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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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scent-of-a-womanFirst of all I apologise for my last post. If any of you were feeling down when you read it, it will have done little to cheer you up. I can only say it was the result of a workaday Monday morning at the year’s back end. I read the poem to my son and he said it was impressively bleak. He also said he didn’t like the poet at all – far too depressing on an empty stomach – and was appalled when he learned it was me.

So, I’m glad to say I don’t feel like that all the time, that just as there need be no firm reason for a decline in spirits, it can take equally little to restore a sense of buoyancy.

Take Sunday for example. There is a donut seller on Southport pier. A few years ago, I could not smell the donuts. Indeed, I could not smell anything. I could push my nose into a bag of the freshly fried little things and smell nothing. On Sunday though, I caught the scent of them even from the road as I drove along the promenade, and they cheered me. Ah,… donuts!

Perhaps it was the wind that carried the scent – it was a fresh day, cold – but the scent of those donuts rendered at once last Monday morning’s poem of measured misery a distant memory. I bought six. It’s one of life’s little paradoxes that even the most heavenly scent emanates from sources that in excess are bad for us, but on occasion we simply don’t care. I carried my bag of donuts to the pier’s end, their scent mingling with a brininess of the wind and an incoming tide. Heaven!

Less wholesome,  was the scent of blocked toilets in the cafe in town. I had called for coffee after my blow on the pier. The cafe was empty. I didn’t linger, yet years ago I would not have noticed the maleficent odour and would have sat down quite happily, in all ignorance. Instead, I followed my nose along Lord Street, enticed by the scent of restaurants, pizzerias, more coffee shops, then an impressive waft of perfume from through the doors of Beals.

There was more perfume from the girls in the crowds on the street.Ah, the scent of a woman!  Indeed on days like these I am in an ecstasy of perfume and can happily follow one trail after another. I realise this is not a good defence against accusations of stalking, but I am also fickle – the lightness of a daytime perfume, or the sultry heaviness of evening,.. girls, you can still warm the cockles, but it is your perfume that sets them on fire. I politely decline all other charms.

Scent opens up the unseen dimensions of the world. It’s impossible to say how extraordinary this is unless you have lost your scent, say for decades, then had it make a recovery. The health professionals I consulted offered little hope. But there’s good information out there – people who tried things and said: this worked for me. You can usually tell them apart from the charlatans by the fact they don’t want any money in exchange for this information. Alpha Lipoic Acid has worked for me. It’s just a food supplement, and it took a while, but it’s gradually opened up a door to a greater experience of the world once more.

I return to the car, return to it’s familiar scent. Yes, the familiar scent, the multilayered scent of place – impossible to label as one thing or another. I can’t define the scent of my car at all. It may be the carpets, or the vinyl top, or something leaking through from the battery in the boot. It smells, dare I say, manly, spicy, a little oily but with an acidic, almost citrus tang. And this is odd because for the first twelve years of its life this little car was owned by a woman. There were lipsticks and little perfume bottles lost down the backs of the seats, and Duran Duran CDs. Yet for all of this purely physical detritus, she seems not to have left behind much of an olfactory impression at all.

I massage my nose with fingertips while I think about this, bring back some feeling after the cold of the air, and as I do so I smell the shaving cream I used that morning, also the hint of an aftershave transferred from the fingers of my gloves – Kuros – an aftershave I wore so long ago I no longer recall the occasion. Yet there it lingers in the pockets of time, waiting to trigger the unexpected – memories of a girl I used to know, and who had a particular liking for that scent – so much so, she would borrow it from me. It would render her weak, she said.

Ah, when the scent is sharp it is a revelation.

When it’s missing from your life altogether, it’s not funny.

Sunday scent and the day feels warmer.
Pity’s Mondays round the corner.

We’ll end it there.

 

Graeme out.

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philosophersWhat do we really know for sure? When it comes to defining the nature of reality there’s actually very little we can be sure of at all. I can even view my surroundings right now, and my presence in them as a dream, indeed I might as well for it’s impossible to prove things are otherwise. Even when I suffer I might be dreaming my suffering, and in the presence of others, I might be dreaming their presence. And the facts of the world, the laws by which it is governed may simply be the facts as I have invented them in the dream of the world, from the rising and the setting of the sun, to the swirl of atoms. As for the laws of physics not yet discovered, perhaps I merely invent them as I go along.

We learn from dreaming how malleable facts can be. The preposterous becomes true, not merely because we allow ourselves to believe it is so, but because the entire dream paradigm endorses it as such and so it becomes, at least within the bounding conditions of the dream, a verifiable fact. Often I will dream I have dreamed a dream before and only on waking realise the deceit, that I have not dreamed it before, that it was only a fact of the dream and only upon attaining an external perspective, by waking, do I realise the dream’s false nature.

Similarly in order to realise our false perceptions of the waking world, we must gain an external perspective, for only then might we know it for the illusion it either is, or is not. You might think this is impossible, that we are too firmly embedded in life in order to see our life in the third person. However, by a process of contemplation we can loosen our grip and achieve a somewhat abstract focus upon the world, sufficient to realise the only thing we can be certain of is the fact of our consciousness.

We are conscious.

There,… it’s a start.

And having realised it, there is a stage further we can go, already implied by the realisation, and this involves the realisation we are conscious of our consciousness, that we are self aware, and self reflective, and then it is only one more step to the realisation we can observe our thoughts as we think them, that we can become aware of ourselves thinking, that we are not in fact our thoughts, that another presence altogether is responsible for that sense of self awareness.

And this is who we really are.

This is a pivotal realisation for a human being, one that marks a separation of the true self, this sense of self awareness, from the thinking or the false self.

That we are not our thoughts.

Thinking does not reveal the underlying truth of anything. On those occasions when the mind approaches an axiomatic truth, it is noted how sophistication falls away, that insight is achieved
more by observation without judgement, and in stillness. In such moments truth is revealed as plain as a key, and truth is what lies behind the door it spontaneously unlocks, and is felt in the feeling tones of the experience.

In this way we come to realise there can be more truth in the fall of light upon a pebble than in the liturgy of all religions, and in the whole of poetry; it depends how you view it and where your heart is at the time. At all other times it’s just a pebble. Purple prose will not convey its essence, for the longer a name and the more adjectives and metaphor we deploy in its description, the less resemblance it bears to any truth we might have felt. Nor does the truth bear with it any sense of urgency. It does not hurry us along to some imagined goal. It does not speak of time running out. It does not measure or judge, but possess instead a spaciousness and a love in which to rest, unquestioning in the peacefulness of true insight.

Anything else is just the noise of the world.

So, what do we know for sure? Not much. But then we don’t need to know much to be certain of the single most important thing in the world. Indeed for that we don’t need to know anything at all.

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the sea view cafe - smallSo, I’m working on this story called The Sea View Cafe and I have this character, a young Romanian woman, Anica, who’s travelled across Europe in search of her sister, whom she believes came to Britain looking for work.  Anica winds up in a small, recession hit seaside town on England’s North West coast and it’s here, she befriends Hermione, owner of the Sea View Cafe.

Hermione is afraid for Anica, wanting to protect her, but not sure of her legal status in England, with all this perpetual political and populist talk of hammering down on immigrants and migrant workers, but Anica proudly announces there is no problem, that, being Romanian, she is a citizen of the European Union. It is an expansive, transcendent title, one that lifts her above petty nationhood and puts her on an equal footing with Hermione.

At least that was the situation pre-Brexit; it allowed Anica an open door to become involved in the story of the Sea View Cafe and its denizens, to develop relationships, to make plans for her future, to fall in love, and very welcome she was too. But I chose Anica, not because she lacked Britishness. Indeed I’m not sure why I chose a Romanian girl, specifically, except perhaps by way of subliminal gratitude since I once had a couple of short fictions translated and published by an online Romanian based ‘zine. But that’s another story. No, what was needed more from Anica was her spirit, her energy, her youthful vibe, and her capacity for unconditional love.

But political events have overtaken the story and Anica’s presence in the soon to be dis-united Kingdom is suddenly in doubt. Now, I’m sure Anica’s presence can be legalised in successive drafts of my story by my writing in a tourist visa or something, but her longer term desire of living and working in the UK are now uncertain and very much tied up in the political machinations of the next few years. Indeed, as a writer I’m asking the question can she realistically be retained without making an issue out of it, or would it be easier to write her out of my story altogether? I really don’t want to do that because I’ve come to know her, and love her, and anyway why the hell should I? Am I speaking metaphorically here?

The Sea View Cafe is just a story and of little importance in the great scheme of things, but for many waking up in this post Brexit Britain, the questions are real and of vital importance. Would you prevent Anica from settling here? What if Anica had already been living here as a citizen of the EU for say a decade? What if she had a job, a house, a mortgage, and her savings, all in pounds, sat in a British bank? Would you insist she went home to Romania? I suspect if you knew her, as I do, you would think that unfair, because someone you know is not a foreigner. If you don’t know her, if you don’t know anyone of another nationality at all, you may feel differently. Then they become the shadowy other, comin’ over ‘ere, taking your jobs and ruinin’ your ‘elf system. And what of the Brits now retired to Spain, or enjoying their settled lives in France, Germany, Portugal? Must they now apply for visas to remain, and how easy will it be for them to obtain residency? Will they soon all be coming home?

So far the only official word we’ve had is that, for now, the status of settled EU citizens in the UK and abroad is unchanged. But this is a statement of the obvious. We know it’s unchanged “for now”, but we also know it is going to change, and we want to know when, and when it does what that status is going to be. Or at least I do, as I’m sure do many others, though for entirely different reasons.

But for now I must leave Anica in the company of her Sea View Cafe friends, clutching her EU passport, and contemplating a long bus-ride home. I was thinking to have the novel cracked by the end of this year but this is a serious spanner in the works and I’m doubtful the question will be resolved any time soon.

You might say of course Anica will be all right because she has the poetic license of a romantic author behind her, but those living in the real world, outside of my story do not. The fallout of those crosses we placed last Thursday has opened a Pandora’s box of consequences impossible to predict. And while the dominoes fall across Europe, our political leadership, now seen as brittle, dissolves once more into a febrile self destruction, the pot stirred by a vicious, crass and infantile press, interested not in the solutions to any of this, but only the emotive headlines to be gleaned from the chaos and the name-calling.

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eleanorThe thing with self publishing online is that, unlike the traditionally published stuff, the manuscript – if you can still call it that – is never actually finished; it’s always open to review. And from time to time one of my stories will draw me back for another look. This week it’s been The Road From Langholm Avenue, a story that predates the Internet, and came out of a much younger me.

The gist of the story is that our hero, Tom, has been cuckolded and chucked out by his wife, so he’s moved back in with his long time widower dad, who has just entered into an unusual marriage of convenience with a much younger, emotionally fragile woman called Eleanor.

Tom’s job is also on the skids, and he must choose between redundancy, or transferring to an office abroad. An easy choice one might think but Tom’s a small town boy, early middle aged and having an emotional crisis, so he sticks his head in the sand and sets out instead to find Rachel, a girl he had a crush on at school. Why? Well, he’s feeling that the fact he never asked her out has left a piece of her inside of him, and that the only way to free himself and clear his head is to find her and ask her out. Irrational? A little crazy even? Yes, but then people are like that.

The story explores Tom’s relationship with Rachel, both past and present, the story of an unrequited love that left him scarred. But the story of Rachel herself is also intriguing, revealed in glimpses as Tom’s search for her progresses, and he realises how little the real Rachel resembles the idealised image he’s held of her all these years. The obvious question though is, if he does find her, and he asks her out, what then? I mean, what if she says yes?

His friend and ally in all of this is Eleanor. Naturally supportive, nurturing and sisterly, her often surprising wisdom helps him navigate the emotional maze his life has now become. But their relationship is not without its dangers, given Eleanor’s traumatic past. Mentally scarred, horrifically abused in her youth, Eleanor’s story resembles Rachel’s in many respects, being one of courage, and a struggle for personal integrity and dignity in a world and in a period when dignity and integrity are no longer familiar concepts. Unlike Rachel though, who lives very much on the surface of her being and is rooted firmly in the world, Eleanor is a woman of secrets cast adrift on stormy seas.

I began this story long ago, when I was still in love with Rachel, looking for traces of her in my own past. I don’t know where Eleanor came from. She is symbolic in a way, consort to the Senex of Tom’s father for a while, and linked to my own quest for an unearthly wisdom. I also ended the story very much in love with her. Rachel was my beginning, a bit like Tom, but Eleanor was the one who opened up the road from Langholm Avenue, led me away from the past. It’s a journey that continues to this day.

In the process of reading, I’ve been able to sweep up yet more typos, fiddled about with commas and colons, but I’ve let the text lie. The story is stable. Mature. No sense in messing with it now. In the process of reviewing it, I began posting chapters on Wattpad to see if I could tease out a few more readers, but engagement has been disappointing. No surprises there – my characters are middle aged, and Wattpad is still predominantly a platform for Emo teens, with just the occasional bewildered adult roaming lost, as if in a desert. Elsewhere though, on Feedbooks and Smashwords, it’s done much better. It was even pirated on Amazon for a while!

I’ve had a lot of mails about this story, and that’s always welcome. There’s nothing quite beats hearing from a reader, if only because it’s evidence a real person is actually reading my stuff. I’ve been asked more than once when the sequel is coming out, but I’m sorry to say I have no immediate plans. It’s clear something about these characters has touched a nerve – in particular the ethereal Eleanor – but I would have to delve back in time some fifteen years to pick up the voice and the soul of it and I’ve come to realise the guy who wrote it is no longer there. He changed into the me that I am now.

I think when we write, one of the motivations is we want to leave something behind, a marker of our one time presence here in material reality, a kind of digital graffiti on the wall of the metaverse; a cheeky: Michael Was Here! Of course, a hundred years from now no one will be fingering dusty editions of Langholm Avenue in the back rooms of quaint second hand book shops. For one thing, there will be no second hand bookshops – but I trust searches of whatever passes for the Internet in the future will still serendipitously reveal the story to fresh eyes, that it will live on in some form.

A writer is not the best judge of his work. What he is happiest with, others might find excruciating, while what he thinks trivial and worthless, others might enjoy. Langholm Avenue is whatever others take away from it, but whatever that is I am not ashamed to admit that it still touches me, containing as it does by far the most semi-autobiographical material of all my novels.

Is it foolish to hope? It’s a long time since we spoke, but she has yet to return my key, and sometimes in life, as in love, the most we have to go on is a feeling.

Yes, Eleanor still has my key.

But the key to what?

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lines of lightAnd so the world turns,
But that it is still mad,
Bodes ill,
Speaks not of progress,
But the eternal turmoil,
Of the heart.

No slow assimilation
Of wisdom,
But the same mistakes.
Each generation born again,
To darkness and desire.

Hardness at every turn,
And hardening still,
We petrify,
Shatter at the lightest touch,
Brittleness turning back to dust,
Stained black with blood,
Spilled always in the name
Of greatest good.

Love sullied,
Reduced to fear and shame,
Mistook for lust.
Stones plucked from a barren shore,
Revealing each
Only the hollow underneath,
And which the foamy tide,
Turns back to level plane,
Denying knowledge of the shapes we seek,
Even by what they are not.

Only the formless longing
Of the heart,
Grants grace.
Spun upon the wind,
Its face unknown, unnamed,
We hear it in the song of birds,
And mirrored sweet in loneliness,
A shadow slipping by at dusk.

And so the world turns

_______

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loveliness

 

How sudden-keen am I aware,
And never as before,
Of a radiance arising,
To shine from every pore.

Your breath alone, I’d long to feel
Its tingle on my skin,
While visions of your tenderness,
Turn butterflies within.

You are the very best I’m sure,
A man could aspire to.
No, there’s never been another,
Quite as beautiful as you.

They all shall fade to shadows now,
Insignificant and plain.
How perfect would my life then be,
If you only knew my name.

How joyful and how rich at last,
My days would then become.
If you would only turn and look at me,
I’d feel I had begun.

I’d sense a movement in the air,
That all was not the same,
That the world was not so empty,
As it was before you came.

Was it not the world that gifted me,
This simple heart to crave?
Why then must I feel its pity,
Carved in verse upon my grave?

I want the world to know me,
As I think I have been made,
As a man whose love for loveliness,
Cannot bide long in the shade.

So look at me and speak my name,
And know that I am yours,
Or shall you pass me by again,
And let slam shut the door?

And slamming shut, loud let it ring,
Then how long shall it be,
Before I can accept at last,
You were not meant for me?

MG

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