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malham tarn

Malham Tarn

It was a good day for a wedding on Saturday. I note the Capital was considerably taken up with it, streets lined with people waving their little Union Jacks at the happy couple. Celebrities from around the world descended in their finery. There was pomp and ceremony and tradition, as only the British can deliver it, and I’m informed a good day out was had by all.

I missed it. I was up around Malham, in company with most of the north of England, who’d had the same idea. Perhaps we each selfishly thought the roads would be quieter, that everyone else would be at home, glued to the telly, but I’ve never seen Malham as busy, and this before midmorning when I rolled up in the little blue car to find an atmosphere of celebration. I say this every time I go to Malham, that I’ve never seen it so busy. Best to go early, crack of dawnish, even midweek. But there was no big event, certainly no big screen coverage of the capital’s shenanigans. Everyone had simply gone up for a walk, or a picnic, or to sit outside the Buck with something cold and fizzy, and watch the world go by.

Malham sits at the foot of one of the classic walks in the British Isles, a circular route of limestone country that’s by turns fearsomely dramatic, and heart-stoppingly beautiful. It’s rightly popular, also a small wonder it can take this amount of foot traffic every weekend without wearing away.

I couldn’t park in the village itself and was reluctant to commit to the overflow field, so drove on up to the Tarn where I got the last spot on the little car park. But the as the area’s popularity soars exponentially, the driving is becoming dangerous. The road up is single track and steep. I can thread the little blue car along mostly anything and she’s plenty of guts for a climb, but it’s what you meet along the way that’s the problem. And you’re meeting more and more traffic these days, a lot of it inappropriate for the girth of the road. I met a Renault Kadjar. This is a huge vehicle. I wouldn’t take a bus up here, and I wouldn’t take a Kadjar for the same reasons. I managed to pull in, narrowly avoiding the drystone walls, to let it pass. It wasn’t for stopping and the driver didn’t seem able to manoeuvre it much anyway – just kept going sluggishly and expecting everyone else to move out of the way.

Then I met the cyclists, weaving about, doing one mile an hour crawling up this one in ten gradient ahead of me. The little blue car won’t do one mile an hour uphill, it judders and bucks on the clutch, but you can’t roar past because the road’s too narrow and you’re worried about meeting Kadjars around the blind bends. You have to wait for the straight bits, then floor it and hope for the best. I have the feeling recreational cyclists don’t fully appreciate the risks they take in places like this, nor the hazards they create for others, or they would stow their egos and their single-minded battle with the grade, get off their push-hogs and let us poor motorists pass on little roads like this.

The tarn is the northernmost checkpoint of the full circular walk, and I wondered about doing it in reverse, but this puts the steepest of climbs towards the end, besides it was a hot day and I couldn’t be bothered. I wanted to soak up the atmosphere of the Dales without soaking myself in sweat, so I took a stroll, by the tarn, which was impossibly blue under an equally impossibly blue sky. Then I headed down to Malham Cove, along the Trougate track. At the cove it was standing room only among the clints and grikes, and the cacophony was reminiscent of any mass social gathering in an echoey place.

I returned along the spectacular Watlowes dry valley. Three or four miles all told. Lazy I know, and such a short outing wouldn’t have satisfied my younger self much, but times change and I’m as excited these days by the sight of early flowering purple orchid as I am by the ascent of Goredale. Conditions were outstanding, but sadly walkers were too many, clogging the trails, either powering up behind, sucking impatiently on their Platipus Packs, or loitering in front for selfies along the narrow bits. But I was happy to be out in the sun, celebrating the season, celebrating the country, taking my turn on the steps, calling hello in passing to pleasant strangers. And no one here was waving a Union Jack.

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Raw Deal

mooncard

Tarot cards have an interesting history, most of it the invention of nineteenth century occultists, thus lending them the darker tones of diabolism, at least in popular culture – all of which makes them even more interesting of course. Still, today, the merest sight of the Tarot is enough to cause palpitations in the breast of any God fearing Christian, so deeply scarred is the ancestral memory, and that’s also interesting because the origin of the cards is quite innocent. Fake news, fake narrative has a lot to answer for.

Pictorially intriguing and often very beautiful, the earliest reliable records place the Tarot in Italy in the fifteenth century where it was simply a popular card game. Predating the printing press, each deck of cards was hand made, hand-painted, so each deck was an original, making them rare and powerful symbols of the status of their owners.

Unlike a modern deck of 52, the Tarot has 78 cards, split into the major (22 cards) and minor (56 cards) arcana – arcana meaning secrets. The minor arcana are split into four “suits” of 14 cards each which comprise the number (or pip) cards from ace to ten, and four royal cards of King, Queen, Knight and Page. The major arcana are also known as the “trumps”. This structure is roughly familiar and suggests somewhere along the line card games simply evolved away from using a full deck, requiring instead only the minor arcana, so the rest were ditched.

The early cards had no associations with occult practices. This was an invention of mostly Victorian mystics and ceremonial magicians who adopted them for their own purposes, and it’s easy to understand why when you look at the images of the major arcana. These can be interpreted in an allegorical or an archetypal sense, that to draw certain cards might have a deeper meaning for the individual, or be suggestive of a future fate. But occult writings on the subject go further, attempting a complete revisioning of history, tracing the origins of the Tarot to the mythical, alchemical and hermetic traditions of ancient Egypt. It’s an evocative thesis, and one that’s often picked up by uncritical scholarly writings, but there doesn’t seem to be any actual historical evidence to back it up, which means most of what you think you know is probably wrong.

Most of the earliest Tarot decks, restricted their pictorial artistry to the major arcana with the exception of the Sola Busca Deck, dated around 1500. This was prpbably use as the basis for a later popular deck, the so called Rider-Waite-Smith version, which came out around 1910. Brainchild of the occult writer A E Waite, it was created by the illustrator and mystic Pamela Coleman Smith, and is very much in the esoteric, mystical tradition. Indeed if you’re into alchemy, cartomancy, dark or light path magical traditions, you’ll most likely be familiar with this deck.

The anxiety caused by the Tarot arises from its use as a fortune telling device, also its association with occult magic, with occasional diabolism, and with controversial figures like Aleister Crowley, also an over-literal interpretation of the meaning of the Death card. I’m open minded about the paranormal in general but personally sceptical regarding anyone’s ability to foretell future events with any great accuracy, and suspect our futures are more probabilistic than fixed anyway. It would therefore be unnecessarily dangerous to assume a too literal interpretation of one’s future in the cards, especially if that future did not seem fortuitous, and we did not feel able to avoid it.

Where I have found cartomancy and other forms of divination useful is in understanding the complexities of the present moment. But I’m of the opinion this knowledge comes out of the personal unconscious. We already possess the information we need for understanding a particular situation, but it’s jumbled up and we just can’t get at it. But by judicious use of archetypal imagery, and thinking metaphorically, we invite projection from the unconscious and a corresponding “aha!” moment, a moment of insight.

In this way the Tarot might yield some practical wisdom on an issue we’re facing, a bit of lateral thinking, an angle we’ve not considered, but it’s not the cards themselves that wield the power, nor some omnipotent diabolic entity that’s called down upon their shuffling. You can believe that if you want, and many do, but it’s not necessary in order to read wisdom in the cards themselves. There is mystery enough in the phenomenon of unconscious projection without inventing devils and angels as facilitators.

Sadly, popular media hasn’t helped. All too often in film and fiction the death card is drawn and strikes fear into the heart of the receiver – or even strikes them dead on the spot. Interpreted metaphorically however, the death card can mean change and renewal, sweeping away the old to make way for the new, abandoning old ideas when they are no longer useful, all of which is quite different to being actually struck dead. There’s also the “Live and Let Die” James Bond outing in which the Tarot touting Jane Seymour draws “The Lovers” for a swivel eyed Roger Moore. The only likely outcome of that of course being their future coupling, and one that’s far from metaphorical.

I’d probably spend some time writing more on a common sense approach to the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, but that’s a big job, and it’s already been done here. I’m not sure what use or what answer the cards have for me, if any, nor if the question is one I’ve already posed, or has yet to crop up, but I’m glad at least to have blown the dust away and brought the cards out, if only from the shadows of my own mind.

They get a bit of a raw deal in popular culture, one that’s not entirely deserved.

southport sunsetSo,.. out walking with my phone in my back pocket. Not a good idea, cracked the screen and killed it. On the upside it’s a Chinese ‘Droid, so it didn’t cost much, and all the important stuff was saved to the removable memory anyway. All told then, nothing lost and in true consumerist tradition I threw it away and ordered a new one from Amazon. This was Sunday, just before midnight when I placed the order, standard postage, nothing special. I was thinking it would do me good to be without the phone for a bit – teach me to be more careful. However,…

Next day, Monday, a bank holiday and there’s a white van outside come mid-afternoon: ‘Sign here mate’. Package delivered, and I’m holding my new phone in a state of bemused awe. Okay, this doesn’t happen with everything you buy off Amazon – and you usually have to pay a premium for next day delivery, so I’d clearly hit upon a set of fortuitous circumstances here, but it illustrates how the machinery is gearing up to provide us with an instant gratification. But is this what we really want? Given the direction things are moving in it seems to be what we want, and it’s impressive, but do we really need it? And rather than being served, are we not merely being used, abused and generally hoodwinked into expectations that are ultimately self destructive?

While I was sitting in my garden, sunning myself all Monday, the guy in the white van had been up since dawn, sorting his deliveries out, then sweating on one of the hottest days of the year while fighting his way through bank holiday traffic along with so many other diesel belching white vans, each making their own manic deliveries, and all so we could get our stuff faster than we really needed it. But before doing his bit, it was another guy pushing a trolley in a warehouse to get my thing, his feet and knees killing him, the machine counting him down to a telling off for going too slow, that he’d better hurry up, keep pace, deliver more stuff to replace all the other stuff he found last week that’s already been thrown away.

But don’t worry about the human exploitation angle. In the near future, our stuff will be picked and packed and bagged entirely by machine and given to a drone for delivery. No humans involved. We’ll all be living within an hour’s flying time of a fulfilment centre by then, and the thing will be dropped off to a landing zone in our back yard, or maybe we’ll be fitting delivery chutes to our roofs and they’ll be as ubiquitous as chimney pots. Then we’ll be grinding our teeth if the drop’s five minutes late, berating the quality of a drone that struggles to make time against a howling gale. Total time to fulfilment? a couple of hours, and we’ll be looking to cut that in half. The infrastructure will facilitate it, and we’ll get used to it, and expect it, whether we really need it to be that way or not.

So, safe now in possession of my new phone, having been without one for all of fifteen hours – and ten of those asleep – I drove out to the coast, secure in the knowledge it was tracking my every move and could guide me back home if need be. But the coast, on the evening of a Bank Holiday Monday was like the aftermath of a rock festival – litter strewn as far as the eye could see. The promenades were thick with it, the beaches too. You could even see outlines in it where the cars had been parked and all this discarded stuff had just spewed from the open windows. Fast food cartons, plastic bags, blobs of ice-cream,…

Feral seagulls feasted on all the food waste, and what they missed the rats would get come fall of night. The tide was coming in; scent of the sea, scent of disposable barbecues and recreational weed. In a few hours the beaches would give up their filth, and the sea would gulp it down, vomiting it back up wherever the ocean currents took it.

While the machine pioneers pioneer ever faster ways of telling us what we want, then getting it to us ahead of when we want it, whether we really want it, or need it, or not, the aftermath of a bank holiday Monday provides no better illustration of the price we pay for a society hooked on consumption and instant gratification. And the price we pay is this: we are drowning in our own effluent. And it’s too late to do anything about it because our heads are so far inside this box now we’re losing sight of the light of day.

We all had our phones out, taking pictures of the sunset and cooing over it while stepping around the trash. I took a picture of a waste bin, dwarfed by mountains of rubbish piled beside it. I was thinking to post it here, but it turned my stomach, so I deleted it, kept the sunset, posted that to Instagram, self censored like everyone else, so I can go on pretending the world is still a beautiful place.

Lavender and the Rose Cover

Another in the occasional series, looking at the themes expressed in my various works of fiction. 

Moving on, getting on, forgetting the past, embracing change, living in the present moment – and all that. It’s good stuff, stuff I tried to get at in the Road from Langholm Avenue. And to be sure, all these things are attainable, the material world navigated safely as needs be without falling over in despair at the pointlessness of existence. At least for a time.

But as we get older, something else happens, some call it an existential crisis, others simply the menopause. But as I see it, youth, inexperience, and just plain ignorance has us accepting without question the allure of an essentially material life, rendering us blind to the fallacy that it is entirely sufficient for our needs – the pursuit of money, lifestyle, the bigger house, the bigger car, the exotic travel destinations. It isn’t.

If we’re lucky we wake up and realise material things don’t satisfy us for very long, that we can live an extravagant lifestyle, a life all the adverts would have us aspire to, and still be as miserable as sin, still craving the next big thing. But you can’t go on for ever like that. Clearly something is missing. We need a bigger story if our lives are to mean anything.

Some find that bigger story ready made in the various world religions – usually a story about a supreme being and an afterlife to help make sense of the suffering we endure in this one. We can then explain our lives as a trial imposed upon us, the reward for which will be riches in the next life. Or we can explain it as a preparation for a higher level of existence, again in some non-material hereafter. And all that’s fine for the faithful, because religions do provide comfort in times of need, but what if you’re not faithful? What if all of that sounds ridiculous to you? What if the logical inconsistencies of such a set-up cause you to take out that barge pole and prod all religions and their scary religiosity safely out of sight. Life simply is what it is, and then you die. Right?

Well, maybe.

But what if you sit down one day in an existential funk, and something happens? Let’s say the doors to perception are flung wide open – just for a moment – and you’re given an utterly convincing glimpse of a universe that’s somehow greatly expanded compared with the narrow way you normally perceive it? How so? Hard to describe except lets say, for example, time drops out of the equation and you’re given the impression of an infinite continuum in which there is no difference between you and whatever you perceive, that your mind is independent of both the physical body and the physical world, that indeed your mind is a subset of a greater mind that is both you and not you at the same time.

How would you deal with that?

Well, you’d probably think you were ill, or just coming out of a semi swoon or a waking dream where we all know the most outrageous nonsense can be made to feel true. So we come back to our senses and carry on as normal. Except we find our perspective on life is subtly altered. We are drawn to ideas that might explain our experience. We explore it first through psychology, because it was a kind of mind-thing we experienced. So down the rabbit hole we go,…

And there sitting at the mad hatter’s table we discover Carl Jung, sipping tea and reading a book called the Yijing, which he lends to us, saying that if we are not pleased by it, we don’t need to use it, and we’d worry about that except he also tells us famous quantum physicists have used it too, though they don’t like to admit it. Then this Oriental connection takes us to ancient China and another book called the Tao Te Ching, then to religions that aren’t like other religions, to Daoism and Buddhism which are kind of hard to get your head around. But while everything you learn explains some small part of what you experienced, nothing explains the whole of it.

So you put some rules to it yourself, create a quasi-logical structure for this strange new universe you alone have apparently discovered. Before you know it, you’ve invented your own religion and it all falls apart again, victim to the inconsistencies you’ve imposed upon it yourself. It seems the moment you put words to things you limit their potential to within the bounds of your own perception, and what you perceive actually isn’t that much when compared with what’s really out there, or to be more precise in there, because it’s an inner experience that leads us to this taste of the infinite where there’s no such thing as or in or out anyway.

The Lavender and the Rose comes out of this shift in perception, but without structure it would make no sense to anyone else – just two hundred thousand words of mindless drivel that would bore anyone to tears, so we accept the vagueness and the mystery, and we weave a story around it instead, a love story, several love stories, blur the boundaries, throw in some visions, some Jungian psychology, basically a lot of muse-stuff and conquering of the ego, that sort of thing. Add in a bit of Victorian costume drama, play about with characters having more than one identity, play the story out at different points in history, play it out in alternative universes where even the present moments can pan out differently, and then try to make it all hang together as an interesting story – about what can happen when you start living magically, and with others who are similarly inclined. Then explore ways the mystery can be coaxed to your aid, and discover how, if you get it wrong it will shun you for a decade. Learn how to navigate its endless ambiguities, how to see the world as no one else sees it, and still get by without getting yourself sectioned.

Such is the irresistible allure of something other.

And as with all my stuff, if you are not pleased by it, at least it hasn’t cost you anything!

BullIf you were a fish, what colour would you be? I told them yellow, but it was the wrong answer – must have been, because I didn’t get the job. I’m assuming the question was absurd, that it didn’t really matter what colour you picked, not in any logical sense anyway. And it wasn’t about testing your imagination or lateral thinking skills either  because they didn’t ask me to elaborate on why I said yellow, so it could only be that some secret colour was the key to getting that job, and it wasn’t yellow. Right?

I had a similar thing on the application before, or maybe it was the time before that,… anyway: if a man hands you a piece of stone, how do you know he’s from Birmingham? That was easier, I thought. I said you could probably tell by his accent, but that was too logical. Not far enough out of the box. I failed that one too. There were about eight thousand went for that job, tough odds, I know, and you’ve got to whittle them down somehow. I wouldn’t have minded knowing what the right answer was though, or at least what A-Z manual of HR Guruspeak you get this stuff from because maybe there’s a general rule you can apply, and I could really do with knowing what it is.

So, this job’s worth twenty K a year, which isn’t much really, but it’s a start, but first you have to answer this question: If you have a banana, an orange and a cantaloupe, why is your shirt tail sticking out? Doesn’t make sense does it? But you’re still not getting this job until you answer the damned question because it takes a certain kind of brain to sit in front of a PC all day with a plug in your ear and the machine telling you what to say. We’re looking for the top one percent of super positive ultra proactive all singing all dancing graduate intellects here – so you just go back to your Playstation and those same four walls you’ve been waking up in since you were a baby and contemplate how dumb and useless you really are.

You can take a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead. No,… I made one that up,… no, actually I stole it from Stan Laurel. He was full of stuff like that, remember? He used to befuddle his mate Ollie with nonsense aphorisms like: A bird in the bush saves nine. Maybe Stan wrote that A-Z guide. Don’t be fooled by appearances, Stan was a clever guy, you know? A comedy genius. I wonder what he would have made of this online job application business.

Okay, let’s see. Another graduate scheme. Online application. Big supermarket this one. Another few hours of my life I’ll never get back. If a customer comes up to you and complains this cauliflower is wilting, do you (a) poke them in the eye and run away screaming (b) apologise, and offer to find a fresh one (c) call security on them for abusive behaviour?

Hmm,… careful now. I smell a trick question. No,… go on, we’ll say (b).

Failed. Told you. Application rejected. Not entirely surprised, or disappointed – I mean that job was barely minimum wage and a two hour commute each way. I would have been in more debt, on top of the fifty grand I already owe for my degree, and working like a slave for it.

I bet it was call security on them!

My dad says it was easier in his day. Jobs more or less came to you. They came to school, invited you for tests where they asked normal questions – got you to do a sheet of sums, or fold a piece of paper according to written instructions. It sort of made sense, he says, not like the bollocks I’m being asked on these online applications.

But didn’t you need degrees? He said not, that most jobs, even well paid ones you could get with a handful of GCSE’s, that only the super-brainy kids went to college. It’s a pity, now you need a degree to peel spuds. They were factory jobs most of them, and good riddance my teachers used to say – you don’t want to grow up being factory fodder, do you? But I’d give anything for a factory job now.

Dad’s coming up on retirement. He doesn’t have to. You can work until you drop now but he’s had a bit of trouble with his nerves and Mum says he’s to stop, that we’ll manage. He tells me we won’t starve, promises I’m not a pain in the arse or anything, hanging around the house all day, that things will work out. But me? I’d hate having me hanging around, I even feel like a bad smell. Dad’s worked all his life, deserves some peace, some privacy in his own home. But he says: what, you think your mother me are jumping into bed every five minutes? Laugh a minute, my dad.

But seriously, I’ve got to get out of here. I’m feeling like one of those Japanese kids, those Hikikomoris. Thirty, forty years old, still living in their bedrooms, parents grown old and grey and thin, and life just not seeming to grant them their dues. I mean there has to be some point to it all. I’ve been busting my guts on tests since I was five. That’s seventeen years of education and testing and never once being asked what colour of fish I was, or what the secret was to just knowing the right answer. It’s like waking up of a sudden and realising the world’s actually barking mad and all that education,… well it’s just a way of keeping you out of mischief in the mean time.

A blue ball, a green ball and a red ball,… which one is bigger? Nah!… who cares? Do I really want to work for a place that goes around asking damned fool questions like that and expecting us all to keep a straight face?

I’m learning how to grow vegetables, actually. Dad’s let me have a bit of the back garden, which I’ve turned over to a veggie patch. It’s better learning how to grow them than explaining online to a dumb machine what kind of vegetable you are, and why. If I can’t earn money to buy them from those one percent graduate-rich supermarkets, I’ll grow my own for nothing, thanks. I had a small crop last year and they were a bit bent but they saved some money on the week’s shop, and Dad said they tasted all right.

Me and Jess next door are thinking of going halves on some chickens. Her Dad’s got a bigger garden and there’s room for coup. Chickens sound tricky though, but she’s a bright kid, Jess, I mean for someone without a degree, and she’ll fathom it all out. She works part time in the corner shop, minimum wage, but it’s better than nothing she says, and nothing’s about all there is round here anyway. Nothing anywhere else, I tell her. She was lucky to get that job, and nobody ever asked her what colour of fish she was either.

She said she’d put a good word in.

You never know.

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885Publishing a novel? Well, it’s easy. Anyone can publish a novel these days. You write it, then you put it on the Internet. You do it yourself through a blog, serving it out of a Dropbox account, or use the likes of Smashwords, Wattpad, FreeEbooks, Amazon, and sundry others I’ve yet to make the acquaintance of, who serve it out for you. Your work gets published for free and people will read it. Guaranteed. Simple. Amazon and Smashwords even let you set a fee, so you can actually make money at it. The downside? Unless you go viral, don’t expect to make more than pocket-money, and your chances of going viral are about the same as coming up on the lottery. People come up on the lottery all the time, but the chances are it won’t be you, so don’t bank on it. Most likely you’ll make nothing at all.

I can feel your disappointment right there, because money’s the thing, isn’t it? What you really want to know is how to make serious money at it, or maybe even just enough to quit the day job and write full time. So, let’s go there. You write your novel and, if you don’t fancy online self-publishing, or it just doesn’t seem real to you, then send it to a traditional publisher or a literary agent. But this route is even more like a lottery. Someone always wins, but the chances are you won’t. In fact, the odds are so stacked against you doing it this way, it makes more sense not to bother, and only a fool would waste years filling out their ticket anyway.

There are exceptions, not to be cynical, but you need an edge. Your name needs to be widely known for some other reason, either by fair means or foul, because publishing’s about selling and names sell. Or you need an influential contact in the industry, someone who can sing your praises to a commissioning editor. Or you can enter your novel for a prestigious literary prize, but that’s an even bigger lottery. Either way, without your invite to the party, you’re not getting in, and that’s just the way it is. Always has been.

Persistence pays? Yes, I’ve heard that too, mostly from published literary types selling tips to writers who can’t get published, and maybe it’s true, worth a dabble perhaps, but don’t waste your life trying . Don’t spend decades hawking that novel, constantly raking back over old ground with rewrites, moving commas this way and that and coming up with yet one more killer submission, then beating yourself up when it’s rejected. Again. Don’t lie awake at night grinding your teeth, wondering what’s wrong with you, wondering why no one wants to publish your story. Chances are you’ll never know. So let it go, it’s done. Now write another.

What is a writer for? Do they create purely in order to give pleasure to others? Or do they do it for the money? Do they crave critical acclaim? Or is it more simply to satisfy a need in themselves? Why does anyone create anything that serves no practical purpose? I mean, come on, it’s just a story after all.

In my own writing I explore things, ideas that interest me. I enjoy painting and drawing too, but it’s the writing that gets me down to the nitty gritty, writing that is the true melting pot of thought, the alchemists alembic through which I attempt a kind of self-sublimation, a transformation from older, less skilful ways of thinking, and through which I try to make sense of a largely unintelligible world. The finished product, the novel, the story, the poem or whatever, is almost incidental, but until it’s finished the conundrum, the puzzle I’ve set myself isn’t complete. Completion is the last piece of the jigsaw, the moment of “Aha!” – or more often a wordless understanding that signifies a shift in consciousness, hopefully one in the right direction.

I know this isn’t what writing’s about for others. But most likely those others are a good deal younger than I am, and not as well acquainted with the realities of hawking the written word in exchange for a living. I’ve been writing for fifty years, never made a bean, haven’t even tried since ’98.  This is just the way it’s evolved for me, but don’t let that put you off. You do what you want. You may get lucky, or die trying.

How to get a novel published? Other than giving it away online, who knows? It’s always been a mystery to me, but in one sense persistence does indeed pay, in that it eventually yields a little known secret about getting yourself published, and I’ll share it with you now: when it comes to the art of writing, getting yourself published isn’t really the most important thing.

The road from lamghom avenue new cover - smallThere are two major weaknesses of the spirit – well,… there are more than two but we’ll keep this simple. One is the misconception that change must be resisted at all costs, the second is our inability to move on when everything we believe in turns out to have been false, or when everything we have or hold dear is erased by what we perceive to be an adverse fate.

An early lesson is unrequited love. Part of the  psyche begins to break through and we project it with a terrifying vigour onto an unfortunate member of the opposite sex. We fall in love with them but, hampered by our own pathological reticence, we cannot make our feelings known. Instead we believe the other party must know we love them, because how can they not? This love we feel is so elemental, so visceral, so spiritual, it’s like a sickness we cannot shake. Surely, it’s inevitable they will pick up on it somehow and, as is the way of all true love stories, we will have our happy ending?

Eventually we wise up to the fact the object of our desire is not in love with us, never was and never will be, and worse, that we might have wasted years in sad lament for this one love that was not reciprocated, nor even guessed at by the other party. What we earnestly believed in was one thing, the truth of the matter quite another. We look back wondering what the hell it was all for, and the truth is, actually,… nothing. Worse, unless we can overcome the void it leaves behind, it will cast a shadow over our potential for future happiness, future love.

Another lesson some of us encounter is when we invest several decades in a particular profession, say as an engineer working for a vast organisation manufacturing something we think is important, something we love doing. Then the economic plug is pulled, the era of de-industrialisation is born and our profession goes through a decade of decline – year on year friends and colleagues are handed their redundancy notices. And then maybe we’re made redundant ourselves, coming up on our middle years, having apparently wasted most of our lives establishing and perfecting skills that are now useless.

The shock of change, the shattering of long held beliefs leaves us naked before that ultimate of all existential questions: what am I doing here? And what the Hell was all that about if everything and everyone we ever loved can so easily and arbitrarily taken from us?

The protagonist of The Road From Langholm Avenue, Tom, a designer of marine engines, is facing the closure of the factory where he’s worked all his life, the prospect of long term unemployment and he’s about to go through a messy divorce, so the whole bedrock of his life has crumbled. He’s also haunted by memories of an unrequited affair from his schooldays with a girl called Rachel, as if in calling him back to his past, Rachel holds the key to his future. Powerless in all other respects, Tom sets out to do the one thing he feels capable of physically doing, and that’s finding Rachel and, regardless of her circumstances after a quarter of a century, asking her on a date.

The story of the unravelling of Tom’s life is contrasted by this Quixotic quest through which we learn of a woman, Rachel, who, unlike Tom, has dealt with tumultuous change throughout her life, reinventing herself at every turn. It takes spirit and a certain ruthlessness to avoid getting buried in the wreckage of the past, and Rachel is an expert, still fighting, still making something of herself every day while Tom is imprisoned, overwhelmed by a cloying sense of stagnation and decay.

Only when we’ve untangled ourselves do we see the opportunities in the present clearly enough and realise our purpose is not defined by anything in our past, be they objects or mind-constructed things, or group loyalties, or past loves. More, the one thing we fear to lose as a result of sweeping change, our sense of self, is the one thing we cannot lose. What we do risk though is holding our selves hostage to the past, by our inability to let it go.

Tom has his denouement with Rachel, and rejects his dying profession, sees his past bulldozed to make way for a housing estate, and he steps out into the wilderness of a post industrial, post millennial Britain.

In simple terms the existential quandary boils down to the fact that every time we wake up, we know our life is not over and, to paraphrase a famous movie quote, we can then ‘either get busy living, or get busy dying’. We needn’t take dying literally here, we can read it metaphorically. And most of us, if we’re honest, risk dying a little each day, poisoned by stuff we know to be toxic yet can’t seem to let go of.