Thursday, 2 December 2010


Working from home isn't all it's cracked up to be...

Friday, 19 November 2010

Miss Mustoe

‘But why are you crying? Now then look, here’s a hanky [her very own], dry your eyes. There, now, take a deep breath and tell me why you’re crying.’

Just to be close to this wonderful creation was overwhelming enough. But to be invited to share an intimacy, a revelation, was too much for a tiny heart to bear as it thumped against its tender ribs. To admit a failing to this most perfect of creatures; how could that be?

Hitherto, I had been occupying the blissful ego-centricity of a four year old who’d achieved her deepest desire. I was at school, in the classroom of my dreams. Before me lay the best that A. & J. Arnold & Sons could provide: wooden animal templates to draw around endlessly, colour in and cut out. Thick, soft black pencils to make strong marks upon soft cheap white paper; paper cut with a ruler from a large roll. Coloured wax crayons, silver blunt ended scissors to challenge soft little fingers.

Alongside the visual stimulation of a brand new box of wax crayons, candle smelling and pristine in their black banded, coloured paper wraps was the feel of them; the texture of the paper wrap, the flat bluntness of their bottoms and the oily smoothness of the pointed end that quickly disappeared as it cack-handedly travelled across paper towards its demise. Inevitably, snapping and hanging in two, held together only by that promisingly protective paper. Then into the box of old crayons, divested of their wrapping (all sense of protection now long forgotten), rubbing alongside other misfits and picking up bits of debris which in turn incorporated itself into the surface texture of the crayon. No longer new, clean, unused, differentiated.

Plasticine went the same way but oh, the pleasure of its malleability; softened with the heat of little hands, colours swirling together until, ultimately, the homogenous mass became brown-grey. Then could the real job of creation begin: the rolling snakes then coiling them round and round as the linseed smell invited its user to drift unquestioning into an inner world.

Towards this bliss had I frequently wandered away from my home. I would fetch up at school, knowing the way full well as it was a daily chore to deliver and collect my older sibling. I’d glimpsed that world and I wanted it, so with no conscience off I went to get it.

Poor exasperated mother who, missing her child, had several untimely trips to school to retrieve the unconscionable creature, until the obvious dawned on the dim adults: If she keeps running away to be here, why not let her in?

And so I entered Miss Mustoe’s ordered world: pictures on the wall, little wooden chairs just the size of my bottom and the smell of scrubbed bare floorboards. Hum of contented children, innocently occupied beneath Jesus’ beatific Anglican gaze; suffering the little children to come unto him. (It was a drunken Irish Catholic priest who taught us that, in fact, Jesus had done the suffering and it was our miserable sinning had caused it. Ah the joys of comparative religion.)

But Miss Mustoe, how I loved that woman. Crisp striped cotton shirt, buttoned to the neck of its stiff rounded collar and always, always in place of a cravat, the knotted gold chain. Frequently as I listened to wonderful stories, my gaze rested on that knot, musing on how she could have fastened it so tightly against the collar button. Fully-fashioned seamed stockings emerged from neat brogues, polished like new conkers, to disappear under the neatest of neat grey flannel skirts; a skirt, the colour of her short iron-brushed hair, with a rear kick pleat, which skimmed her ample hips and followed the line of her legs as she calmly commanded her orderly classroom.

How could I tell this creature my horrible secret? The knowledge that gradually seeped into my consciousness as the usual humming routine of the morning was disrupted. One by one my fellow tadpoles were called up to ‘Miss Mustoe’s table’. There they each were sat upon a special chair, and one by one, handed a book into their own hands. Worst still, their grubby little forefingers were being guided along lines of words in that book and their lips were moving! Their lips were moving!

As I stood before her, ‘I can’t read’ eventually escaped from my lips, along with the miserable recognition that life was changed forever, that my entitlement to enjoy the benign countenance of that wonderful woman was lost, never to be recovered. But of course it was recovered, swiftly, as Miss Mustoe smilingly gathered me onto the grey platform of her lap and, with the back of my head pressed against her stripy bosom, she placed a book into my own hands, picked up my forefinger and guided it towards the first word. What indescribable joy did that moment bring. I sometimes wonder if Miss Mustoe was one of those spinster teachers who lost her love in the Great War. I’d like Miss Mustoe to know what she gave me that day.

Friday, 12 November 2010


My hair was not my own. It belonged to my mother who treated it as a personal challenge and a daily insult to her desire for control. No brushing; straight in with the comb, starting at the roots and ripping through the knots until every strand rigidly conformed to her standard of neatness; whereupon that deadly instrument raked a precise line through the middle of my scalp. Reducing its volume by 50%, the real business of controlling the mass could begin with tightly worked French plaits on each side of my head; to ensnare any recalcitrant rogue hairs but done only on frivolous days. Then the length of each half was, in turn, divided into thirds, while her forefinger swept up fine neck hair, lifting skin with it and, impervious to my shrieks, started each of the long plaits in earnest. ‘Quiet or I’ll give you something to cry about.’ Ah those were the days. Each plait so firmly rooted against my scalp if it wasn’t for their weight and length, they’d have stuck out sideways. Next came the sticky rubber band to secure the ends. Any unravelling of this work would have been an offence of the first degree. After that came the ribbon. Ah, the ribbon. Not the joyful thing it might have been. No seersucker or tartan for me. Oh no. Red, one inch wide, nylon ribbon which was woven around and between the elastic to ensure it wasn’t lost during the day when I was outside my mother’s sphere of influence. What terrible territory must a child negotiate without a mother at hand to straighten, adjust, admonish. And all in a heathenish land where strange people might put strange ideas into a less, than innocent child’s outwardly neat little head.

Mind you, the close fitting French plait was preferable to its alternative: the Kirby grip. Oh, the Kirby grip. Sigh. How I longed for a pair of pretty hair slides; perhaps little white plastic Scotty dogs or pale blue plastic bows. But no, I’d once, carelessly lost one of a pair and, having sensed my failure to value its ownership, my mother wasn’t going to risk a replacement on such an unreliable and ungrateful child. And asymmetry had no houseroom there. So it was a pair of Kirby grips, which in those times had no little bobble of plastic on the end to soften progress through their journey. I swear if my hair was shaved, there’d be track lines on my scalp tracing the trajectory of those bloody grips.

Little wonder then that this was my first LP

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Autumn colour

Pictures taken on a vast continent between 1932 and 1948 crystellinely capture the coloured season. All, while fascism crept its terrible fingers into everyday lives and made the improbable seem plausible. Even while terrible things were perpetrated in the name of peace in Europe, these sublime photographs emerged sans colour; they belie the cruelty of the age, the nature of pre-deterimism and the exhaltation of the other. But isn't that always the case? While terrible things are happening, nature seems oblivious, plying its unstoppable force across the planet.

Andrew Motion read The Death of Harry Patch this morning in which there was a lovely line about the mangled battlefield (ex-Poet Laureate said it better and I need to listen again to get it). The imagery remained, except that the mangled mud has been softened, repaired, covered, coloured. The place where boys' last cried for their mothers, are fields now. All over. Let's hope the ascendance of science, the discovery of genes that determine this, that and the other don't overtake us again, eh?

Happy Birthday Steph, you know this is your song...

Monday, 8 November 2010

A small kindness

Such a little thing, a colleague recommending a book, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. Nothing remarkable there except the suggestion that maybe I shouldn't read it just now. Just that, a small kindness. Enjoy the music, Adagio in G Minor (Albinoni)

Friday, 29 October 2010

No need to stop the clocks, they mean nothing anymore

They call her Maria now

She dies the Liverpool way

As she paces through the night

Longing for the brightness that

Will tell her she has another day

Waiting, not living

She used to be Lucia

Within nationally and locally agreed guidelines

Strong limbed, wilful

Running through hot fields

The richness of dark waves

Flapping against the sweet

Young sweat of her straight back

Favourite uncle has the horse ready

An assessment of the person’s needs

Frusting, stamping, hot in its saddle

Waiting for the virgin’s firm ass

And strong brown legs

Kicking, thrusting, laughing at the sun

Glorious in the toxic worship of life

What could hold her youthful joy?

An expected outcome or goal from having that care

Blood; warm, charging, pulsing

Youthful worship, worshipful youth

Vanity supreme, health, and heat

Thoughts bursting through feelings

Feelings become thoughts

And no thought at all

Industrial sounds invading rural dust

Clear information about care and who will deliver it

Horny weight and stallion flanks

Beating at the earth’s door

I’ll be with you soon enough

But for now, I’ll ride

With strength and vigour

Living, not waiting

For it’s all before me


Maria Lucia

Maria Lucia Caruso

Sunday, 17 October 2010


Booked tickets to see Made in Dagenham last Thursday evening for my friend and I. She, being given the all-clear with an 80% chance of surviving another ten years, was worth splashing out on I thought. Trouble is me, her daft friend, was seemingly unable to read the difference between 16:00 and 6.00pm so we arrived two hours late for the film.

But this chance mistake led to an even more pleasureable experience. As I explained to the smooth-skinned beauty at the cinema that she'd better get used to sorting out this type of mistake as, by 2029, 43% of us will be over 50, she smiled beautifically at me and I loved her for it.

We re-booked our tickets to Complicite's wonderous production of A Disappearing Number (the story of two love affairs separated by a century and a continent). An appropriate admonishment for my failure to read numbers correctly.

Numbers, numbers... and now my birthday, not five but five and seven, the mongrel age and how appropriate, which makes 12. A Disappearing Number covered convergent theory: the approach toward a definite value, a definite point, a common view or opinion, or toward a fixed or equilibrium state. Thank you Wiki! Mathematically, convergent theory covers the concept of infinity which, applied in various forumulae, consists of constantly coming closer to a number with each calculation but never actually reaching it.

Even more wonderously, there are many infinities and when you think about it, yes, there are. But who thinks about it? Anyway, there we are growing up so quickly, no ponies or two kinds of ice cream but I got the gifts I wanted so I thank those who love me and who remembered and who are part of the many calculations of my inifinity.

Actually, in my defence, I read the numbers but not the context. Maybe it was because I wanted the film to suit our timing because I really wanted to be there with her next to me, hair re-growing, fit and sparkling with life.

And because yesterday was my birthday (and it's my blog), I get to choose the music, and to waste precious minutes (nay, hours) cruising YouTube to find it! The first LP I ever bought was Hair and no-one I knew seemed to understand why I chose it but it felt like something I wanted a piece of.

PS 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 .... ad infinitum = 2
I got it!

And this too!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

It is not wrong in time

Already I know this. I know that is to do with trash and shit, and that it is wrong in time. Time's Arrow
What base connections create a little narrative here today between Will Self, Martin Amis and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Actually Will Self only got in there by the skin of his teeth as he perpetuated a theme that started on the 11 June post but which has exercised my mind frequently since then.

If only STC had had the benefit of Movicol, Lactulose and Normacol, he may have been more moved by nature. But then he would dabble with the opiates so what could he expect? Will Self? Well, he appeared on television recently talking about how extraordinary is our attitude to bodily function and how we really ought to eat in private as, inevitably, it is a process that ends the same for all of us.

There's another process that ends the same for all of us and sometimes it is wrong in time and sometimes it is not. I just wish it could be sweeter.

There's a window in my house that looks out at nothing now but used to be a little toilet so to solve a problem, by making it an architectural feature, it's now a stained glass window, casting small pools of colour into the hall. Trapped in the fused glass are allegorical symbols for each member of the family. Quaint, sentimental, but the worst of sentimentality to fix people in a point in time. So to ameliorate the offence, there is etched the following:

And think that thou shalt learn far other lore
And in far other scenes!
Frost at Midnight
For the people who matter, time and shit passes, eventually.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

And another one

From this ...

... to this ...

... to this!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Francesco Napoli II and his 10 Tornesi

A low denomination coin from 1856, the Kingdom of the Two Scicilies, produces a commonplace Italian kitchen utensil, cheaply bought and passed from mother to daughter, but not before it takes on the power of loss...

Dirty grey pastry

Greasily manipulated

In tiny hands

Wooden pole

Unevenly rolling

The sticky mess

Fixed to surfaces

Don’t eat it

It’s not cooked yet

Ravioli cutter

Zigging, zagging,

Wobbly lines

No plan

No aim

Just rolling


Through something soft

It doesn’t have a purpose

Doesn’t go anywhere

Won’t sustain a body

Ting, the wheel

Spin the coin

Feel the weight

Taste the copper

Roll, cut, screw up

Start again

Sunday, 8 August 2010

My girl left home today

The moment has almost passed because security settings had to be renegotiated but - today my girl left home again and this time it felt so final. Of course there was university, then flat shares and house shares and back home for a brief internship and away again to another house share but today it's to her first home with someone special.

As the spare room emptied of her careful store of restored furniture and the £35 washing machine from Ebay; please god it works, what's left is twenty six years' of discarded debris which lessens with every move. I breathe a sigh of relief that collatoral damage to walls and floors is minimal as I pace the void picking up, replacing, returning to order an insignificant part of life - a room. The room where she came when she woke, playing with trinkets from a basket whose lid was arranged with an aborigine's breakfast (gift from Australia). How many strings of beads did those little fingers break as her parents snatched a few moments more rest before the day began? And how many of those dried seeds heads did those little fingers manage to prise from their settings?

But today, as I spun the wing nuts on her discarded flower press back to the birthday when she received it, I remember the pleasure of choosing the best one our limited budget could afford with anticipation of the quest ahead, of finding suitable pressing subjects.

And there the remants of those days are revealed: four organic scraps; brown tissue petals with traces of purple lingering until the light of day sends them the way of dead things. Two dessicated leaves in prone relief. Thinking of the gentle little fingers that laid them carefully there. The reason why a rose can not be pressed entire and, 'oh, why does the colour have to leave?'. The stain of lost sap in the paper layers like blissful memories of protected times when a kiss would make it better.

For sentiment's sake then, a bit of My Girl, who will always bring sunshine on a cloudy day... hey, hey, hey.

Friday, 23 July 2010

La Dolce Vita

What could be sweeter? To drink Italian water in a glass upturned to find the words, 'Made in Italy' perfectly aligned on its base. And the mosquitoes only go to work on angry flesh.

A scoopful of water in a swallow's beak, cutting through the heat of the day, thinly shrieking as it swoops across the pool.

Cafe Meletti at Cafe Meletti with fabulous Anisetta - lips numbed and senses soused against tight-lipped disapproval.

Everyone in dark glasses looks cool, wants to be cool - an uninterrupted view of what they are trying to say.

Then night, fireflies strung together without wires, our frame of reference struggling to comprehend how light can appear without human intervention. A full moon with shadows cast before us, shadows of friends, dear friends.

Monday, 14 June 2010

And some honey to go with that ...

My favourite hive under the plum tree, busy, busy, busy...

Calorific content

When your girl turns up with a plate of witty cakes, made by her own fair hand, there's got to be a poem to accompany it...

i wanted one life

you wanted another

we couldn't have our cake

so we ate each other

Roger McGough

Have some cake ...

Friday, 11 June 2010

Satire is the only legitimate form of regional art

So said Walter Walter Benjamin about Karl Kraus so I hope he'll forgive me for placing his text next to the toilet in my bathroom. After all, he quotes Adolf Loos as saying:
'If human work consists only of destruction, it is truly human, natural, noble work.'

The point of it all

What is the point of going on holiday?
I'll still be here when I get back

Sunday, 16 May 2010

As time goes by in Bristol...

First Bristol wine bar c. 1976, Park Street: bare boards, coal fire giving off its gritty industrial smell.

Sartorial choices made that evening almost identical: black flares, boots and polo necked sweaters – seriously cool. More spectacularly both in fur coats.

We drank our wine, suavely picking tobacco from our lips with thumb and fourth finger as we exhaled our Gauloises into the glow of candles, fire and our own self-love; talking with hands and eyes. Soundtrack?: As time goes by - atmosphere set for a dramatic evening and in an instant both consented to play.

Next, to an empty club – drinking and smoking on the mezzanine, talking dirty we took in the club’s centrepiece, a glossy black grand piano. Soundtrack?: Well the staff could see as well as us how the night was panning out so they helped things along with Je t’aime. Laughed of course, savouring the music.

From there wrapped in furs, walked the streets silently to Floyd’s Bistro rounding a corner to the suspension bridge twinkling in mid air.

Gasping with delight entered the restaurant, ordered our food and looked at each other over the glow of yet another candle; recognising how special the evening was, how incredible the coincidences, and how absolutely wasted they were. In the complete absence of frisson, we shared only the delight of superficial stage management played on us by the gods that night. What a tragedy but what a great memory. And oh the music and the night and the youth …

So here’s to you Mr Floyd, thanks for the sorbet, frozen solid in half an orange skin and thanks for the memory. Just about summed up the evening – looked great, smoked steam, tried hard but couldn’t get into it…

Friday, 14 May 2010

Memories, moons and moments

Off to Bristol this evening to a friend's exhibition preview; 'all we do we do for you' Then I came across mention of Sarah Moon, who, unbeknown to her, was part of the bricolage of my youth. A poster of her hung in my Bristol flat, with her smoky eye makeup and a look that said, ‘I’ve been there, I know’.

As a photographer, Moon's work is as haunting as her image and I quite forget my original thread as I lose myself in its labyrinth.

The caption to accompany this picture reads:

'Avril, his fiancée, follows him everywhere and stays silent. She is ready in her mask and her golden dress. She keeps hearing her name being called as if her turn will come.”
© Sarah Moon

Appealingly she says about her fashion photographs:

"Of course, if something is really bad then I will retouch it but only very little and never trying to make a woman more beautiful. I don't need to do that. They are beautiful and it is my job to work with the light. I don't feel it is my place to make any sort of moral judgement on people who choose to work in that way, but I suppose it does falsify the approach to a human being."

What I like about this photograph, (not Moon’s work) is that the soles of the model’s feet are dirty. Well of course they are she’s been walking on dusty floorboards. Souls become dirty too when the protective

layers of religion are removed. But I think we see our humanity better with bare feet.

Choosing music to accompany this post is easy. Hot summer night in that city flat, full of youthful yearning, leaning out of my window listening to this song waiting for life to start, a voice in the darkness spoke, expressing the same feelings. Spiritual experience? Nah, the bloke in the flat next door, also leaning out, yearning into the night and loving the moment and the music. I wonder if he remembers…

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Chiaroscuro, Dali and some frivolous papillons…

I started out imagining reality and fantasy to be some kind of linear trajectory, where we traversed from reality into fantasy and back again; maybe palmate, branching out but always returning to a central core in order to preserve our integrity. After all, there’s evidence aplenty of those who fantasise and don’t return. One or two have been found with oranges in orifices and who wants to be remembered like that? Laurence Sterne describes the narrative of what we know about ourselves as a wiggly line, so a narrative for life then may be a synoptic process with our forays into fantasy enriching and developing our thoughts as we travel along in life but always anchored, rooted in what’s important: family, friends, people. But a journey nevertheless.

More recently trying to describe to a very dear friend how things were going (in response to a question that sprang from kindness but wanted reassurance) I said I felt I was hovering on the surface of life trying to keep it all together. That notion of hovering (feels more like hoovering sometimes!) took hold: skating on the surface, gliding, sliding but not breaking through the surface tension of life to the depths below, not really feeling because that would be dangerous. Is that what it is then, to be an adult; to lose our emotions? Over-investment in the superego - because the id’s gonna take us to places we can’t go right now - the ego too perilous to trust - may not provide enough stability. And certainly not enough balance.

Fantasy then takes a hierarchical place way below in the depths where we want to go but can’t afford to in case we don’t climb back out. Placing it below in that hierarchy implies it is inferior and I don’t believe it is. For a very long time, I’ve been trying to reconcile the attractions of Enlightenment and Romanticism which could easily fit such a structure, be it vertical or horizontal: height / depth, left / right or, more sensibly, co-existing in a mutually beneficial relationship. Acch, this needs scholarship. There was a woman centuries ago who knew the perils and benefits of both and if I’d been a smarter, braver person, I’d have found a better way of expressing the double dialectic but it’s been done by others so that’s alright.

So how do we reclaim fantasy when it becomes elusive? Well there’s music, poetry, wine, food, friends and love… Here’s Baudelaire’s La Musique having a similar problem between spleen and ideal:

On the abyss

Rock me. At times dead calm, a vast reflection there

Of my despair!

So when a beautiful butterfly embroidered silk kimono comes along - that slips and slides, billows and floats - well, the id takes over and despair is banished. There’s only one piece of music that could possibly do justice to this silky piece of fantasy and that’s Puccini’s coro a bocca chiusa from Madame Butterfly, which is the first opera I ever saw live and is currently entering the public’s consciousness as the Asda supermarket music. Ah well, at least more people get to enjoy it…

Friday, 16 April 2010

Time for a quickie ...

Waiting for an old friend to arrive for lunch so no time other than to say I found this little poem yesterday while I was working. No, really, it was work - research in response to an evaluation brief for a national literature project:
... a creative investigation of ‘place and its accrued layers of meaning in the twenty first century - whether personal, aesthetic, social, historical, political, ecological or spiritual - through a number of artistic commissions in a variety of media, contexts and environments across the UK. It is anchored around the importance of ‘place’ to the enhancement of identity, belonging and creative possibility in life and art, both individually and collectively.
(Arts bollocks some have called it.) It involves the work of a number of writers, artists and photographers including W G Sebald and that chimes so well with my interest in the legacy of war, families, loss, identity, stuff. And going to see I Am Love this evening. How exciting is that? Not exciting that I might win the tender and get to do the work but that there are people out there who are involved in this work and, tangentially, it comes into my sphere. And to be invited to the party is nice too.

Here's the poem...

Who lives only for oneself

Deprives others of oneself
Deprives oneself of others
Atrophies and dies
- Jan Werich.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


This today because sometimes life is harsh. But despite its harshness it's beautiful too as, inexorably, it goes on. Dancing, prancing madly onwards like the slightly sinister Waltz 2 from Jazz Suite by Shostakovich. For me this music evokes waltzing marionettes - or the dancing mechanical doll from The Tales of Hoffmann - or even the twelve enthralled dancing princesses unable to stop.

In life
new dancers join, others retire; sometimes with grace, sometimes flung madly out on their tangled strings. One thing for sure, until our music stops we must keep dancing. So in this glorious season as we smile at familiar spring flowers breathing gentle sweet renewal, and even before the warmth of the sun chills on our faces, we feel immediate nostalgia for our loss.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


It’s Easter and notwithstanding personal feelings about organised religion it lends itself to a timely celebration of Spring with all its sense of renewal. The family is still happy to reunite around food, around the table and around Granny. Family.

Tilda Swinton talking about the making of a film about family: I Am Love, with Luca Guadagnino describes this about the film; the lonely journey and the relationship of love to loneliness, as:

‘…the last great taboo of modern western civilisation. Capitalism is built on the idea that one can go out and buy another scented candle and get less lonely somehow. But I think the deal is that you are fully lonely, and the sooner we accept and embrace our loneliness, the healthier we are. And that real love has nothing to do with that romantic idea of oneness, of distracting and healing each other from our loneliness; it’s about witnessing each other as individuals and saying: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.’

As Swinton says, ‘finding any sense of individual identity is always rather challenging’. So while Guadagnino sees the idea of the energy matrix going through every family as a control issue (well, being Italian one can understand that!), Swinton calls it inheritance. Whatever the legacy, there will always be one. Even the abandoned child creates a parent.

In talking to R about family we get onto the subject of blank spaces in our backgrounds, blank spaces that emanate from cultural alienation, born from seismic historical shifts leading to pan-European migration. In describing the personal impact of these shifts it’s impossible for me to lose sight of the fact that much of mainland Europe shared similar experiences during the last war.

And so we sat in comfortable surroundings listening to Granny tell us about her youth, when, as a teenager crossing Italian farmland on her way to ride her uncle’s horse, she was fired upon by a passing German aircraft. Being seventeen, young and naïve she had no idea what was happening until she later described the green leaves falling from the trees above her head as she ran through woods. She tripped and fell accidentally, the aircraft flew off. Needless to say her wild roaming was quickly curtailed as she received the wrath of her family’s fear. More than sixty years later she recalls how, in her youthful innocence, she said, ‘But why would they want to kill me I’m just a girl?’

Why indeed. Youngsters, who just want to have fun, maybe go garlic picking with their friends in the woods, a trip away from mundane village life, a lark in the woods. Why would anyone want to kill them?

Then R recounted his grandfather’s flight from Czechoslovakia as a seventeen year old boy entrusted with the care of his three younger siblings, the youngest of whom was only a toddler. To England he came and set about finding work and raising his family. His parents did not survive the war.

Then there came the story of Mrs W, a woman I only knew as my parents’ friend. She had a number tattooed on her arm and her husband was so tenderly protective of her. She was a naïve teenager once, living on a Polish farm with her family the day soldiers came to take young people for forced labour in Germany. How did she ever recover from the sight of her mother cleaving her two sisters to her side as she herself was pushed forward? The last words she heard her mother utter were ‘take this one’.

How can we ever know these people, our parents? Their separateness from us is so vast; it is created by them for what parent would want to pass the burden of such pain to their offspring? And yet they do. In every denial of their own painful experience they distance themselves from their own created selves. In every protective carapace they manufacture for us to wear against the world, they distance themselves from their own created selves. When they were young they didn’t know they could be victims that would experience the shock of isolation in a perilous world. But they thought they could stop it happening to their own offspring.

Our own children don’t tell us the things they know will hurt us but we know anyway, we sense their pain with a parent’s instinct. As we instinctively sensed our parents’ discord. But not knowing the nature of the injury our role is to stand by helplessly and wait until they feel whole enough to come to us. Maybe food surrogates for feelings, the physical manifestation that says, ‘I see your hurt and I cannot heal it, it is your labour alone but take this nourishment, it is all that can pass between us in safety right now.’

Friday, 12 March 2010

Proud and free


berber camels and tuareg blue

but carpet really and that links backwards to recovery

still red and indigo are special too

the paint pot splash the violence of colour

the soft restraint the maddening brain buzz,

what’s silence for

there’ll be plenty enough in time

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso was fastidious

She always tied her laces twice

On Wednesdays she cooked couscous

And ate it slow to show how nice

Her manners were

It was small comfort to know that

She would outlive men by one year

Forty eight is still too young

A thousand shadows, a single fire

I thought I'd have some fun today, and this is meant to be playful simply because Charlotte Raven is looking back 'in shame at the 1990s when her generation turned its back on feminism'. And that is a subject close to my heart, not least because I have daughters and a son. We people have, want to, live together, hopefully harmoniously.

A blog post, at least mine, is no place to treat such a complex subject so the only thing to do is signal the importance of being 'angry in the right measure' and understand that for some women, feminism is a luxury.

I remember learning that we cannot tear down people's cultural webs unless we have something to replace them with. We need to understand what webs people are in the centre of, how hard they fought to get there and what compromises they made along the way. Inevitably this brings back the notion of choice and how active or passive we are in the process but let's get on. (Check out Louise Bourgeois' Maman in the meantime.)

In 1963, Leonard Cohen published, what is described as 'his lyrical first novel'; The Favourite Game, in which he writes:
A thousand shadows, a single fire, everything that happened, twisted by telling, served the vision, and when he saw it, he was in the very center of things.
One day what he did to her, to the child, would enter his understanding with such a smash of guilt that he would sit motionless for days, until others carried him and medical machines brought him back to speech. But that was not today.
I hope Mr Cohen will forgive me for appropriating his text as a metaphor for unconscious patriarchy, after all it was 1963, but it demonstrates, for me at least, the difficulty of cultural change, the length of time it takes, the setbacks and, sometimes, the sheer impossibility of knowing exactly what web we're weaving at any given time - where the true heart is, 'pumping stability and erections and orgasms and sleep into all the withering commercial limbs'.

It is only fitting that, having exploited his text, I finish off my cultural raid by posting this lovely 1972 version of Mr C's song to accompany the joyful 1922 painting by Picasso...

Friday, 5 March 2010

Al buio non si trova ...

... is, for me, a haunting expression: ‘we won’t find it in the dark’ says Rodolfo whilst only pretending to look for Mimi’s lost key because he’s trousered it already. And so it begins, a relationship based on obfuscation. How’s that going to work? Simple people, they love, they work, they fight. Sometimes they forget why they loved in the first place.

When memory fails, imagine new worlds, employ strategic amnesia for the hurt and give yourself up to Mimi and Rodolfo (before it all went horribly wrong) but above all love. After all, what else have we?

Nine and a half minutes is a long time but they’re beautiful young people:

Sunday, 28 February 2010

It's spring in India

The mango trees are
flowering ...