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Posts Tagged ‘existential’

Les joueurs d’échecsHonoré Daumier – 1863

So, I’m thinking of writing a story about chess. Well, not actually about chess, but somehow it’ll feature chess. Why? Well, it’s popular at the moment, thanks to the Nexflix series “Queen’s gambit”. I should get some downloads on the back of that, especially if there’s a chess piece on the cover of my book. What’s not to like? Okay, let’s go,…


I see a couple of oldish guys. Yes, I know, young strapping bucks would be better, guys of college age, say, where the female interest is so young they’re still playing with Barbie-dolls. But that was all such a long time ago for me, so oldish guys it is because you’ve got to write what you know, and I’ve not the patience to fake it any more.


They meet in a coffee shop. One guy’s playing both sides of a pocket chess set. He sees our hero sitting there on his own, looking glum, so invites him to play. He’s testing this theory the world’s gone to hell in a hand-cart. Not only that, but he reckons the general public is as thick as mince, as evidence by the fact no one plays chess any more, except him. But our hero does. He doesn’t play like a pro, but he manages a decent game. He doesn’t win, but has the old guy sweating a bit. They agree to meet again and play some more.

The old chess guy has a daughter – ah, here we go! Her husband’s gone off somewhere with a floozy, and broke her heart. She’s no kids because I don’t want any kids in this story. Kids always take centre stage. They whine a lot, and have the adults running round like simpletons, trying to please them. So, no kids. Right?

The daughter? Well, she’s a looker of course, otherwise why bother? And she’s posh. She comes across our two old guys playing chess, and our hero falls in love with her, I mean at once. Heavily, deeply, seriously. But this is no ordinary love. This is from the depths. It’s an unconscious projection of ground shaking, Biblical proportions. But there’s a serious age gap. Let’s make it thirty years, so she’s not going to look twice at him. I mean, he’s not even worn well. He’s grey and craggy, and he’s been ill, and he looks a mess with soup stains down his jumper. And he’s not stupid. He knows there’s no prospect of a Hollywood dénouement there. But that said, what the hell is he supposed to do?

Then it turns out the old guy’s some kind of toff, with a big house in the country. He starts inviting our man out there for weekends, so he sees a lot of the daughter, as well as playing chess. She’s sweet and intelligent, still young enough to start over, and live a normal life with someone her own age. As for our guy, she’s a little frosty with him, thinks he’s weird actually, because he’s edgy when he’s around her, on account of him thinking she’s a goddess. But he’d never say anything about that because he’s a gent, and knows it’s better to do the decent thing. So far, so unrequited, and long may it remain so.

So that’s the set-up, but now the story’s up to fifty thousands words, and fizzling out because I’ve no idea how to solve the puzzle of it. It’s as well I never started writing the thing in the first place, isn’t it? Maybe it just needs another character to unlock it.

Okay, I see an older woman, someone unsentimental, practical, sturdy and above all human. I see the kind who’d wash his jumper in exchange for him mowing her grass occasionally, and just,… well, helping him to smarten himself up a bit, because she sees something in him it would be a shame to let life crush the – well – the life from. But let’s not get carried away here. She’s no time for love-stories. She isn’t even looking for a man. But she doesn’t mind sharing a glass of wine with one, so long as he doesn’t go thinking that gives him rights of ownership.

Now, she sounds interesting, and I’m liking the sound of things again, so we’ll push it out another twenty thousand, see where it leads. But then, ah,… damn,… there’s still the Covid problem. I mean this is a contemporary story, so strangers can’t meet that way any more, can they? Nor can they go inviting them round to each other’s houses. Plus, the cafés are shut, and we’re all wearing face-masks which makes it hard to read people, let alone fall in love or play chess with them. And the world’s such an unstable place now. I mean God knows what’ll come along next and hijack the story in the middle of my writing it? Been there, done that. Got the tee-shirt. Twice.

Maybe I’m better going off-world this time, writing a space-opera. I’ve done a bit of Sci Fi in the dim and distant, and that might be the safest thing to write in 2021, something well away from our physical reality. Or I could dip once more into the liminal zone between dream-time and topside, where anything is possible and anything can be true. But contemporary love, tenderness, empathy, the subtlety of human relationships? Hell, man, that looks like it’s over, unless you can do it by Zoom or something. I can set it back to 2015, but I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone who the PM was in 2015, or what was on the TV, and was Netflix even a thing back then? No, I’m hardly going to do justice to the background details, am I?

So, we’ll park it there for the better and save ourselves a whole year of trouble, never having typed so much as an opening line. Maybe some other writer will have the pleasure and the pain of it. Or no, wait,… how’s this:

“Do you play?”

No, it doesn’t speak much to me yet, it doesn’t suggest this cast of characters has much to show me. And it’s me they’ve got to seduce first. But, that said, whether the story gets written or not, it’s as good a start as any. So we’ll sleep on it. If the dream fairy gives me a working title by morning, we’re on.

Good night all, and welcome to 2021.

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pier sunsetA bit of a change this evening, one of my old stories, reviewed and rehashed for the blog, in three parts:

So here I am, sitting in the bar of the McKinley Arms Hotel, again. We’re by the shores of Loch Lomond, at the wrong end of a long drive, and I’m staring out into the twilight at my choices. I’ve been this way before many times, and always seem to go wrong at this point, so I have to be careful because I’ve not got it in me to pass this way again. I simply have to get it right this time!

I’ve pondered the course of all the lives I remember living and have come to the conclusion the evening I spend here is crucial to the unfolding of things. This is unfortunate, because it’s not as if my choices are unlimited. In fact, they boil down to only half a dozen or so, at least that I can see. At one time or another, I’ve played each of these choices out to their conclusion, and found them all wanting. What’s more, they all lead right back here, to this one evening, to this time of deepening twilight.

I learned early on not to go for choice number one. That’s the woman in the red dress, over by the bar. Nowadays I realize how obvious that path is. I’ll admit, it’s a wild ride for a time, but I’m always left feeling cheated. This is on account of my demise at the hands of her husband, who turns out to be a “fixer” for a Glaswegian mobster. Right now though, it’s the guy in the blue suit, entering the bar, who’s locked into that particular cycle of bad luck. He’s what you’d call a well groomed predator of womankind and I’ve never warmed to him. That’s not to say I don’t pity him as he singles her out yet again. I’m only wondering how many of his own lives it will take before he finally wises up.

Choice number two is simple. I can get up, walk out, drive on through the night, and seek fresh connections in the Highlands. I’ve done that of course, many times, but my path cycles right back here. Time after time. It’s thus I’ve come to believe my escape lies in the unseen choices this hotel provides, on this one evening, at this phase in the expansion of my personal bubble of time.

I’ll let you into a secret. You can forget all that reincarnation stuff; this life is the only one you get, but you get to play it over and over. I don’t mean it’s the same each time – that would be pretty dull after all – and you do have free choice in the paths you take. But certain situations have a mysterious way of drawing you in time after time, no matter what you do.

I’m born on December 21’st 1960. The biggest expansion I’ve managed was out to 2057. That was bore. For all my time I seemed to achieve nothing more than a vast brood of useless great-grandchildren and gained no understanding whatsoever of my purpose. At the other extreme, as a child, I once got bound up in someone else’s bad run, and for many lives I couldn’t get past the wheels of their truck in 1972. For all of that though, I’m particularly fond of the summers of those early years, and I tend to repeat them if I can. They’re still the best things I recall, on account of their innocence. I mean before I woke up to this peculiar way of seeing.  I have to remember to avoid a particular street on a particular day if I want to wriggle through into my later life, even if that life only ends up delivering me right back here.

In the main I live to a reasonable age and, in general, my lives are good. It’s just that I’m never able to understand what it is I’m supposed to achieve by living them. I mean, I do suppose there is a point to this endless repetition of things. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I’m guessing we must expand our bubble of time over and over, until we get it right.

Whatever it is.

Now, my life’s path seems okay up to this point. I tend not to vary it much because you never know what’s going to throw you off course. I’m not sure “managed” isn’t the right word though, except in the sense that the best way of managing things is to leave them alone. When you do that, when you give in to the flow of things, you look back at some point and see the purpose in your direction. It’s like being swept along by the current of a broad river. I’m happy – charmed it seems – and everything is spot on, until I walk into this place.

I can’t tell you how many times my bubble of time has expanded. It’s for the same reason infinity is a circle, whether it’s diameter measures a mile or a micron. There is no number to count it, nor to give it any meaning, at least not in your terms. However many times it’s been though, I’ve only ever made it this far in my journey: I’m a lone guy, sitting in the lounge-bar of a hotel, on his way up to the Highlands. I walk in as someone who is going places, and I walk out into a lifetime of disillusionment. It’s as sure as the taste of the morning air, a feeling I’ve lost my way, and that anything else I do in life is wasted. Call it a mid-life crisis if you want, but to me, it’s like being stuck in time. It’s like one of those computer programs with a misplaced “goto”. It cuts mid-sentence, then sends you right back to the beginning.

Choice number three is the bar-menu. But my selections there don’t change things very much: Steak, fish, potatoes or chips? Of all the senses, taste seems to be the least likely to alter the course of one’s life. Choice number four is similar to the menu and pertains to the relationships with the people I can see. Like me, and the woman in the red dress, everyone is pretty much a fixture of this moment. Our individual bubbles are overlapping. I’ve connected with them all at one time or another, followed each path to its equally fruitless conclusion. So, I’m thinking my only chance lies with the random strangers who occasionally walk through the door. They lend a flavour of freshness to the occasion, a buzz of anticipation. But there are no strangers in tonight.

Not yet, anyway.

To be continued. Next part tomorrow.

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Jepsons stone

I understand why they took my father. To most people he was one of the nameless who went out nights, worked his shift, and came back tired. Someone was watching him though, someone who knew what he was really about, and that’s why they took him. He was also a writer, you see? He was an explorer of ideas, a lover of maps and books, but only those closest to him knew about any of that.

They took him long before he’d had time to perfect his craft, long before he became really dangerous to them. He was still coming to terms with his powers, getting into his stride, finding the words. But I suppose, given the course he was on, they felt they had no choice.

At weekends, I’d wake to the sound of his old Underwood typewriter as he hammered out pages of manuscript. The Underwood was what he used to capture words that seemed right to him. But after a while he’d end up destroying them, having decided they were no good. Meanwhile, the rest of his work, the more speculative ideas, he’d write up in his notebooks which he’d consult from time to time, searching back for fresh avenues to explore, for things he’d missed.

He had a neat hand, a draughtsman’s hand, so his notes and diagrams possessed a beauty that went beyond whatever they were actually saying. After they took him, a man came asking for his notebooks. He said he was a friend but, I’d met him before and I knew he wasn’t, not really, and I told him we hadn’t kept them. He came again forty years later, a wizened old man, still on the trail, still something deceitful about him. I told him the same thing. Even after all this time, you see, it pays to be careful.

In the afternoons my father and I would be off scrambling up some nameless gully on the moors. It was in such places, where the rocks broke the surface, the earth hinted at its secrets, and he would scratch at them, peer at their traces under a magnifying glass. He was good at finding pyrites for me – fool’s gold – not that he was fooled by it. He was never a seeker after gold, not the ordinary kind anyway, but he enjoyed splitting the rocks for me to see. And then he’d tell me we should always be careful not to chase after everything that sparkled, because it might not be what we thought it was.

Yes, it was a different kind of gold he was hunting, a secret thing, the philosopher’s gold, I suppose you’d call it, a mysterious thing hidden since the dawn of man. It wasn’t that others wanted to take it from you, more they had to stop you getting hold of it in the first place, because that kind of gold was the key to everything, you see? That’s why it was so dangerous.

Often, my father and I would be out over the hills where the old maps said the standing stones used to be. Balmy days and bleak days, we would seek their traces in the dun-coloured grasses. I could see those hills from my bedroom window, miles away. Indeed, I could see the whole moor spread out like a map, and then there we were, he and I, in the map itself, looking for the stones, solving mysteries.

My father said he believed the stones had marked the passage of the seasons, in ancient times. That they weren’t there any more is the reason we’d lost our way, he said, and that was why no one ever looked at the moon any more, or could name the stars. This was important, he thought, and it was thrilling to me he was on the trail of a thing that could restore such marvels to the world. It was this, I’m sure that roused the same forces that had taken the stones and hidden them away, this same power that had taken my father.

The night they came for him, I hid his notebooks. I would decode them one day, I thought, but I’ve had them fifty years now, and they remain as puzzling as ever. Which of his ideas are worth the smoothing out into clearer prose? Which are the fool’s-gold sparkles of frivolous intrigue? I don’t know. Mould mottles their pages, and they’ve become brittle. It adds a fragility to their beauty. But still, I guard them, though lately I’ve been thinking the secret isn’t in them at all, not like I once thought anyway, not a clear arrow to point the way. I think the secret lies elsewhere, off the edge of the page, and you have to ride the beauty of them, as if on a butterfly’s wings, to get there.

Besides his notebooks, I have his watch but I don’t wear it. We inhabit different times now. He was spirited away to a place where I fear he must walk the moors alone, and without his maps. The watch still ticks, though the date is faulty, settles between days, as if pointing to another reality, one in which my father has been trapped all these years. But I have the feeling that in continuing in the spirit of his work, I am asking the same questions he asked, and if I can reveal the answers, those who took him have no reason to go on holding him, do they? They will have to let him go.

I have written a million words by now in search of answers, and in that time I have grown old, much older than he was when they took him. But I will bring him back. One day I will pay their ransom. Then I might wake again to the sound of that old Underwood, as my father banishes the emptiness of night, and restores to me once more his world of marvels.

Thanks for listening.

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around the yarrow.jpg

Hello rivendalereview.co.uk Team,

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Note : If you want detailed plan of our proposal, please reply with Yes.

Dear Sara,

Thank you for your email. You ask if you can call me. You seem a little forward, if you don’t mind my saying, though I do wonder, idly, yes, if I should ask you to call, wonder if indeed you could help with my present quandary, but would you really know where to begin with it? I certainly don’t. That you provide comprehensive digital marketing services, ranging from web development to “ethical” SEO, is all very well but, sadly, irrelevant to my actual needs right now. Similarly your suggestions regarding traffic generated keywords, I suspect – whilst I’m sure well intentioned – may not be of much use to me either.

I wonder, have you actually seen my website? It’s rather old, a sort of Gen 2 unpublished writers thing from the late 90’s, one I abandoned in 2011. Why? It’s a question I ask myself from time to time, especially since it costs around £15 per year to maintain it in such a sorry state of obsolecence. I’ve moved on you see, Sara? though it seems at times I am still firmly anchored in the past by these rusting barbs of lethargy and self doubt.

Are you able to help with that at all?

Forgive me, I suspect you’re very young and have yet to encounter self-doubt, at least on the scale of that faced by men of my age. The confidence of youth fades as time passes, you see? the trees, once lush in their greenery, stand bare against a cold sky and the sweet-scented meadows turn into a cloying mud that pulls and slithers at every step, so it’s hard to move in any direction. At such times the best a man can possess is the patience to abide, that and to trust the seasons of the mind will turn once more, though in the greater sense – the metaphorical sense, that is – given the state of world-affairs at present, it’s easy to doubt such things are even possible any more. Such is the fix I’m in, and Search Engine Optimisation does seem rather an inappropriate salve, wouldn’t you say? Or am I missing something important here?

I mean, you have read my stuff, right? You wouldn’t just be – dare I even say it – Spamming me would you? Sara,… tell me it’s not true! That would hardly be ethical would it? Oh, my dear,… what happened? What has brought us to such a fell pass as this?

Call me yes,… you should. Or better still, join us here, we poor scribblers at WordPress. It needn’t be like this!

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Oberon,_Titania_and_Puck_with_Fairies_Dancing._William_Blake._c.1786[1]

Dreams are mysterious things, too often dismissed as unknowable, and denigrated by materialists as being little more than brain-burp, as bubbles of waste psychical-gas, rising from who knows where to break the surface of who knows what. We can forget them then; life is troubling enough, they say, without bothering our minds with the nonsense of dreams.

We all dream, every night, though we don’t always remember. Indeed some of us never remember our dreams, lending the impression we do not dream at all, which reinforces the point: if such a faculty as dream recall can so easily be lost, how can it be considered important? Well, perhaps it isn’t, unless of course the dream performs a function that can be usefully fulfilled outside of conscious awareness, that we need not be aware of the dream in order to live it, or be informed by it.

But what about those of us who do recall our dreams? not only that but treat them as a meaningful phenomenon? Dreams reveal themselves as beguiling, deceptive even mischievous yet it may be that for all our most earnest efforts we can come up with nothing more informative regarding their nature than if we were to close our minds to them completely. And yet,… there is still something about the dream that rewards us if at the very least we grant it our attention.

Recording our dreams is even better. This allows them to inform our conscious awareness more intently, night after night, revealing aspects of our lives we were perhaps unaware of. We might note then our dreams are, to a degree, coloured by waking life, even by aspects of our waking life we are at first pass unaware of. Looking then more closely at our dreams we can see echoes of our insecurities, and if we are honest about them with ourselves – by no means an easy thing – we can help our soul grow in the direction it most needs to grow. The content of dreams can also colour our waking day. So powerful they can be, they draw attention to themselves and challenge us to take stock, to own this thing we are again perhaps unconsciously avoiding.

I hesitate to describe dreams as “tools” for “self development”, for that would be to dishonour them. Certainly they have always been used in psychoanalysis, as messengers from the unconscious, but sometimes this can be confusing when we neglect to see the dream as having its own existence within us. Indeed we have only to turn our attention to them to realise they can become as much a part of life as our waking experience. Yes, we can get by well enough ignoring our dreams, but that is also to live a life lacking depth and colour.

One of the most remarkable things dreams reveals to us is that our concept of space and linear time is incomplete. We dream of something, a striking image, an event; usually such things are informed by happenings in our recent past, but occasionally a dream will show us something we have yet to encounter. The more materially minded will struggle with this concept, and if you are indeed vehemently opposed to it, I suggest you follow your instinct and dismiss it as bonkers or it will seriously disturb your frame of reference. But we have only to make a record of our dreams to find that it is so.

It needn’t be a dramatic glimpse ahead in time, indeed my own experience suggests it rarely is. For me it happens with places I’ve visited, or images I’ve seen on screens. I dream the image, the place, and then encounter it. True, by all rational reckoning, such a thing is impossible, yet it happens – admittedly not very often and never in ways that are helpful, like revealing ahead of time the number of a winning lottery ticket, But then it does happen, it’s always startling.

It’s as if a par of us has passed that particular way before, just a little ahead of ourselves, and the dream has found the imagery we encountered useful for its own purposes, careless of our line in time – as if indeed we might be following many life-lines simultaneously, some similar, others not. The writer JB Priestly made a study of this oftentimes eerie phenomenon and wrote a book on it: “Man and time”. This is a classic of the genre but he was careful to avoid drawing any rigid conclusions regarding what this might actually mean, I mean regarding the temporal structure of universe, and I shall be careful to follow his lead.

Indeed what we do with this depends very much on our nature. If we are highly egotistical and equipped with a smattering of scientific knowledge, we might want to formulate an explanation, but therein lies madness and the loss of friends as we become too shrill. The wiser ego is chastened by the phenomenon, softened and becomes more accepting of the mystery of life, though nonetheless amazed and inspired by the apparently multi-dimensional nature of consciousness that’s implied.

At best it enables us to step back when the arch-materialist pontificates and sucks out all meaning from life, leaves it as a dried up husk, because we know it’s not like that. Indeed establishing a rapport with our dreams suggests that in addition to the waking life we are aware of, we are also each engaged in some form of psychical existence beyond the bounds of space and time, whether we know it or not.

And that’s interesting.

 

 

 

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Cyma gstp (2)

I was after the GSTP pocket-watch, actually, the one with the Ministry broad-arrow on the back. My dad had one, army surplus, from the ’40’s. He was a Colliery Deputy and preferred a pocket watch down the pit. I don’t know what happened to it, but I guess the pit ruined it in the end. GSTP is short for General Services Trade Pattern, various makers working to a specification laid down by the government, all good quality Swiss makes. Even broken ones fetch good money now, which is why I had to let it go but I was in the mood for a punt, and then I saw this one:

english lever.JPG

This one’s an English Lever, about a hundred years old. I have a few in my collection already and none of them are any good. They were a century out of date even when new. You’ve only to strip one to see the decline in English watch-making: lack of investment in design and technology, a staid conservatism and a misguided belief in our own superiority, even as the Swiss and the Americans were racing ahead of us. It’s a far cry from a GSTP, and I suppose it was the watch-case that drew me, three blurry impressions I took for hallmarks. The seller said the case was nickel, but you don’t hallmark nickel, so it was more likely a silver piece, I thought, and worth twenty five quid at least, even as scrap, so that’s what I bid, and I won. The seller clearly didn’t know much about watches. Ha! But then the watch turned up and the seller was right – the case is indeed nickel, and those marks are just there to fancy it up a bit. Hard luck, Michael. Serves you right.

You wind an English Lever from the back with a key, like a clock, and you set the time with a key from the front, or more often you can’t be bothered because it’s fiddly so you just twiddle the minute hand with your finger, which is why you see so many English Levers with the minute hand snapped off. The best you can say is they’re simple. And this one was both cheap and simple. It was also dead. Not much going for it then.

english lever dates.JPGBut then I opened the back and saw a list of dates, microscopically inscribed by hand. The earliest one is April 1918, the latest September 1923. These could be service dates, they could be dates when the watch was pawned, but either way it was suddenly starting to tingle with its own history, and my imagination was filling in the blanks. So I took another look: the ceramic dial was in good condition and that nickel case would polish up well. The mechanism was awash with what looked and felt like engine-oil, but otherwise looked okay. It had a somewhat sturdy jewelled balance and lever, and the hair-spring was still a pristine spiral, just aching with potential. Usually that spring’s a rat’s nest and the watch is gonner. Given its history, and the times it had known, could I not do something with it? (I know, I say that with all the old watches I rescue from Ebay)

So I stripped it, cleaned the bits, swirled them gently in a jam-jar of white spirit, left them to dry overnight, cleaned out the pivot holes with a toothpick, passed them over the demagnetiser, then rebuilt it. There’s something meditative about assembling a watch, at times a bit fiddly, but that’s all part of the pleasure. Then I oiled it with a needle dropper and some proper watch oil, lowered the balance into place, gave the key a few speculative winds, and,..

Away it went!

english lever balance.JPGBy now I’ve had it ticking in my pocket all day and it’s not lost a minute, so I’m thinking to myself I’ve misjudged it; it just needed a bit of care and it’s back working valiantly again just as it was about to be written off as scrap. And I’m thinking too it’s a very English thing, actually, that maybe English Levers like this one are indicative of the spirit of Albion: far from perfect but generally reliable; they’re like an MG sports car, a little basic, certainly obsolete, and outclassed by just about everybody else, but there are still plenty of them around, still attractive to a discerning audience. So I take it up again, thinking maybe, like my dad’s old Swiss-made GSTP, this is a watch I could actually use.

But the damned thing had stopped!

So then I’m back to cursing it for a worthless piece of junk, and asking myself: how did Englishness, with all its shortcomings, its clunky lack of sophistication, its bad taste and its frigid conservatism manage to come through two world wars and survive a century of upheaval that laid waste to the rest of Europe? The answer, I suppose, is we did it with stubbornness, and luck, and it’s not like we had much choice. But we also had not a little help from our friends, when we needed it, friends who, for one thing, made all those GSTP pocket watches for us. As for our unshakeable sense of superiority in spite of all evidence to the contrary, well, that’s just the English way too, and perhaps not a bad thing if it keep our faces turned to the wind when the odds are against us and others are losing their wits. And is that not the truest test of time anyway?

I give the watch a little shake and it stutters to life once more, settles to a steady beat. Maybe it just needs another look, but for now, clearly you wouldn’t want to bet your life on it. Still, it has a certain something, don’t you think? Or should I have held out for that GSTP?

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sunsetWintering in the same old cold and grey,
waiting for that chance-thing to arise
and say: here, this is how,
revealed in unambiguous guise,
you might now see and act
and leave behind at last
the lies you tell yourself
in order to maintain
this never ending waiting game!

But there is nothing new today.
No novelties arise, just the same
old cold and grey in which
you wear the usual disguise,
revealing this uncomfortable truth,
that for all your life you’ve hid,
dissolved in indecision.
And of all the things, of your own volition,
you might heartily have risked, and done,
you never risked, or did,
a single one.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bet it was call security on them!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She said she’d put a good word in.

You never know.

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The original Bladerunner movie is one of my all time favourites. It’s an unusual piece of work – futuristic, obviously – but also nostalgic, managing to combine forties noir with sci-fi, while remaining, in look and tone, still very much an eighties film with its shoulder pads and big hair. For men of a certain generation then, it also oozes nostalgia for a period when the girls we ached for all looked like Rachel Tyrell.

I recall the first cinematic release wasn’t brilliant. It had an unnecessary voice-over, also a twee ending that didn’t sit well with the rest of the film. In spite of these imperfections though, I found the rest of it visually stunning, and poignant, and it left you with a question – what does it mean to be human? If you could bio-engineer something that was more physically human than human – faster, stronger, more intelligent, what would that mean to be merely human in its presence, and how would you view your creations? The movie tells us you would despise them, and you would treat them as slaves.

A later cut – the so called Director’s cut – removed the voice-over and the twee ending. There was suddenly a brevity to the dialogue, as if the essence of the story had been mined in the editing room until they finally hit the mother-lode. And then there’s the Unicorn, and the silence regarding it, and the myth that has grown up around the movie ever since. It’s a sign of greatness it’s still talked about thirty five years after its release. I still watch it from time to time, still love every scene, know every line by heart.

I was dubious therefore about the release of the new movie, Bladerunner 2049. How could you take something so well polished, so well regarded, and hope to improve upon it? Was disappointment inevitable? At three hours running time, I was prepared for a long haul – something visually stunning, maybe a bit of a slow burner, but with luck something as thought-provoking as the original. I mean, with all that running time you could ask some pretty searching questions and make a good fist of answering them, even that one about the Unicorn!

So, how did Bladerunner 2049 compare?

Well, visually stunning is an understatement. It’s a spellbinding experience, this second outing, a visual and a sonic feast – a slow burner, yes – indeed several people got up and walked out after an hour. Fortunately one of them was the fidgety girl who’d sat right in front of me and played with her pony tail from the opening credits. But it didn’t feel like a three hour film. It took you in, showed you its wonders in myriad detail, and you were rapt with curiosity and awe.

The world of Bladerunner had moved on from the teeming, seething swamp-of-life feel of the original and was now overcast with a post-apocalyptic vibe. I found myself immersed in it, and yet,… I don’t know what I was waiting for. I suppose it was a Roy Baty moment – you know? The guy on the rooftop? the pouring rain? the dove? I wanted an answer to Roy’s existential dilemma. And the Unicorn.

“You people have no idea,…

“All those moments will be lost,…

“Like tears in rain,.. time to die,…”

And all that.

Perhaps I’d missed it. Perhaps it came when the screen was partially obscured by the fidgety girl’s pony tail, held vertical and flicked impatiently from side to side as if to deliberately test my patience – boy was I glad when she went! I presume the movie did nothing for her at all. Me? I came out of the cinema feeling still hungry for something. I had gone in itching like mad, but beyond beguiling and bewitching me, the film steadfastly refused to scratch the right spot. That said, it was a miracle, as so much of our capabilities are these days, it’s just that we don’t seem to know what to do with miracles any more.

There’s a scene, late on, in which Rachel from the original movie was recreated by CGI. It was for me, and I presume millions of other romantically inclined guys of a certain age, a truly heart-stopping – how the hell did they do that – sort of moment? She managed about ten seconds screen time before being pointlessly, casually and violently dispatched. It was a missed opportunity, I think, that one scene a reminder to me that while our achievements are at times astonishing, we have also lost our way, that our oversights and our growing insensitivities are becoming indefensible.

Speaking of violence, there were other moments, graphic and shocking, to punctuate the visual sumptuousness, as if to keep us awake. I don’t enjoy that sort of thing unless there’s a good reason for it – and in any case it’s a question to which I already know the answer – that we bleed and break when we’re hurt. Everybody knows this, no need for further demonstration.

What I wanted was the answer to Roy’s question. And yes, that flipping Unicorn! But I didn’t get it. The dialogue was occasionally stylish, but didn’t actually say anything in the end. In the original, the dove suggested the presence of a soul for all the otherwise synthetic nature of Roy’s being. The second movie did nothing to build upon this premise, indeed seemed only to take the soul right out of the human players as well. Perhaps that’s our future, and though it’s not a hopeful message, it’s worth heeding. In this sense alone then the film becomes more than visual candy. There is a meaning, but you’ve got to dig for it.

As for that damned unicorn: Arrghhh!

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great wave croppedI lost an evening writing because my laptop, which runs on Windows 10, decided to update itself. I’ve tried various ways of stopping it from doing this, but it’s smarter than me and it will have its updates when it wants them, whether I like it or not, even at the cost of periodically throttling my machine and rendering it useless. Then I have to spend another evening undoing the update.

I don’t suppose it matters – not in the great scheme of things, anyway. I mean it’s not like I’m up against any publisher’s deadlines or anything. I feel it more as an intrusion by an alien intelligence, adding another non-productive task to the list of other non-productive tasks of which my life largely consists these days.

No, in the great scheme of things it doesn’t matter if I write, or what I write, or how I write, because there’s this aphorism that says something to the effect that in spite of how we feel, virtually all the time, things can never be more perfect than they are right now, that attaining this glorious state of being is simply matter of removing the scales from our eyes, of seeing and feeling the world differently. From that perspective, blogging’s just a big box I dump my spleen into now and then and my novels, what I once thought of as my reason for being – struggles for plausibility, for meaning, authentically channelling the muse, desperately seeking the right ending and all that – I mean,… really, who cares? It’s just some stuff I made up.

As you can tell, I’m feeling very Zen at the moment. Either that or depressed. The difference between Zen and depression? Depression is to be oppressed by emptiness. Zen is to embrace it. It’s to do with the same existential conundrum, I think, just opposite ends of the scale.

The writing life is one of negotiating distraction. You hold the intention to write at the back of your mind while being diverted by all these other activities – making a meal, washing it up, You-tube, Instagram, mowing the grass, cleaning your shoes, scraping the squished remains of that chocolate bar from your car seat,…

Such tasks are not unavoidable. You could simply ignore them, flagellate yourself, force yourself to sit down and write, but sometimes if you’re too disciplined, you find the words won’t come anyway because the muse is slighted, or out to lunch or something. So you fiddle about, you meander your way around your distractions, all the while building pressure to get something out, to sit down when you find a bit of space and peace, usually late in the day when you’ve already promised yourself an early night, and you’re too tired to do anything about it anyway. And then you find Windows 10 is in the process of updating itself.

Damn!

So what is it with this technology anyway? Does a writer really need it to such an extent? I mean, computers seem to be assuming a sense of self importance way beyond their utility. I suppose I could go back to longhand, like when I was a schoolboy, pre-computer days, or for £20 I could go back to Bygone Times and pick up that old Silver Reed clatter bucket and eat trees with it again – do they still sell Tippex? Neither of these options appeal though, being far too retrograde. No, sadly, a writer needs a computer now, especially a writer like me who relies upon it as a portal to the online market – “market” being perhaps not the best choice of the word, implying as it does a place to sell goods when I don’t actually sell anything. What do you call a market where you give your stuff away? Answers on an e-postcard please. But really, it doesn’t matter, because remember: nothing could ever be more perfect than it is right now.

Except,… everything is weird. Have you noticed? America’s gone mad, and we Brits, finally wetting our pants with xenophobia, have sawn off the branch we’ve been sitting on for forty years, gone crashing down into the unknown. And if this is the best we can come up with after all our theorising and thinking, and our damned Windows 10 with its constant updates, it’s time we wiped the slate clean and started afresh with our ABC’s, and a better heart and a clearer head.

I don’t know,… if I actually I knew anything about Zen, it would be a good time to retreat into monkish seclusion, compose impenetrable Haiku, scratch the lines on pebbles with a rusty nail and toss them into the sea. We’ve had ten thousand years of the wisdom of sages and the world’s getting dumber by the day. How does that happen?

Not to be discouraged, I bought a copy of Windows XP for a fiver off Ebay. It’s as obsolete as you can get these days while remaining useful. Indeed, it’s still probably controlling all the world’s nuclear power stations – except for those still relying on DOS – so I should manage okay with it. I have it on an old laptop, permanently isolated from the Internet, so the bad guys can’t hack it, and it can’t update itself. It responds like greased lightning. Okay, I know I still need Windows 10 to actually publish stuff, but at least I have a machine I can rely on for the basics of just writing now.

But did I ever tell you I don’t like writing about writing? Well, here I am doing it again aren’t I? But have you noticed, if you search WordPress for “writers”, or “writing”, that’s what tends to pop up, all of us writers writing about writing, when what I really want to read is their actual stuff, what they think about – you know, things, what the world looks like from their part of, well, the world, and through their eyes and their idiosyncrasies, and all that, which is what I thought writers were supposed to do. Or maybe that’s it these days and, like Windows 10 we’ve been updated beyond the point to which we make sense any more, become instead a massive circular reference in the spreadsheet of life, destined soon to disappear up our own posteriors.

Okay, we’ve tripped the thousand word warning now, when five hundred is considered a long piece these days – just enough to sound quirky and cool, while saying nothing at all.

Brevity, Michael! No one likes a smart-arse,… especially a long winded one.

Graeme out.

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