheus and Carrie Ann Moss as Trinity, the hovercraft’s second in command, carry him seamlessly through. There are no duff performances in this film, everybody is superb. And despite some old school ideas about machines taking over, a few careless lines which become amusing the second or third time watching, there are few Hollywood clichés or stereotypes. Lots of leather, PVC and computer nerds becoming heroes.

Matrix has bucket loads of style but barrel loads of substance. Anyone who has even dipped their toes into philosophy will be familiar with some of the ideas of George Berkeley, an Anglican Bishop writing during the first half of the eighteenth century. You may not know they were Berkeley’s ideas, but he proposed a doctrine of monism, the idea that reality is mental and the physical world is a construct derived from mental experience. Many centuries earlier a Taoist philosopher, Zhuang Zhou touched on this in a way which is far more poetical and thus perhaps easier to understand.

Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly but when he woke up he knew he was himself, a human being, again. However, he then began to wonder; how did he know that it his experiences of being a butterfly were the stuff of dreams? Perhaps his life as a man was the dream and he was merely yet to wake up.

In other words, how do we know what is real and indeed if any of this is real? A certain contemporary of Berkeley (whose name escapes me) kicked a large rock and declared, “I have refuted Berkeley!” but as was pointed out, seeing the rock, moving one’s foot towards it and resultant painful sensation are all mental qualia. And these days, more than ever before, we can theoretically reduce human experience to a muddle of chemical and electrical activity. Whilst in Berkeley’s time you could see a ghost and well, you had seen a ghost. Today if you saw the spectre of a long dead relative cross the room you would first question the amount of alcohol and other drugs in your system, how much sleep you had had and maybe even take yourself off for a CT scan before you began to contemplate the reality of your experience.

Anyway, the Matrix presents an excellent illustration of Berkeley’s argument, using popular science-fiction ideas about artificial intelligence and virtual reality, before moving on onto the question of what makes us human: the difference between us and the machines.

The Matrix is plastered with symbolism, from references to children’s cartoons and TV shows through to Greek mythology, nihilist philosophy and of course the central reluctant messiah story (Neo is Frodo in Lord of The Rings, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars). Some of this is quietly amusing; some of it helps us along, such as the several references to Alice in Wonderland, a story we’re all fairly familiar with. But some the stuff you can find on trivia sites boggles the mind.

The Matrix Reloaded.

The second film focuses on the nature of choice, whether we have any or whether everything that happens is inevitable. I guess such inevitability could be driven along either by the Fates or some divine scheme or other, or by the pre-programmed nature of human beings, determined by our genes and conditioning. However, it all becomes rather messy and as if aware of the weaknesses in the plot, the filmmakers chose to distract us with not one but three romantic subplots, a lengthy yet compelling car chase, ghosts, vampires, funky futuristic machinery, “upgrades” for the agents and some notable developments in Neo’s power to bend the rules of the Matrix. You meet lots of new characters, mostly clichés like the French Hades character (this was 2003), the martial arts performing East Asian body-guard to the Oracle (she didn’t need anyone on the door in the first film, but now she does) and the young rookie enamoured with Neo and itching to fight for the cause.

Unfortunately, none of this is very satisfactory. Neo, our hero, is now like Superman on speed and his adversaries become far more extreme, including one chap who multiplies himself so that Neo is taking on twenty of the guy all at once. Impressive FX, but there’s no suspense there, you can’t guess whose winning because the rules have been stretched twisted beyond recognition. Although you route for lovers Neo and Trinity, when she dies and is brought magically back to life, you feel somewhat emotionally cheated.

It is rather as if they attempted to imitate the move from Ridley Scott’s Alien to James Cameron’s Aliens; from focusing a group of independent civilians coming to a realisation and facing an enemy against the odds to a group of soldiers at war against that enemy, learning more about it as they went along. Aliens was louder, more violent, more melodramatic and far more commercially-minded than Alien, but the sequel worked very well.

Matrix Reloaded tries to up scale in a very similar way, but at the same time as dealing with the subtle complexities of human consciousness, choice and destiny, as opposed to straight-forward scary monsters. We begin to explore the idea of computer programmes having consciousness and thus having the choice to rebel and break away from the system in which they were designed to operate. That’s a fairly big idea, as far I as I can see, but it gets totally lost.

You get to the end of the film unsure of any of the parameters established in the first film, but not in a intriguing, cliff-hanger sense. You are back to Berkeley’s question, “How do we know if any of this is real?” and reach the point in philosophy where most people give up. If the Matrix is not real, and various characters we trusted are not as they seem, if we no longer understand what is inevitable and what we have control of and then the rules in the real world begin to bend, well what’s the point in watching the last film? You half expected the filmmakers to jack it in at the end and for Neo to wake up in his bedsit saying, “Wow dude, what a bodacious dream!”

The Matrix Revolutions

This is a very difficult film to discuss without spoilers. I am therefore not going to try; if you don’t want to know, don’t read on, but in summary, I wouldn’t recommend this film.

Well, it all gets a little crazy from here on in. Basically, the machines are attacking Zion, the last human city built deep down inside the Earth. Meanwhile, Neo decides to pop off to the machine city for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, perhaps not even himself. The Christian vein comes to the fore with an obvious and somewhat insane anti-Christ figure and well, we all know what a messiah has to do in order to save the human race.

The mistakes of the second film in terms of spectacular yet profoundly unexciting special effects sequences are repeated ad tedium. Elongated, noisy scenes in which one lot of machines try to fight off another lot of machines was a bit like watching the screen while someone else plays Space Invaders – except you have no experience of Space Invaders and have no idea how much skill or otherwise is involved. It gets gorier but without any recognisable context; Neo is blinded by burns but doesn’t such a pass out from the pain and shock. Trinity winds up with several metal spikes through her chest and abdomen but manages to hold a coherent conversation for some minutes before her peaceful death.

And then at the end you don’t know why good was victorious over bad. You don’t really know what clinched it, only that it was something to do with choice; choice being what makes us human. But then I’m confused about this in the same way as I am confused about the Christ story. Jesus martyred himself because he refused to stop preaching what he believed. This required tremendous courage, faith and love, but he wasn’t the first or last. Something about his death means that some people believe that in dying, he took the sins of the world on his shoulders and saved us all. The trouble is, that to a non-Christian, how exactly this was achieved is a mystery; I guess you just have to believe that’s what happened.

Unfortunately, the conclusion to the Matrix Trilogy was much the same; Neo was special, Neo made a choice, sacrificed his life and you’re not sure how, but that’s how his adversary was defeated and the human race was saved. Christianity has the advantage of thousands of years, millions of followers and libraries full of discussion on these issues. This film does not.

I think I will have to watch this one again because it really did seem that poor and was somewhat of a disappointment at the end of the evening.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Synaesthesia Explained

I don’t think I’ll have a chance to post tomorrow as we are going for a Matrix Marathon; our friend H, [...] and I are going to watch all three Matrix films back to back... I shall reserve judgement and review this experience at the weekend. Anyway, in between my numerous and various preparatory jobs I thought I ought to explain synaesthesia since I made a reference.

Synaesthesia is where people experience one sensations or abstract concept as a different sort of sensation or abstract concept. People may ‘taste’ sounds, they may ‘see’ numbers as colours and so on. Everybody experiences something of this to some extent. An excellent illustrative example was given in one of the Reith Lectures 2003 about the evolutionary development of language. Apparently the experiment usually uses pictures and I am doing this from a two year old memory but here we go.

There are two aliens from far across the galaxy. One is a very spikey, angular shape with several legs and the other is a soft very round globular thing that just bounces along when it travels. One is called a boolub and one is called a kiki. Which is the boolub and which is the kiki?

Exactly, that’s what everyone says. Of course it is. The way a word sounds shouldn’t logically bare any relation to what shape a thing is, what it might look and feel like. But we automatically make these associations. We say that cheese, which we taste is sharp (sensation) or mellow (sound), that an item of clothing is loud, that Johnny Depp is tasty when very few of us have had the opportunity to test this assertion and so on. Wherever you are in the world, your first word was most likely "mamma", whether it later turned into mom, mummy, maman, mutter, madre etc. Mamma is a lovely, soft and warm word. Which is probably why we call mammaries mammaries.

Like I said, the same applies to abstract concepts like numbers – apparently people who see numbers as colours can be totally flummuxed when numbers are coloured in ways which don’t correspond to their colour scheme, as it were. So if a 3 is usually coloured red in their mind and they see it coloured yellow, which is the colour that belongs to a 4, they may well square it to make 16 as opposed to 9. Do you follow? Good. I find this a fascinating idea. I am fascinated the way different individuals process abstract information. Neuropsychology is my back-up plan if the book doesn’t work out.

Personally, I always think about time as a shape, a three dimensional shape around me with curves and dips and bends which are difficult to describe, a path more than a passage, but one that necessarily follows the rules of gravity. I see this path both ahead and behind me, but the units of time aren’t regular distances; some hours and days pass significantly quicker and less notably than others. And I think like a lot of people, I colour people. Not so much people I know well who change colour with my feelings towards them, but for example my doctor is green, my neighbour is orange, the taxi driver I used most often is grey (not a bad grey, a kind of dove grey) and so on.

And I feel music. I thought everybody did, but I have recently realised that some people may only hear it in their heads. When I listen to it loudly and concentrate on the music I have real physical sensations all over my body, mostly in my chest and abdomen. These sensations relate to instruments or voices. For example, in my All Time Top Twenty Personal Pick of the Pops, I sited Neil Finn as having a voice which I feel in my kidneys. Tenor voices and sounds tend to be in this area, round my sides, towards my back (which I guess is an erogenous zone and these are the voices I like best). Bass voices and sounds and most drums are in my spine, from in the middle of my back down to my pelvic floor. Soprano and alta voices and sounds tend to be round the front, flutes and violins being high in my chest. Kate Bush flitters around my shoulders and the highest note in The Lark Ascending comes about half way up my throat. These sensations are usually neutral, but rhythms and patterns make them pleasant and I go in another room when [...] puts on his Alien Sex Fiend records.

This is not a particularly useful gift and it hasn’t made me particularly good at music. But it is very good for me because I haven’t got a lot to thank my physical make-up for and my body spends most of its time complaining at me, restricting my freedom and generally malfunctioning. And it means I really really enjoy music. I mean
really which is what I was talking about in reference to the first 16 bars of Voodoo Child. So now you understand.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

My All Time Top Twenty Pick of the Personal Pops!

Today, despite the pain waking me up early, I am feeling much brighter. Thus I have wasted half my morning compiling this.

Naturally it was a rather silly, if not indeed infantile exercise and the order and indeed presence of some of these tunes in my countdown will have changed within the year. I also gave myself the rule that I couldn’t have the same band or artist twice. But it was fun anyway. Now I will have a rest and get on with some work.

20. Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones

19. Mr Brownstone – Guns’n’Roses

18. Am I right? - Erasure

17. If it makes you happy – Cheryl Crow

16. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys

15. The day we caught the train – Ocean Colour Scene

14. Don’t stop me now - Queen

13. Skyline pigeon – Elton John

12. I heard it through the grapevine – Marvin Gaye

11. The Zephyr Song – Red Hot Chili Peppers

10. Creep – Radiohead
I’m a creep/ I’m a weirdo/ What the @&*! am I doing here?/ I don’t belong here.

The thing is about Radiohead is that they write extremely miserable songs very well. To have such a chorus without sounding either very funny or completely naff is a momentous achievement, let alone for them to sound heart-felt and moving. And well, it was my song from ages twelve through to fourteen. Issues to do with my sexuality and wot-not. More my wot-not than anything else, to be honest.

9. Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie
He took it all too far/ But boy, could he play guitar.

I often have a conversation with folks about whose version was better; Bowie or Bauhaus. I just don’t get it when they say Bowie’s version was tame and understated. You can hear it. You can hear Ziggy’s full talent on his guitar and you can hear the words. And it is played with feeling. And it rocks harder for the simplicity of it's orchestration.

8. These Arms of Mine – Otis Redding
And if you would let them hold you/ Lord knows how grateful I will be.

I should hate this song. I love Otis Redding, but this is in a cheesy 6/8 tempo with that ding-diddling-ding-diddling accompaniment and the most banal lyric there is, including the line "Just be my little woman" which makes my fish cringe. However, the King of the Memphis Sound manages to pull it off somehow, revealing the full texture and passion in his voice. When he sang this song, he meant it. Even if just for those two minutes and thirty-three seconds, he meant it with all his heart and soul.

7. Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin
When all is one and one is all/ To be a rock and not a roll.

Stairway to Heaven, recently voted the greatest rock song ever recorded. I don’t really have to justify myself on this one, do I? And I can play the entire acoustic part myself.

6. Losing my Religion – REM
Oh no I’ve said too much/ I haven’t said enough.

You can’t beat REM. Losing my Religion is a great song about unrequited, perhaps unacknowledged love and the tension this causes between people. This is very moving to me, especially in A minor and especially with that tiny mandolin tickling one's emotions throughout.

5. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Well I stand up next to a mountain/ I knock it down with the edge of my hand.

It is impossible to describe the physiological effect that this song, particularly the first sixteen bars, has on me without sounding completely bananas. I shall maybe elaborate this point and describe a condition called synaesthesia at some point in the near future.

4. Hard Headed Woman – Cat Stevens
I know many fine feather friends/ But their friendliness depends/ On how you do.

I love Cat Stevens and although it has very hot competition, this is probably my favourite. I don’t know why. It’s really very simple. I think it’s the variations in the timbre that do it for me.

3. Distant Sun – Crowded House
I don’t pretend to know what you want/ But I offer love.

I wish I could write a song like this. I wish I could write a line like that one. This is hard work, trying to express what it is I love about these songs. Very tight lyric, simple accompaniment, nice harmony. Neil Finn has a voice which I feel in my kidneys and Crowded House were one of the most underrated bands of the Twentieth Century. At least they were here in the UK. In NZ they were apparently bigger than The Beatles. Talking of which...

2. Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
Here comes the sun and I say/ It’s all right.

This song is my favourite song from what is probably my favourite album and in fact the very first album I ever bought, Abbey Road (maybe an odd choice for a teenager in the mid-nineties, but hey). They are a certain wave patterns created in this song which go straight through your ear drums and into the hypothalamus, causing the release of vast quantities of seratonin and making you feel a whole heap better than you did a minute earlier. At least that’s the effect it has on me. And as you may have ascertained, I’m not exactly into the upbeat.

1. The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel.
All lies in jest/ Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

I can’t remember a time when I did not know all the words to The Boxer. I knew it like a nursery rhyme and imagine that if I developed Alzheimers or something that lyric would remain accessible longer than most aspects of my personality and life experience. For this reason, it is really very difficult to say why I love it so much. The lyric is just perfect tight poetry. It’s a very simple repetitive melody with really basic harmonies. I don’t know. It’s just perfect.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Great Links Part 1

Three sites I go to when I need cheering up;

The Nth Degree is a US-based disability culture website with attitude. My favourite area is the Catalogue which includes some great humourous T-shirts for crips.

Subversive Crossstitch (contains strong language) I found completely by accident but totally love it and the story behind it. Ever since I have been a duffer, folks have tried to get me into cross-stitch but have so far failed. Maybe I need one of these kits. I consider the funniest site on the web. It is full of mistranslations from Japanese to English on packaging, signs, clothing etc. I don't know why linguistic mistakes crack me up so, but they do. I can look at these pictures for hours with tears running down my face, but from experience I know that a lot of people don't really get the joke.

Then a lot of people wouldn't see anything funny in the fact that Powergen's Italian website was originally - I guess I've just got arrested development of the funny bone or something.

What do I do? Part 2 : Musical Interludes

With my remaining time and energy after writing, I play the guitar badly. So far I can play almost everything by Cat Stevens, only at about half the speed the great man played them at. Way hey! Here I can say something political and thus become initiated as a true blogger.

It is my firm and forthright belief that Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, formerly known as Stephen Demetre Georgiou (let’s face it, none of his names made a whole heap of sense) is no terrorist. Anybody who sang that kind of chilled-out peace-loving tree-hugging up-lifting music in his twenties, i.e in that period of his when a young man is most likely to take against the world and pin his name to unworthy causes, has got to be floating several feet above the pavement by the time he reaches his mid fifties. He runs a children’s charity. As I write, he’s in Indonesia helping with the Tsunami disaster relief. Okay, he has got a beard and that is hard for a lot of people to take. Many folks struggle to understand people who wear beards, their customs and culture. And to be fair, some bearded people do become isolated and out of touch with modern shaving products, causing tension between the communities of bearded and bare-chinned people. But we have nothing to fear from them. And there’s no need to arrest a frankly saintly figure going about his own business, travelling with his family. All right? Good. I’m glad that one’s cleared up.

So where was I? Oh yes. I play the guitar and write songs. Mostly about my fish. For example, I love my Fish, Father and Fish and Hard-Headed Fish. Seriously though (well not, very) I have always been heavily into music, writing songs and failing to play any musical instruments particularly well. In my youth I was in a few bands, such as
  • The Curly Cucumbers (me and my sister – we argued a lot but produced one song which began with the line “Looking at the colours on the insides of my eyelids; it’s very dark.”)
  • IDL (me and two friends who had these initials – we spent an afternoon deciding on the name but then they simultaneously decided the leave the band the following week. Fans were devastated.)
  • Out of Order (me and three entirely different friends who discussed our mission with a passion, approved of my album cover design and actually had band practice. We lasted almost six weeks).

I naturally listen to a great deal of music. All sorts really, except for all this easy listening jazz-lite that seems so fashionable of late. It seems that now the only people apart from me buying albums in compact disc format are the over-fifties so it’s all Eva Cassidy, Norah Jones and Jamie Cullum, who has to call his album Twentysomething in order to hammer home the idea that he is the same age of his fan’s children and althoug it’s as dull as ditch-water he is terribly sweet? I really don’t mean to make agist remarks (after already stirring up a hornet’s nest of controversy with my comments about Yusuf Islam) but why is it that the generation who grew up with the Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Bowie are now listening to this pap? I guess it’s for the same reason that the children of the revolution are running the country like some right-wing totalitarian state. Sigh. Hopefully us children of Thatcher, those for whom the biggest musical sensation of our youth was Take That, will have a similar transformation and wind up with liberal humanitarian ideals and some decent taste in music by the time we reach middle age.

Well, see, there I am getting worked up again. Sorry folks, I don’t despise Jamie Cullum or the artists of his fraternity, but just as everyone is entitled to their tastes, I guess each of us is entitled to despair at the tastes of others. So what do I actually listen to?

I have somewhat diverse yet basically rather populist tastes when it comes to classical music. I love anything by Rodrigo (Spanish geezer, classical guitars – his most famous and my most favourite work being Concerto D’Aranjuez), Vaughan Williams (very English, The Lark Ascending is his best piece but most people know his arrangement of Greensleeves), Orff (odd dark choral works, famously Carmina Burana which sounds like the music from The Omen but isn’t) and folks like Bach, Handel and Beethoven which you all know. Then random pieces of music by people I know nothing more of like Pacobel’s Canon for Strings in D Minor and Pucini’s Senza Mamma from an opera called Suor Angelica. I don’t know any more Pacobel or Pucini, but that’s because I’m lazy about classical music (chances are it won’t have moved on too far within six months) and unless I love it enough to sit listening to it, this stuff flows over my head and I find myself thinking about something else entirely.

As for popular music, I will have to compile my All Time Top Ten Personal Pick Of The Pops…. Coming soon on Diary of a Goldfish!!! (but I really ought to do some work before messing about some more with this silly blog).

The agonies of my art

The hardest thing about writing novels is the isolation. You write tens of thousands of words, your own words about your own chosen subject matter without anyone else having taken a peak. You have no idea whether you are producing the first great novel of the twenty-first century or a pile of poo. My first draft was rubbish, I know that for sure, but Earnest Hemingway said that all first drafts are shit (his words, not mine) and he should know. However, when I’m exhausted and the work is hard-going, this uncertainty creeps around me like a demoralising mist. And I find myself writing similes like that… Seriously though, you need to keep lying to yourself about the worthiness of your goal in order to carry on. Learning If by Rudyard Kipling off by heart and reciting it in the mirror (preferably whilst wearing a false moustache, a flat tweed cap and putting on a Lancashire accent) is also of some value.

The second worst thing is that people don’t take you seriously. Especially when you’re ill. For one thing, if your genuinely incapacitated for work, folks don’t expect you to do anything much with the energy you do have except watch daytime television and perhaps take up cross-stitch if you’re really plucky. Another issue is that folks assume you must write in order to vent your pain and frustration. One friend, excusing himself for some careless remark or other, said he had thought I was writing the novel as a therapeutic exercise, which presumed
not only that I had some psychological baggage I needed to exercise but that writing about violence and death was the way of getting it out of my system. I spent the following weeks devising an excruciating yet brilliantly simple way in which I could dispose of this so-called pal, this snake, this pseudo-chum, without anybody ever suspecting me… Ha ha ha ha ha!

What do I do? Part 1 : Novel ambitions.

So you must be thinking, apart from watching the activities of their pet fish, what does this mysterious and deeply fascinating blogger do with their time?

Well, I am a struggling novelist. I am quite serious about this; it is what I do with most of my time and energy, so please don’t snigger. I am trying to finish the third draft of my first novel. I have written tens of thousands of words, including “soliloquy” the best word in the entire Oxford English Dictionary. But in case you hadn’t gathered, I am not gifted with a lavish or literary style. I only use “soliloquy” once and even then with caution. It’s not really that type of novel.

I guess one would describe what I’m writing as a psychological thriller. It has gothic moments and quite a lot of violence. No fish at all. Not one. Not even a lobster. Not one, single, god-forsaken lobster, okay? Just so you’ve all got that clear in your minds. I wouldn’t want any confusion on that issue.

I have been writing this book for almost two years now. The thing that allows me to do this is also the thing which makes it such a long hard slog. I am incapacitated for work, which means that I have the security of a roof over my head and enough to eat without having to worry about going out to work in the morning. Unfortunately the health problems that stop me working a proper job also stop me working on my book at anything like the pace I would like to. I have great swathes of time in bed, totally fogged out and in too much pain to concentrate. So it trickles out onto my laptop and those who would underestimate me doubt I’ll ever finish it. From time to time I count myself amongst them.

I expect I will go on and on about writing and what hard work it is as I continue to blog, but I’ll leave you for the time being and go to bed.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I begin to keep a blog

My not-quite-but-nearly brother-in-law suggested that I keep a blog. For some reason I have entitled it Diary of a Goldfish. This is because I have embarked on this on impulse and couldn’t think of anything better to put. Yes my friends, the first shattering revelation of this particular blog is that I am not in fact a goldfish. However, in case you have come across this site hoping for some goldfish related information I shall do my best to provide three exciting goldfish facts every Tuesday.

Goldfish Facts 1st February 2005
  • The longest living captive goldfish, was won at a fairground in 1956 and passed peacefully to the next life in his tank in 1999, aged 43. His name was Tish. If you are wondering how a goldfish may have a less than peaceful death, I shall tell you a story about that later.
  • A pregnant goldfish is called a twit. I don’t know why. In fact I can’t back this up at all but I read it somewhere on-line so it has at least a 28% chance of being correct when c = x (y - л²), at least according to my calculations.
  • The most common name for goldfish is Jaws. Goldfish are renowned for their astute appreciation of irony, despite having very little intelligence and a famously poor memory. They don't remember the jokes, but by golly, they do have a great sense of humour.
Although I am not a goldfish I do have two black moor fish as pets - or captives, perhaps, as the elderly Tish was described as a captive, wasn't he? I think I prefer guests; they can come and go as they please as far as I'm concerned. Yes, guests, I'm happy with that.

Black moors are the ones that are the same size and shape as your common-or-garden goldfish, but they are black in colour and have goggly eyes which protrude either side of their heads. My particular piscine guests are called Klutz and Schmuck. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure which is which, but following their recent move to a lovely new three foot tank it is become evident that one is male and one is female and they seem to have worked out which is which between themselves, even if I remain confused.

My dinner is almost ready, but do come again soon to read the next exciting instalment. What will happen next? Will Klutz eat the fish food? Will Schmuck pick up a stone in his or her mouth and then spit it out again? Find out tomorrow in Diary of a Goldfish!!!