Friday, December 31, 2010


Bruce Hodder 

all these people have made 2010 a better, easier, more inspiring, more entertaining, more interesting or more stimulating year than the previous one. big thanks and humble prostrations to each one of them.

Michael Aston

Phillippa Bennett

Bill Blackolive

Lisa Body

Mark Brown

Portia Chandigere

Robert Davies

Mel Goodwin

Dawn 'Dawnie' Hamilton

Martyna Herbut

Beata Kulinska

Geoff Lovesy

Jackie Lovesy

Rachel Lovesy

Kristian McLelland

Lindsey Ransley

Carol Reynolds

Sheldon Richards

Emily Stanley

Laura Stanley

Kerry Wilkinson

Thursday, December 23, 2010


I have no hot water at the moment. No warmth in my radiator either. I think my pipes have frozen. Or have they? If they have how can I still flush my toilet? And what am I gonna do when I can't? Who's gonna escort me around town throwing bags of you-know-what over garden fences? (Was it Hunter Thompson who did that? Or Keith Richards? I know it was somebody.)

I don't know. This is why God invented plumbers. Sadly, they are rather difficult to get hold of at this time of year, especially during the coldest December since 1890s (or whatever it is). I booked one to come yesterday but he cancelled on me at the last minute. Now I have another number. But if he doesn't come through I will have to wait until next Thursday, which is the the earliest time the guy I originally booked can give me on a re-booking.

And you know what? I don't mind. The snow is beautiful; it's so deep it completely covers the two Buddhas in my garden. And I can keep relatively clean by strip washing with water boiled in my kettle. And I still have food. Electricity. Access to a radio and music. What's the big deal? I'm having these fantasies about being a monk in retreat on top of a winter mountain in China or Tibet.

I also had the thought, the day I found the red emergency light on the boiler, that my next electricity bill would be lower. Cheapskate bastard. When you balance that saving against any work the plumber might have to do, it won't even look like a pee in a frozen bucket.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bloody Chamber? You Wait For The Caffe Nero Edition

An essay on Angela Carter is the next thing I have to do for my degree course. Oh dear. I hate Angela Carter. Well, hate might (might) be a strong word for how I feel about her. She actually bores me senseless.Or is it her?

It could be the universal approbation of her work that bores and annoys me. Feminist critics and male academics seem to think she's wonderful. "Sophisticated" people who drink lattes instead of coffee and like their bars to have sofas in them praise her lavishly. Her complete wondrousness appears to be the received wisdom of the literate professional classes.

But look at her book The Bloody Chamber. Is it really so incredibly innovative and intellectually marvellous - can it really be so 'out there' - to take a bunch of old fairy stories and folk tales, with their androcentric emphasis, and rewrite them from an empowered feministy perspective? That's the sort of reasonably interesting (but not especially so) idea that every intelligent person comes up with at the end of the evening after a few too many wines, but most have more important things to do than try to sell it in a book.

Putting it down on paper was never going to help anybody, anyway. People might say that isn't the purpose of literature, but surely a change of consciousness,at least, is the purpose of feminist literature; and a book like this will only reach people who already agree with it, if it reaches anybody at all. It certainly won't stop the thick-headed old man on the housing estate from talking to his wife like shit in the pub all night, and then beating her senseless at home when all his friends have drunk his last beer, smoked his last spliff and slunk off into the night. (You think things have changed folks? Try stepping over the river.)

The idea that drives Bloody Chamber is a parlour game for the left-leaning side of the chattering classes, that's all. And not especially compelling as a piece of writing either. I find her prose as exciting as cold porridge.

Perhaps that is just me, though. I don't have a large enough salary to appreciate the subtleties of great literature these days.

Friday, November 12, 2010

10/11: What Really Happened

I was there. The journalists were there too, but they were looking for a story. They had to go to the place where the glass was being broken, the placards burned, the fire extinguisher recklessly slung. If they had walked with the other students and finished off in a giant, good-tempered, weary scrum at the other end of Millbank cheering speeches they couldn't hear by student leaders, the journalists would have been thrown out by their editor the next time they showed up at the office.

The journalists didn't really know the students either. They could put a microphone in someone's way and snatch the odd soundbite about Nick Clegg or tuition fees or lies and hypocrisy, but they couldn't know the students; their world is simply too far removed. I knew the students, though. I knew the people I had come up from Northampton on a coach with, and I got to know the people who were marching all around me in that unbelievably long, loud, and, yes, happy train of  humanity going past the Houses of Parliament.

And they were happy, make no mistake. It was exhilarating to be out there on that bright day in the middle of London doing something important, for once, with your friends; chanting rude songs (and rude is all they were, despite the prudish disapproval of the newspapers: have they never been to a football match?); hoping, perhaps absurdly, to get on television. Several of us even called family and friends to tell them where we were; and when the helicopter buzzed us, as it did several times during the march, we only cheered and waved ironically. We all object strenuously to the Coalition's plans for higher education and we were there to tell Nick Clegg that as he stood at the Dispatch Box inside the Commons deputising for his new best friend David Cameron at PMQs. But nobody - nobody - from the student contingent had come up for a riot.

There were others there, people from the Socialist Worker Party, Anarchists, Anti-War Protesters, many shouting fervidly into megaphones about the evils of the Coalition and the necessity of smashing the state. There were men and women with the lower half of their face covered by bandannas. There were drunks pushing past you temporarily spoiling the carnival atmosphere with their bad manners. But I don't want to blame them for what happened at Millbank. Some of those groups have a legitimate belief that it's their duty to oppose an illegitimate and out of control Government; and in that respect I personally agree with them, though I don't always agree with their methods. I don't know what happened at Millbank anyway, any more than anybody else does except the people who were caught up in it. And I suspect that's how it was for most.

An innocent sit-down protest outside the Conservative Party offices probably seemed like a good idea to students and others who had spent the whole day thinking about the Coalition's vandalism of higher education. Many there probably hadn't been to enough protests to know that the cops wouldn't like it; maybe some were too exhilarated by the belief in the possibilities of democracy that the march represented to care very much about being arrested. Things could change and they would make them change. And then it got out of hand. Half the people in the crowd who appeared to be pushing to break the police line and get into the Tory offices probably couldn't have left if they'd tried with a great swell of other people pushing at their back.

I saw it start. I saw the police going in. Then I got away quickly and went to listen to the speeches. It wasn't until I made it - just - to the coach taking us back to Northampton that I heard what had developed once I'd scuttled off to safety. Students on the coach were reading an account in the Evening Standard. A small number - I think it was three - of our people had been detained by the Police and the frazzled, hard-working men and women from the Student Union were busy trying to get them out before the coach left. Everybody agreed that the trashing of the Tory building was wrong; that it had set back the cause of opposition to the Coalition programme, and would probably make the Lib Dem MPs we needed on our side feel more inclined to vote with Clegg and Cameron.

Tomorrow, I had a feeling, the lies and misrepresentations about what had happened at the Demo would begin in earnest. When I turned the tv on first thing in the morning I knew that I'd guessed right.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Karl Marx, Ron Whitehead, Bill Blackolive, Me

I'm taking a break at the moment from an assignment I have to write on Marxist Literary Criticism for my degree course. It's a tough one, and it's going to take some time. Not because Marxism is hard to understand, but because the text we have to apply it to is a difficult one: the opening pages of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, which at first sight has almost nothing meaty in it for me to use. Yes, the High Court of Chancery is an institution supported by a particularly capitalist ideology which itself is supported by agreement rather than enforcement which itself might be an example of interpellation since it doesn't seem to be helping very many people etc. etc. etc.; but how the hell to word that on a cold, grey Monday with a 1000 word limit and only 6 days left to complete it?

F**k knows. I was ruined over the weekend by the purchase of a cd which closed with a 1961 reading by Allen Ginsberg of his poem "Auto Poesy to Nebraska". Such freedom! such humour in that! ("How big is the prick of the president?") Reminded me there are jewels out there the academic world can't begin to understand; and that I'm an artist too. A poet, albeit one who has written hardly anything for a couple of years because of poor health and catastrophic loss of confidence and direction; loss of spiritual balance which I'm only now beginning to recover (trying to anyway). When am I going to write again and recover some of the talent I once had instead of sitting in cold libraries writing formalistic essays for the approval of teachers who don't even know of the existence of Ron Whitehead or Wild Bill Blackolive?

Today's as good a day to start as any, Hodder, once you wrestle Karl Marx to the ground and get home to the Bard Gaff.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I have been asked, very kindly, if I have any writing on the subject of fun to contribute to an internet page. I can't tell you how stymied I was when I read the email. How could I possibly write about fun? What, after all, did I really enjoy?

When I think about it, though, there are a few things I enjoy. I enjoy being with my girlfriend. I enjoy being with my friends. I enjoyed it when we were all walking arm-in-arm across the Racecourse after closing time the other weekend, drunk and shouting songs we'd made up into the cold midnight air. I love having a cat sit on my lap paddling until it's ready to sit down and sleep. I like it when it rains. I love eating a peanut butter sandwich on the first slice of fresh bread from a new loaf. I love reading Chinese and Japanese poetry and feeling through them the majesty and peace of old mountains and rivers...their old wisdom that applies still today.

So maybe I'm not as miserable as I first thought when I opened that email. Maybe I will try to put something together this weekend. Although as soon as I write anything formally these days my inspiration seems to vanish like a dubious rumour.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

University Week 2

I am having to read a lot of books for this degree. I suppose that was to be expected. And reading is one of my favourite occupations, so it's not a hardship, although as the course leader predicted during my interview, being told what to read sometimes is a hardship for someone whose mind has roved wherever it pleased, in literary terms, for a long time. That freedom has not been especially productive for me, however. It helped me reach the interesting lands inhabited by what you might call the outlaw sensibilities of people like Li Po, Dostoyevsky, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Bukowski and Hunter Thompson, but I haven't written anything I'm really happy with in response to my unnoticed invasion of their psychological turf. Except my long poem 'Oldtime Beautiful', which appeared unexpurgated in Bryn Fortey's 'Outlaw' magazine and then disappeared seemingly forever, along with my ability to write poetry (or so it has seemed).

I am expecting the degree to wake me up to writing even if it does so by giving me something to define myself against. And it has already done that, in some ways, with only two weeks of it under my belt. The lecturer who pronounced Kerouac 'hippie shit' and William Burroughs 'unreadable' incensed me. I considered what he said seriously for a while, wishing to examine earnestly whether I might have been misguided in my love for their writing over all these years and that perhaps the time had come to 'grow up', intellectually speaking, into the world of adult literature. Then I lit some incense, put Jack's 'Blues And Haikus' on and went crossly to sleep. The poet who teaches us has a warm, endearing manner about him and writes very sweet, sentimental, unambitious poetry about the past. I'm not sure I would publish it in BEATNIK. He wants us to bring in a memento of childhood to the the next seminar to provoke discussion and then reflective writing. Perhaps I misread him, but it didn't seem to occur to him for a moment that not everybody had a warm, fluffy childhood and that talking about it might bring up some very painful memories for some. I have been working on something that will rattle him out of his complacency. He will probably mark me down for it, but the marks you get in the first year don't count towards your degree anyway, so it's not important. We are poets and writers, are we not? There are statements to be made about Art and Truth, as crazy as that might make me sound.

Two last points for today: firstly, the prices that uuniversity presses fix for academic tomes are scandalous -- sometimes a third or more of what the Government believes an unemployed man needs to live on for a week -- and secondly, it's interesting how the universities are using the internet to pass off their tuition costs onto the students while every year they increase what they ask for from the State. I am having to print off inordinate amounts of information from different web pages; it's costing me pounds. But that's just an observation, and probably understandable, on their part. It's a philistine world the universities have to survive in, and it grows more so with every year that passes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's So Clear I Can Barely Stifle A Yawn

Now that Ed Milliband has won the rather tedious Labour leadership campaign and given his inaugural speech to the party, I predict that "Red Ed" is a name you're going to hear a lot in the next few months from alcoholic hacks writing simple-minded prose for redtop newspapers owned by multi-billionaire Tory puppetmasters. But as Milliband himself said, perhaps in vain, a "grown-up debate" would be preferable. He isn't a Red, if that attempted insult even has any meaning anymore outside of newspaper offices and building sites. He's a left-leaning liberal. Although why Reds should be unacceptable in politics when Blues, who represent the opposite, and equally extremist, end of the ideological divide are welcomed in and given a comfortable chair and biscuits, is quite beyond me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Disturbing Thought

I've already learned something about myself in the week I've been at University: my brain doesn't work in the way I thought it did. I read "Wuthering Heights" last month, knowing it was one of the first books we would have to study, and coming back this week to think about it a little more, with a view to being the generally acknowledged superstar of the seminar, I realised I could remember hardly anything specific about the book. So I started reading it again. And saw in it loads of incidents and details I had forgotten. Including really significant ones like Catherine's appearance as a ghost calling at the window during a snowstorm early on in the story.

I have gone through life presuming I was some sort of undiscovered genius; but these days I'm beginning to wonder if I might not be a bit of a moron. At the very least my brain needs rigorous training if it has a snowball's chance in Tripoli of ever genuinely understanding anything. How can you write if you can't read? What do I really know about how anybody constructs a novel or a poem if I skim over everything I read like I've been fired from a catapult over a giant sheet of ice?

It seems University came just in time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Day One, Freshers' Week

Today was my first day proper at the Uni. Two hours of presentations and discussion, first with the Dean (who looks a little like Nick Clegg), and secondly with my course leader Phillippa Bennett, who I like already because not only did she approve my application in the first place, she also remembered my name when I met her again today.

Everybody around me seems very young. But to them I undoubtedly look very old. We will get used to each other. I have associated with people much younger than me for a long time now, in the care job, and in many ways I even enjoy it. The only time I think it's significantly better to keep company with somebody your own age is in a relationship. You need to be with someone who understands why you groan when you pick money up off the floor.

I am a little concerned that I haven't got a timetable yet -- that the Uni intranet system shows me as not being enrolled for any courses -- but I'm sure that's a kink that will work itself out this week. After all, I have a certificate of enrolment, and a student card. I'm hardly an interloper now. I just need to make sure everything gets sorted out administratively so that I can release my student loan and tuition fees.

Yes, I know I'm a worrier. But I live pretty close to the wind these days. I have done ever since I gave up that vile job at the care home. I think that's why I've started writing again.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

University Challenge

I enrolled at University for my English degree today. Being the natural pessimist I am, I thought something would go wrong right up until the last minute. But it didn't. And now here I am facing three years of study and a thirty thousand pound debt at the end of it. I couldn't be happier.

There is a conflict here, for a writer who has spent his writing life on the fringes of the small press (I was never fully accepted by the small or the large press, for whatever reason). The small press tends to think of itself as more dynamic than the "Academies". The universities are supposed to produce anaemic poetry by hopelessly unworldly, unhip writers published only because of their contacts and their credentials.

Well, in my experience it's not that different in the small press. Good poetry is good poetry wherever it comes from. And Charles Bukowski's theory that your writing is somehow improved by working dead-end gigs for no money, by living in fleabag rooms and walking in the rain with holes in your shoes, has failed utterly for me. Looking at the websites and the print mags of new poetry I'd say it has failed for most of the other poets too. 

I want a little comfort now. I want conversation with people who've read Pound and Dante as well as Kerouac and Buk. I'll probably end up being a stranger in both worlds, but that won't be an unfamiliar experience either, for a man who has drifted through his whole life like a ghost.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Deserving Poor

This is an extract from a longer piece, including comments from other authors, which originally appeared on Facebook.

America's idea of welfare is everybody else's idea of throwing the poor to the wolves and letting them feast. But it's all a matter of perspective, I suppose. Do you know what percentage of the population over there is on benefits? And how much that number rose as the recession -- which I think most people agree was caused by rich folk at the high end of unrestrained free market capitalism -- bit deep? Who are these people deliberately getting knocked up so they can get more benefits? Do you know them personally? And if you do have they told you that's why little Bobby or Alice came along? Could it have anything to do with poor education? Low self-esteem caused by the demoralisation of living on the dole, with nothing to do all day, nowhere to go, no money in the kitty and knowing every time you turn on the radio or tv or read the letters page in the paper or listen to the policians talking at election time that your kind of people will be the ones who get blasted and nobody, but nobody, else in the country will give a shit about you? It can't be nice to be the one free target for everybody else's hatred in a population as large as America's, which itself is based on a myth of self-reliant bullshit perpetuated by Republican hatemongers like Duke Wayne. Poverty and unemployment are the result of the capitalist system we all think so glorious not being properly administrated and regulated, I reckon, and America is the prime example of how that: look at the obscene amounts of wealth a small percentage of the population have, while most have very little. But those rich sleazebags are admired, set up as paragons of virtue, while they lay off thousands of workers and feed themselves fat bonuses. Which seems a little bit like a dog running to fetch a stick and returning it obsequiously to the master who has used it to provide the poor canine with a beating.

I have been in the unemployment offices very recently. Yesterday was my last visit, actually. I know these people. I know the look in their eyes and the discomfort in their bodies as they sit waiting for their turn at the desk. Ninety nine per cent of them don't want to be there. Ninety nine per cent feel mortified by the prospect of having to ask somebody else for their food money. The occasional one who thinks it's a great idea, if he (or she exists), is a casualty of the system even in his distorted thinking, in my opinion. You must have a very hermetic, paranoid, pessimistic view of the world if you want nothing except a few extra dollars in your hand, and the contumely of the whole world on your head. And a few extra dollars is all you get. Or a few extra pounds, in this country, and until the Tories start to dismantle it the Welfare system in the UK is statistically much more generous than it is in America.

Society has to look after its casualties, I think, and I don't mind at all if that makes me read like an unreconstructed socialist from the valley of the dinosaurs. I believe the average worker in capitalist and communist societies is fucked too. A few people may abuse the welfare system, but so be it; it's a price worth paying to ensure that the rest, who are claiming benefits through no fault of their own, are looked after. That they have food and water and a roof over their head in a house they can afford to heat. We are human beings before we're capitalists, aren't we? If we're going to tell ourselves that our neighbour's problem is not our problem - our wide screen tv is working fine thanks, and the car in the garage roars like a tiger -- if we're going to let ourselves believe that the poor are poor because they don't work as hard as we do and they're probably morally defective too --we might as well dump all of our Christ and Buddha statues in the garbage and leap straight back to the workhouses.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Coalition, A Hidden Agenda? Is the Pope A Catholic?

Why, I wonder, after watching an extended News at Ten report last night, is the visit of the Pope a State Visit and therefore, I presume, the financial responsibility of the taxpayer? The Dalai Lama wasn't accorded such an honour. And aren't the Coalition telling us that the public purse is in such a dire condition even the armed forces, the fire service and the N.H.S. will have to share some of the pain when it comes to budget cuts?

You wouldn't, of course, expect logic from a government that pours millions into a foreign occupation that serves no discernible purpose and a nuclear deterrent in Trident which was constructed for an enemy who is no longer there. But the cuts threatened in public services are really ideologically driven anyway. The Government doesn't want to own anything that could be flogged off to business and it is using the deficit as an excuse to pare those services down to a minimum. It might even be hoping for a confrontation with the unions so that they can be broken prior to a final fire sale.

Think I'm paranoid? People might have said so if I'd made similar comments before the Miners' Strike in the glory days of Thatcher. We'll see what happens once the Pope has gone home and the true face of modern, stage-managed, airbrushed, spun to the nth degree Conservatism (propped up as it is by hopelessly naive and morally compromised liberalism) begins to reveal itself.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Bloody Chamber: Comments I Probably Won't Submit At Uni

Reading Angela Carter's "Bloody Chamber" for my Uni course today, I remembered those immortal, acid lines from Charles Bukowski: " 'Well, shit,' someone said/ And that's what it was."

The introduction to the book says that many students find it shocking. I don't know what that says about me. I think it's a sterile, middle class bore from page 1.

"Let's re-present fairy tales in new and sensuous and surprising ways."
Actually, Angela, let's not.

The arts editor of Cosmopolitan must have loved this book when it first came out, all those years ago.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dream Record 11/ 9 / 10

Okay, here we go. I was at work again, and lunchtime was approaching. I thought I'd go to town for mine and escape the oppressive atmosphere of the care home. But first I needed to go to the toilet. For convenience I went into what I thought was an empty service user flat opposite the office and peed in the kitchen sink. I was just finishing and putting my cock away when a service user and two carers, both Asian, came out of his bedroom. They didn't comment on where I'd peed, but I felt I should be friendly with them just in case I had made the wrong impression. We got talking. All the while I was thinking what a nice room the service user had. The only drawback was that the ceiling was as high as a warehouse roof. I imagined lying in bed staring up at that ceiling in the dark. It would scare the crap out of me.

I agreed to show the carers the way to whatever place they wanted to take the service user, despite the fact that it would cut in on my lunch hour, and we set off out of the building. It was snowing. We went down a couple of half-familiar roads and then suddenly, perhaps disoriented by the snow, we were in the country: long, bare, bleak, white country. And I needed to have some lunch and get back within the hour!

We saw a hill. A big, steep hill with nothing visible over the top of it except the grey snowclouds. "Maybe there's something over there," one of the carers said. I scrambled to the top of it, my feet slipping in the snow, to have a look. Nothing. Just countless miles of fields rolling back to the horizon; not even any trees. And snow piled thick on the ground, and still falling.

When I slid back down the hill and told them the bad news the mood in the group became hopeless. But I was determined to find a way so that I could squeeze in some lunch and make the afternoon shift at work. "We'll try that path," I said, indicating a lane to our left that seemed to disappear into the same nothingness that was everywhere else around us. But since the group was in the profoundly liberated position of having nothing to lose, they followed me; and soon we came upon a house, and then a row of houses. It looked like the beginnings of a village, but once we were in the village we'd soon find the town.

The only way to enter the village proper was to go down into a courtyard that belonged to the first house and sneak through the building unnoticed. (The house was empty, it seemed.) One of the carers tried this before me and pulled it off without incident. Then it was my turn. I slipped as I descended the steps into the courtyard, knocking something over and making a tremendous noise. A dog started barking. It was one of those small, yippy dogs, but in the silence it was making enough of a racket to give us away. I entered the house and got through it to the village anyway. I presume the people in my travelling party did too on whatever plane of reality their story continued, but at this point I stopped being aware of them.

I arrived back at work late. Very late. The manager, Alan Hackworth, had gone home. As the skies darkened and the snow storm thickened outside, I tried to text him to apologise for my lateness. I thought I would tell I'd been mugged on my lunchbreak. It was a good story. He might ask me for the crime number the police would have given me, but he probably wouldn't ask; and if he did, I'd say I'd been at the hospital for a long time and I couldn't remember it. Maybe my head was all blurry with painkillers. I tried to write a message out for him, but I couldn't do it. My thumb didn't work properly; and even when it did work, the wrong symbol appeared on the screen of my mobile. Becoming frustrated, feeling I only had a certain amount of time to get the message to Alan for it to retain its credibility, I tried the phone of another member of staff who'd just come into the office. But I couldn't send a text on their phone either.


In another dream I was riding in a car with Bob Dylan and he was being pursued by someone he owed money. There was a high speed car chase. "What have you got me into?" I yelled at Bob as we raced through the traffic, with his apparently murderous creditor behind us. Bob tried a clever car manoeuvre. It failed and the creditor slammed into him. I jumped out of the car and ran away, scared shitless of the fight that was to come.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dream Record 10/9/10

I'm working in a supermarket on an unemployment scheme. I'm having quite a happy time until the shop is taken over by this manager who clearly doesn't know what he's doing. Soon all the procedures that work so well have been replaced by ones that don't. Experienced shop workers try to tell him but he won't listen; and the supermarket falls into chaos. When the people from the Job Centre are visiting I go to them and ask to be transferred back to my old placement. But they tell me that the regulations make this impossible. Pissed off, I walk back out into the shop and see about twenty staff standing around disgruntled near the bread rack; and an idea comes to me. This place is in such disorder now they won't know whether I'm here or not!

I go to the toilet, and when I've done the business, I hang my bag up on a nail by the urinals -- its presence will show I must be around somewhere -- before leaving the supermarket through a side door. I walk for a while through an old, run-down estate full of narrow streets and terraced houses. At first I see a few fellow workers; but they start drifting back to the supermarket. I am alone and free. It's cold but not too cold; and there's only a light rain coming down out of the blanket of grey clouds over my head. I can quite easily do this every day for the remainder of my six months on the scheme.

I enter an open door I know and find myself in a tiny living room where John Barnes, the former England footballer, lies relaxing on the couch. I show him a football annual from the Italia 90 World Cup tournament which I realise I've been carrying; and he sits up, opens its pages eagerly, no doubt looking for pictures of himself. I enjoy his pleasure immensely, but my enjoyment doesn't last. I hear voices in the hall and from something in their tone I know that they are dole snoopers who have followed me from the supermarket. I see an open window. Since it is the only way out, I duck through it and walk along a roof to safety. See you round John Barnes.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Paranoia Explained

I get at least ten phishing emails a day. You know the ones I mean. Someone telling you that you've been awarded, mysteriously, £1,000,000 and all you have to do is send them your bank account details so the money can be forwarded to you. Or sob stories from people you don't know who are stuck in foreign countries because all of their relatives have died in a plain crash, and would I mind awfully sending them a lot of money so they can get home. There are many variations on the same theme. One repeated intruder in my inbox even disguises himself (or herself) as a representative of the Windows Hotmail Team and asks for my details so that they can be verified. So forgive me if, occasionally, I get paranoid and don't answer a message from you if I don't know you. And if you're a poet submitting material for BEATNIK (, do me a favour and send a list of the magazines you've previously been published in. You may think my suspicious nature is getting the better of me, but recently I had a submission with no details attached, and the poetry was so unaccomplished I wondered if even that might have been an attempt to scam me.

When you're a well-known presence in a small corner of the internet, as I am, you attract thieves and pickpockets like cheap perfume attracts wasps in the summertime.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Old Farts Induction Day

I went to University for something they called a day-long "Survivor's Guide"  for mature students yesterday. Which is a cute way of saying "old farts induction day" basically, although the letter they sent out prior to the event strenuously denied it was an induction day. We were on the Park Campus, which is just a short walk up the road from the care home I used to work in and the pub we used to frequent with the service users. I hadn't seen the care home since I left the company under a cloud of hot contumely. It was nice. That home I had a few nice months in, before they got rid of the one good manager they had, ripped apart the staff team and sent me to the other care home to work with my old nemesis Cruela.

But as the song says, "that's all in the past", and walking past the building on my way to the University symbolised it perfectly. The "Survivor's Guide" itself was good, although what I really want is to pitch right into the course and get started on my studies. Actually, it was a bit like a training course at the old job, except with better trainers and better facilities in an absolutely beautiful location. There were many hiccups: lots of unexpectedly locked doors, student facilitators not sure of the jobs entrusted to them, timetables for activities much too stringent to be met, but I found all that rather charming. This was the first day of the new year for everybody, after all. It was like the University hadn't completely shaken the summer out of its hair.

One wonderful moment: we had to do one of those excruciating little "ice-breaker" exercises that trainers love so much, and the task was to tell two truths and one lie; the rest of the group would then guess which statement was the lie. I said, "I'm a poet. I used to be a care worker. My girlfriend's name is Emma" One girl leaned forward quickly, sure that she had the right answer, and said, "It's either that you're a poet or that you used to be a care worker. Nobody could be both at the same time. Care work is so...unimaginative."

How is it that she knew that in two and a half seconds and it took me thirteen years to realise?

Monday, August 30, 2010


Nothing else to do
But watch white clouds pass over--
Finally, success.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Unemployment & Oncoming Learning

I hadn't realised what a long time it's been since I was here. But life has been busy at times since July, and then at others so stultifyingly dull that stirring myself to write here was beyond me.

That's the life of the unemployed, after all. I didn't think it would be, but the prophesies of all my friends turned out to be true. When you run out of money, they predicted, your brain will turn to porridge.

And so it did. Sometimes in the last month I have laid across my bed in the afternoon staring up at the ceiling almost paralysed by sloth.

Thankfully, now, I have university on the horizon, and I think I've done everything I need to do to get me there. I'm just involved in a last minute rush to get hold of a copy of the NVQ 3 certificate my last employer had, and lost, in case I have to show it at the uni to enrol.

And reading. Reading, reading, reading. But that's how life will be in the next three years, if I haven't made any unforeseen stupid mistakes and I get through the doors of the Halls of Learning.

I can't wait, actually.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

I Say It Every Year, But...

In memory of Sylvia Hodder, who died today 14 long (short) years ago. Pagan, artist, terrific dancer, Communist, peace campaigner, anti-apartheid activist, women's refuge worker, Janis Joplin fan, reader of Dick Francis books, occasional partaker of the hierba buena.

So many lives lived in such a short time. "Unseen, you still fill sight."

Quick News on BEATNIK

Readers with a literary bent are strongly advised to visit our sister page THE BEATNIK ( ) where there has been a "redesign" as I believe we say in these days of mangled English.

Feedback on the redesign is welcomed. A huge total of two people have commented so far and they liked it. But it's not obligatory.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Wonder

I wonder if a blog really has any function other than to prove to you and to everybody else that you're an idiot?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Another Bump In The Road To Education

I was feeling really sunny and peaceful until I opened my emails about ten minutes ago. That was when I found a message from the student loan people telling me they couldn't process my application for financial support through the next year at university because they still hadn't received the evidence I need to send them to support the application (birth certificate and wage slips, primarily). But I sent it to them about three weeks ago, in the regular mail.

Has that bundle been lost? Now I have to spend the afternoon making phone calls to track it down. Unfortunately I didn't send it via recorded delivery, so if it has gone astray somewhere I'll have no way of proving I ever posted it. Dumbass. You should always presume that something is going to go wrong somewhere along the line, especially when the goal is as important as this one.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dukkha in the Shopping Line

Yesterday I saw a woman in the queue at the Co-Op with a football-sized hump over her right shoulder blade. There were two little girls in front of her with their mothers: one African and one white, European if not English. The African girl stood dutifully at her mother's side and didn't look up. The European girl stood a little apart from her mother and stared and stared and stared at the hump; but not cruelly -- she just looked fascinated, as if she were trying to understand what was under the woman's dress and what it meant; how it changed her life; why she wasn't the same as other people the little girl had seen.

I thought: a similar encounter is what set Buddha on the path. Imagine if we had a Polish female Buddha born in Semilong.

Before Sunset

While I'm on an old movie mood, I thought I'd share with you some notes I wrote after watching a favourite film of mine again last night:

I just watched "Before Sunset" again, and I liked it more than I did the first time because I could pick out its subtleties more easily on a second viewing. The little important moments when you see into the heart of the two characters; the dissatisfaction they have with their lives, and the intensity of their feelings for each other, which might be shown just by a look (Ethan Hawke is very good at those), or a hand raised to touch the other's hair. Those things are revealed with such great skill and timing within the natural flow of the conversation I quite envy the ability of the actors AND the writers. Who, sickeningly, are the same people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy wrote the script with director Richard Linklater).

I thought about ******** constantly as the film unfolded because Julie Delpy showed so perfectly what is delightful about anybody when you look at them with the eyes of love: the way they laugh; the way they stand up on the balls of their feet to make a point; the way they push their hair behind one ear; their insecurities; the sadness of their past; how beautiful it can be to watch them light a cigarette; how great it is just to listen to them talk about their job or something lovely they remember from their childhood.

That is, when you're not being a self-involved arsehole and seeing them all wrong.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Last night a friend and I watched the old (2007) Tom Hanks/ Steven Sielberg film "Terminal". She'd picked it up in a shop in town in an effort to entertain us one evening when the relentless football got a bit too much and it was too cold to sit in the garden drinking beer and burning cardboard.

I wished she hadn't the moment she mentioned it. I don't like being rude to anyone, at least in person (my native rudeness comes out in the blog), and when anyone gives me a gift I try to show due appreciation for their kindness. But I can't bear either Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg. Still, I thought I would give the film a go, just to be nice.

It was dire, despite the News of the World (what do we expect?) calling it "superb" on the jacket of the dvd. Tom Hanks is at his excruciating worst, overplaying the sincerity of his character Victor to charm or jerk tears of sympathy from the audience. The side characters (with the exception of Catherine Zeta-Jones') are as one-dimensional as Spielberg tends to make his side characters, and the various plot strands that tie everybody up together are as sentimental as a cartoon for 4-year-olds. And as insincere as an electioneering speech by a Liberal Democrat. Which is bad, I think you'll agree.

I can't help feeling that all the money spent on tripe like this would be better spent if it were given to the poor.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Holmes & Watson

I saw the (relatively) new Guy Ritchie "Sherlock Holmes" movie yesterday. If you're wondering whether to buy the dvd I can tell you this much: it doesn't bear much of a resemblance to any of the Holmes versions you may have seen before. It opens and closes like a Batman movie, actually, with lots of noise and decidedly non-Victorian fighting in locations intended to be spectacular. And in the middle there's an interminable, allegedly comical, fight sequence that reminded me, at least, of the wake-me-when-it's-over battle scenes in "Pirates of the Caribbean". I am not a fan of movies that rely on a combination of special effects (or should that be CGI?) and cliche to please their audience. But the new Holmes did have some impressive things in it. The rendering of Victorian London is as good as, if not better than, Tim Burton's in "Sweeney Todd"; and Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr., as Watson and Holmes respectively, are fabulous on screen together. The new Redford and Newman, we cautiously whisper, hoping that the Fates don't hear us and make fools of everyone. When producers and directors trust their stars -- and the intelligence of their audience -- the results can sometimes be tremendous, as they are when Holmes and Watson are sparking off each other and nothing is exploding behind them. Unfortunately it happens all too rarely. A sequel will dilute the traces of timeless movie brilliance a little further sometime next year, I shouldn't wonder.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Just Another Mouth In The Wind?

What's the difference between being socially engaged and projecting your own delusions onto an already confused, difficult situation and making it worse?  I've been thinking about this lately. I should, too, as someone who has spent three decades now bellyaching about injustice in private journals, blogs, and (on the odd occasion somebody had the patience to listen to me) in conversation.

Everyone thinks they're right after all. David Cameron isn't a wicked man bent on sucking everything decent out of the world. Margaret Thatcher believed she was right and that what she was doing was beneficial to the nation and the world. I do think she was blind to something privately vengeful in herself, but that's just my opinion, even if I recognise the same thing in myself and I'm not, therefore, accusing her of anything that doesn't taint myself as well.

The Israelis think they're right blockading Gaza. The terrorists operating inside Gaza, firing rockets into Israel, think they're right to do that. Mystifyingly, even the people who hijacked the planes on 9/11 thought there was a redeeming purpose to their act, however much of a violation of every standard of decency and respect for life it might have seemed to the rest of us.

I don't really want to be just another angry voice snarling in cyberspace at everybody who doesn't agree with me. It just roots others in their opinions anyway, and limits the possibility of constructive dialogue. And without dialogue between opposing factions all you get is mistrust, violence and war. And what the hell do I know about anything? I can't even get my tv to work.

A socially engaged person, if he or she really wants to do some good in the world, speaks less and acts more, I think. If I have any ability with words (and you'll hear differing opinions on that one), I can use it to bring attention to people and animals and places that need your help, but perhaps I should stop poisoning your good will in advance by ranting about the enemy (again, a matter of perspective) as if I had rabies.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Maggie's Farm Revived

I have been given a vuvuzela and a Chinese lantern today. Now even the sight of Margaret Thatcher back in Downing Street on the steps of No. 10 with Prime Minister Cleggeron can't completely ruin my evening!

Although I must confess that seething hatred seized me when I saw her, and that it was directed not only at her but at the manipulating, duplicitous Tory swine who fooled a third of the country into believing they had disowned their vicious, homophobic, misogynistic, socially ruinous past; and the massively hypocritical, unprincipled Lliberal Democrat leaders who are clearly prepared to do anything, however distasteful, to leap out of the minnow pond and swim with the big fish for a couple of dizzying years in their sorry, anonymous history.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


I went to a wonderful bbq with old and new friends yesterday afternoon. Then I spent the night with someone special while the lightning flashed and the thunder crashed outside. A mighty rain and stiflingly hot air followed the storm. We had to open the windows in the bedroom just to sleep. At 3.50 am we were woken up by the beautiful, busy, natural sound of the birds in the trees singing in the new day. It seems louder then because there are no cars or lawn mowers or ipods."They're talking to each other about what a great storm we had last night," I suggested. Now it's nearly lunchtime. She's stretched out on the sofa underneath a brown wool blanket. I had a long-haired black cat beside me a moment ago, but when a bird called in the garden he got up quickly and ran outside. The remnants of my coffee are resting on my belly's ample curve as I write one-fingered on her laptop. I am happy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Question Time

The attempt by the ConDem Coalition to seize editorial control of the BBC's "Question Time" by refusing to supply a Cabinet Minister if Alastair Campbell was also on the panel is outrageous.

It's common practise, by all accounts, for a certain amount of negotiation to occur before these programmes, but a flat refusal to supply a member of the Government if the "Question Time" editors didn't do as they were told is an unacceptable abuse of our allegedly free media. Or it's an attempt to abuse our free media, anyway, since it didn't work. Congratulations are due to the BBC for their refusal to be bullied.

Of course, the Government have said, since, that they were not attempting to choose the "Question Time" panel; that they were actually just taking time to choose an appropriate Minister to counter the presence of Mr Campbell (or something), and that the BBC had booked Conservative backbencher John Redwood before they (the Government) located anyone. But that has the sound of the excuses that we all make, when we get found out.

Mr. Campbell himself says it was probably a case of boneheadedness on the part of the ConDem media team, who didn't foresee how their intervention with the BBC would play. That Mr. Cleggeron may not even have been aware of what was happening until afterwards.

I think there were probably some old scores that someone was attempting to settle too, given how central Campbell was to the New Labour revolution in the Nineties. He made a lot of enemies back then, as the Labour Party did itself, by stepping outside of its habitual role in parliament, and winning.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peter Orlovsky

I read on various blogs and social networking pages that Allen Ginsberg's lifetime companion Peter Orlovsky is seriously ill.

Anybody familiar with the literature and counter-culture of the 1950s and 60s in America will know what a significant figure Orlovsky is. He served as a muse for Ginsberg throughout the latter's life and is an accomplished poet in his own right.

His poems possess a lyrical eccentricity and unrestrained appreciation of beauty that place them in both the avant-garde and the classical traditions. Just try his Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs and you'll see what I mean.

The word on his health is not promising, but let's hope against hope that he makes it. I'm not sure how many more of those crazy wisdom poet saints our society can afford to lose.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nutter Is Such A Subjective Kind Of Word

Sometimes I fear for this country.

Yesterday I heard someone say, without any sense of irony, on a phone-in about the deportation of a suspected terrorist, "The only way to get rid of these fanatics is to shoot them."

And perhaps even more worryingly, he was allowed to say it, and not admonished by the fellow chairing the discussion for his inflammatory statement. If a Muslim had said the same thing about we supposedly reasonable, moderate Englishman, the chair would have been fired and the radio station shut down.

But the man phoning in was English of course. This is his country. If a man can't be an intemperate nutter in his own country, where can he be an intemperate nutter?

The suspected terrorist, as I understand it, had been tried without seeing the evidence against him. But his deportation, after the trial was over, had been stopped because the suspect said he feared persecution in his own country.

Which caused outrage, naturally, among those who had put their copies of The Sun and The Daily Mail down long enough to listen to the show.

We were treated to many tirades like the call to murder described above, and all in the name of some natural order or common sense patriotic view that the liberal establishment were attacking with their desire to defend "everything except their own country".

I have said elsewhere, and I believe it, that true patriotism is living up to your country's best principles rather than going down to the level of the worst of your enemies. We are supposed to be, in the United Kingdom, a beacon for democracy, fairness, equality, tolerance, are we not?

Or perhaps I have got it wrong and all we stand for is illiteracy, substance abuse, shaven heads, St. George flags, bullying, intolerance and spite?

Standing up for absolute values of decency and justice would win us the diplomatic war against all but the most pathological of our enemies, I say. But I fear the minority I have been in for so long is shrinking around me with every day that passes, and every new pseudo-liberal pronouncement that the Coalition makes to delude itself and us about what's happening in the country.

These days I hear so much stupid, hate-filled conversation every time I step out of my house, I wonder if I even live in England anymore.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

11 Ballot Papers? Willie Walsh, I Hope That You're Blushing

The High Court ruling yesterday blocking the planned strike by BA cabin crew on the most ludicrous of technicalities does profound discredit to BA and to the Law.

The strike was stopped because Unite, the union, had failed to notify those balloted, which I believe numbered between 10,000 and 11,000 employees, that 11 ballot papers were spoiled.

This is the law, interested parties are telling the tv and the newspapers.

Leave aside that there was an overwhelming vote in favour of strike action. Leave aside that the 11 spoiled papers would have had no effect on the outcome of the ballot if they'd been correctly completed and counted into the total number of votes. It's the law.

It's a stupid law when it has no impact on the outcome of the vote. Just one of many unreasonable, obstructive and petty pieces of legislation introduced by Thatcher and her cronies, and not repealed by Blair or Brown, to restrict a man or woman's right to withdraw their labour -- at the inconvenience of their employer, yes: that's the point -- to settle an industrial dispute.

Governments of all hues these days lean into money and away from the smell of raw humanity.

But it makes no sense for BA to use this technicality to prevent the strike because Unite only has to ballot its members again, and observe the petty rules more correctly this time, to continue what has been so stupidly interrupted. They will also have caused more anger and resentment among the cabin crews, which won't do anybody much good when it comes to achieving an actual resolution of the dispute.

My sense, though, is that BA doesn't want a resolution. Not with Unite, or its supporters among the crews. I think Willie Walsh wants to drive the union out of the workforce. And the new Liberal/ Conservative Coalition, with its aversion to any principle other than materialism, will undoubtedly go along with that (and it won't matter if the LibDem backbenchers object, since Nick Clegg bargained away their own right to vote freely).

The majority of the British public will go along with any plan to deunionise the BA workforce too, since strikes get in the way of nice sunny holidays.

Any industrial action that gets in the way of consumerism seems beyond the pale for the average citizen in 2010. Railwaymen? Bah! I have to be in Birmingham for a seminar tomorrow! The selfishness, and the naivete that demonstrates about how the industrial system works, is staggering.

Why do they think unions were formed, putting early members in great danger, in the first place? Because people are nice when they have swimming pools and yachts and 24-hour nannies to protect? Because society is really, intrinsically fair?

Yeah, right.

If Charles Dickens came back to life today, he'd be banging his head in frustration wondering why the hell nobody listened.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Virginia Woolf

I've been reading the diaries of Virginia Woolf just lately. She's an exquisite writer; somebody I find I like more and more as I get older; and I write my own novel much more easily when I've been reading her. Our styles have nothing in common, but the quality of her prose convinces me of something or other that I need to be convinced of in order to write. Whether it's the importance of what I'm attempting -- and what she did so brilliantly -- I don't know. Maybe it's just that there is stiff competition out there and before I'm dead I ought to stop calling myself a writer and write.

But a stray thought occurred to me about how the celebrity culture has distorted our expectations of success as I read the book over coffee this morning. Virginia writes that she considers one book -- I think it's "To The Lighthouse" -- a tremendous hit (though she would never use such a vulgar word) with the public because she has sold 1600 copies of it. Think about that. Yes, she became one of a handful of writers to achieve literary immortality; but in her lifetime she was thrilled about the sale of 1600 books. If Lady Ga-Ga sold 1600 copies of her new album or James Cameron sold 1600 dvds of "Avatar" both would be declared a disaster.

What that demonstrates is the importance of quality. You should strive for that first and then see what happens.

Very little would make me happier than thinking, just before they carry me off to the worm farm, that I have made something for the ages rather than the stupid fashions of our time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cool Hand Bruce

Last week was strangely bookended for me. Interviewed for a university place on Monday morning, discussing William Blake and Ezra Pound in a room full of books and Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and then signing on at the dole office for the first time in many years on Friday, with crowds of quiet men and women waiting for their turn to be politely grilled on the "jobseeking" they'd done since they last signed on. They have to do this before they can get their next cheque, and despite the fact that I had to go through it myself, I think it might be a good thing. We all need a little help every now and then, and sometimes a firm push too, once we've settled into the easy routine of living broke and doing nothing.

The decision I've made to do a degree is going to leave me broke for the next three years at least, if I can afford to go at all. I still don't know because full-time students can't get Jobseeker's Allowance or Income Support; they can't, for some reason, get Housing Benefit either, although they can get Council Tax Exemption (the distinction between the last two escapes me). These rules all seem to be based on consideration of the student loan as income, which is absurd because £3000 of that pays for the cost of the course and you can get another £5000 at the most on top of that -- this, at least, is all the money I've been discovered I can apply for so far. I wait for friends who've been down this road before me to tell me otherwise.

The other presumption that entitlements are worked out under the guidance of seems to be that students are all 18, and that if they're not, they will be part of a household where somebody else can support them. I'm not. I have a partner who is earning, but we don't live together. Nor does she earn enough to prop me up through the next three financially grim years.

So I have to rely on the hope that I will find a part-time job of some sort, something which suits my uni hours. This is difficult because my poor health these days procludes me from doing the job for which I'm trained. If I could get a gig as a night care worker for a few nights a week I would be sorted. But care homes don't want to employ staff who might have seizures.

Something will come along, though. I still have two or three months to work it out; and if I don't by then I'll just have to become an epileptic porn star.

Here's Your New Politics

This is the demographic make-up of the Cameron/Clegg Coalition representing "new politics": 23 millionaires, 29 white people, no black people, 1 Asian person, 26 men, 4 women, and no lesbians, gay men or bisexuals.

Sounds pretty much like the old politics to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Milliband May Have The Jazz, But Do I Really Care?

I listened to the speech David Milliband gave yesterday announcing his intention to stand for the Labour leadership in the coming contest -- if you can call anything a contest when there is only ever going to be one winner -- and felt a tiring sense of deja-vu about his words.

He is probably exactly what Labour needs to get elected to Government again. His Obama-ish rhetoric about humility and public service, and his declared plan to tour constituencies Labour didn't win talking to voters about the reasons why certainly sounded statesmanlike.

But haven't we, or at least I, been here before? Yes: in '83/'84, under Neil Kinnock, after Michael Foot stood on principle rather than pragmatism and Labour was hammered by Margaret Thatcher, and then in '93 or '94, whenever it was Tony Blair stood for the leadership. Kinnock made Labour electable again, somewhat to the cost of his own principles and trade unionism, and Blair (and Brown) did some wonderful things and some very bad things; but I questioned, listening to Milliband talk, whether I had the stomach to go through the whole rebranding-of-Labour process again.

Rebranding, after all, is what it is, even in terms of the policy changes. The exercise is to find a way to re-sell Labour to the country, as if it were a bar of soap or an energy drink. And unlike Kinnock (who I came eventually to admire) I do not imagine this Labour leader --we'll pretend we don't know it's David Milliband -- will need to be overdramatic in any changes he makes, unless he is to move Labour even further to the right. The manifesto that Labour stood on this time was a reasonable one, with the exception of the PR blunder their National Insurance policy proved to be. If they'd stroked the press barons and Gordon Brown had been smarmier and less funereal they might have won.

Perhaps I'm suffering from post-Election ennui. Or perhaps I'm just getting too old. I have, after all, been a political junkie for a very, very long time now.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In the Parlour of the Devil At Last

We have what David Cameron is disingenuously calling the Liberal/ Conservative Coalition now. As if it were a fair and true balance of power and we had anything other than Conservative Government by the back door.

That, anyway, is my instinct. Others might say that I was intellectually a part of the "old politics" and that compromise is the mark of the new game in Westminster. Mr. Cameron even tried to persuade us that compromise is somehow the mark of a sophisticated mind.

Perhaps it is. It depends what we mean by sophisticated. Somehow when David Cameron utters such words (I can't remember if he used that one specifically, but he spoke in the same linguistic ballpark)  I associate them with insincerity and seduction. And when Nick Clegg utters them I associate the words with a kind of commendable juvenile idealism.

We have now a vote on creating an elected Second Chamber in Parliament and that's excellent. We have a referendum on A.V. which the so-called Progressives in the country may or may not win. But we also have the cap on immigration, the slash-and-burn of public services that Labour sought to prevent, and no removal of Trident. What have we really won?

I look forward to seeing how the Lib Dems behave when the free vote on the reintroduction of hunting is introduced.

Hot Damn, The Bard Of Semilong's Going To Uni

Political events are momentous at present, although now that we have a Cameron-Clegg Conservative/LibDem Coalition Government they might perhaps slow down for a bit. But things have progressed in my own life too, as I've been sitting by the radio listening to the news from Westminster. Today I received, and accepted, an unconditional offer to go to University as a mature student and do an English Literature degree this coming September.

This probably means very little to anyone other than me and my small, immediate circle, but if anybody has been brave enough to return to Suffolk Punch and its relentless grumbling bad news, finger-pointing and simultaneous self-reproach over the years, I feel they deserve to know when there is a break in the gloom, even if it's only a temporary one. And I'm determined this one's going to be permanent.

I haven't worked out how I'm going to support myself over the next three years, and that might be difficult. If a part-time job can be found -- my health problems make that a challenge -- it will not be too hard. If I can't get a job I'll have to consider some other option, and right now I don't know what that would be. The one thing I'm not going to do, however, is give up on the opportunity I have to do something I've always secretly desired just through lack of imagination, and end my life a bitter, disappointed man.

The degree is where I'm going. How I get there is, as they say in politics, a matter for further consideration.

Onward, dear reader, and upward, etc.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brown & Out (If The Sun Can Do It, I Can)

It's hard for any blogger to keep up with political developments at the moment as the deals that will create our next government are thrashed out in what they used to call "smoke-filled rooms" in the capital, especially if, like me, you have a hundred things to do as well as your blogging and no immediate access to a laptop or a phone with an internet connection (I know, I live like a savage).

But it was enthralling listening to Gordon Brown's statement yesterday, in which he offered the Lib Dems and the country the ultimate prize of his own resignation, and William Hague's subsequent counter-punch offering the Lib Dems a referendum on reform of the voting system. One political commentator likened it to a showdown in a spaghetti western (showing his age somewhat, as I was by understanding him); but I thought it had more of the feel of the desperate competition for Rene Zellwegger's love in "Bridget Jones' Diary", although I couldn't quite work out who was the Hugh Grant character and who might be Colin Firth.

Clegg played an extremely clever, but rather risky, game in opening up negotiations with the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives. It seems to have pushed the Tories into offering the referendum -- in which the Lib Dems are by no means certain to get the outcome they desire -- but some commentators have characterised the act as dishonourable and self-serving, as well as sneaky (since he didn't tell David Cameron what he planned to do).

Many supporters of Clegg are angry with him for opening negotiations with the Conservative Party, of course, since the dislike of the Tories remains deeply rooted in the minds of a large proportion of the population. But would he form an alliance, others ask, with Labour just to get electoral reform -- or for the possibility of electoral reform -- when even with their forces joined Labour and the Lib Dems would rely on the support of smaller parties (who would exact their own payment for that support, no doubt) or defectors from the Tory benches to pass any legislation at all? Is that how much he wants the stable government he and the other leaders spoke about interminably during the campaign?

This is Clegg's dilemma, and whichever way he leaps he will be harshly judged, as I have said on this blog before.

My own feeling is that Labour should let the Tories and the Lib Dems have their alliance without interfering and get on with the more important business of choosing a new leader and a new direction. Let the country see whether David Cameron can handle the economy as well as he thinks he can when it's in as big a mess as it has been in the lifetime of most observers (and no, that isn't Gordon Brown's fault). Then once Cameron has slashed public services and taxed the poor mercilessly, and the Tory Lib Dem alliance has collapsed, a new New Labour can come in and pick up the pieces.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

How Does One Get To Blog For The Beeb?

Every time there's a political news story on the radio, a blogger is hauled in for comment and described as a "Conservative blogger" or a "Liberal blogger" (it's possible those appellations might require a small "c", but that's hard to tell on the radio).

When I listened to a debate one of those internet commentators was involved in on Friday morning, I found myself wondering firstly, how a person would get a big enough profile in this vast ocean of opinionated swine to be called on by the BBC to share their wisdom; and secondly, how the vagaries of an intelligent mind could be squeezed into a box marked "Conservative" or "Liberal".

Or perhaps the minds of these bloggers don't have vagaries. Perhaps they think quite naturally within the perameters of their party's manifesto. This Liberal Democrat commentator on Five Live (I forget her name, tellingly), would not be drawn on what her own preference would be with regard to Nick Clegg's potential alliance with either Labour or the Conservatives. The presenter pounded her mercilessly, but all she would say was, "I think we should wait and see what Nick does."

I would have said, "If he makes an alliance with Gordon Brown the public will hate him for a thousand years. If he makes an alliance with David Cameron Satan will suck him down into Hell."

Maybe that's why I don't get invitations to speak on the BBC.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Election: Why Brown Can't Continue, Among Other Things

I don't know what to think about the General Election result.

I am delighted the Conservative Party have failed to win an outright majority, of course. I have a dislike for them that goes beyond reason, rooted in the social destruction they wrought in the 1980s.

I am saddened that so many Labour MPs lost their seats and sorry the electorate didn't take the leap of faith it looked ready to take and give more seats to the LibDems. It shows the old two-party system may now be wired into the DNA of the nation.

I am thrilled the Green Party won a seat, although the ward I voted Green in was held by the Conservatives.

And I could still laugh at the trouncing the Roderick Spode of the BNP, Nick Griffin, took in the constituency where he ran.

But Labour were always going to lose their majority because of Gordon Brown, whom the public has disliked intensely from the start. We prefer our politicians to look like schoolboys or estate agents these days.

Gordon Brown is a poor communicator because he is communicating a message which he doesn't believe in. I don't think he was ever convinced by the New Labour project, not in the evangelical way Tony Blair was.

With adjustments Brown would have fitted in nicely with Michael Foot, or Neil Kinnock. But the political weather had changed and he was prepared to attempt the change with it. I don't think, in himself, he ever succeeded.

This is why you hear so many stories about the contrast between the private and the public Brown. You didn't hear the same thing about Tony Blair because Blair was a believer. And, it must be said, a human hologram.

But the vote of the public has been cast and for Brown at least, the message is clear. The electorate doesn't like him. So for his own sake, in posterity, and for the sake of the public perception of the Labour Party, he must not seek to hold onto power now.

Just because he can is no good reason. I could go out of this cafe and still an ice cream from the spoiled child at the bus stop, but I'm not going to.

I would hate for the Conservatives to form any sort of a government, but theirs is the moral right, and they must be allowed to try. And with any luck Nick Clegg will chisel something useful for everyone out of them before any papers are signed.


This must, I might add, as that great Labour statesman Neil Kinnock has said, be the last election when first-past-the-post is the system we use to find our new government. If we'd had proportional representation last night the results would have been massively, massively different. And the wider the range of opinion in parliament, I think, the more democratic it is. Only narrow self-interest stops the big parties from embracing it.

Get Thee Hence With Your Silliness So I Say

Perhaps now the Election is over (or is it?) all those shaven-headed, Sun-reading, British Bombardier drinking "patriots" will take their Poundstretcher St. George flags out of their windows and off their cars (around my way there's even an ice cream van bedecked with them). I've got nothing against declarations of patriotism -- although personally I think that is faintly absurd as well -- but patriotism is not the real reason those flags are on display. Paranoid nationalism is the reason. The men and women trapping those flags in their windows so they hang half way down their walls, and flap ostentatiously in the wind for every passing car to see, think they're sticking it to us liberals who are running the country down by preaching openness and tolerance. They think they're telling Africans, in as forthright a manner as our twisted laws allow, to go back to Africa, and Poles to Poland, and Muslims to the great hot violent primitive land somewhere near Russia that the English nationalists imagine they all live in, whatever it's called.

"Nationalism," as Albert Einstein said, "is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind." He was right.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Hot Election News!

Simon Cowell, Gary Barlow and Carol Vorderman are endorsing the Conservative Party. They really are the party of intellectual substance, aren't they?

But hold on one cotton-picking minute. Is Simon Cowell the sort of person whose opinion we are supposed to be influenced by? (Or perhaps the Sun, who feature the story of his endorsement as some sort of justification or magnification of their own, isn't aimed at me, since I've always thought it was a pernicious, racist, sexist, homophobic, intellectually antediluvian propaganda sheet for semi-literate right wing extremists.If they were endorsing me as they are endorsing the Conservatives I would change my act quickly.)

What has Mr. Cowell ever done, though? I mean to turn him into someone whose support a political party would be proud of and the party's publishing paymaster (Mr. Murdoch) would splash all over his "news"paper? Create a bunch of ridiculous, unwatchable tv shows that foisted untalented micro-celebrities on the world who disappeared, generally, after six months, and left so little behind in the memory of their admirers or the history of music that even their names were hard to conjure after a while, much less their songs.

He made money, though, didn't he? And sadly I suspect that for some people making money is a cultural achievement these days. That it gives someone weight, even if they made their money by selling rubbish and treating their customers like fools, as Cowell did.

It's a shallow world we live in, boys and girls.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Rats And Sinking Ships

Labour has lost the election. It just hasn't actually happened in time and space yet. If you wanted proof you could have turned on your tv this morning and watched the Prime Minister and his wife talking about how he would give himself over to some form of public service if May 7th found him moving house again. They always play on Gordon's nobility when he's crashing in the polls. "If we lose on May 6th," Brown supposedly said, no doubt straightening his back and drawing in a Churchillian breath, "I'll take full responsibility for it." This doesn't make him look as broad-shouldered as he intends it to, of course, as everybody else will think he's fully responsible for it too.

The other unarguable illustration that Labour has already gone and that Mr. Cameron will be Prime Minister at the end of the week is the unedifying spectacle of Labour Cabinet Ministers telling voters to vote tactically in marginal constituencies if they want to keep out the Tories. I heard about this on the radio, which has been my source of early morning news ever since I realised that staring at a television screen even after a long sleep tends to make me want to go back to bed again.The comments of Mr. Balls and Mr. Hain  add to the perception, in the minds of voters, that Labour has broken apart at the very top; that even Brown's own allies don't think he has a chance of winning. It makes it look as if the electoral momentum is all with David Cameron. Which is true, yes, as Nick Clegg appears to have faded on the last stretch too; but to assist in turning a vague hope into no hope whatsoever is the act of a traitor.

Everybody in the Labour Party knew that Gordon Brown would not be able to win at the General Election as far back as when Mr. Blair stepped down and annointed him. If those within the inner circle had had the courage and the vision to choose a new leader then -- and if Brown, perhaps, had not had the colossal vanity he must have had to deny the obvious -- the country might not have been in the position it is now, facing a Tory Government which will decimate public services, restore fox hunting and gradually reveal itself to be every bit as nasty as its predecessors.

I think it was Ambrose Bierce who said, "People get the sort of Government they deserve." That's not necessarily true for everyone, but it will definitely serve for Balls and Hain in the coming four, eight, God knows how many years, as we slave, again, under the Tory yolk.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Red-Green Poet Tries To Sign On

"Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen" -- Woody Guthrie  Pretty Boy Floyd

Since I had to quit my job because of the bullying and harassment I suffered at the hands of the manager there, supported as she was by others at her level, who had portrayed themselves as the good guys in the company and then went along for the ride the minute she pulled out for public viewing the knives she was sharpening for me (we'd been having hassles on and off in private for years, and the only complaint I ever made seemed to encourage the director to view me as a troublemaker); since then (forgive that lengthy introduction: thinking about what happened still makes me angry), I've been living on my savings because I was hoping to find another job or win the lottery or get a freelance writing gig or a fabulous publishing deal before my money ran out. But I can't get a job because I have seizures and people think I'm a malcontent, both of which are true, I can't get a freelance gig because I can't squeeze my brain (or my sentences) into a narrow enough box to please an editor, I can't get a publishing deal because my prose and poetry don't even make a ripple in the literary pond -- I think I'm writing better stuff than a lot of people out there, but nobody else seems to -- and I haven't won so much as a tenner on the lottery in fifteen years.

So yesterday, despite the fact that I found even contemplating it stomach-wrenching, I phoned a Job Centre number I took from a Government website to make an appointment to go in and see someone about getting help with my money. What other choice did I have, I reasoned with myself, if I didn't want to end up on the streets? I'd already begun finding myself in the position of having friends refusing to let me pay for meals etc. because they assume that they can afford them and I can't. It's lovely of them, but it feels terrifically patronising if you have worked for a long time and you're accustomed to making the grandiloquent gestures yourself. (I know, my pride has been so overweening it deserves to be dismantled.)

But anyway, when the phone stopped ringing a recorded message told me that the number I'd taken from the Government's own website was no longer in use and redirected me to another one. There I was greeted by a human being who told me that new claimants for Jobseeker's Allowance (I was still calling it Unemployment Benefit) could not make appointments to go in and see an advisor. Under the present system, he said, new claims had to be made over the phone. "But I advise you to use a landline, sir, because it will take about thirty minutes and calls from landlines are free," he said. And when I told him I didn't have a landline, he said, as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world, that calls from BT-operated phone boxes were free also. Obviously in this judgemental, hate-they-neighbour world we live in an unemployed person expects to have to jump up and down and flap like a performing seal to justify his entitlement to a return on the taxes he has paid, but should he have to stand in a phone box for half an hour on the corner of a street regardless of the weather and whoever might be out there watching? Apparently. Or perhaps it just hadn't occurred to the low level Government genius cutting jobs at dole offices, so that new claims had to be made centrally, that not everybody could afford a telephone line, as he could.

Incidentally, I came to the internet cafe to make the claim online this morning, which would be about £10 cheaper, only to have a message come up on the Job Centre website that the service was currently unavailable. I'm wondering if I should just go down to the Job Centre like Yosser Hughes when it opens again on Tuesday morning and insist that somebody talks to me. But I'd probably get arrested if I did.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Election: Brown's Gaffe & The Clamour For Blood

It may be a tiny bit of a cliche, but someone has called the General Election a job interview with 60 million employers on the interview panel. (I think I have the population right.)

Now tell me truly. Is there anybody out there who hasn't, on occasion, met an interview panel when going for a new job, and after being sensibly gracious and friendly, told their family on the phone as they walked down to the bus stop what an idiot one of the panel was?

I have. Sometimes it was true and sometimes it wasn't. I was tired and stressed, in the latter instances, and my frayed nerves were affecting my well-known equanimity.

I've said different things to and about people more times than I can count, anyway, because it was expedient. Haven't you? I'm not especially proud of the times when I've done it, but expedient lies are the engine of the capitalist system.

This is why it irritates me to hear and read the apparently popular view that the real scandal emerging from yesterday's "bigoted woman" gaffe was the discrepancy between what the Prime Minister said to the hectoring voter, and what he said when ensconced in his car.

The hypocrisy doesn't belong to him, in my view. It belongs to anybody who imagines that Mr. Brown must be held to standards they themselves will abuse freely; who won't allow the poor man to give into a mentality of siege, at times, and say something that would be unworthy of him at his best.

This man who has finally achieved the post he coveted for his entire political career and now watches, helplessly puzzled, as it slips out of his hands. This man who has been subject to the most vile abuse a politician has suffered since Michael Foot 27 years ago and is expected never to sway with the punches.

This man who wanted to be a glorious leader and will go down in history, instead, as Blair's disastrous, unelected successor. The man who led Labour to electoral wipeout, and potentially to third place behind the Liberal Democrats.

His tragedy is positively Shakespearean to me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Election: That Key Word, Change

I wonder now whether there is a sufficient distance between the three major political to make voting for any of them worthwhile. After all, Labour has abandoned the unions and the strong stance it had on arms reduction when I became a Labour supporter in the early Eighties. It will support arms reduction, but only if America does it first. The Liberal Democrats support a degree of unilateral arms reduction but have a stance on unions that's no different, really, from the modern Labour Party's. And Labour, the Liberals and Conservatives will keep Britain in Afghanistan until the sky turns lime green and the rivers run with marmalade. We have "green" credentials tossed around by all the leaders in a kind of pathetic, insincere game of moral oneupmanship, but we know that when the fat is in the fire the environment will be sacrificed by the lot of them if it means keeping in with Business.

There is only one slight difference I can see between the so-called big three in 2010, and that's in how they think the nation should be taxed. Labour and the Liberals have a little bit more of a sentimental attachment to the idea of helping the needy. But that's really just a question of emphasis. The Tories are no more likely to allow people to start dying in large numbers on the streets than Labour or the Lib Dems are likely to feed up the Welfare State until it bursts and splatters us all with its revolting excess. So what's a voter to do if he or she wants the change the politicians all talk about but which none of them will deliver?

I've decided I'm voting Green. Everybody around me tells me my vote will be wasted if I do, but every vote for the mainstream parties is wasted when there is no substantial difference between them. So what difference does it make?

The point, it seems to me, is to stop trying to play a system that has compromise built in at its roots because it's always the important things that we wind up having to compromise to get our man into power.

More votes for a smaller party widens the debate, that's all. Real change occurs on the internet and in the streets and bars -- around firesides -- anywhere that people without a vested interest meet. It's been so from the start; I just forgot, the further away I drifted from those fine days in the Eighties when we cared, and got things done.