Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.

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September 1, 2016

That Sketchbook Thing…

One good reason to keep sketchbooks, plural, is that the habit allows you to forget whole phases of ideas you were interested in for a while. They remind you of Ideas that ran aground at the time but which might be rescued when you catch them by surprise. There’s always a danger of an idea becoming a ploughed furrow if you work on it too long; very often it can become a trench and you lose sight of other ways to go with it.
I feel I have to clarify that the verb “keeping”. A lot of people just don’t. Keeping sketchbooks around has very little to do with sketchbooks, given the odd bits of office stationery, cheap notebooks, paper napkins, and margins of magazines that count as your sketchbook. And there’s the motley Art Cupboard of pencils, ballpoints, fibre-pens, crayons and whatever’s to hand that have to serve as your media.
Say, for instance, you have a flicker of a pretty simple idea and you don’t have a lot of light, and you’re working on an inside-out cereal packet with a chisel-ended Permanent Marker – it can happen – you learn very quickly the range of line you can coax from a green marker’s facets and figure out how to simplify the idea into the pen-strokes you can make on porous cereal-packet cardboard.
Or the skippy biro that refuses to draw a reliable line but works OK if you treat it like a pastel-crayon: each part of the drawing has to be brushed more than drawn.
That’s keeping a sketchbook: banging down reminders-to-self that’ll make reasonable sense when you find them later.
The great thing about stumbling on past experiments is that you’re less likely to get bogged down in the whatever-it-was that you were trying to capture at the time because you see it afresh: what you got instead of what you wanted. A lot of the possibilities you shaved off to reach the end you wanted can now suggest themselves afresh.
I have exactly this effect with crosswords. Late at night when you’re using the puzzles to club your brain unconscious you find yourself trying to find a way to jam a word you have in mind into a space that just won’t have it. Pick up the grid next day and often there’s one row with a few letters in place that immediately suggests a particular word that will fit and check the clue and find that it’s a coded description of the very word you saw at a glance.

Other people may point out to you that you always seem to be scribbling. Sometimes to be polite they’ll call it ‘sketching’ -‘you’re always sketching, you’- and you have to acknowledge that to many people this is a notably abnormal behaviour. Maybe anormal: not extravagantly extraordinary, but a bit …unusual. More unusual than the office character who’ll be the first to tell you that, ‘you ask anyone, they’ll tell you, I’m a bit mad, me’. (Actually, mention the character who elects to be the office crackpot to anyone else who works there and for some reason they have to take a quick look at the ceiling before agreeing that that is certainly one word for it.
It’s a pretty quiet, harmless eccentricity, so if making notes using pictures is handy for you, you can put it down to having a Primarily Visual Learning Style; then it sounds official.

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March 26, 2016

A Drawing-Day at Nishkam Academy, Birmingham

This year we’ve been using mnemonics to teach spellings. Matthew’s Yr.3 – 7/8 year-olds – make up sentences using the initial letters of that week’s target-words and I have to puzzle out how to illustrate them.
With the last batch from this term, after a day in class drawing and talking about drawing, I took this opportunity to go through some of the thinking that leads up to the finished drawing.

Kick Nocturnal Owls While Sleeping?

Yr.3, it was a pleasure to meet you yesterday in school. Now I understand a bit more about the people who’ve been sending me my weekly picture-puzzle challenges.
Now that you’ve seen who’s drawing the pictures, I thought you might like to think about how your ideas ‘happen’.

Finding The Picture

I’d been saving ‘knows’ until I’d done some of the others in this week’s bunch. As far as I could imagine, a scene for Kick Nocturnal Owls While Sleeping would be a tricky one to draw, so I knew it would take a while to work out.
“Kick Nocturnal Owls While Sleeping”.
OK – first of all, the sentence doesn’t tell you whether The Owls are sleeping or is it a good way to use your time if you’re sleep-walking.
Or are you [or is someone?] sleepwalking so soundly that you/they are now walking along a branch in a tree, about to kick a pair of sleeping owls?
I even thought about making a simple road-sign instructing you to kick any sleeping owls you find on the road.
I think I was put off by the idea of deliberately kicking owls.
The idea that stuck in my mind was that the person doing the kicking should be the one sleeping, so that whoever it was couldn’t really be blamed.
I ruled out the sleepwalking because yes, someone sleep-climbing a tree with some fixed idea that the owls needed a kick could be funny, but it’s a lot to explain in one picture.
So what do we all know about and would recognise? This:-
In the middle of the night we sometimes wake up because our body has decided to do some exercise while we’re asleep. Sometimes it can just be a leg-jerk or a shiver. You come awake like a fish making ripples in a pond and immediately you’re asleep again.
Sometimes you can be in a dream where everything’s simply wonderful and fun, or everything’s just, you know, *horrible*, and you wake up to realise that actually you’re in your usual bed at home.
Sometimes you suddenly remember something you should have done or something you wish you hadn’t. These ‘flashes’ come out of nowhere….like… a… Jack-In-The-Box.

OK, now we have the beginnings of a picture. Someone is reacting to a surprise middle-of-the-night jack-in-the-box Urgent Thought!!!
I know I can draw a real *BOO!* jack-in-the-box to represent the surprise – which could be anything from forgetting his Auntie’s birthday to remembering something he said to someone that was so unkind that now he just feels horribly embarrassed.
Now I have to try to draw the face of someone shocked – his brain hasn’t caught up with the facts yet. To add to the effect I’ve got him slapping his forehead. This is one of the things people do in comics but rarely in real life.
All this makes a very busy side on the right that grabs your eye, and then you follow the line of the hammock around to the owls on the other end.
I can think of some spooky images where someone awakes to find owls in their bedroom but I preferred the idea of someone on a camping holiday. That’s why there’s a rucksack in the corner and the light comes from a camping-lamp.

The way the picture develops

You’ll know by now that I usually start with a pencil-sketch of the bits I’ll need and where they need to be. In this one, it took ages to get the right expression and a good angle for the elbows, so that part of the drawing was very grey and fuzzy.
The first image is scanned in exactly as it looked after I’d inked over the pencil. You can see how mucky it looks with all that smudgy pencil still showing.
The second stage is a scan of the drawing after I’ve erased as much of the pencil-smudge as possible with my trusty putty-rubber (remember that grey lump you thought was Blu-Tak?). Then I can adjust the black/white contrast to clean it up ready for:-
Stage Three: Now I can clean up any details I need to bring out.
For this one I spent more time than usual on the right of the scene to give it a bit more Bang! Boom! I was looking for any opportunity to make lines ‘exploding’ out of the shocked face and the jack-in-the-box. Your eye won’t see every small detail but if I’ve got it right, your brain will take in the effect.
Do you remember what we said about face-recognition? I used the ‘Oo! Oo!’ from the owls so that some part of your brain ‘sees’ them as extra staring eyes.
For comparison I’ve left everything on the left of the tree untouched so that you can see how much I’ve fiddled around with the main part of the picture.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208808223624148&set=pb.1270090652.-2207520000.1472752962.&type=3&theater

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208808261185087&set=pb.1270090652.-2207520000.1472752962.&type=3&theater

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208808227184237&set=pb.1270090652.-2207520000.1472752962.&type=3&theater

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February 15, 2016

THE BRAINWORM IN THE EARBUD

To the British, these three descending notes:
Aa-Ga-Do
will be as Moses’ staff upon the rock.
Those three notes (Aa-Ga-Do)
fanfare a folk tradition, mummery and chanting
to call to mind those lost in the dreamland circle of purgatory: Empty[v],
a place for those accurséd dwellers in perpetual fatuous euphoria,
packed inside the prison-ship the Channeling-Trunk
gathered, watchful, waiting for their turns at the shiny window
grinning, mugging, miming; pointing in obvious panic, using heads and fingers, knees
and Those: linked fingers – raised and wrung in a Pie Jesu
around the clowns’ facades: the aching cheeks,  eyebrows all fol-de-rol
All covert, coded pleas to please please see those stifling confines
One Shiny Window
This short Slot In The Schedule
Spirits of a Costa Brava stag-do long ago: fruity cocktails as they party party
no bar-tab; no sleeep; no hangover
and no respite.
Until next time my friends – be nice to Mum and
As They Say – Be Careful What You Wish For!!!

I wish I were there now
with them, up and loving’ it
far from the daily grind, the roundabouts, the treadmill of the same ol’ same ol’

Is how he story goes, so I’ve heard.

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February 11, 2016

The Discard-Pile

We’re clearing up, clearing out, sorting out the stuff to keep from years of boxes, piles and shelves of stuff we’ve just kept because there was no need to make decisions. Stuff comes to light that might’ve been important at the time.
This sketchbook found beside the bed, say; a page of notes from that post-op twilight that now feels more of an event than I knew at the time. I can’t remember writing any of this nor why it should’ve been something to do at the time. Not something I had to do or felt compelled to do, just something that I now find I did.
I guess it’s natural to go back, to try to edit meaning or purpose into what we do, to make it consistent with someone we think we are or want to be. Let yourself off that hook. Some of it is no more significant than a reaction to a bit of angular grit in the eye. Don’t waste time introspecting about why that particular grit, that particular time, whether there was any great meaning in the impromptu pantomime “Oh SH**!+?*//!!… No, No. it’s just a bit of grit” Carry on everyone. It’ll wash itself out.
Cough; sneeze; gag; hiccup; wince; write. Don’t give writing more importance just because you had to learn to do it.

coma fragments

*

Something happened
I hardly noticed
until nothing happened after it.

*

Through the glass I can see such vaults of space
I can nearly feel them
and if I tilt my mind just so
it’s easy to imagine I can hear them.
Words won’t bridge that gap.

*

That thought I just had
did I think it
or was I only here by chance to notice it?

*

I count to ten and then begin again
time after time to tire this brain to rest
apart from this part here
that wonders if I’ve reached the thousands yet
and where I left off 1-10 last time.

*

I observe me even in the dreams my brain makes in my sleep
I watch him being me
a character you see
there, after I disappear.
The door sighs shut and he is gone
into that room where you observe me.

*

The mind’s I
The Inner Here
The white noise of electric jelly

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February 5, 2016

Sitting

It was sometime late. The rest of the house and the people in it were asleep and we sat. I maybe had some drawing going on. She was flicking about with her phone. I mention that only because otherwise there was silence.
“Know what’s nice about this?”
I was surprised. I hadn’t noticed it was nice. We’d been sitting a while, drawing, flicking about, those quiet dents in the silence. I knew anyway that it was a question she had a mind to answer, so I waited.
She must have thought about this before but it sounded like she was knitting the words together, listening to the out-loud version.
“You know, it’s quite a thing to have a friend you can sit with.”
I think I stopped drawing.
“I mean really sit with.”
Really sit with.
I like this way she has of keeping a thought so that when it’s smoothed off a bit, comfortable in her hand, she’ll rummage in wherever she’s kept it and hold it up in the light like a pebble pocketed on a shoreline drift, turn it around to look again at its form, its colours and textures.
“Knowing that you have a friend you can sit with and if you have something to say you can say it and you won’t be interrupted and you won’t be misunderstood because they’re listening to you saying it, not what someone might mean.
“About anything, and that’s OK too. Safe. And they may have something to say about it but you know they don’t feel as if they have to because they know that you know they were listening.
“Or you can sit as long as you like and nothing’s said and that’s OK too, because friends can do that.”
It made me smile, and I didn’t have to explain that either. I was glad I’d had the time to listen and that she’d thought it and said it, and I might have said something like “Mmmyeah. Thanks.”
I’m writing this here now because I was listening then there.
She knows that. Sometimes even now I’ll sit mute with nothing that much to tell myself and remember that and the smile seems to be attached. I find I’m smiling and realise what I’ve just been thinking about.
Because I know what’s really nice about it.

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February 2, 2016

Bringing people together in a controlled environment

TV programmes, as we know, are the fillers between the adverts that inform a culture. If you’re at home during the daytime you’ll be sure to need a broad selection of on-line bingo-options to collect and keep on your mobile-phone to play responsibly, and easy access to friendly loans at three-figure interest rates in case you accidentally play irresponsibly; everything you need to make full use of those drab hours when you’re otherwise forced to watch replays of Emmerdale and documentaries about routine police chores involving abusive drunks and drivers who haven’t quite worked out the difference between transport from A to B and Playstation stock-car demolitionathons.
I’m going to mention the name that’s already hovering over this stretch of media tundra. Yes, that name. I feel I ought to issue a caution because the name Jeremy Kyle alone is close to an emetic for many. Duh! Sorry. Yes, that name. Even with a bit of detachment, deliberately picking his show from the channel listings is too close to moral self-harm to be comfortable.
But if you automatically shudder simply because of the hours of scheduling occupied by this tacky, sensational, shallow, sanctimonious, exploitative, hypocritical freak-show, you miss some real insights into a culture that regards those qualities as necessary stepping-stones to T-shirt slogan celebrity.
Study the man. He’ll remind you who he is in case you’ve missed the continuity announcement, the mention from the show’s sponsors – FoxyBingodotcom – and the widescreen shiny MGM logo of the credit title. He wishes us, his friends, a bigbig welcome to the Jeremy Kyle Show, announces his ‘guests’, today on The Jeremy Kyle Show; asks them to tell us why they’re on The Jeremy Kyle Show; advises them to Shut Up! It’s called The Jeremy Kyle Show! And he has a stock gag about ‘are you all right? Well obviously you’re not all right or you wouldn’t be on The Jeremy Kyle Show’
This is always good for a chuckle from the audience, along with well-worn favourites like his reassurance to nervous guests not to worry about them – ‘They should be at work!’.
When any of the guests storm off the stage – just one of the points of Kyle Show etiquette – he, knowing the score, will bustle off after them with his camera and sound technicians to continue his harangue in one of the lounge-areas or backstage corners where custom dictates the guest is to be found sulking until the Kylester delivers another of his off-the-cuff clichés, ‘I don’t know why I ‘ave a bleedin’ set; I spend all my time running around…’ Again, equally spontaneous audience laughter. He calls this bit The Kyle Olympics. The audience shrieks… the man is a comedy legend.
The walk-off is often connected with lie-detector or DNA test results, which are always ‘all-important’ and will be revealed ‘after This Break – You won’t want to miss it!”
You will already have gathered that those parts of the show not occupied by guests discussing their dilemmas at high volume, relieved by moments of post-production modesty-silence and careful blurring of expressive hand-gestures, are already accounted for by a click-and-select menu of Things Kyle Says.
He’s very often so embarrassed by by these low-jinks that he’s obliged to yell in the face of an offender that he won’t have them on The Jeremy Kyle Show (sponsored by Foxybingodotcom) if they come on Effing and Jeffing like that. Here at home on the ancestral sofa, I’m rather impressed that he doesn’t actually say Fucking, but I must confess to a sneaking curiosity regarding the Jeffing. I’ve tried it on occasions, working through a basket of ironing with the show on for company – Aah JEFF! Jeff off, you jeffing jeffer! -but maybe it’s lack of practise; I can’t get it to sound quite as mortally offensive as I’d like.
In fact, his entire spiel could be loaded into your sat-nav and still leave room for maps of Western Europe. “The Thing Is, right, hear me out – look at me – forget what you want for a moment and concentrate on what’s Really Important; be quiet, I’m speaking, it’s called The Jeremy Kyle Show, what you should be doing right now is taking the third exit off the next roundabout!”
You could even have his Court Counsellor, Graham, “The Genius”, to penetrate to the very heart of your perceived problem, Though. extended. use. of. this. plug-in. is. not. advised. for. long. journeys.
One of the frequent promo-montages often used in the show itself has the Monotone Man advising a guest that his problem is ‘You’re using one of the most addictive substances known to man… and that means…’ See, now we’re getting to it; this is the calm voice of authority… “…it’s going to be really difficult to give it up.” This is the quality of support you can expect from The Jeremy Kyle Show.
A certain body of opinion might say that Kyle, this extremely shrewd weasel-faced barely articulate approximation of human form stretched thin over a molten core of self-serving ambition has hit upon a very efficient way to upcycle old rope. This is made possible by the dismal carnival procession of Breughelian grotesques gagging to get a night in a Manchester hotel with en suite mini-bar and that seam of Celebrity bestowed by the achievement of getting on the telly.
I return to my original proposition, that by the principle of unexpected consequences Jeremy Kyle may be the prurient Henry Mayhew de nos jours, offering us brief glimpses of the poverty of language and education, the cultivation of need, that surrounds us wherever we are. More of that all-important evidence after this break… Trust me my friends, you don’t want to miss it!

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January 28, 2016

26-1-16 Where is I?

A bit less than a year ago I was awaiting my spot in the theatre to have a pituitary tumour removed. As neurosurgery goes it’s a pretty simple job; you can get at the pituitary up through the nasal cavities and dig around to haul the nasty out. All the same there are no guarantees, so I’d punted the idea to close family that Things Go Wrong and that I’d really rather take The Big Drop than arrive at the other side animating my carcass with a faltering version of Me so damaged that I was unrecognisable.
OK – skip the pre-meds; admission; the procedure and the few days in the observation ward hooked up to monitors and regularly punctured for blood-tests.
I self-tested for cognitive deficit with a book of Telegraph Cryptics in waking-moments and was happy to find I still had loads of miscellaneous stuff stored in my head, though with a slightly slowed down capacity to retrieve it.
A few weeks after discharge we had the routine consultant’s meeting when at one point I said that I had no way to understand the intricacies of neurosurgery but as I’d been comatose 20-22 hours per notional day it had been a field trip through states of consciousness I’d only previously read about; the experience was a practical, philosophical exercise in ontology and a range of available contructs of Self.
At this point glances were exchanged by the surgeon and her invited audience of trainee doctors. What I’d thought was a clear distinction between her specialism and mine, which I’d imagined was an indication of my underlying lucidity – not bad in the circumstances – was received as a bout of incoherent rambling. Not their jargon. The senior neurosurgeon was prepared to concede that after surgery there was somtimes “a pychological component”.
In that wording, I gathered that all this mimsy stuff, the cognitive, emotional artefacts weren’t really her concern and that her view of the procedure could be reduced to components. The surgery had been successful, that was the objective evidence.
I wondered at the time if the word ‘ontology’ sounded to her like I meant some branch of neurology which I’d misread on a Google-search, and at the same time I wanted to say that her expertise wouldn’t be devalued if she was unfamiliar with the word.

In my coma I was aware of a mosaic of sensations and what I can only call ‘thought-activity’. The brain was ticking over with no particular place to go and only coincidental connection with me, and that became a theme. It went something like: if I was able to observe this tumble of activity then what process throughout gave me this sensation that a calm, objective Me was tuning-in to survey the torrent?
That part of my brain thought that my condition was like one of those awkward Greek riddles Zeno was famous for, the smartarse in Aristotle’s class who’d come up with: if I plucked one hair from Aristotle’s beard, is it any less a beard? Well, what about two hairs? Three? At what point does he cease to have a beard?
Here I was, effectively immobile from exhaustion, communicating occasionally in monosyllables, living in the attic under my skull, observing what was happening ‘downstairs’ in the nerves and giblets.Amazing how much sensation’s generated in an inert body. I had no appetite but the guts were in denial; in the hush, the creaks and groans of borboryghmy sounded like those recordings of Blue Whales chatting between oceans. My metal heart-valve – tunk! tunk! Tunk! – seemed to reverberate from throat to belly, handy corroborative evidence that I was still alive. Nerves under the skin were still firing, though at times a limb would twitch and I’d realise it wasn’t where I thought I left it.
Almost as remote, the activity of the electric jelly carried on thinking while my mind’s I observed.
I’d read Daniel Dennett’s ‘Consciousness Explained’ – not exactly explained but examined in neurone-popping close-up; what I’d gathered from William Calvin’s ‘How Brains Think’ went something like, a bunch of cells and synapses get sufficiently excited and at some point, a thought gathers enough momentum and crowd-surf into Consciousness to be hoisted onto the Cartesian proscenium, promoted from Brain-stuff to Mind-stuff. I had my scrapbook of Behavioural/Cognitive labels but this experience was a salutary reminder about not confusing the map with the territory. These weeks did have the feel of unmapped tundra.
I had weeks of these elaborate theoretical constructs translated into practical experience: oh look, I’m doing ideation now, and look over there, that’s a very nightmarish dream happening. There were even stretches of agnosia – unprocessed consciousness – not so much Thought as Awareness. The lights were out and no-one was at home. This is me beyond the limits of words; I might as well try to hum the taste of the colour 7.
Lastly, because this is the most contentious discovery, the one I keep quiet about because it ends up in lengthy, circular debates about what I don’t mean: I lost the will to live.
I don’t know what it feels like at the point of death but several times I came back to consciousness with a sense of mild surprise that I was still in the game, still walking the edge, and it was simple rational common sense to accept that no act of will, no flexing of the ego would win me one extra heartbeat. If I ran out of heartbeats there’d be a temporary emotional ripple in my wake and Life would continue.
I really like that quote from Mel Brooks: Mozart was a genius; he died. Einstein was a genius; he died. So what chance do I have of living forever? Practically none.

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25-1-16 Grit the teeth and start to type

Let me start with a special Thank You to Steve Pugh and Steve Fullerton whom I met at a comix event last year. As ever, to be in their company was as much a pleasure as a rarity. We have that kind of friendship that happens when temperamental introverts collide;’ we natter and shrug and laugh a lot and the conversation picks up as if it had been abandoned about an hour ago and we share experiences of the y’know, not much, that’s happened since last time. There’s no pressure to do any of that Hail Fellow, Well Met hearty blokeish banter, which is just fine by me. It feels as though we’ve each been dislodged from our habitual solitudes, blinking in the tumult of other people hurling themselves into a social mosh-pit.
Yesterday evening I accidentally hit the WordPress icon and there on screen was my passive-aggressive spit about wall-to-wall Sports Commentators across mediaspace, all fired with intense enthusiasm about World Cup Qualifiers and the conviction that I care.
I was reminded of Sarah Millican’s line about her interest in blanket Grand Prix coverage: those machines are built to such fine-tuned standards that from the starting-grid they can go from 0-120mph before she can grab the TV remote buttons.

Meantime I’d actually forgotten where to find which part of the bloggy bit gave me access to the Inspection Hatch where drafts are stored for last-minute changes of mind and grammatical tidy-ups in readiness for that portentous command: Publish.
There in the Drafts-loft was this short paragraph (19-8-15) eloquent enough to persuade myself to Save As and go and find something more useful to do:-

OK. The story is that four people in the past couple of months have asked what happened with The Blog? Clearly the answer is: nothing. It was nice to have a go at writing but it’s a real plus if you have something to say.

This out-of-the-way corner of cyberspace has always been a place for me to mull over inconsequential curios as a way of working out for myself whatever it is I think about them. This explains the arcing diversions that happen before my very eyes, with no discernible Reading Public to apologise to. Here comes one…
I read a fascinating article a few years ago about the growing incidence of depression, or a kind of meta-Aspergers, that shadowed the spread of cosmetic Botox treatment to achieve that lip-glossed bouncy-castle pout. Done reasonably well it’s as acceptably grotesque as any other fashion statement (Oh yes, we must call such elaborate tokens of conformity ‘statements’) but in order to have these eye-catching labia you have to accept a loss of nuance in facial repertoire. And why is this any reason for despondency?
It’s down to The Autonomic Matrix, oh yes, the network of nerve-hits feeding back mostly subliminally to the rolling newsdesk in the brain that keeps us informed about how we’re doing right now. What, for instance is the visceral cue so subtle and urgent that with our highly-evolved language processing capacity we can communicate to fellow hominid bipeds that “Phwoarh! I’m bloody parched; I gotta get me something to drink.” And having forethought and strategic planning abilities we find our way to the wadi and drink. We can all recognise the unique wave of satisfaction that follows the first chug of a long-anticipated drink. Since I no longer self-medicate with alcohol, the satisfaction-effect is very much the same if I get a hankering for a good belt of Dandelion&Burdock; Cream Soda; Mango juice; Supermalt… whatever it is that becomes the target object.
So you start to glug, and at some point you know you’ve had ‘enough’; the tank-indicator shows “Full”.
Back to Botox; our language is structured so that we express the order of events as “I was so happy, I grinned this wide”, almost as if we made a decision to smile. OK, the ability to winch up the smile-muscles is a social skill we can learn, but in normal circumstances the happiness-sensation is very close to some facet of surprise. You find yourself smiling and the autonomic reflex lets your brain know ‘Say what? I must be happy!’
If you’ve opted for that cosmetically induced moue, those signals are muted, which is why surgically glamourised subjects – who in any case are a self-selecting variety of narcissists – are prone to post-op dysphoria, a clinical way of saying “Just, you know, wossname: fed up.”

OK Steve and Steve, this isn’t what I set out to write but for the first time in ages I’ve written something, so thank you for that genial boot up the arse. I’ll return to the intended topic once I’ve loaded the WordPress hopper and dumped this on-line.

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June 14, 2014

Sport Live!

– Welcome back. Before the break we promised you coverage of that critical moment in the Flapsford-Hobston clash; the decider in the North-West League, the climax of a tensely fought and at times controversial series of eliminators. Your thoughts, Barry.
– Yes indeed, Gary. We have footage from that move that turned out to spell defeat for Flapsford’s Doug Grimes at the hands of Hobston’s sharpshooter Terry Dowling. We join the game in the 45th minute…
– …and at this point, Grimes has made his move and sits back to assess the state of play. I guess he was feeling pretty confident there.
– As well he might, Gary, given the run of success he’d enjoyed up till then… Dowling takes the cup and glances at Grimes. We can only imagine what thoughts are going through his mind as he loads the die and considers his next move.
– A look of anticipation.
– Well, in the moments before his throw, anticipation is pretty much all he can bring to the game, but here we go, decisive as ever he gives the cup a good shake and there… that’s the moment when he releases the die and the result of the game is out of his hands and the Hand Of Fate takes over.
– Let’s slow that down now… and as the die spins, we can see the 4 there, and there’s the big 6, and finally, as it comes to rest, there’s that all-important 5.
– You’ve got to say, that was a canny throw and the five takes him to square 37. You can almost feel the sense of relief amongst the Hobston supporters.
– Dowling takes his counter; there he goes – one, two, three, four, and five!
– Interesting to note his positive style these days. As an apprentice player he was a slider. I think this new edge-tap speaks of his growing authority and experience of the tournament situation.
– Indeed, Barry, and there he is positioned in that prime spot beyond the snake and lined up to make an easy 4 to the bottom of the ladder on 41.
– If we just take a look at the simulator, if he’d thrown a 3, look what would have happened…
– One, two, three… and that would have been the snake and Dowling would definitely have been going down. A 2 and he’d still have been in the danger-zone…
– …but that 5 swung it for Hobston. Dowling I must say looks pretty calm, considering his options, a picture of that old sang-froid he’s known for, but I imagine he’s already looking forward to a large sherry in the club-room.
– We’ll come back that game in a minute, but for now we go over to the Biggleswick Leisure Centre for a report from Larry Bimps at the Championship Trophy Ludo League. Larry, hi, have you been watching those developments in the Snakes and Ladders, mate?
– I have indeed, Barry, but I have to say I can’t offer you any relief from the tension. The last few minutes have seen some dramatic play here; just look at this footage….

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January 30, 2014

Anna Speaks English

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I must have railed about this one before: the abandonment of perfectly serviceable adverbs for that clunky construction “on a… basis”. It’s all over the place and we can only sit it out and wait until it goes the way of ‘wise’ in the 70’s, linguisticswise. Why and where is ‘on a daily basis’ more exact or elegant than ‘daily’? Likewise (see what I did there?) ‘on a regular basis’ = regularly; ‘on a worldwide basis’ = worldwide; ‘on a one-to-one basis’ = personally/ individually/ confidentially…
Of course it doesn’t stop there. Here at home, Jo knows the signs as we glaze in front of the TV. She knows what will push the button of my Grammar Pinger, an internal alert registering lazy cliché, media memes and would-be clarsy circumlocution.
And please… if you have to tell me you’re like Marmite, OK, I get it; if you insist on reciting that advertising slogan in its entirety, believe me I’m on my way to deciding before you reach the end of the sentence.
We agree: it’s just me. It’s an acquired allergy. My thoughtful soul-mate presented me this Xmas with a slogan-mug (tread warily here too, and include huh-humorous T-shirts and well-meaning motivational posters, which arouse dark motives I have to suppress) with the due warning “I’m silently correcting your grammar”.
I’m not doctrinaire about this; there are enough Celtic genes in my DNA to side with Brendan Behan when he said something about The English hoarding their language like the Crown Jewels while The Irish spend it like sailors on shore-leave. Play with language for fun, just don’t roll it flat and slap it down like Snap-cards.
It was in one of these spasms that made me unexpectedly nostalgic for a radio voice I haven’t heard for ages, Anna Raeburn. When the Talk Radio station launched in the 90’s as a kind of phone-in Radio 4 lite the regulars included the reactionary walrus Caesar The Geezer (the name tells all you need to know about that phone-in), Tommy Boyd, a controversialist of another order, whose agile defence of wilfully absurd propositions slyly introduced my school-age sons to the practice of Socratic Dialogue. I’m sure TB would be the first to express surprise at this educational side-effect.
And there was Anna Raeburn, taking calls from listeners who had, or thought they had, emotional problems. OK, in shorthand she was an Agony Aunt. You will know at once what I mean, so now firmly set aside that title. There was another of these programmes hosted by an American matron who made a point of inviting listeners to ‘pull up a seat at her kitchen table and talk it over.’ The advice ranged from ‘There, there’ to ‘I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think it is’ and ‘You’ll get over it.’
Ms. Raeburn was more astringent, quite prepared to ask the awkwardly relevant questions that friends and family would normally edge around, in a tone and pace that brooked no evasion; you could hear callers startling themselves at the answers that popped out under pressure and you waited for Raeburn’s ‘Aha!’ moment when she got the crucial information or point of view that would crack the problem open.
The analytical process was interesting and never exploitative; the situations presented sometimes made uncomfortable listening but listening to them didn’t feel voyeuristic. The callers weren’t freaks and the conversation was about the appropriate ways you could view or work with the problem. AR’s capacity for speaking in fluent paragraphs of lucid English was a marvel. I like
English used well and I listened to her with much the same pleasure that I get listening to Nina Simone’s piano breaks: no ‘dig me’ virtuosity or Liberace frills, just perfect-pitch on-the-money Cool.
So where’s Anna now? Too cerebral, I suspect, for current broadcast media. The daily Kyle car-crash sponsored by an on-line bingo franchise is the idiot bastard son of Jerry Springer. It’s for an audience that found Trisha a bit hard to follow.
Maybe she’s the victim of the slow death of privacy. If the specimens (‘guests’) on the Kyle show are happy to be whacked about the head with DNA tests and lie-detector results about mystery pregnancies from a possible choice of inseminators, all apparently slanging it out on Facebook before their TV debut, (Kids, the beginning of a pregnancy is a well-known process unchanged for, oh, hundreds of years at least) then you have a whole cluster of topics that in previous decades might as a last resort have led to a discreet letter to a magazine or the anonymous call to a radio station.
My abiding memory of the Raeburn phone-in was from a woman daunted by the prospect of attending the wedding of one her partner’s well-to-do family, where she felt she would be seen as ‘common’ and, touchingly, might let her partner down. Raeburn reminded the caller that her partner had already made that decision, so put that concern aside, and – this was the bit I loved, somewhat lost in translation because the perfectly sensible Mary Poppins tone of the original made it irresistable – advised: “On the day, wear something simple and classic – navy blue with touches of cream about the collar and cuffs – hold your head up, and take the battle to the enemy camp.”
Though the dress-code would present a challenge to me and the fellow guests, the audio-clip in my memory has usefully replayed for me over the years, and I’m sure someone will helpfully find the original of the half-remembered quote that’s paperclipped to it about etiquette being a turnstile to exclude the untutored, while good manners is simply the exercise of applied humanity.
As I typed this I’ve been listening to Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert again – more nostalgia for the period I’ve been thinking of. It seems somehow apt, but that too is probably just me.