Friday, 30 September 2011

A Word From My Doctor...

You want something for the weekend? Try this...

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Through A Glass Darkly...

I can't believe I'm quoting the Bible again but hey, you know I'll be out doing the Satanic shit later and as a title it seems apt for what I want to say.

I'm struggling to get to grips with XML or Extensible Markup Language, a set of rules for encoding documents in machine-readable form. I have grappled with HTML before and back in the day even fiddled around with Basic. At a certain point yesterday I was struck by a thought - what is the Internet? I tend to think of it as a kind of mesh linking computers but I suddenly realised that this wasn't good enough. What is an IP address? Why does it matter?

From there it was a downward spiral really. Last night I went for a cycle after the kids were in bed. It felt Summery but by the time I was out there it was pretty much dark already. I looked at the blinking stars. Aaaargh! The Universe is vast and I know next to nothing about it!

Then there's the world of finance. I don't understand that either. What seems straightforward to me (tax the Rich - spend money on Teachers and Nurses) is nonsense according to economists.

How do the tides work? It's not the water moving you know, it's the Earth spinning inside a watery layer that is constantly bulging around the middle. And they say the world isn't flat - bloody looks like it though eh?

Now they are saying the theory of Relativity may be wrong. Neutrinos! You were my friends.

I suppose we don't need to know a lot of this stuff. Just take the Apple Mac or the Windows operating system. You can use a computer without knowing much about it. But then what are we missing? Maybe if we did know a bit more about these things and didn't have to rely on other people to interpret the world for us so that we can understand it we could dispense with economists and other high priests altogether.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Apples and Butterflies; Life and Fate

I've had my eye on this wild apple tree for a while.

So I dragged our wobbly stepladder and the mop-bucket along the lane...

...climbed into the tree and scrumped a load.

On my way back a Red Admiral stumbled through the skies and settled nearby.

Apple crumble coming up then...

In other news I have been working my way through the Life and Fate podcasts. It's a cliche but in this case I really would have paid the entire license fee just to have had this experience. Sofya's narration of her journey to Poland with the inevitable ending - "following the lights" - into a gas chamber was devastating. I also found the idea of a baby being born into the midst of the Battle for Stalingrad very moving. Lastly, though I have read books such as Arthur Koestler's Darkness At Noon, I had never fully appreciated the cruel absurdity of the Soviet system until I listened to Krymov (aka David Tennant) being interrogated in the Lubyanka building.

There was an awful intimacy in listening to Life and Fate through headphones. At times I found myself turning at the sound of boots on gravel or flinching at a knock on the door. I lowered the volume down when Krymov was being beaten in case the people sitting opposite me on the train thought I was some kind of sicko. The dramatisation was quite superb and a large book was edited into bite sized pieces with great skill. Well done BBC.

I am soooo glad not to have had to live under a totalitarian regime. I would have lasted about two seconds what with the fatal combination of LarryDavidItis I suffer from AND my complete failure to ever play the political games of life with any degree of success.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A Break In The Clouds?

I haven't written much on here recently. In fact I haven't written much of anything. A mixture of childcare, the end of summer, eight days in the bookshop on the trot and some sort of general apathy has stunted my output. Then a woman came into the bookshop yesterday with an acid-green, badly printed leaftlet about her "happiness" courses. A few hours with her, at a cost to you of £25, and she would help you to become more happy. Well fuck that lady! After reading her leaflet I felt better already.

I'm sitting here at the kitchen table listening to the extraordianry beauty of Richard Strauss's four Last Songs. What are they about? Death. And yet they are profoundly moving and, especially at this time of year, fill me with complete joy. I'm reading The Girl From The Fiction Department, a biography of Sonia Orwell, that is full of tragedy and death. An incredible cast of intellectuals, writers and artists crop up in her life and here are some of their musings on happiness and perfection.

When Mahatma Gandhi claims that , as a good Hindu, he would see his wife and child starve sooner than give them chicken broth Orwell had the following to say:

This attitude is perhaps a noble one, is inhuman. The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco and so forth are things that a saint must avoid, but...Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.

Leiris, writing on the death of Alfred Metraux:

he and his old friend Bataille were among the few who taught me that nothing matters as much as that combination which only a handful of individuals manage to bring off: a fierce love of life joined to a pitiless consciousness of just how derisory that is...He was a wanderer, a man who understood most things but took no pride in it, someone who retained in the depths of his being a grief needing consolation...

Joe Ackerley writing to Sonia passing on a tip from E M Forster:

Many years ago Morgan Forster, trying to guide me through some miserable love affair, wrote to me "But happiness may not be your deepest need." ...He himself is a happy man, he has cultivated his garden. For many of us, at any rate for me, that has not been possible, but why? It is an unanswerable question...I have never been happy, I believe, nor ever can be, I was not equpped for that, though what my "deepest need" was and is I do not know. These are things I never say, but I can say them to you, who understand so well...were it not for one's friends, life would be past bearing indeed.

And finally Francis Bacon:

"All I do is cast my rod into the sewers of despair and see what I come up with this time."

So stick that in your happy pipe and smoke it lady...

Take Roberto Bolano. He roams the world as a poet, drinking and smoking and thinking. Then, seriously ill and close to death from liver disease, he begins to write at a furious rate. Most of his ouvre was produced in the last years of his life when he knew he was dying. I feel he came close to capturing something essential within the net of words he cast into the world in those years, though trying to express exactly what that might be is like searching for the right words to describe anything profoundly beautiful - impossible.

Let's leave these Sunday morning autumnal musings when the sky is blue and the garden out the back window is drenched with slanting light with a little more from Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Writing about Sonia, thinking about himself and the fame that was to come, these words echo back and forth through Time into the life of Roberto Bolano and William Blake and countless other brilliant artists:

the girl from the fiction department...was looking at him...She was very young, he thought, she still expected something from life...She would not accept it as a law of nature that the individual is always defeated...All you needed was luck and cunning and boldness. She did not understand that there was no such thing as happiness, that the only victory lay in the far future, long after you were dead.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


I'm reading a Picador proof of Roberto Bolano's The Third Reich. The literary world seems to be divided between those who think Bolano is one of the most exciting writers ever and those who think he is the most over-rated of recent times.

I love Bolano. He's not hyped. If you think so then I'm sorry but you cannot claim to be literate. Yes, I really did say that. You don't rate Bolano? You suck.

The book is presented as the holiday journal of a German war games enthusiast. Udo is on holiday in Spain with his girlfriend Ingeborg. While she bakes on the beach he works on strategic variants. There are echoes of Michel Houllebecq in a tourism as nightmare/living hell setting but it's really pure Bolanognese - a tasty mix of sex, death, boredom, burns, black dogs and windsurfing accidents. There is also something spooky about the fact that the dates in the diary start on August 20th and finish on October 20th. At present I am reading the entry for September 2nd but I'll soon have caught up with the year. Bolano gives me these reality jolts all the time. Like when you think 2666 is pure fiction then read about this and see the horror is REAL.

Like all the best dead stars Bolano's powers just seem to increase. His death has resulted in the unleashing of an awesome literary force that drags you into a darkness from which nothing, not even light, can escape...