The Write Stuff

I’ve been away from blogging for a long time – about 2 years apparently, doesn’t time fly?  Now that’s writers block on a grand scale.  I bet Ernest Hemingway didn’t down tools and go sailing for more than a few month’s at a time, although since he did blow his brains out in the end maybe he did.  Not that I’m comparing myself to Papa Hemingway – au contraire – heaven forbid – and all that.  I’m sure my little scribblings don’t even come close to a ‘real’ authors musings.  Although it must be said that just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so is literary merit.  Personally I think Stephen King and Peter Straub and P.D. James all suck despite the fact that they’ve sold, and made, millions.  Don’t know about you but I find that tons of turgid prose and overly intricate plotlines bore the hell out of me and can only be deciphered by underemployed academics on a grant.

Mozart was once informed by his patron that his work was good but contained ‘too many notes’ – well Stephen King’s plots are good but he uses too many words – a few thousand of them too many in fact.  You could take out all the superfluous windings and musings plus all the ‘the’s’ and ‘And’s’ and still be left with an unreadable  chunk .  The Shining I must admit was an excellent book, tightly drawn and full of suspense, but then King sadly got a bad attack of verbal diarreah and has sunk in my opinion ever since.  But literary criticism is of course subjective.  When he was at university Michael Crichton decided to submit a little known short story by Hemingway as his own in order to see what would happen [here he would be thrown out of school on his ear-hole that’s what would happen, but times change ].  Hemmingway, Chrichton says, got a “C”.  When at university I was also tempted to submit other people’s work as my own  – a practise that was widely endorsed by the student body as a whole until it was stifled forever by the introduction of satanic software like ‘Turn it In’.  I only did it once – sort of – when I submitted a paper for Anthro 101 on Neanderthal Man and quoted widely and extensively from Time Life Books for the General Reader [now defunct].  I hadn’t heard of the term ‘academic research’ or that other one ‘primary sources’ at that stage in my school career, therefore I inserted reams of directly lifted text from ‘Time Life’  sprinkled  lightly with a few unoriginal words of my own here and there like snowfalkes.  I was pleased to find that this essay writing lark was pretty easy after all.   Fortunately for me I did put quotation marks around most of my paragraphs making them look like ‘proper’ quotes, and the bibliography was easy:  ‘Time Life’, ibid, ibid, ibid…otherwise I might have joined Michael Crichton outside in the road waiting for the Number 27 bus.

Alchemy and Art

Art has a few more uses than filling up the blank spot on the wall behind the couch you know.  It can be used to promote propaganda, incite a revolution, convey a philosophical/spiritual message, sew discord or dissonance or more prosaically just inhabit the bottom of the cat box in the case of Julian whatsisname who is much given to pickling sheep in vats [dead ones I very much hope].  Although how you get a dead sheep in a cat box is another matter entirely and is possibly something to do with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and/or quantum mechanics.  But I digress.  What I really wanted to discuss was alchemy which of course was clear from the start.  And what exactly does alchemy have to do with art you ask?  Well the answer is much because artists have always had an interest in the occult.  Artists of the Italian Renaissance period in fact took great delight in embedding strange symbols and hieroglyphics into their art works only decipherable by dusty professors with magnifying glasses, the editors of Halls Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art and Dan Brown.  And Dan Brown has made a zillion dollars for himself much to the dismay of the authors of the ‘Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’ who objected to him – allegedly ahem – pinching all their good bits and making it into a worldwide bestseller which also happily is destined to keep Tom Hanks in work possibly forever.

There is no doubt that Leonardo’s  ‘Vitruvian Man’,  which was heavily featured by Dan,  does contain arcane symbolism that was quite intentionally put there.  The man in the middle demonstrates not only the golden mean of perfect proportion that so interested the ancient Greeks but is placed within a circle which in turn is placed within a square.  This mathematical impossibility was one of three problems that occupied a lot of ancient Greek time i.e. squaring the circle, doubling the cube and trisecting an angle.  Oh and getting drunk and naked in the bushes at the Bacchanalia but that is a topic for another blog.  One of the first mathematicians to tackle the problem of squaring the circle was another ancient Greek, Anaxagoras, who was also a philosopher and [ drum roll ] an alchemist…  Now quite how all this points us towards mad monks and the riddle of the Holy Grail is not quite so clear.  Dan Brown – and the authors of the ‘Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’,  make the case that Jesus [the Vitruvian Man?] was not crucified after all but was spirited away in some devious plot perpetrated by a mysterious order – maybe the Knights Templar who were akin in them days to the SAS but with niftier uniforms and more religion.  And what is more, he [Jesus] was then free to marry Mary Magdalene [the actual Holy Grail of legend] so that they could perpetuate the bloodline and pass it down via the Merovingian Kings, the Templars, the Illuminati and probably the Masons who no doubt were in there somewhere.

Another example of alchemical symbolism appearing in art is in the ‘Adam and Eve’ by Albrecht Durer [1504] which clearly demonstrates an interest in the four humours i.e. black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood [yuk] – fire, water, earth and air – which in turn correspond to the four temperaments, melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic  and choleric – and the four elements, fire, earth, air and water; A veritable stew, so to speak, of alchemical delights.  And alchemists were very much interested not only in all of the above but in transmutation, or in simple terms the process of turning base metals into gold.  This deeply involved the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, a sort of one stop shopping catalyst that turned anything into everything at the touch of a button – or in those days a stir of the old crucible.  On one level this was an entirely practical pursuit involving jars and stills and oddly shaped bottles not to mention furnaces, mercury poisoning and third degree burns.  But on the other, and some would argue more importantly, it was a philosophical and even spiritual pursuit.  In the case of Jesus and Mary Magdalene for example the vessel was Mary herself and the transmutation was achieved through the comingling of the male and female essences in the presence of a catalyst [the ‘water of life’ – the aqua vitae – or the sperm?] to produce the final product – the gold of the bloodline.  An interesting thesis indeed.  Other fascinating art examples to study next time you’re at the museum or digging through the art books [less travelling involved] search out ‘The Garden of Earth Delights’  by Hieronymus Bosch, or even Leonardo’s  ‘The Last Supper’  – in fact just about any of the Italian Renaissance works.  Gold star for anyone who finds the hidden alchemical Waldo – replies on a post-card please.

Time After Time

Just finished a course in Parasychology – and no that doesn’t mean that I’m a spaced-out saddo it means that I am interested in the ‘other side’ of life – and particularly so if there *is* one. You see it doesn’t make much sense to me that we live, we die and then we become compost for no particular reason at all. What are we doing here in the first place? If you look up at the night sky – or the morning sky or whatever – it’s hard not to imagine that something wondrous has been taking place this past several billion years or so. We hear that there are worlds and galaxies without number out there. In fact, there are so many that some scientists have voiced the opinion that the universe is infinite and therefore there *is* no end. Now that has to make you think. Doesn’t that mean that if the universe is endless and time is endless then all possibilities exist and everything is endless – including you and me? Flawed thinking perhaps but I like to think it’s true. When I snuff it here I want to know that I will at least come back as a Nerubian Slime Monster or at the very least a creature from the black lagoon. I’m not as keen on coming back as a ghost who spends forever floating up and down staircases or appearing out of the fireplace to scare the dog. That would be an awfully dull existence don’t you think? Surely ghosts have something better to do? Just think – if you didn’t have to go to the grocery store all the time or buy clothes or watch telly or haunt [pun intended] the new car showrooms or worry about where the money was coming from to stave off the electric company just what *would* you do? Personally I think that once you reach that great library in the sky you can do whatever you want and conjure up anything you want – which is rather like being Paris Hilton for all eternity.
But what about all the good things in life that we would surely miss – not the electric bill and those annoying neighbors obviously – but that holiday in the Caribbean or a great meal or a marvelous concert or the view from the summit of Everest? I suppose as ghosts we could just wish ourselves up to the top of K2 or down into the depths of the Marianas Trench but there wouldn’t be much sense of achievement in that. We could conjure up Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay and Marco to prepare brekkie, lunch and dinner at a whim, we could even have Martha over to do some decorating, but again, what’s the sense in that if whatever we wish for just appears at a click? We are brought up to believe that everything of real value is only gained by effort. So if there is something after this life then I think we are duty bound to make something worthwhile out of it. Remember this when you’re a ghost yourself – no banging on walls or rattling the teacups or moaning down in the cellar for five hundred years. Get yourself out amongst the stars, travel where no ghosts have travelled before, write celestial music, create great art and paint it across the sky. Whistle on the wind, go sighing through the trees, and spread a little love around. And obviously write lyrics. Cya in the Great Beyond – unless you’re in that other place of course….

That’s a Moray

I was sitting here thinking about sunshine – well who wouldn’t if you looked out my window at thirty feet of snow and a few wilted petunias – frozen in situ as it were.  Canada is nothing but bloody cold and I am so fed up with snow that I could scream.  If anyone wants some just send me a self-addressed envelope and I’ll send you the stuff that’s piled in my driveway – if I can get out the door that is. To make things worse I keep finding these seductive emails from Cunard Cruises in my inbox – complete with pictures of tanned and lovely people sunbathing on the poop deck craftily designed to lure me out of my poor cold chair before the small fire [visualize Bob Cratchet on a bad Scrooge day] and into the wide blue yonder with ports of call in Hawaii, Fiji, Bora Bora and Tahiti with strains of South Pacific echoing softly in the air.  Hrrumph!  This is a cruel and evil marketing plan to make me feel like the heroine in some opera by Puccini and if I had two cents to rub together – not to mention my tiny cold hands – I would sue them for emotional distress with a bit of pain and suffering thrown in.   Now I know what all those rent boys felt like in that attic in Paris – the lights of the city displayed before them and nary a flying French franc for a tart [or Euro I should say but it doesn’t scan].
So let’s consider this.  There are the Haves and then there are the Have-Nots – there are those who can well afford cruises to the sun and those who most definitely cannot.  Unfortunately I find myself belonging to the latter camp don’t know about you.  But there has always been a large division between the wealthy and the poor, the cruisers and the cruise-less, mostly because the wealthy have got more money to start with and therefore can buy up all the land that the poor sit on and charge them rent.  This is known in some quarters as ‘disaster economics’ – or ‘put up and shut up’.  It’s a simple concept.  The rich wait for some disaster to strike the poor i.e. floods and mayhem in New Orleans for example, and then they swoop in on their black chargers – or Lincolns as the case may be – and scoop up all the property from the bargain bin.  They then wait around for the market, and the people, to return, and sell everything back for a tidy little extortionate sum.   Result!   The rich get rich and the poor get poorer.  Nothing personal – just good business baby – and too bad if you lost your home and now have to live in a cardboard box.  Good thing it’s warm down there.
Seems to me the recent collapse in the World economy will undoubtedly profit the few and exclude the rest.  God knows what happened – was it the oil grab – ahem – War on Terrorism?  Balloon mortgages? Interest deferred until suddenly your payments triple and you find yourself sitting on your suitcase in the road?  Too much spending – too little spending – too many people – not enough jobs – too many big cars – not enough gas?  Who knows?  All I know is that many people have been out of work for a year with no end in sight while ‘some’ of us profit from huge government bailouts aimed at – you guessed it – saving the rich and excluding the poor.  Because, if big business gets bailed out then many other failing enterprises and overdrawn loans can latch on for the ride and the Trumps of the world can write off just that little bit more.  And if that fails then there’s always money to be made in war.  But nobody is ever going to send me money – no-one is ever going to bail me out – unless it’s that wife of the assassinated dictator in Africa who died in the plane crash that is..  She really wants to give me some money because she can just tell I’m honest from my email address.   But while I’m waiting for it I have to work two jobs, defer my retirement until I’m 90 and hope like hell that the electric company is feeling benevolent this month – or at least until the deep freeze is done.  But perhaps there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – maybe Cunard would agree to transport me around the world if I in turn agree to swab the decks, fluff the pillows and pour the rum.  Tahiti, Tonga and all points south –  here we come!

Celebrity moans

I was standing in Chapters riffling through the bodice rippers – you know the ones –  the hero always has fine chiseled features and a thrusting jaw and very tight pants [which is maybe why he has a thrusting jaw]and the heroine has a pentient for standing in the rain in transparent nighties or posing in front of fans with  hair flying and  wet t-shirt glued to her perky breasts – those ones – and wondering who reads them – well me obviously,  well not me actually.  I was really looking for cook books but was tractor-beamed over by an arresting cover displaying some big bloke who looked like Fabio.  Remember him?  He was smacked in the face by a seagull riding on a rollercoaster a few years ago – well not the seagull, Fabio.  It was a case of man meets bird’s bum at 90 miles an hour – not a pretty sight, and somewhat of an embarrassing moment I would think?  There you are, looking like a Norse God, flaunting your tall tanned muscular body under an open to the waist frilly shirt while young girls – and a few guys – swoon for miles around when WHUMP!  Bird brains and feathers up your nose and poop all over your Manolos.  To my knowledge he hasn’t been seen since – not the seagull, Fabio – well, the seagull too.

The problem with being a celebrity of course is that you are always on display.  You can never ever have an unguarded moment for fear that some twonk with a candid camera is lurking in the bushes or under your car or has attached himself to your bedroom window by suction cups just to get that picture of you throwing cell phones at the nanny or lying drunk in a pool of vomit on the bathroom floor.  It really is too much to bear don’t you think – and all for a few billion for doing nothing very much but repeating a few lines into a camera or kicking a football about.  Of course the other problem is that you not only have to put up with the paps but you have to starve yourself to death too – how else are you going to get into your size zero zero Christian LaCroix in time for the latest awards show, photo opportunity, Hollywood Walk of Fame moment, Kids birthday party or visit to Disney?  Don’t forget that you must never, never be seen wearing trakkies and trainers and no lip gloss not even if it’s for ten minutes in the sandbox with the latest celebrity accessory the adopted orphan from nabutostan.  And of course said orphan must also be dressed to the nines.  No sloppy jeans and ice-cream stained t-shirt for Celebrity Baby – he/she must attend ‘play-dates’ dressed by Gucci, carry a miniature handbag from Hermes and kick nanny in the shins with hand-made sandals from some Italian artisan called Gianni who turns out one pair a year from his exclusive ‘atelier’ in Rome.

Heaven forbid that you let your guard down for one minute and are seen leaving the club with white powdery substances clinging to your nose or suffering the effects of one too many or gripping the bum of someone else husband because you’re likely to find yourself on the front page of the News of the World within seconds and News at 10  – you can’t even Go Commando or have a wardrobe malfunction without sixty-five cameras recording the event for the archives forever.  I wonder what paparazi did a hundred years ago before instant digital images were available?  Did they have to get the latter-day Britney Spears sans undies to hold that pose with the wind blowing up her willikers while they lit the candles?  And an earlier version of Keano Reeves would have had to back up and run down a few more photogs a few more times in order to get a mention on e-Online.  Although it would have been e-Offline and a hand-drawn sketch then wouldn’t it.

Post-Christmas Blues

I haven’t done much blogging lately, not because I don’t have anything to say but mostly because life intrudes. Christmas mostly. You know the sort of stuff – tramping round the stores spending way too much money on people you never see or driving yourself nuts trying to find that perfect gift for the ungrateful good for nothing little bastard of a grandson who dropped out of school barely out of grade six and now thinks the height of ambition is lying on the couch watching wrestling and drinking beer but you have to get him something because if you don’t your daughter, the single parent, will be hurt and an entire family feud will ensue – phew. After all that who has the strength for blogging? It’s taken me most of January to get over it. I don’t know about you but Christmas occupies about a third of my year and the rest is taken up with birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, graduations, and various assorted public holidays – like Easter and Thanksgiving – when I am obligated to cook AND be nice for an entire day. Hrrrumph.This being Canada it’s snowing for a change and it’s bloody cold; so cold that you have to watch out for falling birds whizzing past your nose and plummeting to earth, frozen in mid-flight. Every year at this time I ask myself what I’m doing here but I can’t leave even though I would like to especially since I’m self-employed and only need a laptop and an Internet connection to work anywhere in the world except the UK where I was born and spent 21 years of my life. It’s not because I’m an international criminal or a drug dealer or even a minor rock star that I can’t go back but because UK currency is worth twice as much as mine which means in simple math that the minute I step off the boat I lose half my income just like that – thump. Or put another way, everything would double immediately. Even a take-out curry with some chips would assume a cost approaching that of fine dining – well without the wine obviously. About the only place I can move to on the planet with a currency worth less than Canada’s and still be relatively warm is New Zealand and they have earthquakes – sigh. The South of France I hear is relatively affordable – but French. Spain – bull fights. Italy – crazy drivers and volcanoes. Japan – crazy drivers and volcanoes AND earthquakes [and they all speak Japanese]. Thailand – snakes as long as a football field and typhoons. Hawaii – volcanoes and Americans. China – coal fires and lung disease. Australia – snakes and crocs and great white sharks and jellyfish bigger than a boat and venomous spiders the size of soup plates that live in the toilet bowl and blokes that call you ‘Sheila’.  Hmm – maybe it’s not *all* that cold and who needs to go outside anyway. If I stay in all winter and most of the Spring by the fire I can put some money aside for Christmas.

Remembrance Day

When I was a kid in Portsmouth [UK] there was a naval war memorial on the Common that towered over the promenade and cast a bleak shadow far out over the water to the naval ships passing to and fro up the Solent as the sun set of an evening.  It’s still there and will no doubt be there for a few hundred years more.  I used to paddle in the ornamental fish pond which has now been replaced with a safer alternative, a flower bed that prevents small children like me from jumping in and drowning themselves or trying to round up all the goldfish in a jam jar – or more likely to stop drunken sailors chucking discarded beer bottles over the wall.  When I was a tiddler myself I used to gaze up at the central tower and wonder how many bodies they had stacked up in there.  After all, it didn’t seem feasible that they would spend all that money on concrete and brass plaques and marble columns just to say thanks chaps for sacrificing yourself in some far off pointless war.  I thought there must be some sort of utility to the edifice apart from providing me with a place to swim that was less dangerous than dangling precariously over the lip of the slippery sea-wall to watch the surf below.

The central column put me in mind of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square and indeed Nelson himself left for Trafalgar from the docks at Portsmouth [and came back pickled in a rum barrel but that’s the subject of another blog].  There were lions at the base that the aforementioned drunken sailors liked to feed fish and chips to after midnight and far, far above in the haze I could just make out some sort of stone creatures jutting out around the parapet that I fancied must be the dogs of war.  The column supported a globe and at the base, branching off from the lions, were stark stone walls with brass plaques with names on them – thousands of names – arranged alphabetically into naval categories such as ‘cooks’, ‘artificers’ and ‘gunners’ – neatly inscribed and classified  forever by rank, file and serial number.  It was impossible to attach any meaning or sense of ‘personhood’ to any of these names although I used to try and imagine what D. Dolan Gunner’s Mate might have been thinking when he loaded his last gun and the deck sank beneath him – or what J.Patterson Signaller said in his last transmission.  Was it “Look out – there’s a torpedo – God help us all.”  D. Dolan was probably thinking of his mum.  They say that in extremis we turn back into the little kids we once were calling out for the one who loved us best – crying desperately for her to make all the horror and the fear and the blood and the tears go away.  It wrenches your heart.    

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Spielberg’s ‘Private Ryan’.  It’s a few years old now but it still hits home.  Veterans of the war say that the opening scenes are still capable of triggering flashbacks of that awful day when young men stormed the beaches and were immediately cut down by machine gun fire – or stepped off the landing craft and drowned under the weight of their guns and their gear.   Looking at pictures of the beaches now it’s hard to imagine that such horror was enacted in such a peaceful place.  It’s a real irony too that most of the war-graves sites that surround the old battlefields are quiet and peaceful places given over to the birds and the flowers – and of course the thousands of grave markers stretching away into the gloom.  Remember the poem?  “In Flanders Fields the poppies grow, between the crosses, row on row”. Walking through these lovely gardens it would be very easy to forget that beneath the lush green grass lie the bodies of husbands and brothers, fathers and sons, many of them barely out of their teens, barely old enough to shave – let alone die – and for what?  It’s hard to imagine that so many young men could die fighting yet another war.  I’m sorry if that offends you.  At least you might say that World War II was fought against a clearly defined enemy – a genuinely evil tyrant who sent women and children to the gas chambers and the ovens.  But what of other wars?  Vietnam for example – or Korea or Iraq or Afghanistan?   Is there or was there any sense at all in these?


The war memorial is meant to honour the dead and to make the rest of us feel national pride in our young men that they could so selflessly give up their lives for a cause.  But what if there is no cause other than political gain and propaganda?  What if they were deluded into laying down their lives not for a cause but for greed, territory, power – and lately – most probably – oil?  The war memorial is less a symbol of heroic sacrifice than it is a symbol of stupidity and greed and this Remembrance Day I will stand by the cenotaph and feel sadness in my heart and shed tears for all those young boys – and wives and mums.  But I will not honour them.  For there is no honour in war – merely violence, suffering, futility, sorrow and pain.