Archive for October, 2011

Hmn,…  inexplicably locked out of Google docs. They’re telling me I lied about my age and now want my credit card number to verify I’m over 13. I don’t recall doing that. All I was doing was trying to log in. Email, password,… locked out!  I suppose that’s the downside of working in “the cloud”; you’re always at the mercy of the Keeper of the Keys. If the Key Keeper nods off for a bit, or decides to charge you to get your documents back,… well,…

Fortunately I’ve only got junk on there, so I’ll not be bothering too much about it. They’re threatening to delete my whole account,… well okay, go on then. See if I care. I used to find it was a good way of ironing out formatting glitches before cut-and-pasting from my word processor into WordPress, but I can live without it. I was overcautious with Google Docs and didn’t get into it in a big way, but I wonder if anyone else has been struggling? The potential for ruination here is huge!


Read Full Post »

Dear Elsie,

Thank you for your letter of the 27th inst. I do hope you’re keeping well and you’ve managed to get over that nasty cold you were telling me about. Thank you also for the pictures of your “little” homestead on the prairie. It looks like you’ve landed on your feet there (at last). As for feeling homesick for old Blighty, I really wouldn’t bother. It’s not the place it was, I’m afraid, and if I could find myself a ticket like yours – though it pains me to say it – I’d be clearing out pretty soon myself. If you had a spare room or two that would suit the good Lady Eleanor and I – and that husband of yours could stand the sight of me for more than thirty seconds – we’d be on the next flight over.

To be honest , I’m finding this climate of penny pinching a bit wearing, to say nothing of bemusing, now. You won’t believe this but I was listening to the BBC this morning and I don’t know if they make this stuff up to annoy crotchety middle Englanders like me these days but apparently some government think tank wallah has decided my house is too big for me now, and I should be “encouraged” to move out of it.

Damned cheek, if you ask me!

You know as well as I that chez nous is hardly a mansion – more of a three bedroom bungalow with a walk in cupboard that even the most imaginative estate agent would struggle to stretch into another bedroom. Yet it seems to be such middle-England “excess” said think-tank is having sleepless nights over. I’ve managed to squeeze a writing desk into it, with just enough room left over for yours truly to shoe-horn himself behind it. I call it, rather grandly “the study”, but after listening to the wireless, even I’m left wondering now if it’s not a bit extravagant, hogging all that space, given the dire state of our benighted motherland at the moment.

Do you remember father’s airy study in the old place? All that walnut furniture and the polished parquet floor gleaming, and him sitting there with his books and his papers, sucking on his pipe, gold pocket-watch gleaming? I wonder what he’d think of us now, all cramped and narrowly focused as we are, hardly daring to look beyond our next utility bill, always a sharp intake of breath at the cost of doing anything, whether it’s a holiday in the sun or a trip to the shops.

Still, we must all do our best to help out, I suppose. After all we’re constantly being reminded by our ruling classes that we’re in it together. However I rather take this to mean it’s my fault as much as anyone else’s, that old Jonesy down the road managed to blithely rack up a fifty grand credit card debt he’d not a hope in hell of ever paying off – me and the good Lady Eleanor who have never owned a credit card in our lives, the pair of us being brought up to consider them as one-way tickets to perdition! But there we are; Mother always lectured us on the virtues of altruism, didn’t she? Now’s our chance to practice it I suppose. However, I note with some irony old Jonesy’s managed to hang on to the bloody Jag, while I’m still running round in my Vauxhall. At least the old rust-bucket’s paid for, though what good that ever did me, I don’t know.

 Anyway, getting back to the house. I find I’ve rather grown to like it over the years, and shall be sorry to leave. It’s cost the Lady Eleanor and me a small fortune – mortgage system up the duff and all that – but it’s in a pretty part of the country, with a nice, private back garden that I can do my Tai Chi in without the neighbours thinking I’m a looney – really, sometimes I wish I was still out east! We’ve such a lot of memories here, such a lot of emotional investment in the old homestead, and it’s surely not so extravagant a place we need feel we’re depriving some other poor bugger the benefit of it. The two other bedrooms are securely occupied by our offspring at the moment, so I’m hoping we’re safe for the time being, but eventually my little study’s going to be a problem when the bedroom inspectors come round. I’m assuming they’ll be sending inspectors – probably someone from the council, like when they come to assess you local tax band?

 You see, house prices are so abominably high at the moment, our youngsters simply can’t buy their own places any more, because wages haven’t gone up in real terms here for fifteen years, while house prices have tripled, along with just about everything else you can imagine. I feel for them. I really do – those poor youngsters. One of the few advantages of being an old crock these days is you don’t have to worry about starting out. My own offspring will be hankering to move on soon enough, but since they won’t be able to afford places of their own, they’ll be freeboarding with us a while longer – worst luck – no, I love ’em really, the little rascals. But I doubt even their tenacious occupancy will be convincing enough for the authorities, and I’m really nervous about those spare-room inspectors finding out about my study. The good Lady Eleanor says I should start calling it a cupboard – just in case.

I could argue the toss, I suppose, point out to the bedroom inspectors that you’d need to be a magician to get a bed in there at all, but you know me and officialdom; we tend to leave each other equally confused. Better just to keep my fingers crossed, then. I could always brick it up and hope no one notices – you know: like they used to do with windows when we were taxed on those as well?

Anyway, perhaps they’re right, those think tank wallahs. Perhaps you don’t need lots of space when you get old. I mean, you may have earned it, but you don’t really need it, do you? All you need is a bed-sit, with all the basic necessities of life cosily contained in the same room – the khasi curtained off in one corner as a gesture towards modesty, I hope – though the Lady Eleanor will have a fit when she finds out about that. (You know how fussy she is about her private comforts). We had it rougher out east of course, but there was a bloody war on, so one accepted the sacrifices of dignity with a good heart. As for a bit of garden, well, what do you want with one of those when you’re old?

Anyway, I’d better close it there. 

Do pass on my regards to Chester, even though he’ll probably choke on them. He’s not such a bad old stick, really, and at least he had the good sense to marry you.

Your ever affectionate brother.


Editor’s note: Re that BBC piece this morning? I jest not! 

Read Full Post »

I’ve been trying to define more clearly this idea of an inner voice or, what in more traditional religious parlance, might be called a guiding spirit. The evidence suggests these entities do not serve only the religiously inclined, that you can be entirely secular in your outlook and the inner voice will still speak to you. It’s simply a question of knowing it’s there, respecting that presence, and having the courage to talk to it.

It’s just a pity that talking to yourself is something that’s not encouraged in adults. Even children who claim kinship with an imaginary “friend” are likely to have that relationship beaten out of them by parents keen to raise perfectly sane and normal offspring. After all, hearing voices in your head is a clear sign of mental illness, isn’t it?

 Well, yes and no.

 Certainly the schizophrenic sometimes hear voices. They’re usually negative and critical of the sufferer, and those voices will seem quite real. But to the non schizophrenic, the voices are not taken as being literally real; they always belong to the imagination, to the mysterious unconscious realms and do not break through into reality as auditory hallucinations. The non schizophrenic does not believe in their literal existence, but rather he accepts their non-literal reality. And the conversations always take place in the imaginal hinterland of some form of controlled fantasy. It is in the safe middle ground, the rich liminal zones of such imagined realities, that we meet our daemons.

 Of course, it helps if you’ve gone off the mental rails at some point: suffered from depression, or dodged the symptoms of anxiety for the best years of your life. If you have, then you’ll more easily appreciate how readily the mind can have a physical effect upon your body, manifesting dramatic symptoms than can convince you you’re about to have a heart attack, collapse in a fainting fit because you can’t draw breath, or they’ll pump the sweat out of you and have you dripping wet and embarrassed to be in the company of other people.

The question is why? Why does the mind do this? Is it purely pathological, or is it something else?

Is the mind trying to tell us something?

Depression and anxiety tend to go hand in hand with a negative self-image. We also tend to see the world in negative terms. Life is shit and then you die. But life doesn’t need to be like that, indeed the only world that’s coloured dark with such negative hues is the one you’ve invented for yourself. It’s tricky territory; your unconscious mind is apparently attacking you, trying to overwhelm you, but if you could only see your way towards engaging with this seemingly mad beast, then things can suddenly get a lot better.

 But how do you develop this relationship?

 The nature of the unconscious is hidden from us. We don’t know what it is, nor even for sure where it is, and in order to get any sort of handle on it, we have to start personifying the various bits of it that we encounter. On the downside this has the effect of oversimplifying it, while at the same time running the risk of our over-literalising it, and imagining little fairies running about all over the place, but we have to start somewhere.

 For a man, the most frequent and reliably identifiable emissary from the unconscious is the soul image, or the anima. We see her in dreams as an unknown woman. Of course the actual nature of our soul, the shape of it, the size of it, most probably doesn’t look anything like a woman, if it looks like anything at all. More likely it’s an abstract nothingness, a twist of psychical energy rising like a solar flare from the the ground of being, but in order to make sense of it we imagine it as a woman.

When I first began to get a handle on these ideas, around the turn of the millennium, I was doing it out of necessity, trying to burst the bubble of existential angst I’d been living in, and to salve the rat-bites of my last major blow-out. I was doing this mainly by reading Jung. Inspired by what I read, and amongst other things, equally strange, I began writing letters to my soul. I gave her a name that sounded right, invented a look borrowed from dreams, but one that was allowed to morph over time, and I placed her in another time, made her a Victorian lady who wrote and spoke with a peculiarly Victorian vocabulary.

We kept up our correspondence for several years.

I’d write to her about my anxieties and I’d sound her out on my half baked theories of the nature of consciousness. The really spooky part is that she would reply. All right – I know it was me actually penning her reply, that in playing her part, I was writing from inside the head of a fictional character. But the thing about my fictional characters is I never think about what they’re going to say. They just say it, and I’m often surprised by what they tell me.

Those letters would be very embarrassing of course, if they ever fell into the wrong hands; and anyone reading them would see only a middle aged man going steadily off the rails, while in fact what they reveal to me now is a middle aged man changing track and getting himself properly in gear for the first time in his life, leaving his demons behind and making the acquaintance of his daemons. And daemons are a much nicer bunch to have inside your head, but they bring changes in your conscious outlook, and you have to be prepared for that. For a start, you might just end up making friends with yourself, and seeing the world as an altogether brighter place. Some of those letters also brought with them a very real presence, and a sense of inner comfort I’d never known before. I remember penning one by lantern glow while camping by the shores of Ullswater, and it felt as if I’d only to turn my head and she’d be sitting there, watching me, smiling her reassurance. 

In my last blog piece I introduced you to Elizabeth Gibert, through her lecture on creativity, on You Tube. She spoke eloquently about the idea of a personal daemon, a muse, or a genius, being responsible for our creative output – a sentiment I agree with entirely. But these beings are not exclusive to artist types alone. If you’re comfortable with the idea of imaginative play, then these characters will come through to you, and they will help you.

You’ve only got to ask.

The reductionist human-behaviourists will scoff at all this psychobabble. They’ll point out my lack of relevant qualifications, and they’ll tell us our imaginations are nothing more than a biological mutation, one that gives us an evolutionary advantage over lesser creatures. In those dim, prehistory days, they’ll explain, we were able to plan our hunting expeditions in our minds. Our imagination therefore enabled us to place ourselves in a possible future, and to work through the “what ifs”, so preparing ourselves in advance for any eventuality. The creatures we were up against had no imaginations, reacted instinctively and in a largely predictable way. They became, literally, easy meat. My own rational training tells me I have to accept that this much is probably true. My personal experience of imagination however suggests it’s not the full story.

Okay, let’s get morbid for a moment: in the great scheme of things it makes little difference if I live or die. In all the pullulating turmoil of mankind’s petty presence here on earth, my own humble contribution to human endeavour is neither here nor there. Yet for all of my inability to influence human affairs, I do sense a possibly inappropriate importance to my presence, if not exactly to the world as it is, but at least to the world as I see and experience it. There is also a beguiling quality to the worlds I create inside my head.

My own interpretation of this apparent paradox, after over a decade of letters to my muse, is that I’m alive in two places at the same time: there is an inner and an outer world, and the inner world is the more abiding of the two. My daily existence is real enough, time-bound as it is, and filled with the nonsense of man’s making. My purpose in the world is to make my way as best I can in the circumstances I find myself, to discover a way of liking myself and seeing the world in a positive light – because only then can I manifest personal happiness and, through that, be capable of both giving and receiving love. It seems a tall order at times, because at times circumstances can be testing, but although I’m physically alone here, I am not without back-up. There are voices I can call upon. Their counsel is always wise – and not necessarily of a spiritual nature.

It can also be surprisingly prosaic.

Six months ago I developed a peculiar rash on the backs of my hands. It wasn’t painful, or itchy or anything, just a little unsightly. I took it to show the sawbones who had no idea what it was. He gave me some cream, which I tried for a month, but the rash continued to spread. Was it stress? Was it some kind of allergic reaction?

I remember turning to my inner self one day, to that imaginary daemon, and saying: Look, I’ve tried everything here and this rash is really bugging me. Is there anything you can suggest? And the following day, while my head was off chasing butterflies in some other place, the answer came; it wasn’t a voice exactly, more of an idea, a flash of inspiration: you’re eating too much tuna fish.

 Tuna fish?

 It was true. When I thought about it, I realised I was eating tuna-fish every weekday at lunchtimes, because I love tuna fish and it was easily the tastier of offerings on the work’s canteens rather limited sandwich selection. I’d started doing this at the beginning of the year, due to a change in work routines, which was roughly when the rash had begun. I’d simply got into the habit of it, without realising it. So, I stopped eating tuna fish and the rash had gone in a couple of weeks.

An inspired guess? Sure,  but where does inspiration come from? I’m happy personifying it.

For me the daemonic are fast becoming a non literal reality.

Read Full Post »