Aug 292013

The above title was in a letter from Ted Hughes to Keith Sagar and is quoted in the current LRB (29 August 2013 Half-Fox by Seamus Perry. It would seem possible that we are suffering from the same disease. Or perhaps discomfort is a better word. Or condition?? Perry, in his review, expends some energy on reflections on Ted Hughes’ Crow. I loved that book! Back in 1970 or thereabouts I devoured it or it might be more accurate to say that it devoured me – took possession of me – formed my views of what writing should and could be. Somehow or other over the course of the last forty years I lost my copy of Crow and it seems I must buy a new copy. I want to find out how it touches me now. There’s a hope that it would reinvigorate my writing. Help me into that wildness that is at the heart of Hughes’ best writing.

And there is the fact that most people find the writing on our blog repellent or confusing or nonsensical or difficult or too wild as somebody said to me recently. As though we deliberately set out to alienate possible readers. Do we? These two old crows scratching about in the dust. Hopping, cackling, laughing and hurling insults.

Two punk crows too old to be dangerous.

It seems Hughes at times suffered self-doubts, as Perry quotes from another letter: ‘what I might have made of Crow’. Is that a despairing howl? But I loved Perry’s final sentence and quotation from Hughes: ‘In the end,’ Hughes told one of his interviewers, ‘one’s poems are ragged dirty undated letters from remote battles and weddings and one thing and another’.

Kiosk 12

Aug 282013

A “Long Time to Hope” or an account of odd and alien sounds on the Isle of Man: you or I raising our profile might equally end in a spell of internment there too. ‘Man’ – an odd name for an island isn’t it? – the island, not quite amusing enough for a snigger, but certainly some sort of odd or alien sound: Manx – even odder isn’t it? – and the island being the preferred place for German speakers to be sent to during the last war, and others who had raised their profiles.

You speak German? Then off you go! No – Italian then? That’ll do just as well. All aboard the jolly steam boat and off to the callipsy isle in the middle of the Irish Sea.

How about a “sonata of primitive sounds”? Ursonate , subtitled as such, was the name of Kurt Schwitter’s work of art – a poem if you like – which he wrote and performed quite regularly during the years of the Weimar Republic. It became quite famous and was even made into a phonograph, raising his profile further so that it brought him to the attention of the ‘super recogniser’ authorities of his time. The Nazis designated it Degenerate Art, and soon enough Schwitters had to leave Germany in a hurry. First to Norway, but then when the Wehrmacht invaded there he took a boat across the North Sea.

Arriving in Edinburgh: Raise your profile please. You speak German? Aha, then off you go to the Isle of Man!

It took over a year for the British art establishment to persuade the ‘super recogniser’ authorities that Schwitters wasn’t a Nazi, and indeed that he was a leading continental artist. Released to the polite drawing rooms of London’s W1, he performed Ursonate there too. Not much appreciated by the polite after-dinner audience. But no sniggering please…

…as I found for myself listening to a recording of Ursonate being endlessly looped in one of the exhibition rooms of Tate Britain earlier this year. No sniggering among any of us few earnest listeners in the room as we stood looking at a white wall on which some of the joined-up letters of the sonata – I hesitate to call them words – had also been transcribed. Listening a short time before moving on wordlessly into the next exhibition room.

However, I was unable to remain quiet on Sunday reading the memoirs of my 95 year old Ur-mama who had come to lunch. Snorts and sniggers! Early in her 20′s during the first years of the war she found work in the Visa department of the USA Immigration Service, but when she raised her profile and started to speak in German to some of the Jewish and other refugees seeking access to the USA to help them satisfy the strict quotas in force at the time, the British ‘super recogniser’ authorities stepped in.

You could end up in the Isle of Man, a friend told her warning her about odd sounds and alien affiliations. So she had an interesting war, and later was employed listening to German naval radio traffic…

…”A long time to hope” – reading the sections of typescripts of my Ur-mama’s life from 1940 to 1946: a painful story of remorse too, she feels compelled to raise her profile again and wants to publish this section, but her children and grandchildren are not so sure that she should do so. I snort some more.

The Snigger and Other Noises

 Posted by at 4:40 pm  Anti-Gravity Surgery  Comments Off
Aug 242013



Vagrants 1929 by August Sander 1876-1964


Raising a profile might mean making a noise; startling others with irrelevant and irreverent intrusions into the conversation. Show us your profile! Which face should I show? And which side of a face should I show? But of course it might turn out that my efforts to control what is actually seen by others is doomed from the start by chance sightings and naughty snappings.

The herd of Jersey cows move off. Those still lying, chewing the cud, enjoying a herdy sort of natter, laboriously push themselves up with seeming reluctance and follow the early movers. The wind, coming from the south or south-east, plays with the grass and cools the air. I sit cross-legged at the top of a field overlooking the valley and its river. Low tide. And I recollect my current task of clearing out the stuff – excess furniture, excess books, excess kitchen equipment – all stuff that was once part of a hopeful future and now lies damp and dusty. How tempting it is to think of the simplicity of the large open gob of a skip in which to pour it. That’s it, take it all way.

Where does the snigger come in? Am I drunk? In collusion with some anti-group? Are you serious? For a moment I am convinced of their seriousness and believe that, yes, they are truly committed . . . but then these are over privileged, over entitled white European males, borrowing a form of thinking, an ideology based on being in a defined group that has long been oppressed.

What do you mean, what are you trying to get at, are you feeling a bit lost? Losing your sense of power and entitlement? Surely not.

Here comes the snigger, even though I thought for a moment that I had it under control and no way was I going to snigger or chortle. What about a full laugh, a whole body laugh, shaking the system? Loosening the apparatus of suppression. We do know that life is a tragic comedy, a comic tragedy. We do know that many of those in positions of power would rather destroy the world than give up their entitlement. Do you know something, that begins to sound like an addiction.

So if it’s a choice between a snigger or suicide let’s choose the snigger.

The headline in the Guardian this morning: ‘Warning over data meltdown: Limits of human control exceeded – experts’.

And in London the Met have a team of ‘super recognisers’ who will be on the lookout for known troublemakers at the Notting Hill Carnival.

And as Bradley Manning has decided to live as a woman, the Guardian asks ‘What kind of treatment can Chelsea expect in prison?’ Actually that is just what I thought when I saw the news, that Bradley is now Chelsea, yesterday. As though he tried to enter the conversation and the slap down was so strong that on top of the challenges of his young life he fled straight out of the conversation.

As you said, we come back to the long conversation. To which in addition to actual words we shall have to include all sorts of odd sounds like, sniggering and snorting, sneering and even singing.

And How Dark is Darkest?

 Posted by at 6:52 pm  Echo Effects, Old Men Travelling  Comments Off
Aug 222013
Kiosk 26, Armenian patriarchate

The darkest hour – when is that, I ask myself on my way to Ramsgate yesterday. It is hot driving the M2 motorway in the August sunshine. The roadside grasses are burnt a yellow dry and on either side flat fields spread out, empty, the harvest gone. It hardly feels like England I think, more like somewhere further south, and the hot car without air conditioning reminds me of other road journeys heading south I made long ago.

Where the time of the Devourer is begun. It is a welcome constancy to reach the leafy suburbs of the coastal town, park the car, get out and stretch my stiff legs, and feel the cool coastal breeze in my face. I am told all the county towns of Kent disappoint but I enjoy walking past the bungalows and villas and low retirement apartment blocks, not made over neat or tidy. Down towards the cliff top which rises above the harbour, it is not beautiful either and the wind off the North Sea must drive the inhabitants mad all year. Looking out the sea is empty except for a single ship near the horizon.

Not many are walking the cliff top road, only a few with dogs and leather tans. Below there is the harbour. It is empty like the dry stubble fields I saw from the motorway. The ferry stopped years ago I am told, and the railway station a generation before that. But the arcs of the twin outer and inner harbours remain, calming the sea waves as they enter. Only a few small fishing boats and other modest crafts remain. Nothing is happening in the whole harbour area, low dark buildings and cars and goods trucks parked at random angles.

Then directly beneath me there is the sea and sand and breakwaters, and the wind is lifted over the cliff so a small number of families and holidaymakers are sunbathing on the golden beach, and a few even swimming in the sea. As close to aquamarine as north can be I think.

I look into the still bright eyes of the old man who we have come to see. He will be ninety on Sunday and is not well. Hello Max, he says taking my hand in his.

You’ve left it a bit late mate

 Posted by at 4:04 pm  Atelier, Fundamental Perversions  Comments Off
Aug 172013


“At first I was surprised by her designs, her hopes for me, as though a seamstress should dream her son would be a bank teller not a banker, a druggist, not a dancer. Her aim was too low to have been aimed at, and there seemed little connection between her life and the life she sought for me.”*

Parents and off-spring; what the one has in mind – if anything – and the other has to discern through the darkness, the tragic mists and deceptions of language, the ambiguity of our dreams. A blank canvas, do what you like as long as you are happy. Yet the hope must be there, hidden under the fear of saying the wrong thing. Do I dare aim if the target is too indistinct, smudged by the clouds of fear. But not just the aim: one also has to gather the raw materials to oneself; to prepare for the attack on the world, to make an impression, a dent, a glorious explosion of day-glo colour.

You’ve left it a bit late mate!

Yeah I know, but you know how it is. I thought the world needed a bit of adjusting before I made my moves and besides the luxury of procrastination was always nearby. Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow.

I can almost see the edges, the shadowy episodes, those things that happen outside the official boundaries – not far outside, as I said, on the edges but where things are a bit blurry, Ill defined, or not defined at all, which is precisely the point: what is interesting is precisely what hasn’t been noticed, not put into language, not spelled out, mostly non-verbal, still inside the dream.

Surely the wheelbarrow with its load should have been heavier, but I was able to push it with surprising ease. I’m not, in the ordinary way of things, a strong, muscular creature; never laboured in the fields, nor on building sites, nor, for that matter, in a factory. What sort of privilege was that?

There was no doubt in my mind as to where to go, the route was predestined: some Calvinist trap primed for unwary souls, a sort of gravity for the spirit leading water ever downwards – river, lake, sea.

Am I supposed to take you seriously ? Is that you laughing or is it another thunderstorm building, another extreme weather event? Tragedy and comedy marching in lockstep. Can I keep my facial expressions up to speed. It’s hard when exhaustion slams in and the death mask fixes.

Ho hum, he joshes.


* The Tunnel p. 138

‘Their father’s world is too strange’

 Posted by at 10:54 am  Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
Aug 162013


The title is a phrase from The Tunnel and it provokes the question: What happens when the link cannot be made? I went to visit my cousin last week – he is about the same age as me, a couple of months older to be exact – but he is now suffering from vascular dementia and needs 24 hour care. His partner is looking after him; I think, heroically: I don’t know how long she will be able to maintain it. She explains the world to him so that he can manage it. And I lift up his hand to shake it or maybe simply to hold it in a way which I hope is reassuring. Later she takes him to the toilet and then goes out to take the car out of the garage in preparation for a doctor’s appointment and asks me to help him after he has washed his hands. He stands with dripping hands not knowing what to do. I hand him the towel and then he dries them.

On the way back into London I drop into Westminster Cathedral and light a candle and sit in the Lady chapel. Upset and maybe bewildered is the right word. Later I notice that I can almost envy his having her explain the world to him.

Mr Kirby Raises His Profile

 Posted by at 8:47 am  Echo Effects, IN Conversation, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Aug 072013
2012-11-02 14.20.36

An Episode beginning at Tate Modern on the Southbank and leading to Carlisle Lane, SE1, during which Mr Kirby Raises his Profile Aug2013 email (click to view).

Inert with a cup of coffee, the Barrowman opposite me begins raising his Profile, and I am reminded:

‘Thus one portion of being is the Prolific, the other the Devouring. To the Devourer, it seems as if the producer was in his chains; but it is not so, he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole.

‘But the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer, as a sea, received the excess of his delights.

‘These two classes of men are always upon earth, and they should be enemies: who ever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence.’

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The quotation is to be found at the beginning of ‘The Theoretical Model’ section (P. 19) of the book by Valeria Ugazio, whose ugly title in English translation I remain so reluctant to name. In Italian she is Storia Permette, Storia Proibito… , and who has become my constant companion this summer both at work and play,  even falling into the bath with me once when I dozed off recently; as a sea, she rises over the high water boundaries and spills into the waking day.

The long conversation continues as follows:

“I am the Barrowman, if that is what you want me to be, or Charon the ferryman according to your other suggestion… the one who ferries you for a coin.”

“What you do is offer me reassurance,” I say, “It may or may not be well intentioned, I have no feeling about that. It felt as though I was being carried in a wheelbarrow from a church on a small knoll down through what seemed to be a valley.”

“During the transition period.”

“It is also called ‘a middle position’ according to Valeria U. It is a third position between polarities. She proposes a radical theory of language and community that diverges from the observations and the schismogenetic model as proposed by Bateson (Naven, 1936). She writes (P. 50), ‘It is constructed by conversational processes that are different from those that produce the two opposing polar positions’.”

“Heaven or Hell.”

“She says you can especially find this third position from observations made on the stories of the Balinese, in the way they tell their stories that is. This is what she writes about them (P. 55), ‘The person who begins the story will stop after a while, expecting questions and comments, and the whole story will wander about and become strongly conversational’.”

After a while, when I have paid for our drinks, we leave the Union Street Café and walk on through the Cut, then cross a busy road and go into Carlisle Lane. I point out the rusty street sign on the wall, and then we enter the long brick-lined tunnel, passing a small, white ceramic sign whose writing tells us about a series of mosaics that are to be found here - inspired by William Blakes’s work undertook during the 10 years from 1793 when he was living close by in Hercules Road.

The light closes in under the terracotta brick tunnel, and I am aware that under the arch of the tunnel is also feeling closer, and that I am also becoming increasingly cold. As a sea, I begin to feel the cold rising up my legs and starting to chill my chest.

“I am frightened.”

“How long does this go on?” You ask.

“I guess as long as it takes a barrowman to push his load along the track that gently slopes down one side of a valley, crosses over a small stream, and then up the other side.”

“To the next part of the story.”

“With your reassurance.”

“You have come out into the light of the summer’s day. The valley is a green expanse, and it is filled with a large, riotous and brightly coloured crowd of dancing and singing women who surround and welcome you on all sides.”

“And I am no longer afraid.”

“After the Tunnel episode under the pressing dome of clay – Valeria U describes it as ‘the disaster area of perfect harmony’ – No, you are no longer afraid. You have come through the edge of disaster (the ‘disaster area’ zone that is also to be found in the middle position as well as at the polarities).”

“At the crossing point.”

“For which a small charge is made in the tradition.”

“The reassurance to keep it real. Because at the edge of disaster which in this case is undifferentiated in the middle position, and the story is saying, ‘You do not exist’. Here (P.55) Valeria U refers in particular to the insights to be found in the writing of RD Laing (1961/65/69): ‘The disconfirmation, disqualification, tangential communicative manouevres at this point’.”

“The point of transition.”

“Intruding too far into waking life.”

Stepping into the dream

 Posted by at 10:41 am  Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
Aug 012013

tripe stew131

In the last few days I have made a (perhaps foolhardy) start on William H. Gass’s The Tunnel. I’m reminded of starting out on the Everest of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest: this is going to dominate for a while, quite a while. Anyway, the point of this is some words I have just read on page 85: ‘Memory. Mine is fragile . . . fragile . . . only paper; my sanity film thin.’ Yes, I say, I know what you’re talking about. And this is in the context of his protagonist reflecting on a dream he has had. That makes sense to me because some mornings it seems that the dreams have taken over or at least their potential of taking over appears dangerously close. Mr Ego, the day manager, has the ambition of everlasting power but is, even now, trembling on the edge: he should be and he is feeling dizzy, he is being given notice: don’t think that you have some sort of permanent contract. The grinning skull mask of our favourite Chancellor hovers in the mist before him. He suddenly realises that he too is like the rest of his staff. We are all on one of those whizzy little zero hours contracts. Yes the dreams will take over.


And while we are on the subject of dreams, quite suddenly I have a concern about what the long term effects are of all the advertising that we have been subjected to over the past sixty years. Particularly TV advertising. Bamboozled into drugs and slavery!


Dear Dr Bomboka, I want to make a request, to ask for your advice . . . You see, although this is a problem that I do my best to ignore, and some of the time Iactually succeed, sorry . . . to get to the point, what can one do about feebleness? No matter what I do I remain essentially feeble. It might be part of the human condition. I might have left it too late. But is there a pill, a spell, an incantation, a ritual, is there a prayer. Please help. Don’t delay in your answer. Yours in faith, a sufferer.