Wednesday, December 24, 2014

O come all ye faithful (& unfaithful) readers of this blog ...

May your Christmas & New Year qwirkle!

Virtual prize to whoever is first to identify the particular phase of
the Christmas story. (I'm told it's only obvious to me).

Monday, December 22, 2014

(found sculpture/ Porte de Namur/ a Richard Tuttle?)

Half aimless wandering en famille, coffee, dribs of Christmas shopping, tram back & the opportunity seized for a
jog (a round of the woods, forehead set against the prevailing wind, walk back exhilarated to have snatched a space in the day, cheeks rosy in contrast to the December grey). Full of beans -
& tip more on toast for lunch. 57 varieties, men on a raft.


Billie Whitelaw has died - odd how yesterday I flipped through a Beckett biog. & started in on Texts for Nothing.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"I think that it is an uncovering process, and I try not to necessarily accept the first or easiest solution. Making a work is a digging down process. I was thinking about it last night — how one of the things in practice is to really be in the moment and accept things as they are. And I was wondering about that in terms of the dissatisfaction aspect, because often one of the problems in art is that people are too easily satisfied. There needs to be some kind of sifting process, where you take the time and patience to work through the easiest and most superficial solutions in order to discover something deeper.

I always think of the way that I work as similar to making a soup. You have vegetables and then you put them in the water and then the vegetables stay vegetables for a while. You just allow them to be separate — the carrots are carrots, the peas are peas and everything is just simmering. You’re working very slowly, and little by little the vegetables start boiling down, and then little by little the soup becomes absolutely essentialized. That’s what I really think the process is about. And that takes some time and patience."

(Meredith Monk)
What seems a lifetime ago I taught a handful of students from Shimer College as part of their Oxford Programme. I can remember their faces & enthusiasm (& excruciatingly bad prose) as well as the conversations - but the names ... sadly no. A Kelly, an Eric maybe? Strange to think they'll be in their mid-forties by now.

Strange, too, to read that Shimer has been rated as the "worst college in America" (at least according to an article in The Guardian). The usual caveats apply but it really does seem that the institution is struggling - numbers dwindling, the educational philosophy out of synch with the times.

I remember being struck by the earnestness & unabashed confidence with which they talked about ideas it would be fair to say they barely understood. I mentioned Beckett - "oh yeah, we did him last year in Nothingness". The Hundred Great Books (the very concept jarred with my Critical Theory riddled intellectual soul) were ploughed through at an alarming rate.

However, without Kelly & his mates I might never have realised Talking Heads were worth a listen. & how a farewell remark by their supervisor - "you know, they really dug your classes - you should teach" - lodged somewhere despite all the denials that were screaming in my head & perhaps began to shape a future of which I was utterly unaware.

Since then I have taught many generations of students & found almost without exception that the ones I warm to are the 'oddballs' - the very characters to which a college such as Shimer offers a home.

In a university climate which is increasingly determined by student-consumer 'value for money', career advancement, cynical self-promotion - or pure hedonism - maybe Shimer is exactly what's needed. Dispense with the secondary texts. Read for yourself. Have an opinion. Connect what's on the page with your life. Care about ideas.

Isn't that what going to college is really all about? ...

Monday, December 08, 2014

Strikes, road blocks, pickets, no go ... the various discourses of protest.

The car is frozen up - what do you call that when machinery imitates the human (technological pathetic fallacy?). We leave under cover of darkness - scabs, dissidents, or simply the uninvolved.

We drive unimpeded. If anything the traffic is more fluid than usual. Park. Walk through the gates with - if we're honest - a vague sense of disappointment. Little to triumph.

The return is similarly uneventful.

Yet - as often happens when the quotidian routine is uprooted - there's a pleasure in discovering different relations, conversations, cracks through which possibility emerges.

Irrespective of solidarity with the cause (or not) it has been a Deleuzean day: blocks & flows.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Jog Blog update.

This week: outings on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday & today (30 mins, 30 mins, 30 mins, 25 mins respectively).

I've now worked out a circuit in the woods which depending on mood I take clockwise or anticlockwise taking in the ducks & the pond (or not). The beech leaves are darkening into a deep red. New hellos - yellows, but I like the auto fill for once - from the chestnut trees.

Yesterday I left earlier & ran in the pre-sunrise dark along the roads. There was a soggy pink notebook on the ground near the tram stop which I placed on the bench. (Good deed for the day). Few cars but it's not the same running on pavements with only the street lights for company. Give me the birds & the trees any day.

Obviously only an idiot would decide to take up jogging in the approach to winter - ever later dawns, ever earlier dusks, rain ... drizzle ... ice ... . However, I'll persevere. Some secret hunger within my Puritan soul is being assuaged. The girls wince at my outfit - bobble hat, amorphous layers, clashing colours. Who cares? I defy Lycra!

Thus we shuffle on ...

Russell Hobbs recalls exploding irons that 'burst into flames' ...

... I read & just for a moment think now why would he do that? A surrealist Proustian epiphany? A missed episode of some Reality TV show?

& then the penny drops.

Good name for a character, though, in that novel I am perpetually not writing. Armitage Shanks another. & I remember Kimberley Clark from Bristol days & Jacob Delafon down in Burgundy (but Keith Waldrop nabbed him). Otis in the lifts ... & those two Belgian lads Villeroy & Boch ...

Dominoes for the numerically challenged or Scrabble for illiterates?

A Vispo crossword puzzle?

In fact, our first game of Qwirkle.

Good old St. Nicholas left it behind on Saturday morning (what a jolly nice chap he is).

I came third, E second, & - thank God - L won (that way we might get to play again).

Much hilarity was evinced by all concerning innuendo when saying "I want a Qwirkle" etc.. No doubt a word that will pass into the belgianwaffle family lexicon.

Good game, good game ...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

(doorway, 29.xi.14)

Jog blog update ...

This morning - having already stretched the limbs a bit walking down for the bread - I set off from the front door (7:30) jogging up to the main road, along to the lights, then into the woods & the full circuit down to the pond.

Just me & the ducks.

& the clock says 8:00.

A personal best - & no pauses. Rewind two weeks & I wouldn't have believed it was possible. As C. says, we hardly realise what our bodies are capable of. Maybe those two months of regular walking have made the transition easier. Or it's the magic shoes.

Admittedly, the first 5 minutes are an effort. The calf muscles complain, the front of the shins, too. However, by the time I'm up to the end of the main avenue of trees & the steep climb is over, the body is getting into rhythm. Entering the return path & I really feel I could go on for another half an hour. Hard to credit. Prudence takes over (she runs by my side, always - accompanied by Sheer Sloth) & I decide not to push my luck. If I can maintain 30 minutes as the limit for the next few weeks then that's bloody amazing as far as I'm concerned. Three outings per week (this week it's been Monday, Thursday & today) that'll do.

Another big thanks to those people who've said an encouraging word.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jog Blog Update ...

This morning I go for an hour's walk through the woods. It's tempting to break into a trot, push it, but a little Welsh voice is reminding me not to do too much, too quickly.

Yesterday, I managed a 20 minute jog with ten minutes of walking either side. So, looking back over the week, that means three outings (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) with the proper foot equipment.

For anyone reading who is wondering whether jogging is for them, I'll share these thoughts.

First, it is true that you can shift a gear above walking pace if you remember to keep your jog rhythm within your heart rate. Try & run & you'll be coughing your guts up within 2 minutes. (Exactly what I used to do). That said, I have the impression that I'm going a little quicker on the home strait - as if the body's adjusting.

Second, forget trying to compete with the Lycra crowd - they've been doing this for years. Just follow your own rhythm. I find I enter into a strange space of inner & outer awareness - my feet, my arms, sweat, breathing & leaves on the ground, the sky, bird calls ... Dog walkers don't seem to notice you. Other runners give you a friendly nod or are off in their own world. Maybe the trees are smiling.

Third, intersperse with walking &/or pauses if that seems right. I noticed that yesterday I was able to go further than either Tuesday or Thursday.

Fourth, the 'runner's high' is a fact & bloody amazing. Maybe it's even more acute for a beginner as your body is wondering what the hell is going on. Even as I walk back I can sense the difference. After a shower you're almost floating. The brain seems sharper, colours & smells more intense, your palms 'buzz'. You feel (in my case) decades younger. Although the legs are obviously getting a work out, the stomach feels tighter & your back 'open' (if that makes sense). So far I cannot complain of any aches or pains - perhaps as I had been walking a lot before & I'm also getting into it gradually. That's why the non-running days are crucial.

I suppose what this all amounts to is: it's worth a go.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ten days after I was in Fnac buying that travesty of a new album by Pink Floyd, there I am again this morning & this time buying the 'new' collection of old Wyatt recordings released under the title Different Every Time. It's very clearly timed to coincide with the biography by Marcus O'Dair - & there's nothing wrong with that.

Imagine how I smile as I read the booklet containing a quotation from an email sent by RW to O'D:

"I can be kind and easy going in the social world ... but I am utterly assertive and ruthless when it comes to what music is released in my name ..."

Well, quite. & there's more music of interest in 5 minutes of this collection than the combined efforts of Floyd & their array of producers & session men managed in the entire sorry length of Endless River.

Highlights so far - Shipbuilding (of course), God Song, the collaboration with Anja Garbarek (a real find).

Is this a 'last album'? I hope not. Anyone who loves good music would want to hear more from this man - quietly establishing a William Blake-like tradition of modest home production of Works for Eternity (just look at that photo!).

Cheers the ears up no end.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jog Blog update ...

... 20 mins with a 10 min walk either side up to the woods & back. Beautiful autumn afternoon sun, smells of leaf rot & dog faeces grace the nostrils ...

Lest I be misunderstood, I record this not to show off. More to prove to myself I can break a stupid habit of a lifetime & just maybe there's someone out there who'll feel 'well - if that lazy sod can do it, so can I'.

Thanks to the Encouragers out there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's funny how you find what you need almost without looking ...

Jogger blogger update ...

Purchase a pair of proper running shoes (the least garish, which isn't saying much) after having been warned by several hardcore runner colleagues that you can really do yourself a mischief in the wrong footwear. Nothing seemed cheap but assuming I get a hundred runs out of these shoes it will work out cheaper than the pool membership.

I walk out of the house at 3:45 & go up to the woods. There I decide to try C's approach: a constant faster-than-walking pace but not so fast as to get you out of breath. I had anticipated that I would give in after three minutes. In fact, it felt ... right. No doubt to a bystander it must have looked pretty pathetic - a short of geriatric trot - but I could keep it going.

I followed my usual walking route up the path & got into a rhythm. After 15 minutes I stopped. Had a 5 minute breather & then retraced my steps. I reckon I must have managed 20 minutes in all. At the traffic lights I slipped back into walking & so home (4:25). Not bad.

Frankly, I am amazed. Never in my life have I been able to do this. I suppose I've always tried to go too fast & the body has said no. & maybe wearing proper shoes helps - cushioning the impact, adding a bit of support & spring to the step.

The advice seems to be give it a rest now - I'll go out again Saturday.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Just to keep things in proportion, let me pass on anecdote from David Hockney in today's Observer. He's smoking in a park watching rabbits when two women jog past & wag their fingers at him reprovingly. As Hockney observes, they reckon they're the healthy ones - but then they hadn't seen the rabbits ...

How right he is.

& I also agree with him on "dreary".
In case you are following the new jogging enthusiasm ... I went out at 8 am (brightish morning, dry, but that sense that things could change), walked up to the forest & began the walk/run routine.

I managed 9 spells of shuffle-to-trot each lasting around one to two minutes making - maybe - 15 minutes of jogging? I got back to the house at 9 am so an hour overall.

I've no idea whether this is too much or too little for a Day Two. My shins seem to pull a bit & walking afterwards the knee caps feel a big creaky. To be expected no doubt. On the plus side is a real sense of energy, colour in the cheeks, & a considerable dollop of self-righteousness.

I'll keep at it - Wednesday afternoon is a possibility.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I have never been a jogger - 100 m was my distance up until the age of 16 & anything above that felt like a marathon. I'm also suspicious of the whole self righteous puffing & blowing & spitting in Lycra elbowing past as you try to enjoy a quiet stroll in the woods ...

Therefore it feels odd to be admitting that out early this morning - still pretty dark, the rain pattering down - I did break into what was something approaching a run.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague who I know is the hardened running type. One thing led to another & she began to suggest I try a step by step approach to jogging - acknowledging that walking has its merits but doesn't quite get the heart rate up.

The principle is that you walk as usual but then set yourself a short distance to run. It's not Sebastian Coe stuff, more a shuffle, but certainly not a walking stride. Start to feel tired ... drop back into a walk. Then repeat. Difficult as it is to admit ... it works. I ended up doing 8 short jogs being sensible & deliberately not overdoing it.

Little by little you increase the periods of running until the body can sustain continuous effort. According to C. stamina builds & you can surprise yourself.

I'm making no promises ... but I'll try it again tomorrow ...

Friday, November 14, 2014

... rather enjoying a sporadic exchange about the Floyd album via the comments in An odd place to be but it's somewhere to talk & get rid of some bile.

I'm wondering whether we could get up sufficient critical mass to lobby either Gilmour & Mason or whoever holds the rights (EMI?) for a genuine Rick Wright tribute album - all those songs that never made it onto the albums, his own abandoned solo projects, bits & pieces sat at the piano ... That they might be rough & far from the usual high-gloss Floyd product would only make the release all the more poignant.

Anyone out there agree?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

... & here's another thought on the Endless River ... consider Robert Wyatt, an exact contemporary of Gilmour & Mason. He's been quietly producing a series of 'end of career' albums that put anything Floyd have managed post-Waters to shame. He gets a fraction of the media attention, and, I'd assume, nothing like the financial returns. However, his compositions embody a mind & ears attuned to what is going on around him as well as the legacy (his own & other people's) that lies behind.

What can he think about his mates' most recent effort?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's gratifying to see Endless River get steadily mounting one star ratings on Amazon UK. I wonder whether it would get zeros were that possible. It's not just me, then, that finds the album such a travesty.

Driving in to work it occurred to me that developing the shape argument a little further, track 18 represents what Gilmour acknowledges will be the 'last words' of this the 'last word' in the band's history. What a horrible thought!

Cast your mind back to Syd Barrett's haunting farewell (Jug Band Blues) & then the closing track on The Final Cut which - given Waters' subsequent departure - acquires added poignancy. Now we have 'Louder Than Words' as ultimate closure, the very title of which invites ridicule for its brazen cliché and the temptation to take it literarily were the music itself not so clunkingly dull. Only sheer indulgence & infatuation could explain Gilmour allowing his wife's effort to go beyond the just a nice idea but really we'd rather not stage. Surely Rick Wright had odd jottings in a drawer that never made it into a fully-fledged song? Wouldn't that have been a more fitting way to round things off?

As it is we're left with that nasty taste in the mouth & a feeling that even the best moments we've enjoyed listening to Pink Floyd have somehow been diminished.

Quite an achievement, 'Dave' & 'Nick' as the last trustees of the Pink Floyd legacy. It would have been better to have zig-zagged away & saved us the boredom & pain. Not even an outside chance of a pig on the wing ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A more succinct way of stating the demise of Pink Floyd since (choose your own date &/or album):

when you become your own - second rate - tribute band


... by the way, that soup is bloody good. One to warm the cockles of your heart & put hairs on your chest.

Not that you may wish to have hairs on your chest, of course. Still ...


Turning over my reactions to the new Floyd album, trying to account for the feeling of dismay at such a feeble effort. Perhaps they are the perfect embodiment of what Mark Fisher et all would describe as post-Fordist capitalist economy. The non-communication trope acting as an admission that such music has severed any meaningful ties to its society & listeners. That it will be bought via iTunes & loaded into iPhones etc by no means a contradiction in terms - rather the proof of the commodification and explicitly 'product' nature of album.

Which wasn't the case thinking back to Piper at the Gates & early Floyd's direct involvement in the 60s counter culture. This was a music that was, in its well-behaved trippy way, challenging, opening up new avenues. Move on to Dark Side (when, by all accounts, most of the basic material for both Wish You Were Here and Animals was being test-run at concerts) and there is still a purpose - the possibilities offered by new studio technology, the stadium experience, even the notorious 'invisibility' of the group created (paradoxically) a bond with its fan base. Floyd had mystery. The album covers contained clues. Something was being communicated precisely by being concealed (hence the raising of Syd to quasi-martyr status).

Ironically, The Wall is both an acknowledgment of the collapse of relation between the group and its audience (Waters' infamous spitting at a fan) as its solidification. No matter how much the voices chant "bring down the wall" the tumbling blocks on stage do not embody what is occurring in social space. From now on Floyd music becomes a fought-over territory of capital investment - which the lawyers on both sides knew.

Post-Waters Gilmour & Mason find themselves in an invidious position. Owners of a brand which has fabulous commercial potential but in a social and political (not to say personal) situation that has effectively sealed off the music from anything other than ever more elaborate pastiche (verging on parody). Sadder still, few cared - certainly not the record company who saw a cash cow; nor, it seems, many 'fans' who simply wanted the 'flavour'. As a result we witness the bringing in of session musicians & producers charged with capturing that 'inimitable' (heavy irony) Pink Floyd sound and the updated Mrs Gilmour as lyricist.

The subsequent albums are therefore exercises in simulation driven by crude financial imperatives (ex-wives, yachts, vintage cars, etc) masquerading as keeping the fans happy. Revealing was the willingness to finally compile a 'best of' - what better way of saying the integrity of the album was now irrelevant in the face of discrete chunks of music product. Never forget, Waters was training to be an architect & the sense of an album as a built construction runs deep within (even his worst) work. However, such sonic architectural constructions simply don't mesh with the prevailing economics dictating the buying & consumption of music.

& so we arrive at Endless Drivel ... sorry, cheap joke ... River. Initial problem: how do we dress up & justify a load of old (second rate) product. Brainwave! Call it a tribute to Rick Wright. Syd had been milked to death & Floyd have from his departure been trading in mourning. Perfect. Not only is there an absence of musical ability & compositional intelligence to really make something interesting out of it (no John Zorn, no Frank Zappa, no Teo Macero) but absolutely no commercial sense: a set of odds & sods plays perfectly into the iTune generation's habits - wait for the number of ringtones you hear off this album. Television documentary soundtrack technicians will be rubbing their hands with glee. It's perfect, too, as Amazon raters have pointed out for Pilates classes. Shove it on the flash disk & play it on the car stereo. Or light a candle in the bedroom & drift off to sleep. However ... & this is the point ... do anything but actually listen to it. Rather just have it 'around' as most music is being consumed these days.

Which, again, goes so much against the grain for what I & - I think - many Floyd fans loved in their music. That sense of architecture & of a narrative which would hold you across a 20 minute side. Think of Echoes. Think of the shape of the two sides of Dark Side. Think of the way Shine On You Crazy Diamond bridges side one and two. Think of the development of Dogs & Sheep on Animals & the way Waters works Pigs on the Wing like parentheses. Like or dislike the music, you have to admit that there is a considered structure & a sense of the material base of the music: a duration of concentration. A best of anthology cuts right against this & only serves to cheapen what - in context - are valid compositional methods (the slow openings, the sudden erupting chords of Gilmour's guitar, the solos, the hiatus moments which then open out ... even the musique concrete elements & voices). Consider how well the snippets of dialogue work in Dark Side in counterpoint to the music; how the transistor radio of Wish You Were Here creates an unnerving effect of space - there are many more instances. Tempting as it is to attribute this solely to Waters I am not so sure. It is more the result of a compositional architecture & a sense of shaping an object not - as now - a product. Try to simply duplicate these motifs (for want of a better word) irrespective of compositional logic & the whole thing collapses into pastiche (worse, self parody).

Do they care? Probably not (that awfully smug postcard photo speaks volumes). However, looking at many of the reactions on Amazon there's a strong impression of people - the die-hard fans - feeling decidedly let down, if not frankly betrayed. That's the irony: listeners who seem to care far more about the music than their stars. A very sad & sorry state of affairs.

Anyone else see a parallel with our current politics?

A brilliant sunny November Tuesday morning. And a day off. Perfect.

What better to do - after an hour's stomping through the woods - than to make a soup. So here goes:


Chop onions - red & white
Dice chorizo

Start the pot sizzling with oil & add the above plus two chicken legs.


Prepare celery, red & yellow peppers, carrots, courgette, a potato.
Add to pot.


Drain haricot beans & lentils. Add.


Add some tomato paste/purée. Then boiling water (judge quantity).


Add garlic, chopped chilli pepper, smoked paprika, thyme & a dash of Worcester sauce.

Salt & pepper to taste.


Leave to simmer away for one hour. Sit & read a book while enjoying the aromas (smoked paprika really gives it a kick).

Mine looks like this ...


When it's finished I'll lift out a couple of ladles worth & blitz the rest. (Obviously the chicken legs will need to be stripped of meat). Then I'll return what I took out to give it texture.

Give it a go. The colours - reds, oranges, the brown undertones ... autumn in a pot.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Oh dear ... spoke too soon. The initial flush of enthusiasm up to track 7 fast disappeared as I carried on into track 8 through to 18. With each succeeding number the fragmentary ideas dry up & in come the predictable chord progressions, rock clichés & arsenal of Floyd trademark effects (thunderstorm ...  platitudinous sound bite c/o Stephen Hawking* ... church bells ... ). Why? Why? Why?

One answer: because they think it sells (give 'em what they want!)

Another answer: because they simply can't think what to do with the material & fall back into old habits.

I found myself wondering what someone like John Zorn could have done with such material. Put it another way, how a King Crimson or a Yes would have the musical resources to shift direction & gear. As for Zappa ... so much of his work was an example in how to transform archive recordings into new configurations.

It would be lovely to think rather fondly of this CD  like a newly-discovered sketchbook in the drawer of a deceased artist. Those recognisable marks & sketches that suggest some now never-to-be executed master work. Sadly not. It's more like a form of collective Alzheimer's: fumbling gestures towards what were once familiar habits. And in the last pages conclusive proof that he'd lost his touch & was now painting by numbers.

If Yoko was the death knell of the Beatles then Polly Samson is surely the Oh-no of the Floyd. The lyrics she supplies to 'Louder Than Words' are truly execrable. In fact, the entire song is ghastly (the death throes of an elephant) & must confirm to Roger Waters why he is better off out of the picture. Say all you want about the Final Cut etc. but he never delivered anything as lame as this.

Maybe they should have just released track 2 and left it at that. For me it's like a great mouthful of Sauternes with foie gras. Delicious & delightfully self-indulgent - & then the palate cloys. Another serving & - no, I've had enough. & it turns out that it's now flat Cava & paté maison (past its sell by date, to boot).

What. a. pity. Really.


* that reliable Floyd trope of lack of communication that emerges round about Dark Side of the Moon opens & closes Endless River. Never very convincing in their case - other than as evidence of what happens when you are one of the mega-rich & can afford horrendously expensive law suits - it has a kind of sixth form glibness in its attempt at profundity.

The lengths one goes to ... At lunchtime I nipped out to the local Mediamarkt only to find that the new Floyd album had sold out, next delivery Wednesday or Thursday.

This afternoon the traffic was unusually quiet (tomorrow's holiday) & so it seemed worth chancing it & continuing into town. & yes, there in Fnac were stacks of CDs.

I've only listened up to track 7 but ... yes, & I know this will able a bit of a shock, it is better than I'd feared. Track 2 is gorgeous - delivering the kind of pleasure you get in a dream when you seem to have happened into a jam session with your favourite band noodling in & around their well-known album. The familiar unfamiliar & that frisson of a look behind the scenes.

As for the 'package': the cover art is unimaginative compared to the days of Hipgnosis, the postcards - especially the one of the smug looking Gilmour & Mason - regrettable, the booklet obviously playing on ideas of sailing & navigation (although how the recording studio houseboat would make it up the Thames let alone the Greek Islands ... but why carp?). However, wouldn't it have been refreshing to go in the opposite direction & deliberately underplay it - restrained white cover, hints, suggestions, sketches ... as when the Floyd were all but invisible.

Because that's what your ears glimpse ... hints of what Floyd might have been had Rick Wright spent less time on his yachts & Roger Waters had siphoned off his personal traumas into side solo projects. For these fragments actually argue that the ever so famous Pink Floyd sound could have taken off in a very different direction - a music that embraced space and texture & didn't need the (commercial) straitjackets of lyric content & stadium rock flourishes. No doubt they'd have made a lot less money but ... we might have had some much more exciting & unpredictable music.

I'll let you know how the remaining tracks go.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

That time of the year when the soul turns to Dickens. At least, mine does.

& so I go upstairs & retrieve my spine-creased copy of A Tale of Two Cities. Embarrassing as it is to admit I have never got beyond page 204 (or so my file card with notes testifies) despite multiple beginnings again. Why? That it feels somehow untypical? Or the inevitable interruptions due to teaching commitments? Maybe. Or some new enthusiasm erupts & leads me elsewhere? More than likely.

This time I am determined to see it through.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

It won't be long before the 'new'* Pink Floyd album emerges & I wonder whether I am the only one to feel distinctly ambivalent about the whole idea. Eager, yes, to discover some genuinely interesting insights into the early sound which - I've always sensed - owed more than was often admitted to the keyboard player Rick Wright. Anxiety, however, in finding suspicions confirmed: that this will be an overproduced series of out takes which should have rightly remained on the editing room floor or in the can; that the current Mrs Gilmour has been allowed to contribute another set of lyrics only adds to the concern (how Roger Waters must wince at the very idea); & that the handful of albums which have some merit** will be yet further tainted by the subsequent cashings-in.

I suppose we will just have to wait & see ...


* by chance (or maybe not) last night one of the Freeview channels was broadcasting a documentary on Atom Heart Mother. I'd seen it before but it really underlined the paucity of Floyd's material & skill once Barrett disappeared. Ron Geesin is the key figure behind the scenes shaping what were a series of incoherent noodlings into something substantial. Pink Floyd as the ultimate embodiment of the old chef's adage of never throw away scraps? Of course it helps to have EMI behind you, willing to throw vast amounts of money in advertising & lavish repackaging ...

** as far as I am concerned this means: Piper at the Gates, Meddle (for Echoes), Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals (which often gets short shrift).

The Wall is the beginning of the decline as Waters wrenches the band away from any kind of musical interest & into a form of self-aggrandising psychotherapy. The Final Cut confirms this dead end although there is at least a sense of personal investment. Anything since is truly awful & transparently motivated by alimonies for ex-wives, vintage car habits, & rock star misguided self belief that because B-A-N-D has become B-R-A-N-D this is reason enough to go into a studio. (Notice the way David Gilmour talks - a weird kind of Cambridge Senior Common Room gentlemanly understatement peppered with quasi-divine afflatus rhetoric masking pure profit-based calculation. I am sure he's a jolly nice chap - a typically Dave phrase - but Bono lies at the far end of this spectrum).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I was right then, after all. The bloke in the right first floor flat has moved out. I had my suspicions that he was on his way two months ago when assortments of people were looking out from the balcony & inspecting the outside store cupboard. Prospective tenants I thought to myself (those polite expressions of interest & private calculation).

I don't think we ever exchanged more than a few sentences in the three - maybe four? - years he's been there. Once, to warn him about some magpies that were flapping around his open terrace door; a couple of times, to ask him to turn down his music. Which is, I suppose, not unusual for this kind of short term tenancy. People come, people go. There's little intention of putting down roots & therefore why get to know anyone?

It's not as though I - we - will miss him. Rather, simply notice what isn't there any longer. The obsessive vacuuming (did he have a dust allergy?); the ginger cat that mewled through the balcony railings as if craving the gardens below; his plasma TV way out of proportion with the living room which made his flat an aquarium after dark; those summer afternoons & a girlfriend yodelling to climax; the can of lager & cigarette tanning sessions; the enormously dull & protracted conversations on the phone (seemingly oblivious that everyone could hear); the mini barbecue gift that never got used; the lovingly tended window boxes of flowers that were then abruptly left to wilt; the occasional friends who'd stand & smoke & joke & then disappear indoors ... & it remains a mystery (to me) what he did for a living. For long periods, it seemed, absolutely nothing as against irregular times of day there or not there. A private income? Nurse in a local hospital? Nightwatchman? Gigolo? Chef? Student? A secret packed up with the rest of his belongings.

So for now the flat stands empty. The door to the balcony firmly closed. & the ginger cat mewling at pastures new.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This sentence from Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism (page 69) jumps out:

"What agencies are capable of regulating and controlling impersonal structures?"

Not especially remarkable, I grant you, but the repercussions go far indeed.

Pause & look around you.

Not barking but laughing Pumpkin.

& what else to do with his brains than make a soup ...

... onion & pumpkin flesh & some pieces of sweet potato lightly fried with thyme & garlic. Added lentils & chicken stock. A dash of chilli to give it a bit of heat. It's bubbling away now.

Curious ... orange ... (in the Fall)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sat in LPQ having a modest breakfast of half a baguette & pot of tea while catching up on the LRB. The three tributes to Karl Miller are as inspiring as they are moving.


Car back from its recall by Renault. It seems there was indeed a brake issue. (& ... fingers crossed ... I think they've solved the creak).


The routine clearing & sorting of books that have accumulated on the various shelves, surfaces & tables since the last holiday. How I - we - suffer from my piles. A happy find is Thomas A. Clark's Distance & Proximity which includes the wonderful In Praise of Walking. I'd been searching for that.


Add to the list:

Earl Grey tea in the tin; oranges; cardboard; & what might be a bonfire ...


5:40 pm & already the light fading.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

iii) chicken casserole wafting up the stairs (5:57pm)

(& yet not the onion I was slicing, nor the garlic I pushed through the press)

add to the list:

i) lemon
ii) toothpaste

can't yet get in focus that most intimate & reassuring of smells: the odour at the tip of my fingernails

(focus the nose?)

... I bought a painting* a few weeks ago & collected it on Friday. It hangs now to the right of our bed. On the other side is the collage I made a long time ago with the lines excerpted from the poem of O'Hara's ("well, I have my beautiful de Kooning/ to aspire to. I think it has an orange/ bed in it, more than the ear can hold.") The line breaks are true to the collage not the poem for any pedants out there.

I cannot afford a de Kooning & a Chardin is also beyond my means. However, walking into the gallery at the beginning of October this small square painting jumped out & I knew I had to have it. Why? For all the obvious & unobvious reasons why one is seduced by a work of art. Technically speaking this is not a painting of an orange but a St Nicolas mandarine (which is something to do with it). Turning 50 earlier in the year is another. As is the sense of autumn's approach & that glowing orange which will keep anyone warm through the dark months of winter.

A funny coincidence then, yesterday, to find slipped in the far left end of a low shelf at the Nijinksky secondhand bookshop this volume by Derek Jarman ...

... a series of short meditations on colour. It is exactly the kind of book I relish - part compendium, part journal, part essay. There's some deeply beautiful writing here & Jarman's evident sensibility as an artist is matched by considerable erudition. The circumstances in which it was written & compiled add to the sense of ephemeral pleasures (Jarman's health - including his eyesight - declining with each page "I wrote this book in an absence of time").

Maggie Nelson's Bluets is an obvious sister volume - did she, I wonder, know of Chroma? But this is not meant to diminish her work - only extend the enjoyment of such explorations - in the Bachelardian sense, Poetics of Colour.

& so I suppose another reason why we buy paintings - a knowingly fond belief that it might be possible to trap & enjoy colour while Time & chemistry & optics snigger at our presumption.



* by the local Belgian painter Mathieu Weemaels

So utterly fed up with a constantly streaming nose & hacking cough I bow to the inevitable & go to see the doctor.

She gives me a right telling off it being (I am ashamed to acknowledge) 3 years since we last met. Did I realise that I am now classified as an 'antique'? The manner was jolly but her point struck home.

Rather than crack open the leeches she prefers the more modern Dracula method & so there'll be the inevitable blood test which I know already will reveal higher than acceptable cholesterol levels & no doubt some other lurking horrors. However, as I explained to her, I am loathe to become a walking pill box.

What has, though, given me a jolt was the discovery that'd I'd lost my sense of smell. Monday afternoon I bought a nose spray from the chemist & gave my sinuses a quick blast up both barrels & enjoyed a few hours of unimpeded breathing. Since then things have, if anything, been worse & ... a sudden drop out of odours. Autumn has wilted to mere sound & vision. In desperation I have gone around the house sticking my nose into various reliable smell sources - tube of savlon (nothing), jar of coffee & Earl Grey tea tin (faint aroma), bar of soap (vaguely), bottle of bleach (strangely no). At the bread shop just a feeble whiff of newly baked bread .... I have never in my life so missed smells or realised how much they matter & make my world. Fingers crossed & this is but a temporary state of affairs. If not ... what a horrible prospect.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Renault Clio IV (TCe Expression) update ...

... I have just been sent a recorded delivery letter from Renault boasting of their serious concern about their cars and customer satisfaction. I am requested to make an appointment with my garage to carry out a check on the brakes (presumably some problem has been reported).

Despite the many complaints made on the various forums, there is no mention of the infamous wind noise issue.

While I am at it, over the past few weeks, the irritating 'click' sound (originating somewhere near to the back window) has mutated into a creaky sound at various places along the right hand side (passenger side as this is left-hand drive). I have a definite sense that the right rear of the car was not very well finished.

Anyway, I will make the appointment & pass on these gripes expecting to be told - as before - that this is 'normal' (but abnormal) for the model.

This aside, it's a good car & I have to admit that the quietness of the engine probably throws cabin noise into sharper relief. Pity, though, that Renault build & service is not up to its design concept.

(This post is directed particularly at my Portuguese reader).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apologies for the hiatus but things have been unusually busy - & enjoyable. The days positively fly by.

Less jolly has been a seemingly perpetual cold since the beginning of September (thick chesty cough, catarrh) & yet nothing sufficient to force a day in bed. Not even the feeling of being 'under the weather' simply 'I wish this would go away'.

The pool has now been closed for over a month but I've been walking every day - 30 mins the minimum up to 2 hours or more. Sunday morning in the woods at 8am I stood transfixed by the sunlight coming up from behind the trees - the light falling upon the wooden gate, fence struts & the under side of leaves. A moment that then suffused the rest of the day. Reason, then, to put on the boots & head out.

Tune in next time for updates on the reading & ear food.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So I see a Mr Reckless has defected to UKIP on the eve of the Tory party conference.

Mr Reckless ... the stuff of cheap fiction. Which, of course, it is.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

On the rebound from John Latta's Ashbery post - consolation for my own daily errancy. A couple of weeks ago a student asked: "How many books are you reading?" gesturing to the piles on the various desks behind me plus the several volumes lying next to my cup & register.

I began to explain & realised the further I went the worse it sounded (the old adage of "don't begin a new book until you've finished the one you're currently reading" echoing down the decades). In desperation I tried out the analogy of planes stacked before landing - which is more or less accurate.

That's pretty much how it is - on any given day I have two or three books 'in the air' as, for instance, today: Bunting's Collected, Keith Waldrop's new one (The Now Forever) and Davenport's Geography of the Imagination (for the Ruskin essay). Quite why, I'm not entirely sure: hope that they will kick start some writing? A certain quality in the day? A mood, a scent, an inkling? Or simply the comfort that comes in having some words to hand?

& who knows what the eye might alight on? This, perhaps:

My tongue is a curve in the ear

('Villon', Bunting)

A line that transforms the day.
The walking bug is getting serious. First, the purchase of a new pair of boots a month ago (La Fuma, excellent); today, a rucksack - more accurately what's now called a 'day pack' - (Eastpak Wyoming, dark blue with a leather base, does all I need).

The point being, if I walk up to the Pain Quotidien of a weekend morning I need somewhere to stow the baguette & croissants leaving the hands & arms free. QED.

Casting my mind back, I think the last one I bought was in Bristol c. 1990? These days E. uses it for Scouts.

Do I miss the pool? Sort of. Yet walking offers other pleasures - fresh air, variety (not simply the soles of the feet of the person in front), & a rhythm that seems to fit with the wandering mind.

This morning I see two crows on the pavement fighting over an empty nutshell. Shrieks, wing flapping, pecking. A pointless argument over nothing.

No ... I'll leave it at that.

In the beginning you make a mess but tell everyone you've tidied things up. Years later the mess has got worse so you come back to 'tidy up' and make an even bigger mess. More years go by and the mess has started to spread further and further. Some mess is even turning up on your doorstep which makes it Real Mess. You realise that the people who lived in your mess have now learnt how to make mess of their own and have started exporting it. So you decide to have another go at tidying up except now no one quite believes this will do anything other than make the mess even worse and - more worrying still - who, now, can tell the difference between mess and more mess and even more mess: 'your' mess, 'their' mess, 'our' mess ... ?

"That's a fine mess you've gotten us into, Stanley" as Oliver Hardy used to say.

Bring on the clowns.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 7:30 am now routine morning walk around the school neighbourhood before shouldering my bag of responsibilities & going in.

Today, turning into the home strait, I see a colleague in the Music Dept., open-necked shirt, smoking a cigarette. I greet him & we shake hands. He explains he's trying to give up the habit - but he likes a smoke while out on a walk. Doesn't make sense, but there it is. He shrugs.

Although I don't smoke, I can understand his dilemma. We talk about the pleasures of an early morning stroll - the houses still more or less asleep, the bird song, the fresh chill to the air.

I explain that I walk my dog - at which he nods & looks around. The joke is, of course, I have no dog. Then the penny drops & he laughs.

I begin to head back towards my car. "Our secret" I say conspiratorially, looking over my shoulder. He nods & drags again on his cigarette.

As I walk to the car I'm thinking about this strange 'brotherhood' (sisterhood, too, is possible but I haven't yet encountered any women) drawn by the morning. What compels us to find this little space (a mere 10 ... 15 ... 20 minutes or so)? To think, to wander, to 'commune' with the spirits of the air - or simply to prove we're not completely at the mercy of someone else's schedule?

Whatever it is, it does me a power of good.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

... try as I might, I can find very few arguments as to why Scotland would want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The very sight of Cameron, Milliband & Clegg crossing the border would be reason enough to say 'get lost!'

If Scotland does break away, I wonder whether the Flemish community here might see it as a kind of precedent. & that scenario is another story ...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Here's a thought ... has anyone heard - concerning the Scottish Referendum - any arguments other than financial/ consitutional?

Reading the current LRB there are some very interesting questions raised as to what nationhood really means in the current world. Global business has, effectively, destroyed any true frontiers. The perilous state of - say - Irish, Greek & Italian economies mean that any sense of patriotism is severed from your currency. So what is left ...? (A beer, a flag, a costume?) What about a culture, a literature, a sense of shared belonging?

The weighing in of Big Business (banks, companies, entrepreneurs etc.) merely confirms the shift of power. Am I alone in thinking that whatever the vote - a Yes or No - it will (really & truly) change nothing for the real stakes have shifted elsewhere.

The old joke - what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? Zizek would no doubt take this as emblematic of the current situation: the frisson of obscenity in the unveiling of the true mechanics of politics. The true obscenity is that we knew all along & were able to simulate scandal.

In other words a load of bollocks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"It’s going to be a terribly artificial book" says the agent for Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins concerning the forthcoming unauthorised biography of the two Bake Off presenters.

What else could one expect?

"Music is a sacrament" - yes, yet another fatuous statement by the U2 front man Bono (said in the same breath as he argues music is not for free).

As if he'd know anything a) about music & b) sacraments. Another example of crass rock star speak, mouthing & thereby debasing values that certain people take very seriously indeed.

Today I am one of the 'lucky ones' to receive - at no direct financial cost - the new U2 album in my iTunes library. Such flagrant marketing disgusts me as well as the invasion of basic privacy. What presumption that I would want to listen to this.

I loathe U2 & Bono in particular (the affected shades, the tax evasion, the handbag ads, the puffed up stadium rock, the sense of entitlement to voice his opinions on behalf of The Adoring World ... ). Why would I want to have one byte of their music occupying space in my iPod? What next? Are we now to accept that Apple will deposit material (audio, verbal or other) in our computers? This is a distinctly worrying new trend (think politics, think religion, think ...).

Where to find some digital disinfectant ...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

... I realise that the Dr Who post runs the risk of sounding deliberately out of sympathy with The Times - the sort of knee-jerk reaction to anything 'Now' with an It Was So Much Better Then. Hey! Chill out grandpa! So to refine the argument a little ...

My Dr Who watching years were mostly those of the Jon Pertwee & Tom Baker incarnations. I've been revisiting them with my younger daughter via the non-UK iPlayer (rip-off that it is ...). If anything they've gained in second viewing - the 50-year old self appreciating qualities missed by the child/adolescent self.

For me, what makes that era of Dr Who of interest is the utter lack of concern for popularity.* The programmes were not announced as 'cult' television. There were no pre-broadcast puffs. Blue Peter did not have items demystifying the special effects or a new creature. I sense that the people writing the series were drawing their inspiration from earlier Dr incarnations, the Sci-Fi genre as a whole & their own particular preoccupations & concerns. To put it another way, the creative energy was earthed. Not - as now - in television centre planning & strategy meetings (with that ever-ready eye to marketing).

Furthermore, the programmes were so obviously low budget. Watching now (2014) it is so evident how clunky the props, costumes & robots were. However - & this is the key point - this in no way impeded the imaginative & frightening power of the stories. Indeed, some of the most disturbing episodes were situated in 'real' suburban settings & the disjunction of ordinary & otherworldly was what proved so unsettling.

For me the whole catalogue of the Ghost Box label ...

... is proof of the continuing power of such an aesthetic. Limited means produce imaginative resources undreamed of by commissioning editors & CGI budgets. Plus, the visceral effect of texture. I've forgotten the name of the three-fingered Wayne Rooney lookalike in the Capaldi episode - about as disturbing as some Nintendo pixilated animation. Plastic through & through. Contrast this with the true ghastliness of a Cyberman, Sea Devil or Davros with his bulging veins & clawed hand. 

Or perhaps this is the real issue: Analogue versus Digital. Can a viewer brought up on digitised images respond to such material revulsions?** Or has whatever aspect of the brain-spine-heart wiring been deadened & now requires more blunt stimuli. (& I'm thinking here also of my loathing of Baz Luhrman's Gatsby, the pervasiveness of synth drumming, even the artificial ringtones, bleeps & cheeps that infest daily life. A colleague who teaches art laments the way that students find watercolour dull accustomed - as they are - to Adobe Photoshop screen brightness.)

Returning to that Capaldi first episode what potential lay there in embryo. Imagine a carefully built-up episode set - OK - in late Victorian London. Imagine various symptoms being detected amongst the population - strange skin defects, scaling ... Imagine unexplained fire debris, body parts, rooms completely gutted. Imagine a group of scientists setting to work in the underground sewers or cellars - the usual kind of scientific arrogance refusing to accept anything but a perfectly rational explanation. & then ... some kind of larvae ... a hatching ... but which (another key point) would NOT be shown but intimated - reaction shots ... sound effects ... & right when you think ... CUT! roll the title music & credits. Leave the innocent mind to spawn its own horrors until the next instalment.*** 

Instead of which we had the BIG EFFECT right from the off : a bloody great dinosaur lurching around the city. Question is: where the hell do you go from there? Top that! 

Pointless to ask what ....? how ...? but if .... then ... ? Internal logic has been sacrificed to the putative Audience Out There Who We Know Want ... But what about all those screaming at their screens No! No! No! ... & then, with a sigh, reaching for the off button. 

& of course this problem is not limited to Dr Who but runs right through mainstream broadcasting. 

Knock knock
Who's there?
Dr Who?
You - you've been doctored

The old joke - how unfunny ... but how very true. 


* My deep dislike of Friends was confirmed the day I learned that recordings of the show were constantly interrupted as scriptwriters asked the audience whether a joke was funny or not. What utter lack of courage & integrity. Could anyone imagine Monty Python emerging from such conditions? 

& by such a logic, how will we ever get anything truly new or surprising or life-transforming? 

** Although I lack the necessary technological know-how I'd even suggest the film resolution. Poorer quality television actually creates atmosphere & a sinister suggestiveness. Whereas cinemascope style clarity is the visual equivalent of vanilla ice cream. 

*** Anyone thought of commissioning Iain Sinclair to write a series? No, I thought not. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

... that the virtues of the magnet may be destroyed by rubbing it with garlic ...

(Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos - as stated in Jefferies' Field and Hedgerow

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dr Who?


I really, really wanted to give the new series my best shot but ... coming up to 9:30pm (8:30pm UK) I've had enough. More than enough.

It's hard to know where to begin the thing is so awful ... the lamentable dialogue, the CGI effects & plastified make-up, the lack of coherence & basic plausibility, and ... perhaps most galling ... the torture of watching Peter Capaldi grapple with his script (that awful sickening feeling when you see an actor far superior to his material).

The relationship between the Dr & his assistant is cheapened, there's clunky sexual innuendo, the Victorian novel has been burgled (spontaneous combustion, oh what an original idea), there's a smattering of psychobabble (veils & stuff) ... oh, & even Peter Capaldi's eyebrows threatening Scottish devolution. Not to mention a dinosaur looming over London (you thought the kitten in The Goodies was silly? ...) & yet the 'onest Londoners guv'nor is goin' abaht their biznis as though nothing much is out of the ordin'ry. I mean ... come on ... Basic rule of Sci-Fi: establish & maintain an internal realism.

One can only imagine the scriptwriting sessions: throw various focus group ideas into a bag & give it a shake. See how many presumed audience constituencies we can 'target' & let's not forget the sales to the US (no doubt a major factor in the 19thC period costume look).

The turd is ... sorry ... the Tardis has landed but I wish it would spin off again - only this time into oblivion. Rumours were that Capaldi would be the heir apparent to Tom Baker - why I was so eager to watch this first episode. Terrific actor as he is with a script like this he doesn't stand a chance.

What a missed opportunity.

If ever a volume of poems has been badly served by its cover then surely it is the Faber edition of Marianne Moore's Collected Poems. Reading the first twenty or so - absolutely smitten - I realise that the obstacle between me & her work has been ... that cover. Silly, I know. "Oh how superficial" I hear you say. Don't judge ... book ...  cover ... I know, I know. & yet...

How to reconcile the audacity of these texts, the woman who corresponded with - of all people - Joseph Cornell & this ghastly, bland, anodyne cover? That picture above all - the worst kind of photo derived portrait depicting someone who resembles some hideous laboratory fusion of Barbara Cartland, my grandmother & the Queen Mother. Agh!

Then I realised what was necessary - a bit of detournement. So I sprinted upstairs & ransacked the boxes of cuttings. Here's my slightly tweezed cover:


& here's the closing lines from MM's 'Picking and Crossing' -

Humming-bug, the candles are not wired for electricity.
Small dog, going over the lawn nipping the linen and saying 
that you have a badger - remember Xenophon;
only rudimentary behaviour is necessary to put us on the scent.
"A right good salvo of barks," a few strong wrinkles puckering
           the skin between the ears, is all we ask. 

Oh yes ... 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Page spreads from the Jarman & the Dickinson respectively.

Further additions to the library ...

1000 Sonnets & Petrarch by Tim Atkins
Echo's Bones by Samuel Beckett
Pataphysical Essays by Rene Daumal

The Gorgeous Nothings (Emily Dickinson fragments)
Not Nothing (Ray Johnson Selected Writings)
Sketchbooks by Derek Jarman

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We continue down to Folkestone, chuckling at the thought of all those zombies wandering aimlessly around the Eurotunnel terminal (just how fascinating can Duty Free & WH Smith be?), & head for the parking lot near the harbour. There's a stiff wind blowing but we're in luck. Bob's mate has been out in his boat & lugged home some mighty fine lobsters (two of which ended up with us to Brussels). A bottle of Sancerre, salad, some bread & Mme Waffle's dressing ... hits the spot.

Why, I wonder, doesn't Bob place a sign on the motorway just before the Tunnel exit? Then again, if he did, there might be fewer lobsters for us. So best to keep it a secret between ourselves, right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Oddly enough Robin Williams had been on my mind yesterday while formulating ideas about my old English teacher. Dead Poets Society is that key Williams film & one I have refused to see - too many times I've been told "oh you must see it, you're an English teacher!" & worry that it will somehow cramp my style. Which might be why I don't feel today's news quite so keenly. Robin Williams, for me, has always been one of those litmus tests for US vs British humour (Jerry Lewis another). Perhaps I've never seen his best work & it's unfair to be prejudiced by obvious only-in-it-for-the-money link man jobs or - worse - the many students & colleagues who think they can 'do' Robin Williams (how it grates). No doubt people have winced as I have done Peter Cook or Python routines. Fair do's.

However, it is always sad when a clown passes. We need these Ambassadors of Mirth (now perhaps more than ever). In my version of an Enlightened society the statues in public places would be of famous clowns & comedians rather than the politicians, statesmen & war mongers. So over breakfast I drew up a Michael Lallyesque list of those artists of the funny bone - knowing that I'm blurring categories & bending the rules in places. Here goes, see what you think:

1. Stan Laurel (the greatest?)
2. Oliver Hardy (master of the double take)
3. Jacques Tati (that walk)
4. Chaplin (when not being maudlin)
5. Buster Keaton (up there with Stan)
6. Harold Lloyd (if only for the clock sequence)
7. WC Fields (of course)
8. Mae West (now & again - would she want it any other way?)
9. Groucho, Chico & Harpo (Groucho gets the accolades but he's in a lower gear without the others)
10. Peter Sellers (of the 1950s & Goon Shows after which things go downhill)
11. Spike Milligan (the Goon Shows alone confirm his genius)
12. Ken Dodd (for himself & everything he embodies of the British music hall tradition)
13. Tommy Cooper (he simply needed to walk on stage)
14. Philippe Noiret (master of the doleful expression)
15. Steve Wright (at times sublime)
16. Les Dawson (another master of knowing when not to do anything)
17. Martin Clunes (the name marks out his destiny - a man who seems to chuckle through life)
18. Max Wall (the little I have managed to see)
19. Frank Zappa (for the Dada spirit at the heart of his music)
20. Billy Jenkins (Tommy Cooper with guitar)
21. Woody Allen (the stand up years & up to the departure of Diane Keaton. After that ... the less said the better)
22. Anna Karina (in the early JLG films - utter joy & such beauty)
23. Giuletta Masina (La Strada)
24. Garbo (the face I see behind Stan Laurel's?)
25. Tony Hancock (that great put upon voice of 1950's Britain)

Hancock also killed himself - "too many things went wrong too many times" (or words to that effect) - in a hotel room in Australia. The story usually goes that he couldn't break into the big time like Sellers & was resentful of his co-stars (Sid James, Kenneth Williams) beginning to outshine him. Yet it's clear that Hancock had his personal demons & there's that joke that he held

especially dear:

A man goes into the doctor's and tells him that he has nothing to live for, his life has fallen apart. If the doctor can't help him, he'll take his own life.

No worries, says the doctor, there's the perfect solution to our problems. This week the circus has come into town. Grock, the greatest & funniest clown of them all, will perform every night. If you go along & see Grock you will laugh so hard you'll forget all your troubles.

To which the man replies: "Thank you doctor for your advice - but I am Grock".

Which might just be what Robin Williams was thinking.

Monday, August 11, 2014

To mark the day, here is one of my Dad's favourite jokes:

The phone rings in an art gallery.

The guard answers and hears a voice at the other end: "Statue?"


(It's the way you tell 'em of course)


In my slow but sure metamorphosis into Ed Reardon I have just succumbed to the temptation of the Guardian Comment feed. Nick Lezard (old Wet a year or two before me) had posted an article on Waiting for Godot as the book that changed his life. In the piece he mentions his - my/our - old English teacher who was surely responsible for generations of impressionable sixth formers catching the Beckett bug. I can still remember his reading of - performing would be a better word - the closing pages of Molloy on a Saturday morning class after which, overcome with emotion, he simply walked out the door leaving us to digest the writing. What more need be said - if, of course, you were receptive (as many of us were).

My reason for adding my two penn'orth initially was to share this memory and to point out how little this style of teaching had to do with Learning Outcomes and other quantifying & commodifying tendencies in current education. Instead it was closer to what Robert Duncan has described in the early pages of The H.D. Book: a sharing of a secret, a passing on of the torch, an initiation of sorts. Literature was so much more than a list of prescribed texts - that was made clear from the start. Yes, we had to write essays but these, too, showed no evidence of marking criteria or other dreary grey (seeming) objectivity. Instead there were effusive red Pentel comments scribbled at all angles ("Bull's eye!" was a favourite) plus blots where a glass of wine has left its mark (sometimes these were circled & identified by grape, producer & year).

Would such teaching comply with Ofsted standards today? I doubt it. Would such a teacher even be teaching today - the inspiration & eccentricity drummed out of him long ago in favour of predictable vanilla sameness. It's terribly sad & a thought that haunts me as I prepare for another year at the chalk face (the 19th here in Belgium, the 26th or so going right back to the first tutorials). All the more reason then to try & keep that dissident tradition going. Thirty-four years on & so many of those classes remain crystal clear - the Emily Dickinson 'plank' poem, the chapter-by-chapter analysis of Emma, another classic performance - this time of Swift's 'A Modest Proposal' ... plus the walks to the Tate to see the Bacons, the encouragement to listen to late Beethoven Quartets, not to mention the after prep conversations over a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape (surely, these days, enough to be struck off?).

Enormous privilege, of course, & it comes at a cost. My fear, though, is that in the ever wider dissemination of professional standards & 'best practice' something really precious is being lost (like looking at a rainbow & noticing a colour has faded from view). If my own students will have anything approaching such fond memories of our work together I'll be ... well, really chuffed. In many cases it will be despite the prevailing winds ...

Saturday, August 09, 2014

You'll have heard it before but it's new to me ... listening (a second time this evening) to Shaker Loops - right now, 9:45 pm - as the light fades from the sky & the houses settle down into darkness.

Certainly one of my favourite John Adams pieces.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Here's a link to one of their songs. I see there's also a full live set at Montreux up on Youtube.

Browsing in Fnac today for John Cage CDs (not much luck) I'm gradually aware of something familiar coming from the Rock section ... Kevin Ayers ... Kinks ... King Crimson ...?

In fact it's ...

... The Temples a young British band from Kettering. They've put together a sound that immediately suggests 60s psychedelia (for me late Beatles, early Floyd, although they cite the Byrds as more of an influence). Vocals have that well-brought up Syd Barrett or Kevin Ayers enunciation given plenty of echo. The drumming has a fat splat Ringo thing going but the driven pulse of Jimmy Carl Black. First impressions are in fact misleading. Listen more attentively & it's clear that this is not simple pastiche. Notes are held deliberately a bit longer to subvert any easy catchiness. Rhythms shift unexpectedly. There's a lush quality to the mix which veers towards Martin Denny exotica. It's interesting music. Not the John Cage I set out to find this morning but very welcome all the same. & isn't that what Cage is about anyway - keeping the ears & mind open?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

          j    o    c    h    a    n    g   e  

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Where the Heart Beats ...

Went into school today & found the book order had arrived. I rooted around in the boxes & was pleasantly surprised to discover this item had been included after all. Not strictly a 'set text' but it will permeate the discussions during the coming months.

The very fly leaf tunes into the right frequency - two quotations:

"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts." (Thoreau)

"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." (Cage)

Once again a book arrives exactly when I need it.
My Greek holiday (IV) ...

A cup from the Museum in Fira (Santorini). Apologies for not noting details - dates etc..  However we're talking a good 2,000 years plus before now. What elegance & refinement.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Incidentally ... for those of a gentle disposition I don't recommend Googling line 2 of the DiPalma poem as I did just now. ("Boober" had seemed riskier ...).

That old saw ... blog posts are like buses: you wait for ages & then three come round the corner at the same time.

& so ...

My Greek Holiday (III)


The Temple of Zeus 
(with the Acropolis in the distance)


Q: What does a cereal killer eat for breakfast? 



The bike ride must have done me some good as I'm now limbering up for a long overdue post bringing The Reader up to date with matters pertaining to Kulchur.

Thusly ...

On & off the shelf

Godard, MacCabe
Life of Samuel Beckett, Knowlson

Clark Coolidge - esp. Own Face, Solution Passage, Baffling Means
W C Williams - Spring and All
Devin Johnston, Tim Atkins & Miles Champion - various
Graham Foust - To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems
Gabriel Gudding - Defence of Poetry, Rhode Island Notebook
Ron Silliman - The New Sentence & then a quick dip into Kit Robinson, Lyn Hejinian, Hannah Weiner, Jack Spicer
Lisa Jarnot - that selected volume which packs well into a virtually full suitcase

(picked up in the Reading Oxfam & other affordable repositories of sustenance)
W Lewis - Apes of God
J Austen - Letters
Raoul Vaneigem - The Movement of the Free Spirit
Joyce - Ulysses (pretty fresh annotated ed.)

(saved from the school staff room bin - shameful!)
The List Poem, Larry Fagin
The Alphabet of Trees (A Guide to Nature Writing), McEwen & Statman

Norman Mailer - Mind of an Outlaw, Fire on the Moon
Sontag - various
Milam Kundera - Slowness
Henry Miller - Colossus of Marousi, Time of the Assassins

In & out & around the ears

Lennie Tristano / Lennie Tristano
Paul Bley / Play Blue
Art Pepper / The Rhythm Section
Zoot Sims / In Paris
Clifford Brown / Memorial Album
Cecil Taylor & Paul Bley Black Saint reissue box sets
Kerouac / Complete Collection on CD (at last!)

Nucleus / The Pretty Redhead (& playing right now - love it! - Snakehips Dream, Track 3, with John Marshall's drumming ... fabulous!)
Poliphony / Poliphony
Dave Holland / Prism

Philip Glass / Einstein on the Beach (the original & finally affordable)
Meredith Monk / Piano Songs, Dolmen Music, Book of Days (which is probably the best)
Vivaldi The Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter (still not sure ...)

Darius Milhaud / Miscellany CD

Xenakis / Works for Orchestra (formidable ...)

Punk 45 There Is No Such Thing As Society anthology

Julia Holter (ah!) / Tragedy, Ekstasis, Eating the Stars, Loud City Song (most especially)
Linda Perhacs / Parallelograms (because Julia says so)
Laurel Halo / Chance of Rain (ditto)

Haydn (yes, really) / Six String Quartets (Takacs Qt), The Creation (Karajan), The London Symphonies (Sir Colin Davis) 

Before the eyes

Le Petit Soldat, Histoire d'Eau, Le Mepris, Bande a Part, Four Hundred Blows

(& which allows for a perfectly gratuitous picture of Anna Karina, JLG's Muse & proof that there's more to Denmark than Lego ...)


So that's that's the current syllabus. Students wishing to enrol should send see vees (no fees!) post haste to the Open Uni-Verse City where we're all perpetual undergraduates & Mr Gove is but a fictional grotesque consigned to the erratum pages. 

Tune in. Enjoy! 

The Return of Riddles of Form

It seems something of a ritual that during each summer holiday I return to the work of Ray DiPalma. Track back in the Blog & you'll see the pattern. Thus it's no surprise that since returning from Greece I've been rereading The Ancient Use of Stone which then, in turn, has sent me back to other volumes.

I'm aware that there haven't been many poetry-related posts of late - the reasons for which I might go into later this week (reading continues & writing - it's more the tricky questions of why blog about it?).  Nevertheless, here's a tentative reading (for want of a better word) of a short poem that appears on page 97 of Number and Tempers his selected early poems published by Sun & Moon. 

Here's the entire poem:


Boober, he's the one
Tub and shay
Barnboard hay and hammer
Bale my foot
Boober, he's the one


It's not too difficult to get a general context for the poem - farmyard, US backwoods, etc.. Boober sounds to me one of those kind of hillbillyish names ("Boober, go take a look ..."). The majority of  nouns reinforce the farming location - tub, barn board, hay, hammer, bale. Not being an expert on US English, I'd be prepared to allow for "tub and shay" and "bale my foot" being accepted local expressions. So we know where we are - sort of. 

The difficulty comes in deciding well ... so what? Or and? DiPalma doesn't seem to be the kind of poet simply recording regional American English or celebrating rural customs. 

Once again I find myself paying an unusual amount of scrutiny to the very words on the page. I've written before on what seems to me to be DiPalma's way of writing (or one among many) - an extraordinary attention to motivations within words: syllables, sounds, letters themselves. So what about 'Kinfolk'?

The title is worth weighing with its suggestion of relatives, family ties and perhaps even too-close ties leading to incest. (I suppose this might go to reinforce the more general context given stereotypes of closed off rural communities). 

So a poem about incest? Or, rather, what happens when language starts to breed within itself? Maybe.  Sameness and difference.

Symmetry 1: the line structure: 5 lines with line 1 duplicated as line 5. However, it is accepted that when line 1 returns it will have acquired all sorts of other resonances due to lines 1-5. Same but different. (& there's the irony that in stating exemplary singularity - "he's the one" - the poem will contradict by doubling - he's the one (twice)). 

Symmetry 2: lines 1,3 & 5 - 4 words; lines 2 & 4 - 3 words. Then the 'and' structure of line 2 is repeated (but varied) in line 3. 

Symmetry 3: The name Boober: the doubled consonant 'b' and with contrasting vowels (the long 'o', the 'er'). The double consonant pattern is then seen in "Barnboard" with additional 'b's occurring in "Bale" and - interestingly - in a reversed position in "tub". "Barnboard" itself sets adjacent vowel sounds with 'ar' and 'or'. Pushing the reading further we have the 'h' consonant duplication in "hay and hammer" which, in turn, starts to signal another level of doubling - words with double letters (Boober ... hammer ... foot). 

Symmetry 4: "he's" seems to trigger a set of doublings with variation - "shay" shifts the vowel sound and the 's' + 'h' positions. "hay" draws from them in line three. "Bale" then fuses the long 'a' sound with the Boober-b pattern. There's also something going on in at the level of stress in the sequence: Boober - Barnboard - hammer. 

For a while I kept wondering about "Tub" at the beginning of line 2. Why was this here? Then it occurred to me that it inverts "foot" in line 4 - a very subtle modulation of the vowel sounds plus the adjacency of 'b' to 'f'. (Another thought: is DiPalma also playing with Dogberry-like mispronunciations - "shay" a comical thick-tongued yokel "say"?) 

And one more thing ... should line 1 be read as but part of the phrase unit that extends to line 2? (= Boober is the one who is tub and shay?) Or as a line separate to itself.* Once more we're back to relations - does the sense marry or not? 

Well, I'm off for a bike ride with the girls. It's good to exercise the leg muscles, too. If you have any thoughts on the poem &/or my reading please post in Comments or via e-mail ( At its very inception, this blog was intended to be a two-way street - something that has been rather lacking of late. More's the pity. 


* & it's worth noting that Sun & Moon print the poem with discernible space between each line which calls in question their relations. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

My Greek holiday (II) ...

Door in the local museum in Fira.

L & E gave me a lot of stick for taking this photo but change the expectations of pottery shards, Cycladic figures & wall frescoes & think Agnes Martin ... Eva Hess ... & suddenly the utilitarian mundane opens upon possibility (the thin 'drawn' rectangular line, the juxtaposition of tones, the play of shadows, the proportions ... ).

(& I don't care if this sounds like an entry for Pseuds' Corner. The eyes have it.)

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hot 'n sticky 'n sultry here & maybe with you too - so why not fill the ears with this:


(Ian Carr's Nucleus outfit. My most recent 'just discovered'.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

One of those delicious rainy Belgian July days (I say this without irony). On such a day you feel justified in indulging whatever whim in reading & listening & writing as the rain hammers on the Velux.

This morning I'm coming over all Fitzgeraldian. It's as if someone has taken a toy from my childhood, dropped it & stamped on it for good measure. Like many schoolboys of my generation I grew up worshipping the name Pele and all Brazil stood for in terms of football. The players seemed to float across the pitch - wasn't there a theory that practising on the beaches meant that grass surfaces gave them that 'bounce'? I remember watching That Save by Gordon Banks in Mexico '70 and those many free kick wizardries. And yet right now it all seems to be ... in tatters.

7:1. It is hard to believe. & yet perhaps a good thing. Perhaps now there'll be a realisation that great teams are not about one or two individuals (think Rooney & England, too). Perhaps the media will lay off building up individuals before they've proved their merits on the pitch (I can't remember a single advertisement involving a member of the German team & yet what a performance - as a group & individually). Perhaps people will begin to join the dots & see how the professionalisation of  football works not just in bridging social inequalities but reinforcing them too.

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...