The unadorned body is something of a rarity these days. Even the male of the species is lately prone to the over-elaborate decoration of the birthday suit. We pierce our ears, pierce our noses, our nipples and even the ends of our willys. And secured within these self inflicted orifices we find an endless variety of  tribal metalwork: hoops, loops, barbs, bars and bells. Some of us progressively disfigure our ear-lobes too, with plastic bobbins. The sight of the latter makes me feel queasy, even more than the thought of a pierced willy, but I’m told it’s all the rage among certain hip males these days. And of course there is an entire industry devoted to the inking of one’s skin. Even undressed, male or female, few of us are truly nude any more.

Defacing, or enhancing? Edgy or just misguided? What are we trying to say with all this self labelling?

As for my own adornments, I restrict myself to just a watch and a wedding ring.  I am far too straight edged for a tat or a nose-stud.

citizen-and-banglesNow, to be honest I did try to wear some wrist bangles once – starting with a copper bracelet – common enough among men of a certain age, then a silver torq, and then a leather – well – bracelet. But after a while I saw this as a form of consumerism, nothing satisfying for very long – also, what with a chunky watch and everything, I must have been carrying two hundred and fifty grams on my wrist.

I also wore a necklace for a while – or at least a piece of silk chord on which I’d strung a couple of pendants – a pair of yin and yang, and a tree of life. I’d gone all mystical shaman, I suppose, but these weren’t really me either. What was I trying to say through these adornments, and to whom was I trying to say it? Was it to myself? But really I should have needed no reminder, unless actually, deep down I was trying to persuade my self of something.

tree of life and yin yangWe all develop fascinations, interests, identities, but we’re not static in our fancies. What we held dear ten years ago we are unlikely to be as enamoured of now. Like the man who has a girl’s name tattooed on his bottom, are we really, all of us, prepared for the implications of such an indelible commitment?

So yes, I’ve gone back to basics: watch and wedding ring. The bangles and beads are consigned to the drawer of experience. But I’m not entirely without affectation  – far from it – because in the mean time something weird has happened to the watch.

A man’s watch is never purely functional, it’s also a statement -like a tattoo, I suppose, but not as permanent. Modern watches are more noticeably narcissistic than they were forty years ago. Telling the time has become only a secondary function, since our telephones do the same job  nowadays. They are more a statement of the kind of man we think, or want others to believe, we are. So what kind of man are you? He-man, fashionista, cool dude, retro, or simply loaded. Me? I was tending towards the outdoor man, expressed through various incarnations of pseudo rugged adventure watch, the watch that would still tell the time at the bottom of the Marinas Trench. And I liked to be technical – lots of dials and buttons,… Look at me: I am a technical, outdoor man!

avia-peseusBut recently my watches have been getting smaller, lighter, simpler – what this says about me, I don’t know but it started with a fifty year old Smith’s Astral I’d undertaken to repair – somewhat recklessly as I’d only cursory knowledge and few tools. But a cautious clean up and re-lubrication did the trick. Also, significant for me, while testing the reliability of this venerable old ticker, I realised it felt good on the wrist: lightweight, small, and above all ticking.

It was the start of an obsession.

I now own several small, inexpensive pieces – gold plated, tending to plainness, and all of them at least forty years old. They arrive from Ebay, mostly still working, still telling the time reliably, accurately, even after having been stashed in a drawer since the advent of Quartz mechanisms. Others are doggedly unreliable even after stripping and cleaning and endless tinkering. These latter I consign to the bit-box of experience. Of the more successful purchases, I’ve noticed it is the Swiss movement that seems the more reliable, the more capable of longevity. In particular I’m favouring AVIA at the moment, an old British import brand with Swiss movements. I have several, including one from the very early sixties, which is my most treasured piece – costing all of fifteen pounds.

avia-olympicMy most recent addition is another AVIA, the Olympic, this one with a black dial, uncommon for the period, and gold markings. A new glass and strap and this is restored immediately to the status of an understated classic – very seventies, but without being too heavy on the funk. Again though: what am I doing here? Because with all adornments we are doing something, saying something. It’s like the psychology of advertising – what attracts us is not the stated function – it tells the time. What really attracts us is the life-style the device, or at least the “style” of it suggests. An old fashioned wind up dress watch is no more “authentic” in this regard than a grand’s worth of designer faux he-man bling. Both tell the time, but each tell also a different story, a different fiction about the wearer.

Am I rejecting the adventure vibe? If so I am embracing a more delicate oeuvre with tickers so leaky you have to take them off before you dare wash your hands. They’re not exactly what I’d want to trust on a mountain in a rain-storm, but I have another watch I can wear for that, and for a more authentic reason. Nor do I seem to need all those dials and clickers any more.

Perhaps with me it’s a hankering after a slower time. We all wore watches like this forty years ago, back when an hour was an ample measure of anything, and a minute’s error by the end of the week was no big deal, unlike now when even a year is the blink of an eye and we are convinced the second must be split in order to cram in everything our Outlook scheduler tells us we need to accomplish by the end of the day. It’s an age thing perhaps. I see the falseness and I call it out. But even this is just a story, and a self crafted one at that – like the salty Sam tattoo, or a ring through the end of your willy.

What am I trying to say?

I have mined this metaphor before. I have observed myself during the scroll of Ebay’s listings, and find the pieces that attract me most are of a period that marks my own beginning. Each new piece acquired is possibly then an attempt at the restoration of an earlier part of myself, a quest for the youth I once was. Or then again perhaps I’m trying to keep myself ticking, trying to associate myself with something that has endured long beyond expectation, in the hope that I shall too. Or like all collecting, is it about not wanting what we’ve got, and instead hankering after that one thing we lack, and which we imagine will complete us? But alas, that thing does not exist.

jldIf we would truly restore our selves to our selves, I’ve a feeling we should be easier in our skins, unmarked and unadorned, and thus more profoundly nude than we seem comfortable being these days. But who among us has the courage to do that?

Here I am we say: we are no more than this, and the rest is just for fancy.

There is no war

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885Much noise is still made of the vexed “business” of online self publishing. The arguments go like this: if you’re traditionally published, with an agent and a publisher behind you, you’ll complain self publishing authors are ruining the “industry”, writing for peanuts, or worse, nothing, thus driving down the market, meaning publishers get away with paying proper authors less. And all this self published stuff is narcissistic rubbish anyway, isn’t it? I mean if anyone can publish anything, who is the guarantor of worthiness and good taste? Also, even a cursory inspection of self published works, tell us the authors cant spel and ave lickle nowlidge of grammer.

On the other side, the more high falutin’ self publishing authors blow raspberries at the paid ones, while claiming the moral high-ground. Unfettered by contracts and deals, they say, there is no onus upon them to toe the line on “acceptable” content. Thus they claim to have greater artistic freedom, that they are the saviours of creative writing as a viable art-form, indeed the only ones capable of taking writing into the future. We are unfettered, they say, unafraid, edgy, dangerous,… our stuff will blow your mind, unlike like the same old predictable poop we still get served up every Christmas in hardback form.

I mean, Hardback, for heaven’s sake – how quaint!

Both sides have a point, but it seems to me they’re also missing the bigger picture which offers a much simpler take. Things have moved on.

Yes, it’s hard getting published. Everyone knows that. If you can’t attract an agent, if no one will read your work, you’re going to self publish sooner or later. And why not? And if you’ve self published once, and had some feedback, you realise you’ve found a way to reach a readership directly. It’s stimulating, rewarding, inspirational in its own way, and your writing takes on a new impetus, so you’re going to self publish again. And again.

And I do not think about the publishing business when I write. I do not wonder if publishers read my blog, or my novels. I’m sure they don’t except perhaps by accident, and anyway I am not writing in expectation that one day I will be brought in from the cold by an attractive and unsolicited contract, for writing as I know it now is a very warm place indeed. I do not wonder about the share price of Random House, nor less care that I might be depressing the earnings of professional authors by writing for nothing online.

As for the arty stuff, perhaps it’s true – being independent one is indeed less inhibited about trying ideas the “industry” would consider too risky. But really, the ideas come just the same, and I write them down. They could be good ideas, or mad. I have never had anyone to tell me the difference, and that’s not going to change any time soon. It’s just the way it is, and it doesn’t matter. Nor does my lack of interest have anything to do with sour grapes or flicking Agincourt fingers at the enemy. (1415)

There is no enemy.

There is no war.

Writers write. We just do.

Hit and run


Suliven, Sutherland, UK

I still think of Suliven. It’s a mountain to be seen with one’s own eyes before it can be adequately believed in. I saw it thirty years ago, had the passion for it then, but no realistic opportunity of getting my boots on it. My companions possessed no mountain form, and were only kind enough to humour my obsession sufficient to allow me time to get within visual range.

We had driven from Ullapool after a sojourn on the edge of the midnight sun, then north, to Sutherland and the little harbour town of Lochinver. There, I walked inland, along a narrow scrap of road and I gazed at Suliven, confirming to my satisfaction the reality of its remarkable existence. Then I had to dive out of the way as a pick-up truck came at me, clipped me with its cab mirror. The mirror broke, but I was unhurt, spared injury by my aluminium water bottle which took the hit for me, bearing ever afterwards an impressive dent.

The truck didn’t stop.

I’m certain, in the long ago, Romantics were not a target for extermination. There were no guardian trolls tearing up Wordsworth’s first in-situ drafts of Daffodils by Ullswater’s choppy shores, nor hunting him down atop Helvellyn with their fowling pieces while he sought only to settle for inspiration. Perhaps he had better protection, contracted out among the fates by his formidable muse. Anyway, thus it was, and with a certain ignominy, I left Lochinver without so much as breaking bread. I returned south then, to several decades of the whirlwind of life and did not return.

I do not lament our estrangement.

Suliven exists for me still as part of a tangible reality, a phenomenon to which I have borne witness, yet also as something on the edge of perception, therefore inhabiting a liminal zone, one to which I am forbidden entry as a mortal. And all things are relative: for the inhabitants of Lochinver, to say nothing of mad bastards in pick-up trucks, Suliven is as ubiquitous as the wind and the mist, and the rain and the bog, to say nothing of the sheep ticks that infest those wastes, and whose parasitic presence is difficult to interpret metaphorically in any way other than negative.

The far-away then is no guarantor of wise teaching and, since the landscape of myth is always viewed in part, through the eye of imagination, my own hills have had as much to say over the years as I imagined Suliven might back then. It’s all a question of interpretation.

To experience myth is to walk the path in company with, and under the protection of the faery, or the Gods, however you like to phrase it. One visits the territory, the village, the town, the safe valley of human habitation, a place that is never-the-less inspired by the transcendent vista of the hill beyond the last farm gate. The hill is Olympus rising assertively above the mundane. One fetches up in the vale, contemplates the hill from afar, measures ones mortality in the presentation of light and shadow on its flank. Then we climb and experience the path as it unfolds, interpret the course and the discourse of the hill before returning, footsore, then to be restored at the well-spring of human hospitality,…

To tea and crumpets.

But I’m talking of another hill, now, way, way south of the Norseman’s Sutherland. I’m talking of Ingleborough, in fact, in the Yorkshire Dales, and of the homely little village of Clapham where those crumpets were so aromatic after a day on the hill, they were surely delivered from the ovens of a divine refectory. I exaggerate of course, as is my wont, fashioning a moody purple from the clear blue of a benign autumn sky, and the scent of a crumpet – oh, but they were sweet and aromatic! Also, so far as I’m aware, there is no Faery-lore in the Dales, but as a mixed descendent of the Irish Celt, and of the British Setantii (according to Ptolemy),… I find the shee tend to travel with me.

Ingleborough has been a good friend over the years, and like all good friends it’s never afraid to give me a good talking to. Not long ago, amid a ferociously inclement turn of weather, it tested every step of my wobbly ascent, then tipped me over a good mile from the top and said: you’re losing it, mate. You’re no longer that twenty five year old who beheld Suliven and dared to dream of climbing it. I’d let my fitness slip below the level of aspiration. All hills worth their salt are the same in this regard, demanding of the pilgrim a certain circumspection for their ardours.

So I’ve been working on it.

The older you get, the greater prize the hills will promise you, but the harder you have to work at it. Today I climbed Ingleborough again. It was a clear day, a warm day – no horizontal rain this time – and the hill was glad to receive me without much persuasion. And there, by the summit mound, I settled to make libation to the gods with Vimto and Kitkat, while a large family – grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren, settled beside me in pointy party hats to celebrate a birthday, with cake! Well, this is Yorkshire after all, and anything can happen, though it must be said, in my experience, unexpected happenings in Yorkshire tend to be positive ones.

I do still think of Suliven, but to be honest, you can keep it. I’m certainly in no hurry to return. I’ve plenty of hills to call my own. Ingleborough’s just one of them, and not a single troll in a pick-up truck to hit and run me down.

Or maybe these days I just have better protection.

The_ScreamIn observing the political and economic turmoil of the world, I feel I should be writing about it more, since if I’m not writing my life feels a bit like a rudderless vessel. And, politics, world affairs, these things are, after all, interesting subjects, subjects that determine the fate of nations, but I find it difficult to get at the facts of them, and without the facts one cannot help but be partisan.

The reason I struggle for the facts is I have laboured all my life under the misconception of a simplistic world view, a simplicity that’s comforting because the truth is more complex than most of us can make sense of. Indeed partisanship seems a necessary condition if we are to function at all, without the infinite ambiguity of the world rendering us permanently frozen in a state of catatonic schizophrenia. To be partisan, after all, halves the problem, since we can then dismiss the other person’s point of view and rest more comfortably in our own.

Of course, the advent of the world wide web has blown up a storm of imagery, revealing a world far more complex than we once thought, but this does not help because now the available information overloads us so we self-censor, pick the images that suit our narrow view, and block the ones that don’t. Yes, I can try to be non-partisan, but I’m working against myself, and I can be a devious fellow, but here goes.

Approaching now the end of our lost decade, we find American and Western European democracies polarising into entrenched positions to the left and right while the middle ground has fallen away. Unfortunately, the middle ground is where most people stand, and they’re finding no one represents their aspirations any more.

The economic system that has supported us since the Second World War – free market capitalism – is now impotent. It still generates wealth in sickly spurts, but fails to distribute it evenly. It is caught in a pathological malfunction that vastly enriches its captains while laying waste to the rest, both environmentally, and in terms of the life prospects of the majority of planet earth’s inhabitants. A mutiny, by the natural world, and the disenfranchised is an entirely plausible consequence, and some might say long overdue.

Politically, even the most cursory analysis reveals the West is not governed by democracies as we are led to believe, but by plutocracies. These are systems in which the democratic machinery exists and is indeed much vaunted, but its goals are more of an aspiration, rendered largely irrelevant by, and subservient to powerful moneyed interests. And plutocracies are resistant to change when change is due, since the beneficiaries, cosseted in wealth, do not feel the pain of the poor who are subservient to them, nor are they particularly aware of their existence.

As a consequence the global plutocratic vessel fetched itself up on the rocks for the last time in 2008, with political and economic efforts since then being devoted entirely to its salvage, at floating it off on an incoming tide of oft-touted market resurgence. But its back is broken, its cargo spilled and plundered. Persistence in this direction promises not a lost decade but a lost generation, or two. Yet this is exactly the course on which we’re bound.

There is a revival of left leaning, anti plutocratic politics, giving voice to complaint. Socialism, a term not mentioned above a whisper since the 1980’s, is spoken again, on both sides of the Atlantic, and without irony, but it remains to be seen if this will have any effect at ushering in a more egalitarian paradigm, since the forces arrayed against it, barricaded behind vast wealth, remain formidable.

But when consumer goods, things that have rendered populations docile, are beyond purchase, when the domestic budget forces a choice between food and renewing the contract on the iPhone, populations will become restless, prone to irrational frenzy. Thoughts will turn from the Playstation to activism. This is, after all, what the consumer society was invented for in the 1920s, as an opiate for the masses, and it cannot be allowed to fall away entirely or, whether such frenzies of want are tickled by charismatic, media savvy individuals, or by the phases of the moon, the half century to come will be an eventful one.

The Middle East is aflame, of course. The Syrian civil war has been raging for six years. Iraq and Afghanistan, theatres of western intervention, have been bloodletting for over a decade. Western Africa is benighted by an economic ruin largely ignored in Western Media. These regions have haemorrhaged their youth, set them on the terrifying migration routes to the heart of Europe, where their arrival arouses compassion and racist resentment in equal measure.

I do not know where this is going, only that it is a crisis terribly underplayed, and perhaps it is for this reason we seem immune to it still, ambivalent, by turns perplexed and apathetic, but generally believing things will still turn out well in the safe shires of the West, because they always have before. But this time they may not.

The world is not a dream, but in many respects the imagery coming out of it resembles the imagery of dreams. There is still the beauty of aspiration – the eye of the beholder – reminding us the human spirit can be stilled into appreciative contemplation by the simplest of things. Yet there is also the grotesque, the violent, the terrifying – all the stuff of nightmares, suggestive of the power of the unconscious bearing a dark fruit, sown by the seeds of things we have long suppressed.

This harvest is not a wholesome one, we shudder to touch it, but it must be gathered in all the same, dried out to harmlessness under the sun, and examined, not left to rot and fester in the fields, season after season, as we have always done before.

And as with dreams it helps to take each image in its turn, to ask ourselves what it is within us that gives rise to this picture. The dream, like the world, cannot be controlled directly. It simply is. And what it is is a consequence of our thinking, our desires, our prejudice, our imperfections, our inner most selves. We can only therefore each look to our selves and temper our hardness, temper the Ego’s will to power.

It is a retrograde step, and sad to see, the usual media popularising our leaders trading infantile insults live on TV. We have no need for warriors. Time more for all the great houses of power to temper their tone, for the Ego, that when shown its failings in the dream, even then persists in its will to power and the fantasy of its own superiority, gives rise to the most monstrous nightmares, to the apocalyptic imagery of the archetypal gods, on whose anvil all things are eventually broken.

Viewed in these terms, the world begins to make more sense. We are in the midst of a cataclysmic collective psychosis. Sadly, this suggests that what lies ahead of us is not a lost decade, nor even a lost generation, but perhaps a lost century.  And it’s only 2016.

Better to stay away from politics and world affairs – its study can make you maudlin.

Sweet dreams.



gatzbyIf you’re studying this at college and want something to plagiarise  for an essay, be warned: I failed Lit at 16, so what do I know? Go read the Spark Notes or something.  But anyway:

I possess just one of those “how to write a novel books”. It’s called “How to write a novel” and it’s by the British novelist, John Braine (Room at the top, Crying Game). Like all Braine’s novels it’s beautifully written. It’s also full of fairly useless advice for anyone writing today. I bought it in 1979, thinking it would help me to get a novel published. It didn’t work, but as anyone who’s tried it knows, writing a novel is one thing, publishing is quite another. Anyway, John urges us to learn from the best, and it’s hard to disagree with him on that one, and one of the novels he quotes from is The Great Gatsby.

Sad to say I didn’t take John’s advice until recently, but that’s okay because reading the Great Gatsby won’t help you get published either because the publishing world has changed a lot since 1925. What it will do, however, is show you how good a novel can be, yet it’s also one that’s impossible to ape because few of us can write as well as this, even when we’ve been shown how.

The story became popular again around 2013, on release of the movie adaptation starring Leonardo De Caprio and Carey Mulligan, as no doubt it became popular around 1974 on release of the previous movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. I’ve not seen either film, but came across the novel in a charity shop while scrabbling about for another title to make up the two-for-a pound-offer. Thus the Great Gatsby rose from the bargain bin, and spoke to me.

It’s not a long novel. I read it one lazy Sunday afternoon while waiting for a computer to rebuild after a dose of Malware. (You’re right, none of this is relevant) Focus Michael. Stop waffling. Your reader has other things vying for their attention.

And that’s the first point: Fitzgerald does not waffle. There is a pared back, austere beauty to the prose, not a single wasted word, not one superfluous comma. And there’s a crispness to the dialogue that wakes you up, makes you listen. It lends a focus that shames my own work, shames our own times, waffling and smudging and blurring our way to dimly grasped conclusions.

So, here it is, says Fitzgerald with a clap of his hands: Let’s get to it.

In the opening of the story our narrator rents one of the last remaining “modest” properties on Long Island (NY), which just happens to be next door to a mansion owned by the titular Jay Gatsby, an enigmatic multi-millionaire whose doors are always open to riotous, celebrity studded parties – parties he seems to take only a peripheral interest in. The rich and the famous flock to Gatsby’s mansion and there they adulate him to his face while whispering dark things behind his back, making up stories of a shady past to fill in the blanks. At first we know little of Gatsby. Instead we are shown how the high society Gatsby entertains is rotten, built on money, greed, and low morals.

Our narrator hovers on the fringes of this world, by turns seduced and disgusted. He’s befriended by Gatsby – but for a reason. The narrator’s cousin, Daisy, is a girl from Gatsby’s past. But the war intervened, Gatsby went off to fight and when he returned Daisy, a dizzy, rich, society girl, had married more into her class. By contrast Gatsby was self made from humble origins, and Daisy, though she was the love of his life, had not the character to wait for him.

Everything Gatsby has since done (hints of shady dealings), his yearning for success, his millions, his mansion, all are aimed at turning Daisy’s head and winning her back from a philandering no good cad of a husband. Gatsby is thus revealed as a man driven not so much by the desire for money, power and fame as more simply and elementally by love. His massive, legendary parties are bait, aimed at luring Daisy through his door and rekindling their past.

But is she worth it?

The story is a simple one, of the type you could precis on the back of an envelope, hone down to a paragraph then sell it as a catchy idea to a publisher. It’s all the more powerfully told for the brevity of its prose and the sharpness of its focus. I won’t spoil the tale for anyone coming to it for the first time, but it leaves us in no doubt as to the vacuousness of a society dominated by money and privilege, and the falseness of relations forged under such a shallow, self seeking milieu. It this sense it speaks also to the present day as much as it did to the roaring twenties, when it was written.

John Braine’s book on how to write a novel isn’t much use to a writer writing now, but I do agree with him in this respect: when reading Scott Fitzgerald, a writer knows he is in the presence of a master, one from whom he has much to learn. Studying The Great Gatsby won’t help you get a novel published, nothing will, but it will help you write a better one. And if you’re not a writer, this is a story well worth the reading anyway, for no more reason, as with all good stories, that it’s a good story, and well told.

Click Here

because you writeNumber two son comes to me with his brand new laptop already strangled by malware. It’s the type of malware that tells you your computer is infected with malware, to click-here for the solution and to have your payment details handy. The malware has passed through the machine’s defences as a result of being invited to do so due to a lack of caution on the part of the user, and a desire to get sparkly free stuff from a download website. It takes a couple of hours to get rid of the problem.

Then a relative is excited at having received an email telling her she’s won £200,000,000 on the Mega Euro Lottery. All she has to do is “click here” and be ready with her personal details. I’m tasked with convincing her it’s a scam, and not to “click”.

“Did you enter such a lottery?”

“Not that I recall, but I might have been entered automatically, and what if it really is £200,000,000?”

Then number one son comes to me with his old and cranky laptop, infected – yes – with malware. This is of the type that tells you you have a “security” problem and to “click here” – again the result of a lack of understanding of the dangers of download websites, and the lure of free stuff. This was a tenacious little worm and took the whole afternoon to sort out.

Then my wife’s complaining her email is no longer working, and could I sort that one out as well? Said email account had been hacked and suspended by the service provider. Hacked how? Poor password security, easy to remember, easy for a robot to crack. The service provider’s systems responded promptly, extent of damage unknown. Crap cleared out, passwords reset, but I’m not allowed to make the password wholly secure because a secure password is impossible to remember (not true), and writing them down is bad security (very true). We compromise.

Monday evening and my aforementioned relative is contacted by telephone, and an officious, “foreign sounding” voice advises her of criminal activity on her “computer”. She does not have a computer as such – just an iPad. Is that what they’re refering to? Em yes. By now she’s suspicious and hangs up.

All of this breeds an atmosphere of siege, a paranoia there’s a determined army of bad people out there scaling the walls and trying to get at you, that computers are dangerous things best handled with rubber gloves. And without being too alarmist, I’m afraid it’s true.

I’ve worked with computers since 1977 and the legendary Sinclair ZX81. You couldn’t do a lot with that machine, but it was the start of a revolution, of computers moving into our homes. At first they did no harm, just annoyed you when they didn’t work. Then they all got networked and became the gateway to passing the contents of your bank account to a criminal.

I can deal with most of the things that ail domestic computers. Most people, however, can’t, and this makes them vulnerable. Most people in fact aren’t even aware of the risks, yet we are all pushed to getting ourselves online, every single one of us, using the leaky computer as our window on the whole of life – paying bills, applying for state benefits, managing life savings. But where there’s money involved, criminals will circle like flies around poop.

And therein lies the problem.

Probably less than ten percent of the population, the IT crowd, understand this fully networked world. Half of them are good guys, tending corporate and government systems, the rest are criminals out to steal your money. We have either trust blindly in this thing we don’t understand, or reject it, cut up our debit cards, do all our bank dealings in branch, face to face with a cashier we know because we went to school with them, and go back to using cheque books. But the branches are closing, those friendly cashiers are stacking shelves in supermarkets and cheques are no longer accepted. Even the basics in life now have to be applied for “online,” and advice is an anonymous voice at the end of a crackly line that could be coming from the other side of the universe.

There is no going back.

Our computer systems are insecure and always will be, and the majority of us citizens aren’t experts, nor can we ever be, nor should we need to be, because our lives, our real lives, are mostly lived outside that box. But there are things we can all do to minimise the risk of falling victim to Hackers and Cyber- Scammers, and unfortunately the first thing is to learn how not to trust the email or the telephone call from anyone you do not personally know – and especially not the communications claiming to be from your bank or your internet service provider.

Scams are so sophisticated we cannot trust anything that enters our home via the telephone wire. But even adopting this level of defensive caution, it’s not going to stop us from occasionally having to spend the whole weekend repairing damage, and advising others of the dangers of “clicking here”.

I’ll write some more on this later, but for now if your computer’s been strangled, visit the bleepingcomputer for a solution. I can’t recommend these guys enough.

souls-codeDr James Hillman (1926-2011) was a renowned post-Jungian analyst, depth psychologist and latter day guru of the human development movement. His books offer ideas that draw on early Western (Greek) philosophy and mythology. If we want to understand, to accommodate and direct the forces of the psyche, says Hillman, then we do well to think on what the Greeks wrote about their gods.

I find him difficult, but if one perseveres bits of him stick. In the Soul’s Code he tells us about Plato’s myth of Er, part of his magnum opus, The Republic, in which we are acquainted with the idea of a personal Daemon, an internal, psychical companion who carries the map of our lives, according to a plan laid down before our birth.  Our future then, according to this myth, is not determined so much by the environment we are born into as by a kernel of potential, like an acorn, that will grow into what it was meant to be regardless of any adversity we face in life, or possibly even because of it.

Our task in life is to live out the potential of the acorn, to allow it to grow down from the fertile earth of the deep psyche into the blossom of material realisation through the physical entity that we are. But the Daemon also has the power to bend and shape events to suit the attainment of its ambition for us. So,… we miss the bus, the car gets a flat tyre, we miss the crucial meeting, we lose our job; seen from the Ego’s perspective as personal disasters, such upsets can now be re-interpreted as part of a grander plan, releasing us to pursue another path, one closer to what the Daemon has intended for us. It’s a catch-all – so even the bad hand we are dealt can be greeted with a philosophical acquiescence. It was simply meant to be.

But we can also resist the daemon, resist the call, run capriciously and contrary to the Daemon’s aim. When this happens though, we will at some point feel resistance, feel a gnawing dissatisfaction with our lives and our tireless wants. Persist long enough in a contrary direction and the Daemon will make us ill, or even kill us off altogether, write us off as a bad job, and start afresh.

To realise the Daemon’s plan is to live the life we were intended. The challenge though is divining what it is the Daemon wants for us, and knowing if we’re on the path or not. Personal happiness is not the key, for many who have lived Daemon haunted lives do not end their lives well. Their achievements may stand out, make history, save lives, bring comfort to millions, while their own lives end in apparent ruin and ignominy.

What I find confusing about The Soul’s Code is Hillman’s use of remarkable lives as illustrations of the Daemon at work. He does this, he says, to magnify the phenomenon, to render it visible to analysis but, though he tells us the Daemon is at work in all our lives, the temptation at a first reading is to conclude only those names lit up by fame have listened well enough, and the rest of us are losers.

I’m sure this isn’t what Hillman is saying, or maybe it is. I find much in him that’s contradictory, elusive, beguilingly and beautifully poetic, rather like the psyche itself: alluring, intangible, ambiguous, shape-shifting. There are no firm handles, no answers, nothing to gain purchase, nothing one can test by putting into practice, no ten step plan for contacting your Daemon and realising your full potential. He is the dream to be interpreted, and like the all dreams perhaps not taken too literally.

I’m not unsympathetic to the idea of a personal Daemon. Indeed I think I met mine once, during a brief, spontaneous moment of transcendence, when I recognised myself as being interconnected with everything. Everywhere I looked, there I was. And the Daemon was there, felt, rather than seen, a formless presence reminding me, wordlessly, that as remarkable and unlikely as this vision of seemed, I had always known it to be the truth, but had forgotten it. I had drunk, as Hillman might have quoted, from Greek Myth, from the waters of the Lethe.

But the puzzle for all of us is what I feel Hillman did not address in any depth, and I’d hoped he would – this being the sense of our own importance, our own mission, which is at complete odds with the reality of a small speck of life played out in an infinite, cold and unfeeling universe. In company with our Daemon we feel how interconnected we are with world, that man and world cannot not be said to exist at all in isolation from the other. But in my case, my awareness underlined how much this was, my universe, my journey, that the Daemon and I are alone in working towards our purpose, no matter how insignificant a thing that might appear to be on paper. The Daemon is the captain of my vessel, while my ego-self, the thing I think of as me, is more the sole deckhand, as we sail the tempestuous seas of fate and mischance.

But where does this leave you?

In the working out of my journey are you merely the personification of my own fate and mischance, to be used by my captain as an object lesson – friends, lovers, family,… ill or well met, the whole damned lot of you? And how about the man who talks to himself on the bus, and whom I’d rather avoid? Is he a God in disguise, come to test my own godliness, my own compassion? Are you all merely the humours and the godlings come to test and steer, as in those old Greek stories.

Are you not really there at all?

Perhaps I should have listened more to those Greek myths as a child, for as Hillman teaches, there’s probably many a metaphorical clue in there I’ve missed that would be of help to me now. But the Greeks, like Hillman are not exactly an easy read, and diligence seems rewarded with only more questions, while the answers, far from clear, seem lacking altogether.

Or I could just leave it to the Daemon, and hope I’m on the right path anyway. Then none of it matters and the acorn of my life will, out in spite of all my protestations to the contrary.

I leave you with a taste of the late great, Dr James Hillman (1926-2011):