Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Book I Read

This week I was tagged by Jenny (Some Breath, Assured Pints) and asked to perform the following instructions:

Here are the rules: Grab the nearest book. Open the book to page 56. Find the fifth sentence. Post the text of the next two to five sentences in your journal/blog along with these instructions. Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST. Tag five other people to do the same.

However: me being me I have a slight alteration to make. Instead of tagging 5 people I would just like everyone who reads this post to leave a few paragraphs on the responses page regarding what they are reading right now – you don’t even have to quote the book in question unless you particularly want to.

I am also going to cheat slightly, by pasting bits from two different sources…this is partially because, as per usual, I am reading more than one book at present. I have a book by my bed – which is a compendium of three Ian Rankin novels (crime/detective) – this is too big to bring to work, so I also have two other books that I am reading for research into my next novel – one of which I have quoted below as ordered:

Those who are idolators have a language distinct from the others. This city lies towards the east-north-east. They are not a commercial, but an agricultural people, having much wheat. There are in this country a number of monasteries and abbeys, which are filled with idols of various descriptions. To these, which they regard with the profoundest reverence, they deliver sacrifices and, upon the birth of a son, they recommend him to their idol’s protection.

NB: the book is The Travels Of Marco Polo and is full of this sort of thing – lots of talk about people worshiping idols and offering their wives to strangers in the hope of honour from their gods. Although some modern scholars now believe the journals to be fake Marco Polo’s story remains the earliest travelogue and a rare example of West meets East at that time.

The second novel I’m going to quote from is another slight cheat, but it is one that is constantly with me and has been for over ten years:

Yes, that’s right – it’s my own pitiful attempt at being published. As it’s all in single-line spaced word files at present I had to take a rough guess at the 56th page – and the below is a short quote:

His stomach churned in horror and his face became a mask of pain. He looked up; his mind clouded with panic, and saw that the tavern had emptied and that people were already searching for water to fight the fire. It would only be a matter of seconds before he was seen. Somehow he scrambled to his feet and ran into the darkness, not pausing to look back.

On a final note – some of you may (or may not) have noticed that my topic titles are often quotes from songs or books – this one is the name of a Talking Heads song and the previous post was the first line of a song by Blur.

I look forward to your responses – will keep an eye on them over the next few days. Meanwhile, keep reading :)

Monday, 27 October 2008

Confidence is a preference…

Some years ago a British writer/comedian did a routine about money.

The upshot of the routine was what a load of old rubbish the stock market is.

He said that when anyone mentions the FTSE on the news we all mentally switch off and wait for the reassuring bit at the end about Pandas being flown into zoos for mating purposes before we start paying attention again.

He also said that all this confidence in the pound stuff is basically nonsense: if you walk into a pub and try to buy three pints of lager, a packet of salt and vinegar crisps and a three course meal and expect change from a pound on the grounds that you feel very confident about it right now then the chances are that the only thing you’ll be eating is a floor sandwich as they throw you out the door.

I mention all of this, of course, because the “R” word is looming ever closer to our consciousness. We’re still officially calling it a “credit crunch”, but some of the so called experts are starting to talk seriously about Recession…(oops, I said it!)

You can blame pretty much anything you want on the current downturn: the fact that history shows that there have always been ups and downs in the economy and there probably always will be, a failure to regulate banks on the part of our governments, basic greed on the part of the banks…the fact that, when you get down to it, even the top bankers are no smarter than you and me and mentally turn off and wait for the bit about the Panda with erectile dysfunction when the news comes on…

But the problem really is that our whole economy is based on an enormous confidence trick. No really

Do you have any money in your wallet/purse right now? I just pulled a £20 note out of mine (unusual for me to have so much money, but there you go) and on the front are the words: “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of twenty pounds”

You see? “I promise to pay the bearer on demand” Not “This note is worth”, but a promise to supply. Its intrinsic value is nothing. If you were starving right now you could not eat this note, you cannot build a shelter with a stack of them and you cannot ward off death with them even if you wave them especially hard at people: yet people will and have killed, maimed and sold their souls over the movements of pieces of paper.

Twenty pounds of what exactly? Lead shot? Goat’s Cheese? Cinema Tickets? That’s part of the beauty of the trick – that little piece of paper can magically transform into pretty much anything all because we buy into the trick. We allow the magicians to blind us with their sleights of hand because the alternative is far, far worse.

OK, you’re probably thinking about all that money you have in the bank – about how it moves around and gets invested in properties, business shares and the like. You may even own shares in a business yourself, but are you sure? Exactly how sure are you? Have you ever seen these shares? Of course not – they don’t exist. Your shares are little more than numbers in a computer – if you went along to the local business that you own shares in with a hacksaw and demanded to take part of their bench in lieu of physical proof of your shares you would be firmly turned away. Try going into your bank, asking where your money is and asking for certificates from each and every place – you will not get very far.

But I could be wrong – because a recent report suggested that there is as much as £60 million in loose change lost down the back of the sofa’s of Britain or stored in empty whisky bottles.

Perhaps this is where the answer to the current financial crisis really lies, perhaps it is well past time that Dubya made the rounds on his Bush Mobile and begged each and every house in the world in person to hand over their spare coins to avoid higher taxes for a crisis he helped to cause?

If nothing else it would give us all something to laugh about. His only other option, it would seem, is to carry on clicking his red shoes together, scrunching his eyes closed and chanting “There’s no place with a recession, there’s no place with a recession, there’s no place…”

Friday, 17 October 2008

Should I make a speech?

I should probably start with a couple of apologies: first of all to all of you because over the next week or so I won’t have much time to post a blog, to read your blogs or to comment on them.

Do not fear: I shall return – but for the next week I am effectively performing two jobs for the price of one so will probably be starting early, finishing late and generally climbing Mount Email on a daily basis – except for Thurdsay evenings when I will be starting my new 6 week art course with Mad Penguin Lady (MPL)

MPL is from Holland and three years ago I did a similar course with her – Life Drawing – in which I created one of my few masterpieces “Butt Naked Bloke #1” (does what it says on the tin really). I call her MPL because shortly after the final session I visited an exhibition of her work and she had painted a giant Penguin that stood rather taller than I did (and I’m 6ft)

Secondly I should apologise to Lisa (Lisa’s spot): a couple of weeks ago you gave me an award – I’m still not sure exactly what I did to deserve such an honour, but it has been on my mind ever since and I have been spending a lot of my spare time thinking about it.

How does one respond to such a thing? The instructions on the award say I should post it on my own site and then pass it on to eight other people who write blogs.

This is something of a serious issue – because I generally don’t respond to the kind of email that tells you that if you forward it to twenty of your closest friends within two minutes of reading it you will receive the bank details of a Saudi Sheik including his PIN (by the way – why do we refer to it as a PIN number? What do we think the N stands for anyway??)

So – I now read rather more than 8 blogs and each one is listed on my places to visit list and each one means something to me: so the problem is how to make the decision on who to include.

And here’s my response: to you eight listed below and for the reasons I have given I award this award. Much like Tony Wilson (manager of Factory Records) is alleged to have done on the last night of the Hacienda night club I order you to ransack the list, do with it as you will but to go forth and create new and glorious things. Pass it on if you want, the choice is yours.

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS IN PHOTOGRAPHY: Michael (always going, going, going on beyond) and Lisa (Lisa’s Spot)

SERVICES TO LITERATURE: Honour (The Art Of Practice), Michael (always going, going, going on beyond) and Anne-Marie (Mightier Than Any Sword)

INSPIRATION AND STRENGTH: Lisa (Lisa’s Spot) and Lydia (Writerquake)

THOUGHT PROVOCATION AND INTELLECTUAL CONTENT: all of you, but particularly Clandestine Samuri (Life, The Dynamic), Honour (The Art Of Practice) and Lydia (Writerquake)

MOST SADLY MISSED: A. Stageman (Eyes Closed, Jazzing)

BEST NEWCOMER: Bhudda (Bhudda of Hollywood)

For those I had to miss – I apologise. Do not think less of me for this – I cherish your words and thoughts.

See you soon

Monday, 13 October 2008

Hell is other people…

October 31st 2007 – It’s 5:30pm as I get off the bus around the corner from my house. It’s already dark and as I walk up the road, feeling tense, tired and frankly like shit I can already hear the noise waiting for me around the corner.

Sure enough as I turn into my road I see the groups of kids. There’s at least six or seven separate groups, maybe more. As I walk up the road I see a group of them try my door and walk away disappointed: knowing they will soon be back.

I let myself into the house and I barely have time to turn on the lights and close the curtains before the knock on the door comes. I go to the door and open it: a group of three or four goblins are stood in the darkness – none of them taller than my knee. Just inside the door is a small tub of fruit-flavoured lollipops – each individually wrapped. I hand the lollies out and close the door. Less than three seconds later the door is knocked again.

And so it goes for the next hour and a half – a constant stream of kids out Trick-or-treating. Some come with Appropriate Adults (a term that will come to have more significance when they begin Helping The Police With Their Enquiries in another year or two), but most don’t. After two hours I’ve still accomplished little more than chop some vegetables and turned the gas on and have barely sat down.

Still, at least this lot make an effort: each set of kids are dressed up as witches, goblins, ghosts or have faces painted like spider-man. Back when I lived at my mum’s house we only ever used to get one or two groups per night and I clearly remember a night when I opened the door to two fourteen year old lads wearing jeans and a t-shirt. As I looked at them one of them sheepishly took a bottle of washing-up liquid and stuck the nozzle between his teeth. “What are you supposed to be?” I asked. The lad looked down, shamefaced, “A ghost from the future” he replied. I shook my head, “No, you’re not” I said and closed the door in their faces. But that was then…if I was to send any of these four year olds home without a treat they’d probably put a brick through my window for starters.

Finally the steady stream turns to a trickle. Even in my area where kids are a ready source of income (child benefits) and a cheap alternative to turkey at Christmas, there are only so many groups that can visit in one night. Foolishly I allow myself to relax – thinking that it might all be finally over for another year.

The door is banged again – rather more loudly. With a sigh I go to the door – thinking that what I really need right now is a nice lie down and some food in my belly.

I open the door and the first thing I see is a man in jeans and a vest. He’s about 30-35, maybe older and stocky with close shaved hair and breath that reeks of alcohol. He leans in closer to me and I look at the bloodstain on his forehead, trace the line down his face to his vest. He leers drunkenly into my personal space, forcing me to retreat slightly, ‘You gotta help me’ he drawls, his words slurred and broken, ‘I’ve been in a hit and run – the driver just drove off.’ He pauses and his face breaks into a dangerous grin, ‘Trick or treat!’ he says in a tone of voice that might as well be saying ‘Give me your money, I have a knife’

I glance down at the little kid that’s out with him – no more than four or five years old and, shaking slightly, I turn and pick up a lolly for the drunk: wanting him gone as quickly as possible. Then I bend down and look at the kid ‘Here – take two’ I say, offering him the sticks. The man looks down at the kid, ‘Oi’ he growls, ‘Don’t be #@$£ing greedy’
‘No, it’s ok’ I say, offering the sweets again before standing up.

The man accepts the lollies for what they are and grabs the kid by the hand, starting to leave. I watch the kid for a second: my heart feels heavy knowing that there is no one in that child’s life who is emotionally mature enough or who cares enough to stop and say ‘You’re not taking that kid out: you’re too drunk’

That kid has no hope: no chances, nothing.

I close the door and turn on the TV: but the noise is not enough to block out the static in my head.

And in that moment I feel the tiniest piece of my hope for the future curl up and die.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

In Celebration of National Poetry Day

Textual Frustration
By The Hungry Pixie

I’ve been sending emails till I broke my mouse
Formatting my documents in my office and my house
Filling up my inbox till I finally go insane
Reading all the adverts till the words dance in my brain
Just another number in another hall
An information block in a communications wall

I’m textually frustrated,
Foaming at the mouth from all these words
Textually frustrated,
Another silent message that no one has heard

Got a system warning from a distant man
Adding up to a lifetime’s worth of spam
An add for Viagra makes me lose my esteem
Can I really grow hair back if I use this cream?

I’m textually frustrated
An isolated contact from a distant machine
Textually frustrated
An internet connection can’t fulful my dream

Won’t you share a text with me there’s nothing wrong
With a little exploration while my firewall’s on

I’m Textually frustrated
Weighed down by these spreadsheets till my eyeballs groan
Textually frustrated
Overblown with contact, but still sleeping alone

(c) HP 2008
NB: this was originally written as a joke song, but i could never find the right chords

Friday, 3 October 2008

Measure For Measure

For the last couple of months there’s been a builder’s skip outside my friend’s house. His mother, who my friend has decided is on a Mission to make everyone around her – including herself – as miserable as possible, had commissioned an extension to the kitchen.

To say work is going slowly is somewhat similar to saying that light travels fast. The workers, having no particular job to go to next, have settled in for the long haul – complete with copious cups of tea and biscuits.

But although the builders of today are well known for their excuses not a single one of them can hold a candle to the builders of the 10th and 11th century.

“Prithee” they must have said, as they stood looking at a half-completed hovel, “Tis sad that I am unable to complete my promise – but verily King Henry is a very busy man”

Because one of the absurdities of measurement is how random it all used to be: until 1963-65 we in the UK had a bizarre system of counting and money that involved farthings, shillings, crowns and probably the odd florin thrown in for good measurement. When everything went decimal there were those who complained – even today we resist the metric system of measurement for food and forced a change in the law to continue to sell in pounds (llbs) and ounces of weight, rather than kilos as everyone in Europe wanted us to.

But the measurement I wanted to talk about was the Yard.

Used for measuring…well, yards as it happens, the Yard was useful in measuring gardens in complicated maths problems as well as in providing people at trendy bars the chance to prove themselves idiots by drinking from an extra long glass called a Yard of Ale.

The truth is that no one really knows exactly where the measurement originates – but one of the most popular theories is that it was designated by King Henry 1st of England (1100-1130 ish).

Fourth son of William the Conqueror of Normandy Henry’s own descendants founded the royal house of Plantagenet. Henry 1st himself is believed to have defined the Yard (approx 0.9144 metres, or 3 foot) as “the distance from his nose to the end of his thumb” (with arm stretched out in front)

Pretty odd way to measure something – and not very useful to the average man in the street: I mean – how many of us have a handy King of England mooching around on our sofa when we need to measure whether it will fit through the door or not?

“Oi, King-y – I can see you’re busy forming a seat of power against the French and all that, but could you just pop round for a minute? It’s just the wind is coming in through the roof and I want to get the new sink fitted before the Black Death gets a good grip” – not particularly likely is it?

Mind you, as expressions of ultimate power go it’s not so bad. When you consider that previous kings had commanded such various things as having the first born son of every couple to be killed on the off chance that one of them would grow up to be messiah like King Herod – or that everyone should wear the same size shoes as him like the Emperors of China then suddenly the idea of a King who goes about demanding everything measured according to how far he can reach seems all warm and fluffy. Very possibly King Henry was a frustrated landscape gardener and liked nothing better than popping round to criticise someone's back patio - we will never know!

This method of measurement could explain a lot about the problems of my own house. Built in the 1950s as part of the Councils’ mass advance on the wilderness that was there before I’m sure that more than one of the workers must have stood outside my house when it was finished: looking at the poor plaster and ready-made holes for local pigeons, with the regulation 2 inches of butt-cleavage showing from the back of his trousers and whistled through his teeth before saying, “Well Guv, it would’ve been perfect – if only Henry 1st had been available…”