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Archive for December, 2010


December 29, 2010



This time last year I was preparing for heart surgery at the end of a couple of months of postponements. The looming surgery with all the attendant possible outcomes and interim medication to pacify the pump (including the beta-blockers that may account for my collaged impressions of the time) were neither a guarantee against sudden mechanical failure nor an assurance of a successful outcome.

Today, I try to remember the mood of those eve of surgery hours and find to my relief rather than surprise that it’s elusive. It was certainly an extreme of solitude. In February I’d been in hospital with a sudden-onset heart-virus and had spent a couple of hours in the first night trying to grasp the reality of ceasing to be alive. I spent some time praying, I think it was, along the lines of ‘if I’ve got this really wrong and the rest of eternity depends on me saying the right words, naming the specific names, give me that sign that others say comes to them, that someone is there.’ No answer.

My instinct is that any Being capable of designing and creating a universe so fractally complex and elegant is probably going to be inaccessible to our funny little unreliable human brains. If He (why this insistence on God being a male?) did inspire particular humans to interpret His word, you would expect the arguments to reflect such lucid elegance, to be so comprehensively irrefutable that scientific enquiry would aspire to such clarity. That too would be only fair, given the dire consequences of not saying the right words and names. Is it any mitigation to say that I didn’t reject the deity but the specious reasoning presented to me by believers?

I was recently given a tract with seven reasons why I should join a particular franchise in the faith market. Not only were the reasons distinctly iffy, they made me wonder what kind of Damascene conversion would blind me to the inconsistencies. Whether I couldn’t see them or pretended I couldn’t, could I be a reliable interpreter of the Revealed Truth as written?

Anyway, as it turned out in those hours where an imminent death seemed a distinct possibility, the prospect seemed far less frightening than I’d anticipated. Life, as someone put it – a sigh between two secrets.

Didn’t know what I was going to write today, just wanted to put something newer here, hoping to write more in the New Year.

G’night all.


December 13, 2010

Reposts, Jan/Feb 2010

19-1-10 Post-op, New Year

My surgery was a seven-hour procedure on Dec. 30th 2009. I remember a moment which must have been on Dec. 31st when I registered my own consciousness and therefore by Cartesian deduction concluded I must have survived.

Other than this reassuring knowledge, the plane of consciousness and my memories of it was and are a fractured, laminated and ramshackle unreliable collection of impressions. It’s reminded me of the phenomenal job of cognitive orchestration and editorial required to maintain a sense of coherent everyday reality, as the faders shifted on the mixing-desk of memory, imagination, thought-convention, language and that mysterious sense of continuity that carries the sensation of a first-person ‘me’ from one minute to the next.

The first few days in Intensive Care were divided between observation of personalities and routines on the ward and dream-excursions to The Morphine House – an Escher-like interlocking place made up of all the seedy beige student accommodation I’d encountered in my early student days in Birmingham – stained fawn carpets matted with anonymous dropped human hair; craquelured perished magnolia emulsion paint on rattly window frames; woodchip-papered walls on narrow winding stairways; stacks of abandoned magazines in empty rooms. The air there was greasy with stale cooking-smells, a taste in the mouth evoked by one of the medications plus a dry tongue for which – in the real world – I was given styrofoam cups of ice-granules the size of cherrystones to eat two or three at a time.

The Morphine House was more than the cinema of dream;  the range of Neuro-Linguistic Programming modalities (visual; auditory; kineasthetic; olfactory; gustatory) intensified to create counterfeit memories indistinguishable at times from the ‘real thing’.

The distinction wasn’t helped by the round of blood-samples and pressure-measurements and sundry incidental checks for which I’d be suddenly conscious, like a swimmer surfacing into the noise of the baths from the muted sounds of a swim underwater. In these lucid episodes it was quite easy to sort out the vivid memories that couldn’t have happened and belonged to dream by contrast with the continuity of life in the subdued light of the ward; what was unusual was the operation of the mental sheep-gate that consciously separated the low-key surroundings of reality from sense-saturated hyperreal fantasy.

I didn’t choose to dive back into unconsciousness but was often uncomfortably aware that the real sensory world was too full of information which I lacked the energy to filter.

Curiously my rational mind was aware of the components of the hallucination created by itself as ‘I’ crossed to and fro across the borders of wakefulness. Having registered that ‘I’ had bobbed back to the surface after anaesthesis, who was this ‘me’ who observed my own thought-processes with various degrees of detachment?

Even in that patchy and contingent version of consciousness there was an editorial voice coolly noting that this was a useful empirical demonstration of misc. altered mental states such as full analytical awareness of the moment with a connection to memory that faded in seconds like an evaporating vapour-trail: an insight into, or preview of Alzheimer’s. The sense-images of incidents were lucid but seemed like lengths of movie-film snipped into individual frames and stored in small unlabelled boxes to be retrieved by chance and ordered tentatively.

I’m still waking up feeling physically as if I’ve been thrown  out of the back of a lorry and I have to remind myself that this probably has something to do with having my ribcage cracked open three weeks ago. Occasional coughs and sneezes still feel as if I might pop open like an Advent calendar (‘oh look! meat!’) if I can’t head them off with careful throat-clearing.

Coherently describing the subsequent mental fragmentation from inside the state is tricky not least because the tranquilised brain becomes quickly exhausted and I’m aware that my impressions of my drift on that post-op lagoon are already receding, so I’m leaving this as a message-in-a-bottle to myself to read when I have a longer perspective on the episode.

6 Responses to “19-1-10 Post-op, New Year”

  1. Gaz Hunter says:

    Glad you’re improving. The con is only a few months away, that the Toast and Jam needs all the help it can get! There are rumours of *ukukeles* this year!
    Take care, get well :)

  2. Artela says:

    Glad to see you’re still with us :-)

  3. admin says:

    Thanks, both. I’ve discussed a discreet presence at this year’s Con with MEG. The T&J is always fun to anticipate – really my favourite item – and I’d hope to find space to play over the weekend. Ukuleles are indeed wonderful toys and since you can pick them up at pocket-money prices there’s no excuse not to own and enjoy one. I may devote some pages to ukevangelism.

  4. Sue Jones says:

    Now there’s an idea: the bad taste Advent calendar where the little doors reveal something rather less twee than stars, dollies, candles and cherubs…

  5. Joann says:

    Oh, my hero man!! Try to enjoy your time in Morphineland, as there are worse places, although they too are beige. I would give you a virtual hug but I respect the virtual pain of your cracked-open virtual ribs. I’m behind on my reading on this blog and I owe you mail, but I think of you often and will give you da full scoop when I get a chance.

  6. admin says:

    Don’t stint yourself, grrrl. A big hug from you is virtually irresistable and I’m plenny tough as ol’ boots as you know.


24-1-10 Couch-spud songbook

I’m going to quote from an email again, mainly to record impatience with post-op recovery. I imagine this is a commonplace irritation so I’m putting this up as commiseration for anyone else caught between medical malaise and an interior monologue about what one ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to be able to do.

I sleep on the sofa these days so as not to disturb Sharyn’s sleep. At first this was because I had to make a staged rise from the recumbent if I wanted to get up in the night, calculating leverages and bracing myself for bruised-muscle spasm’n’grunt. I tried a return to the upstairs bedroom last weekend but apparently Sharyn ‘couldn’t get any sleep’ that night, what with my restlessness and *breathing* – a frequent feature, this, the morning report on my sleep-pattern as it affects Sharyn’s. I never know quite what to do with this; being told after waking that I’ve had a restless night doesn’t help me and only leaves me with lame apologies for my inadvertant inconvenience.

At least I get to have the radio on by the sofa to go to sleep to, instead of the in-ear phones. For years in solitude the bedside radio was like a stream of white noise that preserved me from my own circular thoughts, and TalkSport proved the best low-content babble – very little to cling to consciousness for there. I doubt if I manage more than 15 minutes on average before anaesthesis sets in. Some part of my brain registers the 6 o’clock switch from overnight phone-in to morning sport updates, when I turn and retune at a click to 5 Live. Thereafter a return to slumber until the nagging alarm of the bladder wakes me to consider movement.

I notice progress in my recovery in the reduced time it takes me to swing upright in the sofa and prepare to lever myself to a stand so I can mount the stairs. In the morning my torso feels like a hand clenched into a fist overnight and requires flattening-out and stretching. The sensation of wall-to-wall bruised muscle  twisting and protesting at every movement has settled into a brief pause sitting to assemble my wits and breath like a wrestler in the corner recovering from a mistimed leap from the ropes.  Once on my feet I launch myself into a forward totter that takes me up the stairs in the kind of sustained tick-tock rhythm that used to get me up the upper scree-slopes of Snowdon with full rucksack (to the mantra: each new step is one less to take).

Morning is also prime-time for unusual heart-rhythms, as if the pump’s also been roused from a night’s sleep and has to remember where it is and what it’s supposed to do. The interior thump of the pump is like something out of Poe – such an insistent thud in the ribs that it’s hard to credit that it can’t be heard like a miniature bongo in the room. First thing in the morning I sit and listen in as it experiments with rhythms until it settles on the familiar reassuring 65-ish bpm.

All these years in my reading I’ve circulated around the psycho-philosophical enigma of the mind-body conundrum – v. briefly: how does an insubstantial thought-impulse fire the necessary tiny electrical charges to direct the meat-body into action? …and following from this, how much behaviour is truly self-initiated and how much is ‘mere complex behaviour’? (birds build nests better than you could without so much an an Ikea diagram; you play guitar better once you’ve got over thinking about where your fingers go next – your intelligence can get in the way of complex behaviour)

Now it becomes a pressing real-life consideration, since recently I’ve been through periods of ‘deciding’ to breathe (my sleeping body obviously accomplished this; my conscious mind was really concerned that nothing catastrophic happened on my watch) and for weeks now, just shifting my sleeping and sitting position has required a brief pause to brace myself for audible and muscular groans and gasps in the necessary interval between wherever I happen to be and where I’d like to be.

Since the sofa has become my Home-square I’ve taken my tab-files downstairs so I can flick through and distract myself revising chords to songs I once knew. The chords aren’t so difficult to revive as the lyrics; that was the thought that prompted the title on this mail [originally Time After Time] (titles are helpful in recalling old mail topics, but I do occasionally wonder at those years when one sent a letter and very rarely ever saw it again. You didn’t title letters; if you were a little formal you might date them).

Time After Time is one of those songs I overlooked when it was chart-pop because it was smothered in kooky Cindy Lauper-ness. Miles Davis made the melody cool and Eva Cassidy redeemed the words. Years on, I haven’t reliably learned the lyric and I have to read off the page. This is no reflection on the writing; I don’t know why this hasn’t bedded in because there’s no shortage of emotion I can bring to that song.

Likewise the very slight ‘Golden Slumbers’ which I can very readily imagine singing as a real lullaby to as yet imaginary grandchildren. I’m very prone to sudden attacks of hyper-sentimentality at the moment.”

Time After Time is another of those lyrics like It Must Be Love that takes on an entirely different life as a Dad-song.

One Response to “24-1-10 Couch-spud songbook”

Sue Jones says:
January 25, 2010 at 9:10 am

Being woken only lasts for a night or two. After that, provided we’re not afraid of the person rousing us, we just half-wake, recognise the grunts and rustles, the loo flush, etc, and go back to sleep. It’s the unfamiliar noses that set alarm bells ringing.

I can’t sleep with the radio going. Especially if it’s too faint to make out the words. Even when my mind is hamstering round and round bad thoughts, I want to hear myself think. I will read until I’m stupified if I have to, but music or words insist on being listened to.


25-1-10 Life with a laff-track

TV giveth and TV taketh away.

This week a browse through BBC iPlayer unearthed an episode of The Persuasionists which the BBC would like to persuade you is a comedy, set in an advertising agency.

I should own up at the outset: I am no enemy of truly gawp-inducingly bad comedy. I own a DVD of the On The Buses movies and on slow Bank Holidays when life feels empty and pointless I confirm this like a hangover victim slugging hair of the dog by watching one of these leery, nudge-wink charmless spectacles. The sensation is, if not death of the soul, then the local anaesthetic administered in preparation for its extraction.

The Persuasionists is a Martian comedy of the kind the BBC likes to commission; writer Jonathan Thake has observed and analysed the ingredients of farce and created a synthetic compound which bears as much resemblance to humour as a glass of cherryade to a bowl of cherries.

The acting is so exhaustingly over-the-top that the BBC has thoughtfully pre-laughed it to save the viewer the trouble of summoning a guffaw. If you can’t be bothered to switch off, all that remains is to point a glazed expression in the general direction of the screen and wait for the rigours of Newsnight.

Contrast and compare with a show from 1998, The Cops, inexplicably not officially released on DVD and brought back to my attention by my son Matthew,  as a set of bootlegged DVD’s off eBay.

Tony Garnett, writer of Cathy Come Home and Kes, is credited as Executive Producer and oversees a sustained essay in British humanist drama, an early example of faux-documentary handheld camerawork prowling around seemingly unremarkable dialogue vignettes. Establishing shots and exposition are minimal, crediting the viewer with the intelligence to retain and accumulate fragments of information about the plot and characters as they build and laminate into a Breughelian scene rich with grubby detail.

Apparently Greater Manchester Police withdrew cooperation by the end of the second series because it showed the force in an unsympathetic light. Viewed 12 years on, the characters appear flawed and scarred by rank-and-file infighting and thwarted attempts to find emotional stability against the demands and pressures of a working/waking life.

The mise en scene is unremittingly and unflinchingly bleak, not only in the unglamorous settings but the inarticulate squalor of expectations and ambition.

The Cops demonstrates the impoverishment that these settings wreak on men and women in and out of uniform (though the ubiquitous civilian track-suits and trainers remind you, as Zappa said from the stage ‘Everyone in this room is wearing a uniform; don’t kid yourselves’) and like Fielding the writers home in on the arbitrary and pragmatic nature of Law in the no-man’s land on the fringes of the moral and material poverty-line.

Here’s one of those examples of writing that places trust in the actors to add value to a low-key script and relies on skilful editing of deceptively, or archly, ragged peek-a-boo shooting.

The cast of characters is extensive and fleshed out in a succession of brief sketches. If there can be said to be ‘main’ characters, these would be John Henshaw in a career-defining performance as gimlet-eyed old-school copper Roy and Katy Cavanagh as rookie community cop Mel, but this choice is invidious amongst a cast scrupulously not-acting but behaving.

Given that The Cops is hard to come by and then  ironically only in dodgy home-made video-transfers it hits hard to think that The Persuasionists will likely appear soon on DVD to take its place on someone’s shelf next to a Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps collection.

2 Responses to “25-1-10 Life with a laff-track”

  1. Joann says:

    I miss the BBC’s iPlayer very much, having only barely had time to discover it before leaving the country. The consolation here is that it wouldn’t have had The Cops anyway, I guess. And if I found one of those home-made DVDs, I cuold at least play it on my laptop if not a local TV and DVD player.

  2. admin says:

    Joann! Man, I thought you’d disappeared into a new life! Be in touch please!


25-1-10 Rocky’s Rough Mix

Rocky’s a very tasteful country keyboard player based in Tulsa, who sent me a cd of one of his protegés in a late-night studio session set up to make her a demo set. Her voice was strong and clear and his arrangements effortlessly cool and adept.

I guess if the session band are expert enough it doesn’t matter if they all hate each other, but in my limited experience of studio recording and lots of stories about sessions, it seems the best recordings are those that conjure up a social event based on playing music, an aural snapshot from the party.

I’m fascinated by the world of the session musician, mercenaries who turn up and do the gig, taking directions to ‘play it more like…’ whatever whim is in the air that day, or off the page in the budgetted time available.

Floyd Cramer’s name appears here, best known for ‘On The Rebound’, an instrumental in a style featuring mini-glisses invented on the spot to mimic the sound of the steel-guitar player who was booked but didn’t turn up.

Rocky had written ‘rough mix’ on the cd, intended to pre-empt raised eyebrows amongst his gigging peers but of a standard I’d have attempted to mask with polite modesty.

Anyway, I had an email from someone surprised that I ‘do poetry’ or whatever-it-is. I bear in mind Frank Zappa’s poke that ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture’ but  ho-hum, I can be recklessly crass…

Rocky’s rough mix:Susan singing

Rough mix.

Could be the one-take run

At dirty ragged glory. Rough mix

Can be the lumber room where you stack the tracks, Jack.

Then you spend more time explaining why

It’s too toppy on the break and the bass

Is pulled up here to cover for the vocal.

Could be the soundtrack to the dog-end

Of a Saturday night, the cheesy light

Of cheap-rate studio-booths, soundproofed

But not watertight. Somehow the pheremone

Of the Happy Hour clings; the wait, you carry it in.

It hits the heads like ferrochrome,

The future of recording, worn plasticky

Spindle-slick, thinner than the card in the pocket

Of the jacket you hang on the stand,

A number scribbled on the back – the hangover

That will ring you in the a.m., your Okie wake-up call:

Fishnet on your tongue

Last night’s dangled stick-pin heels

Come home to roost and pecking at your corneas.

Sometimes country comes from there

A hair-of-the-dog shot on the house

Sent over from another table

To cradle while you’re killing time.

But you can hear it when they’ve hit their peak

About an hour before they hit Record.

Just, I guess, putting down some tracks.

Well, OK, Tulsa, none of the above

From here in Birming Hum-not-Ham

I wish you nights so sweet, and yes

You don’t deserve to play that solo

In that song in French again; enough

That you finessed the smiling ghost

Of Floyd Cramer in the gallery.

Blind, I listen in

Fade-out, no one speaks: a take.

Haiku very much.

2 Responses to “25-1-10 Rocky’s Rough Mix”

  1. Joann says:

    Man. You made me smile with this at 8;30 in the morning, after a wake-up call saying a friend’s mother died. That’s how good you are.

  2. admin says:

    Making you smile is always rewarding (sorry if it was not quite appropriate in the circs)


5-2-10 MEDS

In case of emergency:-

Warfarin 8mg

Ranitidine 150mg twice daily

Furosemide 40mg

Perindopril 2mg

Cardicor 2.5mg

I’ve joined the anticoagulant subculture. I’m a Warfarin baby now. My blood has been thinned to stop my prosthetic heart valve whipping up a little black-pudding.

The only tangible measure of this effect I’ve seen so far is the cotton wool taped over blood-sample punctures. Where before they used to be pretty much a formality, they now peel off properly bloody.

I’d only previously known Warfarin as a rat-poison, odourless and tasteless so that the vermin keep returning to the bait until they succeed in poisoning themselves. I’m very grateful to my friend Sue Jones, indefatigable source of interesting but overlooked factoids for the information that the ominous name is a hybrid of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation plus the tail of coumarin, the active ingredient the drug synthesises, found naturally in liquorice and lavendar.

Sadly I’m not allowed St. John’s Wort as well as Warfarin, which at least confirms that the herbal antidepressant is genuinely active. I’m sorry about that because it had been a habit since the mid-90’s when a good friend in Berlin had urged me to try it to counter depression and to my surprise it worked. I didn’t get the sensation of spacey well-being I’d expected but after a month I found I dwelt less on the minor mundane niggles and anxieties that had taken up so much thinking-time before. My mind still turned to them but I likened the effect to those fairground toy cranes that in theory grab soft toys and deliver them to a chute but which in practice are too puny to hold on long enough. I really appreciated that extra time freed-up to think more constructively.

OK, so now my mind turns to the possible effects of any skin-breaking mishap – I even bought an electric razor on advice that razor-nicks incurred before school might still be going at morning break.

In the event that I find myself pinned under a toppled car-transporter with sufficient wit to remember, I can maybe advise the paramedics to consult my blog for a list of my meds but it would make sense to have something at hand while I spurt like a garden hose punctured by Quentin Tarrantino.

I’m sure I once saw a rather nice identity bracelet built like a spring-loaded watchstrap with a snap-open compartment to hold notes, but a walk to the local independent jewellry shop on Poplar Rd. was fruitless. The owner hadn’t seen one but suggested I go for an SOS Talisman, the default standard medical identity bracelet with a fireproof, waterproof screw-top capsule containing a strip of insoluble paper (a bit belt-and-braces in a waterproof container) to list your meds and allergies. That’ll be another £30 or thereabout.

Choices, choices. The standard bracelet comes on a chain that looks as if it could punch its chunky imprint into your flesh and bone on impact, but you can order it with a caduceus design (the snake around Hermes’ wand). There’s a rather fetching sporty-looking velcro band but that only comes with the SOS logo.

Granted, in circimstances where instant access to my current meds may be urgent I’m unlikely to be apologising to the crew for my style decisions but for everyday potential-emergency wear something discreet and elegant would be nice.

[After writing that I found exactly what I was looking for at:-

…an expanding wristband with a snap-to compartment for med notes]

The tablets all come with informative introductory notes about their function, recommended dosage and side effects. Like Jerome K Jerome’s brush with a medical dictionary and discovering he has everything except cholera and housemaid’s knee, it’s hard to read the possible side-effects without little shocks of recognition.

All of the leaflets helpfully advise against taking the meds if you’re allergic to them, which is a relief. Happily I’m neither currently pregnant nor breast-feeding, so I skip those cautions. All suggest taking the meds as advised by my doctor, which seems eminently reasonable because he’d be my first port of call if I wanted to know about medicine. Frankly I wouldn’t rely on my newsagent or the postman.

Each morning I pop a variety of tablets onto the kitchen work surface, a little constellation comprising:-

Perindopril – Sounds like a Thai deity. It’s an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, OK? It keeps blood-pressure in iffy plumbing down to acceptable levels.

You’re advised not to take it if it’s previously given you ‘a hypersensitivity reaction with sudden swelling of the face and lips, neck, possibly also hands and feet’. I try to imagine the patient presented with Perindopril who says ‘Oh, those again, the ones that make me look like a Pilsbury dough-boy.’

There’s also a caution about taking potassium supplements. Note to self: consult Dr. Miller re. how many bananas will induce anaphylactic shock. A three-banana day is rare but not unknown. In case of emergency should I leave the skins on display for the ambulance-crew to count? Would a bunch constitute a cry for help?

Possible side-effects:-

Mood or sleep disturbances – this keeps me awake at night, waiting to see if my mood changes.

Ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking sound in the ears –  This would be more alarming if they didn’t specify the ears.

Among the common side-effects: headache, dizziness, vertigo, pins and needles; feeling sick, being sick, abdominal pain, changes in taste (dysggeusia), dyspepsia, diarrhoea and constipation; muscle cramps; weakness (asthenia).

Ranitidine – An emissary from the court of Tambourlaine. It’s a histamine H2 antagonist, reducing acid production in the stomach, a heavyweight Rennie.

Possible side-effects:-

Page 3 of the leaflet looks promising, only listing as possible side-effects: diarrhoea, dizziness, rash and tiredness; very rarely jaubndice and pancreatitis. It is, how you say, the nothing.

Then you turn over and realise this was only a pause for breath -…blood abnormalities, allergy, mood changes (yep, that’s alredy started by this stage), confusion (uh-huh), psychoses or hallucinations, pain in muscles and joints, slow heartbeat and heart block (which can cause dizziness or fainting).

Furosemide – The Furosemides should be angry Greek deities but the tablets are diuretics, to treat oedema – ‘too much water in your body’… uh-wha…? ‘…This could be due to problems with your heart,kidneys, liver, blood vessels and high blood pressure.’ OK. They might help to prevent the side effects of jaundice from the Ranitidine.

And hold on, among the conditions that mean you shouldn’t take Furosemide are ‘not passing any urine’ – not any? Presumably in that case a hat-pin is indicated. And ‘low levels of potassium in your blood, which will make your muscles feel weak or you may suffer paralysis.’

Well pardon me, and see the Perindopril banana-balancing act. Suddenly I have to treat bananas, the clowns of the fruit-bowl, with caution.

Side-effects? Red and lumpy skin rash, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, mouth and eyelids (again?), unexplained high temperature (‘fever’, it adds helpfully) and feeling faint.

…purple spotting or unexpected bruising of the skin, sensitivity to sunlight, spasms, muscle twitching and cramps, inflammation of the pancreas causing severe pain in the abdomen and back…. breathe…

Liver problems, jaundice, dark urine, and a liver disorder called hepatic encephalopathy. Symptoms include forgetfulness, fits, mood changes or coma(!).

OK, so far so good. I haven’t become a swollen jaundiced comatose psychotic  unable to decide how I feel about it. I trust that on balance I’m getting all the good stuff and none of the interesting side-effects. However, I’ve saved these insidious heart-shaped little bastards till last:-

Cardicor – The militant wing of The Acceptable Knitwear Front. Beta-blockers.

These little guys lower blood-pressure and regulate heart rhythm and that’s fine, all in favour, thank you Merck pharmaceuticals.

Not listed in the side effects is one I thought I noticed and was glad to have confirmed by a beta-blocker veteran who arrived on the ward a couple of nights before I left: procrastination on steroids. The tablets promote an air of Buddha-like serenity, a mood of manana without its sense of urgency. The part of your mind that notices nothing’s getting done is answered by another part shrugging… you know… whatever… later… and it feels OK. No problem, because in the moment you don’t feel dull, not at all, in fact a degree of passivity makes you a good and attentive audience.

Official side effects… oh, see the usual suspects: liver malfunction, rash, itching and flushing, breathlessness, tiredness and dizziness, insomnia and depression, yada yada… yawn…

To anyone embarking on a post-op battery of meds I warmly recommend these leaflets as a rich source of hypochondria. It’s amazing that the pharmacists have been able to isolate therapeutic effects amongst the dire possible consequences.

If I’d ever heard any instance of a reiki master or a crystal therapist being rushed to the site of a medical emergency it would be enough to drive me to folk-medicines. (B-but they’re the stuff of Ancient Wisdom! Yes, and so is dinking in the top of your skull to release evil spirits. Here, have an energised magnet and some oil of hyssop and clear off)

One Response to “5-2-10 MEDS”

Sue Jones says:
February 5, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Ah yes, the deep joys of medication warning leaflets. I am always left with the suspicion that any probable side effects that it would be wise to know about are so buried in the longlist (don’t sue us, we did warn you!) that they lose all point and purpose.


Reposts, 12-09

In the run-up to heart surgery last year the pre-op consultation raised the abiding spectre of the possibility of brain-damage ‘ with a  routine cognitive deficit for a week or so’. I was at my most prolific that month, writing notes to myself ‘on the other side’.


2-12-09 Tab File, Brilliant Mind

When David came round to play the other day, and when my son James came to stay and brought a borrowed guitar, I tried to learn from them and then when it was my turn I gave them the tab files.

For non-guitar players, ‘tab’ is just the lyrics with the chord-changes written over the top so you have an idea of when to move your fingers. [it comes from ‘tablature’, an alternative to the five-line stave displaying a tune on six lines representing the six strings, plus the number of the fret].

The tab-files are two ring-binders of assorted lyrics I’ve played or need to practice, found at various sites on the web and printed out. By far the best source is, which lets you search alphabetically by artist or song and if the chords look a bit daunting you can transpose them up or down in pitch to see if there are easier ways to play.

Most of us guitar-owners hover around intermediate busker-level; picking songs to play isn’t about stunning performance, just the pleasure of being your own juke-box or playing together.

There’s controversy about the role of tab-sites and several, including my previous favourite, Utimate Guitar, were closed down a couple of years ago for copyright infringement.

My take on this was that there was always one clever kid in the neighborhood who could work out chord arrangements by ear and these sites are a compilation of these versions gathered from neighborhood kids worldwide. If you in turn can do a good enough version to record it then you pay your dues; if you perform the songs as an amateur you direct your audience’s attention back to the original, so if anything this is direct marketing, free advertising.

Mostly, though, you just play the chords, find out how a song is put together and probably finally learn the words to songs you thought you knew. A lot of the pleasure of playing clubs is that you get a chance to air rescued lyrics.

I’ll probably return to this topic because over the years I’ve really grown to appreciate the economy and unfussiness, the art that conceals art, in the good lyric.

The one vid I’ve found of this song, Brilliant Mind by the one-hit Stiff Records band Furniture is heavy with the doomed dystopian modernism of its time, but as long as there are huckster-gurus the lyric will find a target. Credit to Jim Irvin, singer and writer.

This works pretty well as an acoustic strum, though the original production is a pretty durable example of the synths-and-sax school of 80’s post-ironic pop.

Here are my busker’s chords:-


I’m at the stage


Where everything I thought meant something


Seems so unappealing

Dm                                                 G

I’m ready for the real thing but nobody’s selling

Dm                                       G

Except you and yours saying open up your eyes and ears


And let me in

C                                         Dm

You must be out of your brilliant mind


You’re at the stage

Dm                                                    C

You want your empty words heard and everybody’s ready

Dm                                                       G

They want to know your secret but you’re not telling

Dm                                                     G

You’re just gesturing, saying open up your arms and hearts


And let me in

You must be out of your brilliant mind


I’m at the stage

Dm                                              G

Where I want my words heard but no one wants to listen

Dm                                                            G

No one wants to listen because everybody’s yelling


About you and yours

G                                                                 Dm  Am  G

And how I’d have the answer if I’d only open up, up, up


And let you in

They must be out of their brilliant minds

I said shame

Shame on you


Shame on you


Shame on you

You must be out of your brilliant mind

And they must be out of their brilliant minds

Everyone out of their brilliant minds

I must be out of my brilliant mind

My brilliant mind


5-12-09 praxis

I only quite recently found ‘praxis’ as a word and an idea.

The sense is simple enough, it’s a snappy alternative to finding-by-doing, experimental play, practice makes perfect, learning on the job. It takes the ‘practice’ and focusses on the attention to feedback. It’s about how you alter what you do once you’ve noticed what you’ve done and it fits the way I like to work.

I went through a couple of months of acrylic painting this Summer and was struck by the way each canvas began with a splatter and smear of random texture and over a couple of days an image emerged which was telling you what little details it needed to be ‘finished’. Each painting became a surprise to me.

A lot of my guitar ‘technique’ started with accidents and fumbles I heard and then had to work out what I’d just done to let my fingers learn how to do it again.

Creativity isn’t the ability to do whatever you want, it’s about finding the best use of what you’ve got.

My days in hospital have given me time and reason to practise breath-meditation. If your attention is tuned in even simple breathing becomes as restful as watching waves from a cliff-top or breezes swaying trees in leaf when you’ve nothing better to do.

A friend invited me to a lunchtime introduction to Buddhist meditation and I went on that one occasion to put down a marker for myself that I’d attend for a while and see if it suited me.

My friend is a cognitive therapist and this is from an email. Her specialism helps explain my recollection of our introductory small-talk…:-


I remember one of the first questions I asked you was about the linguistics of therapy: when you as therapist are able to re-present the clients’ thoughts in a way that allows them to change their concept which in turn has this effect of making them feel ‘better’, what transaction has taken place? Is the ‘feeling better’ the phenomenology or is it the result of a phenomenological change in the brain/mind?

I should say this is not a test-question. I suspect that given a grant and a sabbatical I could cover several football pitches with pages of speculation on how best to frame the questions, let alone outline my answers.

I enjoyed the meditation at the Buddhist Centre because it was in every formal respect a hypnotic induction and I really enjoy that intra-cranial massage; like physical massage, you can do a lot yourself but the pleasure of being worked on is the opportunity to drop away into mental free-fall, surveying the landscape without necessarily looking for anything.

When I had my MRI scan I passed the time in breath-meditation, interrupted by the voice in the headphones occasionally asking me to ‘take a deep breath; breathe out and… hold…. breathe away’  allowing about two seconds for the deep breath (!) which is a tall order even if you’re on the starting-blocks. If you’re halfway through the out-breath there’s a crunch of gears as you consciously haul in air.

It surprised me when at one point I opened my eyes and saw the proximity of the MRI tunnel roof and found my mind immediately feeling not claustrophobia exactly but playing with the idea of ‘what would it be like to have claustrophobia in this situation?’. Given that I was in what amounts to a self-induced hypnotic state I was very open to this new suggestion. I closed my eyes and got back to the routine, having ‘attended to those thoughts which arise’.

The led meditation was similar in that a voice occasionally reminded you that your lucid consciousness was still ticking over. The instructions to direct your compassion towards self and others are invitations to attend to the idea, a verbal representation of extended compassion prompting that interpretive cognitive function to kick in, but the meditation practice isn’t ‘doing’ as instructed but ‘being’ in some way, allowing the whatever-it-is to happen ‘through’ you.

As it happens on that occasion my mind was both muted by the beta-blockers and teeming with concerns and the quality of that solitude was like watching an office-full of waste paper emptying out of a chute into a skip. I was surprised at how much was going on for me but it was more instructive to realise that rather than try to fish out individual agendas and files to revise.


Enough of that. This is a Randy Newman song I enjoy a lot, simple to play and best played slovenly. A lot of his early songs are character-pieces: portraits of rednecks, losers and lovers in low-rent liaisons.

The lyrics are often shockingly heartless and very funny. This one’s yee-haw vaudeville but you wouldn’t want your car to break down near this farm…:-

My Old Kentucky Home


Turpentine and dandelion wine

I’ve turned the corner’n I’m [A] doin’ fine

Shootin’ at the birds on the [E] telephone line

[B7] Pickin’em off with this [E] gun o’ mine

I got a [A] fire in my belly and a [E]fire in my head

Getting [B7] higher and higher ’till I’m [E] dead   [E7]

Sister Sue she’s short and stout

She didn’t grow up, she grew out

Mama thinks she’s plain, but she’s just being kind

Papa thinks she’s pretty, but he’s almost blind

We don’t let her out much except at night

But I don’t care ’cause I’m allright

E                                                            A7                     E

O-oh, the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home

E                                        B7

Young folks roll on the floor

E                                                             A7                    E

O-oh, the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home

E                   B7                                            E

Keep them hard times away from my door

Brother Gene, he’s big and mean

And he don’t have much to say

Got a little woman who he whooped each day

But now she’s gone away

Got drunk last night, kicked mama down the stairs

But I’m all right, so I don’t care


8-12-09 roll on Dec30th; verse to come…

There was a suggestion that today I’d be admitted to hospital for surgery tomorrow, Dec 9th, so I rang yesterday to check.

Ah… well… yes, did nobody call me? That date was only provisional, they had said that, as they had about the appointment on the 1st and the two dates mooted last month. The latest almost definitely certain provisional date is Dec 30th, right in the heart of the seasonal drink-drive demolition derby – a bonanza, however, for the military trauma-surgeons seconded to Selly Oak.

I have to assume that the consultants who first told me that surgery was essential imminently weren’t exaggerating, but each time the appointment is pushed back it’s pushed back further and I guess we’re all getting used to my op being ‘pending’.

In a couple of months my reserves of money will run out, which may as well be a medical condition because i can’t decide to give up money, but for the moment each day is a purposeless drift on a stream of denial.

The flattening effects of beta-blockers seem to contribute but the phrase I used in a recent email describes the quality of the mental landscape: ‘I find myself with an analytical mind that searches for meaning or worth in the data displayed in the brain.’

Still trying to think of anything that might be of general interest in a public email,  I recently had an invitation to apply for a poetry mentoring scheme, which reminded me of a similarly-titled scheme I began about four years ago, offered as part of an Arts Council funded writers’ group project to popularise poetry.

That scheme sounded a lot like the kind of funding-application tick-boxing I’d seen before, where the creative thought goes into how little the funding-recipients have to do to evidence fulfilment of current buzz-word criteria, but I said at the outset that I’d take it as a pretext to method-act ‘being a writer’: to write and read poetry every day and review the accumulated results at the end of the six months. For the duration I’d send my mentor a routine email a week of writing, notes and queries as my understanding and relationship to writing developed – envelopes of journal-pages posted en route from what no doubt we’d have ended up calling My Journey.

The mentoring such as it was lasted about a couple of months before I suggested to the mentor that in the face of such underwhelming interest it would be better if I bowed out in time for someone else to benefit.

I ended up with notebooks and a computer-folder of writing with nowhere to go so it occurred to me that some of it may as well go here, but that I should first record some caveats.

First is that I hesitate to call it poetry. For my own peace of mind I think of it as ‘art-writing’ because it’s language used and arranged in unusual ways, often like a collage composed with found-objects. All clear writing of course requires careful draughting; art-writing is more geared to listening for chimes and rhythms in the flow, and vocabulary made to behave unexpectedly appropriately.

I was perfectly happy to accept that my writing didn’t attain the state of poetry but I did on occasion wonder why if mine wasn’t, certain poets’ writing *was*. I mentioned one poet whose writing seemed to me to resemble unremarkable emails typed while the cat randomly pawed the Return key.

In accepting my resignation from the scheme my mentor referred to my ‘frankly offensive… name-calling’ and wished that I ‘enjoy [my] lexicon’, which I take to be a literary version of ‘oo-er, swallowed a dictionary’.

Hmm. It’s one of my personal clichés that the extent of your vocabulary represents the pixel-resolution of your thought. Lyrics rarely benefit from specialised vocabulary but up at the poetry end of the street you have a bit more space to hang exotic fabrics out to air.

My mentor much admired one prominent poet who ‘never used vocabulary he wouldn’t use with his friends at the pub’ to which I replied ‘me either’. It doesn’t sound like a resounding compliment to claim that I write for common people like you.

Anyway, this dispiriting mismatch put me off writing and reading poetry for ages – no loss to the poetry world but I did miss that crossword-puzzling play of language for a while.

Given that poetry on a blog is the cyberspace equivalent of writing under the arch of a canal-bridge I shall just pause to take a pull on my virtual can of export lager and tell myself that this one isn’t intended to be particularly profound.


Poached Haiku:

A traditional favourite

made from an exotic blend of three lines

and seventeen syllables (not illustrated)

Choose from: Moon, rain, herons, Autumn breeze, or your bamboo flute

On a bed of wistful nostalgia.

Haunch of Satire:

Pack-hunted game flushed out, brought down,

And carved slowly into heroic couplets.

Skewered, roasted morsels of bloody cheek

With unmitigated sauce.

Beating Heart Of Romance:

Breathless moments of souls’ communion

Presented palpitating at your table,

Stolen with trembling fingers

From the warm occluded bosom of the Night

And tossed aside.

Regular sonnet, or try our new French-style Villanelle.

Crow Tartare.

Crow. Dead.

Just that. Black scratch

Punched from a grey sky,

Lead ballasted

Clawed to the Earth’s millstone breast.

It has passed over, gone

To meet the choir invisible.

Mute, on a plate,

With mash, chips, or gravel.

It is a Crow. Dead.

(Ask for lamb’s head with the whole earth for its body in season.)

And now youre meal is nearly done

Time to relax and have some fun

Our corny cracker’s can’t fail to please

When served with a nice slice of ripe cheese.

(Regards to yourself on a sincere basis:

We can’t be perfect – but we try hard!!!

Why not let us ‘cook you up’ a very special birthday card!?)


Confit of bon mots:

Pert aperçus in light verse

Jeux d’esprit wrapped in badinage

Belles lettres enveloped in velum

with essence of Zeitgeist.

Traditional and current puns

Flourished with a soupçon of je ne sais quoi.

Coffee and a Lucky behind plate glass in a no-star diner and with it

That whole Jackson Pollock chickenscratch neon drizzled on wet sidewalks

sodium-light sulphate-sour bebop sax solo stream-of-the-flow vibe

Is good to go.

That’s all she wrote.


9-12-09 verse still

Today was nearly going to be my surgery date but instead  I awoke at home to find a mail from Joann in Minnesota, whom I’d thought lost, which would’ve been a pity because for many years she was a keen observer of the Convention scene and thus a welcome companion and an antidote to its rampant whimsy.

Sorry Joann, I don’t know how you post reponses either; I’m still getting used to putting up these pages and had assumed I was hooting in the dark.

Joann actually remembered the potery I put in the last entry and was more than necessarily polite about reading it again, so recklessly emboldened I’m throwing in another couple chosen almost at random from the Mentoring file.

I’d forgotten a lot of what I’d written and since the project was to ‘just write’ there are inevitably a lot of duds and runts in the litter. The same applies in writing as it does in illustration: we rise slowly on the stack of our own waste-paper.

Some of the real klunkers were the result of trying to write poetry as a script for imaginary poetry readings, ennunciated in poetry diction; precise… poised over consonants, significant consonants…  sprinkled with ellipses…  and dotted – with plonks. My writing never became that exquisite, my ability to maintain a straight face wasn’t entirely reliable.

Years ago I tried to get into the habit of attending a writers’ group which included a couple of resident poets. Poetry was a good move because its personal content and expression makes it difficult to question, while offering the opportunity to speak your lines solemnly after alluding to the Big Ideas your piece is about.

Allusion is not synonymous with illumination. I was often reminded of that era of folk-club singer-songwriters whose ten-minute intros made you think ‘if this song is about all that, why didn’t you put it into the lyric?’.

So, please engage low gear for:-

Marion Brings Poetry

Marion brings poetry

Every week

No one says that

you need more

than frequent line-breaks


And Mogadon delivery

To do poetry

But they think it

The word for today is


How she relates to



The word: Blue

The sky: Blue

A bluebell: Blue. Her heart. The World. You…

Well you get the idea

Like saying your name

Over and over

It loses its meaning.

A moment’s pause.

Well done Marion.

You really have your own voice.

I hadn’t finished.

Deep Blue.


I’ve just hunted this one out because it came from that inability to wrangle an idea into words. Sometimes you can throw language in the direction of an idea like throwing flour at a ghost – the outline may appear. Sometimes you squat beside the bones of an idea and ponder what shape it would take if you had enough connective tissue. Sometimes brilliant phrases spring at you like trailers for a movie coming soon and…


In Translation

Allow me to introduce, I am the

Translator of the verse of me.

I am expert to transpose stanza;

Fellow-travelling Sancho Panza

To cardio-vascular vacillations and

Consequent emotional sensations of the Author.

Please to be admiring this svelte describing of a sky

Also birds singing from all around and varying distances away.

Oh Beloved, I describe your body parts in close detail

Enjoying the description very much, with many eating-metaphors.

Exchanging breath in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation

And noting reciprocal signs of infatuation.

[Here are several lines left blank, for which is no translation]

Now is more amorous insinuendo

And lingering descriptions

Repeating all ideas in the first part

But with less structure! and here I curate

The laziness. And novel punctuations!

Here expressing how love is hilarious

And tranquilising. Oh my [darling poppet]

How very content I am to be here. It is a quiz.

Gosh I feel grateful to someone. I pronounce your name.


… this was not the topic I had in mind when I fired up the Mac this morning but happily it’s more cheerful so thanks J for derailing that train of thought…


10-12-09 Hot Planet

Last night the BBC showed one of their late-night children’s documentaries, Hot Planet, outlining the major themes of global warming and climatic instability as a briefing for the imminent Denmark Summit.

You could tell that these were serious issues because the facial expressions and hand-language of the presenters, Professors Iain Stewart and Kathy Sykes would have been visible to a viewer from a weather balloon.

The factual content of the show could have been comfortably covered in four pages of New Scientist or fifteen minutes of Newsnight but Hot Planet managed to stretch this out to an hour with a combination of filmed and animated illustrations and shots of the presenters advancing on the viewer reading a SCRIPT written to be READ to CAMERA and UNDERLINED with mime.

HERE, I brandish an invisible Hot Pork Pie; Now, two pies; HERE, I catch an imaginary telephone directory; where there are TWO possibilities, I do the info-hokey-COKEY, using both hands to throw the BABY out with the BATHwater to left… and then RIGHT.

To illustrate the disastrous cumulative effects of carbon build-up, Prof. Sykes had kayaked across the Atlantic and trekked to Utah in order to be filmed abseiling down a cliff composed of the porous rock which could be used to store carbon dioxide, so that once she was at its base she could point out that the gas wouldn’t be stored in the cliff (points to the vertical rock in right frame – ‘cliff’) but in the ground (points down to ‘ground’, out of frame) hundreds of feet below us.

‘Hundreds’ is what scientists call a Big Number and the professors alerted you to Big Numbers by a combination of narrowed eyes and display-behaviour using their highly-evolved prehensile eyebrows.

Professor Stewart was mainly based in a darkened bunker surrounded by illuminated projection-screens, chewing the script like Highland toffee, though he like David Cameron before him had trekked to the Arctic to illustrate the effects of carbon-emission on the polar icecap in a way that satellite images of its receding mass clearly couldn’t. He accompanied a scientific team in a helicopter, hunting and tranquilising polar bears to be fluid-sampled and painted with a serial number visible to ariel survey.

The distinction between presenters and civilians was most clearly illustrated when Prof. Kathy turned up in Spain (walking, sailing and cycling, obviously) to observe a huge shiny solar energy plant and interview its director, Dr. Luis Crespo. He stood with linked hands, quietly proud of the achievement. In medium-shot she stood close enough for tight-frame, nodding encouragingly while he spoke before replying in bursts of close-up semaphore ( hokey-cokeying ‘so you can have energy during the DAY and at NIGHT’).

In a final section concerning the nightmare scenario of a three-degree rise in global temperature, Professor Stewart was joined in the bunker by Professor Peter Cox, sharing the gesticulation tasks required to summon up the prospect of titanic tipping-points in the delicate eco-structure.

In summary, according to interpretations of archeological records, the most recent decades have produced the most radical temperature and carbon dioxide peaks in history. Unchecked, the effects of natural and man-made factors will set in motion dynamics leading to flood, drought and tornado, deforestation and crop failure, migrations amongst a world population whose demands for energy are already in danger of outstripping supply and the toppling of a global economic system balanced on rapacious consumption of available fuel sources.

After an hour of hand-waggling and gurning on the dangers of profligacy, I wonder if I was the only viewer to wonder whether this catalogue of evidence and speculation might not have been compiled by pooling reports from the countries cited rather than flying presenters and crew out to bring back five minutes of content?

To take just one of the eco-platitudes peppering the script, here was an opportunity to use new technology to make the OLD, wasteful ways of making documentaries a thing of the PAST.


One of the routine questions in hospital paperwork is ‘Faith?’.

My answer is really ‘all of the above’ or maybe ‘some of most of the above’, but to save debate I tick ‘None’.

Picking over the ‘poetry’ files yesterday I stumbled on this sketchy answer to the puzzle of faith without divisive doctrine.

do you believe in


Is faith a thing you do,

Hike from the common to the foothills

Of perfectsense? Is it a thing you find or

For the real deal, does the faith find you?


Or one. The simple first person;

Pronoun, in the present tense.

It’s the day job; when you meet yourself

In sleep you hardly know yourself in any sense.

Believe In

The lethal one.

It mostly comes to

Naming names

Speaking the right lines.


The maximum optimism

Permissible in light of the facts

As we understand them.

I believe in optimism.


2 Responses to “10-12-09 Hot Planet”

  1. Joann says:

    Maybe we could invent a presenter-powered generator, harnessing the power generated by mimes and other wild gesticulaters and convert it into electricity. Maybe that was the subtle point of the whole thing. Their next step would obviously be to convert the power of teth-grinding, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of them.

  2. admin says:

    Literally staring me in the face – mime-farms! You could measure the energy generated in Marceaux.

12-12-09 Merry Little Xmas

Xmas is a-comin’ in, and by the way it’s OK to write Xmas; it has good historical precedent; the Greek X, ‘chi’ is a legit abbreviation for Christ, not ‘Christ crossed out’ or x, the unknown quantity.

It’s certainly more elegant than Birmingham City Council’s ‘Winterval’ though perhaps they were right to identify that the current calendar fixture marks the centre-point of the annual Saturnalian celebration of commerce, for unto us an extension into New Year Sales is given.

Over the years I’ve had quite a few solitary Christmasses and it’s become a personal tradition to haul this song out of the loft to sing to myself and all the other loners on that day. Every year I get chokey the first few times through even though it bears all the marks of Tin Pan Alley mawkishness.

I have a lot of respect for the art of the pro lyric writer and the strength of this one is that its poignancy as a song written for families separated in wartime persists. Currently of course the sentiment is sharply appropriate again for too many families.

I first really took notice of this song in the iconic firing-squad scene in the 1963 Carl Foreman movie ‘The Victors’ where it’s the soundtrack to the bleak reenactment of the execution of Pt. Eddie Slovik for desertion.

A virtue of learning lyrics is that it’s a kind of study ‘with close reference to the text’ I should really have done when I was studying for Eng Lit A-level. On its surface this is a Christmas card tableau of fireside glow and cosy togetherness; close-up, it’s a wish destined to be unfulfilled.

There are loads of arrangements for this but this one works for me. None of these chords is very demanding. G6 = 3-2-0-0-0-0. For the C/G at the end of verse 2 I use 0-3-3-2-1-0

OK, ‘tis the season to be melancholy, tra-la-la-la-la…

Words & Music:Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane (1944)

C        Am           D7                G7

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

C            Am         D7     G7

Let your heart be light.

C               Am           D7                       G7        E7    A7  D7 G7

From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.

C        Am             D7               G7

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

C                Am         D7   G7

Make the Yuletide gay.

C               Am          D7                        E7       Am   C/G D7

From now on, our troubles will be miles away.


C                                 Bm                            Am      D7

Here were are as in olden days, happy golden days of



Em         Fsh7                    Bm                           D

Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us

Am    D7

once more.

G                     Em            Am          D7

Through the years we all will be together

G        Em     Am   D7

If the Fates allow.

G            Em      Am                     D7         Em       A7  D7

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

C                                    Am             D7               G

And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

4 Responses to “12-12-09 Merry Little Xmas”

  1. Sue Jones says:

    Yes, this is the one that get me, too. I’ve never had the fortune to be away from my family at Christmas, but I’ve been away from ‘home’ for many years now. Have you seen the original words – the Wikipedia entry has them?

  2. admin says:

    Trust you, Ms. Jones – no, I’ve been content with these lyrics for my quick hit of seasonal sentimentality but I’ll go and have a look.

  3. Jane Russ says:

    Well hello there Mr. H.
    Just thought I’d drop by and let you know that the words you are quoting are the ‘second’ set, created for Mr. F Sinatra when he was due to sing them with Miss J. Garland on some Christmas special or other. He had the words, ‘Hang a shining star upon the highest bough’ replace the lyric ‘until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow’ as he thought the original words were too depressing and they needed to be a little chearier!!! If you look at the original film clip from Meet Me in St. Louis as sung by the aforementioned J. Garland, you will note that she uses these original words. I only know this utterly trivial fact as I wanted to sing this in a ‘do’ some years ago and couldn’t understand why nobody seemed to have a difinitive lyric!!
    Sorry to hear you are unwell. Hang in there kid, we still haven’t played so much music together. Big hug. Jx

  4. admin says:

    Nice to hear from you, Jane, and thanx for the footnotes. I’m a busker not a scholar, but of course – how could I have forgotten the ‘muddle through’ version? So very Brit! I think from now on I shall have to quell a tear and use that version.


13-12-09 Thick

Ah well, the end of a rare make-a-date TV series, The Thick Of It, last night. I’ve followed this series and then caught it again, and again, on iPlayer. The closing titles rolled just in time to switch over and see In The Loop get its Comedy Award on ITV with a gracious spritz of vinegar from Armando Ianucci.

Almost three decades separate TTOI from Yes, Minister and what a contrast-and-compare gift they make to social historians.

Yes, Minister scripts were in direct line from Sheridan’s comedy of manners. A lot of the humour derived from turning Socratic dialogue on its head: Sir Humphrey Appleby’s patrician circumlocutory animadversions regarding the advisability, or contrariwise, contra-indications in respect of proposed or mooted policy trends vs. Jim Hacker’s efforts to reduce the mandarin elaborations to plain English, preferably yes or no.

To use Sir Robin Day’s phrase, Hacker was a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ figurehead temporarily bolted to the ship of State, navigated by a presiding establishment Civil Service. Writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn were briefed by Westminster insiders and while the apparently subversive exposure of the political power-base seemed irreverent at the time, that iconoclastic comedienne Margaret Thatcher effectively spiked its guns by hijacking Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne for her own excruciating sketch (written ‘with’ press-secretary Sir Bernard Ingham) for The National Viewers and Listeners Awards in 1984.

Where Yes, Minister pictured the bland bullying intransigence of a conservative ruling elite, the Thick Of It reflects what J G Ballard described as ‘politics as a branch of advertising’. Thatcher’s steady hand on the status quo is replaced by a post-Blair obsession with media perception-management at the heart of politics.

Where Sir Humphrey was a Medici Cardinal with Bernard Woolley as his nuncio, Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker is a cadaverous spitball husk animated by undiluted Nietzschian will to power. Tucker is a fanatic in George Santayana’s sense: one who redoubles his efforts when he’s forgotten his original goal. His fierce focus performs handbrake turns at the bleep of his mobile phone.

Where Sir Humphrey wrapped puzzles in elegant enigma, Tucker chews lumps out of his lackeys to ensure that the flesh-grinding machinery runs tickety-fuckety-boo. There’s no point in trying to review TTOI under cover of ‘the f-word’ euphemism; the fucking fuck-rate of the script elevates the phoneme to a rich vocabulary of its own. Sir Humphrey used sheer weight of eloquence to lean on his minister; Tucker fires off harpoons to maim and eviscerate.

You don’t mind too much because there isn’t a single character without irritating flaws. The Office featured handheld camerawork and included Tim and Dawn as everyman anchors; TTOI’s camerawork is more erratic and offers no respite from the humid air of simmering chaos. Ianucci’s script is semi-improvised like Mike Leigh’s but where the latter’s plays slowly reveal layers of his characters’ inadequacies and weakness, the Ianucci method skins them alive.

In 6/8 of the current series, Tucker shared a moment of incipient breakdown with Terri Coverley but wound up enough rage to pull himself round. The cliff-hanger at half-time in the final two-parter was Tucker’s sacking – including the formal handover of his iconic mobile phone – though in the final part he returns as an ‘adviser’ and appears to be a Tigger unbounced, if you recast Tigger as a hyena.

There was never a moment’s doubt that this couldn’t last and the revelation in the episode was how much you wanted the full feral fury to reassert itself, which little by little it surely did. In parallel, his counterpart in the Opposition camp,  Cal ‘The Fucker’ Richards (Tom Hollander, previously the hapless minister Simon Foster in In The Loop) ousts adman manqué Stewart Pearson to steer a looming election campaign.

The set-up for series 4 promises more fucking vitriol-flinging and Darwinist struggle more usually seen on wildlife documentaries about the plains of the Serengheti.

Armando iannucci’s comedy traces a line of descent that takes in Swift, Hogarth and Alfred Jarry. It’s scatalogical and unsparing and at its core its morality hammers into its targets with a cold chisel.

Might you surmise that I’m salivating a little at the prospect of Series 4? Oh Yes, Minister.


16-12-09 Hunger, Art

I’d dropped in on BBC2’s ‘School Of Saatchi’ over its run and have gradually picked up what was meant by ‘school of’, if not what it implies about art, or rather Art.

Following the well-trodden format of The Apprentice, The Restaurant, Britain’s Got Talent and The X-factor, a small bunch of ambitious hopefuls are run through an obstacle-course of tasks variously suited to their abilities and are progressively culled on the say-so of a gang of industry insiders.

I’d hoped to learn something about the critical process applied to Art but by the conclusion I was none the wiser. The judges talked to each other in aesthetic codes and knowing nods. I don’t make a point of bringing philistinism to the party but I remembered Brian Eno’s speech at the Turner Prize announcement in 1995:-

‘…Why have the sciences yielded great explainers like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Gould, while the arts routinely produce some of the loosest thinking and worst writing in history? Why has the art world been unable to articulate any kind of useful paradigm for what it’s doing now?’

…yeah, what he said.

The winner of the Saatchi goodie-bag had spotted the remnant of a tree-trunk impaled on railings, and negotiated with Wandsworth Council to buy the railings and transplant the accident to gallery-space, which not only made it Art but even more dismally really was about the most interesting piece on display. An artist may not actually make anything other than a decision, pointing the Tinkerbell wand of Art at a thing.

When Marcel Duchamp exhibited ‘Fountain’ [1917], a gents’ urinal finished with a made-up signature, it was a pointed joke which may have had something to say about a general wartime malaise of futility. Picasso saw a bull’s head in a bicycle saddle and handlebars [1943], but he was so restlessly prolific that it amounted to a 3D sketchbook page.

Now the found-object has become an orthodoxy. The impaled tree-section would inevitably have been removed by the Council at some point when budget permitted, and hauled away for recycling.

Selected by a Britain’s Got Saatchi competitor it actually did stand fair comparison with e.g. the Van Der Graaf Generator in a wig – enclosed in a wire cage on Health & Safety considerations, though in a process that apparently endowed every detail of the exhibits with meaningful nuance this conspicuous addition was edited out of the judgement. The artist had intended to have the generator running continuously, but threatened with its withdrawal – unfair to have the noise compete with contemplation of the other pieces – he opted to have it switched on at scheduled intervals which would create ‘theatricality’. Maybe had the gallery insisted that it be locked away in the basement, that too would have added a further layer of significance to the piercing vision.

Another piece, a plywood caravan containing artefacts ‘belonging’ to an imaginary mad professor, conjured up the image of a conspicuously low-budget theme-park attraction.

Yet another comprised a foam-plastic grappling-hook on a rope, hooked into a hole in a shelf placed high on a wall for no reason other than to hook the soft replica into. Because films often feature actors using grappling-hooks, this represented The Idea Of Escape.

Charles Saatchi refused to appear on screen but visited the exhibits like a Medici Wizard Of Oz and had his judgements relayed by a staff ambassador. What was he thinking? Wan’ that one.

Last night saw the TV premier of Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’, his film about the death by hunger-strike of Bobby Sands MP in the Maze prison [1981], the first of ten such deaths.

McQueen is not a Saatchi protegé but made a reputation on the strength of film-loop installations. Given the length and narrative structure of a feature movie he proves more than able to take his Art concerns and translate them into a powerfully coherent, detailed and nuanced movie.

The IRA’s ‘dirty protests’ in the Maze have attracted artistic attention before. Richard Hamilton, the donnish counterpart to Peter Blake in Brit pop-art, appeared in a TV documentary painting from a photo of the protestors and commenting on their ‘painterly’ use of shit on cell-walls.

Alan Clarke’s 1989 film ‘Elephant’ strung together 18 sectarian murder reenactments shot in chillingly detached documentary style, echoed in one summary despatch of an off-duty prison officer in ‘Hunger’. In many ways it should be seen as a companion-piece to ‘Hunger’, depicting as it does the ‘war’ in which the Maze prisoners claimed political prisoner status.

Inevitably, Hunger appears as an extension of McQueen’s minimalist art, visually contrasting e.g. the light of a snowy yard with scenes dominated by dark uniforms punctuated by fleshtone (these reminiscent of Stephen Conroy’s paintings) and long static shots of corridors and figures. The camers homes in on tiny detail – close-ups of crumbs in a napkin, a key in a car ignition, another key on a Union Flag fob opening a locker – in place of expository dialogue. Many of these shots rendered as outsize stills would constitute a show in a gallery setting.

A pivotal debate between priest and prisoner takes place in silhouette, two figures seated at a table while the dialogue unfolds. Pointedly the dialogue centres not on matters spiritual but political; the ramifications and consequences of a renewed hunger-strike. As it winds to its conclusion it plants the motif that closes the movie – this revelation doesn’t count as a spoiler.

The starvation sequence is problemmatic because although Michael Fassbender’s feat in reducing himself to an emaciated living anatomy-lesson represents astonishing commitment to the narrative, treated with sober dignity by McQueen, it has the appearance of some of the self-mutilation performance-pieces of the 70’s. Attention dithers between the portrayal and the off-screen preparation for it; concern focusses on the demands on the actor than the plight of the character.

TV mitigates the effects of the collective experience of a cinema screening and introduces novel uncomfortable juxtapositions in ad breaks featuring Jamie Oliver presenting Sainsburys’ Christmas food-bonanza and DVD sets of glamour-action Die Hard and comedy-violent Home Alone – an unintentional ethical contrast-and-compare exercise by the programmers, though the incongruity can’t have escaped them.

The Saatchi show and the movie have an Art provenance in common but in addition they represent windows on solipsistic mind-sets, that point where an ostensible concern for freedom finds expression in rigidly proscriptive codes.


17-12-09 Maybe The People

Love’s 1967 album ‘Forever Changes’ is certainly in my top five favourites. I didn’t stumble on it until five years later in the heat of a long English Summer when it made a perfect soundtrack – a garage band set in a lush backdrop of strings and a punchy brass section. Some of the lyrics are beautifully poised, some are psychedelic wack. All the songs apart from Bryan Maclean’s ‘Alone Again Or’ and ‘Old Man’ were written by Arthur Lee.

The lyrics include two of my favourite lines in pop: ’For every happy hello there will be goodbye’ – a simple observation that’s been a comfort in times of separation; and ‘The news today will be the movies for tomorrow’ – probably referring to Vietnam, but a cynical wisdom that’s proved a constant in my lifetime.

Arthur careered through a chaotic life and was rescued late by a Love tribute band, resulting in a tour recorded on The Forever Changes Concert DVD from the Royal Festival Hall in 2003, backed by the required orchestra. It’s astonishing that he was still standing and in good voice. His vocals always had a fragility about them but in this setting they’re both moving and heroic.

Here’s a case of simple chords allowing you to be your own jukebox – it surprised me how simple and few the chords are to this happy punk-flamenco number. That Cmaj7/F7 is one of my favourite changes (they’re just the C and F chords missing their highest fretted note).

My friend David called round this morning and with this song on my mind I played it through and he put a couple of terrific Spanish-flavoured solos over the changes. Being a tolerable busker has the advantage that you can roll out a carpet of chords for more accomplished players to dance along. ‘Between Clark and Hilldale’ refers to the location of a specific club, the Whiskey A Go Go, where Arthur Lee hung out, hip and on the scene.

“Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale”

(Arthur Lee)

Intro: Am

Cmaj7   F7                         G

What is happening and how have you been

Cmaj7   F7                 G

Gotta   go but I’ll see you again

Em              C             G

And oh, the music is so loud

Em           C                Am

And then I fade into the…

Crowds of people standing everywhere

‘Cross the street I’m at this laugh affair

And here they always play my song

And me, I wonder if it’s…

Wrong or right they come here just the same

Telling everyone about their games

And if you think it obsolete

Then you go back across the street

Yeah, street, heah hey hey

[guitar solo over verse chords]

When I leave now don’t you weep for me

I’ll be back, just save a seat for me

But if you just can’t make the room

Look up and see me on the…

Moon’s a common scene around my town

Yeah where everyone is painted brown

And if we threw that stuff away away

Let’s go – let everybody play

Yeah, play, yeah, yeah ye-eah

[guitar solo over verse chords; let final Cmaj7 ring]

One Response to “17-12-09 Maybe The People”

admin says:

I should have added the note that by the time some songs have got into my repertoire I’ve very often altered the original lyrics by a word or two. The original and complete versions are pretty easy to track down if this is a source of anxiety.


18-12-09 X-Factory

The newsroom at The Stirchley Courant is buzzing today with speculation about who will headline the St. Nemo’s Christmas Concert this year. In my capacity as Arts Correspondent I’ve been attempting to uncover the story behind the simmering brouhaha and under pressure to predict the outcome.

For the past five years the top billing has been decided by a competition organised by Mr. Reg Swively, owner/manager of the X-Factory Hyperstore on the Pershore Rd. It’s actually been a high-spot of the community calendar, as hopefuls auditioned in the parish hall in front of a panel comprising Mr. Swively himself; Mr. Declan Poont, choirmaster of St. Nemo’s; Cherie Coke of Coke Karaoke; and Bev Sputely, the fourth panel member.

For many of the auditionees this is a rare opportunity to get out of the house and for the audience it provided an opportunity to get a look at them. This year’s surprise favourites were comedy choirboys Will and Frank, affectionately dubbed ‘Illfer’ when parisioners pointed them out in the street, distinguished by their ADHD and the special mousse Mr. Poont rubbed into their coiffs backstage, which made their hair stand on end.

Well, the Courant readers’ postcard vote this year went to Little Geordie McTeeth who walked away with the X-Factory Gravy Boat and top billing at the Christmas Concert.

All seemed set fair until rumours began to circulate about a petition being organised by the Junior Shove Ha’penny Team at The Mug Tree pub, to have McTeeth pulled and replaced by The Fred Ludd Minstrels shouting their festive offering ‘Tidy Our Room? Ruddy Heck No!’.

Stirchley holds its breath today as the prized closing spot at the Christmas concert hangs in the balance, to be decided by sales of souvenir programme/songsheets.

Secretary of the shove ha’penny team Des Dimerage told The Courant ‘Reg Swively has had it his own way for too long, lining his deep pockets with the profits from the X-Factory sing-offs. The Minstrels represent the inarticulate voice of Stirchley’s disenfranchised youth, innit? And they’ll be giving 5p a throw from sheet-music sales to Lemming Rescue so that’s, like, good…’

A call to the X-Factory Hyperstore’s premium help-line brought this exclusive response from Mr. Swively: ‘Mr. Swively is out of the office at the moment. Mind your own business. Please call back later.’

As the battle for top spot gathers momentum, the Courant has been inundated with several calls a day from readers as far away as Kings Norton and Selly Park, undecided about whether to buy tickets for St. Nemo’s gala evening.

As ever, the newsdesk will bring you news as it happens.


19-12-09 Pantomime

The Stirchley Courant reports:-

The Rev. Ashley Billson of St. Nemo’s issued a statement folded inside the parish newsletter yesterday to ‘still the storm and assure parishioners that the traditional Annual Pantomime will go ahead as usual’ after the production was threatened by protests at the appointment of visiting pastor Rev. Providence Adinkwe as director.

Barry Blokely, spokesman for the parents’ committee told The Courant ‘We’d expected him to jazz it up a bit – bongos and some jigging about and that – but he’s gone and told them that Sleeping Beauty’s made up. He’s gone and turned round and said what’s it matter for, cause it’s a mess. What kind of message is that to give the kiddies?’

I called the Rev. Adinkwe, who told me ‘I think Mr. Blokely must have misinterpreted my introductory remarks to the cast and parents. I told them that we should see the story as metaphor, illustrating the enduring power of myth. I’m afraid it had never occurred to me to consider the historical authenticity of this seasonal entertainment.’

Mr. Blokely went on, ‘We’ve always gone by the book for our pantomimes. All you have to do is follow as it’s written and you’ll see the author’s purpose. Years of pantomime proves it.’

Regular readers will remember that the last time there was such controversy was the marathon parish council debate over whether Snow White should be portrayed eating a Granny Smith or Cox. On that occasion Rev. Billson carried the day with his Golden Delicious proposal, pointing out that God was in the name.

Rev. Adinkwe commented ‘I applaud Rev. Billson’s statesmanship on that occasion; I would only suggest that the precise variety of apple is somewhat less important than the central idea of the innocent Snow White accepting the poisoned fruit proffered by the Wicked Queen and her ostensible demise and subsequent redemption to lead the life Happy Ever After.’

Mr. Blokely added ‘Is he saying that generations of good people of our parish are wrong? Why would the stories be repeated year after year if they weren’t true? You wouldn’t get TV celebrities taking parts in the pantomime all over the country if it was just a load of nonsense. We don’t put them on just for our entertainment you know.’

In his open letter of resignation from the production to St. Nemo’s, Rev. Adinkwe says ‘I regret that dispute has hinged upon the historical accuracy of the Sleeping Beauty story. I have been a long-standing admirer of the English tradition of Miracle Plays and I had hoped to illuminate the theme of the Princess, pierced by a needle in accordance with the Fairy Malificent’s prophecy, falling into narcoleptic limbo until she is awakened by the Son of the King and rises from the bed. Even in the slumber of, as it were, her Tower Of Solipsism, the Prince finds her and leads her to The Palace of abiding happiness.’

At short notice the production has been handed to Mr. Declan Poont, choirmaster of St. Nemo’s.

‘It’s a demanding task,’ he said, ‘requiring long hours of individual coaching with the boys. The parents are very happy that I’ve managed to secure local TV celebrity Shirley Knott from Middle England Scene to play the part of the news reporter narrating the story to underline its truth. It’s a bold departure I grant you, what I call docu-pantomime, but it’s a popular annual event and I always look at bums on seats. I can’t say too much at present but local comedian Don (’Guffaws Galore!’) Colgate has expressed an interest in playing Shirley’s sound-man.’

Tickets are available from the St. Nemo’s rectory and Akhram News’N’Booze on Pershore Rd. The evening includes the traditional Prize Draw and Festive White Elephant stall.


21-12-09 Birdsong

This one’s interesting to me in that over the four years or so since I wrote it, it’s borne itself out as a note about technology incestuously recreating itself and dragging our minds with it. The last two lines of the first burst echoed the jangle and burp of modems connecting, a sound now pretty much as obsolete as the clack of a manual typewriter.

Quite often these bits of writing come from ideas for characters rather than heartfelt trawls of the soul. Tech-speak shapes thought as Orwell’s Newspeak was intended to, and there’s also something here of J G Ballard’s transference of romantic signifiers into a material world informed by the bleak glamour of polypropylene mouldings, arterial motorway traffic-flow and high-rise developments.


Ask not that my mind be still’d in spirit-longing,

Nor that it rest content with Nature for my Muse

Where Clare may scour the hedgerows for an inkling

And Wordsworth get the juice from epiphanic daffs

I don’t do darkling. Or

Whatever Hardy had it thrushes do.

I have a book-and-cd set to show you

What he actually meant. Or we can call up a dotcom;

Download a thrush.

The g-dang-along chirrup of the modem tone

Signing-in, logging-on, is a song we know.

The web we’ve woven, to bang an old conundrum

Like say, nest-building, signifies

Complex organised behaviour

Or a precursor of intelligence.

You pays your money.

Yeah well, the hell, we’ve all installed

Drop-downs; pop-ups; hyperlinks

So intimate we locate sites

Of URLs along the DNA

That predispose us to remain on-line

Or lose our connectivity;

Contain an Error 404;

or Download Can’t Be Opened – no creator program found.

Offline, incorporated in the multichannel polyphonic

Streaming real-time biosphere

In downtime we make time to defragment: troubleshooting paranoia: schizophrenia; trauma,

Self-diagnosing dirty codes and patches inherited

From early Beta-versions of our personal OS:

The ghost of Freud’s ego in the machine.

In place of sense and sensibility, our causalities

Derive from deconstructions of the disauthored text

Relayed in mediated intertextuality.

Birdsong changes over seasons.

Hardy’s crepuscular throstle would have been

Virtually unreadable to the thrush on the cd.



December 11, 2010

Reposts, 11-09

Spam seems to concentrate on pages rather than posts so I’m reposting early entries written when I hadn’t sorted out the difference and will delete the original pages….

22-11-09 aortic dissection

I’ve begun this paragraph because I’m waiting for surgery to repair an aortic dissection.

More specifically I began that sentence because my friend Philip was surprised I hadn’t started blogging about it – ‘I thought you of all people would be a born blogger’. I’m pretty certain he said blogger.

One reason to write is that it may save time later retelling the story because I hope this operation will clear the way for more interesting topics. Inevitably it’s going to dominate the background for a while though we hope that it will become an increasingly distant background.

If you’re squeamish about the anatomical technicalities, look away now.

Aorta=the big Interstate blood vessel that hairpins off the top of the heart: main distribution-route south with major arterial spurs turning off to the head and limbs.

It’s like a bicycle tyre with inner tube, canvas lining and rubber tread. Aortic dissection is a split in the inner-tube. The outer laters of the tyre will hold for a while so long as you don’t hit a brick on the road. I’m freewheeling on a thin tyre.

The consultants’ descriptions had conjured up a delicate Dorling-Kindersley diagram with the giblets colour-coded in pastel colours. I spent ten minutes Googling around so that I could be the better-informed patient until I stumbled on a photograph of aortic lesions that reminded me that I’m made of meat, packed like the suitcase of a homeward-bound tourist. Enough, I’m out of my depth in there.

Good news is that I have the luck to be living in a historically and geographically fortunate spot where this condition is diagnosable and treatable with understood procedures, free at the point of delivery.

Understood, however, doesn’t imply certainty. In the pre-op briefing I was offered percentage likelihoods of various potential outcomes of the surgery [stroke; cognitive deficit – pronounced ‘brain damage’; partial paralysis] and I asked permission to waggle my fingers in my ears and go la-la-la for the duration. I’m doing just great on denial, thanks, and don’t want my attention brought to any graph half-empty.

The statistic that stuck, though, was that in ‘90%’ of cases the condition’s fatal within days or identified post-mortem. That I’m here to listen to elegantly simplified picture-book stories about My Condition and its treatment is a Positive Indicator.

My blood pressure responds well to oral meds, so I’m discouraged from working and currently living in a very amenable waiting-room, home, with time to kill.

The uncertainties of the situation led one correspondent to raise the bones of Schrödinger’s Cat.

Shrödinger asks you to imagine a sealed chamber containing a cat and a geiger-counter and a lethal gas cannister that will blow if a random atomic particle decays in a given hour.

According to the quantum physics theory he was trying to illustrate, at the end of the hour the cat can be both alive and dead (OK?) but we would discover it alive or dead. This may be expressed: Tuh, you never can tell. Or you could say that it illustrates the paradigm of quantum decoherence and for a fleeting moment you feel as if you know what the blimey you are talking about.

So, imagine an aorta enclosed in a ribcage…

As I wrote that another part of my mind was speculating about Heisenberg’s Mynah Bird, which may or may not say ‘What you looking at?’, causing a shock reaction in the observer; Wittgenstein’s Pet, an indeterminate beast which may equally be dog, cat, tortoise or stick insect with chameleon-like contextual contingency yet categorical integrity; Duchamp’s Bull In A Plumbing Merchant’s which can be simultaneously smashing stuff up and constructing a satirical installation piece using objets trouvés.

I’m looking for the owner of this dog which only appears when you throw a stick for it but which hasn’t brought back the stick for some time.

That’s beta-blockers for you. I accept others’ descriptions of my butterfly mind (‘a man of sudden enthusiasms’ was my favourite euphemism); this tranquil little butterfly is in a constant light breeze, though zigzagging through bright pastures with nectar, nectar everywhere.

So this blog will take or not take.


23-11-09 Lydia

Dean Friedman’s mop-afro and tired moustache make him a cartoon of the 70’s singer-songwriter but this is really a beautiful, cinematic song

It’s a rare lyric in a guy-song; the singer is a self-confessed self-obsessed ineffectual loser with a fear of commitment; Lydia’s angelic qualities include her ability to overlook this.

More commonly the singer lists the beloved’s deficiencies in looks, grace and intelligence and declares that despite the catalogue of shortcomings they have, as Brook Benton noted ‘got what it takes’.

The singer asks his Funny Valentine ‘Is your figure less than Greek?/ Is your mouth a little weak?/ When you open it to speak are you smart?’ and if there were any room for doubt about these rhetorical questions, he drops the subject ‘…But if you care for me, don’t change one hair for me’. Shapeless, unphotogenic, tight-lipped and dull as she is, she’s the girl for him. Or he for her; the song is an equal opportunity critique, depending on who’s singing. Kiss me, you dullard!

‘Just My Bill’ weaves rapture around profoundly dull Bill, who ‘doesn’t give her anything to brag about’ although if ‘you’d meet him on the street and never notice him’ this strikes me as a pretty impressive ninja skill.


25-11-09, amateur

The surprise postponement of the operation has sent ripples through the news channels. It took a couple of weeks to notify everyone that This Thing had happened so I wouldn’t be answering calls and mail from given date.

Some will have seen the revised date on an F-book post-it note, others I’ve spoken to or mailed;  now i get those who would’ve understood me prioritising in the first couple of days and whom I now assume I must have told.

Rather than re-type an update, here is a mail from a friend. It’s a quince – Bill Bailey’s definition: ‘almost a coincidence’ – that Schrödinger’s Cat crept in a couple of days ago. My friends are surfing the ripples of quantum decohesion. How many event-variants can you get from heart-surgery + date x possible outcomes? Enquiries in the aftermath are a test of tact. The style can be big and sweary or painfully polite; here’s another variant…

From yesterday’s mail:-


[S]“I’ve been thinking about you. One week in, you’re probably still aching everywhere that can ache, and are so knocked out on medication that you hardly know which way is up — or care. Which is fine. If your body’s got any sense, it will have switched off your intelligence to concentrate on more important jobs.”

[G] Boo, again, in both intonations. Yes that’s where I should have been.

I went in last Tuesday with hospital luggage-lite, the pared-down version of your Stuff they prefer you to arrive with so they can lock it away while you’re in coma.

Activated my TV card; started on a guitar-learner’s memoir (not writing my own… ‘Guitar Man’, Will Hodgkinson); in the evening a nurse arrived with tiny dry electric shears and disposable razors and her merry depillator’s song and shaved my legs and chest. Me big hairy man, hm?, so she actually wiped her brow as she broke out a second razor to make a third sweep; noted my ensuing body-dysmorphia – hadn’t really noticed before that in my older age over the years I’ve watched the slow encroachments of moorland and thickets of body hair over my highland regions – looking down at the new smooth featureless contour came as a peculiar slightly queasy surprise.

Attended to soul. Imagine packing all the interesting stuff in your room into boxes and moving them out so you’re left with a table and chair and pen and paper and time to think – that really was the task, putting stuff away in boxes. I fell asleep before I had time for greater verities.

Woke in the morning and was sent to shower this oven-ready body with red astringent soap; given meds to ‘make me drowsy’.

Awoke in the same bed five hours later, to be told that there wasn’t a space in Intensive Care for me post-op, so they’d postponed surgery and would give me their next suitable date. I called Martin, the friend who agreed and then volunteered to act as hospital taxi, who picked me up Wednesday evening.

I go in again on Dec. 1.


S replied today and in another passing quince mentioned writing her blog which no-one seems to read. This is hugely encouraging because I’m still trying to figure out a function for it.

The rate at which the ‘cutting edge’ recedes to quaint horse-drawn plough – I suspect ‘cutting edge’ is getting a bit old hat now – does mean that recording the day-to-day will very quickly provide unwitting evidence to the social historian of the near future… er, I tell myself.

It might be somehow useful.

Cue The Police, Message In A Bottle: Kafka with a dub-reggae beat.

In praise of play, also from yesterday’s mail….:-


[S]“They are going to show some of my Darwin pictures from the summer on the side of the new theatre between Christmas and new year, as a finale to the Darwin year (not just mine, but mine were asked for specifically). A moment of minor fame at last!”

[G] …more important, recognition. You get a lot of that in Flickr!* so you must have absorbed a general sense that whatever it is, you’re doing the right things somehow. Isn’t it so much more satisfying that your work is noted than that your professional self-promotion strategy has paid off?

It’s the amateurs, in the very best sense, who make Flickr fascinating. Very often the pro photographers’ sites are clearly qualitatively distinctive but cold. Models are lit to be shot like the shells of sports cars.

You’re one of the reasons I don’t take more photographs – if I did of course I might get better – because there are people who ‘see’ camera and capture something more than an inventory of objects within range. My brother too has talents such as the ability to catch crowd scenes where everyone is visible, natural and part of a composition. I try similar shots and it looks like the camera went off by accident in the street.

It’s true that I’m a great amateur guitar enthusiast even though YouTube’s a constant reminder of the many amateurs who’ve developed their enthusiasm to breathtaking levels or who have *that* musical sense. Look at any of the uke pieces by ws64 on YouTube. He does so many that it would take me a week to begin to learn. He seems to be able to voice any tune that happens to run through his head, humming using a ukulele. That’s a musician.

It will be a unique experience to see your own images cast large on a building, irrespective of quality, just big, and *up there*. Hoorah!


* has so completely become a feature of my life that I neither obssess (I did, a bit, for a while) nor really notice that it’s a habit.  Flickr is a gigantic public snapshot album designed for photographers but used by artists and makers and pop-history archivists. I use it as the fridge door on which I tape my paintings from school.

My username ‘rackratchet’ is a term for the ideolect of pidgin I speak when tackling time-consuming practical tasks – flat-pack furniture;   attempting to get my bank to recognise my card on-line; filling out administrative paperwork.

Rackratchet is spoken from the corner of the mouth with a rhythm reminiscent of a choking outboard motor or a simmering pressure-cooker.