Sunday, August 31, 2008

Stroke My Spaniel And I'll Bite You, Cameron

David Cameron scares me. Somehow he has managed to convince half the British electorate that he isn't Margaret Thatcher in a Tony Blair skinsuit, when he very obviously is. How did he pull off such a confidence trick?

The hopelessness of Gordon Brown's Government helps. Imagine, waiting for a job for ten years (or however many it was since Blair and Brown did their famous Mephistophelian[is that the spelling?] Deal) and then finding out you are utterly useless at it. Brown is a prime minister for a different age, one that passed many, many moons ago. He's just not superficial enough to pull it off in this age of media manipulation initiated by his former boss Mr Blair and his demonic sidekick Alastair Campbell. It's not the message that matters anymore, Gordy. It's how your hair looks when you deliver it.

Cameron's talk of believing in the individual and not the State has even, somehow, convinced cynical political observers that he's saying something new. But Thatcher and Reagan were saying the same thing in the 1980s. They just said it more aggressively. Cameron strokes your metaphorical cocker spaniel while he's saying it so you think, "What a nice bloke," and don't notice the subtext.

Think of the recent stuff about people taking responsibility for their weight. "The State didn't make you fat"--that was the implication. So you must take more responsibility for managing the problem. But whichever Tory speechwriter came up with the wording for that one put it so cleverly, they managed to make it sound as if Gordon Brown personally is somehow insulting you with all your qualities of personal strength and resilience by offering help for grossly overweight people on the NHS; while at the same time the speech played beautifully to the prejudice of all the perfect thin people who think being fat is somehow a sign of moral weakness, and lays the ground (nobody seemed to notice) for cuts in services that might well be desperately needed.

And that will happen. All of Cameron's cutesy, people-friendly policies and his anti-State perorations are sweetly-worded groundwork for a society that serves big business and satisfies the mean streak in the national character.

Of course, if you're a selfish materialist who dislikes everybody who doesn't resemble you, that isn't going to be a problem. Figuring out that plenty of voters in Britain these days fit both of those preconditions (though thankfully not everyone) and then reselling his perception with industrial helpings of Asda own-brand sweetener was probably what won David Cameron the election two years before it was held.

Earls Barton Gangster

comb stuck in hair,
jeans down around
his butt cheeks,
boxer shorts
on backwards.

talks black london
on his mobile phone.

yeah cool man

big gangster waiting
for the bus to town.

asks for half fare
when he boards,
and gets it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


We woke up this morning to the news that John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin, the Governor of somewhere or other, and--as the news reports are taking great delight in telling us--an ex-beauty queen, for his running mate in the American presidential elections. The fact that she was a beauty queen, of course, means nothing, and the British media is actually being rather sexist in reporting it so rabidly.
There's a suggestion that one of the reasons McCain chose Palin was to try to poach disillusioned Hillary Clinton supporters from the Democrats. I don't know if that's true, not being a Facebook friend of John McCain's, but I can believe it might be. What I struggle to believe is that anybody's alliegance to a political cause could be so flexible that they'd abandon it just because a candidate with the same genitalia was selected for the other team. But then, I am known for my dogmatism when it comes to politics. A friend of mine recently said, "Bruce, for such an intelligent and nuanced man you see things in very black-and-white terms." (of course, he would say that. Capitalist swine that he is.)

Changes To The Page

The keen-eyed among you will notice I've made a few changes to the look of the page.Let me know what you think. It looks cleaner and clearer now, to me, and it sports the colours of Ipswich Town, my football club, who, if the first few games of the season are anything to go by, are likely to need all the moral support they can get.
I'm also going to reintroduce labelling of posts from today so people can read the things they're interested in and skip over the stuff that bores them silly. I know some people don't share my interest in politics and only want to read about literary matters, for example. So labels should be of some help.
Excelsior! (as Stan Lee used to say.) Bruce.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Station Pub

in Wellingborough is gone! I passed it yesterday. It was a fabulous old place, small, soaking in the character of another age when the profit margin and corporate unformity weren't immediate considerations for every new building or business. I'd guess it had been there down by Wellingborough Rail Station slaking the thirsts of travellers and rail workers for a hundred years at least.Lee and I went in there a few times, it being near his house. I've drunk in there alone and with other people too. Now it's just a big (small) pile of rubble behind a wire fence, the space waiting to be developed, no doubt into something that looks exactly like everything else, something no one needs. Overgrown with budleia, the large pointy purple heads blowing in the august wind. The only thing that's left of the original structure of the pub is the doorstep. I stepped over it, went in, sat down on one of the plucked and threadbare seats and had a pint in memory of times and people gone.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I've been to Leicester today. Wanted to go somewhere I hadn't been for a while to calm my mind down again after all the tension I picked up yesterday at work. Seems to have been successful as well, since I don't presently want to shoot anybody.
I thought, since it was also pay day, it would be nice to be in a bigger place where more of the things I wanted to buy were available. But I was forgetting myself. I don't really want anything! Just the odd book by Philip Whalen or Gary Snyder or Han Shan or Li Po that you can't get in any English bookshops anyway (that's why Buddha willed the internet into existence, right?) So I haven't returned from Leicester with anything except a clearer mind than I had when I went out this morning. But that's got to be more important than anything else, I think. Without a clear mind there's no escape even in sleep.
Lunch in the park in Leicester town centre, a few feet away from this waterfall, across from the town hall where a black man and a white woman were celebrating just having married in the registry office, was the thing that clinched my return to some measure of sanity.As you can see from the picture it was a beautiful morning. I wish I'd also got a photo of the pigeons cooing around my feet hoping I'd drop a scrap of my Mexican bean wrap.

The Day After Work

Morning on the mountain. Cars circling like swarms of flies down in the world of dust below.

Mind really sour today. Don't even have any ear for rhythm. Snappy like an angry crocodile rotating yellow eyes in the undergrowth waiting for a chance to bite.
That's just the world,
the world,
the messy,

(from my journal)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Me, Women And How It Is Now

Since I broke up with **** I have had a strange existence. I spent most of last year in the company of a woman friend who I never slept with, but who had become like a kind of Siamese twin. That relationship was too intense. I became too intense. Almost had another breakdown because of it. She had me believing (almost) my melancholic nature was due to hell demons attacking me. I can't remember why I'd made them cross, in her crazed demonology. Recommended I cry out the name of Jesus to come and defend me when the blues (and therefore the demons) got really rough. I didn't do that, but I did take to keeping a copy of the Bible in the house, and hanging a crucifix from a nail in my ceiling, just in case.Pretty peculiar for a Buddhist. When I look back on it now I wonder what the hell was wrong with both of us. (Maybe I was missing the nutty relative I'd lived with before, or the psychic dramas I endured in that situation for so long.)

Finally I couldn't take any more of my friend and stopped answering her calls. I feel guilty about that, but hell, I am alive; and I wonder if I would have been, had our friendship continued.

Since then things have been a little quiet. I had a couple of dates with a beautiful Namibian woman, but when I fell down the stairs in the pub on the second date I knew that was a bad omen. When I look back, from my present viewpoint, at all the female company and entertainment I had only a couple of years ago I wonder what's gone wrong. But nothing has gone wrong. People move, and change. Everybody I know now is so much younger than I am. And everybody I meet is so unlike me. I get tired of feeling like the eccentric uncle of every woman I sit across a pub table from. And it frustrates me having nothing to talk about with most of them. Did I see the X-Factor on Saturday night? Well, no, funnily enough. But I did a great thirty-minute meditation. (Eyes glazing.)

I have decided just to commit to being the person I feel like being, quit chasing worlds I passed through and matured out of twenty years ago so I can get a bit of company that would pretty soon bore the pants off me anyway. I'm happy getting up before dawn to sit on the meditation cushion.I'm happy hiking through the parks or along country lanes talking to the cows. Writing poetry and arguing in my own head or on the internet about politics. I'm happy living frugally because accumulating useless objects is a soul suck I just don't need. These things might make me an alien being that hardly anybody left (at least in this county) knows how to relate to. But I can live with that. Trying to do things the other way for the last forty years has left me a screwed-up and deeply unsatisfied man.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Drugs and Yours Untruly

I heard something on the radio this morning about mandatory drug and alcohol testing in the workplace. Now, I'm opposed to any impingement on civil liberties, especially when they're imposed by bosses to protect the profit margin, but when I heard about this one I thought, Hmmm, finally, a way of finding out whose life outside of work is real and who makes theirs up.

Because drinking and getting stoned are the only life now. It's everybody's measure of whether you've had a good or a bad weekend. If somebody had spent Saturday and Sunday writing a symphony, they'd probably still go into work on Monday morning and tell people they were massively hungover from a two-day drinking binge with a lot of unnamed (and probably made up) friends.

Mind you, I'm sometimes guilty of ridiculous (and essentially immature) image-making myself. I wrote an email to an old girlfriend some time ago in which I gently castigated her for trying to give up cocaine. "I hang onto all my vices jealously," I wrote (or words to that effect).

What vices? Tosser. I have smoked a little weed from time to time, and I like to drink. But I've never touched anything stronger. Not out of some moral objection, but just because drugs, and the people you got them from, seemed too dangerous (this woman's druggy friends were like desperate animals in my snobbish estimation: not a trace of civility or sophistication about them)(and they laughed and made fun of the helpless crumbling old drunk in the corner of the Racehorse). Oh, and I didn't want to have to spend the large amount of money you had to spend to get the drugs. Do the purer among you have any idea how much even a little marijuana sets you back?

So whatever vices I was inferring I might have to my old girlfriend--who took offence at the email and didn't talk to me again--I actually have never had.

Why did I pretend I did? I don't even know the answer to that.I have spent so long living on the borderline between fact and fantasy--as a compulsive storyteller in poetry and prose and in conversation--I probably almost believed what I was writing as I wrote it. There's an element of alienation, and mistrust of other people, in there too. But it's ridiculous anyway. My major vices are snobbery on the one hand, and self-pity on the other. Though I'm trying to deal with both through Buddhist practice.

I have a significant and lifelong addiction to peanut butter, if that helps me look any cooler to my readers.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Three Poems


like hokusai's wave--
that cloud above
the council houses.


who's bowing down?
who isn't?--
morning meditation


as far as i know, i've never been
to san francisco--
inspired by the black cat bar
i remember other places.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I got in a good twenty minute meditation in the bedroom at work before I went in for my shift this morning. I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it, with everything that goes on there distracting my mind. Ironically, though, one of my old Buddhas resurfaced at work the other day--I'd left it there ages ago and forgot about it, and someone had set it up as an ornament or something in the room--so I was able to use that as the focus for a kind of makeshift altar on the floor.

People are instinctively repelled by the idea of things like altars, bowing and prayer in this time--though it's okay to worship money and have a widescreen telly as the altar-like centrepiece and attention-focus of your living room--but I don't worry about them anymore. The ceremony of morning meditation is a nice way of centering my mind. And the elegance of it is certainly better for your head than the drivel it gets filled with by morning telly. I only bow before the Buddha from time to time, but anything that helps you break down your own ego has got to be a good thing. Who am I that I shouldn't have to bow down before something? or somebody? What's so special about me?

Mind you, these things probably would seem sensible and right to me. I talk to cows.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Back to the money job today after 13 quiet, beautiful, instructive days off. Now I have to try to hold onto the peace of mind and the renewed focus I've found with all of the pressures and distractions of the job tugging me away from them. Well, if I really want to stay on the path I will, right? All I've got to do is sit squarely on the ox of my mind and make him go where I want him to. Which is easier said than done, but that really is all it boils down to.

As for the job itself--I can't really resent having to do it, much as that tempts you after two weeks of blissful silence and serene meditation. The job is what buys you the space to find the peace inside, after all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


There is only now, Zen says
The moment you are in
Sitting in the benjo
with your trousers down
writing "there is only now"
as someone coughs once
in the cubicle next door.


Coffee, black, times two,
then breakfast.
Shit, shower, shave,
apply deoderant, get dressed,
brush hair free of tangles.
Such work, it seems like
so much vanity.
I'm like a guy from National Heritage
trying to preserve an outhouse
that went up in another age,

listed, though no one's
quite sure why.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Young Couples In The Age Of The High Street Burger

I have got to stop listening to other people's conversations. It's creepy. But you get so much great material when you do. This morning I saw this young couple--the usual model nowadays: overweight pretty big-mouthed woman and skinny, spotty-faced, grumpy, quiet, staring-out-of-window male--they were sitting on the bus staring into a big buggy that obviously contained a really new baby and discussing what they should call her. "Winifred!" the male said in a rare moment of involvement in the conversation. It was like watching a fish break the surface of a river and then dive back in. "We certainly will not call her Winifred!" the female insisted. Then they started talking about something else. I couldn't hear what the man was saying because he spoke in a whisper. Either he remembered they were on a bus (at least one of them did), or he'd adjusted the level of his voice since getting together with the woman to let the windows and doors settle back on their hinges after she'd finished her latest peroration.(You see it so often in male/ female relationship politics now.) But in response to one of his comments she boomed out, "Well, you can't help that, you've got a short attention span!" "No I haven't," he said, embarrassed into audibility. "Yes you have," she insisted. "You can't keep your mind on anything for more than a few minutes." "Yes I can," he said. And then he lost interest in discussing it and turned his face to the window.

For the rest of the journey I was trying to concentrate on something other than the size of her stomach. It's fascinating how being massively overweight doesn't seem to affect the confidence of some of these women in the way it would have done thirty, twenty, even ten years ago. And a good thing too, although everybody--woman, man or beast--should know when to shut their trap occasionally and give everybody else in the room a chance.

Buddha, Jesus and the Church of Latter Day Bank Clerks

I'm an English Buddhist sitting in an internet cafe in Northampton run by Muslims in the next chair along from two American Mormons. Think of it. They're wearing those short-sleeved white shirts and black trousers, the tie, the name badge. An image which is supposed to look respectable and break down the barriers of fear and suspicion, I suppose. But to me they look much more peculiar and intimidating and sinister than the Muslim woman sitting behind the desk in her burkha. I know there's a strong argument against the subjection of women in Islam and that the burkha represents that (is it subjection if a woman of intelligence, as she clearly is, wears it voluntarily?) but it's still a nice outfit, at least according to my prejudices. And with burkhas there are a hundred different colours and designs for women (I presume) to choose from. It's an unfair reaction, but when I see the Mormons coming all dressed exactly alike in the same styles and colours I have an instinctive fear that somebody is brainwashing them in a basement somewhere and sending them out onto the streets to take away all our individuality and freedom under the cover of preaching about Jesus. Which I think is partly because the costume that has been chosen for them makes them look like bank clerks or middle managers in burger chains. It seems so far removed from how Jesus would have presented himself while travelling through Judea (or wherever it was) telling everybody that they had to give up all their notions of earthly status and respectability if they wanted to get into Heaven.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Colonel Parker Was No Albert Grossman, Dude

It crossed my mind yesterday, thinking about Elvis Presley on the anniversary of his death, what a terrible manager Colonel Tom Parker was. It's not usually looked at that way, but think about it: after buying Elvis out of Sun Records and getting him onto RCA (I think he was with Elvis when that happened)--that was an exceptional move--what did he do? Got Elvis into two good movies and about 150 terrible ones, almost ruining his reputation in the process, and never, after the comeback--which was probably the one time control of Elvis' destiny was put in somebody else's hands (the classic concept of the show in '68 was the producer's)--never once arranged for Elvis to perform outside the United States. (Hawaii is one of the states, isn't it?) Performing across the globe may or may not have stimulated Elvis' creativity--I think it would have, because his repetitive concert schedule in America, echoing the repetition of the movie contract, dulled Elvis and made him lose interest in what he was doing--but from a purely mercenary point of view, imagine how much cash they could have made if Elvis had performed in Britain, France, Germany, South America, Japan, Australia--all the places that artists of global stature were going to by that time (think of Dylan and the Stones). The Colonel wasted Elvis as a human being AND as a cash cow.
Of course, you could say that Elvis needn't have been so passive; that he could have stood up like, for instance, the Stones and taken control of his career. But that wasn't the nature of the man. His was a primal genius. He preferred to leave business to the suits so he could indulge his other passions when he wasn't at work.
And on August 16th 1977, of course, indulging his other passions so dedicatedly (including among them self-pity) killed him. But as a creative force he had expired a long time before that.

Quote of the Day

2012 is now only four years away - athlete waxing philosophical about the Olympics on 5 Live this morning.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Southbank: Unions, Racism, Romance And Friends

I was in Kettering again yesterday. Sat under a tree in the park next to the art gallery for a while, chomping on a veggie baguette and thinking thoughts. But then a group of those kids in white baseball caps and cheap sports gear became a little too interested in me. You don't sit under trees in their world, you sit on walls. And you don't go anywhere by yourself either; you have to find a gang of people dressed like you.So anyway, I thought they were going to start hassling me, given how much they were looking in my direction and giggling (or is this paranoia?)(or guilt because I've abused them so comprehensively in my writing and in the County Court of my Buddhist mind?), so I got up and decided to go and do something else.
I went up to visit Southbank. Southbank was where I used to work, at the top of (what road is it?) on the way out of town, a big old residential care unit for people with learning difficulties tacked onto the end of a day centre and a respite care unit for the same client group, both of which went under the imaginative name of Elm Bank.I left in 2000 or 2001, I think, when social services began shutting down its old res units; I was transferred down the road to a place that looks out over another one of the parks. I probably shouldn't publish its name here because its name is just its address, no more (or it used to be) and I believe it now houses the old respite unit. Don't want every unscrupulous person knowing where to find a nice little stash of drugs and money now, do we?
Southbank was kind of an important place for me. I started working as a trade union representative there, and got involved in a couple of really interesting union disputes. I also became entangled in the scariest problem I've ever had to face at work: a black employee accused the management and the staff of racial discrimination against her and named me as one of the instigators. I don't need to tell you that I don't think I was guilty. I don't think the management were guilty either, as much as I wrangled with them over many other things. It went to tribunal (or "tribuneral" as half the staff insisted on pronouncing it); and ironically I wasn't allowed to testify in my own or the management's defence because (I believe) my over-analytical way of considering the situation would have played too much in the complainant's favour.
At Southbank I also met **** who became my partner for a few years about a year after we met; and at Elm Bank I made what could have been a fantastic friend in ***. But I blew it. I blew it as I blew almost everything in those days because I was still messed up from my mother's death, and half crazy trying to manage the descent into madness of the crazy relative I was living with, and--all other excuses aside--an immature twat to boot (yes I know I was in my thirties, but some people mature slower than others). At Elm Bank I also had a brief--spectacularly brief--romance with *****, who I thought at the time was the coolest woman I'd ever met, with her piercings and tattooes and her shambolic dress and general counter-culture attitude. We went out a couple of times but she found out I wasn't the bloke I seemed to be and lost interest almost immediately. Unfortunately she didn't tell me and dragged me around Northampton on that second date clearly hoping (I can see with hindsight--I was too drunk at the time) that I'd get the hump with how rude she was being and fuck off. Which I almost did, leaving her in a huff in the King Billy pub late that December night, but when I got outside I couldn't remember which way the bus station was, or the taxi rank, and I became, in my intoxicated state, really scared. So I went back in. I've always wished I'd just walked. Sober I realised that the King Billy was only a ten minute walk from the bus station.
(This woman reappeared in my life a little while ago. Turns out she's a friend of Sonia's. I wrote to her and we got into a brief correspondence over MySpace. She invited me over to dinner a few times but was never available to finalise a date. Then I made some crack about her getting boring in her old age because she was cutting down on the drugs and she went silent on me. This time, I just deleted her from my list. Anybody can piss on me once--I'm very piss-onable--but I'm too old and gnarly to let anybody do it twice.)

When I got up to this Southbank/ Elm Bank complex (remember, before I wandered off the point I was walking up there yesterday), I found it fenced off, all the windows boarded up, wild flowers growing out of the rooves, little jungles of grass three feet high in place of what were once (fairly) well-manicured lawns. Elm Bank, of course, (or at least I think so--memory has blurred the facts), moved downhill to the other home I spoke of, and the plan the last time I knew anything about it was to join the day centre up with one in Corby. That had obviously gone ahead, or something like it, because the only creatures that can get into the compound now without a crowbar or a strong pair of pliers either have four legs or two wings. But the plan to sell the land Soutbank and Elm Bank were on had obviously failed miserably. And it isn't going to get any better until the credit crunch is over.

It was strange, but salutary, standing outside this wreck of a formerly-thriving place watching trees rustle and birds croak and wood warp in the sun (okay I didn't see any wood warp). Everything changes, just like the Buddhists say. Southbank is gone. Elm Bank is gone. My girlfriend is gone. My friend is gone. The shot at even some sort of late-blooming mature friendship with Sonia's mate (which would have been nice) is gone. Everything goes. Which proves that in a weird way, nothing really matters. If you are patient and level-headed and don't let things upset your equilibrium, eventually every problem you're faced with (even being accused of racism--jesus!) will be part of the past. But you have to guard your friends carefully and treat them with the appreciation they deserve for giving part of their lives to you. If you don't they'll be hurt and one day you won't have them anymore.
But my karma or time or whatever other forces are at work here has given me enough health and security (so far) and a whole new set of friends to get it right with. As I walked back down the hill from Southbank I said a silent prayer of thanks for that and then headed to the benjo for a wee.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Credit Crunch Holiday (5)

After doing the internet thang yesterday I bussed back to Earls B and walked out to Sywell Country Park. There are a few of them in Northamptonshire and they're really valuable to people like me with a bit of an Ed Abbey/ Gary Snyder hang-up because they're the only places you can go to sit down and read, or meditate, or think, or talk to the animals, without running the risk of getting your arse shot off by an irate farmer. I was going to say nobody owns the country parks, you see; but of course, all of us do technically.
Anyway, I was out there sitting at a fireburned picnic table (now that must have been a hell of a barbie), and I began feeling so peaceful with the sun on my arms and the ducks and swans thrashing about in the water and the smell of woodsmoke filling my nostrils, that I started writing a kind of thank-you poem in my journal to express my appreciation of it all. I had hoped there might be a little shower so I could take a walk in the woods and have the rain filtering down through the heavy tree covering etc etc.--"for the poetry of it," as I said in my journal--but this sun was even better. After all, rarity breeds affection in peculiar souls like me and this was probably only the second or third time I'd been able to sit out in the country in the sun all summer.
I needn't have worried about the rain, though. I was so busy concentrating on my poem, I didn't notice a black cloud the size of Scotland drifting over the park with a menacing glower on its face. I did notice the first clap of thunder it gave out to announce its arrival, however. In seconds my journal was spotted with rain and people were beetling past me on their way downhill to their cars.
"They don't know the country like I do," I thought, as the rain really began to tip."In a few minutes it'll pass over."
My desire, you'll remember, had been to walk in the woods while it rained. But the car park is in the woods--or at least the near-woods--at Sywell and I didn't want to look like another delicate suburban countryphile racing for cover at the first sign of a little weather; so I got up off my fire-damaged bench and started walking in the other direction, away from cover towards the other end of the park.(There is another wooded area on this route, but from where I was it's fifteen minutes walk at least to get there.)The ducks I passed on the concrete bank by the water (it's an old reservoir) looked at me like I was mad. Most of them had hunkered down and stuck their beaks inside their tail feathers dejectedly waiting for the storm to pass. A woman sheltering under a tree with her dog called out something to me but the rain was already so heavy I couldn't hear her. I made a noise of amused assent, presuming that would be appropriate, and walked on.
Dumb. Dumb dumb plain stupid dumb. In five minutes my eyes were stinging so much from the rain I couldn't see where the hell I was going. And the rain didn't appear to be stopping, as I'd calculated it would using my ineffable country wisdom. I saw a bunch of trees I might shelter under but someone else was using them. I couldn't see who and unless it was a really gorgeous middle-aged single woman looking for love with a Buddhist poet I didn't want to hazard it; so I walked on. Eventually I came to a line of high bushes and low trees by a fenced-off area and tramped in to shelter there.
I passed the time taking photographs of raindrops on brambles, trying to replicate the look of a Japanese brush painting. But I couldn't see what I was doing and my phone was covered in rain: when I got home and reviewed the pictures later they were shit. Eventually, though, with the rain becoming even fiercer with no sign at all of let-up, and the footpaths turning--literally--into rivers of brown, fast-running water, I thought I'd better admit defeat. "Okay, okay, you win," I shouted into the howling wind (and if you doubt that really happened, you should've been there). I didn't know who I was talking to, but I felt certain there must have been some crazy god with a perverse sense of humour doing all this. And that's when I came out from my almost-useless shelter and walked back through the brown river into the slicing, freezing-cold rain as quickly as I could, heading for the woods I should have been in all along. I don't have a car, of course, but there is a good concrete benjo there that would serve for shelter until the rain had passed. If, of course, it didn't just keep on raining forever.
By the time I got there my clothes were hanging down from my body heavier than chain mail with all the rain they'd absorbed. My eyes were raw from my misguided efforts to rub away the stinging and I'd picked up a deep scratch behind my right knee from somewhere or other (did I mention I had shorts on?) But I don't want this to come across as one more in my long list of grumbles about my holiday, because--and perhaps you'll recommend I should be locked up for this--I enjoyed every minute of the experience. Perverse? It was like being inside a T'ang Dynasty Chinese poem about mad monks out in the wilds looking for enlightenment. The mad monk being yours truly. I may not be able to write poems like Li Po, but I'm damn good at getting cold and wet.
I didn't find enlightenment, of course. That'll take a little more than a wet walk in the woods. But I did note, for future reference, that when I'm predicting how long a rainstorm will last I should probably check the direction that the wind is blowing in.(I can imagine Ed Abbey's ghost turning away in exasperation.) When I think back on the afternoon I could have figured that simple one out just by looking at the angle of the rain.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Little Movie Moment For You

Two Great Lies Of Modern Life

Think how many times one of your friends has said either one of these to you. And then, before you start to feel all aggrieved about it, ask yourself how many times you've said them to your friends.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I was miles away." (Trans.: I was really hoping you wouldn't notice me.)

"I wasn't ignoring you, I didn't have any credit." (Trans.: I was ignoring you.)


The perennial question: "So you think a kid with Downes Syndrome is being punished for the misdeeds of previous lives?" (People are always trying to prove to you that your beliefs are wrong, especially if they have none of their own.)
Who says that kid's not a bodhisattva incarnated in this form to teach people to care for something other than themselves? or to make people aware that their hearts are hard so they can begin to make some sort of spiritual progress?
Besides, a disabled kid's life is only a marathon of suffering to those who look on, secretly appalled by what they see as his imperfections.

After Meditation

A pigeon flying down through light
from my thatched roof--
Getting up to stretch my back.


It stands on top
of centuries of thinkers,
poets, philosophers and priests--
my perfect mind.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I checked on how my bank card was doing after I left the internet cafe yesterday. Remember? It didn't work in the morning and Worst Direct advised me to try another ATM because, they thought, the machine I'd used couldn't read the chip in my card. As it turned out, the two ATMs I tried in the afternoon couldn't read them either.
Starting to worry a bit, I went home, dug out all my security details, and phoned Worst Direct again. After being put on hold and transferred twice (at least it wasn't three times like in the morning), I spoke to a guy who said he would replace my card, on the presumption, now, that there was something wrong with the card and not all the ATMs in Northamptonshire (seemed a sensible assumption), but that in the meantime he would put an override into the system so that the machines could read my existing card, until the new one arrived, and I wouldn't be left without money for the 5 to 7 days it might take for the replacement to arrive. "Do call again if you have any more problems," he said. There was an air of confidence about this signing-off statement that made me feel, naively, I wouldn't have to call again. I'd had the luck, at last, to speak to someone who knew what he was doing.
Hmm. After talking to him I went across the street to the only ATM in my village and tried the card. Guess what? It didn't work. The call centre guy's magical override had failed.
I was getting f***ing cross now, I don't mind telling you. So I went home and called again. This time after telling my story for the third time today and then being put on hold for nearly three minutes, I was transferred to somebody who told me there was no such thing as an override that could be placed on cards to make them work in ATMs when they were faulty. Why the previous person I'd spoken to had said there was she couldn't explain. I would just have to wait the 5 to 7 days it would take for my new card to arrive.
"I can't go for a whole week with no money," I told her. I could hear in my voice the cranky indignation you hear on those TV documentaries about beleaguered call centre staff dealing with idiots from the general public."Well, the only other option for you is to go into your nearest HSBC branch with your cheque book and passport or driver's licence and withdraw money over the counter," she said, after reminding me that none of this was her fault. "I don't have a cheque book, I don't drive and I don't have a passport!" I said. It sounded like I was just looking for objections now, but all were true. I haven't used a chequebook since 2006; I can't remember whether they withdrew it or I stopped it, but I don't have one. And my passport is still sitting at the Passport Office in Durham (where I tried and failed to romance a beauty called Athena many years ago: another one of my follies). I've been meaning to send them some documentation to prove I am who I am so they will send me the passport.
At this I could imagine the woman at the call centre looking at the clock over her head and wondering if it was home time yet. This man's from the Neolithic! she was probably thinking. Or writing same on a yellow post-it note to the person sitting next to her. (It's true. The 21st Century has completely passed me by. I move through my life like a slow cloud on a windless day. Or a dumb cow ambling along not realising the next turn takes it to the slaughterer's van.)
I have one other option to get a little money before my card arrives (and given what the purblind tosspots who manage it have done to the Royal Mail who knows how long that will take?) The only way to get money--out of my own account, remember--it's mine--is to call Worst Direct, give them the address of the HSBC branch I'll be visiting, and give them two hours notice to make the arduous arrangements required to make whatever sum I require available to me. She didn't say what sort of identification I'd require for that, but I must be able to identify myself somehow. Arthur Rimbaud might have been somebody else, but I am me, right? Funny to think I might have no way of proving it, other than by dragging a respectable citizen in off the street to verify the fact for me.
Now, who the hell do I know who's respectable? Nobody comes to mind immediately...
I will call them and arrange to take some out. This isn't turning out to be much of a holiday somehow, with no money and the constant deluge outside. But I can't call them today. No way. It took enough of my day and my carefully-engendered peace of mind away from me yesterday. Today I'll work with what I've got; and I was being a little bit disingenuous and martyr-like when I spoke to them yesterday, because I do have a couple of hundred in a safe deposit box in an unnamed location in Earls Barton guarded by ninja assassins.
I'm supposed to be beyond materialism anyway. Friend of bird and beast, rootless Zen hero sleeping where he falls etc etc. Maybe the difficulties with Worst Direct yesterday are telling me I should stop trying to compete with my work colleagues, who are all going on nice foreign holidays, and get serious on the Buddhist study at last. After all, how long do I want to leave it before I look at the man in the shaving mirror (though I don't shave) and see the person I imagine when I close my eyes?

Going To The Shops

To the fly, that dog turd's
just a good, wet breakfast--
both of us out hungry after the rain

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Credit Crunch Holiday (3)

As you can see from the little pome (last post) it was righteously raining this morning. The sky looked like it was billowing out smoke and ash from the foundries of Hell. But emboldened--or becalmed--by a 30 minute meditation I decided to go to Leicester anyway. Got into Wellingborough, went to an ATM for the train fare and a message came up: "Your card issuer has not authorised this withdrawal."

Oh shit. This has happened before, so I had a good idea what it might be: in the name of security, the banks monitor your ATM withdrawals and then freeze your account if anything looks irregular. Which you'd think was a good thing, except every time it's happened to me I've been in another town with no cash on me and no way of getting home except either walking--which isn't advisable when the heavens are tipping down on your head--or borrowing money from someone, if you can find anybody you know at the arbitrary times and in the unpredictable places this account freeze tends to happen.

It can be sorted--your account reopened--with a call to your bank. But to prove you are yourself (!), you have to go through a lot of security steps you've registered with them at an earlier date, answer questions about dates, times, letters, numbers, "all that malarkey" as Steve Wright used to say from under his moustache back in the Eighties. But I can never remember my security details; and I'm certainly not going to carry them around with me in the same wallet where I carry my card.

Anyway, luckily today I had a couple of quid in change in my pocket so I could afford to go home, find my security details--though I had to turn the Lookout upside down, almost literally, to locate them--and call the bank. They kept me on the phone for about twenty minutes, put me on hold twice, passed me to three separate departments, and finally told me that they weren't sure why I couldn't withdraw the money. They certainly hadn't put any freeze on the account, not this time. The only thing they could think it might be was that the specific ATM I used couldn't read the chip on my card; they advised me to try another machine and then call them back if they were wrong.

And you know what, gentle reader? As I was in the middle of writing this account of a really vexatious morning I remembered I hadn't been to another ATM yet. You see, I found some money lying around in the house and came out--to Northampton this time, which is kind of my default town these days--to loaf about a bit and get some lunch, and somehow the business with my card completely slipped my mind.

It was probably the conversation I had with my friend Sadie before I came out again. She made me feel really calm, as she always does. Puts the trials of the ordinary world just far enough away, with her esoteric and spiritual conversation topics, for them to be manageable. But once I've finished here I'd better go and see if the ATM across the road will cough up. I don't want to be relying on the loose change by my bed for food for the next couple of days, or however long it takes to persuade Worst Direct to get its act together and stop making my life such a contest.

Midsummer Morning, Opening My Curtains

for dawn

Car tyres splash through rivers of rain
Lights on against the gloom at 8am.
Woman steps quickly under an umbrella
going for the bus to town.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Credit Crunch Holiday (2)

the lookout

Again that delicious luxury of not quite knowing what to do with your day.
Ah, that this holiday and my money could last forever!
The challenge, not to slide into old conceptual habits because I have time on my hands.

in the benjo, wellingborough market square

Half way to Wellingborough on the bus I realised I'd forgotten my wallet. And I have no money on me at all. Rode all the way into town anyway, smiling at my stupidity. Look on it as a long walk home voluntarily taken.
Plus I really needed to piss.

croyland park

Circuitous route back through Croyland Park, trying not to step on the daisies and buttercups.
An insect I don't know the name of crawling through the tangle of long hairs on my leg. Antennae twitching madly as it hunkers down against a gust of strong wind.

The swimming baths are gone! Nothing at all remains of the building except in my mind, where it is as real and loud and echoing and chlorine-smelling as it was before.
In real unreality (as Kerouac called it),only the car park is still there, exactly as it used to be.

I am 12 and 43 at the same time standing in this spot looking at a vanished building and remembering all the times I went there.

The past and the present both exist in the same space, simultaneously.

Gulls wheeling in the air--smaller birds too (I don't know their names either!)--it's like a metaphorical illustration of the dream we're walking through from day to day.

And the sky is huge above the park. The houses on the edge of the park, and the spire of Wilby Church in the distance, look so small as those big grey-white clouds roll overhead (followed by patches of blue).

*When I think about posting this on the internet I stop seeing clearly, my mind shuts down and my writing deteriorates!*

Friday, August 08, 2008


Okay, it has nothing really to do with the credit crunch. I just don't have any money. Result of taking a £3000 loan out to fix up the house I grew up in; I'm still paying £100 a month back on that on top of £510 a month rent, which has just been raised to £525 thanks to (I reluctantly surmise) the credit crunch and the Labour Government's general mishandling of everything. There are a bunch of other smaller debts that I have to pay off every month too. AND I live nine miles away from work and have to use public transport to get there. AND I've had to move house twice in four years, which isn't the best way for a man to start piling money up in the bank for bourgeois luxuries like holidays. The last time I moved I lost my deposit too. Shame I put the money down on my present property before the new regulations, ostensibly putting tenant's deposits in the hands of an objective third party, came into law.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I have two weeks off work and I can't afford to do anything. I certainly can't go abroad, though that would be impossible anyway, since the Passport people still have my passport (it's a long story). Thankfully, I do have enough money to move about a tiny bit in Old Blighty, but not much. Today I went to Wellingborough, Kettering and THEN Northampton, crazy bastard that I am. I was going to go to Leicester in the morning, but it was really pissing it down with rain. I mean, the skies were pouring vengefully. "That cloud says Noah, build me an Ark," as Kate Bush once said. I certainly didn't fancy walking around in Leicester in the hippie sandals I was wearing with the Heavens micturating all over me like that. In the aforementioned Golden Triangle of Northampton, Kettering and Wellingborough I did some internet work, some journal writing, sat in the park, toured all the charity shops, bought a copy of Francis Bacon's essays, avoided a couple of people from the old days I couldn't handle speaking to, and tried not to think too much about the past. I am haunted by the spectres of the old days--old girlfriends, places I went with my Dad (in that car park I laid in his car with an ear infection while he visited the office of Motor Cycle News)-- but I don't think it's a good thing. What am I going to have to remember from now if all I do now is remember?


She sees her friend in the street, rushes towards her with a squeal of joy, opening her arms. Inches away from her friend, who is mirroring her movements and her pleasure, she stops, turns her head, sneezes, giggles, then jumps into the other girl's arms.

Later she waits outside Sainsbury's smoking a cigarette in the rain, talking aimatedly to her friend from earlier. She sees a boy walking out of the car park towards her. "Jude!" she shouts. A smile seems to consume his entire face as he realises who's calling him. She chucks away her cigarette and opens her arms theatrically."Hug me, you big black bastard!"

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Yo Yo Yo

I actually heard somebody answer the phone by saying Yo yo yo a little while ago. A priceless moment. I would have laughed till I peed myself if he hadn't looked so scarey.

He was one of those blokes who dressed as if he'd just stepped out of a hip hop (do they still call it hip hop?) video. Cap and oversized lurid-coloured clothes. I bet he tried to roll his shoulders and bounce at the hip when he walked too. I don't know, I didn't hang around; I had to go somewhere with my derision so he didn't notice it and stab me.

Those blokes, of course, are more palatable than their more common, cheapskate equivalent, those pale, underfed, spotty-faced kids who wear white baseball caps and crappy jogging bottoms from Primark. All they seem to do is sit on walls with their mouths open shouting monosyllables at each other and trying to frighten old people.

But they appear to listen to the same sort of music half the time, albeit with a little brainless bang-bang-thump-thump electronic dance music (for the want of a better description) thrown in.

Somebody played for me one of the sainted hip hop records the whole world seems to be copping its lifestyle from this afternoon. It was stupid. It was boring. It was predictable. The same loping, bass-heavy cruising-in-my-big-car beat we've been hearing for thirty years. The same half-sung, half-spoken witless lyrics about guns and bitches (or whatever it was). The person who played it for me obviously thought it was cool or funny, or something. But I stopped needing infantile rebellion against social norms before I left secondary school. By then I was ready to look at what the real enemy was in contemporary life.

It seems from the vantage point of my advanced years that a whole generation of people is modelling itself on the economic victims of an institutionally racist society and trying to talk itself into the ghetto just because its parents don't think it's smart to say fuck at the breakfast table.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

TV: The Enemy In The Room

I watched half an hour of television this afternoon. I had to; I was in a hospital waiting room and I had to turn my head towards the tv screen to stop the other people in the room talking to me.

I was struck by what a sedative television is, all this time after giving up my own set. Within five minutes of watching the programme in front of me--some cooking competition compered by a tv dancer dressed like a Burton's window from the 1980s--I was almost asleep; and within ten minutes I felt like my brain had died.

Somebody said to me earlier, apropos of my not having a tv set, you're missing EastEnders. Her tone was rather incredulous, as if I had revealed I'd gone three weeks without water. You walk down any street at night and glance through any window, you'll see at least one person sitting dumbly in front of the glowing box in the corner with nothing on their body moving except an arm forking biscuits into a half-open mouth. And usually a whole family will be doing it.

Jack Kerouac called tv the world of one eye.

I'm convinced that if television hadn't been invented we'd all be more intelligent and less inclined to take all of the shit that's heaped on us by the people who rule our lives and control our world. It's like a Communist dictator disguised as a leather-booted party girl.

Sport And Politics: The Olympics Are Here

According to the New Statesman, 209 people have been murdered by the Chinese Government or their jack-booted thug lackeys since Beijing was awarded the Olympics. But sport and politics don't mix, do they, so what does it matter?

The BBC's Olympic coverage is going to be linked with a long animation featuring characters from the classic of Chinese literature, Monkey (which was also a rather fabulous tv show many Chinese moons ago). I don't think it'll feature Chairman Mao accidentally murdering millions with a dangerous and unworkable agricultural policy or Buddhist temples being destroyed and statues being melted down in Tibet by Communist soldiers; I can't see it depicting the forced sterilisation of Tibetan women when they go into hospital with a urine infection or a broken toe either. That might be just a little bit too much for the overweight narcotised armchair athletes to swallow after they've had to endure an episode of the spectacularly banal daytime soap opera Doctors while they wait for all that thrilling running and jumping.

But sport and politics don't mix, so why would they show all that angst from so long ago or in a country that doesn't produce anything useless for the West to consume anyway?