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Archive for the ‘My Notes’ Category

The A59 starts in Liverpool, heads north and east, across Lancashire, into Yorkshire, finishing at York. I pick it up on the Ribble at Salmesbury Bottoms, near Preston, after a short run up the conveyor of the living dead, the M6. I’m heading for Scarborough. This isn’t the quickest way – that would be the M62 to Leeds and on from there – a journey of around three hours or so. The A59 adds forty minutes to the run at least, but I can do it with the top down, I’m thinking, unless it’s raining, which it isn’t. And I want to do it with the top down. There’d be no pleasure in that on the M62. As it turns out, there’s not much pleasure on the A59 either.

It must be thirty years since last drove this route much beyond Blubberhouses, and it was quieter then. The traffic today is impressively heavy, grinding to a stop start as we come within sniffing distance of Harrogate, then more stop start at Knaresborough. In fact it’s pretty much one long traffic jam from Harrogate to York.

This is the fourth summer with the little blue car, now fifteen years old, and with eighty five thousand on the clock. She holding up well, back wings beginning to bubble a bit like all MX5’s of this vintage do, and I’m at the point where I’m worrying she’s not going to look quite so tidy for much longer. So do I have some restoration work done? Best guess for that is it’ll cost over a grand. Or do I sell her on and spend the money on a newer model? I don’t know,… she’s mechanically sound, running well, and I trust her, I simply can’t bear to think of parting with her. But nothing lasts for ever, no matter how much we want it to.

That said, one of her quirks is a bit of a kangaroo clutch to which she’s more prone the hotter she gets. You can compensate with a more delicate touch on the pedals, but heavy traffic make it hard on both of us. We are neither of us built for this kind of journey.

There have been the usual pre-trip nerves, the feeling the clutch is “funny” through legs tense at the prospect of a longer run. There’s also a week’s holiday riding here on the reliability of an old car, which makes no rational sense when I’ve got a newer one sitting on the drive at home that would eat this journey in the blink of an eye and allow me to haul more stuff. But this is not about common sense, or stuff. This is about the road and the dream of something else.

A little flight bag for my clothes, and a satchel for my bits and bobs, and the boot’s full. But I’m not going to the moon. I’m going to Scarborough, and I know where the Cooperative store is.

My bed tonight is in a cottage with a view of the sea, wheat fields, and the company of barn owls. Four and a half hours to cover a hundred and thirty miles? It was worth it.

Goodnight all.

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miceThe more literary kind of story has a habit of fluffing its conclusion, of building you up through a series of struggles, pointing to one final decisive conflict, but just as one is hopeful of a whizz-bang ending, it veers off the mark and cuts to the credits without having resolved anything at all. Critics do effusive somersaults over the subtlety of this sort of thing and provide a multitude of their own subjective interpretations based on impenetrable literary theory as espoused by someone you’ve never heard of. As for the rest of us, we can only trust the whole thing was not a deceit, that the author simply didn’t know how to finish things other than by saying it was all a dream, so he trails off instead, fades away like a ghost.

In similar vein I swear I did not dream of mice last week. I saw them, heard them, chased them, tried in vain to trap them. But I’ve not seen one since, nor been disturbed by one in the night. My house is now bristling with traps, baited with all manner of treats – currently pieces of KitKat stuck in tasty splodges of peanut butter. Yum!

Nothing. No bites. No dead mice.

I’ve been round the outside of the house looking for any means of mousy ingress – tiny holes in the corners of walls and where the drains poke out. I have applied cement here, there and everywhere, just to be sure. I know they’ve definitely been around and where they’ve lingered longest because there’s an eye watering smell of ammonia coming from behind the cupboards in the conservatory. For weeks we thought it was a pair of my son’s trainers, and grumbled for them to be stored elsewhere. But the more savvy visitors tell us this pungent signature scent is actually mouse-wee. The cupboards are fitted and it will take a week to dismantle them, remove them, check for ingress, clean up, put back. Understandably I’m resisting the trial, hoping instead the mice have gone and the smell will fade if we keep the windows open.

No firm conclusion, you see? We trail off into the literary never-land. No bang, no snap of the trap and a clear indication of the saga’s end. It goes on until memory fades, hopefully along with the smell, and some other slice of life takes centre stage. So for now the mice have become ghosts to manifest at every creak or sigh in the night, but without actually materialising in tangible reality at all. Only their smell remains.

I hope.

Goodnight all.

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penyghent from horton irThere were three events at Horton in Ribblesdale on Saturday. I’m not sure what they were exactly but I assume each involved a lot of boots scrambling over the Dales’ three peaks – Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. It also meant the carparks were pretty much filled up by mid-morning. It was a relief to find somewhere to leave the car on the overflow.

You can usually see Penyghent from Horton. It resembles the prow of a mighty ship, sailing a rolling green ocean of moor over Brackenbottom, but not today. It was in a strop over something, possibly all the attention it was getting. There was a riot outside the cafe, start of the three peaks route, an army of excited children, hundreds of them, squealing at a pitch fit to burst eardrums while their minders bellowed instructions. An optimistic notice on the wall urged a more respectful tone in consideration of neighbours. I hope none of them were trying to lie in that morning, let alone nursing hangovers.

Better get cracking then. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck at the back of that lot. I managed a ten minute start before I heard them swarming up the track behind me. It was a more strenuous ascent of the hill than I’m used to then, one lacking the luxuries I normally allow myself of lots of pauses to admire the view and take photographs. I would have let them pass, but there were other armies of pixies, elves and dwarves all mustering in the rear and it would have taken the entire day.

The route ahead was also very busy, in particular there were jams of jittery folk on all the craggy bits below the summit plateau, and then a walking day procession along the paved way to the trigpoint. More squealing children awaited my arrival there, while a party of crusty old curmudgeons cracked open a whisky bottle and splashed out generous measures of amber comfort. It was an eclectic gathering for sure, ages ranging from five to eighty five, the atmosphere one of festival, of celebration. There is no other hill like Penyghent on a weekend afternoon.

Starting out overcast, the weather had turned a bit edgy, a light breeze at valley level stiffening to a bitter easterly. I crouched on the leeward side of the wall, some distance away from the merriment. The wind was blowing clean through it, chilling the sweat on my back, so I used the sack as a windbreak and caught my breath at last – long slow breaths, filling my lungs with that musty, muddy, metallic air of the high places.

Then the army of elves, pixies and dwarves caught up, and the summit was lost to madness as they over-ran it. Time to move on. I pressed, squished and excused my way through the crowd to get anywhere near the stile, then queued for my turn to get over it. Ahead of me, crocodile after crocodile of three peakers headed west into the wind-blown mist, jackets flapping like lubberly spinnakers all along the well trodden way to Whernside. How a mountain can take such punishment as this, day in day out and remain beautiful, I don’t know. If you like your mountains quiet, and Penyghent’s still on your bucket list, come mid week, term-time, and come early.

Three Peakers are a mixed bunch and, yes, they make me grumble. It’s this apparent blindness to the metaphysical dimension of the hills, for how can they be tuned in to that when half of them have phones glued to their ears? They come to do battle, while for me a walk is more of a cooperative endeavour between oneself, the mood of the hill, and the weather. Still, I do admire their grit. I didn’t follow them, I headed north instead, along the line of the wall into a high moorland wilderness, towards the more sublime, summitless solitude of Plover Hill.

Plover Hill is Penyghent’s quieter, less intrusive neighbour. If we include it in our day’s outing it makes for a more significant leg-stretcher, the round from Horton being then a shade under ten miles. It also affords time for a more peaceful contemplation of the Dales. I did not meet a soul again until crossing the three peaks route once more, above Horton.

Conservation work has improved the descent from Plover Hill, which had begun to scar quite badly, recent rock-paving bringing us safely down to the broad valley that carries the Foxup road, a lonely, pathway, linking the villages of Foxup and Horton. If you’re looking to put some miles between yourself and the next person – even on a busy summer’s weekend in the Dales, Plover Hill and the Foxup Road are a good place to start.

Back at Horton, feet on fire by now, I was ready for a brew but the cafe was still besieged by screaming pixies. They looked too fresh to be returning, but couldn’t be setting off so late in the day, the whole three peaks round having to be completed in under 12 hours if you want your badge, and rather them than me, I thought. I gave them a wide berth, retrieved the car from the sheep plopped meadow, and drove to Settle for a more restful pot of tea and a toasted teacake at the Naked Man.

Early retirement from the rat-race features ever greater in my plans these days as the light at the end of my personal tunnel of captivity grows brighter. I have wondered about the Dales villages, of downsizing, of nesting up in an old stone cottage within sight and sound and easy access to these beautiful hills. It’s an idle fancy for now. I’m probably better where I am, just driving in as needs be, but if I did decide to do it, I wouldn’t be moving to Horton in Ribblesdale.

Simply too many boots on the ground these days.

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It’s been a summer of violent and tragic events here in the UK. Once upon a time we would pause for a minute’s silence to remember the wars and the fallen. It happened once a year, was a predictable, sombre occasion each November, a reflection on the folly of armed conflict. Now it seems we’ve had a minute’s silence every week for weeks in response to the shock of one damned thing after the other – bombings, mass stabbings, vans driven into pedestrians, and of course the terrible London tower block fire.

Such events shock us, pull us from our private lives, reconnect us with the human collective and cause us to question the nature of the incurable malaise from which we apparently suffer. And of course the speed with which events are now reported lends an extra feverishness to the times, a feverishness spun to favour one shameless political agenda or another. We need no longer wait for the ten o’clock news like we did in the old days, the Smartphone tells it all, instantly, and the story it tells is one of perpetual shock, violence, hatred and a corporate greed that verges on the homicidal.

It’s sometimes hard not to view our times from the nihilistic perspective as evidence of an acceleration towards the end of days. Certainly pictures of the burned out Grenfell Tower are as symbolic as they are deeply shocking. But the people who died that night were not victims of extremists. The enemy that sealed the fate of Grenfell Tower was more a culture of institutional avarice, one painstakingly manufactured over the decades to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the lives of the poor. All of these things, though diverse in origin, seem part of the same unsettling atmosphere of the times, like faces vaguely recognisable from our deepest nightmares, all of them bearing weapons of one sort or another.

But if you can look beyond the violence, beyond the tragedy, it’s possible to discern something else happening, something that suggests less a rush to the end of times and more to a transformation of the collective consciousness. The bigger the outrage and the faster these events come at us, the bigger too the response of the many who awaken and gather, not with violence in mind, but with a compassionate dignity. And the pocket media that disseminates these shocks so far and fast and wide also unites us, brings us together in ever larger numbers, mobilises us to a deeper empathy and reflection.

The world of the technocracy is increasingly machine-like and it has become a proxy for the collective human ego, a thing wrestling for control over every aspect of our lives, measuring even the keyclicks on our computers, evaluating them for the risk inherent in our thoughts and beliefs, to predict and plan in order to subvert bad events even ahead of time. But the more you plan, and the greater the detail to which you plan, the more vulnerable you are to the unexpected, to the uncontrolled, to the irrational turn of events. And the faster we fail, the less useful Ego becomes, and the less useful it feels the more it tears itself apart and adds to the maelstrom of destruction and despair. The greater the shock, next time that we seem so powerless against the nihilistic forces and the ill winds of fate.

What we are seeing almost nightly on our TV screens is a form of collective madness. We are on the couch, and it’s time to talk it out with a competent analyst. All egos are ultimately at the mercy of their shadows, dutifully raising demons from under every stone turned, like the headlines of the Daily Mail. It’s only compassion that spares us, a recognition we are not machines and that for life to have meaning we must recognise and value more our ability to transcend the material, or at the very least to temper its excesses with the better side of human nature.

When events shock us, it’s tempting always to turn to the machine for answers. Through it we calculate our responses, plan future contingencies, establish means of mitigation. But when the shock hits, it’s better to set our machine thoughts aside, if only for a moment for a moment, to remember we are not robots, that it’s better sometimes we say nothing for a while, and simply reach out and hold someone. It’s a long shot, believing in a reactive transformation that will eventually eradicate the dark stain from the zeitgeist, but if enough of us can respond to extraordinary events with compassion, empathy and a degree of stillness, it’s at least a start in the right direction.

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man writingThe day before voting in the General Election, I found myself in an unusual dilemma. My current work in progress, a novel of some hundred and eighty thousand words and rising, relies upon the continual negation of hope. It relies on the continuing austerity and declinism that would have been implicit in a resounding victory for the party of the rich, because that’s what my characters are reacting against.

Take all that away, restore some sort of hope and an optimistic trajectory with a victory for party of the poor, and my characters would have had no reason to be. The novel, two years in the writing thus far, would have collapsed as history overtook it. I hasten to add I would gladly have made that sacrifice, finding from somewhere sufficient magnanimity to claim the novel was never meant to be finished anyway.

Right now though, days after the result, I don’t know where I am. And neither does anyone else. Neither rich nor poor have secured a victory over the other, and the only certainty for any of us is a period of continuing uncertainty.

I was on a fairly safe bet, I’d thought – I mean as an author determined to finish his story and still have it mean anything. No one seemed to think a proper left leaning party had a cat in hell’s chance any more, that we were still five years away from an election anyway which was time a plenty to finish my story against the backdrop of a society – at least from my northern provincial perspective – worn threadbare, of shoes busted at the toes and our backsides hanging from our trousers, of racism, misogyny and petty nationalism whipped up by a vile, potty mouthed media and all the while the prospect of a crushingly cruel BREXIT.

The election was called because the received wisdom of the right was that a sweeping victory for the party of the rich was assured, because the other fella, the mutton headed Mugwump, they called him, vilified, shamelessly misrepresented, and smeared for years, was so unelectable you’d be sweeping him and all the other upstart lefties into the dustbin for ever.

And though I liked the cut of the Mugwump’s jib, and I wanted him to deliver an ever so polite bloody nose to the arrogance of the gold plated millionaire political class, I felt overwhelmed by the media opposition, by the voices telling me the Mugwump and I were misguided in our beliefs that even middling Socialism had anything left to offer the country, that even the poor were convinced they must vote for the party of the rich, that this was an age of the self over others, and a race to the bottom.

But the Mugwump’s not looking too bad right now. Sure, he’s been making politics interesting again, drawing the crowds, calling time on the illusion things can never be any different than they are now, that the powerful and the rich will get away with whatever they can, while the weak and the poor suffer what they must. But that the party of the poor narrowly failed to secure a victory means their positive policies must be shelved for another time, and in the mean time it’s more of the same, also more political upheaval, possibly even unleashing dangerous demons from our past, launching the spectre of an ever volatile Ireland back onto our front pages, as the miracle of a hard won peace accord is unpicked in order that the party of the rich might cling on.

But for now my story is still afloat against the same old background of confusion and upheaval. There may be another election in a few months that settles it, time enough maybe to finish, though far be it from me to urge upon society a reality that renders my novel still meaningful. Because it’s just as story and the real story of our times is more interesting and important than any of that.

Perhaps the times are too febrile, too transient for the writing of ponderous contemporary social drama anyway. Maybe the novel is dead, the times more suited to Haiku.

Next time I’ll play it safe and stick to fantasy.

 

 

 

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I’m still absorbing this one, pretending normality while sitting not thirty miles from the scene of an appalling atrocity. If I was a better poet, a better writer, this is what I would say, and this is how I would say it:

The poet Tony Walsh at the vigil in Manchester tonight.

 

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mariaThe paradox of human life is the evidence of its apparent pointlessness juxtaposed with our innate sense of infinite self worth. We are each placed at the very centre of our universe, yet we are able to make very little difference to it, and instead seem more often the victim of mischance or the misdeed of others. Thus, at times, we feel acutely vulnerable, afraid of injury or even annihilation.

We also find ourselves in a world pre-made by our collective forebears, a machine of rules, ideas and interactions whose mechanism is so complex it beggars all understanding, but whose purpose is more clearly the distribution of money and power – power over others, from whom the more powerful might extract money. Thus the machine defines its only measure of self-worth: money and power. The more you have the more successful you are. That the weak starve and whither is irrelevant. The machine must discard them. It has no choice. We are complicit in this inhumanity because of a self inflicted fallacy that it’s not our problem, or that somehow we cannot afford it, that there is not enough money for everyone born today to be allowed to live out the full span of their natural lives.

The bank is empty, the credit card maxed out – these being the simplistic metaphors used by politicians and the plutocratic machine minders to convince us of the need for a nation to “live within its means”, while at the same time facilitating the mass sequestering a nation’s means into the pockets of the predatory super-rich and powerful. Thus the machine mimics crudely the principles of natural selection, the evolutionary survival of the more well adapted being – in the machine’s case, adaptation being predicated purely on ego, cunning and greed. But unlike nature, which favours the proliferation or decline of a species at large, the machine produces only a small percentage of winners.

The rest, the losers can aspire only to the role of robotic serfdom, that is until the machine replaces them with actual robots, more perfect versions of the human being, at least in machine terms, in the way they function, for robots do not aspire to anything better than they are; they do not wonder about their purpose; they are not distracted by emotion, by cold, by hunger, by danger, by love. They do not require healthcare. We see now why the development of robots are so important to the machine – they are the perfect player in the “world-as-machine”, mirroring its deadness, a dead facsimile of a being for a dead world.

There was a picture in the newspapers this week of a gold plated super car. I mean, why settle for paint, when you can afford gold? The gold plated super-car is remarkably conspicuous. It is also a grotesquely apposite symbol of the end game of the world-construct as a money-game, when in those same cities we find broken and discarded people sleeping in doorways. But this is only to be expected since such mass economic casualties are written in to the machine’s code as a perfectly acceptable consequence.

As the machine automates its functions and increasingly delegates the human tasks to its robotic serfs, it is inevitable, according to machine logic, more of us will be discarded this way. And, since compassion is not a phenomenon that arises from machines, human beings who are not favoured among the rich and powerful cannot help but fare badly.

For all the shouting in this seemingly endless election season, I see no political solution to the machine’s excesses. The radical, humanistic policies necessary for averting such a grim, inhuman future are shredded daily by a psychological warfare of algorithmically targeted media falsehoods, ensuring our votes are for ever cast in the direction that is killing us.We cannot help ourselves. The machine has entered our blood, our bodies, our brains via the proxy devices we clutch daily to our bosoms, and through them it has infested us with its virulent nihilistic memes.

It is not unexpected, for it is a very ancient and human, and accurate observation that all things tend towards excess. They also contain within them the seeds of their own destruction, and the longer a thing stands, the greater the excesses it achieves, the more sudden and violent its downfall. The machine has facilitated an excess of inequality greater than the world has ever known. It is beyond obscenity, beyond systemic correction, beyond control, but will decay of its own accord, and I am not assured it will pass peacefully.

We cannot prepare for it, other than to make sure we are not so identified with the machine we are damaged by its disintegration. Materially of course, we will indeed be damaged – jobs, savings, welfare, all will be hit. But this is not our life. The machine world, though it seems all encompassing, is only the situation we exist in. Mentally, emotionally, life is elsewhere. It is in the stillness of our souls, it is to exist, to co-exist and to nurture both one’s own potential, and that of others. But the potential to what? What is the truest measure of doing well in the world? Is it really no more than a gold plated motor car? Is that the best we can aspire to?

When, in the near future, a robot looks upon the stars at night, it will do so only in terms of quantifiable data. How many stars? What type of star? It cannot transcend the data and be moved by the vision. The vision, the faculty of “being moved” is something distinctly human, born of the emotion and the imagination. It is a thing of the moment, a connection with that which is great and Godlike in all of us. So, if the world seems unrelentingly bleak and fractious and febrile right now, perhaps that’s because it is, and it remains so because we have lost the ability to imagine it any other way.

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