Sunday, November 01, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015

And so it begins: target is 50,000 words by the end of November. This year I am resurrecting my old post-apocalypse novel about a post-inundation world where a remnant Indo-Chinese culture dominates the world.

Word quota for today has been achieved. Hurrah!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fragment from a winter bike ride

From the flicker of winter sun-shadowed trees
In the lane ahead
An adult buzzard glides from shade 
Into full sunlight,
Under-plumage a vivid blur
Of greys, white, black and browns.
Ghosts into the shadows of the copse.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Short poem about going out for a walk at sunset on a day soon after the onset of spring; a day on which the clear skies and sunshine of the day give way to a surprisingly chilly evening as the sun dips below the horizon

Sheep field.

Moist earth.


Dusk blue.

Cold moon.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Beyond the Forest

Beyond the Forest

Heard the Radio 3 breakfast-show presenter refer to Transylvania this morning, in respect of Bela Bartok, 'today in 1919 being the day when Transylvania was annexed by Romania'. 

Having been brought up in the English-speaking cultural tradition, and not having examined enough of my accreted stereotypes, I couldn't help but see Bela Lugosi loom up out of the mist, intoning ominously in his faux-central European accent. 'Transylvania', in the shorthand of this culture, is an amalgam of Stoker's "Dracula", the Universal 'monster' movies of the 30s, and perhaps the Hammer films of the 60s and 70s: a gloomy, bucolic land of hills and forests, scattered with crudely rustic villages and castles denizened by aristocrats and ghouls.

Obviously this is a travesty of the region's long and rich history (Rome, Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire...), its beautiful landscapes, and immensely complex and diverse religious and ethnic history.

By the same token, the one-dimensional and toxic stereotypes of migrants from 'Eastern Europe' that dominate the press and much of popular consciousness/discourse rest on a narrow foundation of prejudice and simplification.Perpetuating them risks embedding them in the minds of  the young, the ignorant and the impressionable, and with more damaging effects than Bela Lugosi wrought on my subconscious.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

P r o p o s i t i o n s   f o r   N a s c e n t   T h o u g h t s   o n   L M I

LMI = Language, Morality, Ideology

  1. Reading seventeenth century English radicals reinforces the knowledge that - in those Bible-literate cultures - their appeal to morality was predominantly couched in the language and quotation of scripture as a legitimising force.
  2. In 'Western' cultures, morality (and law) is rooted predominantly in the Judaeo-Christian tradition of Bibical-/revealed truth-legitimation.
  3. For 20th century radicals and leftists, the language of Marx/class was the central armature around which was built the argument for radical change/reformation of society.
  4. Marxism as constituted in its ideological form aspired to the status of science (pseudo-science is a better description).
  5. Mainstream left-socialism eschewed largely eschewed the religious tradition, bundling it together with the 'forces of reaction'.
  6. In the post-Marxist, post-Socialist world, there is a paucity of language/models with which to frame the moral argument for a different way of being (as the language and conceptual frameworks of the mainstream 20th century models have been junked alongside their failed/outmoded/outdated political manifestations). 
  7. The absence of a simple, clear, articulable model of morality/reform leaves the field clear for the status quo's continued dominance.
  8. Language is crucial in framing the case for alternatives/fundamental change/reform; I haven't yet heard/found that compellingly articulated case.
  9. Where is it? On what base will its morality be built?

Sunday, November 17, 2013


It's time I owned up: I rather like the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films that I've seen (all of 1, half of 2, fragments of 3). There, I've said it.

There's a lot of stupid mess in my head about why it's sort of shameful to admit this: all sorts of things around intellectual snobbery, received wisdom from critics, sneering differentiations between 'high' and 'popular' culture, the inability to give myself up to something simple and fun, and the associations between mainstream Hollywood money-making output and the decline of civilised values in the age of neo-liberal dominance and the commodification of everything.

But, leaving that aside, whenever I see a bit of these films, there are a number of things that appeal to me. At one level, I think the leads are attractive and funny, and the supporting cast is great (Tom Hollander and Jonathan Pryce, take a bow). And you could even make a case for Keira Knightley as something of a Bechdel-test icon.

The personalities thing has always been an important part of movies' appeal, and remains so for me. But more important for me is the 'world building' element. What I love about these films is the way that the world and its atmosphere is beautifully crafted through locations, props, sets, lighting and effects: this is a world that I would like to visit, a consistently-realised alternative universe where you know how things are going to look and feel. It's rather like luxuriating in a beautiful dream.

Thinking about this made me realise that I have similar sentiments with regard to literature: the books that I have really loved, and which I keep going back to, are appealing to me primarily because of their world-building, their atmosphere, and their prose. For me, 'plot' is just the thing that all these other elements hang on: even in Dickens, where the plots are as structurally integral as the steel rods in a concrete bridge, what's interesting to me is not the logic of the story progressing towards its conclusion, but rather the imagery that we see on the journey, and the vignettes of atmosphere, emotion and mood, and the playful language that sometimes stops you in your tracks and makes you re-read passage after passage.

I think this is why I often feel a sinking sense of disappointment as the pages held in my right hand dwindle down to nothing and the weight of the book is all in the left hand: the knowledge that the familiar patterns of redemption and conclusion are going to play out (which often feels like a bit of a cheat...), and - more - importantly - the sense that you will shortly have to emerge from this beautifully-rendered world that has entranced you.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

An(dy)logue and Digital

I was thinking this morning about  that sequence in ‘Three Colours: Red’ [?] when the camera follows the path of the phone call being made by (Trintiginant?) - down the telephone line into the skirting board, into the external duct etc, then through the undersea cable and up to the phone ringing, unanswered, in an empty room on the other side of the channel…and then the return of the signal, as I recall, to Trintiginant’s phone…

And there’s also something here, I think, about how the metaphors we use to think about things are embedded in the *infrastructural technologies* of a particular time, and how those metaphors of the *technical* basis of things shape our thinking and ways of processing information. So the Kieslowski sequence works because, as someone who grew up familiar with the banal realities of analogue technology, you (I) understand that *physical* connectedness of things (also…there’s a point here about how you *accept* the technology that you are introduced to as a child as *normal* - so for (most?) ‘children of the analogue age’ the way that an international telephone call works is - in itself - not a thing of wonder…):

1a. You dial a number on the dial, which (somehow) translates into a connection, via the equipment at your telephone exchange, into a connection to some specific cables that will route your call to the desired destination’s telephone receiver; 1b. your vocal cords vibrate (let’s leave aside how the brain makes that happen…); 2. the sound waves propagate through the air, and impinge on the diaphragm of the (analogue) telephone’s microphone, which converts those waves into an electrical signal; 3. That signal propagates along the little phone line, into the wall, and out into the street, where it goes into a cable duct; 4. the signal whizzes along to the exchange and is routed to the target telephone, where the signal is converted into impulses that make the ringer ring; 5. If the person picks up, the circuit is completed, and the sound waves emitted from your vocal cords can be transmitted, converted back into sound waves by the receiver’s speaker, and your interlocutor’s ear starts of the process of turning those waves into meaningful components that can be interpreted by the incredibly complex hear-understand-formulate response-speak machinery of their brain…]

I realise that there’s *masses* of the technical components of this interaction that I don’t understand even in the analogue model…and the *digital* mode is even more mysterious. So my point here about the stuff you absorb ‘unproblematically’ holds, I think…I just ‘used the telephone’, focused on the speech act, and not thinking about the technology (while *hating* using it, a function perhaps of my Asperger’s, and not being able to see the person’s face…? So shy!), and not understanding the technology, or the infrastructure, beyond the most primitive level…

….but I think the difference for me between the analogue and the digital modes is that, because I was brought up in the analogue world, I had a *sense* of how it worked, and could construct - even if it was quite abstract - a *model* of how this activity might be embedded in concrete ‘things’ (even if some of those ‘things’ were ‘black boxes’) - you could still build a mental model based on electric current making some kind of actuator click, and that current then doing some more work somewhere else, on some other *mechanical* thing that moved, and did work…so you could create a model of *mechanism* that you could slot your understanding into. I’m much less confident in my ability to be able to do that for the *digital* model…maybe if I thought about it a bit more I *could*….but I also wonder if there’s something about the way that digital technology seems (for me at least) to *abstract* things away from the idea of ‘physical’ connectedness that renders the abstraction more profound? And whether this works in the same kind of way for the ‘digital natives’ of today?...

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


Shot a short video on my camera phone today: an air ambulance helicopter taking off from the play-park adjacent to my office's car park. Even from inside the ofiice, we'd heard the chopper go over very low earlier (you could feel the vibration in the pit of your stomach), and, after circling, the pilot put the helicopter down in the park, blowing leaves and wood pigeons out of the trees.

An hour or so later, sitting in my car reading under the shadow of the trees, I heard the whine of the helicopter's engine as it started to turn the main rotor. I jumped out of the car and started to film the preparations for flight, finding a gap in the hedge where I could get a vantage point. One of the crew stood on the grass making hand signals to the pilot,then climbed in just before the different pitch of the tail rotor joined the sound of the main rotor. The chopper wobbled into the air, rose slowly, and the rotor's down-draught sent a gust of dust and gravel across the grass, spattering my face. I kept filming as the hedge's branches flapped around in the rotor wash, and the helicopter disappeared into the overhead sun and tree branches.

"That was exciting," I thought, thinking about how I cold trim the video and post it online somewhere.

And then started to think about the context. Why would an air ambulance touch down next to a housing estate - perfectly accessible by road - unless there were some dire medical emergency that potentially required the patient's rapid carriage to a hospital? And what could have happened that meant that the helicopter was there for more than an hour? Pessimistically, I reasoned that the patient's need for urgency must have disappeared - presumably through their death.

At that point, I realised that my excitement at the spectacle of the powerful machine preparing to fly had taken me completely out of the reality of the moment: I was more concerned to try and get a shot and to capture the visual spectacle than to engage with what the reality of the moment might be.

And it struck me how natural, how *unthinking*, this instinct to 'take the picture' has become for me: always looking for the 'shot' rather than seeing the landscape; always thinking about what this scene will look like back on the computer, and how I can crop it - rather than actually drinking in the actual experience that I'm having...rather than being present. 

I don't like this. Always being somewhere else mentally; seeing the moment as if from outside, through a visualised distance of time and medium. And - especially - losing sight of the fact that there was probably someone's tragedy at the heart of this moment. I have become a cold bastard.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Winstanley in Plainer Sight

I'm reading Christopher Hill's 1973 edition of Gerrard Winstanley's writings at the moment. It's instructive that (in the Introduction) he reads Winstanley through the lens of modern (as it was then) socialist political thought, and frames a lot of his discussion in terms of Winstanley's thinking being a precursor for the communist/socialist models of ownership/distribution.

What's particularly striking to me - reading this afresh in my post-Marxist incarnation - is how Hill has to downplay the centrality of religious thought and experience in which Winstanley was soaked/embedded in order to make his reading fit better with the tenets of secular modernity. Hill says at one point: "We must make allowances for the Biblical idiom which Winstanley shared with almost all his contemporaries, and try to penetrate through to the thought beneath." How patronising is that? As if we, with our modern political theories, can know better than the person themself what they were thinking and saying?

So interesting to re-read things with a different mindset: when I read Hill on Winstanley et al originally, I too was looking for the echoes and signs that might reinforce or 'validate' my own Marxist commitments. Now, I can read Winstanley anew, less encumbered by those particualr ideological distortions, and see his writing afresh. And he's good.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Showers in May

As the clouds thin and break,
Late afternoon sun picks out
White blossom beaten down to a swirl
Of confetti on the glistening tarmac.

Each puddle vibrates with tiny ripples
As flotillas of frisky flies skim
Across the water's surface.
Everything is abuzz, green and pulsing with life.