Diary – Ian McEwan, Adrian Mole, Blood transfusions, Libraries,

This week I fell victim to an awful moral quandary, by which I mean that I committed a grave sin. You will recall, no doubt, that last week I returned Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries to the audio bookshop. I also returned The Children Act, by Ian McEwan. But—reader, it was not my fault!—the audio files remained on my device. I do not know why! I plotted no subterfuge! I took no illicit steps!

Yet I was in this position whereby I had received a refund, yet still had the product. The classic cake and eat it—I felt just as our sober and sensible negotiators, David Davis and Boris Johnson, will indubitably feel in March of 2019. ‘That can’t be,’ I thought. Curiosity took a hold of me. I tried a little listen. Just to check, you know. I, honestly, thought that the DRM would kick in. It did not. So I listened, just to the start, because I thought I would like to hear a bit. Just a bit.

But I could not stop. Diary, I listened to almost the whole thing already and I don’t know what to do. Well, okay, I know I should just buy it. I should retrospectively correct my criminal behaviour. However, in Scotland at least, this is not a legal defence. So if one is in for a penny, may as well one stay in for a pound?…

It was very hard to resist continuing to thieve Ian McEwan’s work, especially after the torrid hours I spent trying to get into The Luminaries. I was hooked within the first paragraph. Fiona is a high court judge who is experiencing relationship problems with her husband of many years; this story forms a backdrop to several decisions she has to make, often dealing with religious issues—the education of Jewish girls, and whether to blood transfuse a teenaged Jehovah’s Witness against his will. The issues are real; they raise difficult moral issues. It is an engaging read and I will be sorry when it is over.

I also made some good progress with the autograph man, which is developing in unexpected directions. I took a while getting in to this—I think I’ve finished three novels since I started it—but I never at any point considered abandoning. And, you may have picked up, I am a ruthless abandoner.

In real life, I went to Thai Siam on Friday which was superb and went to Tony macaroni on Sunday, which was good and also fantastic value. I was going to go cycling on Sunday but my cycle friend was ill and anyway I was at a party until almost 1 on Saturday and that’s not very good prep. Instead, I managed a decent 90 minute turbo session and a walk in the sunshine in Kelvingrove park.

While at Thai Siam I boringly regaled my company by talking about how I wished I had a subscription to The Economist but I am too cheap to buy one. Then, as if my telephone heard me, later that evening Facebook showed me an advert for Glasgow libraries, of which I am an appreciative member, which informed me of the libraries e-magazine service. I signed up for this and now have full access to the economist in PDF form. I am amazed by this generosity and urge my fellow library members of the world to investigate whether you too have been blessed with such a great gift.

The biggest non-me news this week was that we invoked article 50 and it was revealed that Michael Flynn, the short lived Trump security adviser, was paid $45,000 by Russia Today. Also Adrian Mole turned 50. Would I be an unpublished author without his inspiration? Who can say. I’d certainly not be a better unpublished writer. I made further progress towards cementing my status as an unpublished writer this week by being rejected by 404ink for their F-word edition,  which I felt a little sad about. I am waiting to hear back from New Writing Scotland—I understand that the editorial meeting is today!—but I am braced for rejection. I think I’m just going to start submitting the novel to agents as a still completely unpublished writer.

However, as my driving instructor used to say to me on the many occasions on which I failed my driving test, you only need to not get rejected once and then you are published forever. Unless you have your licence taken off you for incompetent driving. This gives me some hope, I think. Today, new music is released by Goldfrapp and Melody’s Echo Chamber, and this is exciting news even if I never sell more novels than Dan Brown.

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism, Uncategorized

Diary – Yoga Ben, Rejections, Eleanor Catton, Holiday Plans

‘How will we recognize him?’

– laughter – ‘You’ll recognize him.’

And we did indeed recognize Yoga Ben, our house guest for the weekend, who was an unmissable presence in Big Slope from the instant of his arrival, bohemian even for the west end. We were relieved to discover that he ate pizza, and was humorous and ironical and generally good company. He enlisted on me on a 6.30 AM run through Kelvingrove Park, which was a joy. It was a beautiful weekend in Glasgow, and it felt quite special to be out before everyone else was up, in the cold Saturday morning sun.

And it even got hot later on, so I spent the weekend catching up on vitamin D. On Saturday afternoon, Steph and I took a walk in the park while Ben was at Yogacon17 and we had lunch at Jelly Hill. Famous comedian Kevin Bridges walked past, I think with a takeaway. What a buzz! On Sunday we took a 25km walk to Dumgoyne and back, and were surprised to find the trail quiet, although the Beech Tree pub was packed. Ninety minute wait for food! the intimidating manager cried. Fortunately, the food at the Beech Tree is beyond ghastly so we had come with a packed lunch. We did have a perfectly enjoyable pint, but even this was slightly soured by memories of ‘Cullen Skink’ past. Further ruminating however, I find I can’t praise the animals they keep enough. Is £7 for tinned soup served cold reasonable if it includes views of miniature ponies, lazy rabbits, and goats (just goats, no adjective)? Probably not.

Turning to literay matters, I am sad to announce that this week I suffered another in a string of rejections. This time it was the Commonwealth Writers Prize who deemed me unworthy. Bastards, I thought, as I always think, whenever anyone publishes or awards anyone who isn’t me. I have also recently been rejected by Gutter, Writers & Artists, the Scottish Book Trust, and the Caledonia Novel Prize. Not that I’m bitter. I read that JK Rowling was rejected 42 times before she finally had an offer accepted on a castle; so I understand that rejection is part of being a writer. Or anything in fact – thinking about it, I must have been rejected for at least fifty jobs in my life. I remember thinking every single rejector was a bastard at the time, but now I’d struggle to remember one.

Which brings me on to a rejection of my own: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I sort of came into this in a bad way. There was a two-for-one deal on and I wanted the Children Act by Ian McEwan anyway, so I thought I may as well pick this up at the same time. I struggled on for the first 120 pages; my interest was occasionally piqued by news of a whore or a murder, but eventually I just thought: I could die any day. ANY DAY IT COULD HAPPEN. And not even a sex-murder rampage by gang of teenage goth fembots from space would stop this book from being turgid, humourless and unironical. Dear reader, I was bored. So I returned it. Perhaps unwisely, I replaced it with The Secret History by Donna Tartt, whose Goldfinch I hate hate hate hate hated.

Other than this, the past week has seen me swept up with University Challenge fever. As charming as Seagull is, all right-thinking people knew he was no match for Monkman. Which is easy for me to claim, with the benefit of hindsight. I have also started planning my summer walking holiday; dates have been confirmed in July (I think more or less) and I think the route has been narrowed down to any one of several. Progress nonetheless! I think I favour either the Rob Roy Way or maybe just renting a cabin that has access to several munros and doing day trips. Sunshine is always helpful in inspiring holiday planning.

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism, Uncategorized

Diary – Rogue Male, Ben Ledi, Theresa May, The Guardian

This week I devoured Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household in a two evening burst after a recommendation from a friend. I am very happy to now recommend the same book to anyone who happens to stumble upon this sentence. It is a short thriller set shortly before the second world war, featuring an unnamed, upper middle class, big-game hunter who decides to have a go at bagging Hitler. His attempt at assassination fails, in fact, had already failed before the novel started, and the story told is that of his attempt to escape Nazi justice. It was a compulsive read, and put me very much into an outdoors spirit.

Which was fortunate as I was out hill walking on the following Sunday. Unlike the unnamed assassin, I was never in any danger of having to kill and eat a raw sheep. In fact, the weather around Ben Ledi was better than forecast, and we even enjoyed a view at the top, which was a shame as we looked forward to making a joke along the lines of ‘missed the view / viewed the mist’. A particular highlight was the discovery of an amphibious frog (pictured); it showcased its unique ability by leaping through air and water, resting momentarily on grass.

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On Saturday I finally got round to trying out the Co-Wheels car scheme, in order to collect a bench that I bought via Gumtree. The car was unexpectedly an automatic. It took me about ten minutes to work out how to turn the engine on, but once I had cracked that code the rest of the journey was straightforward enough. The purchased bench was satisfactory, and just about fitted into the Toyota Yaris. After leaving the bench at the flat we drove to Giffnock and went to Wholefoods where we bought some bread, which, even as fully paid up members of the metropolitan liberal elite, was about all we could afford.

Other than that, this week I have been listening to the new album by Vitalic and finding it very pleasurable. It is largely in the genre of glum techno, ideal for listening to on headphones while walking in the rain. I think this is the main kind of music and activity that I like. I have been reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, but I can’t say I’ve really got into it. I have also been redrafting my novel and working on a new short story, which is maybe just an emotional response to the world goose-stepping away over the horizon, leaving me and my liberal metropolitan brethren to uneasily await our fate.

Which brings me to Theresa May, who says there will be no new referendum on Scottish independence – for now is not the time. As much as I oppose her politically, morally and philosophically, I tend to agree with her. If there must be one, it should be in a decade or so once things have calmed down. I hear a lot of one particular argument recently: we should have an independent Scotland because the alternative is perpetual Conservative rule. It may seem like that now, but if the current political situation can teach us anything, it is that no political situation is permanent. However, it is bewildering that the Conservatives somehow command the support of 45% of the electorate considering the mess they have made of the economy, and in the wake of the budget U-turn on national insurance. Surely, surely, it can’t last forever.

Incidentally, I decided this week to formalize my membership of the metropolitan liberal elite by subscribing to the Guardian. For only £5 a month, I now have access to everything that you can access for no money at all. Which is a shame, as I thought that by subscribing I would get it both advert and comment free. Unfortunately, will power alone is not enough to stop me from reading the brain-dead fascism below the line. On the plus side, if the Guardian goes bust I’ll be able to claim that it wasn’t my fault.

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism

Diary – The Simpsons, Scoxit, Brexit, Milliband

I recall reading a Christopher Hitchens piece somewhere or other where he discussed a scene from a Jeeves and Wooster novel. Jeeves and Wooster are out and about, going shooting or something probably, when they encounter a CND protest going through town. Hitchens described it as jarring; he believed that Jeeves and Wooster were a perfect creation, who inhabited a perfect world of terrible aunts and community dance parties, and that there was no place in that world for nuclear bombs. He summed this up by saying: ‘you don’t shine light on magic,’ or something similar – I haven’t got the article to hand.

Watching the Simpsons this week, that phrase was brought to mind. I watched an episode in which a family of hipsters moved in next door to Homer. Further hipsters then descended on Springfield, briefly changing the character of the town, before vacating it en mass after the NYT declared Springfield to be the coolest place in America. These hipsters, I thought, with their beards and their skinny jeans, are too modern for the Simpsons. I realized I also think this whenever I see a mobile phone, or a Twitter or Facebook reference in the Simpsons. I mentally tut; I feel upset by the shining of light on magic.

But then I realized that this analysis doesn’t actually work. I blamed the Simpsons for changing, for adapting to modern technology and fashion. But it is of course me who has changed. The Simpsons has always been set in present day. I’m just so used to watching re-runs from the 1990s that it doesn’t seem like that to me.

There was a time when the Simpsons was cooler than me. It knew all about Cypress Hill and Smashing Pumpkins when I was too young to know they were real, contemporary things. Then there was a long period of mutuality as I grew into my teens, and long beyond. Now, who knows what. I am no longer qualified to know what is cool, and I feel, I think, jealousy. Jealousy that the Simpsons continues to be young and contemporary, to attract new viewers from new generations, while I grow older and, I guess, am slowly being removed from its target demographic by time.

I am jealous because the Simpsons belongs to my generation. What other cultural phenomenon could bind disparate youth the world over? Every movement the Simpsons take into the future is a betrayal of me and my late-millennial brethren. But here is a fact: I will continue to watch it almost every day as long as it is on TV. The Simpsons is to the millennial as the Beatles were to the baby-boomer.

What else of this week? I went cycling yesterday and enjoyed weather both wetter and colder than that promised by the BBC. On Saturday we finally put the feet on the bedside dresser only 10 months after we bought it, and I entered the Dundee Book Prize. And today, Nicola Sturgeon announced there will be a second Scottish Independence Referendum.

I cautiously voted yes in the last referendum. I am much more decidedly on the no side this time (although I began firmly in the no camp last time as well.) However, a lot has changed since 2014: Brexit, Trump, the alt-right. And Scotland is a more divided society than ever. Maybe it is just twitter that makes it seem like this, but I feel like people have become a lot more unreasonable on all sides. I saw this week that Owen Jones, I would contend as committed a socialist as is feasible, had quit social media due to harassment from his own kind. He was tired of being called a traitor, of having his motives questioned. Every day I see it claimed, essentially, that anyone who does not support Scottish independence is a traitor. I wonder: a traitor to whom?

I see a world that is divided, and people who are on hand to manipulate and rule. I do not see the SNP as the same as Trump or the alt-right or UKIP. This is a different thing altogether. But they encourage a similar fanaticism, a same all-or-nothing-ism. I don’t think it is healthy, and I don’t look forward to the next couple of years of political argument. The only guarantee, whether of Scottish independence, or Brexit, or Trump, is that it will make us all poorer and less united.

Today as I walked in the park at lunchtime, I wondered to myself: what would happen if I just lay down and cried and never got up again, and never spoke again. It would never have come to this if Ed Miliband had won the 2015 election.

 

 

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Posted in Politics and philosophy, television

Diary – St Andrews, Beinn Nairnan, The Magus, O.J. Simpson, Michael Dowd

It is Monday and I am sitting in my living room, which is flooded with morning sunshine. I have a pot of coffee, made from freshly ground beans, I am listening to the Women’s Hour on Radio 4, and my bliss levels are high. The plan for the day is: write the diary, have a go on the turbo trainer, then I’m off for a sauna, then out for dinner this evening. We decided to take a long weekend off work, and it has felt long.

On Thursday we went to the pub for dinner after work and ended up taking part in the pub quiz. We started strongly, but faded in the later rounds, but at least won the consolation prize (a ‘signed’ photograph of Warren Beattie) for the best team name—PriceWaterhouseBloopers. I was disappointed to later discover that this obvious pun had been independently invented by half of the people in the world, but we were the only ones who achieved the feat in the particular confines of the Crafty Pig on Great Western Road on Thursday 2 March, so I feel we deserve our trophy. Incidentally, I have not seen the infamous Oscars goof up, and have no desire to see it, due to my suffering from Hyper-Empathetic Embarrassment Response Syndrome (HEERS); a condition I invented a few seconds ago.

On Friday we took a drive to Anstruther, a fishing town on the East Coast famed for its fish and chips, which I felt a duty to visit since winning its short story competition last year. We had some excellent chips, and I found a shop that sells my favourite sweets (Haribo rhubarb and custards) and I bought a hundred of them, which has been my diet this holiday weekend. We then drove on to St Andrews, where we looked at the ruins of the cathedral and the castle, walked in bitter winds on the pier, and generally enjoyed the sights of students scurrying down ancient streets with carry outs and weekend anticipation.

Driving home at night was frankly terrifying; I am astonished by the aplomb with which nearly every other driver seems to display in speeding down windy single lane roads in pitch black, barely able to see more than five metres ahead.

On Sunday we attempted our first munro of the year. The (grand, delusional) plan was to reach the summits of both Beinn Nairnan and Beinn Ime. The weather was pretty good, a bit drizzly, but warm, so we thought this would be achievable. I say, ‘we’, but Steph hadn’t checked the route and was largely unaware of the altitude to be achieved and the distance to be covered. I have found it is much easier to get her to come hillwalking with me if I lie about the difficulty envisaged. Beinn Nairnan is a hard climb; we managed the first 630 metres. The route involved basically walking directly up  a stream, the average gradient must have been 15-20%, and it involved a lot of scrambling. We were forced to turn back as there was too much snow in the top third and we didn’t have the equipment to deal with that safely. Steph fell over about twenty times on the way down, but luckily she didn’t hit her head, only everything else.

I finished reading The Magus this week, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It delivers in almost every respect; the story is beguiling and compulsive, it leads the reader down all sorts of routes. For a while I thought it may be a story about ghosts, about religion, about magic. At times I doubted the sanity of the narrator, or doubted that what he was describing was true. At other times I was frustrated by his inability to suspend his disbelief—I urged him to desist in questioning the strange experiences, to just accept the ‘magic’ and enjoy it. However, as the novel continues, and the experiences foisted upon him became crueller, way beyond what I would consider to be unforgivable, even criminal, I was further bewildered by both his reactions, and by the apparent expectations of his tormentors. Beyond the plot, there is so much to take from this novel. Many funny moments, and lots of little stories within the story. I felt that I left a lot of meaning on the page however; on the Franzen/Gaddis scale this definitely ranks as difficult. We encounter untranslated French and references to Greek mythology, and, dear reader, I just let that wash over me unanalysed.

As a counterweight to the difficulty of John Fowles, perhaps, I also watched a good four hours of the OJ Simpson documentary available on iPlayer just now. I got about two hours into the first episode before realising that the episodes were in three hour chunks. I enjoyed the first episode particularly, which deals with OJ before the murder, but also provided a history of race relations in LA, the civil rights movement, Rodney King, Latasha Harlins and the LA riots. Shocking, and worth remembering as the authoritarians tighten their grip on power both in the UK and the US, and as Europe considers the option. Ultimately all these baddies got away with it. Within our lifetime; they still walk the streets.

Which reminds me of Michael Dowd, who I discussed last week, the corrupt sociopathic cop who starred in Precint 75. He only did 12 years in jail for astonishing abuses of power and is now free. After I wrote about him last week, he liked my tweet about my diary entry. I wondered at first if I should be scared by this, but I figure the only thing he could possibly want from me is attention, which I have already duly delivered. I may panic if I ever see a red Corvette however.

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism, television

Diary – Spanish lessons / Corbyn / Eating out too much / Precinct 75

Mi es hambre, I say (Me is hunger). She says: no, it is tengo hambre. I try again: Yo ya hambre (I already hunger). No, she says. It is just tengo hambre. But, I say, in English there are many ways to say that I am hungry, so there must similarly be in Spanish. No, she says. So I tried, Hambre es un calidad que es phenomenale en mi. When would anyone ever say that? I said I’d write it in my diary (without checking the spelling or anything, so it might make even less sense than I thought it did.)

I have been learning Spanish for four days now. My partner is Latin American and speaks fluent Spanish and all her family speak Spanish, so I should probably have started learning  years ago, but I have always had a good excuse not to, e.g. the dishes need to be cleaned, I am reading a book, I am writing a book. But I am going to try and do all of these things and additionally learn Spanish from now on.

On the subject of lefty cyclists with Latin American partners, I will now segue seamlessly on to Jeremy Corbyn. I was going to analyse the by-election results here, but I can’t face it. Let’s just say it was bad, and I don’t see how Corbyn can overcome it. I agree with him on his general principles, but he is poor at getting his message across and bad on specifics, and he isn’t helped by being consistently hammered by the right-wing media. Still, that working class voters would vote for more Tory austerity, despite the fact that it clearly hasn’t worked for them, rather than for someone who says they want to make the country fairer—it leaves me profoundly baffled. I feel the world is saturated with misplaced anger, is starved of empathy, and is lacking in logic.

Other than despairing re the above and speaking bad Spanish, mainly this week I have gone out. It was food at Mono on Monday, the gym then the Crafty Pig on Tuesday, a sauna and then the Crafty Pig again on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday I took the unprecedented step of cooking, but did go to the Sparkle Horse afterwards on Friday, and then to Singl’ End for brunch on Saturday, then another trip to the Gym and the Sauna on Sunday.

This has given me minimal time for culture this week, other than continuing to read The Magus, which continues to be excellent, and the Autograph Man. I had come to a slow point in The Autograph Man, when, just as I was about to put the book away and stare out of the window until bed time, I came to a hilarious long joke about a debate between the Pope and the head Rabbi. Fortunately, someone else has taken the effort to type it out, so you too can enjoy this by clicking here. Needless to say, this restored my goodwill in proceeding with the project.

I also watched a documentary called Precinct 75 on Netflix. This was about a sociopathic NYPD cop named Michael Dowd, who went to the clink for twelve years for acting as a personal bodyguard to a cocaine wholesaler. I thought it was going to be a movie, but I watched it anyway. It was mainly interview footage with Michael and his accomplices, which was interesting, but only moderately so if you have no professional interest in sociopathy. I don’t think I would have bothered with it if I knew what it was going to be.

In brief

No cycling or DIY this weekend. The shelf is still on the wall, and it still wobbles when touched. I signed up for a car sharing scheme, but I did not use a car yet. Steph and I shared a bottle of M&S Grapefruit gin over the weekend, which was nice though not particularly noticeably grapefruity. I listened to Wild Things by Ladyhawke several times and enjoyed it greatly. I watched Scotland win a game of Rugby for the second time in recent weeks. I failed to write my diary on Sunday and had to do it on my lunch break on Monday.

 

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Posted in diary, Politics and philosophy, Uncategorized

Diary – Six Feet Under / Zadie Smith / May / Brexit / DIY

The weekend is over, just about, and I almost got through it without mentioning Trump. A four hour cycle today, in company, and somehow we avoided the issue. The truth is that I am actively seeking out the comfort of ignorance. The news has become a scarefest; this morning I opted to listen to the hymns being sung on Radio 4 rather than catch up with the Guardian’s daily list of WTF. Yesterday I probably irreversibly corrupted the structural integrity of the building I live in through DIY. Why is it that we in the west do harm even when we mean to do good? Why is the reverse not true of when we in the west try to do harm? For there is no doubt that Trump will achieve harm; whether it is the exact harm he set out to cause or not. But there will be time for that analysis in another life.

In culture this week I have removed myself to the happy days of the Blair era. It was 2001, men wore baggy jeans, Scotland was setting up a parliament, the month was not yet September, and everyone, me included, was watching Six Feet Under. And now I am watching it all again on DVD, out of an actual boxset. So far I am finding Nate annoying, Brenda annoying, Ruth hilarious, Claire I view positively although she is frustrating, David is a dick but he is complicated, and the dead dad is my favourite character. I like the opening vignettes (in which an as yet unknown character dies, often in an unlikely manner) although I can’t really see a great deal of artistic difference between them and the ominous openings to episodes of Casualty (although, truth to be told, I quite like those camp episodes too). In Casualty sometimes the patients survive, I suppose.

I have also been reading The Autograph man by Zadie Smith, which I am enjoying. The opening scene, in which Alex’s father takes him and his friends to see a wrestling match, was at first hard to persevere with. I thought: Oh shit, it’s a book about children. No offence to children, but I find you very boring. I do not doubt that you feel the same about me. Fortunately, after the opening we meet Alex again and I think he is about 30, a very acceptable age to be I feel, and I have the feeling there will be no more wrestling in the story, which is also a positive. Despite my misgivings, the opening did draw me in when the the father’s brain tumour was revealed. Whatever else I think about or will ultimately think about this book, I thought it was brave of her to write a book about a black jew and a Chinese jew. She also seems to know a lot about judaism, unlike me. I am just taking her word for it that its all a true representation (would it matter if it wasn’t?)

Back in the actual world as it is unfolding as I type, I note that one thing that seems to be resultant of Trump giving a rambling press conference punctuated with outright lies is that we are all so aghast we have almost lost the capacity to be shocked by the shit that Theresa May is getting away with in Westminster. We seem now to be on course for a hard brexit, and when Tony Blair had a go and saying why that wasn’t a good idea, he was roundly panned on account of the Iraq war. I am not suggesting that he should not be criticised for the Iraq war, but I will never understand what that has to do with his, I think very reasonable, view on Brexit.

But I would posit that this is only the beginning of our worries. What upsets me is the authoritarianism. We now have governments in the UK who have the barest of regards for questions of liberty – see the snoopers charter, a new official secrets act that could jail future journalists for publishing leaked documents (including information that could cause ‘economic harm’ to the nation), the legislation to require age verification to view ‘adult’ material online (is this blog adult? It is not for children and has swear words and strong sexual references within), and the fact that everything you have looked at online since the year turned has to be saved by your ISP for twelve months, even though you haven’t got a criminal record and your sexual preferences are profoundly vanilla.

Still Theresa rides high in the opinion polls, and has resoundingly positive approval ratings. I do not understand this. I admit Corbyn is not the strongest opposition, but at least he is empathetic. At least his incompetence in government is only assumed, unlike the evidenced incompetence of the Conservatives: a record deficit, despite unprecedented cuts; people dying in hospital corridors; brexit for fuck sake; increases in homelessness and a massive increase in reliance on food banks, and that’s just the first few things I could think of. I honestly do not understand the mentality of anyone who could even consider voting for them. They aren’t even good at managing the economy, which is the one thing they are meant to be good at.

To end on an optimistic note; I replaced several spokes on my bike wheels this week, and successfully adjusted them such that the wheel formed a circle, then transported myself 100 km around Inverclyde and Ayrshire on them without calamity. Now, if only my shelf would STAY ON THE WALL PLEASE then maybe I’m not so bad at DIY after all.

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism, Politics and philosophy, television, Uncategorized

Diary – T2 Trainspotting / Christine / Birdman / Nutshell

I have recently acquired  The Assassin’s Cloak, a compendium of 400 or so years of diarists, and it made me think: maybe I should write a diary. I have previously kept diaries of Ride Across Britain and the time I worked at music festivals for ten days one summer—i.e. throughout short, potentially stressful excursions from my quotidian life. This makes me nervous that writing this diary will somehow cause me some sort of trauma, and this will be a, perhaps terminal, documentation of that trauma.

This is leant greater credence by the fact that I have been ill twice in 2017. Stephanie gifted me noro-virus a couple of weeks ago. I foolishly nursed her on the assumption she had food poisoning. No such assumptions in the future! And presently I am half way into the sort of head and throat cold that makes one feel as though in an aeroplane cabin, with breath like a water-damaged loudspeaker. Dear reader, I will document my inevitable decline.

Fortunately, the head cold hasn’t prevented my from attending work, the cinema, the pub, restaurants, the gym, and other places where malfeasant bugs can mix and mingle. At the cinema I have seen Christine and T2 Trainspotting, and I watched Birdman on Netflix.

I found Christine a little boring; I think biopics can often be a bit duff, being reliant on real life for their plots, and, in this case, the subject was only interesting on account of one final act. I sympathized with her during her descent into mental illness, but beyond that I didn’t think the film was really saying anything other than: isn’t it sad that this person killed herself live on television. Unfortunately for Christine, as significant and important as she thought the work she was doing was, it wasn’t either of these things. She was a hack. One particular criticism of the movie was I didn’t understand why they went to the hospital after the attempt (obviously I understand why they attempted to revive her in real life) when the attempt was such a natural ending point. The subsequent scenes, which suggested, I think speciously, that the reason she killed herself was that, unlike the other characters, she had no coping mechanisms, added nothing to the story.

Serendipitously, Birdman also featured a public suicide attempt. I enjoyed this film a lot; I thought the story unwound in an increasingly ominous way right until the ambiguous ending. Unlike Christine, the Michael Keaton character was unsuccessful in his public suicide attempt. I enjoyed the moments he spent on stage before pulling the trigger. At this point, he has the loaded gun, and he isn’t wearing the blood-bag. I thought: what if he changes his mind? Does he still shoot himself rather than risk ruining opening night? Perhaps that is what happened, as that would explain why he shot himself in the nose rather than through the brain. I would suggest that anyone considering suicide gives themselves an easier opt-out than this.

And now to Trainspotting. I had watched the original on DVD a few days before seeing the new one at the Grosvenor, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is a film that just works. The surrealist scenes do not disturb its realism. It is funny, entertaining; it is unforced. The music is great, the sets and costumes are superb (and remember, nobody dressed like that in the mid-90s.) The sequel disappointed on every level. It consciously self-referential, lacking in plot, unrealistic in a pointless way, and, while not quite boring, lacking any of the quirkiness of the original. The Begbie character, probably the weakest link in the original, dominates the latter half of the movie, and it becomes a substandard action/horror movie. And the funny bits aren’t funny. Basically, if this wasn’t Trainspotting, it would be straight to Netflix, or whatever happens to duds now that Woolworths is not extant.

I also finished reading Nutshell by Iain McEwan, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I am not generally into babies etc, but this was one charming foetus, and I was pleased to learn that the unborn consciously want their mothers to consume alcohol during the third trimester.

Other than this, I have been listening to an audiobook of the Magus, skipping my weekend cycle due to my cold (probably a good one to miss due to icy winds), spring cleaning the flat, and I have been recoiling in horror on a minute by minute basis as twitter bombards me with news of Trump and Brexit.  I also note with trepidation rising support for Scottish nationalism, and I wonder if there will ever be a time again when I can predict with any certainty who will rule me in one year’s time and how their power will be justified. It is not that I am necessarily opposed to Scotland being asked again the independence question, but I think we all need a great deep breath first.

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism, movies, Uncategorized

Reflections on an Affair

 

  1. A Lover Reflects on a Fuck

 

Joy Fairfield woke up mildly hungover, her airways obstructed as always, but feeling strangely settled, and resolved. On what: she had no idea. But she felt a calmness and a certainty that had been wholly absent the morning before. She had slept naked—not her usual practice. Normally once the deed was executed she would pull on her big knickers and a frumpy nighty, but last night she hadn’t. Partly because she had been exhausted. Packet really could fuck. He was a connoisseur of fuck. He fucked like an artist. He was precise, rhythmic, and, judged even to modern secular standards, obscene. Joy blushed as she recalled the journeys his tongue, fingers and toes had taken across her anatomy.

She was still spooning him when she roused. She ran her hand down across his soft, hairy paunch, and squeezed her breasts against his back. She wondered if he fancied having another go at it, and she couldn’t remember the last time she had thought that when she woke up with a man she had taken home from work.

It wasn’t that he was especially pleasant to look at; he certainly wasn’t a contender for Mr Naked UK. It wasn’t even his British accent, or the obvious indications of wealth and class. It was his attention to detail, his devotion to his task. Sure, he was most likely a sleazy cheating husband, an absent father, and who knew how he made his money? But at least he had a passion in life to which he was utterly committed. And commitment, she had heard, was an attractive quality in a man.

But before he had revealed his virtuoso talents to her, he had just been a charming, vulnerable man, perched naked on a stool at her bar. But not permanently vulnerable—not weak. She just happened to encounter him during a short-form crisis. He had shown pointless resolve; had nervously laughed off his troubles. She couldn’t blame him for his situation; how was he to know that male nudity was essentially inappropriate in Paradise’s number one clothing-optional nightspot?

Although resolved, and pointlessly intrepid, he had been reliant on Joy’s intrigue, and he had shown her his appreciation. He had spoken to her in a manner in which men didn’t usually speak to her; with kindness, and interest. And he had come across as open and honest.

Maybe nakedness encourages honesty, after all, if nothing else is hidden… Or perhaps nakedness provides the illusion of honesty. Whether he was honest or not, she had not chosen to ascribe the value to him; she had felt instinctively that he could be nothing other. At some point, maybe a bottle and a half of wine into their relationship, she had longed to remove her own clothing, and work her shift undressed. She had broken into goose bumps at the thoughts of all those eyes on her flawed, flabby body. Half of her clientele may have seen it before, although admittedly in her bedroom’s ‘atmospheric’ lighting, but on those occasions she had longed for them to close their eyes, and this time she longed to be seen.

But she remained adorned, and she longed for the time when the last barfly would leave, and hoped that it would be Packet, and hoped that he would leave with her. Her chat with him had at first been mundane, but swiftly it had taken on an erotic charge. And when she had told him that there was more to sex than life, it had taken all her resolve to remain upright. It had been the most liberating statement of her life, which she had hitherto assumed was a life of lascivious liberation. She had felt a rush to her head, a dizziness, and her words felt like a whisper. She longed to slide to the ground and masturbate.

It was quite a thing to learn that sexual liberation was something other than sexual availability. She had always been up for it, and men had always liked that. She wasn’t demanding. She would usually make breakfast in the morning and she didn’t expect cunnilingus or a phone-call. But all her life, from the blow-job she gave Eric Peters in ninth grade to the doggy-style fuck she’d had with Paul the night before, she had been basically passive. She had just done what they wanted, without thinking about what she wanted, which she had formerly assumed to be the same.

So many evanescent shadows had been cast across her bedroom; her erstwhile cosy, tiny bedroom, which now felt like a place of profound emptiness. For all the fucks she had had, until last night, she may as well have been a maiden.

Perhaps that was hyperbole; maybe nonsense. But it was how she felt. And it wasn’t through sex that she lost her virginity (though the fuck had been a revelation); it was through assertion, through speech, and action. Those words, ‘sex is about more than life,’ seemed to her the bravest action she had ever contemplated. She had made herself vulnerable; she had put herself there, naked in front of him. But she had put herself there. She had chosen this path, and set about achieving it.

She kissed his shoulder; she admired his tenacity. She had never seen a man stay to the end like that. Most didn’t even order a drink. She could think of none who had stayed for more than one. And there was certainly none who had scored. She almost caveated that with: even if it was with me. But she didn’t.

What did she actually know about this honest, open man? He must be married, and a serial cheat. He hadn’t said this, but she knew it, and she hadn’t asked. And that was fine. He was imperfect, but strong and resolute. He was a lover of moments. He was not a scrub.

He was a different class altogether from the usual crowd, the beer and shot drinkers. He drank wine, and even naked was adorned in an aura that was easily, instantly, identifiable. That aura was money. He wore the subtle scent of wealth. He was probably an arms dealer, or maybe he owned real estate. Maybe he was going to open a hotel.

She hadn’t asked him any of this because she had been in a mood to talk of herself. She had been drunk on adrenaline, and, in retrospect she realized, also tequila. But not wobbly, just lubricated. She couldn’t remember everything she had said, as she practically dragged him home: yes, they had even walked, almost ran. But she remembered that she had barely let a millisecond go by unpunctuated by her thoughts. She had been desperate to tell him everything about herself, and about her day. She had even told him about Paul the night before, about that first blowjob that she had given Eric Peters, and she had spoken in detail about her recent listlessness.

But now she had realized that she could have a story; that she did control her life. That she had the power to affect her outcome, and those of others. She was sure he had probably agreed, but she knew that she had just kept talking over him, as she pulled him down the sidewalk like a dog—a thought which reminded her that they had seen that ragged white mutt that looked like Rod Stewart. Packet, probably overloaded with information and in need of a deep breath, had stopped and patted him. The dog had been nervous, whinnying, but Packet had calmed him down with his learned caresses. He was a skilful man.

 

  1.       A Fucker Reflects on Love

Melbourne Packet walked to the Garden of Paradise on unsteady feet. In his hand were flowers; the most expensive bunch from Flores Flowers. He left behind him a sophisticated tail of shell-shocked petals; pale blue and white crumbs to trace his steps by.

He had woken with Joy spooning him. It was the heat that woke him: her heat, which soaked in through his skin, and Paradise’s, which blared in through the window and bounced between the close-set walls. He woke with sweat on his forehead. He could sense that he was pink. He felt physically uncomfortable, clammy and hyperthermic. But he had no desire to move. No longing for the penance of soap and water.

He never slept like this, entwined. He always left upon the execution of the deed. Even, usually, with his wife.

‘Management accounts,’ he’d say, as if it meant something, and shower. On the odd occasion they did sleep in the same bed, they didn’t cuddle. She understood that he needed his space.

But this morning he had awoken with a sense of lightness. Hot, clammy, but on a bed of air. Perhaps partly causatively, he had also awoken with a boozer’s winning pool coupon; that is, he was not hungover, but mildly drunk, bright and alert to his inner world of lazy endorphins, but completely uninterested in, lacking almost any awareness of, the world outside Joy’s bedroom sauna.

He allowed this happiness to fester a while; dozing as Joy stroked his stomach. He had no need to cover his tracks, not in Paradise. Not in Eden. And he no longer felt sleazy; yesterday’s angst was absent. The endorphin tingle in his brain had spread; it had drifted southwards, first to meet Joy’s petting paw, then further. He was wholly under its instruction.

Almost wholly, as he managed, with all his strength both mental and physical, to refrain from ejaculating: on that first gentle pawing; then when she took him in her mouth; again on first penetrating her vagina; again in the second he withdrew to switch position against the wall; and at the moment she turned her gaze back over her shoulder and provided him instructions that would lose their erotic power if repeated outwith the situation they were decreed within. Packet had never felt a truer connexion and he could not withhold forever. Most fortuitously, when he did cease to withhold he enjoyed a full-body and mind orgasm, and the feeling of happiness that comes from shared pleasure; not the pleasureless spunk he usually associated with prolonged orgasm denial, not the guilt and stress of precaution that he now associated with so many of his international affairs. Finding his penis still fully erect, he surprised himself by reusing it to further good effect. By then there was no time for him to be served Joy’s traditional post-coital eggs, but she did add a decent glug of whiskey to his instant coffee, being, as she was, without unspoilt milk; and Packet could claim to be nothing less than entirely sated.

However, upon leaving Joy his sense of wellness and comfort evaporated. Something about her enthusiasm, her sexual indefatigability, had filled him with an vivaciousness. Now, alone, he felt not vivacious. He tried to re-invoke his earlier euphoria by thinking of Joy: of her cute pout, of the little white hairs above her lip, her round belly and bum, of her warmth.

He thought about their conversation the night before. As they had walked to her apartment from the Garden of Paradise she had told him of her search for the story of herself, her nascent desire to use her life for something greater than pouring mind-altering cocktails and having casual sex. But she had no great purpose; only a tentative feeling. And he thought of the drunken half-advice he may have given her, if he had been able to get a word in. He would have said, ‘you go girl,’ or something similar like, ‘you can do it.’ He would have seduced and flattered her with a few platitudes and clichés.

But now he felt quite certain the aphorisms did genuinely apply: there was something about Joy. She had a power, over him at least, that made him think she could do something exceptional. Something much grander than fucking him to a state of inner peace. And her power? It was over him, but not hierarchically. It was instructive, but not condescending. She touched him by example; there was a selflessness about her. It wasn’t entire: it was clear she was caught in her own internal struggle. But it was there, and when he was with her he was enchanted by this—by shared experience, tenderness, and, what seemed to him like, love. A genuine love, perhaps evanescent, but tangible and fulfilling.

And herein was the root of his despair in her absence. Alone, he was forced to measure his self, his life, in comparison to her’s. Hitherto, he had assumed his life a great success. True, the precautions were wearisome; but he was wealthy, popular in a vacuous way, tremendously well sexed, and he was sure that his children were probably a thing to be proud of. On reflection, in a manner, he could be seen as quite a bad person.

He had always understood that sex was different from love. Mutually exclusive, almost. Sex was what you did for release and recreation; it was base, animalistic, and it was the most important thing there was. Love was what you had with your wife. It was the appearance of bourgeois dignity; staid, and built on a foundation of words like ‘darling’ and phrases like, ‘of course, dear.’ Love was because it always had been; it was genetic condition, a biological urge to form a partnership for the business of child rearing. Love was what one needed release from.

But, after forty years, forty years in which he had strutted with the sort of self-assurance that comes being the solver of the deepest riddles of life, he was, at around 9.30 this morning, having to reconsider his opinion. For love and sex were not mutually exclusive. And whatever it was he had at his family home, it was not love. And he felt bad, not just for himself, but for those who depended on him. What he provided them with was wealth, advantage and status. They needed love, affection and attention. He did not provide this. Worse, he had perverted the idea of love for them. He had stolen something from them that he now realized was important. His progeny were incomplete, his spouse was uncherished.

And worse still, it transpired, it seemed, that the best sex was love. What he had done with Joy was no different physically than what he had done with many others. It was emotionally different though, in that it was laced with love. It glowed with the heat of common surrender. It was unlike, monumentally different from, anything he had ever experienced with his wife. He didn’t care about his wife. He supposed he would never see her again. It wasn’t this that devastated him though. It took little coming to terms with. What saddened him were the forty loveless years he had had, and the further forty that perhaps awaited him.

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Posted in fiction, short story

The One

 

 

 

YOU tugged at my arm. I turned and looked into your brown eyes, so often my first clue: would they be tender, or furious, or sobbing, or lascivious? And they were mischievous—they hovered upon me for not a second, before aiming at their primary interest. I kept looking at you: the sun reflecting on your mahogany skin, your flat but delicate nostrils. It was our first holiday together, in the Algarve, and we were five years younger than today and every time I looked at you I wanted to fuck you. This was regardless of whether those eyes were tender or furious or sobbing or mischievous. And I wanted to fuck you then.

I could tell you were impatient, as it was barely a second later that the tugging arm on my elbow was maneuvering me, redirecting my gaze towards the primary interest, the matter of utmost importance. You pointed an cyan tipped finger as well, and at this point I surrendered to your will.

WE stood together, spellbound, and we feasted on the magic. It was an advertisement, displayed behind the window of a perfume shop. I didn’t recognise the subjects, but I know now and will never forget that they were Scarlett Johansson and Matthew McConaughey. They wore funereal clothes, and were sitting sharing some fruit in the foreground. At the same table, and in the same form of dress, were two elderly peasants. The mother (I guess) had a wistful look, while the stars in the foreground appeared ecstatic. There was something comically unusual about the image.

You were convinced that the picture was a composite of several portraits. There was an atmospheric incoherence that initially led me to agree with you. Stepping closer in, however, I could not detect the seams. ‘The light,’ you said, ‘is inconsistent.’ This satisfied me for the moment, and in any case I had by now become lost in a deeper study of the detail. The ancient photographs on the wall in the background, the basket of strawberries and sharon fruit, the way Scarlett pulled her pendant away from her, the glaring white teeth of her and Matthew.

I could have stayed there all day. I should point out: we were laughing aloud. It is important not to forget this. Eventually we giggled off on our way to the gelateria.

We went back to this advert for this perfume in this alley every day of the remainder of our holiday. On the last day, you said, ‘let’s go in and smell it.’ But I stood firm in contradiction to you. This was not to upset you, but because of an inchoate feeling I had that there was something important about this poster, this perfume, and that we presently did not, and had not the capacity to, understand its true meaning. We had to eek its meaning out over the years. I did not want to rush the story. This was the story of The One. The One, which comes in two variants, one for each of the cisgenders, and is produced by Dolce & Gabbana.

*

YOU had ombre hair, which was in fashion at the time, and you looked fine, as in wine. The hair accentuated your south European features, which were a mystery to me given your lineage. Everywhere we went, people assumed you were a tourist; we loved to watch the confusion on waiters’ faces when they heard your accent; a sort of bourgeois Geordie that nobody but you spoke.

I loved to listen you talking; your high-pitched clipped vowels sent tingles through my hair in waves. You were saying something; I wasn’t really listening. I was just enjoying the noise and staring at your bum. You were wearing fishnets and a miniskirt, even though (because?) you know that I can’t help myself when you dress like this, and we were going to visit your parents for the first time. It was going to be a tantric journey to the north east.

WE both saw it, I think, at the same time. That poster. I think we had both assumed that it was just a foreign campaign, but here it was, exactly the same at home as it was abroad. We were instantly transfixed, instantly laughing, as the train slowly took us away from it. Then it was as though we had been brainwashed; we found ourselves standing by the doors, looking out the window, tickets limp in our hands. I told you we had to go to the bathroom.

You were game for this. We both had to go.

I, for my part, was massively rewarded by this experience. I glowed and rejoiced in the tingles all the way to Newcastle. This, I believe as truly today as ever, is the only way to (temporarily) neutralize the erotic power of fishnet tights.

We were going to your cousin’s wedding; my first time in your provenance.

You introduced me to the clan; there was a townful of them in the bungalow and you could taste my discomfort. ‘Why don’t you boys go for a pint,’ you said, and off we went, your dad and uncle and brother and I.

I recall having difficulty with your father, a rotund man with white hair who stood the height of a wheely bin,  who appeared to me to be a deformed version of my uncle. By this I don’t mean that he was deformed; merely that he neared but did not conform to the image of my uncle; a similar man. This being so, I found your father highly distasteful. I suppose the error was on my part rather than his, but it is a basic ineluctable fact that when one person looks like another they will never, in my eyes, have any status higher than parody.

We had spoken a day or so prior; you attempted to prepare me. You talked me through the likelihood of certain sayings, particular places. You know how I tend to freeze and sweat when abroad with aliens, and it is thanks to your mercy that I made it through the ordeal of the club. Bitter, I remembered to order, once I had translated the question. But largely I was lost; I had a feeling they were making fun of me. When they spoke to me I laughed and agreed. By the time the man had arrived with the much coveted pie (our table became rapidly popular; with hello’s men came by, and as furtive pastry-eaters they left without even a how’s-the-wife) I was in the antechamber of discombobulation. It was then that The One was brought back to mind. Not just the oddity of it all, but the separation. I felt like there were five of us around the table, together in one space, yet of two different universes with an overlapping edge, a tectonic fault line between us.

You, of course, were furious; a snob—that was how you described me. But you never prepared me for the pie; an Anglo fruit-salad, in a way. There were still two evenings to pass, still the wedding to be attended too, and I had made the wrong first impression.

I recall the train back home; at pains I tried to elucidate my theory of The One. But you failed to understand me, even once you had calmed down, and left your familial angst in its psychogeographical redoubt. I worried I was losing you.

We did not fuck on this transit.

*

YOU gave me such solemn eyes and I did not know what to take from them; was this empathy? Was it stage mourning? But then a hint of you came through; it was almost imperceptible: it was a question asked in a quantum physics. You said, ‘am I doing it right?’

I tried to say, ‘you are,’ in the same technique. I used a millimetre of forehead tilt and I think you understood, as you softened your eyes. I marched on, with my brother, father, uncle and cousins, and we carried my grandfather’s box to its terminus. He was Argentinian, but had a generic continental European look that I did not inherit. I did not really know him.

WE had by now made it a thing: this statelessness. We were not to be tied down by the chains of our ancestors; we were not to be compelled by the accidents of our birth. But we did funerals, weddings, birthdays divisible by ten, and Christmas, although we had by now opted out of gift-giving. Families, we realized, were to be outgrown, but not offended.

You looked delicious. I remember finding you quite overwhelming; I wanted nothing more than to drop that coffin. I followed your pendant with my eyes; you held it between finger and thumb, then let it drop down into your cleavage, and I wanted to follow it with my mouth. Knowing what ludicrous sum you had spent on that black sleeveless dress made me want to tear you out of it. This was a decadent desire.

I always think that the way you looked that day will be the way you are ultimately defined in my mind; you had a Scandinavian theme; pale from avoiding the sun, blonde even though you always hated blondes (was it just because they were not like you?) I breathe deeply now as I recall this.

We hosted a little seance for the departed, in our holiday rental. We had been talking a lot about the book at the end of the universe, that tome which awaits us, which details all events. My inkling is that it was written long ago; you tended to argue that the sentences accumulate in real time; it is a work that is never finished; otherwise our lives have no meaning.

You were in the kitchenette, filling a vase from the tap, when the ceiling creaked. My father, brother and I made quizzical eyes across the seance table, and then a middle-aged women in a bath came through the ceiling, and split our table in two. She had suds on her areolas and it was a miracle nobody died. Her high turned white with the shock.

I suggested we all nip out; for the ambience in the apartment had become inappropriate.

We stumbled into the sunlight; the five of us, blinded and unnerved; we slipped into a rustic cafe. I ordered the fruit salad and we were brought a basket of strawberries and sharon fruit. I looked at our reflection in a mirror—not a mirror, but a window, a trick of the light—my beard was unkempt; our clothes were black, we dressed for the evening though it was the day. And we beamed, for although we were nominally sad, we were relieved to be alive. And the light: I could see this. It shot in from a high window, and it sliced our table in half.

YOU and I were in the foreground. You pulled away your pendant, as if to catch a particle or two of sunshine, and toss them my way.

I laughed because I understood; I finally understood. And you were ecstatic too; because we were together, not just in place and desire, but in thought.

WE were, at that moment, in greater unison that we ever achieved through physical love. We were alone together; my brother, my father and the women from the bath were there, but they were not with us, and were incapable of understanding.

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Posted in fiction, short story, Uncategorized