Monday, June 29, 2009

The Men in the Alley

Aren't we becoming just a little bit too Victorian in our acceptance of the permanent existence of groups we give names like "the Poor" and "the Homeless", as if their social status were also some sort of existential condition? I thought this while I was walking to the Cafe this morning, passing along my route the alley where those homeless men sit to drink and talk all day now the Royal Mail have fenced off their disused central office, cleaning it up for sale.

Some things in life can't be changed, people tell me. Oh, lighten up, other people tell me. If you had more fun you wouldn't be so cross. (Most of them are unaware of how much fun I'm actually having.)

But I still believe, despite my advancing years and all the political failures I have witnessed since the horror of the Thatcher years first awakened my political consciousness, that nothing has to be any particular way if we don't want it to be. If William Wilberforce and his friends could bring down the slave trade and human beings could invent machines to take them to the moon, it must be possible to eradicate the sort of privation we sentence those men in the alley to while we head to town to blow the disposable part of our wages on Play Stations and designer sunglasses.

A new world is only a new mind, as William Carlos Williams said. Or maybe we just don't care about human suffering as long as it doesn't happen to us?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson: It's Sad, But Give Me A Break

I don't like Michael Jackson's music. Never have, so I'm not going to start now just because he's dead. I feel sorry for him if his life was as pained and peculiar as the media wanted us to believe; but I don't need to tell any of you that there are an awful lot of people out there with problems worse than being rich and sensitive and having been deprived of a childhood by over-ambitious parents.

His music, as I've said, was always boring to me. Superficial. Obvious. Phoney. In the current climate, of course, saying such things is tantamount to heresy. So be it. Delete my Facebook page if you like. Throw a stone through my window. I'll give you my address if it matters to you that much.

One commentator, soon after Jackson died, made the absurd claim that he was the most important cultural figure of the last two hundred years. Forget Dylan, the Beatles, Dali, Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Baudelaire, Rimbaud. The fellow who sang "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground" tops them all.

Proof of his importance, apparently, is the 750 million records he has sold across the world.

Proof to me that these days we are confusing importance with popularity. I have been in the living rooms of unsigned folksingers who played and sang better music than Jackson while the red wine flowed and the cigarettes burned. No one will ever hear of them in Singapore or Harare but their achievement stands. And if they are signed one day and make it into the consciousness of the world it's a fair chance that something of the brilliance they once showed will be lost.

That's been happening since Elvis Presley.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Poetry And Fish

I haven't written anything for a while now, either here, at SUFFOLK PUNCH, or in poem form (though I tried that at home this morning). I've scribbled a lot in my journal, but even there I've done more drawing than writing.

The funny thing is, I'm not worried. I don't work enough to build the literary monument I would have liked at one time, but as far as I'm concerned other people can take the glory there. None of us will know any different when we're in the grave along with John Brown, Elvis and Che Guevara.

And I'm bored of my own ego. It's done nothing but create problems for me all my life. I write things down and look them over and then I think, "Who cares?" Like Charles Bukowski famously said at a poetry reading when someone asked him why he didn't comment on American hostages being held by a lunatic foreign government, "I wish I could read my poetry to the poor hostages."

The desire to spread chapbooks full of my glorious ego ravings around the world (ie: onto the shelves of three other poets somewhere in America) will undoubtedly return. But even if it doesn't I think I'll be okay.

When it comes to immortality I have smaller fish to fry.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I tried to listen to some punk the other day. I mean the music, not a guy who'd forced himself on me in a crowd.

I was there. Late Seventies. With the Pistols and the Clash emerging and everything that came before it dismissed suddenly as execrable nonsense.

And I bought into that. For a while I thought anything that predated the Pistols saying "fuck" on the Bill Grundy show was worthy of nothing except burning.

But when I listened to this punk the other day--I can't remember which band it was--all I heard was a lot of stupid adolescent posturing. And dumbass posturing too. Like a brat of two throwing its toys at mummy.

Back then it seemed so profound. And the critics who wrote about it thought they detected in it some kind of subtle value system.

No more celebrity! The word from the streets! Direct! No lies! (Or something.)

But the street is whatever you make it. "A new world is only a new mind," as W C Williams said.

Punk (with only a couple of exceptions) just encouraged victims of an unfair, unjust, unbalanced, uninteresting society stay in their place, exactly where the monsters running the show wanted them. Hip hop (with the exception of Public Enemy) and R & B do the same.

Like Don Letts said about something or other, "It's designed only to take your money and keep you stupid."

That's why my mind returns again and again to the music of the Sixties. They wanted to take your money too, but in return for your outlay you got the door to freedom.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Crash", Kinsella And The Plague Rats

I started reading JG Ballard's "Crash" today, after recently finishing his fine autobiography "Miracles of Life". But Jesus, what a disagreeable book "Crash" seems to be.Am I getting old? Conservative? Is it just the passing mood of a man coming out of sleep, waking himself up with black coffee, a discussion about terrorism on the radio, a lone fly repeatedly colliding with my window, trying to get out into the garden?
Or maybe I feel too close to my own demise these days to want to read a novel about somebody seeing, in death, something sexual.

I have an image in my head (unwelcome, but disinclined to leave) of the cctv footage of Ben Kinsella walking down the middle of that empty street, dazed, lost (like me just before a seizure), stabbed 11 times only moments before, his shirt stained with blood; in seconds he would collapse and die. Anybody who sees anything in that other than its horror is a sick man indeed. That, of course, was Ballard's point; he was no more of a fan of what society has become than I am. But even so.

I probably am getting more conservative in some ways. I don't really care what made those killers the people they are, although I think I know; I certainly don't have any sympathy for them. Fuck them; they showed no sympathy for their victim.And there may be no way of reversing the cultural decline that created a whole sub-stratum of illiterate, amoral, violent human beings who can relate to nothing except their own infantile cravings. You have made this consumer society and we all have to live or die with the consequences.

But, and I'm aware that this is the stereotypical cry of old curmudgeons everywhere, it will make some of these thugs, who infest every street like a plague of rats in search of a rubbish tip, think twice before they plunge their knife into someone's heart if they know that once caught they will spend the rest of their lives rotting in jail.

At the moment even a twenty year sentence can be cut with a "sorry guv" and a less than credible conversion to the cause of youth counselling; and that's a deterrent to nobody when they lack the imagination or intelligence to see past the tip of their own nose in the first place.

adapted from the author's journal

Thursday, June 11, 2009

At The Hospital: The Bard Of Semilong Gets His Head Examined

I went for my long-dreaded hospital appointment yesterday, after interrupting a funeral procession at the Holy Sepulchre Church in the morning and then getting torrential rain poured on my head.

It was a strange day generally. I was asked to take a urine sample for one thing, and unable to find any other receptacle to piss in, I gave my lunchtime best to an empty multi-vitamin carton. Can you imagine what the results of the urine test would have been, if they'd taken them? But they didn't. I walked all the way up from Semilong to Cheyne Walk and spent an hour in the hospital with a carton of my own wee-wee in my pocket for nothing.

The consultant I saw, who's well known to the caring fraternity, questioned me for a long time on the seizures I'd had, how I was when I wasn't thrashing around on the floor, and asked me about my family history. Which isn't that great, medically speaking: meningitis, cancer, insanity...we've had everything the Grim Reaper carries in his hold-all, or near enough.

I was so nervous and uneasy talking about all this I actually forgot what dosage of medication I was on when she asked me. I could almost hear her thinking, "Is this man safe to do anything but stay at home by the window with his glasses on his lap?"

She reckoned there is a 70 or 80% chance that most people's seizures can be controlled by medication, if the dosage is right (which mine currently isn't, apparently, so it's going to be increased), and if there are no underlying causes for the seizures. To which end, I had to go off to the neurophysiology department, still carrying my piddle,after I'd finished with the Consultant,and have an eeg.Or is it an ecg?

Anybody who's ever had one of those will know what a surreal exercise they are. You are filmed, for one thing; I wasn't quite sure what the purpose of that was, though she did her best to explain it to me without being alarming. Then a kindly nurse draws on your head and starts attaching electrodes to it. After which you have to lay down, open and close your eyes a lot, and at the end of the examination breathe really exaggerated deep breaths for three minutes.

It's all to record the electrical patterns in your brain. Serious business, as Noel Edmonds would say. But being the mature and intellectual man I am, I had a fit of the giggles during the deep breathing part. The nurse assured me that was common. In schoolchildren.

Once everything was done she washed my hair for me and I was let loose on the world again, feeling a sense of elation just because I'd actually gone to the hospital, despite being scared shitless, and survived the appointment. When I left the neurophysiology department I took my wee-wee out of my pocket and dropped it in an overfull wastepaper basket. Probably a dirty thing to do, but I figured I'd been walking around smelling of my own urine for long enough.

I don't know what the results of the eeg/ ecg were, however. They have to be looked at by a doctor. I don't know when I'm going to get them either. If there's nothing startlingly untoward in my electrical patterns, the nurse said they might wait until I had to come back for an mri, which apparently I'll be getting an appointment for through the mail.

So let's hope my phone and my letterbox are quiet for a couple of days at least.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why I Write (Yeah, Why Do I Write?)

A reporter asked Dylan once why he wrote, after Bob had told a press conference that there was no real hope of anybody communicating meaningfully with anybody else.

"Because I've got nothing else to do, man," Dylan replied.

It's the same with me. I've been writing my ideas down for so long now I can't even help it. They've just become "scatological heaps", in Kerouac's great phrase.

Nobody reads this stuff. Or most people don't. And half of the small number of people who do have told me they tend to get about half way through and then they get lost or bored and go and do something else.

That's fine. I don't mind. But I'm not gonna change what I write to make it more comprehensible, or soften the tone to make it more palatable. I don't write it for anybody else. I just write it to get it out.

If I wanted to belong to a sewing circle I'd buy myself a needle and thread, huh?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Why The Peasant's Revolt Isn't Working

People are mocking the inefficacy of the so-called "peasants' revolt" against Gordon Brown among the rank-and-file of the Labour Party, as if it were proof either of the lack of legitimate opposition to Brown (that's his line), or the general incompetency of everybody in the party (that's David Cameron's line--"they can't even organise a rebellion properly"). But Labour rules make it deliberately difficult to oust a sitting leader. Those wishing to remove Brown have to collect seventy (I think) signatures in support of the same candidate for a leadership challenge before one can be mounted; and getting seventy Labour MPs to agree on anything except how much they loathe the Tories is damn near impossible. Diversity of opinion and freedom of conscience used to be one of Labour's strengths, before faceless middle-management robots and pipsqueaks took over at the top and repainted independence as disloyalty. So, because of rules the Labour elite invented to protect itself, the country has to creak on with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. And votes continue to leak out from previously safe Labour seats to fringe lunatics like the BNP. Though how anybody who previously voted Labour can vote for fascist swine like THAT escapes me.

Congratulations, Joe Public, Now Take A Good Look At Your Saviour Before The Real Horror Starts

It would have been funny if it hadn't been so depressing. Nick Griffin on the radio last night saying he'd seen red rosettes on the anti-nazi protestors who tried to keep him out of the hall where his election to the European Parliament was announced, and that this was proof that the tussles that occurred there were organised by the Labour Party. And William Hague too, somehow. "How do you know it had anything to do with Labour?" asked a slightly bemused radio presenter. "Because they were all members of Unite and the Labour Party funds them," said Griffin as it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Well, no, actually, Unite funds the Labour Party, not the other way around, and as far as I know William Hague has no involvement with either of them. Perhaps he's just a victim of the sustained media campaign against the BNP, though. Maybe he got involved in the conspiracy to throw eggs at Nick Griffin because that propagandising friend of big business the BBC had brainwashed him.

This morning, after a good night's sleep, a more rational Griffin appeared on another radio show and said that a Pakistani man born in England could never be an English citizen because of his cultural orientation; he also said the principal victims of racism in this country were "people who look like (him)". I think we all know what he meant by that. Isn't it against the law to say such odious things in public?

"People who hate the BNP are forgetting one thing," the argument goes." This is a democracy."

For how long, I wonder.

Their hero Mr Griffin, incidentally, confidently stated on the same show that there was no such thing as global warming and that it was a conspiracy dreamed up by governments and big business to deflect us from the reality of vanishing oil stocks ( or something). He's original, you have to give him that. And possibly not very well either.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Beyonce, Shut It

If there is one thing more spiritually and intellectually empty than "Britain's Got Talent" it's the music of Beyonce Knowles.

"All the honeyzz makin money show your independence!" (I presume she would spell it with a "z", since the "s" is so passe these days. Like spelling generally.)


And that if he really likes your finger, put a ring on it business. It's like the 80s never ended and we're really all caught in one horrific eternal episode of "Miami Vice" or "The Cosby Show".

Why don't you show your independence by thinking something that wasn't thought for you, first, by a vapid but beautifully dressed hack in a woman's glossy.

Read a book, Beyonce, if you have to take something to the lavatory with you.

(This unusual--for me--train of thought has been provoked by sitting in an internet cafe for the last half an hour listening to one after another soul-annihilatingly boring Beyonce song being played to hypnotise the minds of customers into staying for another skinny latte.)

england 2009

for gordon brown

in the doorway of an empty shop
sleeping under tarp--
he's probably my age.

next door, coming from the pharmacy,
an old man in a sweatshirt
takes a big glug
from his can of strongbow,
almost hits me as he
walks out in the rain.

Friday, June 05, 2009

David Carradine

Yesterday brought the sad news of the death of David Carradine, who was found hanged in a hotel room half way across the world, where he'd been making his latest movie. He was 72 years old.

Younger people will probably know Carradine best for his role in the Tarantino film "Kill Bill", but for me he will always be the Shaolin priest Kwai Chang Caine from the 1970s tv series "Kung Fu".

I loved that show when I was growing up. So much so that I've probably made reference to it a thousand times before. The long-haired, soft-spoken Buddhist who could kick the living crap out of anybody he wanted to made an impression on me that is evident, if you look closely, even to this day.

I don't like violence. I have only ever hit one person and I did that because I was afraid he was going to hit me. As it turned out one punch was enough. But I shook like somebody with convulsions for an hour afterwards. And I felt like I'd cheapened myself by resorting to such crude behaviour.

Caine's violence, in the show, struck me as a metaphor for resolution. Standing firm for what you believe regardless of the consequences. And that is something I have usually managed, despite the occasional moment of cowardliness, when I've sold my principles out for personal gain or because I didn't have the guts to stand up and be honest.

Caine's gentle priestly ways, which the violence of his circumstances never took away from him, were important for me to see in the romantic hero of a prime time tv show because I knew that I was different. That I didn't feel like the other children on the street, in the playground, in the classroom. I didn't get invited to play football or to talk to the girls. But Caine's indefatigable difference showed me that that was okay. Maybe even the mark of something special in a person. I have ceased to believe now that I am special, but it was an important crutch to walk on through a difficult adolescence.

Now, aged 44, I wear my hair long, walk barefoot wherever I can, and call myself a Buddhist. My bookshelves have Chinese and Japanese poets mixed in with Beats, Modernists, the Underground poets of today. Siddharta looks down on me mellow-eyed from the wall as you enter my lounge.

I probably wouldn't have had any of that if my mother hadn't suggested I watch the first episode of "Kung Fu", after the pilot movie had thrilled her one night weeks before.

If people on the streets today had grown up watching a show like that, instead of "Rambo" and "Terminator" movies or dumbass cop shows, I think the world we live in would be a much nicer, gentler, more intelligent place. But sadly we have to live with what we've made.

Fare you well in the Bardos, David, and if you have to come back may your next life be a fruitful and loving one, eh?