Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tibetan Rally On March 4th

On March 4th outside the Guildhall in Northampton, we'll be meeting with sympathetic people to remind the world, peacefully, of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the human rights abuses the Tibetan people continue to suffer at the hands of their occupiers. We'll be raising the Tibetan flag and--according to one conversation I've had--two Tibetan Buddhist nuns will be in attendance. A timely event with Gordon Brown dragging Richard Branson to Beijing to take tea with the Chinese premier, not to mention the Olympics China is hosting later this year.

Business is good. We all want to see our nation prosper. But should it prosper materially at the cost of its morality? The Labour Government made all the right noises when the awkward subject of human rights was raised on Brown's Chinese tour. But I wonder if they mentioned the torture and murder of Tibetan citizens being carried out as a matter of provable fact by the Chinese occupiers? I wonder if they mentioned 11-year-old Karma (aptly named) shot at by Chinese border guards last October while escaping over the mountains to India. Brown may have Chinese names at the bottom of fat new business contracts, but Karma goes to sleep every night not knowing whether his family, whom he lost in the perilous crossing under Chinese gunfire, are alive or dead.

The days of Labour's "ethical foreign policy" seem a very, very long way off. Not that the Conservatives will be any better.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It Tastes Right

I woke up this morning to the news of the death of Heath Ledger, the intense, charismatic Australian actor. He was found dead in New York, apparently after an accidental drug overdose, though that hasn't yet been confirmed by an autopsy.I'd just seen Ledger in the outstanding movie "Ned Kelly". He made his name, however, in "Brokeback Mountain", a film that became infamous a couple of years ago for its depiction of homosexuality among American cowboys. A Christian friend of mine liked Ledger but vowed publically not to watch the film because of its sinful subject matter. I didn't see it either; but for me that was only because I don't like love stories, whoever they involve. There's something tragic about sitting alone in your flat watching one-dimensional people find happiness in a glowing box in the corner.

Somebody I know in real life died recently too. And it made me think: I have reached the point where I no longer have any doubt that the Buddhists and the Hindus are right about reincarnation. I used to like the idea intellectually, but struggle with it on an instinctive level. When you're dead, you're dead, right? Well, no.

Somebody once asked Gary Snyder how he knew when a poem was finished. He said, "It tastes done." Reincarnation tastes right to me. Not that it's much of a comfort, given that it means you'll only have to come back and kick the bucket all over again.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

TV? Me? No Way, Jose

I am having a paper war with the TV Licensing chaps. You know, those people who go around collecting £135 per household on behalf of the government so that we can have the privilege of watching the sainted BBC, supposed upholder of all the stout traditional values that once made this country ruler of the waves.

You see, I have a television, but I only use it for watching dvds. I can't actually get a tv signal in the Lookout. I was rather perturbed by this when I moved in last March,and made a nuisance of myself complaining about it to the Estate Agent who act on behalf of my landlady. But after a while, when nothing was done to remedy the situation, I thought, "Do I really care anyway? Am I missing that much?"

Only live football (and you can get that down the pub). Most good television, in my humble you-know-what, disappeared from British tv screens a long time ago. So I decided, though with the inaction of my Estate Agent I probably didn't have much choice, that I wasn't going to bother with television anymore and save myself the £135 for things that would enrich my life much more. Like books, and music, and the occasional bottle of wine.

But try telling that to TV Licensing. I've tried. Twice. And after both letters of explanation from me they've sent a further unpleasant and threatening missive telling me, in effect, that if I don't get a license immediately, they'll send the boys round.

Fine, I told them in my latest letter. Come round. I'll make you a cup of tea. I'll even go out and buy sugar for it (I don't take sugar personally). You could be in the Lookout for an hour and you'd still find no evidence that I watch television. But please stop ignoring the letters of explanation you have asked me to write. It's costing me a fortune (well, a few coins) in stamps and paper, and the bullying tone of your communications really aggravates me.

Is it so inconceivable, in the modern age, that somebody should choose not to spend half of their free time in front of a glowing box in the corner of their living room watching crap while the better part of their lives go by? Perhaps it is, given what a conformist society we live in. But I am somebody who has made that choice. As psychologically damaging as it seems to be for the people at TV Licensing to "take that on board", as the saying goes, I wish they'd deal with it and leave me alone.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

One Man's Meat Is Another Man's Murder

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (now there's a political heavyweight) says she intends to "work closer" with--ie bully--internet providers to ban extremist websites, which are shouldering a lot of the blame for people being recruited to terrorist causes.


Now, before the spirit of Senator McCarthy rises indignantly in you, let me state (though it sickens me that I should have to), that I loathe Islamism (as opposed to Islam), with a passion. I hate any philosophy that's anti-intellectual, anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-alcohol, sexually puritanical and prone to enforce its agenda with violence. That's why I have a problem with the contemporary version of Christianity as well, though other than at the State level Christianity tends not to be violent.

Put barriers onto websites so that those under sixteen can't see them, by all means. But after sixteen isn't a person presumed to be an adult, and capable of making his or her own decisions? These Islamists will find ways of circulating their pernicious material anyway. Why do we want to help their cause by making political martyrs of their leaders and organisers?

And once legislation of the sort Smith is proposing (I presume they're going to legislate and not just act freely, this--let us remember--unelected government of ours), where are they going to stop? How, after all, do you define extremism?

Edward Abbey's fine novel "The Monkey-Wrench Gang" is, I understand, regarded in some quarters in the United States as advocating terrorism. It's about a disorganised band of environmentalists destroying machinery and blowing up bridges that are spoiling the beauty of the free spaces of the American West. Naughty, I'll grant you, and highly expensive for whoever has to foot the bill. But terrorism? What would you call businessmen working hand in hand with corrupt politicians to wreck the natural habitat of thousands of wild creatures, and steal from our beleaguered spirits the last few places a human being can go to escape the concrete and steel that are strangling him?

The society we live in is supposed to be a free one, with the exchange of opinion and the resulting vigorous debate between opposing views the engine that powers it.

If you start hacking away at that principle, Ms Smith, the whole social tree will fall down.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Life

A pregnant friend of mine found out today that she is having a girl.

It's funny. Doesn't matter how cynical you get about life and other people; the arrival of a new baby always seems to give you an inexplicable feeling of optimism and general well-being. Well, it does me, anyway. The one time it looked as if the ex I have written about here from time to time might be pregnant, I was thrilled. She, unfortunately, was not (and she wasn't pregnant anyway).

Now we know what gender the baby is my friend has asked me to do some of my fabulous and world reknowned (should that have a "k"?)cartoons on the nursery wall. Maybe this time I'll restrain myself from my trademark depiction of Sombrero Sam, hippie cowboy, with long hair hanging out from under a large Mexican hat and a marijuana cigarette burning phallically on his lips.

Or maybe not.


Remember I reported that somebody had given away the ending of "I Am Legend" on the poster for the film on Abington Street in Northampton? That some wag had written, next to the title, "He dies at the end", thereby excusing us all from the onerous task of going to the cinema to find out what happens? (Well, I wouldn't have gone even if Amy Winehouse had asked me, and if you would have gone, maybe you wouldn't have considered the prospect onerous, but there you are.)

Anyway, I passed the poster again today and noticed the graffiti (or is that one f and two ts?) had been removed. Wow, that must be a record in these parts for graffiti removal! In Wellingborough (the next town along), there's some drawing and incoherent scribbling that's been on public walls for twenty years.

Mind you, it might not have been some underpaid, droopy-shouldered council worker out in the morning rain with a rag and a bucket of cleaning fluid. It could have been some straightlaced moviegoer objecting to the fun the graffiti-writer was having at the expense of people like himself or herself. It could even have been Will Smith, who, alerted by my report on SUFFOLK PUNCH, rushed out to take care of the offending script before it diminished the gate receipts for the movie in these parts.

But the third of those options is probably the least likely, I have to admit.

Dread Girlfriend Dub

I was listening to my King Tubby cd "Dub Fever" yesterday when I remembered another of those women who have passed in and out of my life.

Her name was Vicky. She was skinny and pale and she wore her hair in wild dreads that felt like old rope to the touch.

The first time I went to her place we smoked a joint or two and looked at a box of photos she pulled out from under her bed. Her and her friends stoned in a tent at Glastonbury.

Then she climbed over to a stack of mini-discs next to a Buddha in a Santa hat (it was nearly Christmas).

"Wanna listen to some dub?" she said.

"Okay. What's dub?" I said.

She lost interest in our relationship soon afterwards because she didn't know how to explain it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Passing Shots

On the bus Two teenage girls were talking about movies. One was trying to remember the name of "that black actor", the one who isn't Samuel L. Jackson or Denzel Washington. "Fuck!" she said, as she struggled to retrieve his name. "FUCK!"
Every clause of every sentence she spoke ended with an elongated, interrogative "Yeah?" which she formed by opening her mouth as wide as it would go, showing to all who were unfortunate enough to be sitting close by the unmasticated crisps inside it.

On Abington Street I passed a big poster for the Will Smith movie "I Am Legend". (Maybe he was the black actor!) Next to the title of the movie somebody has written, "He dies at the end." Good, now anybody who was going to see the film doesn't have to bother.

Moments after passing the movie poster I saw a man with a virulent cold walking towards the town centre with a pigeon just in front of him trying to pick up a piece of dropped kebab. As he closed in on the pigeon he coughed and it flew startled into the air. But pigeons being the pedantic or dense creatures they are, it landed only a foot or so away still directly in the man's path. And when he coughed again it leapt into the air again.
I was going to stick around and see if this cough-and-startled-flight game was repeated for the quarter of a mile between our present location and the shopping centre, where the man was presumably heading to buy some Veno's, but I didn't have the time.
And somehow watching what took place between man and bird reminded me uncomfortably of my love life.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Who I'd Like To Meet

Here's another snippet from the MySpace page, written today in answer to the question about who you would like to meet. I share it here because I think it sums up my position pretty well.

Anyone who's not afraid of their own mind. People who are well-read.You think that's snobbish? Fine! But please spare me the inverted snobbery that says somebody is only socially acceptable if their most challenging reading is found in the gossip column of the Sun.You already have strength in numbers, there being about forty million of you in the UK. Why do you need another recruit? I want to meet people with an interest in what's happening beyond the tip of their own nose. If you vote Tory or Republican, you'd better have a sense of humour to make up for it. If you think the fabric of this country is being torn apart by lax immigration or homosexuality, fuck off now! If you don't like a hefty drinking session every now and then, go pitch your tent elsewhere. I hate puritanism and I've never been anywhere near a gym, other than the one I pass on Abington Street in Northampton when I'm heading for Ramsbottom's chip shop. Sometimes I feel I am the last person alive who likes to get pissed AND discuss the parlous state of contemporary culture. My dream is that one day a beautiful or a once-beautiful woman will come along armed with a library of worn books and prove me wrong.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mods And Rockers And Punks And That

I heard a funny conversation on the bus yesterday between two teenage girls, students. One said she was doing sociology and they were studying "mods and rockers and punks and that." She said, "My teacher was a mod and he's seventy."

"I don't really know what that is," said the other girl, bravely.

"Neither do I," said the first. "I texted my dad and asked him what he used to be. He's forty..."

(I never found out what her dad "used to be" because I had to get off the bus at that point.)

At the start of their journey the same girls, coming up to the top deck of the bus, occupied to that point only by me, passed where I was sitting and one of them suddenly said, "It reeks of marijuana up here!"

They sat down. The girl who thought she could smell the weed got up and opened the window.

"Can't you smell it? It's everywhere!" she said.

"Don't you like it?" the other girl asked.

"Yeah," she said, not sounding at all convincing.

"I've got some in my pocket," said the other.

"Marijuana?" asked the first (I don't know what else her friend could have meant).

"Marijuana," said her friend, importantly.

And then the conversation moved onto something else

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I wrote the following on my MySpace page in answer to a correspondent who said that Kucinich was his choice for president because he was the only one with a spotless record of opposition to the war:

I agree, and Kucinich would be my choice for president. But if it looks like Kucinich isn't going to win, then it seems to me that to make sure the next Republican DOESN'T get in, you would have to switch your vote to the best Democrat with the best chance of beating him. I have been doing the same thing in the UK for the last three elections. I disliked Tony Blair, especially when he yolked his political cause to Bush's, but a vote for the Greens, who are the best alternative to the two parties who run the show in Britain would have been a surefire way of electing the Conservative Party. They are massaging their image right now, but they will always be racist, homophobic, anti-union, pro-war (not much different from mainstream Labour in that respect), and the arch-enemy of true social mobility: under them the poor will always be poor and the rich will always dine on their suffering. Which makes them the British equivalent of the Republican Party in the US.

America may view Obama as morally compromised and a creeping hypocrite, and that he may well be, but set his character profile against John McCain's or any of the other Republican lunatics running against him. Who would you rather have running the show, really? Oscar Wilde once said, "Cynicism is intellectual dandyism." Those who genuinely want to end suffering, or at least ameliorate it, don't have the luxury of sitting back and tut-tutting about corruption while the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Over here in old Blighty we are following the American primaries with interest. Or rather, I am. I don't know anybody else who gives a toss.

To me the reason for taking an interest seems obvious. The man or woman (and that is, at last, a possibility), in the White House pretty much decides whether the world burns or thrives in peace and harmony. And the dolt who has been running things for the last eight years seems to have been intent on making the former happen rather than the latter.

Anybody out of the current crop of Republican and Democrat candidates would be better than George Bush, except maybe John McCain, who seems to have even less of a grip on reality than dear old Dubya.

But I am a liberal, of sorts (the new partner of a friend of mine asked her the other day, in tones of muted horror, "Is he left wing?"--he might have been asking if I were a pederast). So naturally I would rather see one of the Democrats win the election, when after America's laborious system finally runs its course people go to the polls. The only one on the Republican side who intrigues me is Ron Paul, who supposedly is against the war and doesn't mind if you smoke marijuana as long as you do it at home. But Ron has less of a chance of getting the Republican Party nomination than I do.

On the Democratic side I find I'm closest, politically, to Dennis Kucinich. He won't get the nomination either. It will go, we can predict with some confidence, to either Hilary Clinton or Barrack (is that how you spell it?) Obama. Neither of whom will be able to effect the kind of restoration of America's soul that they are promising, but there you go. At least if one or the other of them takes the Oval Office, there might still be a world for them to disappoint.

Of the two, I prefer Obama. I don't know why; Hilary has reasonable liberal credentials, though her voting record on Iraq is suspect. But she has a long-standing sympathy problem. It was the same when her husband was President. For some reason Hilary is just hard to like. And trust. Whenever she promises something, you immediately suspect that the opposite is going to happen.

But she has learned now how to combat this. Judicious shows of barely-controlled emotion. Put that quiver into your voice and the voters' hearts will be swayed. She did it the other day in New Hampshire and it swung, supposedly, a large number of voters away from Obama. She could almost have been receiving tutorials on the electoral benefits of the appearance of sincerity from Tony Blair, who won three terms of office using the same manipulative tools. Or maybe she has been talking to that no-talent singer who cried at the right time on national British television and beat everybody in sight to win "The X-Factor".

It could also be that old age is making me cynical. But I doubt it. Obama for president, I say, not that I have a vote in these matters.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Everywhere I go in Northamptonshire is loaded with memories. Perhaps it is because I have lived here for so long. Perhaps it is just because I have lived so long. But Kettering, which I visited this morning, holds more memories for me than anywhere else.

I went to college there between the ages of 16 and 18. Had a whale of a time too, drinking, smoking and vainly pursuing girls while flunking, as the Americans would say, all three of the A Levels I signed up for. "Unhelpful parents," one report on my personal file, which I broke into for an illicit peek, opined. But I didn't fail because of my parents. I failed because of me; and because of the delightful novelty of being surrounded by girls after five years at an all-boys' school.

While I was there I fell in love. Or I fell in love as an incredibly naive, disablingly lonely and sentimental 18-year-old falls in love--that is, I never told her, and went home every night and played heartsick records by my bedroom window, looking out over the rooftops and knowing that nobody had ever experienced a comparable pain. Her name was Helen and I spent many years afterwards unable to shake her memory.

It was only when I started work at the Southbank Hostel (no longer there), that Kettering ceased to be indelibly associated with Helen. And that was fifteen years later. Then I fell for another girl (woman), though I was no longer foolish enough to believe it was love; I knew that what I was experiencing was no more than a powerful crush. But powerful it was. Harness the electricity that generated and you could light up a large village at Christmas time. I still believe that if I'd had the balls to tell her--and that by some miracle she had felt the same way (I know her mother liked me)--we would have embarked on a love affair that might have persisted to this very day. Her name was Caz. Whatever happens to the loves that never were?

The problem was, I didn't have the balls to tell her how I felt. And then I met and fell for someone else. Someone I worked with who was known to everybody else I knew. Someone who was married. And we agreed--though in retrospect I think the agreement served her more favourably than me--to keep our relationship a secret. If we told anybody, so the reasoning went, one of us would have to leave the job.

In the event both of us left the job. But the woman I had fallen for would never leave her husband, either because she didn't love me sufficiently, or because she was lying to herself about her feelings about the situation she allegedly endured at home. Certainly I was not a good prospect as a partner or husband. I don't earn enough, and in my time with my ex I was frequently on the brink of a breakdown. Partly, I stress in my defence, because living apart from the woman I loved, and knowing that she went home most nights to her husband, drove me up the wall.

But the secrecy we shrouded our relationship in at first ruined a great deal that I would have liked to lean back upon when the relationship, as it inevitably would do, fell apart. Our friends and work colleagues weren't idiots; they knew that we were seeing each other. What they couldn't figure out was why we were lying to them. By the time I left the job for pastures new, none of the boys and girls who had been part of my social or work life up to then was talking to me anymore, including, probably, Caz, who I had driven away by avoiding her so that I didn't have to tell her any lies about who I was seeing and what we were up to when we met. I had pretended to have no relationship a couple of times when I went to Caz's for lunch and it stuck in my gizzard like a badly digested chunk of apple.

Now when I go to Kettering I reflect on the damage I did in the pursuit of something I never finally received (her love), and I wonder if it was worth it. The answer has to be a bitter and resounding no, though on those nights when I sat with my ex drinking wine and listening to music, our legs entwined, the fire crackling and the future seeming, at last, to be secure, I suppose I might have answered differently about the friends I wasted and the people I hurt.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Blur were right. It really is.

I changed my bank account a couple of years ago. Went with a famous internet bank because they were offering a £50 sign-up fee. And since then I've had nothing but hassles and inconvenience.

They tell you when you sign up that you can withdraw up to $500 from a cash machine. Fantastic! But the first time I tried to do it--I was moving house and needed a deposit for my rent--the machine wouldn't let me have the money. I went to another machine assuming there was something wrong with the first one, and that wouldn't give me the cash either.

When I phoned the bank, they told me my account had been frozen because a £500 withdrawal was outside of my usual spending pattern. I had to confirm that I was me and that I really wanted the money before they would unfreeze my account and let me have it.

The same thing has happened to me three times now; and it happened again this morning. It's a good thing I have a little cash left in my pocket, or I wouldn't be able to get home to ring them and tell them to give me my goddamn money.

I know what they will say. I have been withdrawing money more regularly than usual, and since the withdrawals are uncharacteristic, their security measures automatically shut me out of the account. But I am taking the money for reasons I don't think I have to justify, especially not to the bank making a profit out of my custom. It's my f****** cash, isn't it?

As soon as I can I will be moving my account somewhere else. If I can find a bank that doesn't lock its service up with a cast-iron chastity belt to prevent even its users from getting at the goods inside. If I can't I may have to consider purchasing a cookie jar.The old ways, sometimes, are a lot less irritating and inconvenient than the new ones.

Saturday, January 05, 2008



I finished Clive James' "North Face of Soho" this morning.

Hmm. I'm not sure about this one. He's what they call "a great prose stylist"--and I loved two of the other books in the "Unreliable Memoirs" series--but "Soho" doesn't seem to hang together; in places it's more like an extended diary entry, with the author's mind splaying all over the place, whereas the other books had an obvious overarching structure.

And Clive sounds oddly priggish here. Any older man who presumes to share his wisdom with younger minds does. I know this! Your wisdom only serves your own experience; or it is the harvest of your own experience. For somebody else's life, particularly if they are younger than you, it will probably be as useful as a chocolate kettle (as the saying goes). The world reinvents itself every day, along with the rules that govern it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


I will undoubtedly be called a miserable old curdmugeon--again--but it really annoys me they saw fit to spend one million pounds on the New Year's Eve celebrations in London when they're telling the police they can't have a modest pay increase for putting their lives on the line every time they go to work. I'm not a big fan of the police, but we'd be in bloody big trouble without them. Fireworks, on the other hand, don't do much for anybody, do they?


Well, I haven't managed to write a poem like the big boys write yet, but I did invent this little ditty as I was walking down the road from work in the freezing cold last night.


So what if I pick my nose,
Have long and yellow curling toes,
And green mould in my undies grows?
I still boss all you so-and-sos!


"Horovitz's own way of proving that poetry was for the moment was to write not a line that anybody could remember for five minutes."

(North Face of Soho, Picador, 2006)