What is it we need courage for?

 Posted by at 3:51 pm  Anti-Gravity Surgery  Comments Off
Jun 292013




  1. To turn the world upside down.
  2. To free us from, to break away from, parents.
  3. To die to what is finished.
  4. To question authority.
  5. To follow the barely legible path through the wilderness.
  6. To love.
  7. To be ready to sacrifice that which we, until only a moment ago, believed to be sacrosanct.
  8. To take the next step.
  9. To dare to look at what the next step might be.
  10.  To stay with the discomfort when the present moment offers no way forward.


Recently I had to go to Venice to see Dr Bomboka. The ways were dark and twisted in the way that we all know Venice can be and the heat was considerable. But what the hell, this was the chance of a lifetime. I say that I had to go and see him, but that is not quite true in that I had the space and the opportunity to make a choice. The information that he would be in Venice was out there. Certain websites hinted as such. A text message arrived to say he was thought to be in Berlin. I broke out in sweat, it ran coldly down my spine; shivering I ran down a narrow side street and eventually found my way to the river. Berlin? Belgrade? No it had to be Venice. A policeman narrowed his eyes as he looked at me, his fingers touching the pistol strapped at his waist. Who knew what? Only a week ago I had been climbing in the mountains, free as a bird, now I could feel the jaws of the trap closing around me. Venice? But how could I get there. Money was running out. I didn’t dare go to a bank or use an ATM. So the last of my money was spent on a bus ticket. Three nearly sleepless days and nights, my mind drifting randomly, the tides of thoughts no longer tethered to the moon.

Dr Bomboka cannot see you. What do you mean cannot see me, he promised. The woman laughed at me, laughed in my face. He never promises, never. Am I too early? Or too late? What? I am one of the wretched of the earth, how can he not see me. Who is this woman? So . . . confident of her own strength . . . I wasn’t about to give up and go home even if I had a home to go to. I need to somewhere to stay. A change of tack, how will she deals with it? She touches an earring, drawing my attention to the heavy silver, the complex whorls of its design.

Do you have any skills?

Now there is a question. Surely I must have some skills after all these years. But what could they be. Of course, I say the words though without much feeling that they might be true – skills seems to be an idea that belonged to some old life of mine or to the life somebody I used to know, a friend I barely remember.

You better take a shower and I will find you some clothes; her eyes measured me.

The Standing Man

 Posted by at 11:55 am  Hitting the Potholes, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jun 252013

The older man, tidily dressed in his best country clothes and farmer’s hat, walks across the Piazza del Duomo in the city centre. Stepping steadily along, he also appears to have no interest whatsoever in going into the Cathedral doors which are open behind him. Whatever his destination may be, with his shepherd’s walking stick he looks like he is more at home up on the high meadows well outside the city tending his flock.


He turns towards the camera, and stops for a moment to become the standing man. Whatever the real story… and for more see “Storio Permesse… Storio Proibito…” by Valerio Ugazio (written in 1998, it has only just appeared in translation into English: Semantic Polarities and Psychopathologies in the Family - follow the link to read the review in the Guardian last Saturday by Tim Park, and, yes I agree, I do so much prefer the Italian title).

Whatever the real story… and, not shaming or blaming, maybe simply boldly naming it can make a difference.


Does goodness exist, the standing man with his camera asks. Not in mute silence. Better to ask: Does boldness exist?

“The standing man” coincidentally also appears in Istanbul’s city centre at the Taksim Square last Monday in the early evening a week ago (June 17th). Instead of entering the park then filled with protesters, the man stops in front of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, takes off his backpack, puts his hands in his pockets and begins to stare up at this building opposite the park. After a time a few bystanders stop to ask him what he is doing, but he doesn’t reply. Later the police arrive, do a body search and also check his bag. They find nothing. Do you have a problem? they ask, but he still doesn’t answer. They leave him and he stays there the next eight hours. By the end about 300 people join him, and, all standing and staring up, word begins to spread on Twitter: duran adam.

As reported by Kaya Genç the standing man is reminiscent of Alan Badiou’s idea of the “event” as the fundamental component of politics. As for a literary parallels, Genç also suggests Herman Melville’s Bartleby the scrivener, the man who “would prefer not to”. You and I are reminded that we wrote about Bartleby & Co last September (for all the Wordstall feuilleton pieces, put Bartleby into a search here). 

What comes next? A week later and Istanbul’s Taksim Square has now been cleared of protesters, and some political opinion makers think the standing man is missing the point. Not mute silence, community organisations and forums for speaking out are required for a mass social movement to be more lasting than a transient day for the standing man on Twitter. But either way,  the real story is the man standing is shining his light out to show:

1. Either way it’s BIG BUSINESS
2. Rocketing PROFITS are part of “the racket”
3. The myth is: the more you pay, the better they care
4. It’s a weird, broken system that really isn’t working

The older man, tidily dressed in his best country clothes and farmer’s hat: so I’ve worked as a doctor in my time dressed in a clean white coat, and got to know the health system from the inside pretty well. Then I watched it being broken up, and left in 2008 because I wasn’t prepared to be broken up the same way, and end up becoming a weird croupier for the healthcare casino (the weasel phrase for primary care doctors was ‘health gatekeepers’!). Now I am on the outside same as you – and it is like the BIG EVENT of the standing man – we can tell what are the Real Stories of “men of our age”.

Let’s open up the conversation.

Plenty of room upstairs

 Posted by at 1:05 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Jun 212013


I remember the conductor shouting and it comes to mind with news that the vanity scheme of the dishevelled blond mayor is finally delivering the smoothly rounded lines of a rereleased routemaster. Ma qui, è molto caldo . . . in so many ways . . . Out there in the piazza with the sun beating down or even in the shade: men in the hot water of what they’ve got coming to them. See them  struggling to swim their way out. Or in, come to that. Naked, exposed to the ribald remarks, the sniggers, the whispers, the arrests, the warrants, the cautions. Can’t you take a joke! Is that what Saatchi said to his domestic goddess of a wife . . . Except somebody or other saw it all and captured it on a camera.

Strangely, we went to the Odeon in Firenze (where original language movies are shown) and after a Prosecco and a cocktail and nibbles (the usual apperativo we went to see Vertigo, Hitchcock’s 1958 movie. It was as though I had never seen it before. I thought I would recognise it as the film unrolled, but no, though I did remember the tower of the Spanish style church and Jimmy Stewart struggling with curl upon curl of vertigo. Did you know that vertigo was divided into curls. No I didn’t either but apparently it is. The curls come thick and fast like an eighteenth century wig. Jimmy was playing the part of a would be psychoanalytically orientated detective retired from the force because of a panic attack whilst hanging from a gutter fifty feet (or whatever) above the street. Picked for a Patsy by an old so-called friend he falls for the cool and sultry Kim Novak. Well who wouldn’t? But surely it is the misogynistic old sadist Hitch himself plastering himself all over the screen. A bit like Saatchi really.

I think I must have grown up thinking of Jimmy Stewart as some sort of ideal man. Kind and tough or kind of tough. A loser who wins, eventually, courtesy of Hitch the puppet master. The thing is, the secret which I can now divulge, is that I found the whole thing revolting. It’s as though I was seeing the whole horror of US anti-communist hysteria, its explicit racism and sexism through the threadbare curtain of Hitch’s film. Does goodness exist? Vertigo is part of a Tuesday evening “cult” series at the Odeon. There was a learned presentation by an academic movie enthusiast before the film. He articulated the ways in which Hitchcock used the notion of vertigo throughout the film. It was a fairground ride of a movie; clanking up and rushing down with a scream. I have no memory of Brit movie houses having an academic to introduce a film but hey this is Italy. And because it’s so warm, still nearly 30 I would guess at midnight, so off we wandered along the banks of the Arno tearing the movie to pieces as though we were still 20 with a great untested hunger to test out against the world.

Lungo i Portici

 Posted by at 1:56 pm  Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jun 192013
blog photo

What are the older men looking for?

Squeeze up, make some more room. No, we can’t! There isn’t any.

The thing is that there are too many of us to fit one street bench, and there’s a limit especially for older men with our spreading waistlines. Even if it is a long one, and the bench in the square looks that it is longer than usual. Demand exceeds supply.

Added to which it is obviously uncomfortable for us to sit on. The bench is made of stone, with a hard flat seat, and there’s no back to lean against. Of course it looks attractive lined up with the stone sculpted round balls, and functional too, but it isn’t possible to sit there for very long, even with the ingenuity of older men.

Maybe if I sit on my jacket. No, better not. I’ll get a terrible ticking off if I do, and it is all creased when I get home.

In fact, it is the clever ones who stand. From there they have a better chance of hearing more of what is being said. More than those sat at either end who can’t hear a word of what is being said more than two men away.

What did he say? Never mind, my friend. You don’t want to listen to him.

And stood up there’s also a better chance of making a monologue and dominating the conversation. The seated ones may wave their arms more trying to get their share of the speaking air space, but it is the stood ones who can control things.

Except that the driver sat in the white taxi parked behind the bench, a small thickset woman in a light blue shirt and black trousers, has turned up the car radio, and the mushy pop music is playing so loud that it is drowning out all the older men’s conversation.

At least they are out of the house! So she can get on with her chores, and the unmarried children and unemployed grandchildren who are still living at home can get on with their work, playing on their computers, or business, whatever that might be.

There’s one younger man stood behind the bench where the old men are sat. His mobile phone rings and he begins speaking loudly. As well it is an intimate conversation about sex, as if the old men don’t exist.

Shall we have sex too?

I don’t think your father is feeling well today, she says to her grandson. What is it Papa? Nothing, nothing. I am just going out now.

Don’t forget to buy the lottery tickets, she shouts after him from behind the front door which has just been slammed shut.

What are the older men looking for?

Each household gives us a job to do, a small task to perform while we are out. It is nothing too important, mostly  something to keep us occupied.

It means a journey into the city centre. And at least the authorities are making an attempt to help. We can take the senior citizen free bus pass to the city centre, and walk from the bus stop and cross the road in reasonable safety now that most traffic has been excluded from the roads.

Apart from the bench it is empty in the square where we like to meet. Although the white stone bench’s design and civic location has its obvious shortcomings, it has been given a fine Mission Statement:

Needs (wellbeing, lifeskills, social capital) – helping to meet
Happiness (fairness, social justice, participatory politics) – contributing towards
Gaps (intergender, and intergenerational) – speaking across

In a word, community. Fine words…

But it has to be said that we recall with longing the old days when we could sit on the steps in the arcades, smoke our cigarettes, and look up the legs of the passing women as they came out of the smart shops with their shopping bags.

Oh, I shouldn’t have said that!

Jun 152013


blog photo

Jenny Diski* is super focused on her memories of what she was looking for as a young woman – in this case ‘older men’. Her energy rebounds and bounces around the court and somehow I manage to have a whack at the ball and off it goes over the high fence, across the railway line. then magically someone or other throws it right back and here it is at my feet. And here I am, about eighteen and asking myself ‘what am I looking for? Well, certainly a woman but I had little confidence as to my desirability so it was almost any woman yet that’s not quite true either – part of that lack of confidence was an unwillingness to actually identify what I was looking for. And then it comes down to the chance events of meeting and availability. And when I did meet a woman who seemed willing to entertain the idea of some sort of relationship and willing to initiate me into the wonders of sex we ended up getting married though I don’t think that is what I really had in mind – let’s try living together was more to the point, but there was her grandmother on hand so marriage it had to be. We were probably hopelessly out of our depth. The language available to us individually did not really converge into a shared language of relationship in a way that made communication possible beyond the ‘what shall we eat’ or ‘shall we go for a drink’ or ‘shall we have sex’. I continued to look for a woman or women I could talk to (and have sex with).

As I reflect on this question as to what I was looking for I increasingly narrow the focus to the notion of “growing up” – one of those concepts that melt into thin air on trying to define what we might mean beyond the chronology of ageing. But I have an idea that the process of it comes from the gap between me and the woman and it has to be a gap, a space in which we can dance our shared meanings or our different meanings. I am here waiting at the airport for my flight to Pisa and then on to Florence to stay with B for a month and it is in and through that space that we communicate, or as I might prefer to put it, we dance and somehow I arrive at the sense that this work is what I am calling growing up though presumably I don’t have any sense of there being a “grown up space” as such – ahhhh work finished! at the end of it. Of course, there is no end – there is what we call death or system failure of some sort.


*LRB 6 June 2013

Jun 112013
KEN_0513_ 0004

You’ll remember me saying.

Well, perhaps I don’t, the other replies.

Two men in conversation: it is not difficult to find many explanations for the disconnect in what they are saying to each other – reinventing the tradition, as Walter Scott said reputedly, always comes easy:

- Walter Benjamin walking with Baudelaire in Paris and transcribing what he once said or wrote in long sections of  The Arcades Project

- Joyce and Beckett walking on I’Ile aux Cygnes, Paris at the Francis Kyle Gallery (London from July)

KEN_0513_ 0002

- “Ulysses’ ship in the Grand Basin of the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris”, my friend DRK says, searching for the right words and failing to find them, as he says he commonly does.

It is not exactly unsafe here, but it is always possible to detect danger, and hunched forward around a small cafe the four of us are speaking quietly together and being careful with our words. For one thing it is quite possible the large monumental figure on the pedestal above us is listening. He appears to belong to the apparatus of state authority and in a state of excitement with his erection, and something on a stick is pointing down towards us: a microphone. Or perhaps it is a weapon, something electronic and threatening.

Anything is possible on this bright and beautiful day isn’t it? While  the tourists are happily milling through the city gardens, jumping for joy, great red spots are beginning to fall from the sky. Or blood is exploding from somewhere, a body perhaps, and it could very quickly become a crime scene. The police will be arriving from every direction in the next instant, and the whole place will be locked down.

Something else red and intense and also exploding is under the bridge by the river Seine below where the two writers Joyce and Becket, if the two small waling figures precisely unrecognisable at such a distance are them – (DRK ”She  glanced at her lovely echo. Joyce and Beckett walking on I’Ile aux Cygnes, Paris.”).

The chances are there could be several kinds of explanations for these explosion altogether. Go to Firenze to try to find out and whether such phenomena are also to be found in that city. Her lovely echo: under the Ponte Vecchio, once walking close by I remember noticing the dusty dried out grass thick with discarded hypodermic needles, and plastic bags, occasional used condoms, and piles of black plastic garbage bags were scattered close by on the flat ground between river wall and the flowing water. Another time, I watched a group of young men playing football on a cleared grassless area, and skillfully avoiding letting their ball go out of play on the river side. And along the arcades –  lungo i portici - there were to be found young men and women, some of them wild eyed and revolutionary, sat beneath the grafitti of political slogans.

And so on, reinventing the tradition. lungo i portici : I also understand that the Grillini are now already in total disarray.

Jun 072013


What if God were round and a plump and short sighted with two left feet? But dainty steps and a surly smile that at the same time possesses an unusual sweetness. In London the city of untold wealth and poverty, where blind financiers grope their way towards extravagant deals, leaving millions to sell their kidneys to the highest bidders.

I mean, why on earth would anybody think socialism was a good idea. Rather let us continue to have freedom for those of of ever expanding waistlines with money tucked away in some secret location. After all a chap must protect what he has stolen. And whilst once it was stolen it soon becomes a habit to which one is entitled. Those of us who have worked hard* and gained our privileges are entitled to protect and expand our all encompassing greed.

A plump God might be just the thing – even if he is reminiscent of Francois Hollande -  we don’t need some austere Ayotolla Khomeini sending us to hell. No, this plump chap is just what we are looking for – he’s fully accepted himself, even delights in, his flaws and imperfections. I am sure you can imagine him dozing in a hammock strung between two apple trees in an ancient orchard on a buzzy warm summer afternoon, with a book of sensual mysticism that many have demanded be banned but, naturally, he has held out against such ignorant knee-jerk reactions, with a, let me think about it, don’t let us be hasty . . .


*The strivers not the skivers of Tory rhetoric