Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where Money Infiltrates Spirit Gets ****** In The Jacksey

The British newspapers have discovered evidence directly linking the release of the Lockerbie bomber to Oil deals, denied so self-righteously by everybody involved in the deal to let the guy out (I can't be bothered to go and look up his name, and to be frank, why should he get a name when his whole philosophy hinges around the devaluation and debasement of human life?). Jack Straw himself makes the link between considerations about the murdering swine's release and the need to keep the Libyan "Government" (that is, Mob) happy so they'll let us have their oil in letters written a hound's age ago and printed in today's papers.

Mr Straw has released a statement taking umbrage at the publicity he's getting, as you'd expect. As if printing the letters were an act of troublemaking perversity by the paper that got them, like taking pictures of Joanna Lumley on the beach without her bra on through a telephoto lens (I don't know which paper it was, I heard the story on the radio while I was sweeping the floor at the Bard Gaffe this morning). But a more fitting response would have been to beg the forgiveness of whatever God he has a nominal regard for, in my humble opinion, because that linkage of Lockerbie and Oil is profoundly grubby, confirming as if we needed it that where money infiltrates Spirit gets fucked in the jacksey.

You will tell me such deals are struck all the time. It's why Tony Blair lied about WMDs and a million innocents were killed in Iraq after all. But that doesn't make it any more palatable, or any more acceptable. And here we have proof: incontrovertible, unconcealable evidence. They let this bloke out because they wanted to continue to do big money deals with the gang of brutal, repressive thugs who call themselves the Government of Libya; and then they had the staggeringly bad taste to pretend that it was about nothing other than big-hearted Scots wanting a sick man to go home to his family before he died.

Perhaps the international fixers and wheeler-dealers who make these deals are simply realists and we all owe our comparative Western comfort to them. Perhaps conscience is another form of sentiment, like nostalgia for one's hometown or a love of fluffy dogs.Perhaps. Personally I don't know how a man can look himself in the mirror in the morning when human life becomes just another detail to be slotted in to the bigger picture somewhere.

New Directions Home

I'm enjoying all the pronouncements coming out from the camp of Bob Dylan at the moment. Last week he told the BBC he was negotiating with two companies to be the voice of a new SatNav kit. Now he claims that he's releasing an album of Christmas songs for charity.

Oh really Bob? Both could be true, of course. Apparently there are SatNavs available with the voices of other famous people on them. And it's conceivable that he could do the Christmas record. Willie Nelson would after all, and Bob's in the same category as Willie pretty much, these days, as an artist and an icon. Although Willie is a fabulous singer and Bob sounds somewhat like a strangulated parakeet when he opens his mouth.

The great thing with Dylan is that with him you are never quite sure he's serious. He's done four or five excellent albums recently and written a wonderful memoir. Creatively he's buzzing. Is the rejuvenated Dylan mind having cruel fun at the expense of a gullible media with these claims of new directions home? I hope so. I really hope so.

Maybe tomorrow we'll open the newspaper and read he's purchasing Florida also.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pissing On The Bodies Of The Dead

There was another phone-in on the radio last night about whether we are doing enough to honour the sacrifices "our boys" are making in Afghanistan to keep the world safe from terrorism.

Is that what they're doing? Or are they actually making the world a more dangerous place by fanning the flames of extremism? Were the training camps that gave the world the 7/7 bombers even in Afghanistan? Most people seem to think not.

Now, I don't blame the soldiers themselves for the politics behind their presence there. They just do what they're told, like mailmen and care workers and the fellows behind the deli counter at Sainsburys. But I do object to the fact that the politics can't be questioned, or discussed, without one being accused of pissing on the bodies of dead infantrymen.

I say that not to question the politics of the war is to piss on the dead, and a desecration of the democratic principles we are now supposed to be over there fighting for (interesting how the war aims change as the editorials shift their tone back home).

The gutless conspiracy of the British media not to report honestly what is happening in Afghanistan desecrates our democracy too. When was the last time we were offered an estimation of the number of innocent Afghans who have died in the war, caught as they are between scared and underarmed British soldiers and denatured Islamist lunatics?

Or don't we care about innocent Afghans?

I do, and if you think that makes me a traitor so be it. I prefer to think it makes me a patriot in the best tradition of the British, and those who don't something Winston Churchill would have disowned with the relish of the truly appalled.

The British media and the Government controlling them should print the truth about the Afghan War and trust its citizens to make their own minds up. If, once the statistics have been placed in full view, the country decides that the war must stop, then the Government will have to succumb to the will of the people.

Not that we necessarily would come to that decision, given the complexity of the issue. It would just be nice not to be treated like idiot children by those who have a vested interest in keeping our boys, and their boys, and the wives and mothers of a different God, dying for as long as they can.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why People Don't Read Books Anymore

I may get into it at some juncture, but right now the return of the football season bores me to tears. It only seems two seconds since the last one finished, for Heaven's sake. And what is football, when all's said and done? Twenty-two people trying to prevent each other from kicking a round thing between two posts. Blimey, no wonder nobody reads books anymore when they've got that to occupy their minds and spirits.

Which is snobbish and simplistic, of course. Who said that football has anything to do with the nation's reading habits? (It doesn't.) But equally who said a person proves his legitimacy as a human being by conspiring to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator? I get fed up of people asking me why I use long words when I could use short ones. Why do you buy an expensive flat screen television that can do crossword puzzles and make your breakfast for you when you could have one that just sits in the corner and plays a poor reproduction of "Emmerdale"?

I was sitting in the bus station the other day reading a book about Allen Dulles. I looked up from the page for a moment to give my eyes a rest and glancing around me I could see only one other person reading: an exceptionally old lady whose youth probably predated television. Everybody else--that is, if they weren't talking or just staring off dull-eyed into the middle-distance--was staring at the tiny screens of their mobile phones.

Half of them accessing the internet, no doubt, which you can't do on my mobile because it's too antiquated. And that's another reason why people don't read books anymore. We have passed the age of books now that all this new communication technology has become available to most people. A lot of those who might have read books just don't bother anymore because it's too labour intensive and seems like yesterday's diversion. Something you might do "on the beach" according to the lifestyle magazines we do still read because a magazine takes no effort and holding them tells other people we're part of the club.

There are more complex reasons why nobody reads books these days, or why only an unappreciable minority read them, but I don't want to get into them now. It'd take a huge volume to analyse the subject with any intelligence and we've already established that nobody would read it.But it's about having come to the end of something; the end of the forward momentum of intellectual and spiritual development that we'd been riding, unknowingly, for perhaps a couple of hundred years. The 1980s was where the wave, as Hunter Thompson put it, "broke and rolled back" leaving each generation since that terrible decade more intellectually backward and spiritually impoverished than the one that came before it.

I'm not talking about everybody, of course. Some of the worst atrocities in the history of human kind were committed in the middle of the last century, long before Margaret Thatcher was allowed to seize 10 Downing Street and wreck the country. And I know people half my age who are more advanced in every way than their parents or grandparents.

What I'm talking about is impoverishment that comes down from the places where opinion is made. Where ideas about the development of human society begin. There appears to be nothing happening in those places anymore. Now we're just asked to see the art in the curve of a McDonald's golden arch. Education, at least in England, is only the moribund arm of industry now and the workplaces of the nation are filled with people who don't even know where to put an apostrophe.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Bard Memoir Is Up And Running People

I've been hiding out in the Bard Gaffe this weekend, that is, when I wasn't being fed into tunnels at the local hospital and having radiation thrown at me. I'm writing a kind of memoir about life in the Eighties and this weekend seemed like a good time to get serious with it. Which I've done. I've produced about thirty more pages of the bugger since I left work on Thursday and I hope to do a few more tonight--that is, again (my life is full of that ises), if I don't fall down in the street when I leave the internet cafe and have to go to the hospital again.

You think I'm being melodramatic? Well, you're wrong. What I'm actually being is neurotic, because I take no grand dame (if that's the way it's spelled) operatic joy in the idea of being poorly. I'm actually incredibly bored by it. But you try falling down outside Waterstone's, of all places, and see how much you take for granted after that. Not that I ever have taken anything for granted, except, ironically, my health. But I digress. I thought it was going to be a witty digression too, when I started doing it, but reading it back it has a rather snide, challenging undertone, as if it's your fault, dear reader, that I've been unwell. It isn't, as far as I know. Nor is it mine, at least I don't think it is.

But anyway. The idea of somebody who isn't well-known at anything and doesn't have a hope in hell of ever being well-known writing his memoir might seem a bit bumptious (there's another word I don't know how to spell), but I'm not exceptionally bothered about the idea that anyone might think so. A life lived in minor key by an unknown man or woman will tell you more about the times than the biography of a celebrity. Their lives are essentially the same in every generation, even those of the greats. Watch Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison and then Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock. You'll see what I mean.

Someone was telling me a story about a childhood visit to Calais at the Bard Gaffe this morning, however, a person who is loved and cherished by her friends but who has probably never been on the cover of "HELLO" or won the Whitbread Book of the Year, and her story was enthralling because it was so singular. Not that she knew that. Once she'd told it she excused herself for being boring and asked for another cup of coffee.

So that's what I'm doing; I'm telling the story of the Eighties as I lived them because nobody else lived them as I did. I hope to inject a little artistry in there--I assume I must have learned something after all these years of writing and exposing myself to the works of the true greats--but right now I'm just concentrating on getting it down while time allows, using the language that passes naturally through my head. As Ginsberg says anyway, the language, like the memory, is singular to me so my art my even lie there, without any need for sprucing the words up afterwards. It may be that all I need to do when the book is finished, if I finish it, is take out the spelling mistakes and tighten up some of the sentences. Who knows?

I have five or six weeks of annual leave left to take from work before next April, so if my health holds up and I manage not to get sacked somehow (oh stop it Hodder, your mind is like an amphetamine-crazed mouse on a clanking wheel), that should be more than enough time to get the main part of the book done. Keep thinking like a writer instead of an over-the-hump care worker or a half-dead alcoholic and when Spring comes I should have a damn fine bastard of a manuscript ready for the world to ignore.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Reading Headache

I have a swine of a reading headache at the moment. You see,I found a copy of Bob Dylan's "Chronicles" in the charity shop the other day. I've read it before but I couldn't really remember it in too much detail; and I'm working through a great collection of Russell Brand's Guardian essays called "Articles of Faith" as well. While trying to write a book about my life in the 1980s. So the whole day yesterday was spent looking at the printed word (which I'm also doing now). And my eyes aren't up to the challenge. They need to look upwards into blue skies and across rivers at brown horses in distant fields. Still, at least I've got my interest in writing back, even though most of my old cohorts in the game have disappeared because I was too busy doing other things to tell them how wonderful they were. This had begun to get a little galling because very few of them ever had the courtesy to show any interest in what I was doing, even though I was better than half of them. But the glare of their own egos was so bright it blocked out everything in the room except the face in the shaving mirror.

It occurs, actually, writing this, that the act of putting these thoughts down is rather like Bob Dylan and John Cohen singing "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone" on the night of the Cuban Missile Crisis. "I am talking to myself again," as Allen Ginsberg says.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Bard Of Semilong Gets His Head Examined (II)

I was at the Northampton Hospital half an hour ago for an MRI. The results of the EEG I had and wrote about on these pages were "normal", which was something of a surprise, but they wanted me to have an MRI too because the latter is more thorough, apparently; the EEG can miss things. (If that is the case, I find myself wondering, why don't they stop doing the EEGs and spend the money they waste there on more MRI machines?)(But what do I know, eh?)

I was dreading the MRI ever since the appointment came through. I've been convinced, in the less logical interiors of my strung-out paranoid mind, that I was dying of cancer for a long time, even before I hit the floor in the Lookout for the first time and woke up wondering what the hell had just happened. But having the MRI, so my reasoning went, would prove it conclusively. There would be no kidding myself out of these overwhelming death fears and back to some semblance of normality.

And it still might prove that; I don't know. If Seve Ballesteros can get a brain tumour and John Hartson can get terminal cancer at 34, who am I to claim protection against the ravages of Death? especially since my mother and both my father's parents were taken by what John Wayne famously called "the Big C". I will get the results of my brain scan in "five to seven" days, and when that happens everything could change.

But the process of finding out whether I'm ready for the worm farm or just a ridiculous worrier who needs to get his head out of his rear end and start living his life while he still has one--that is done. And it wasn't especially awful. At first I thought I would embarrass myself by panicking and squeezing the buzzer to be rescued from the massive tunnel they slide you into. I was remembering my mother's description of the tunnel as "like a grave" and thinking how apt that was, particularly with that contraption over your face pressing down on your nose like a coffin lid.

I didn't know what the contraption was because by then I'd closed my eyes and started counting my in-breaths like in Buddhist meditation. I was also listening, vaguely, to the radio they were piping in on the headphones I'd agreed to put on, and thinking what a great pop band Take That became when they made their comeback. Maybe the best pop band since the Beatles. (I was scared, remember. Don't judge what a man thinks when he's lying in his own grave being shot with radiation.)

As the scan became noisier, clanking and heaving like a nuclear hurdy-gurdy crossed with a trolley bus, and the Fear threatened to steal my composure, I visualised Buddha's serene face, his half-closed eyes, as he sat deep in meditation looking for an end to suffering and the endless cycles of rebirth. How appropriate. It helped too. Soon I was so relaxed I could have been lying on a beach with a good book open on my lap and a cold beer being investigated by a wasp beside me on my beach blanket. When the scan ended, in fact, and the bed I'd been lying on began sliding back out of the tunnel, I was almost disappointed it was over.

I hovered in the waiting room for a while after I'd put my belt back on and reclaimed my phone and my keys from the locker I'd taken. The person who'd been in before me was given an envelope to take away with her, large enough for it to be safely presumed there were X-Rays inside. I was waiting for mine, but when the Nurse put down her mobile phone and came out of the other room to ask me if I was all right I realised I wasn't at the same stage in my treatment. Or that the woman had been here for something else entirely. All I had to do was go home, the Nurse said. Then "whoever referred me" would phone with my results in the week.

It was sunnier than it had been for days when I got out into the hospital car park. I turned my mobile back on and texted my girlfriend. Then I walked back into town to spend a little money in celebration that I had met my terror head-on like Hemingway and come out at the other end, almost, still walking on two legs and ready for the weekend.

Friday, August 07, 2009

John Hughes: Res Ipsa Loquitur

Film director John Hughes has died. The guy responsible for Eighties "classics" like The Breakfast Club and Home Alone. I think he did Pretty in Pink as well, though my memory is fading faster than my vitality (well, just about) and I'm not sure about the last one.

It's a shame when anybody dies. And I'm sure John Hughes was a lovely bloke who supported numerous charities and put movie producers on hold to stroke kittens and throw tennis balls with orphans. But those were dreadful films. Maybe not as bad as some of the bilge that Hollywood pumped out in those days, but still a damn sight worse than the average either before or since.

Eighties nostalgia, so widespread now even among those who remember that most benighted of decades, is just one more thing that mystifies me thoroughly and makes me wonder if I am really a member of the human race. Not that I necessarily want to be.

Anybody who wants to watch a John Hughes movie this weekend to remember his "great" cinematic achievement and imagine themselves backwards into a more magical time should be made to watch every episode of Boys From The Blackstuff first. Alan Bleasdale was one man back then who didn't make his reputation by lying through his teeth.

Train Robbers and Cranks

The radio this morning was full of the usual right-wing cranks phoning up and texting about the release of Ronald Biggs. How frustrating the day must be for these people if they can find nothing to vent their spleen on. Though of course, when you're a right-wing crank, everything is grist to your mill of hate. He should not come out, they say, despite the fact that he is dying of pneumonia. Make him stay in jail until he breathes his last! Then he will have paid his debt to society.

I can't claim even to have an opinion on Biggs himself. Perhaps it is just the mood I'm in this morning, but I couldn't care less what happens to him, though I do warm slightly to the spectacle of a judicial system exercising compassion to the dying. Biggs and his cohorts showed no compassion to the men on the train who were brutalised, they say; but does the State demonstrate the wickedness of their conduct by mirroring it? I'm not a right-wing crank, of course, so perhaps there's something in questions of law and justice I don't understand.