Staying Afloat

 Posted by at 10:00 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 312010

I see that Happy New Year is flagged up, though I’m glad you point it out because the writing is so tiny that otherwise I’d have to have my nose rubbed in the coarse jute of the flag in order to be made aware of the greeting. This is a moment of endings and beginnings, a time to remember to remember absent friends and how it is in the nature of things that friendship is the warp and weft, the coarse and the not so coarse fabric that keeps me afloat. Even in absence it is precisely those threads that create order within the random and ramshackle universe, the tendency towards entropy and chaos; those threads that keep my head above the waves of dissolution, keep me interested, keep me looking forward. OK, and what do I (we) have to look forward to?

    Well, there’s this blog, the attempts at dialogue, the reading, the interrogation of text, interpretation and play – and always the looming deadline – and what will be the next sentence to emerge. What are you going to come up with next? Whatever it is, you can be sure that I will never have heard of it. And that’s the point – pushing towards the edge, never knowing what fragments of near incoherence will enable a few more steps to be taken – forwards, backwards or sideways. Journeying in the wilderness is never going to be easy or straightforward. The image may be the Dartmoor wilderness or the urban wilderness of the world’s great cities, but it remains the stuff we are given to struggle with, the constant interplay of inner and outer, darkness and light, the play of shadows. This is our territory and it is worth both marking and celebrating as the old year dies and we await the birth of the new.



 Posted by at 2:56 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 292010

Or ‘traffic flags’, if you prefer, one red and one green, in either hand, because what else have we been doing all year but waving at you trying to get your attention, Over here, Over here.

‘Traffic flags’? Well, it used to be that way, before the coming of the traffic lights, at the centres of the great cities, say the main crossroads of Buenos Aires or Berlin, and there would be a man stood above the busiest intersections raised up on a platform directing traffic with flags and whistle.

We have spoken about those red and green men before (Walk/Don’t Walk) stood up there trying to get themselves noticed in order to stop the traffic and pedestrians from snarling up.

And our memories are also just long enough to remember the men on the railway platforms with their flags and whistles too, All aboard. Like your recollection of old-fashioned wireless, sitting down all together in the front room to listen to a good radio play.

What’s on today, The Story of Franz Biberkof, Never heard of it.

Well, you are right, because it was never broadcast, the powers that be cancelling its transmission a few days before it was due to go out; this Hörbilder  from Berlin during the Weimar days.

You are also right about Mackay’s obsessions with the ‘eastern provinces’. Since we saw him in the Café Buenos Aires in the company of the ladies from the ‘Typing Pool’ a few weeks ago, he has had his nose in a book by Peter Jalovich, Berlin Alexanderplatz; radio, film and the death of Weimar Culture.

But it was our friend Bolano that really kicked it all off earlier in the year, that reference to Alfred Döblin’s masterpiece on page 717 of 2666, which Mackay had by now underlined in pencil of course as well as tagging the page in his copy.


(‘You don’t start life with good words and intentions, you start it with perception and understanding and the right companion’.)

Are we living in dangerous times, you ask. Look, look, what’s that curious message coming from the flag men, Oh yes, how droll – ‘Happy New Year’!

As We Gather Round the Wireless

 Posted by at 3:13 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 242010

There used to be the wireless, in the corner, a substantial piece of furniture, though I’m not sure my memory of it is very clear. It seems I can scroll through a number of possibilities and cannot pick one with anything like certainty. On Offer was the Light Programme and the Home Service, Journey into Space and the Goon Show, Take it from Here, Round the Horn, Uncle Mac and Children’s Hour, and Two Way Family Favourites and much else besides. But what word did we use, radio or wireless? Again, memory is uncertain. May I turn the wireless on? May I turn the radio on? Or I might well have said, can I. Is there a class bias in the use of the two words? Like lavatory or . . . any of the other possible alternatives. Where are we in relation to class consciousness these days; even toffs listen to grungy urban music. There is no end to our attempts to forge an identity. Did, I wonder, Lady Gaga, I mean Aunty Maggie, in a quite unconscious way usher in a new sort of classless society? The only rule in the UK now is, Make Money. Making money is good, and making more money is better. There is no other arbiter to leading a good life. And if you are a banker you can get the state (which to be honest we don’t really believe in) to bail you out when you have gloriously f****ed up with impunity – okay there was a bit of grumbling – but we are much happier kicking the poor benefit recipients who we can loosely regard as a bunch of lazy undeserving fraudsters. And, besides, we are terrified that the bankers might all go off-shore.

Wireless, nowadays, is just part of the democracy of computers and internet; we are all connected, but wirelessly. By this point there are probably only three people over the age of four, on this planet, who haven’t got mobile phones, with a rapidly increasing proportion of them being smartphones. Does life get any better, I hear you asking? And you are probably right. Even Mackay up there in the hills of the East Midlands is about to unwrap his iphone and the only possible response is, me too please. How else is he to tune in to the variety of waves emanating from east of the Ukraine.

I think the problem started when a few years ago he received some unsolicited e-mails from those eastern provinces. Yes, he took it personally, and at a bit of a loose end and wondering where the next project was going to emerge from, his imagination fired up. In the way that history repeats itself or as Freud put it, in the grip of the compulsion to repeat the old patterns, and having spent his formative years with his ears tuned to Radio Free Moscow, hell bent on revolution providing it’s under the control of the Politbureau. All this in the context of the Cold War battle between Uncle Joe Stalin and Uncle Joe McCarthy. what have the Joes got against each other? One hesitates to say, may the best man win.

But all in all, in the midst of our political uncertainties, let us remember that this is Christmas and I have just received from aunty and uncle amazon, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Seamus Heaney’s The Human Chain. Both wonderful offerings in their different ways. Franzen seems like a good enough mind to spend some time with over the holiday period and Heaney, as usual, gives us his moving and sublime language. Added to which, I have to check to see if BBC iplayer has the Pope’s message to the British people on offer, because I forgot it at 07.45 this morning.

Happy Christmas!



 Posted by at 11:55 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 212010

Ty shpionka?

Are you a spy, the man asked him on the radio this morning during the first of the two interrogations of the ‘Bourgeois Wrecker’ which were transmitted today – The interrogator must have struggled heroically through the thick snows from the capital to reach the secret location of the ‘English Country House’ on the large estate where the wrecker was being held (or ‘Deliberate Falsifier’… from any number of alternative epithets for these designated enemies of the people) for the broadcast to go out – those were not the exact words the man used, but the meaning of his questions were clear:
Are you an agent for good or for bad?
Is your organisation an agency for good or bad?

On the radio in the background you could hear what sounded like a wood fire crackling, a cosy fireside chat you might initially be lead to think, but the ‘acoustic sequence’ for this Hörbilder was more likely trying to give some evidence of these harsher circumstances; that the ‘English Country House’ central heating was completely unable to cope with the cold threatening to engulf its residents, and old-fashioned methods were being used to keep a single ‘sitting room’ warm, as if within a radio thriller- Cold War – mystery play, where at night the house occupants flit like wraiths along silent corridors from cold, cavernous bathrooms to even colder bedrooms (or cells) where ice has permanently formed on the inside of the windows, before the uncovering of a crime of sexual wrong-doing in the light of the following day.

I am a publisher, the other man replied slowly in an american accent indicating his continental foreign-ness, before going on to make his claim to be heard for the sake of transparency and accountability, for Justice…

We take note here of these Wiki-leak claims, because here we too are a BLOG, and thereby part of that publishing community which is now sometimes also called the ‘Fifth Estate’, in order to distinguish it from those other Estates which surround it… and perhaps do not always wish it well; the executive, the legislative, the judicial branches (including those of ‘security’), and the media.

… a further detail; the ‘English Country House’ estate was said to be improbably located some distance beyond the East Midlands in a direction towards Russia.

Meanwhile, the light is thrown against dark, the whiteness contrasts against the pits of black, and Mackay himself has not been seen for several days – No! Untrue! – there was one report of a man fitting his description being seen in the worker’s party that was sent out yesterday after the latest heavy falls to shovel away the snow in order to keep the road clear for the official cars of the Central Organisation of the Archiv.

‘Mackay’s down from the hills!’

 Posted by at 9:57 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 172010

‘Mackay’s down from the hills!' 

The news is out there, twitters twittering, but, of course, I had missed it, unwilling as I was to break from my desperate preparations for the forthcoming festival.

‘Have you seen him or is it just the usual rumours?’

Perhaps a few days of peace was still possible.

‘Not exactly seen him, not myself, not personally – some women I know saw him at the Coco Cabana. As usual he was putting his nose in where it didn’t belong . . . you know how he is.’

I know, I know only too well. We all know eventually, as the smoke clears and the trail of destruction becomes apparent. The wrecked cars, the broken marriages, the broken promises, and of course the monumental debts . . . and then he’s gone, everybody breathes a sigh of relief and we try to pick up the threads of our lives.

‘He’s so old, I thought perhaps he was dead. It must be a few years since he last came down. Maybe some assassin got lucky. There's always hope.’

‘Not that one,’ he chortled, ‘one of the immortals – he’ll see us all out.’

Bad pennies, I thought and began to imagine a last minute flight out of all this. Sometimes it’s not worth the effort of staying. The cold, the cost of the endless celebrations, and my mind wandered off to a warm tropical isle, lying on some sun kissed white sand, on the edge of the lazy waves of a brilliant turquoise ocean, palm trees and cocktails. I wondered about my credit cards. I wondered who might come with me.

I smiled at the thought of Mackay discovering that I had shipped out for the duration and taken her with me. I might come back in a couple of months to help clear up the mess.


“Dropping Crumbs on the State Secrets”

 Posted by at 12:30 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 152010

Back in the Café Buenos Aires yesterday for a spot of lunch and conversation, he was sitting at the large rectangular table at the back, where some recently published books and today’s newspapers were invitingly piled in the middle, as if they were free to all (‘Free’? No! ‘Free’ is always another fiction). Him? It was Macbeth, or Mackay, or one of those Scotsmen, although it was the copy of The Independent that caught his eye, and the leading article in it – “ABOUT THE LEAKS” – which prophesied the end of all our freedoms we have enjoyed on the internet up until now (‘Free’? No! ‘Free’ is always… etc).

Then in came a group of four ladies from the ‘Typing Pool’ (as he secretly called them; Heaven help him if they read this and found out!). Do you mind if we joined you, one of them asked, Not at all, We might be rather noisy, Screech away, he said resuming his reading and notebook writing. Then two more arrived, and suddenly they all went quiet. He looked up again, and it was clear that where he was sitting at the table would be in the way of the group of ‘My Maenads’ (another secret name he had for them) sitting together. He quickly moved to another seat further down the side of the table to make room, but when yet two more of the dezhurnye (the supervisors –  that was one of their official titles – always women) arrived, he moved again, this time round the corner of the table. You will be in the street soon, one of them laughingly said, Yes, he replied joining in the joke.

Good humour all round, because he knew as well as anyone you never wanted to get on the wrong side of the ladies from the ‘Typing Pool’. It was a Cold War zone, but they were letting him listen in. He said I have just had my injection, the oldest woman was telling her story as was clearly her right being the senior person of the group of young and old women, and with an old-fashioned posh voice, He was trying to apologize I think, What injections do you have for being like that, Like what, A bit strange in the head, How, You know, Schizophenia, Something like that, My goodness, the older woman resumed, Friendly and full of drugs too.

He went to the ‘Typing Pool’ to find out these things, because these were the women supervisors of the Archiv (the Central Archive). It was what they called OPEN ACCESS, but it was the woman who were in charge because they controlled all access to the Catalogues for the Archiv – and low and behold if you upset them, ‘Closed for lunch!’… ‘Closed for ever!’ – since the Archiv was still officially part of the security ministry, and therefore remained off limits to foreigners. In fact off limits to everybody so that knowledge for him worked more like a game, and there were always surprising discoveries to be made, like the women around the table revealing their first names to each other in his presence. So there was Annie, the older posh woman who also wondered out loud what she would do when she retired in January, and Nat, and then another Natalie, and Maria who spoke with an Irish accent, and the others, and especially Ellen, or Ellena, or Ellenor, but not Eleanor, she said. All these discoveries, and the occasional tease, I hope we didn’t disturb your magnum opus, Annie said in an almost shy voice as if giving him a little present, as he squeezed around the table with his bags in order to reach the door of the café, Oh no, you only drove me round the bend.

More good humour all round, and he felt as though he could fall in love with them all, especially Ellena. But of course he knew to be careful, because they had ready names for people like him – ‘Bourgeois Wrecker’ for one. Later, that evening he took a taxi to the station in order to leave the city by train. His route passed the City of Westminster Magistrates Court, where the bright lights of the TV News Stations were blazing in front of the building. They always bring the celebrities here, his driver said, and there were police in flat caps and yellow reflecting jackets over thick padded jackets, stood in pairs and small groups on the pavements everywhere.

Mrs M has a fright

 Posted by at 12:40 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 102010

What was Mrs Macbeth shrieking about now? There is nothing held back. It is awe inspiring to witness her in full flight; awe inspiring or simply terrifying especially if you happen to become the focus of her strident ire. Even as I write this I remember one of her ex-husbands telling me how he used to try to keep the kitchen knives hidden. Since those days he’s disappeared into somewhere east of Germany. Was it Poland or the Ukraine? I never heard the full story. There were those who claimed to know but it amounted to little more than rumour. Those of us who are unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time are simply trapped for the duration. She’s a one person Metropolitan Police force well able to kettle a roomful of innocent bystanders for hours. Hard luck if you want a piss. You should have thought of that earlier.

Foolishly I put my hand up to ask her a question and in her surprise at this intrusion she momentarily softens and I see that it’s not Mrs Macbeth at all – it’s our old friend Pinky Cameron in drag and oh, isn’t he excited, full of extra pink fun and games and trying so hard to be taken seriously and of course she’s* terrified that her husband of only a few short months will betray her.

‘Where’s your husband?’ I shout and you can see his poor mind trying to get to grip with exactly who he is and what he was shrieking about only a few minutes ago. But he’s lost it in a senior moment – forty being the new eighty these days. I blame the excesses of consumerism myself.

‘Oh you mean Perky Clegg?’

‘Yes, we want Perky’, we all roar. There is something of the feeling in the air that there is this unconscious force welling up in our midst and at any moment we will call for a double hog roast.

‘Get that oven fired up, Jimmy, we want it good and hot for this pair.’

There are murmurs from the back row, it’s where the sentimentalists usually sit.

‘Poor little piggies, surely they’re too young for the oven.’

But I think hunger might be the winner in this debate. Sentimentality works well enough on a full stomach but when you’ve been kettled for seven hours in freezing conditions even the vegetarians will turn a blind eye to their principles for long enough to wolf down thickly cut roast hog in half a baguette. I’ll have another one of those please, and officers do come along and join us, it was good do, wasn’t it. How would you score it? A draw? Or would you be generous enough to see it that we won?

Oh do stop shrieking, Pinkie, it was only a joke. Right guys? It was a joke, yeah?


* Gender is such a complex business that I hope I will be forgiven for a certain confusion as to the exact sexual identity of Mrs Macbeth aka Pinky Cameron. Added to which I have no wish to enter into the mirrored madness of his/her desires.


Mrs Macbeth of Totnes

 Posted by at 5:56 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 082010

Welcome to the show (NB – see last post for a brief account of the ‘action’) -our latest Mixed Media Entertainment, or Opera if you will still insist on using that “dark-ages” posh word: a story (from some disaster plotting cliché) of murder and retribution, actors who also sing (or perhaps it is singers who also act… and some even get the chance to dance), music energetically played by the orchestra (well, we are told there is a piano at any rate), a stage with set designs and props (the room, and tables, chairs, the bottle, and so on), and an audience of sorts…

… and of course the critics. For instance – “Lamentably provincial” writes Igor Stravisnsky, when the production reaches the USA in five years’ time, “the music plays a miserable role as illustrator in a very embarrassing realistic style”.

But back in the revolutionary homeland (“from our Soviet point of view”, as the main man* says) our entertainment is an instant hit, everybody wants to go and see it, and it quickly becomes the talk of the town. Not that it doesn’t divide us in our views. “Revealed with incredible force the expression of human sorrow and the despair of the lost soul”, says Pinky our high street butcher, meat cleaver in hand. “Sordid character and depraved atmosphere in which the action takes place”, says Perky (his wife), tut-tutting as she takes the last penny from out of the outstretched hand of a flinching customer at the front of the queue.

“Primitive satire”, Daniil Zhitmirsky writes in the official newspaper review, having been told from above to reassert some kind of control. Because this work is not some low-toothed sad insipid English kind (eg on ‘Carry On Cutting’ lines), but far rougher and sharper, a Russian variety of 'anecdotny' where the jokes can sometimes hurt so much they feel like a deathly frost-bite! (Remember, always remember: We are joking and we are being serious).

The Truth (Pravda) says it was cold enough last week to remind us of home, and I have been having memories of the harshness of childhood winters in the east midlands, but this is not 1917, 1924, 1933, or even 1956 or 1968. It is today. And you are asking, ladies and gentlemen, and girls and boys, what difference are we making today?

Are we in protest?

It is possible.

And perhaps you want to hope with something more than comic hope that we can make a difference, are making a difference, but our advice to you is don’t – Don’t hope too much. Not quite yet… We still remain cautious of making claims that we know where we are heading, who for and who against, because everywhere – but everywhere – we continue to leak (even the most powerful of governments cannot help leaking these days!). And oozing up from the archaeological depths of the recent past (or our ‘Urgeschichte’ as Uncle Wally describes it more succinctly) come hitherto long forgotten phrases that fill our wheezing bronchitic lungs :

Sous les pavées, la plage.

La chienlit, c’est lui.

Hmmm, the main man* pronounces, We can’t deny the possibility that a change is in the air.


Go here for more information on the main man’s* version.


* – 'The main man’ =

Dmitri Shostakovich, whose Op.29 ( Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District - Леди Макбет Мценского уезда (Ledi Makbet Mtsenskogo Uyezda)) first staged 1933 is in four acts.