Finally, my latest Mslexia post, must be Venus Envy, is up! You can read it here:
Finally, my latest Mslexia post, must be Venus Envy, is up! You can read it here:
It is time this blog took a moment properly to remember Leonard Nimoy, he of the suave, non-emotional manner and uninflected voice. Come to think of it, he was a bit like a precursor of Stephen Hawking, voice-wise. I never was a Trekkie; in fact I considered Star Trek to be a joke, but you have to admit its aims were laudable. Though Kirk was undeniably male and white, he had a multi-ethnic, bi-gendered (is that even a word? Should it be ‘ambi-gendered’?) team which even crossed species to include the alien Mr Spock. I can’t remember and I don’t care which planet Spock came from, but even as a child I was aware that there was something very forward-looking in the way Kirk’s team was assembled and in the values they espoused. Gene Roddenberry’s aim, according to Wikipedia, was not only to tell a space story like a Western or an Odyssey, but also to explore the moral issues of the age. In this aim he was apparently not entirely open with the TV bosses.
I bet he wasn’t. Can’t have morality interfering with advertising, can we?
Now, a propos of this I am concerned about the future of the BBC. It is rumoured that they are thinking of taking most of their content off the iplayer and whilst this would be a loss to us as a family – what with not having a TV licence – it would not be nearly as great a loss as that of the Beeb itself. We must have a public-service broadcaster which is not accountable to anyone but its viewers, otherwise the freedom to make, say, challenging documentaries or programmes of minority interest, will disappear.
Take the recent fly-on-the-wall series about Parliament, ‘Inside the Commons.’ This did exactly what it said on the tin; it explored every aspect of the running of the House, from the gospel-singing tea-lady Gladys to the role of the Speaker; from the Father of the House to the menders of the clock; from the crumbling brickwork to the division lobby, from the work of the whips to the experiences of total newcomers. There was a special focus on new women – the House now has a nursery and has consigned all-night sittings to history, and a good thing too. It’s fashionable nowadays to disparage MP’s as a bunch of lazy, corrupt opportunists – and at times this series did as much to uphold as to dispel that image; yet it did show a more human face to people we are used to seeing in an official light. I didn’t expect to find it that interesting, but I was totally gripped by it. It was thorough, non-sensationalist, impartial and generally in the best traditions of documentaries.
How many of these would get made if the Beeb was funded by advertising?
That’s enough of me now. So as a final tribute to Nimoy, I shall sign off with –
Live Long and Prosper.
I found out today the meaning of the word ‘fiasco’. Well, I sort of knew it was Italian, and I seem to remember I’d come across it meaning bottle or something similar and being related to our word ‘flask’. So far so good, but then how did it come to mean a disaster? An epic shortcoming: a flop, a failure?
Well, it’s a fascinating story. Or at least an interesting one. When people in the Middle Ages joined guilds they had to provide an example of their work – and when they wanted to demonstrate their glass-blowing skills they would make something fine out of glass. However, if the thing they made it turned out to be sub-standard, it was turned into a bottle – or fiasco.
Sadly, now that I have done a few seconds’ research on the internet, this explanation seems to be only one among many; others of which are connected to the Italian theatre where the term was more commonly used. But sources seem to agree that the term came to us via French rather than directly from Italian.
So now you know.
But at least you know that you don’t know. And neither do I…
Something which has definitely not been a fiasco is my spring-cleaning! Yes, I’ve been going in for the whole housewifely thing of stripping down cupboards and searching under wainscots to find dead beetles, sagging cobwebs and lots and lots of dust. Actually it’s not only dust I’ve been finding but also damp, since the leeward side of this house (which faces East, though I don’t know how relevant that is) is prone to damp and the small toilet was literally black with the stuff. I have found it best to attack this scourge with anti-fungal mops, then rinse and repeat before leaving a convector heater to dry the place off. As for the dust, it has been hoovered to within an inch of its life in spite of our only having a vacuum cleaner which is held together with clothes-pegs and sticky tape (I kid you not.)
At this point I should probably upload a picture of said vacuum cleaner. Can I be bothered?
Nope. Here’s a much nicer picture of our friends in the North instead:
Ah! They are, going clockwise, Spouse, Gail, Chris and Barbara. Oh, but you can’t see the baby. Hang on…
There he is. He’s called Jack and he’s six weeks old.
And now before I go, I must say a word of farewell to Spock. No, he is not Spock; he is Leonard Nimoy – and he is no more. Alas poor Yorick, I knew him not at all…
And here, just because he’s dead, is the man himself:
I don’t feel right saying Kirk out any more to sign off. Oh no! What shall I say?
Erm. Hang on…
Just give me a sec…
Adios, adieu, ciao?
I’m going to have to think about this. See you tomorrow!
Here’s the first chapter of a novel I’ve been writing for several millennia. Its working title is ‘Leuka’, which is the name of the main character – or MC as Nanowrimo folk call it. These people are scarily jargon-y, full of acronyms and abbreviations and expressions I can’t understand. What is a ‘plot bunny’, for example? I think we should be told. Anyway, here it is. Please read and comment:
Chapter 1 – Brown
There were 47 couples on the dance-floor that night. He had counted them all – or rather, not counted, exactly but ‘seen’ them in that way that autistic people do. Not that Leon was exactly autistic; he was far too connected; too engaged with other people, too emotional and simpatico. Leuka was watching him as he observed the dancers: in a moment he would notice her looking and would turn and mirror her smile, and perhaps they would dance. Twist. Or perhaps he would object that they would mess up the DNA of the dance floor and so they would have to wait for another couple to retire. Stick.
‘What’s the matter?’ He turned to her now, a look of concern on his face – but suddenly, it felt ridiculous to explain. ‘Shall we dance?’ she said, and instead of arguing, he took her hand and let her lead him onto the floor where she supposed they made 48 couples now.
Twist – and bust.
That night in bed she lay and thought about the spiral of DNA; how a baby grows from a little knot inside, a knot tied, as it were, between seed and egg and how the wobbly ladders of DNA start to form inside the cage, to twist and climb and twirl and expand until the imprint of that person is everywhere - on every lip, every finger, every toe, on the nose and eyeball and intestines and hairs and everything. And once the knot is tied, it all starts to grow: not just the arms and legs but the stomach and buttocks and ribs and eyeballs and vagina and everything! It grows not by fits and starts but slowly, stealthily; secretly in the darkness of the womb. The eyes! She blinked as the pages of her book were going out of focus and tried to imagine the eyes growing - the jelly and the eyelids and retina and wide-open pupils, open wide in wonder at its growing world. She blinked again; there was an eyelash in her eye and she rolled her finger inside the eyelid to get it out. There it was, tiny like – what was it the poet said? the spine of a tiny fragile animal. Imagine, if just one tiny part of that tiny body failed to grow – just think of the problems that would cause! She wondered if there were children whose eyes or stomachs or hearts refused to expand at the same rate as the rest of them, and what would happen.
She thought about Leon’s eyes. They were large and brown; she thought they were brown, though she rarely noticed the colour of people’s eyes; like Maria’s, which were green. Leon thought that odd, but she couldn’t account for it. Perhaps she was too aware of the soul? ‘Thy face in mine eye, thine in mine appears.’ That poem had been read out at their wedding. She thought about their wedding tree, the one they’d been given and had planted in the garden of that house where they’d been married, as they had no garden of their own. She wondered how much it had grown. One day they would have to go back and look, maybe take a cutting. Once they were settled. If they ever were, if they could ever stop wandering and find a place of their own.
Leuka’s first word was hernia, or so she liked to tell people; though in reality it was more likely her seventh or her tenth or her twenty-first. The news was on in that cold bare vicarage where they lodged with the vicar and his wife while Luke was a curate. It would have been the radio news, and out came the sentence: President Truman has had treatment for a hernia. And in all that welter of words Leuka Farrell picked out just one, held it to her lips, swallowed – and repeated it. Hernia. Hernia-hernia-hernia. Hernia-her-her-hernia. She repeated it over and over, and once she had digested it, she put it next to other words, piling them up, laying them end to end like bricks.
Hernia-book. Look-hernia-look-book. Look-a-book.
Look-a-book was her first phrase – probably. Leon always said it’s a matter of interpretation and the parents decide which of the child’s indigestible sounds is actually their first word. What is a word, after all? In later years Leuka was to bang her head against the study of morphology which asks precisely that – and, like most philosophies, gives no answers.
In the beginning was the word.
Then Luke got his first parish, in a different part of London. The church was at one end of the street, the school which was Leuka’s eventual destination, at the other. The vicarage was a huge dark house at the back of the church and down the path between the two, came and went the flapping, crow-black figure of her father.
Leuka was just three when May was born; this tiny reminder of what she herself had once been. Squat and square with a frown below a fringe, Leuka’s dark hair contrasted with her sister’s almost white-blonde wisps. Looking over the cradle at the tiny scrap within in a yellow cellular blanket, she could not believe she herself had ever been so small.
Later when Ivy was born she felt the same sense of exclamation at how tiny she was. And yet how much Ivy had grown just from a knot; a globule no bigger than a gob of spit, spiralling outwards in 47 different ways.
Books and their worlds, their languages. How these are reality to her, how the ‘real world is pale.
Leuka’s name was an oddity. She had been named for a Danish ancestor of Luke’s, but by some blunder the two vowels had been swapped round on the birth certificate. Luke and Jeanne, ever-timid in the face of authority, baulked at the idea of complaining and, rather than cause their child problems in later life, they adapted their spelling to the mistake. No-one in England knew any different, anyway. When she got older, Leuka tired of explaining it and developed a sort of telegraphic answer to questions: ‘Danish ancestry – name spelled wrong on birth certificate’, as though that were her telegram to the world. But she secretly enjoyed the frequent puns on her name and eventually came up with a few of her own, leukaemia being her favourite, at least until Grandma Trentham succumbed to that particular scourge.
They lived in the church, or so the children at school thought; Leuka liked to indulge them with tales of sleeping in the pews and eating round the altar: washing in the font. It all hung together. From a young age Leuka was able to walk down the one-end street to school on her own, her mother’s waving figure growing smaller and the school gates growing larger with every step. At school she chatted to her friends in a dialect Jeanne couldn’t understand; at home she reverted to her native tongue; and in church she spoke an altogether more ancient language: the language of God. You couldn’t use the school tongue in church: once her Sunday School teacher Mrs Kimber who was about a hundred years old and wore a hat like a ripe tomato, told them they must never ever say Cor blimey because it meant God blind me and one day God might think you meant it. Leuka did not believe her.
The church and vicarage were built of the same Victorian red-brick – consubstantial, she might have called them, if she’d known the word. Luke had taken Holy Orders a few years earlier and this broken, cold relic of Victorian glory was his reward. As a child Leuka was obscurely aware of her parents’ struggles and tried with her childish strength to fill the gap, always aware of falling far short. On Sundays the church was dusty and cold and the organ piped a high-up, out-of-reach tune. The sparse congregation all sat in the same place and wore the same hats and coats every week. Old-style coats and hats. Leuka sang the hymns without looking at the book. She was very bored by church, especially evensong and Matins: she was beginning to chafe at having to go to church in a smart suit three times a day. In evensong she would ask during the Nunc Dimittis, ‘Why aren’t we going?’
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…
At school the milk comes every day, a child-size bottle for each of them. They can hear the clinking in the corridor, and then the milkman comes in and puts the crate up on top of the cupboard to sit until break-time. Leuka doesn’t like cream on her milk but Jeanne smacks her lips whenever she has it. It’s to make up for the war, when they didn’t have any and the milk was like water. One wet Monday, when they would have to stay indoors for break, a boy bangs into the cupboard and rocks it. For a moment the whole class holds its breath, even the teacher – and before anyone can stop it, the milk crate comes crashing down from the top of the cupboard; the bottles smash and the milk leaps out of them and spreads everywhere like soft, white fire.
In assembly the headmaster is called Mr Harvey and he calls the reception class ‘the titches’. He is huge and has a big voice which travels all the way to the bottom of the hall and back again.
There are games at the end of the year. Leuka likes spontaneous games but is wary of organised ones, sensing that she will somehow fail. The games she likes best are the ones she is in charge of; but with these games the teachers are in charge.obscure rules everyone else seems to understand without being told
There is a race. Leuka finds herself entered for this, though she doesn’t understand why: she doesn’t know what a race is. She is standing in a field in front of some white lines: the lines are like a stave of music, and to either side of her are other girls of her own age. They all seem to know what to do and they are all looking determined. They all have shorts on, shorts which they knew where to find, and matching t-shirts and plimsolls and socks. Leuka stands looking into the distance; then she goes into a dream. Somewhere in the distance a whistle blows, but she pays it no attention, just weaves it somewhere into the story of her dream. When she comes to, all the other girls have run off into the distance, their heels like little grace-notes skipping between the lines – and now, like the sound ‘coming on’, she can hear the roar of the crowd cheering – and all of a sudden, the realisation clicks into place: you are in this too. And slowly, belatedly, she picks up her feet and starts to run. She gathers speed and runs between the lines as she has seen the other girls do, all the way to where the teachers are waiting in the distance – and when she gets there the tape is lying forgotten on the floor, all the other girls are being congratulated, and Leuka looks up at the faces. But no-one sees. Back in the classroom, they are all given prizes – red or blue balls. All except Leuka. She goes round the room asking each of them if they will share with her, but no-one will. she doesn’t et the prize
Soon they are going to move house. Leuka begs to be able to see the new place and is eventually allowed to ride in a parishioner’s black Humber, all the way round the terrible North Circular Road. She is warned over and over that she will be sick and so she is determined not to be, no matter how nauseous the exhaust-fumes make her. At first she examines the car, exclaiming at its little indicator lights which flip out like tiny aircraft wings, but after a while she grows bored and stares out of the window at the lorries and cars.
‘There’s our friend again,’ says her father.
‘Oh, do you know him?’ asks Leuka, surprised. She has long since learned that not all adults in the world know each other.
The men laugh. ‘No,’ says the man who is driving, ‘we just call him that because we keep overtaking each other.’
Though she doesn’t like them laughing at her, she is interested in them using words in that sideways smiling kind of way, not really meaning what they should.
When they get to the new house it is bare and cold but Leuka doesn’t mind because it is so empty and unused. She runs all over it, taking possession of its bare rooms, its echoing floors and its dusty attic. The attic is intriguing: their other house hasn’t got one, and Luke says it’s where the servants would have lived ‘in the old days.’ The garden is very big and overgrown but the man who let them in says they will ‘strip it’. Leuka thinks that would be a sad thing to do. There’s a garage as well, at the back, though Jeanne and Luke don’t have a car yet. She wants to know which room will be hers. Luke says they’ll have to see, though the room at the top of the stairs at the back will be his and Jeanne’s and it will be decorated ‘by the parish’ along with the hall and stairs and the front downstairs study.
On the journey back Leuka dozes and then wakes while the traffic jerks around the North Circular once more. She arrives home in triumph, having taken possession of the house ahead of her mother and sister.
It’s an age before they move, and when they do the house is still bare and empty though some parts have been decorated and there are carpets on the stairs and landing. Leuka shows May all over it and while the removal men bring in the furniture they play in the wild, overgrown garden. That night when they go to sleep they can see the planes coming in to land one by one through the bare windows.
What a horrid cold and wet time was had by all, standing at the Clock Tower in the wind and rain to get people to support Syriza. As I cycled into town, the wind at my back serving only to remind me what hard work it was going to be coming home, I thought ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I giving up two hours of my Sunday to stand in town freezing my fingers and tingling my toes?
I’ll be honest – I hate being cold and wet. Some people don’t seem to mind it: I’m constantly astonished by how many brave souls you see confronting the elements in the most basic of outfits. I’m not even talking about clubbers here – clubbers are a whole new level of crazy in this regard – I just mean ordinary shoppers who face a day like today in only a hoodie or a thin jacket. Whereas I, in thick jumper, scarf, cagoul, hat and gloves, shivered for an hour and a half and then I’d had enough.
Maybe it’s cars that make people behave like this? If you just step outside your house and into a warm car, and thence into a warm shopping-centre spending minimal time on the street I guess it’s hardly worthwhile getting togged up for the cold and wet. Whereas some of us slogged home into a fierce wind getting extremely wet but arriving home with a warm glow of self-righteousness.
And yet in spite of the cold it was encouraging to see how many people stopped to sign the petition and have a chat. The level of support for Syriza was very gratifying, especially since at the beginning we were wondering how aware of the situation people were. Yet many of them stopped, appended signatures and took stickers and left some left messages of support.
I think people in general should get a medal for doing these things in the name of democracy. We should celebrate those who, like Mags of the Green Party, tramp the streets to give out leaflets or stand on freezing corners with cold petitions – or just get out and talk to people about issues they are concerned with. It’s good to know that there are still people prepared to brave the elements in order to campaign for the things they believe in.
And some people CAN’T EVEN BE BOTHERED TO VOTE!!!
Lots of people think their life is boring. I used to think my life was boring – not in terms of day-t0-day conversation but in terms of material for writing. I used to think I’d have to dream up some exciting life-events in order to write a memoir or transform my experience into fiction, otherwise it’d just be dull. So I’d try to beef things up a bit; make everything more exciting: turn a mild accident into a life-threatening condition; a birth into a near-miscarriage or a kitchen mishap into a complete disaster. To some extent this is what writers do; they heighten experience and make it more dramatic: but lately I’m starting to re-evaluate my thinking here. Because when Thingy – the husband who cannot be named – started his whole gender-thing, as well as all the problems and hassles it gave me, it also gave me something sensational to write about. For once I could write from experience about something eye-catching and dramatic; something unusual and exciting that had happened in my life. And so I did: I put it in my memoir and I wrote a couple of short stories – and I got the Mslexia blog residency.
So far so good. But I’m starting to question whether I really needed that sensational material – or whether what I really needed was the confidence to think that my life was actually interesting just as it was. Because I truly believe that all lives are interesting.
‘Pfft!’ you may think. ‘That’s all very well for a writer, but what if you work in a dead-end job, stacking shelves in a supermarket? What if you can’t afford to go out at night and your only entertainment is terrestrial TV?’
Well – I guess I’ve done my fair share of dead-end jobs. The worst one was working in the airport shops – not even the duty free ones, just the boring land-side ones, where arrogant businessmen and demanding models were my customers and I had to work twelve-hour shifts and stand for most of that time. It was horrid. At least if you work behind a bar or in a regular shop you get your regular customers and you can have a chat, but at Heathrow you hardly ever see the same person twice. Though we did have a rather flirty businessman who came through every week on his way to the States.
But I digress. The thing is, I’ve actually managed to make that job sound interesting because of the people I met and the things I saw. But say I was stacking shelves – well, I’ve never stacked shelves, so I don’t know for sure, but I guess you’d be working with people and you could talk to them and maybe talk to the customers and notice things around you like which products sell out faster than others. The trouble with being a drone is that nobody wants your opinion on anything – so I guess the good thing about being a writer is that you get to give your opinion on just about anything that passes through your mind.
This is turning out to be a very rambling post and i’m not sure that I’m reaching any conclusion. Somebody tell me what I mean, please!
Does anyone else listen to ‘In Our Time’ on Radio 4?
It’s a programme about historical figures who have had an effect on our own times, and although I find Melvyn Bragg as irritating as the next person, sometimes the topics are interesting so I keep the radio on after ‘Today’ has finished. And yet all too often I end up turning it off in sheer irritation. Why? One reason only – and that is, because his guests will insist on using the dramatic present.
And what is the dramatic present? I hear you cry. Well, it’s the use of the present tense to make a story seem more immediate and compelling – as though it’s happening now, rather than in the past. A good writer – or storyteller – can use this to great effect. Shakespeare does it in a number of places, such as here where Ophelia is describing Hamlet’s madness, shifting between past and present as she sinks into the story and pulls herself out again:
“He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
And, with his other hand thus o’er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stay’d he so;
At last, a little shaking of mine arm
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being: that done, he lets me go . . ..”
(Ophelia in Act One, scene 1 of Hamlet by William Shakespeare)
That is what I call a good use of the dramatic present. Not that it is necessary to use it in order to involve the reader in a story: I may be wrong, but in the entire HP series I don’t think J K Rowling once uses the dramatic present – and yet nothing could be more thrilling, more tense and more involving than these novels. (Although I suppose you could say Harry does get some dramatic presents: the sword of Griffyndor, the cursed locket, the snitch with writing on it, the invisibility cloak…) But whether it’s Harry Potter in the past or Ophelia in the present, these are worth a million academics going on about how Paracelsus is born in such and such, grows up in such a place and does this, that and the other. All that does is to dull the mind; it’s like jargon, a knee-jerk use of language as a kind of shorthand for actually bothering to describe something effectively. I wish they’d stop it.
A lot of historical programmes are annoying, now I come to think of it. I find Simon Schama very irritating, and as for that woman who does the stuff about the Tudors, Lucy Worsley, I find her simpering, smirking flirtation with the camera utterly unbearable to watch – which is a pity because I suspect that without it, the programmes might be quite interesting…