Sunday, October 26, 2008


I found out yesterday that a woman I really like, in whatever way you want to take that, thinks I use long words when I talk to her because I know she doesn't know what they mean.

I was rather appalled anybody would even think me capable of such pretentious behaviour. If I use long words it's because they're the words that are passing through my head when I'm talking to somebody, or writing something down. It's not because I'm trying to intimidate anybody, or impress anybody.

Actually, I think my vocabulary is pretty basic for a man who likes to believe he's intelligent.

The most pretentious thing a person could do in conversation would be to simplify his (her) words or ideas because they presumed the person in front of them was too dumb to understand them in their original form. (Stand up everybody publically campaigning for the Republicans in the American election.)

It didn't even cross my mind that the woman I like wouldn't get what I was telling her.

She said she didn't mind that tendency in me because I taught her things. But I don't want to teach anybody anything either. What do I know that I should be electing myself anybody's teacher?

All I want to do is have a conversation with anybody who's interested so all of us can learn a little more.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Barack Does Rhyme With Iraq, After All

The Republican campaign in the American presidential election may go down in history as the sleaziest one ever fought.

They have to take some, though not all, of the responsibility for the ridiculous idea that seems to be abroad aqbout Obama's true religion, since they made such an effort to conjoin their opponent's name with terrorism in the public imagination.

I saw one woman at a McCain rally the other day say that Obama was really a Muslim. That he was just pretending to be a Christian until he got into the White House. At which point, presumably, he plans for there to be a great Ta-Da! moment when he rips off his suit to reveal a chest strapped heavily with explosives (maybe when he does his first speech from the Oval Office, eh?)

Of course, to a sensible person being Muslim signifies no more of a connection with terrorism than being Christian, or Buddhist. But to the uneducated, prejudiced, angry white swine who vote Republican in America or Conservative in the UK it does.

By tying the name of an opponent with a Muslim heritage to the boogeyman of terrorism (albeit homeland terrorism), they--or whichever multinational business executive directs their policies--were trying to spook voters with the spectre of September the 11th. And with some of their supporters,who are dumber than ten mules in a pea soup fog anyway, it has worked.

It is a dangerous tactic, one guaranteed to unleash even more anti-Muslim feeling in America than there may already be, and poison impressionable minds on both sides for a generation.

Thankfully McCain and Palin have changed their tactic somewhat in recent days, realising that most people were onto them and looked on what they were doing with distaste. Now they are trying to conjoin Obama's name with Socialism, which is equally absurd given how conservative Obama is, but much less damaging. Socialists are used to being maligned and beaten over the head with sticks.

But at least these days most people wouldn't kill them.

Basting Mummy

I was cooking two chickens at work the other day, the fellow who usually does the cooking not being around, and I can't even begin to explain how horrible I found it looking at those poor plucked and beheaded creatures sitting on the baking tray in front of me with their legs tied together. Some readers may think my views are extreme (as I would theirs, in reverse), but to me they'd been murdered, those chickens, and they had just as much of a right to life as you or I. The method used to slaughter chickens for human consumption is ghastly too, adding sadism and torture into the mixture, until murder actually seems too tame a word to describe what happens to them. I can't refuse to do the cooking, though. That is part of my job. And I'm preparing food for people who are meat eaters, and are unable for various reasons to prepare meals for themselves.

I told the Muslim man I was on duty with how revolting I found the experience of preparing the chickens for dinner.

"I wonder what it does for my karma to be a part of this," I said (this bloke knows I'm a Buddhist, and we have had many stimulating conversations about the differences between our respective faiths).

"All Buddhists are vegetarian, aren't they?" he asked.

"No, but in countries wealthy enough not to have to rely on meat consumption for survival vegetarianism is advised," says I. "I'm afraid I might reincarnate as a chicken and be cooked by a fat hippie."

"Do you believe animals reincarnate because of karma?" he asked, seeming mildly surprised.

Well, yes. The Dalai Lama even says that all sentient beings were once your mother. So when you baste a chicken, you're effectively basting Mummy.

I find it really difficult to understand any philosophy that allows us, as human beings, the right to use and abuse other creatures just because (I presume) they aren't as intelligent as we are. By the same token, couldn't I murder half the people who'll be walking up and down Abington Street when I leave this cafe? take their carcasses home and cook them for dinner? After all, they won't have read Dante or Shakespeare or Baudelaire or Lao Tzu like I have.

Most of the people whose friendship I cherish are meat-eaters so I don't want to pursue that argument too far. But on a relatively objective level, seeing animals as ours to exploit and dispose of freely is a kind of fascism. Though a desperate man will do anything he has to, just like a hungry badger.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On The Cushion

I had the feeling that I came out of my body while I was meditating this morning. Never had the feeling before, not in meditation anyway (knowing ho ho ho). I didn't go up, or down, or sideways; I just suddenly wasn't inside the seated figure in the half-lotus on the floor in front of the old wooden buddha. I knew I used to be, but now I wasn't.

It wasn't frightening at all. This is the way it will be, I thought, warmly, remembering the prophesies of the ancient masters. And then I was back inside my body again, like slipping into a familiar old coat.

Off out to face whatever dreams the day had in store.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How To Cope With Death

Someone I know is watching a family member go through his last hours of life, and she's understandably devastated. She sent me a text message a couple of days ago saying she didn't know how she would get through it.

Yes, I remember the experience all too clearly. And one day I will have to go through it again, if death doesn't take me first (who knows what little surprises are in store for us, eh?)

I was tempted, for a moment, after I received her text to write back that something of him would live on, that he would be reborn, that her grief would disturb him after death and cause him to drift towards an unfavourable rebirth. I wanted to echo Chogyam Trungpa's words to Allen Ginsberg when his father died, "Please let him go, and continue your celebration."

But my friend isn't a Buddhist. And she doesn't need to hear me proselytising for Buddhism, regurgitating stuff I learned from "The Tibetan Book Of The Dead", any more than I would have appreciated a Christian telling me my mother would have a wonderful time in Heaven when she died in 1996.

When someone dies or is dying all the person really needs to know is that they are not as alone as their grief and bewilderment makes them feel. Then they need space to rebuild a life which has been devastated by the loss.

You can get points for what you learned in Seminary School the next time you sit down with your teacher.

It's Time To Move The Lookout

By the time I left work this morning I'd been there for more than 48 hours, give or take the odd walk into town for fresh air. It's because we have people, including me, sleeping at the home to be on hand in the event of a crisis. You get paid for it, which isn't a bad gig, and since it's cheaper and easier for me than trekking the 8 or 9 miles out of town to the Lookout, at night, with no transport of my own, I'll do the sleep-in when it's available.

I've fallen out of love with the Lookout anyway. Every home I live in is called the Lookout, of course (I say "of course" as if it were obvious!), so what I actually mean is that I've fallen out of love with its present location, in a cold, two-bedroom flat over a shop on the Square in the middle of Earls Barton. I quite liked living over the shop for a while, since it sells flutes and Buddhas and Indian clothes etc. etc.--I was living some early fantasy of the bohemian poet's life--but now I just want a garden and my own front door again, for as long as I can afford them.

I'm pissed off with the journey back and forth on buses and in taxis too. It adds an extra two hours to my working day, when everything is reckoned up, and costs me £80 to £100 a month.

When you look at it that way, choosing to live where I did when I work in Northampton was a kind of weird masochism--which would be perfectly in keeping, actually, with my perverse need to believe that life is shit and everything is stacked against me ever finding happiness or comfort. They're not gonna come if you don't give them the chance, dumbass.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nearly There

America is frighteningly close. The presidential election is only a few weeks away and Obama is still ahead in the polls. McCain looks old and irrelevant, and he's desperate enough to attempt to make any charge stick against his rival, however ludicrous, however scurrilous. And to the credit of the American public, his barrel-scraping tactics these past few weeks seem to have caused enough distaste to turn swing voters towards Obama.

He encouraged the racist groundswell against Obama by peppering his references to his rival with the word "terrorist". And his featherweight running mate followed suit. They were referring to an old association Obama himself had denounced long ago, not directly to Obama. It was obvious. however, that they hoped the man and the word would become conjoined in the public consciousness; and among less discerning Republicans it worked. Ironically, how stumbling and weak McCain looked having to redirect supporters at his own rallies when they stood up and verbalised the ideas he and Palin had implanted in their minds. Don't say it, stupid,just keep it in mind on polling day.

The whole world wants Obama to become president because the whole world wants to believe in the American vision, as articulated by the Founding Fathers and poeticised by Walt Whitman. We want to believe that America leads the way in liberty, morality, decency, community. For God's sake, somebody has got to. But it has become impossible to think America even strives to lead the world in anything other than military muscle since the inarticulate, duplicitous and plain nasty Bush administration seized control in 2001 (via, remember, means of electoral fraud). Obama may not be able to deliver on even half of his promises, but for me it's enough that he actually wants to. That he cares what the rest of the world thinks. That he wants to restore America's covenant with the world, and give his country meaning again.

If something unexpected happens between now and November and McCain snatches the election, I'm digging myself a hole in the ground and living out the rest of my days in an air raid shelter.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Other Bruce Endorses Obama

Shitting In Your Own Nest

I met the last woman I was seriously involved with when I was at work. "Shitting in your own nest," they call that, because it makes an unholy mess in a place where you really need to have some kind of comfort and security. Though I would do it again, if the right woman came along (at the right price ha ha).

I was working for social services when I met her, in a residential home in Kettering that's since been closed, and they had a policy against relationships between colleagues. So when we got together my new partner said we ought to keep what was happening between us a secret. I suspected even then that the policy against relationships wasn't the only reason she wanted to pretend we were still just friends, but it was a great cover story, if nothing else. (She was married, for one, and didn't want to become the subject of a lot of workplace gossip, especially given the fact that her new partner was me--regarded with some accuracy as a bit of a weirdo by half of my colleagues.)

So we didn't tell anybody what we were doing. And then of course everybody figured it out because our behaviour had changed towards each other and we'd been seen out together; and our persistance in the lie made us look like snooty fools who had no respect for their colleagues. By the time I left the place, as I had to when the secret finally came out, even the few good relationships I had there had been ruined by the subterfuge; and now I don't know where any of my lost friends are. I think about them sometimes now and wish I could go back and put right the mistakes I made.Find those people and say sorry; pick up where we left off as friends. But you can't do that, of course, ninety nine per cent of the time. Things are lost and you have to chalk it up to experience, try not to make the same mistake next time.

What galls me a little is that I lost them and her eventually, and had to start my life all over again, with nothing except a roof over my head and a job to keep it there. (Which is more than some people have, I know, but it didn't feel like a lot at the time.) I don't blame my ex-partner for any of it: the friends, or the final demise of our relationship--it turned out the way it had to, given the way it started, and who I am, and who she is, and how incompatible we really were from the start. We were just two people who had reached a moment in our lives when we needed something to happen, and it did.

Sometimes when I survey the damage it caused us all, however, I do wonder if it wouldn't have been better to forego that last drink and not have the first amazing kiss that caused the Kettering scene to fall down around my ears.

Know Your Rights (1)

On the radio last night, I heard this reassuring little gem:

"It's not illegal to kill yourself in this country."

The police must have been relieved to hear that. Can you imagine them blue-lighting over to the mortuaries to arrest the day's new batch of dead?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Me And That Old Suburban Marching Powder

A friend of mine said, last night, "I don't know anyone who hasn't done a bit of coke." Well, you do, mate, because I haven't. I've always been a pot and lager man, no more. Oh, and peanut butter, of course. That's beginning to make me look like Biggles would have looked if you'd taken him out of a W.E. Johns novel and plonked him down in the middle of San Franciso in 1967.

I've known a lot of snorters, of course. You can hardly fail to given coke's ubiquity. I've known people who were heroin users too, though amusingly, in the drug user's hierarchy, that's looked down on. "You don't see any dirty old tramps doing coke," my friend said yesterday. "It's definitely the drug of professionals."

There was only one time when I was tempted to try anything stronger than Miss Green. It was when I was going out with my friend's friend Ronnie, who I'd worked with in a care home in Kettering. She was interesting, a pagan, she'd previously had a wild mane of dreadlocks but had been off work for a long time and had returned with her hair all shorn, and dyed. We'd been planning to meet up with her mates at a New Year's Eve party in Northampton and she'd said there'd be a lot of pills about.

I didn't want to take them, but I didn't want to look too straight to Ronnie either, not in the first tentative weeks of our relationship. It would take her a little longer to figure out where my radicalism lay than it had taken me to find hers.

A moment of weakness emotionally and intellectually I kicked myself for briefly. I'd let my personality be swallowed by the women I'd hung around with before instead of just declaring confidently who I was and letting the consequences take care of themselves. It seemed, on reflection, that I'd taken that rather sorry trait as far as I could go if I was contemplating doing speed or something just to make Ronnie like me.

But I didn't take the pills. My relationship with Ronnie didn't last long enough for my resolve to be tested. Though it wouldn't necessarily have been a big defining moment either way, if I had taken them. I probably would have had a really nice time and great sex if I had, let's be honest (the booze I favour, old traditionalist, certainly does nothing for performance in the bedroom).

I felt funny, talking to my friend and this bloke we know, last night, given their immersion in the drug scene and my peripherally peripheral knowledge of it. Funny because I don't like to be bested on anything at all--I only want to go abroad again so I can say I've been--but also because I have this ridiculous, suburban, bourgeois urge to prove I'm more counter-culture than everybody else.

But is coke counter-culture if it's also "the drug of professionals"? The people who talk about doing it certainly like to think of themselves as being separate from the common herd (as I do, unless I'm on a socialist jag that week). But can counter-culture be counter-culture if everybody's doing it?

The best thing a kid can be armed with these days if he or she wants to cut out a life for themselves that hasn't been chosen for them by cynical businessmen and fuckwit politicians is a BOOK. Or preferably a few books. Something on world history. Something on the religions. Something on literature, music, poetry, and painting. A kid armed with knowledge and a clear head is the biggest danger to the forces of oppression here or anywhere else in the world.

(Of course, buoyed by the superhuman confidence of cocaine they might be even more formidable...)(I'm joking, I'm joking.)

Everything Must Go, And Went

I listened to the Manic Street Preachers' cd "Everything Must Go" this morning for the first time in about ten years. What happened to them, I wonder? A truly great band, perhaps the greatest of the late Nineties, and certainly my own favourite back then. How we need their intelligence, their commitment to something other than their own haircuts, now.

It's a ridiculously obvious observation that music opens the door to old feelings. But I will make it anyway. When the cd was playing, it was as as if '96 or '97 had blown in through the open window and set up again in my living room. And that wasn't an especially comfortable sensation.

Richey Edwards disappeared around the time my mother got cancer. "Everything Must Go", their immense, valedictory, first post-Richey album, came out either just before or just after my mother died (the chronology is jumbled, maybe not surprisingly, in my mind). And the songs provided the soundtrack to the stunned, immobilised year or two that followed her death, as well as the beginning of the slide of my housemate (who I've spoken of before), into a madness that nearly destroyed us both. (You might think I'm exaggerating, but I'm really not.)

It wasn't a time I remember with much easy nostalgia. So I may not be playing the Manic's cd all that often, as magnificent as it is. Doing so would be extremely masochistic and self-indulgent, like cutting yourself to see what colour your blood is.

It's red, fool. Vivid red, and let free it runs like an angry river.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Flipping Van

I saw a stolen van turn over in a ditch this lunchtime. It took a corner too quickly as it left the A45 near Billing Aquadrome, veered violently off course, flipped over on its roof then landed with the right side up again in a ditch, as everyone on my bus--which was travelling behind it--let out a collective gasp and stood up in their seats to get a better view of the crash. As soon as the van stopped rolling, two men climbed out of the open window on the passenger side--the door was jammed--and ran away up the road towards Earls Barton. At first we thought they were just getting clear of the van in case it blew up like they always used to in American tv shows. But they kept on running, and soon they'd disappeared altogether. Hence my not-altogether-brilliant surmise that the van was stolen.

The bus driver called 999 on his mobile to inform the police and he couldn't get through. "Is it actually 10-10-10 and I'm calling the wrong number?" he asked sarcastically from his cab. A few of the passengers laughed cynically: I don't know, what is England coming to? But most were still looking towards the van, speculating as to whether a third person was trapped inside the cab. Either that or they were comparing their own accident experiences with each other. There was a woman doing that in the seat behind me: an African woman with the most melifluous, sensual voice I've ever heard. Listening to her was like rolling naked on silk sheets in a really warm bedroom while the woman of your dreams rubs cocoa butter all over you. Or something . I wanted her to go on talking about her flipped car and the multiple injuries she'd sustained all afternoon.

Eventually other people passed, and stopped, and got out of their vehicles to wander around looking at the crashed van, so the bus driver, in the absence of any police cars turning up, decided to leave the scene.

An unusual little interlude for a Saturday afternoon, I think you'll agree.

A General Silence In The Room

The Guardian today reminds us that my nomination for greatest living Briton Michael Foot, now 95 years old, called for "much closer direct control over bank lending" in Labour's 1983 election manifesto. This manifesto is historically referred to as "the longest suicide note in history" and led to a defeat that almost wiped Labour off the political map.

Will all those who voted against Labour in the '83 election stand up, please?

"Capitalism doesn't work successfully forever," Foot said yesterday, probably smiling just a little--although as a man of conscience and a responsible citizen of the world the present situation must be grieving him.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Memories of the Doors and Selina

I spoke to this teenage girl the other day. Very cute and intelligent she was (in that order in my leery sexist reckoning), but in the course of our conversation it emerged that she didn't know who Jim Morrison or the Doors were.

It may seem obvious that somebody who's 16 won't necessarily have come across a band that split up nearly forty years ago. But I was really surprised by it. I don't listen to them much anymore--and I rarely read Jimbo's poetry--but the Doors were one of the defining cultural experiences of my youth. I couldn't quite compute the idea that a band and a writer who helped me become who I am (for what that's worth) might have passed another person by completely. If they were that insignificant to a really cool person, what did it mean for all my assumptions about the validity and importance of my own cultural journey?

After speaking to the girl I went home and fished out my copies of "Morrison Hotel" and "An American Prayer" and played them through several times, while drinking cold beer through my beard like an ageing Jim.

Suddenly I remembered watching the Oliver Stone movie, massively twisted on booze and marijuana in the darkness of a cinema that's no longer there in Wellingborough. I'd seen the movie once by myself, but this time I was with a girlfriend, Selina, a hippie psychotherapist who believed she was immortal because people only chose to die. And I was so hammered I couldn't follow the movie at all. It was just a phantasmagoria of noise and colour like the light shows they used to project behind the Grateful Dead in the first great days of the psychedelic explosion in San Francisco.

I got stoned quite a lot when I was with Selina. So stoned, actually, that the sex between us was terrible. "Jesus, what does it take with you?" I remember her saying in exasperation under the covers in her house in Irthlingborough one night as she furiously jerked off my flaccid member.

The best sex I ever had with Selina, in fact, was the time I masturbated on her toilet using a polaroid of her topless for inspiration. She wasn't even there that day. I'd only come around to water her plants and put out food for her two cats Morgan and Fay.

Jesus, those were the days, eh? Booze, weed, an immortal girlfriend and the Doors. If it gets much better than that, tell me where.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Hurricane In The Head

People who know me will be aware that I get bad depression from time to time. When it hits it hits hard, like a hurricane in the head, and for days everything goes haywire. I can't stay awake, I can't think straight, I get paranoid, I hurt the people around me either by neglecting their feelings or behaving irrationally (as they see it) towards them.

It's been going on for many years now, and I don't think I'll ever beat it. I've tried counselling. I've tried drugs. But when it's hurricane season, it doesn't matter what I think I've put up to defend the homestead. Soon it's all flying around in the air again.

It's been flying around just lately, actually. I hope now that the hurricane has started to blow itself out, but you can never be sure.

Somebody asked me today--knowing I've had, or given myself, a rough time in the past few weeks--what it was I was depressed about. I can't even begin to explain that without dragging SUFFOLK PUNCH into an area I don't want it to inhabit. I'm not even sure which comes first, the depression, or the subjects the depressed mind ruminates on.

All I know is that when it goes again I'm bruised, tired and very, very relieved.

Obama The Bomber? Come On!

I heard some American blogger on the radio this morning trying to convince listeners that Barack Obama, by taint of association with people he denounced a long time ago, was a supporter of terrorism and murder. Well,of course he is, right? Not only is he black, he's also half Muslim. Or something. Which fits the Republican prototype of the mad bomber perfectly.

I hope everybody realises how desperate this means the Republican Party must be and dismisses the putrid insinuations out of hand. It's a new low even for them, and no party in the civilised world (wherever that is) has shown itself able to go quite as low as the Republicans.

As if we didn't know they were struggling when they chose first John McCain, and then his running mate Sarah Palin, to chase Obama and Biden for the White House.

You betcha. Gosh darn! Well, gee, folks. Oh, and did I throw in a golly?

The university educated operatives of the Republican Party will piss themselves laughing if "joe six-pack" and his "hockey mom" wife believe even half of the simple-minded bullshit they're foisting on them in an effort to protect their money and power for another four years.

The Credit Crunch: Who Exactly Is To Blame?

It seems a touch hypocritical to me, all these people (those who know it's happening) blaming the supposed forthcoming economic catastrophe on the greed and rapaciousness of Wall Street and the City alone.

Anybody who voted for Thatcher or Reagan (or Blair or George Bush) was voting for an unrestrained free market. Anyone who fails to vote votes by default for the established order, and the unrestrained free market has been our established order for a whole generation.

It was the politicians who created the conditions in which the practices we're told led to the credit crunch were allowed to flourish. Wall Street and the City couldn't have done it without being set free to do it.

I voted for Tony Blair in '97 and 2000, or 2001 (whenever it was). That was to replace a rotten government with a slightly less rotten one. But I voted for the market. (I also voted for an illegal invasion of another country, and I have to live with that too.)

The only consolation I can take is knowing I have been a critic of materialism and capitalism specifically since I really understood the meaning of those words. Not that that will do me any good if the predictions are even half way accurate and the whole temple of Mammon we've all been living in since Thatcher and Reagan were elected comes crashing down around our ears.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

To Whom It May Concern In Real Unreality

i am a beatnik a dharma bum a hippie an old bohemian a poet a punk a dropout a psychotic i like to drink beer i like the occasional joint i like meditation i'm learning to play the flute i think the best place a person can be is deep in the woods on a sunny day i like rain i like a full moon in the sky first thing in the morning i like my long hair i like my beard i think hair wax on men is a sign of evil i will never wear a tie again i do not want to spend twenty pounds on a shirt or a hundred quid on a pair of shoes when there are people on the streets with nowhere to sleep tonight i am not a part of your make money and buy useless shit to prove how impressive you are take a foreign holiday eat dinner in a fancy restaurant once a month world okay? okay? now hopefully i won't have to say it again.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I spent most of last night in sweet isolation drinking beer, washing my clothes in the sink and hanging them to dry over my bath, and listening to the new Seasick Steve album "I STARTED OUT WITH NOTHING AND I STILL GOT MOST OF IT LEFT" (well, the title's something like that). I also reassembled my shower to Seasick Steve, as one of the doors had fallen off and I don't like stripwashing anymore since everybody in the world became obsessed with a person's smell and my 43-year-old balls dropped half way to my knees (you wait, it'll happen).

If your life is half as Beat, half as make-do-and-mend, as mine is--if you couldn't get your act together even with a million pound cheque in your bank--listen to this man's growling electrified twenty-first century blues. I swear he's the brother that my mum and dad were too ashamed to tell me about all those years ago, before my karma grew me sideways and made me seasick too.

An Encounter On The Street

A shining example of the intelligence and articulacy of the nation's youth shouted "YOU F***IN LONG-'AIRED BASTARD" at me as I was walking down to the internet cafe a few minutes ago.

Long-'aired I obviously am.

F***ing, I would like to be.

Bastard, thankfully, I am not.

I hope that clears up any misconceptions you might have had, you delightful young man.

Of course, the likelihood of you reading this is small. The likelihood of you reading anything is small, other than the big words on your cigarette packet. But one doesn't wish to stereotype.