Opening a Second Front

 Posted by at 10:42 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
May 312011

Like wtw at Gallipoli. Or wtw on Facebook, although both of us have individually tried that medium of social chit chat and exchange neither of us seems to have got the hang of it, and a task such as searching for the shadowy Mrs Wilkinson in order to ask her to be ‘our friend’ seems entirely beyond us. Find Emma, as her first name might be, Wilkinson. If the blurry photograph reportedly posted on the social network site is really her standing next to Ted Blacclestone it ought to be easy. But Blacclestone! Now there’s a name to defeat even the most sophisticated of internet provider or secret service search engines.

I’ve told you already, Ernesto says sat hunched down inside his raincoat and peering over his thick rimmed glasses, Not everything is listed in the railway timetables. Take my name, Ernesto. It is not mine at all. It is, or rather was, my elder brother’s name. I was given it after he died. Like his second hand shoes, a hand me down. My real name is something else altogether, a secret as it happens which I intend to keep. I would wager the same for Mrs Wilkinson. Not Emma at all.

My instincts about Saturday are proving correct, he is clearly a natural born detective. The bio states he gained a Phd in Physics but then gave up a budding career in science to write fiction. I just hope he is our side, because you have to keep on your toes in these tricky frontier lands, you can never be quite sure whose side who is on.

Like your name used to be Charlie, Ernesto says pointing a trembling finger at me, And a name like that goes in the category of gender neutral, girl or boy, whatever your preference. Switching is “second nature” with a name like Charlie, and my other wager is that you will find Mrs Wilkinson much easier to locate if you take up being him… Or her…

Although I had no idea how Ernesto knew, Charlie was indeed the name I took for myself in childhood. I had never realised that changing sex could be as simple as changing a name… Boy… Girl… it was like slipping between fiction and non-fiction, to begin with it is… well… just plain embarrassing whichever way you are going, girl/boy, boy/girl, things you did not ever expect to expose begin sticking out where you least expect them to. But then you seem to begin to get the hang of it, things seem to be settling down again, and for a moment you think you know what you are doing.

Charlie Wilkinson! Immanuel our baggage handler and general fixer leaps down from off the luggage rack. Arms are thrown around me and multiple kisses land on my lips. It has been such a long time! Immanuel cries, How are you doing?

I’ve heard it said

 Posted by at 12:09 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
May 282011

Gentlemen, I’ve heard it said that memory is rather like a railway system which has had random sections of rail removed. Perhaps the result is rather similar to that party game we used to play as children – musical chairs. The tracks are used by many trains and hence many millions of us individual bipedal life forms, constantly journeying, crisscrossing and subject to quite extreme reversals of time. Consequently it is not uncommon to find sections of our future slipping away only to be replaced by a barely remembered but intense experience of suckling at our mother’s breast.

    Similarly you may believe that you have no memory of Mrs Wilkinson but you have certainly shared an intimate history. There are rumours that for many years she had a key role in the security services, some say MI6, some say MI5, others (not many, it’s true) prefer the conspiratorially more interesting theory that it was an altogether more shadowy, clandestine body, embedded out of sight, but with an endlessly psychotic influence on the thinking and (hence) actions of government ministers. For others she is merely the wife of a Mr Gerald Wilkinson (1875-1963), a minor establishment figure, fond of collecting obscure impressionist paintings and spending most of his time in deepest Gloucestershire.

    A Mr Ted Blacclestone, a 1960s Trotskyite, with bad teeth, worse dandruff and very little integrity, swore he had an affair with Mrs Wilkinson in the early fifties, swore that it was the very same Mrs Wilkinson. He claims her name was (and is) Emma and bewilderingly, there, on his Facebook page, is an admittedly, blurry b/w photo of Ted and a woman identified as Emma – Ted and Emma. Added to which I have personally heard it corroborated by someone who is generally most reliable in matters of this sort, that, yes, this is the Mrs Wilkinson. So there we are. You are, needless to say, free to believe what you like. I’ve heard it said that lies are like raw black molasses, but I’m rather inclined to see them as golden syrup. There’s the illusion that you can see through it through them without realising just how sticky it really is and in its very sweetness and general yumminess you never quite realise what it is going to do to the teeth of your critical sensibilities.

    Please be warned, gentlemen, do not stray from the narrow path that has been allotted to you. Do not be tempted by adventurous tales of the pampas. This will merely cause you much avoidable suffering, regret and pointless delay.

    Mrs Wilkinson remains vigilantly on your case.


Simultaneously Strange, but not Coincidental

 Posted by at 6:53 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
May 242011

Dear Mrs Wilkinson, I said, there must be some mistake, my birthday was February 9th 1931, and not the date you mention in your letter. Moreover, I was born in Holland and spent my early years growing up in Rotterdam, in other words in a republic outside your jurisdiction; sometimes my mother would take me on a walk to the harbour and we would stand at the end of one of the long piers looking out over the slate grey water and watch the traffic of ships coming and going. We do not mistakes, Mrs Wilkinson replied in her next letter to me, The market never lies.

The train from Platform 7 had departed some time ago, it might even have been days before because it is hard to tell on long journeys which can so readily disorientate one’s memory, but I certainly recall Bug and I are sitting in the same compartment in a railway carriage that is rocking so much it feels like an ocean liner in a tempest, and he is telling me the upsetting story of his exchange of letters, and how he has come to be deported. My chest was weak even then, I told her in another letter, Bug continues, And that surely I was eligible for a Disability Allowance. But Mrs Wilkinson was implacable. You must go to Platform 7 and join the Milwaukee service, she wrote back, We make no exceptions.

I don’t like the idea of Milwaukee, Bug moans.

Perhaps I can help you, a man sat beside me in the corner of the compartment says. I confess we had not noticed him before this moment, and neither, I suppose, had Bug or he might have been more discrete with his story telling, but then on further consideration him being a ‘Nestbeschmurzer’, probably not. We turn to look at the man. He is very old, bald headed with a grey moustache and expressionless face. He is conservatively dressed in a dark blue jacket and striped tie, and he wears thick rimmed tinted glasses. Oh no, I think, Police chief, Latino, ex-army chief, we are in deep trouble.

Allow me to introduce myself, the older man speaks slowly with an old-fashioned courtesy trying to stand up in the swaying carriage and shake us both by the hand, My name is Saturday, but please call me Ernesto. How do you do. How do you, we both reply. To live without an idea, Ernesto continues, As seems imperative in today’s world. Yes, I confess to you gentlemen, I lost my faith a long time ago. In living with an idea I mean. With communism in my case. I spent two years at Lenin’s International School in Moscow, you know. It broke me. It is a long time ago now. He paused, but none of us are able to find any words. Yes, it is a very long time to live without an idea. And now there is also death without an idea. On that I am something of an expert too.

Somewhere, despite the Decline Effect, I am hearing another voice in my ear, more like an echo or a disembodied radio announcement, ‘He also presided over the CONADEP commission that investigated the fate of the desparecidos during the Dirty War of the 1970s’.

Project Disappeared, I blurt out. Exactly, Ernesto man nods his head, Proyectos Desparacidos. And, if I may be so bold as to advise you gentlemen, Milwaukee is a very bad idea. The old man leans forward, his voice lowers to an almost breathless whisper, and over the next ten minutes he explains the route of our train, how a stop always has to be made at the main Retiro station of Buenos Ayres for the purposes of refueling, and, while the carriages remains sealed and locked during the stop, that a small bribe to the guard will ensure a door will be unlocked, and thereafter how friends will be found only a short walk beyond the adjacent Terminal de Omnibus and that horses for our escape will be made available.

And then, he says, We see all around us a flat land, its horizon a perfect ring of misty blue colour where the crystal dome of the sky rests on the level green world. Our green world too, as well as yours. One of your English countrymen wrote that line, a friend of your poet Edward Thomas even. You see, he says after another short pause while we look at each other in mystified silence, Not everything is listed in the railway timetables.

But I am still troubled. The true identity of Mrs (“There is no alternative”) Wilkinson remains to be revealed, I think to myself.

Take a letter Mrs Wilkinson

 Posted by at 10:39 am  Atelier  Comments Off
May 232011

Dear Mr Bug,


It has come to my attention that a problem has emerged with regard to your application, dated 4th April 1917, for exit and entry visas plus a residency permit beyond the  borders of  of the Habsburg Empire. As you will be aware we cannot take in any old riffraff. In particular there is concern about those who have yet to fully embrace our glorious vision of the Big Society liberated by the efficiencies of the Market. In the circumstances I am advised by senior officials from the Ministry of National Security that it would be to everybody's advantage if at this very minute you walk directly to Platform 7, make your identity known to the impeccably uniformed official with a blue carnation in his buttonhole who will escort you to the waiting train. He will make sure you are safely and securely on board this special train which will whisk you directly to Milwaukee. There will be no stops, no food and no, what shall I say, conveniences, but I will hasten to add that the journey will take little more than two weeks, so your inconveniences should be fairly minimal. On arrival you will be met and escorted to a pleasant retirement home where you will be able to do almost anything (or nothing). We do have your every interest in mind.

    I realise this opportunity is not exactly what you had in mind but you must appreciate that your recent (and not so recent) activities, no doubt based on authentically held beliefs, but, on the other hand, counter to our entrepreuneurial wonderland of value based magical thinking. This obviously necessitates us taking a firm line with misguided and faulty reasoned perversions of the true way of the Market as the only way to a better life. A second issue is that we have followed with some alarm the dangerous elements that you mix with. Your dubious associations have been fully investigated and make your safe exit more urgent. In particular you should sever all contact with a certain Wally B.

Never doubt for a moment that we know what is best for you. As you can tell this comes from the highest level of Her Majesty's Government,

Yours sincerely

(signed) Pinky (Dave) Camiknickers


 Posted by at 2:27 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
May 182011

I come across Uncle Wally examining the train timetable book at the Bratislava station for the next train back to Vienna, normally a short journey, perhaps thirty to forty minutes on a fast service. He has been joined by another man, who has been introduced to us as T B Nestbeschmerzer. Thankfully with a name like that we are told he is happy for us to call him ‘Bug’. The two men are deep in conversation, speaking together in German in what sounds like rap form, and we listen in to a snatch of it using the translation service that our Russian friends at the listening stations had provided us with earlier.

The evidence is,
as if
we had
a choice
this dimension
in which
we find
entirely other.

And I am thinking of you just now simultaneously lying in a bed of nettles by the road staring up into a blue sky and bringing to mind the restricted codes of Basil Bernstein, and it also reminded me of Tony Judt, who, in one of his last blogs posted in the NYRB before he died, The Glory of the Rails (in two parts), wrote of our conquest of space and the normalization of time in this our “time-bound” modernity, being best represented through this emblematic book, the railway timetable.

of course
the logistics
the twentieth
of deportations.

Uncle Wally and Bug rap on. We continue listening in but what is called the Decline Effect, a phenomenon well known in scientific research, seems to be kicking in. What began with the excitement of a discovery, being able to clearly hear what they are saying, but then over time their voices appearing to be getting weaker and weaker. Some kind of interference perhaps…

The countless
it is so hard to understand
it is so complex,
a question of too much,
information overload,
or the opposite
too little
no evidence at all
according to certain of the Colonels
(what goes in the jargon as Publication Bias),
impressing itself
on all these open systems
we somewhat ridiculously
like to call

No, I don’t believe in death either, says Bug scratching his nose and licking his fingers before flicking through the well thumbed pages of the railway timetable one more time.


 Posted by at 11:27 am  Atelier  Comments Off
May 122011

Otherwise . . . on this occasion I was ‘dancing’ on the pedals up a long(ish) hill in one of the myriad narrow lanes in the South Hams when I was confronted by a French registered Mercedes with an elderly couple (presumably French – more elegantly dressed than their Brit counterparts) in the front seats (him driving). He stopped the car but made no effort to get ‘into the hedge’ like any local would; presumably expecting me not so much to dance but rather to fly over the monster Merc. To add to my dilemma It was one of those moments when it was a clear disadvantage to have my feet clipped in and I had no time to twist my foot out. So my choices were to hit the car or the hedge – I chose the nettle infested hedge and collapsed rather gently but not gracefully into it, extricated myself from the pedals and started gesticulating with some added colourful language; what I remember the sociologist, Basil Bernstein, called restricted code. They looked a mixture of bewildered and terrified – two frightened elands trapped in their luxury pen – and with my hand and arm and leg stinging and my pride dented it took me a while to see the funny side. What a pity there wasn’t a hidden film maker in the hedge to capture the moment so that it could be put on facebook. Why couldn’t the humour have got through to me sooner? Why couldn’t I have laid back in the softness of nature’s bounty and laughed and then said something witty and charming in French to those two who probably shouldn’t have been allowed down the narrow lanes.


    Meanwhile back on the pampas . . .

    I was reading a poem by Robin Robertson – Arsenio (after Montale), from The Wrecking Light (page 77):


        The wind-devils stir up the dust

        and swirl over the roof-tops, walzing

        down the empty driveways

        of all the grand hotels, where the horses

        stand, hooded and stock still

        by the blaze of windows,

        noses to the ground.

        You go down the promenade, facing the sea

        on this day of rain, this day of fire,

        when a fusillade of castanets

        shakes out the stitches of this

        tightly woven plot of hour on hour on hour.


    (This is the first stanza of five. Montale – Nobel prize winning Italian poet Eugenio Montale 1896-1981)


    A strange sense that although we may feel alone at times, we later discover that, no, there are others with the horses, in the wind and the dust, on the edges of unknown towns, waiting for the cinema to open.


Dance, dance ^ otherwise ^ We are lost

 Posted by at 10:14 am  Atelier  Comments Off
May 102011

I hadn't finished last week when I said, the eland is looking at me. But there needed to be a pause. A gap. A break in the text. A question of the need to publish, of hitting the deadline and not exceeding the word count.

And also a question of crouching down while remaining in a state of maximum ex-citement. Like looking forward to finding a cinema showing the Wim Wilders film with the 'Dance, dance' title. And finding that same necessity to wait. To pause for an available cinema to come by, the improbability of finding a mobile 'motorola' coming to my local village hall, to my small flickering screen.

So the '^ otherwise ^' in the film title becomes a caesura (^…^ – poetically speaking  what goes for a pause in the line), and modifies what follows. We are lost.

We are indeed. We have long been on the losing side. And we are exposed. Crouching. While the eland is looking at me. While the dance is being danced. Exposed in this time of radical insecurity and excitement. Otherwise.

Otherwise: creating what I have also seen called a "fissure in the space of meaning" (Eric Santner, Creaturely Life).

Otherwise: creating this chancy and contingent historical condition of constantly dancing towards a future in which The Coda is and will always be being played.

Otherwise: creating the voice which also holds the sovereign club (I remember that you asked me once which club of suffering I belonged to) under which we all must cringe.

Yes, it is more than a crouch. The tenderness of this cringe. This universal response. In what might be called an exposed attitude of being simultaneosly untamed and restrained, a political opening, the possible practice of 'neighbour love'.

What is this wonderful garden we are digging in?

 Posted by at 12:08 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
May 072011

The two movies that I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks – Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Pina – were both by German directors; Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders respectively. I guess we belong to the same generation as them – oldish men, somewhere along the line between what might be called late middle age and old age – though, maybe, old age is always somewhere ahead, a bit misty, a future to be endlessly pushed into an unreachable future. And both of them digging into tradition, though using cutting edge technology (the latest incarnation of 3D cinema) to make certain sorts of marks, patterns on a screen accompanied by spoken words, a commentary.

    The subtitle of Pina is ‘dance, dance; otherwise we are lost’ – Pina Bausch’s words translated, of course, she’s German too. It’s not so long since I even heard of Pina Bausch when (was it autumn of last year?) a friend invited me to join her at the Tanztheater’s performance of Iphigenia auf Tauris at Sadler’s Wells. And, yes it was moving, wonderful as the best dance can be; touching the roots of the artistic impulse. But I discovered her existence only to find that she had died a couple of years previously. Come to think of it, that’s rather like discovering the author David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest only to hear that he had killed himself a couple of years ago.

    The tradition of making marks in one form or another – those that at root leave no trace, save for the internal traces, dance, music, the spoken word and those that leave permanent marks, the finger dipped in ochre or the charcoal of a stick from the fire inscribing marks on a cave wall. Fixing something. And we’ve gone on finding ways to fix marks, leaving traces that can be referred to the next day or thirty thousand years later.

    Even this blog which some might regard as more throwaway than most things in life – these rambling reflections –but we print out copies for our records imagining some future need – family interest or in heightened moments of excitement, a research project tracing a development or perhaps the opposite of development, a gradual falling away into emptiness or nirvana or God. Look, somebody might be saying in a thousand years, you can see how the threads gradually dissipated, spiralled in endless digressions, until . . .

    But let me repeat Pina Bausch’s words: dance, dance; otherwise we are lost.