Thursday, 19 May 2016


The world's news is switched off and the lesson commences: the current book opened at the place I left off the night before, or the first page of a new subject turned; each greeted like a respected teacher about to impart new knowledge: Morning Friend, did you miss me? or Hello, it's nice to make your acquaintance – I hope in time we'll become good friends.
Addresses made, I focus on their words, fix my being to the spot for the next forty-five minutes to an hour. My unchanging surroundings fade in and out as background noise fluctuates, oscillates and softens. Nothing, except the printed word, allowed to fully infiltrate, as I, their faithful pupil take it in.
Whatever I'm studying (at any time of day) I immerse myself in it: leap into a pool of words . The lengths I manage measured in pages, those read and absorbed. How far have I got? Have I been drawn in deeper or am I still at the shallow end? Sometimes I'm in so deep I can't speak because to critique would break the spell, whereas if I'm still paddling I reserve passing judgement too soon. Some books take longer than others to get into, some books have you in their grip straight away and don't let go till the happy or bitter ending; others are middling, enjoyed at the time but instantly forgettable.
The neutral feeling leaves me cold: the not caring one way or another what happens, what is happening, and yet determined to reach the final word on the final page. Never giving up, even though I might close the book and think what was that about? I want to feel sated and left feeling hungry; I want to have soared and to have died; I want to have learnt something about myself and possibly something of the author; I want to feel inspired and encouraged. I expect a lot from a book, but in exploring you also learn what you like. Above all, I want to have gained an insight into another world, a way of life that might be very different to mine or similar.
The spate of time does not exist in books. You can traverse in many directions, and feel no qualms at doing so. I actually find it slows or quickens up time as you know it. Your pace can be rushed whilst the outside world counts the minutes and seconds, or it can be like a luxurious wallow where time, any concept of time, is neglected; in emerging from either you have to adjust, reset your senses to the present instant.
Time is what I have plenty of, or at least that's what others assume, but none of it is wasted or abused. Interests that were hibernating have awoken, those that weren't allowed to develop before now have me in their thrall. The thirst for knowledge is unabated – I read, think, read, research, write, and still want more, more. More vintage classics, more translated into English literature, more recordings of history, more fantasy, more author memoirs or biographies, more renowned or not so widely read works, and yet more of the previously heard of but unread until he, she or it makes itself known to me.
It's a voyage of discovery, one with no land in sight, just a perpetual sea, which flows onwards into art, photography, black and white film, historical events and public figures. An education that travels down through the ages like a family tree or pans out as a camera does as you keep reading and ingesting material.
I have given myself the rare gift of being a scholar, a home-schooled scholar without the privileges that seemed common in the days of E. M. Forster and Henry James, in order to form a sole member literati who debates with opposing sides of herself and with non-existing individuals. It's a bit like a gentleman's club, except it contains no cigars and only one gentlewoman with a plethora of books.

Picture Credit: The Yellow Books, c.1887, Vincent Van Gogh

Thursday, 12 May 2016


I'm just going to come out and say it: I'm selfish and self-indulgent. Up to a point. But especially when it comes to MY writing. Notice the use of 'MY' in capitals, meaning it belongs to me and nobody else. I hoard the time it requires and wrap the words, those written or those waiting to be, around myself same as I do when I hug my person which I do all too often. Freud would possibly say I'm self-comforting.
Am I? instant reaction would be to deny that statement. Who admits to their weaknesses straight off? And it's not altogether strictly true anyway. (See!) The wrapped arms is usually because I don't know what else to do with them as they are rather orang-outang- like, and because I also hold this misguided notion that in doing so it generates warmth, although I recognise there are times when it probably is a comfort thing. A self-seeking reassurance. It's not as so-called body language experts might suggest a defensive mechanism which should always be read as such.
Unless, I have my own weird language that not even the best or those with a smattering of knowledge can decipher. No, seriously I don't think I'm that special; just your average 1980s model with a few quirks: some software faults which could easily be fixed but my system refuses to upgrade.
Where does the selfishness come in? Perhaps I mean stubborn...can you be one without the other? To put your own interests first you have to be steely, though I try to ensure my selfishness doesn't cause any others harm. The choices I've made have been precisely to avoid that – to prevent hurt or resentment – and yet some of those have led to accusations of doing exactly that, whereas I think I've acted with the utmost consideration: I've examined the circumstances and decided in that role or situation I'd be found wanting. Surely it's better to know oneself than not at all?
Anyhow, back to writing. Writers, I think, are a self-serving breed, (I hesitate to classify myself as a 'Writer' because that implies it's 'Work' and it's not, it's a creative exercise that allows the self to breathe. I write for myself and nobody else; I don't write for an audience which is yet another example of my selfish bent), because anything could be used as material, the sensitive, the confidential, the snatched conversation, the overheard snippets. It all feeds! The world is a feast literally for the eyes and ears. Truths might get twisted, but it's come from somewhere. Writing, including retelling and re-working another's famed work (even if I don't think it's called for) is always exploratory and experimental.
I believe there's always an element of you in the guise of different voices: a girl, a boy, a woman, a man, a bit-part player, an animal, a narrator; a character that enables you to express what you might be unable to in the everyday, or because a set of circumstances you've given a character did not personally arise. Writers concern themselves with the what if? question, which in many ways pertains to the 'I', because even if you consider yourself separate from your creation you still have to walk in their shoes, hear with their ears and see with their eyes.
Nobody, fictional or non-fictional, escapes close examination.

Picture Credit: Escher's father with magnifying glass, 1920, M. C. Escher

Thursday, 5 May 2016


My brain is undergoing a wash; it's very similar to an automatic car wash – vigorous – with the exception that its rhythm is unpredictable, as are the results.
The scrubbed areas have set so many thoughts swimming. All these bodies thrashing in the water. Their heads sheathed in rubber caps, their eyes hidden behind dark goggles. These are serious swimmers, not pleasure bathers floating or paddling. The stroke is not from the breast but overarm, and some clearly need more practice. With breath, the turning of their head and the slapping of the water; the latter should be avoided at all costs. The aim is not to splash but to develop a smooth technique much like a fish i.e. mostly undetectable.
(I never knew that this is what goes on in my brain. I wonder if others have the same...? Apologies for the interruption but the idea is fascinating, is it not? Perhaps others have a jungle with men in camouflage, or women with supermarket trolleys cruising aisles, picking an item up, studying it, then putting it back. And yes, I know I'm being gender specific and stereotyping, but one's imagination can only stretch so far and it's hard to visualise what someone else might find when it doesn't play to your own interests. Note: I have no interest in swimming. However, I sense your impatience, so let us end this discussion and return to the aquatic scene).
It's a respectable scene (there's no nudists here), and adult. No children are present and there's no childlike vibes i.e. no water slides or inflatables. This is serious stuff. A role the participants are to some degree experienced in as none (now I'm closer) have the appearance of complete novices. They cut through the soup of water or dive from the rocky ledges that encircle it with a skilfulness that only those engaged in continuous study can possess. (What I earlier termed as 'thrashing' I later learned is par for the course here, but then I've never been a spectator of water sports. Perhaps after assimilating this I'll develop a higher regard for it in the outside world...)
As I was saying before I discontinued my description of this inner setting, the swimmers come across as proficient: some fluid, others workmanlike, but as my terrain is in human nature my attention was immediately drawn to the fact that women outnumber men, (I don't know why I'm surprised when I identify as female), and considerably so. The disparity is instantly noticeable since the men seem little more than appendages, part of the pod yet somehow not, particularly as the women are so striking in their one-piece suits with not a tendril of hair showing beneath their bathing caps; their figures as shiny and sleek as multi-coloured seals, whereas the men it has to be said are more walrus-like. (Their washing technique is probably of more interest to you but I thought their physiques were worth a mention).
With their physical structures fleshed for your benefit rather than mine (I mean I'm here aren't I, an inside bystander to this spectacle whereas you're going about some other business I imagine whilst also reading this, as am I writing), I will now direct my gaze to their athleticism. And I have to say it's quite stupendous what they achieve in such a small space (they're packed in like sardines as they say) since there's very little margin for errors, and which means spray is inevitable. The few men being the chief offenders as they do tend to rather flop into the churning waters, and yet once their bodies are immersed their gracefulness is equal to that of the women's.
The purpose of swimming is I assume to agitate my cerebral fluids, and it does have that desired effect for there are so many thoughts popping in my brain, (which I think also accounts for the number of swimmers though this would also infer that thoughts have an X or Y chromosome), which from my inside position looks like a fish-feeding frenzy.
Remarkable, how the outer self is fed.

Picture Credit: Spray, Harold Williamson