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Archive for the ‘My Notes’ Category

It was a cold, rainy morning in town this morning – the sort of day that seems to stall around dawn and gets no lighter. Traffic was jittery, the carparks twitchy with panicky shoppers anxious to get that last space so they could go buy their Christmas tat. I only wanted breakfast, almost fell foul of the season of good-will, but managed to find a slot on the edge of town, then shouldered the rain and headed back in to the greasy spoon.

The town is impoverished, has been since the crash, and getting steadily worse – always looks worse at this time of year though, the people poor and mainly elderly, the doorways camped by homeless looking wretched. I don’t suppose it’ll get any better than this now, but on the upside there was a guy in a giraffe suit dancing for charity. It was pouring rain, and he was a big yellow smile, the brightest light by far and a gesture of jolly defiance. What a star!

I bought a 0.7 mm Staedtler propelling pencil for £6.99 to replace the one I keep losing – a good piece of kit. Same price on Ebay so nothing to be gained there, plus it’s good to get out, even on a bad day, look around, even if it’s only to see what the latest storm of economy and season has done to my town. And yes, I know, shopping on Ebay doesn’t help matters. Greenwoods is the latest casualty – there since 1880-something, now abandoned and looking almost derelict. The landlords are crippling these businesses. I wonder where they do their shopping?

The Charity bookshop that inspired my latest novel was also closed – insufficient volunteers to man it on Saturdays now. I was going to put my name forward when I retired – quite fancied it actually, sitting there in tweed jacket and brogues, an ageing hipster, preserving for my town that last flicker of bookish vibe. Looks like I’m too late though. Damn.

And speaking of that novel, brings me to the shameless self promotion bit. Home from town I shut the weather out,  cosied up with coffee and hit the laptop. Saving Grace, as it’s now calling itself, went up on Smashwords and Free Ebooks this afternoon. I’ve enjoyed the ride, like I always do, and this last bit always leaves me with mixed feelings. It’s like putting it in a bottle and tossing it into the sea. You never know where the currents will take it.

I’ve been serialising it on Wattpad for a while now, but it’s not had much of a following. Those of you who have read and commented and queried my errors, (you know who you are) I thank you. Time to take a break from the long form now though while the next one gestates.

In the pecking order of Austerity, otherwise known in older parlance as “class war” I’m still in the fortunate position of relative security and money to spend on fripperies and without killing myself working three jobs. Those this morning though, staring out at a thousand yards of misery from those derelict shop doorways, are still bearing the brunt of it.

They give me pause – that it’s so commonplace even in the smaller market towns these days is telling me there’s worse to come, and no one to do anything about it. And that quid you toss into the begging bowl, or that pasty and a brew you press into shivering, mittened hands might get the poor bastard through until tomorrow. But what then?

And what’s that got to do with Saving Grace you ask? Well, pretty much everything, but you’ll need to read it to find out. Just click the book cover in the margin on the right. Best if you’re reading this on your smartphone – you’ll need an ebook reader app like Aldiko or Moonreader too.

All my stuff is free.

 

 

 

 

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other notes coverImagine there’s this rich girl. Say she’s the daughter of one of these latter day Data Barons we keep hearing about. In older parlance you might have called her an heiress to an unimaginably huge family fortune. But there’s more: she’s beautiful, of course, wears beautiful clothes and possesses all the grace of a cat-walk model. She can have anything she wants but, get this: all she wants is to write poetry.

So what? She can write her little poems, then use her influence, her money to get them published – because publishing’s impossible without some sort of influence – I mean even if you can write, right? And if the stuffy poetry establishment are alone in being resistant to her charms, she can buy her own publishing house, print her own poems, have them distributed far and wide, and pay other rich and famous people to say nice things about them. Or people might hail her as a genius anyway, because she’s wealthy and beautiful, and everyone always says nice things to rich and beautiful people, because they want her fall in love with them and shower them with her money and favours in return.

The trouble is she’s a serious poet, and she knows getting published isn’t the whole story. It’s being taken seriously that’s the problem. So you can see the bind she’s in. She can’t help being born who she is. She can’t help her looks, her manners, her money, and she knows the best poetry isn’t born out of luxury anyway. It’s born out of struggle, out of darkness, out of poverty. So what she really wants to do is escape the money and the hangers on, and the false smiles and the parties and the exotic travel and the razzle dazzle, and just sit down somewhere quiet and write.

But when I say she’s a serious poet, I don’t mean she’s a good one – however these things are measured. She’s somewhere around the middle. A middling poet, let’s say, but one who takes her art seriously and is sincere in what she writes. Like anyone else who tries it, sometimes the muse comes through clear as a bell with flashes of brilliance and genuine insight. But even after penning the duff stuff, she can feel it bringing about a change in her, deepening her and she’s discovered all that seems to matter is having the time and the space to write it.

Perhaps she’s ill, or worse: perhaps if she doesn’t escape to write somehow, she’s going to be really ill.

A portrait of a lady reading a book. William Oliver II  1823So she runs away, hides herself in a big city, volunteers her time in a charity shop, rents a little flat over the top, begins to write. Everyone thinks she’s been kidnapped, or worse. Her father’s private security people and the press go mental. She’s also not been very skilful in covering her tracks, so they find her, drag her back to normality, incarcerate her in wall to wall psychotherapy and suitable boyfriends. She goes along with it, for a time, but only while she hatches a better plan, a better shot at obscurity.

Next time she’ll go to ground properly.

She’s read all the spy novels and knows how to do it now. She’ll buy a houseboat, putter up and down the canals, draw a modest income from a bank account no one knows about. She’ll give herself an arty pen-name, and use Createspace or some-such to get her books bound and printed, because she likes the feel of her poems in a book – no more than a dozen copies though, and she’ll give them to charity bookshops as a way of launching them into the world. No one will ever know who she is, or what’s happened to her.

Well, what would you do, if you were in her place, and all you wanted to do was write poetry, if all you wanted to do was grow some soul?

Does she stand a chance, do you think?

 

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other notes coverAn excerpt from “Notes from a small bookshop” by Michael Graeme

Available from all good bookshops no time soon:

I don’t know how much strangeness you’re wanting, or how much you can take. It’s a genre thing, I suppose. You come in expecting one thing, like this dusty old geezer sitting in a second hand bookshop pontificating on how things were so much better in the old days, then here he is showing you another thing entirely.

We’ve already had the spy story, the mystery police thing, the love story, a bit of crime thriller – I mean if Milord Milner isn’t a crook, then who is? We’ve even had a little bit of bonk-buster, though I admit I glossed over much of the animal fervour of that in favour of the romantic angle, out of respect for Magg’s privacy and it just seemed like the decent thing to do.

But this is something else entirely and you’re most likely going to find it really, really weird. It’s something you might think is even verging on the speculative, or a bit science fiction-ish, but it isn’t. Trust me, it’s already obsolete, technologically quaint.

Most of us don’t want strangeness do we? We want our days predictable, punctuated by three square meals. We want a thirty minute commute, and a nine to five, then a couple of hours after tea collapsed in front of a predictable Soap while we shovel crisps into our mouths and wash them down with cheap wine from the corner shop.

Then bed and dreams.

Dreams we can do. Dreams are okay, I mean for all their strangeness – and it’s mainly because we forget them so quickly. But that’s about the size of it, isn’t it? Any real strangeness in our waking lives and we’re covering our ears going: Nah,nah,nah,nah,…

But strangeness is everywhere. Every story ever written came out of someone’s head. Did you ever pause to think about that? Isn’t it weird? We make stuff up, make believe it’s real, and it’s okay – people still want to know what happens to these other people, people like me, who aren’t actually real.

But not all strangeness is made up.

I was reading the leftleaning news this afternoon and it was telling me of a town in America, all the jobs moved out and those nine to five people with their family SUVs and their cute little clapboard houses now living in tents along a bleak riverside on the outskirts of town and going hungry. No more wine and crisps for them. This is their new normal discarded, like waste, scrunched up and tossed into the bushes, their own Milord Milners caring little if they live or die. But these are not empty beer-cans. They are people, indeed more than people, they are, in the philosophical, and even in the existential sense, just different versions of you and me.

It will kill us, you know, this thing we have created. And only those of us capable of sustaining our Milord Milners will be allowed to survive, all be it barely. In this respect then, we will be farmed like cows. Some for milk, some for slaughter.

How the Milord Milners are made these days is open to speculation. They are no longer born to it like they were in olden times. I suspect rather they are merely psychopaths, that the system favours their emotionally insensitive natures, and the rest of us are just too passive or too stupid to prevent them gaining power. Shall we merely go on allowing it then? How can we? How can we not? I mean, if we are to survive.

But what is surviving? It’s a subject that needs redefining. And while we’re at it, what is living? I mean truly living.

You can forget the notion now that through diligence, the dream of middle class semi-detached suburbia, and 2.1 children is still attainable. And the working class too, you can forget the notion of meaningful work and ample playtime for afters. You already know this. You’re all in the same boat now, your bright young ones with degrees in this and that, rubbing shoulders with you bright young ones who don’t, and all of you chasing nothing-Mcjobs in the murky, shark infested pool of the precariat, all of you filling in here and there on poverty wages until you’re automated out of existence. You own no capital, you have no provision for old age. Do you think you can still run around a warehouse when youre eighty five with cataracts and a dodgy prostate?

So what am I saying here?

Beyond stating the problem, I don’t know. It depends what you want, what you value, or can re-evaluate in your life. Whether we go on pursuing the thrill of those dubious stimulations promised by Milord Milner’s ultimately empty mouse-clicks, or we set our devices aside, and do something else, something that does not involve staring at a screen and adding to the sedimentary layers of data for others to mine and profit by at our considerable expense and ultimate enslavement.

I have a feeling the answer lies in rediscovering that truer sense of the ordinariness of the world, the purer treasure of it, and yes, the sheer grace in all of that. Only there can we recapture our souls, and live as we should. And be happy.

I don’t know what I mean by any of this exactly, only that in common with the rest of us, I’m working on it,…

Do not go gently.

Be careful what you accept as normal.

No one is a waste of space.

https://www.wattpad.com/myworks/139757309-notes-from-a-small-bookshop

 

 

 

 

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It was Pablo Picasso who said: all children are artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. The fact that so many of don’t is a serious problem – it was me who said that last bit, not Pablo – and I don’t mean ‘serious’ economically or politically. I mean we risk making our souls sick. Another fine artist, the writer Kurt Vonnegut said of art, and I paraphrase slightly for artistic purposes: it’s not a way to make a living, more a way to make living bearable.

In 2006, he wrote to Xavier High School in New York by way of reply to pupils inviting him to come and speak at the school. He was one of many venerated authors so invited, and the only one to reply, which perhaps says much about the majority of venerated professional authors. Vonnegut declined to visit on account of his great age, but the Xavier Letter is now legendary, and encapsulates very well his philosophy regarding the true value of art – not as a means to make a living, nor to gain approval, or praise, or fame, but on a more fundamental, vital and deeply personal level, to experience what he called ‘becoming’.

Here it is, read aloud by another fine old artist, none other than Gandalf the Grey:

We can think of life in very complicated terms, I know I often do. Indeed we can make it as complicated as we like, or we can pare it down to more manageable proportions, perhaps even to something akin to a Zen Haiku, instead of Wordsworth’s Prelude, and that Haiku might say something like: we’re born, we fart around for a bit, and then we die, but inbetween we have a chance to grow some soul – I’m paraphrasing Vonnegut again, but he definitely said fart, though not in that letter to Xavier High School. And the best way to grow some soul is through the practice of art, any kind of art that takes your fancy.

But the problem with art is you cannot write an app to do it. And since the endgame of unbridled Capital is to complete the grand project of reducing the entire world to nothing more than the sum of its parts in pursuit of maximum profit, then art – and especially amateur art, which neither computes, nor ever pays the bills – is going to get itself rubbed out. It’ll be dropped from all the school curriculums as those fiendishly clever little chaps with their apps pare the money down until only Maths and English and Science survives the reckoning, these being the tick-in-a-box, sure-fire CV gold-star employability type subjects.

Then we’ll all spend our days between birth and death writing yet more little apps to hang off the iron brain of the human universe. And it’ll be a profitable place, that universe, at least for those who own the iron brain, but it will also be a place without much soul, a place where the farting will have become everything of value, and where none of us will be anything other than robots made of meat, and valued not a jot, and where life for anyone with a brain, and a longing for some kind of meaning – which is just about all of us – will become utterly unbearable.

So,… by all means value your Maths and your English, and your Sciences – I know I do – and make no mistake, their diligent pursuit makes for a decent pay-packet in return, even in these most straightened of times – but do art as well, and experience the mystery and the magical, intangible rewards of ‘becoming’.

Write that poem. Dance that dance. Sing that song. Don’t do it for money, or praise or fame.

Do it for yourself.

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What bit o’ brass there is these days,
Has been raked up by the few,
While bits of grubby copper’s
All that’s left for me ‘n you.

An’t gaffer’s got us number see?
So we’re at ‘is beck and call.
We’d gladly tell him t’ shove it
But we’ve got no rights at all.

So he’ll call us up in’t morning
With a measly bit of time,
Then tell us when we gets the’er,
He’s gone and changed ‘is mind.

So we sez, what about us travel, like?
And he sez don’t come that with me,
There’s plenty more where tha’s come from,
So tha’ mun take it, or tha’ mon leave.

So we fairly tugs us forelock, like,
And we quietly slings us hook,
While us thoughts is turning darkly,
To the pages of us book.

We keeps this little book dost see?
Stops us burstin’ into flames.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down,
But tha’ mun write down all their names.

It’s not like tha can do ow’t else,
Or like tha’s ever gonna win.
But when tha’s passin through them pearly gates,
Tha’ mun quietly hand it in.

No, there’s not much brass around these days
And its been taken by the few,
While bits o’ grubby copper’s
All that’s left for me ‘n you.

Peter Loo

1819

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sunset

The hills do not remember,
Nor these scattered hoary stones,
Nor the foxgloves
Nodding in long sleepy lanes,
Nor the oaks whose leaves,
Turning now their silvered backs,
Anticipate the coming rains,

There is no memory, nor time,
In this hung moment,
As a white, full faced moon rises,
And a fierce heat-wave sun,
Forsakes at last the day,
Tempers its blade,
In a cooling quench
Of sparkling amber bay.

And here I sit, shouldering alone
The burden of this beauty,
Drinking down in greedy gallons now,
My last fill of tranquil air,
That I might remember, and take with me,
This pebble from an aching sunset shore,
Caressed to fleeting prettiness,
By a golden wash of sea.

Caerfynnon

July 2018

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IMG_20171015_165153_processedAs a rule of thumb it’s best to assume there’s more behind the day’s headlines than we know, or could ever imagine. Trump and BREXIT have dominated UK current affairs for years now, both of them beginning as little things we did not believe could happen, but which went on to happen in a big way, to the extent they have now mired the western world in crises too numerous to be unpicked here – even if I knew how.

I had thought it the result of a kind of cyclical madness, that once every couple of generations, the veneer of political stability naturally fell apart, that it was a kind of madness too that we could become normalised to what is now, frankly, a bewildering state of world affairs. But the picture emerging of the story behind this story, is not one of collective madness at all, more one of a concerted and clandestine campaign of disinformation and psychological warfare – specifically, the deployment of techniques developed to win over the hearts and minds of an enemy, or failing that to collapse their will, and therefore their resistance, to ideas and to forces they might otherwise see as harmful. In this case, the enemy is us, the civilian populations of the UK, Europe and the United States.

It was achieved through the medium of the truly Orwellian Visiphone, one many of us carry, all the time – our phones, our laptops, our swish tablet computers. They watch us, they look, listen, take note of the things we like, the things we don’t like, and make predictions based upon that data – what else we might like, or how we might be persuaded to like or not to like certain things. It logs our every step, everywhere we go, and how often. It makes note of our contacts. It can even make predictions of the likelihood of our committing future crimes, the likelihood we belong to an ethnic, religious or sexual minority group, the likelihood we are to the left or the right of the political divide.

Those deploying such weapons are not governments. ‘They’ are the plutocrats who own the world’s money, the unimaginably rich whose goal it is to further consolidate control of the world’s money flows. They have done this since the dawn of time by partly infiltrating and lobbying government, by funding and effectively blackmailing politicians into obedience, and more lately by owning and deploying with deadly effect that most recent Pandora’s box of nefarious possibility – Big Data.

Big Data is everything conceivably knowable about you and me, and we give it away in exchange for the convenient services we are offered in return – essentially messaging, information, entertainment and navigation via our Visiphones. Want to play that crazy cat game? You have to sign away all objections to your data being harvested first. Sounds dodgy? It is. But you know what? We do it anyway.

We have been at war for a long time without realising it. It’s basically a class war like no other ever waged in history, and we’re losing it. Worse, I see no heroes coming to our rescue, only leader after leader lying brazenly with their pants on fire as if to own the truth by denying its very existence. No one reading Carol Cadwalladr’s reports here, can be in any doubt now the result of the BREXIT vote was influenced by the self interest of an international plutocratic elite, virtue of the psychological weapons it deployed in the run-up to the vote, weapons purchased at great cost, yet secreted through various murky back-channels. To all rational thinkers the result of the BREXIT vote is null and void, democracy was undermined, yet we remain transfixed as the train rushes towards us, frozen in our disbelief.

The result for the UK is the destabilising chaos that has been BREXIT, and a government now torn between those within it who would work towards minimising the damage it will do, and those who would maximise that damage for their own purposes – damage here meaning severe detriment to the working and the middle classes of the UK, with the implication that whatever the outcome, that damage is now unavoidable and will be substantial. Already stripped of our former securities we face a further collapse of all certainties concerning healthcare, social provision and any kind of worthwhile work, both for ourselves and the generations who follow. This is a new world order. It’s Orwellian, it’s oppressive, and it came out of nowhere.

Plutocrats traditionally inhabit the far right of the political landscape, but so far as I can tell, not from any particular affinity with its ideology. Right leaning politicians and their cheerleaders are merely convenient bedfellows, and similarly contemptuous towards the common enemy, this being “The People”.

Persuading “the people” to vote or to support the policies of the right, policies that aid the plutocratic cause, and which are inherently harmful to “the people”  relies upon sowing the seeds of an irrational fear to distract from the actual facts – like vote for me and I’ll make you poorer, and I’ll make your children suffer. To pull that off is an act of astonishing sleight of hand, but it’s as effective now as it was in the nineteen twenties, and the fears stoked are the same – fear of the foreigner, or the other who is not like you, who will take your job and ruin the purity of your imagined native heritage.

The difference now is the plutocrat is not restricted in his disinformation to the partial media, which they mostly own. Now they have access to our primary means of information as well – to our Visiphones. Now they can make us hate anyone and anything they want, merely by a form of subliminal suggestion through the images and the adverts we are served. They can make us say and do stupid things, make us vote in strange ways, make us saw off the branch of the tree we’re sitting on. They are the Svengalis of the modern world.

Armed with a sufficient level of education, a knowledge of the dangers of this all-pervasive media, who controls it and how they control it helps one view information thus gleaned with circumspection. But not everyone is interested, or cares that much and it’s been proven anyway that, given sufficient motivation, even good people can be persuaded to do harm to others without just cause. Our will is weakened by a constant bombardment of unsettling and confusing issues to the point where we know something is badly wrong and we can’t believe anything we’re seeing, yet cannot conceive of any alternative, let alone how we go about achieving it.

I’m at the stage now where I want to close my eyes to that train heading full pelt in our direction. It might help if I focus my attention on a future world, one interpolated from the data plots already marked on the chart, and from the general direction we seem to be heading. It’s a world without any meaningful work, and a population enslaved, working two or three of those meaningless jobs for a minimum wage, eighty hours or more a week, just to pay the rent. None of us will own anything, not even the Visphones in our pockets, and the only satisfaction in life we’ll have is counting the likes we got for that stupid video we re-posted from somewhere else. Meanwhile the plutocrats in their super-yachts will be anchored offshore, grey silhouettes in the sunset, like the battleships of a conquering nation, a vision both futuristic and medieval. And there’s not a damned thing we can do about it. Except, next time, before you click, think about what information you’re giving away to the enemy, and what you might already have lost on account of it.

I’m off to West Wales now, to a little place half way up a mountain where there’s no ‘phone signal, and no Internet, where I can still believe the world is a beautiful place, and worth the shout and where my Visiphone won’t be urging me to hate any more.

 

 

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