No post today folks as I am off to the Left Unity founding conference. See you on the other side. Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!
A Writer's Life: Moments from the Life and Work of a Self-Underemployed Writer
No post today folks as I am off to the Left Unity founding conference. See you on the other side. Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!
Well, my dears, and what have I been reading this week? Firstly, in response to a programme about Bach, I’ve been reading a book Mark has been pressing on me for years. It’s called ‘Goedel, (pronounced girdle, lol) Escher, Bach’ and it’s about patterns and fugues and patterns within patterns and counterpointing thingies and how all of this links together the three protagonists. Sadly I have to admit to reading the Escher, Bach bits and skipping the Goedel bits (which are about Maths) because I can’t understand them. So my Goedel really is killing me… Jan will be very disappointed in me – but I can’t help it: it’s taking all my concentration to deal with the other bits; although I did suss out the MU puzzle (about combinations of letters) straight away, so felt quite proud of myself for that. Mark, on the other hand, maintains that ‘GEB’ is ‘an easy read’. Bedtime reading, he called it. Accessible to everyone.
I ask you!
I can only cope with short bursts of GEB at a time, so I have turned to the Crime Reading Group’s latest offering, ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ by S J Watson.
It’s a fascinating and horrifying read and it’s close to my heart – or head – because it’s about memory loss. It has an unreliable narrator – unreliable because she forgets everything as soon as she goes to sleep, and so has to start from scratch again the following day. The story begins when she starts to keep a journal, and the journal forms a book-within-a-book, which is rather like one of GEB’s patterns, now that I come to think of it. Christine doesn’t know she is married, has forgotten that she has a son, and unknown to her husband, is having frequent meetings with a doctor who is trying to help her. But perhaps her husband is not all he seems…
Definitely one to read. I couldn’t put it down and so finished it in almost one sitting, after which it inspired me to begin my own memoir of forgetting, which I am calling ‘I am the Anti-Proust’.
I’ll leave you with a conversation from this morning:
Mark to me: ‘What’s got a hazelnut in every bite?’
Me: ‘Oo! Whatever happened to Topic?’
Mark: ‘It’s no longer Topical.’
It was like an episode of Fawlty Towers last night in our house. There was me trying to work my way through old episodes of Top of the Pops
including Chic (so-so) Elton John (great) Darts (awful) and the Barron Knights (cheesy but fun) when Mark emerged from taking his nightly dose of gloop.
‘I need some more sleep mix,’ I said. ‘Have you got any?’
‘Mwffle-mwf-mwr-mog,’ he explained through a gobful of gloop.
A simple shake of the head would have sufficed, but he continued to try to convey further information by means of his nostrils, all the while making ferocious grimaces with his mouth firmly closed.
‘Mark!’ I said eventually in exasperation. ‘I can’t understand a word you’re not saying!’
He laughed, spraying the table neatly with gloop. Then he got out the tablet and started to type, handing it to me when he’d finished.
‘I can’t read that,’ I said. ‘I need my glasses.’
I’m telling you, Fawlty Towers rode again.
Also on iplayer, we didn’t have to wait too long for the latest Dr Who. And was it good? Yes – I guess – but I thought some of it was a bit cheesy, and some a tad smartarse. I didn’t go for the ‘Tardis hanging from helicopter’ trope, and the scenes with two or three doctors were a little uneasy. I didn’t much like John Hurt either, which is unusual for me as he’s one of my favourite actors.
So… the highlight of the iplayer week is still my radio appearance:
1 hour and 12 mins in..
That was a line which came to me in the bath. I really should keep some kind of waterproof pen and notebook beside the bath, because like Archimedes I get my best ideas there. This morning was no exception – I got no fewer than three lines on different themes, potentially forming parts of three different poems. or maybe songs – I think the Hemingway line might do better as part of a song – perhaps about writers who aren’t much read any more.
I don’t know – do people still read Hemingway? I haven’t heard him mentioned for a long time.
Anyway… yesterday I had to leave Pinggk early as my mind threw a bit of a wobbly: there were some poems and pictures from Linda Hart, an artist who recently died; and for some reason I started to feel on the verge of collapse. On the way home it occurred to me that on Saturday it will be the anniversary of my Dad’s death – so I think that had a lot to do with it.
So today I shall be mostly… practising the ‘Man from Del Monte’ song and wrestling with the lines from the bath.
Religion and science was the theme of last night’s Drink and Think; to be specific, ‘Is there a fundamental rift between science and religion?’ Jan, who presented it, claimed that there was; however on deconstructing the argument we arrived at the position that the rift was only between fundamentalist religion and science: religion which not only denies Darwin but disallows other interpretations of its texts, which lays down truths without substantiating them and which – above all – does not allow room for Doubt.
Doubt is in my view a key component of faith – in fact I would argue that without doubt, true faith will not emerge. Thomas – doubting Thomas – has had a very bad press; I think his refusal to believe without experience was entirely legitimate, and the church has a lot to answer for in the way it has tried to promote blind faith and unquestioning obedience. I could go on and on about the ways in which religion is harnessed to power (whether political or otherwise) and how much I hate this; I could rant about how nowadays if another Messiah were to emerge he or she would not be recognised for precisely the same reasons that Jesus was not recognised: I could bore you to tears with my take on wrestling with faith which I think is something every mature believer goes through on an ongoing basis.
But I won’t. Instead I’ll just comment on what a friendly and respectful debate it was, and how enjoyable and productive that made the evening. So thanks to all who came (a good turnout as well!) and to Jan for preparing the subject.
In other news, I’m writing a song at the moment. It’s about the process of giving up TV; from the time in 2005 when Friends and Frasier finished and there was nothing worth watching any more, to the time when we only had videos and the radio, to the time when we discovered the i-player. The song contains the refrain ‘the man from Del Monte says yes.’ The man from Del Monte continues in debating form, going through maybe, no and never before dying and coming back again.
Hey! Maybe the man from Del Monte is the new Messiah!
Holy cling peaches, Batman!
So yesterday having failed to get up for church or to hie me to the Shed, I did gather the force to attend Bruce Kent’s talk at the Secular Society.
If you don’t know who Bruce Kent is, he is a former Monsignor of the Catholic church and one-time chair of CND.
The theme of his talk was peace – or rather, war and peace, and how to choose one over the other. He spoke about whether war is a necessary and contingent aspect of human life (it isn’t), whether there can be such a thing as a just war (rarely) and whether the UN is a good thing (yes, but only if used properly. Which it isn’t.) He contended that where people know each other they tend to live harmoniously, and that war thrives in places where the communities aren’t in contact with each other. I’m not sure I entirely agree: there are plenty of examples of neighbours being at war and even households being at war – after all, few people can know each other as well as a married couple, and yet we have plenty of acrimonious marriages. But still! I agree with his central thesis, which is that peace is desirable, war is occasionally necessary but generally undesirable – and that each of us can, and should, work for peace wherever we happen to be.
The question and answer session was perhaps less enlightening: there’s a tendency for people to grandstand and trot out their hobby-horses and, predictably enough, one guy spoke about Imperialism and how we will never make progress until Imperialism is eradicated, while a Zimbabwean got up and ranted about Zimbabwe for about five minutes before he could be stopped. I find this style of q and a quite depressing: it can be hard to get a word in edgeways and it’s not particularly enlightening. I also noted that about twice as many men as women spoke; and I think that reflects the Secular Society in general: while being progressive in many ways, they are not up-to-date. There was only tea available afterwards while most groups nowadays would have a range of herbal infusions, and I couldn’t help noticing that it was a woman who went to put the kettle on. But perhaps it isn’t always like that (the woman, I mean. I know the tea is always tea.)
So today is poetry, and while I’m waiting for some more of your lovely poems to flood in, here’s a blast of the Bowstring Bridge and a pic to go with it:
Oh, the Bowstring Bridge, the Bowstring Bridge!
If the council had just given way a smidge
you would still be standing
just in need of a sanding
alas! for the Bowstring Bridge
Alas! for the Bowstring Bridge.
(c) Liz Gray, 2011
Yesterday was terribly exciting: it started with an email sent on the off-chance. I was listening to Saturday Live when they asked listeners for stories of things that had gone missing or been lost in their area. Sounds like a job for SuperPoet! I thought, or something like that – so while my egg boiled I dashed off an email about the Bowstring Bridge, adding that a Respectful Pooh Song had also been written about it. Ten minutes later as my egg was gently dripping from my soldiers, I got a call. Could I tell them more about the Bridge? I did. And did I know who had written the poem? I did, and it was me. Could I give them a blast? I could, and did. Could I come on the programme later, say after the ten o’clock news?
I think I could…
I spent the next half-hour on tenterhooks, wondering whether after all I’d be squeezed out for lack of time, putting increasingly tense updates on Facebook – and at ten oh five the phone rang. It was J P Devlin himself, very friendly and chatty; he talked me through what we’d be doing and how many lines of the poem I should read. I stayed on the line where I could hear the programme going on like a radio playing in the background. Then they came to me. I talked about the Bridge, how iconic it was, how individual and how much missed – and how it had left a gap in the environment. ‘A gap which has been filled by a poem,’ he neatly segued. And so I went into the now-familiar performance of the Ballad; they laughed at the rhyme Bridge/smidge – and that was that. So apart from a frog in the throat it was fine.
It’s at 1 hr 12 mins in, after Charlie Higson’s inheritance tracks.
And so to the Vegan Fair which was less satisfactory. They were running late and it became clear that poetry would be next to impossible in a room heaving with people all buying food and drinks and with no microphone. The previous two singers were good but almost inaudible, and I wasn’t sure what I should do as I didn’t have enough songs for half an hour. So I raised my voice and tried to get people’s attention – and the nearest tables did join in with the Ballad’s chorus – but after a couple of poems I just gave up and stuck with the songs. Mark helped me on some of the songs, but I was still hardly audible and not well-received. So that did not feel good.
Thanks to Jane and Ian, anyway, who did their best.
And so to Peter’s, where after yoga and dinner an entire cast of Doctors made their appearance. Worth seeing? yes. Worth going to see? Again, yes – but not worth all the hype.
And so to bed.
Those of a certain generation will recognise this Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (‘Derek and Clive Live’) sketch.
I was reminded of it when I came across this frankly shocking article about the experiences of unpaid interns:
And it set me thinking: what’s the worst job I ever had?
Well, there are a number of contenders. They include working in a bingo hall, operating a factory machine which punched a hole in a piece of metal, and of course teaching in schools which was not so much a bad job as a desperately unhappy one. Still, I think the palm must go to a job I had briefly in 1981. It was the depth of the recession; I’d been unemployed and living in the North-West for over a year and I was desperate, so I signed up for something which I knew deep in my bones was going to be awful.
A lot of jobs in those days used to say ‘no sales’ when they were, to all intents and purposes, selling – and this was one of those. After a day’s ‘training’ (unpaid, though we got coffee) I was taken in a bloke’s car along with two other trainees to a housing estate in Cheshire. It eventually transpired that we were cold-calling and trying to sell double-glazing. Double-glazing! Cold-calling! Either of those two would be the epitome of a terrible job: combined they are pure Derek and Clive. Plus, they could legally say it was ‘not sales’ because we mugs were canvassing – doing the leg-work – and if we got a bite we were supposed to pass the details on to the main pr- sorry, salesman – who would swoop in and close the deal. He would get a hefty percentage and we would get a cut when the funds were transferred.
In the fullness of time…
Reader, I felt terrible. It was the worst thing I have ever done in my life, and only desperation kept me there, knocking on door after door, playing leapfrog with another trainee on a smart estate in Cheshire. Nobody was interested. I wasn’t surprised; in fact I was relieved when each time I went through the spiel the door was closed in my face, either with or without a polite ‘no thanks.’ But then I got a bite. It was an older couple and they were buying what I was telling them. I don’t remember what I said: I’ve blanked it out. All I remember is that when I called the sales bloke and we were invited in, I prayed hard that they wouldn’t sign. They were clearly naive and vulnerable and I doubted whether they could really afford the package: I don’t think I could have lived with myself if they’d gone for it. Thank god! Doubts began to surface when the financial package was discussed, and in the end they said no.
On the way home the sales p**** ranted in rage at their stupidity and railed at me for being ‘arrogant’ (presumably because I’d asked him a few questions*) as he drove at 80 mph round the M62. I got him to drop me a mile from home because I didn’t want him to see where I lived. Needless to say, I never went back.
And that was the worst job I’ve ever had.
Yes, this morning I am able to divide my head into three, just like Chris Conway’s Three-Headed Girl. That’s my favourite song of his and I was really pleased when he did it last night, the audience standing in for the backing vocals:
Chris’s lyrics are always amusing and inventive and as a poet I appreciate his use of rhyme. So that’s one head this morning, reliving the music and the beer – a light and hoppy JSB at the Criterion:
The other two heads are engaged in reading: one has just finished Kathy Reichs’ ‘Bones are Forever’:
and the other is stuck in a Val McDermid, ‘Crack Down’. Both writers have two main series of novels featuring separate – and female – characters. The Val McDermid is part of a series featuring Kate Brannigan, a private eye; though her best-known work showcases detective Carol Jordan and her sort-of consort Tony Hill:
So that’s me this morning: a three-headed girl.
Well! Today is one of those days when a post just flings itself together; jumps out of bed, throws on a few clothes and ends up looking like a cat-walk queen – all without any effort on my part. And today’s random ingredients that have flung themselves together are hell and Hull and Halifax.
First of all, hell. Hell is represented on iplayer this week by a Channel 4 programme about OCD. I watched this with our son, who has tendencies towards OCD, and found it both interesting and unusually (for reality TV) compassionate. The idea was to pair people with obsessive cleaning rituals (some taking up to 16 hours a day and using several bottles of bleach – ugh!) with people like Mark’s Grandma, a woman who never tidied or threw anything away, EVER.* The result was predictably explosive, but oddly compelling – and what was interesting about it was that whilst the untidy people grew and changed as a result, the tidy people didn’t: they’d parachuted in and done their stuff – cleaned and tidied and disinfected and de-moulded the place – but once they got home again they were left with their own neuroses intact. So I felt they needed a show where the tidy people had their houses professionally untidied by the slobs. But that didn’t seem to have happened. Maybe it’s planned for a future series.
So much for hell. Hull is of course represented by having won the award Leicester was pitching for, ie 2017 City of Culture. The consensus seems to be (on Facebook at least) a brief shrug of the shoulders, a ‘good for them, they probably need it’ and a ‘we’ve got lots of culture anyway.’ Which we have – whereas all Hull has is Phillip Larkin, a great poet but the North’s miserablist answer to George Orwell.
So that’s that… and so to Halifax, where I came across an engaging drama on BBC which I hadn’t seen before. This is the first episode of series 2 of ‘Last Tango in Halifax’. Starring Derek Jacobi as a cheeky ageing Northerner marrying a childhood sweetheart, it’s an engaging watch and not horribly cynical and dystopian as seems de rigueur these days.
God, that makes me sound old!
So there we are – Hell and Hull and Halifax, all in one post! Hope you enjoyed the trip. Going to see Chris Conway tonight at the Criterion – looking forward to that.
*Mark has had a distressing tendency to take after her
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