No loose ends

A week ago some people who worked in an office that produced some crudely drawn, frankly a bit rubbish cartoons were shot dead. A couple of days later everyone who’d done it was shot dead, which always hinders an investigation. One of the people who had officially ‘done it’, Hamyd Mourad, someone who was named by the police as having done it, was later released without charge after half his class said, some of them on Twitter, that he’d been sitting in school with them at the time, somewhere else.

Which begs the question how the police came up with his name. Luckily, they knew the name of one of the other people who got shot, because just like at the Twin Towers, where officially the fire from aviation spirit and some office chairs burned so hot that er, the building melted, like they do, except they don’t really, fingers crossed so it doesn’t count, one of the hijackers’ passports was found on top of the rubble.

Sorry? How could that not be possible? Obviously paper, which we know burns at Fahrenheit 451, doesn’t burn at the kind of temperatures you’d need to melt the metal girders holding a building up. Probably it was too hot to burn the paper or something. Are you some sort of conspiracy theorist?

Someone else was shot dead in France, as well. A policeman called Helric Fredou. Part of the investigation team on the cartoon murders, he met one of the victims’ families then went and shot himself, like you do as an experienced 45 year-old police investigator. Happens all the time. What’s interesting is the hysterical denials that appeared on Facebook when only foreign media, notably Russian, reported it, until the noble British free press decided that it was worth reporting after all.

Clearly something isn’t quite right with this story, though what it is you won’t ever find out. The CIA did some trying to find out stuff about ten years ago and they couldn’t find it out either.

At the time they were looking for Osama bin Laden and someone had an idea. Next time he switched on his satellite phone they could triangulate on where the signal was coming from and send a cruise missile there. Job done. They’d have to keep him on the line a bit, so maybe they could ring him up and tell him he’d won a prize or something, except as he was one of the world’s wealthy that probably wouldn’t work. Free breakdown insurance or a complementary boiler survey probably wouldn’t keep him on the phone either, but they could think of something, surely. That’s what the brightest and the best minds are for.

The only snag was they didn’t know his number so in an old-school Man From Uncle kind of way they went to the satellite phone company and demanded it.

It came as news to them. They didn’t actually have a Mr O. B. Laden in their phonebook, and oddly enough there wasn’t a billing address or entry that might likely be him at 4, The Caves, Tora Bora, Afghanistan either. The satellite phone company did have an idea though. They found a block of about 30 phones that transmitted from that part of the world.

Give us the numbers, said the CIA. Love to, said the satcom company. Would. But we can’t. Because you ordered them with blank numbers, specifically so that nobody had a record of them.

You read that right. The CIA gave Osama bin Laden a satellite phone, fixed it so it didn’t have a traceable number, then demanded the number. Freedom, liberty and democracy. Semper fi, Mac, as they say. Semper fi.


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What Derrida said

I’ve been to two interviews recently, one done by guys in their mid-thirties and one by someone in his fifties. The first two had interesting ideas about how to dress. All three had started their own business. The first two had a list of interview questions they’d printed off the internetwebness and didn’t really know what to do with them.The second one didn’t have the piece of paper.

To some extent, and I’ve been working on my tolerance skills, I don’t mind people not really knowing what they’re doing so long as that’s not what they primarily do every day. I’ve recruited and hired people in combination with someone else and it’s not something I like doing. Firing them less so, because you hope they’re going to come right and justify the investment you made in them. I’m not even talking about the hope that they’d work out, but the cold hard cash you spent on them, the company car you bought for them, the money from the house you sold to start this new part of the company, the part that turned into a pile of steaming crap because it was based on the total bullshit of the person standing there in front of you repeating their mantra that they’re ‘fully confident.’

And relax.

So I didn’t really mind the two younger guys running their thumb down the page and saying ‘what would people say were your worst points?’ I assumed they hadn’t phoned a random selection of exes, not least because the guy only had one sheet of A4 instead of the multiple volume calf-bound Book Club edition a couple of them compiled, each claiming theirs as the definitive text. Hi, babe. S.

And that one’s easy to deal with in an interview anyway, so long as you don’t mention the baby-oil handprints on the bed either side of someone different’s shoulders you only just noticed. Just keep them looking upwards,

“My worst points at work? Well, probably they’d say I work too hard, I’m too much of a perfectionist. Oh and I stay too long and get in too early as well. And I don’t take enough holiday when I’m owed it.”

Of course I said that. If someone’s going to ask standard questions then they deserve a standard answer.

But what are you supposed to say to someone who asks ‘if I said semiotics to you…?’

“No, thanks, I’ve just had some?”

“Is this a sign?”

Expecting bollocks like this I spent a tedious Tuesday reading about it. This stuff from Wikipedia is clear in comparison, even if it doesn’t have handy cartoons.

In his 1989 Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Richard Rorty argues that Derrida (especially in his book, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond) purposefully uses words that cannot be defined (e.g. différance), and uses previously definable words in contexts diverse enough to make understanding impossible, so that the reader will never be able to contextualize Derrida’s literary self.

Or to put it another way, even before the University of Luton was invented, let alone txt spk, Derrida was a self-referential nouveau who made up words to suit himself.

Rorty, however, argues that this intentional obfuscation is philosophically grounded. In garbling his message Derrida is attempting to escape the naïve, positive metaphysical projects of his predecessors.

Rorty. It used to be different.
Rorty. It used to be different.

Rorty used to be what good Brit bikes used to sound like, when someone cracked back the throttle on a Bonneville going down Bythesea Road, but times change.

So far as I understand it, which I’m prepared to say might not be completely, er, complete, it goes like this. What you think something denotes is altered by what happens next, infinitely.

Noam Chomsky wrote “I found the scholarship appalling, based on pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close to the kinds of standards I’ve been familiar with since virtually childhood”. Apparently liking Chomsky means you sympathise with Moslem fundamentalist terrorists if I read The Spectator right, so I’m stuck now.

What I should have done is pulled a note out of my wallet, said ‘this £20 is just a semiotic paradigm, isn’t it? Let’s see one of yours,’ pocketed both of them and walked to the station.

I didn’t, because I was still disconcerted from the previous statement, that they were looking for someone who spoke the languages ‘for our business in the BRIC countries; that’s Brazil, Russia, Indian and China.” Well thank-you. I thought it was Belgium, Rwanda, Iraq and Chile. A day you learn something is never a day wasted.

I didn’t actually know there was a language called Indian, nor Chinese, come to that, so I learned lots of things. Maybe when my third sentence in the interview was ‘have you read my CV?’ I should have done what these days I’m more inclined to do, the thing that really, in situations like this, I’m seeing less and less reason not to do.

Stand up. Put my coat on. Smile. And say thank-you for wasting my time.

I walked past my old flat on the way. At the end of the road there used to be a bombsite that got converted to a carpark and in the way of these things got colonised by stray cats, fed by the rufty-tufty huge blokes in big coats who ran the place. Things change. The cats were trapped, sterilised and released. The pub on the corner that used to have its windows put in because gay people used to go there, and not by them, has become a house. The cats car park is a Travelodge now. It’s not quite like that Max Boyce song about the pithead baths becoming a supermarket. But enough to make you tuck your scarf into your coat, smile, put your shoulders back and stride. Maybe it’s a sign.







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Maybe it’s me or something

I bought a book about ten years ago. Today I decided to read it and reminded myself why I hadn’t.

The value of a sign derives from the fact that it is different from adjacent and all other signs.

Ok, I can go with that. If there are two traffic lights at a road junction you (a) get irritated and (b) don’t pay as much attention to them because you keep looking from one to the other so when it goes green you don’t move off promptly but check the other one first. Got it.

Difference incorporates this but it also indicates that the value of a sign is not immediately present;
so here I’m going to assume they mean that when someone at school walked through a road junction and his feet started sticking to the road because it turned out he was walking through a pool of blood from a car crash, the pool of blood isn’t going to be there all the time. See, I can follow this stuff.’s value is deferred until the next sign in the syntagm modifies it. Take the syntagm from the English song Ten Green Bottles Ok. Let’s do that now.

Ten And Counting

As we read from left to right, the ‘ten’ gets transformed from “ten what?’ to the answer ‘ten green somethings.But does it though? Isn’t that only true if you want it to be? It’s still ten, whether or not you define what it’s ten of, unless you’re actually saying ten doesn’t mean anything unless it’s something. Or something.

But anyway. ‘The answer to ‘ten green what?’ is then modified to ‘ten green bottles.’ Ok. Go on.

“There is, therefore, (once again)‘ oh mais oui, d’accord, encore une fois et tout ceci ‘ a retroactive construction of meaning. So far so good.’ I’m really not making this stuff up. And I didn’t put the once again and so far so good in. Because it really does strike me that the response to this bit is well, yes and no. If you want there to be. Not if you don’t, it seems to me. But let’s go on. If we do this at a run we might get through.

‘If we extend  the syntagm to: Ten green bottles standing on a wall then further modifications take place. The ten items become items that are standing on the wall and the answer to ‘ten what?’ (the question I didn’t ask, you did, you said that, I didn’t say that) is deferred again.’

But only if you asked it, obviously. It’s just a song, you know?

‘By the time we get to the “wall” and clearly not Pink Floyd’s Wall, (OR IS IT!?!?!? Discuss, with reference to Levi-Strauss if not Levi-Schumann) having deferred our answer to what the bottles are standing on, we envisage the wall not as a bare one but as one with ten bottles standing on it.’

I like to think I’m not particularly dim, so let’s go with this for the moment. For me, if we’re doing walls, the song ends with no bottles standing on the wall, all ten having accidentally fallen. Makes sense? Stuff happens, what happens next is an ever rolling stream, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone, the Pink Paradise put up a parking lot. See, I said I could do this. I went to university, you know.

‘The sign ‘wall’ therefore bears the trace of previous terms in the syntagm.’ See? I said it first though.

‘(Namely ‘ten green bottles.”) Derrida.

Now, I don’t know Derrida. I’ve heard the name, but if this is what he said then he never actually listened to Ten Green Bottles. It doesn’t end with ten. It ends with none. There were no green bottles standing on the wall, Derrida. If the sign ‘wall’ bears the trace of previous terms in the syntagm, and for the sake of getting to the post office for a book of stamps and some fresh air I’ll accept it does, what I’m not going to accept is ‘namely’ the wrong number.

As I said. It could be me. Or oxygen starvation. Or an overwhelming sense of ‘what?’ followed by ‘how do you get paid to come up with this stuff?’ But maybe it’s me.









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Who’s getting scared now?

I’m at a bit of a disadvantage with multi-culturalism. We didn’t have any when I was at school. We had precisely two black kid in the whole village. I went to a little hundred-year-old Gothic Church of England faith school, as it would be called now. Our religious indoctrination was limited to a Canon coming to visit about every six months to inspect the Headmaster’s soul. He was in The War as people used to call it then, bought a Volkswagen Beetle he kept in a locked shed, thought I might do ok if I concentrated and wished my Maths would improve; that’s about all I know about his soul. That and prayers at the beginning of the day. I don’t think we had them at going home time. Maybe we did but our lack of multi-culturalism wasn’t really due to that. We just didn’t have foreign people around.

Except looking back, we did. The sisters, for example. They were about my age. They lived in a little cottage with their parents down a quiet lane and they didn’t have to do prayers at school if they didn’t want to. They had prayers on Friday at home and they had some candles in their window. We just had candles at Christmas mostly, but they got them every week. They were very pale and they had very dark hair and kept to themselves, Miriam and Rebecca. So did their parents. I don’t think I ever saw their parents out in our little Wiltshire village. That’s all anyone knew about them. And yes, those are their real names, deliberately, because I never heard anything bad about them in any way, shape or form. Someone said something bad had happened to the parents, something to do with the war, but that’s all anyone said about it, whatever it was.

We knew the motorcycle shop was called Difazio and the ice-cream man Antonio and a kid at school was called Gino in a very non-Northern Soul kind of way, but nobody ever told us about the Italian PoW camp there used to be, fifteen miles away. They didn’t tell us about the Polish refugee camp there’d been up on Keevil airfield either, where we raced our FSIEs and Suzuki mopeds once we’d get them through the perimeter hedge, which accounted for the Koslowskis and Kalinkas at school, too.

We did multiculturalism by not knowing how not to. Which is always easier when there’s no obvious difference such as the colour of someone’s skin. Because we certainly did have race-based prejudice at school. One summer, two kids in particular started their own race-hate campaign. Legitimised by the TV show Love Thy Neighbour, all of a sudden two little boys suddenly started talking about jungle bunnies, coons and wogs. One of them cited the ultimate reference of his father, who knew for the usual fact that people with darker skins were taking all the jobs, not least in Bowyers the pork pie factory. These two boys, one of whom went on the London School of Economics and had a very fanciable sister who had her own car (she was nice, too, and didn’t have much truck with the instant racism her brother spewed up every time he made a sentence in public) got their ready-made chip on their shoulder from their fathers and from the TV.

This week people have been shot in an office. We’re supposed to believe Islam, cartoons, Al Q’uaeda, ISIS, Saladin, always someone else does bad things. We don’t. It’s not bad when we invade other countries. It’s not bad when we drop bombs over a city at random and pretend no civilians got hurt or kill journalists, or attack a news organisation with missiles, the way Al Jazeera’s offices have been targetted twice by the USAF, or when we cut off water or electricity to entire cities, or blockade a country so hundreds of thousands of civilians die. That’s ok. They should have done what we said, because we are right and they are wrong. Always. We are rational and moderate and wise. Always. We have a reason for our regrettable actions. They are fanatics. Little more than savages. Always. You can tell, just by looking at them.

And in case you haven’t got the media message, watch the news. You can see what they’re like, these people who can magically chop off people’s heads without drawing blood, who can shoot someone in the head from ten feet away leaving their head looking exactly the same as it was before. We never lie. You can see that too, when we talk about city blocks falling down when they’re very obviously still standing, behind the person saying it.

We never lie. Ever. Only other people do.

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The voices of the damned

Twelve people were killed today at the headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, when three masked gunmen walked in and started shooting.

According to Sky News, which never makes things up, they are believed to have called out the victims by name, including the editor, a cartoonist, a contributor, Bernard Maris and two police officers were also among the dead, including one assigned as a bodyguard after prior death threats. As happens when you start loosing off assault rifles, 20 people have also been injured, at least four seriously.

After the killing, the gunmen apparently ‘calmly’ returned to their getaway car and shouted: “We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed, we have killed Charlie Hebdo.” One of the gunmen was heard screaming “Allah”, as they opened fire. God likes this stuff. Always.

Henry Samuel, the Daily Telegraph’s Paris correspondent, told Sky News: “According to people on the ground, two masked gunmen burst into the offices very heavily armed, (with) Kalashnikovs, apparently even with a rocket-propelled grenade, and opened fire, leaving several minutes later. He added: “Then the gunmen escaped and are currently on the run, being pursued.

And then it all got normal. Francois Hollande condemned the attack as “an act of barbarism”, although what else he could have said apart from ‘alors’ is a bit moot. An extra 3,000 police officers have been deployed on the streets in a massive security operation and let’s face it, that always makes it look as if Something Is Being Done, even though it’s not, or at least not by them.

Parisiens have been asked to turn out at 7pm on the Place de la Republique in a show of solidarity with the victims and the magazine Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief Gerard Biard told France Inter: “I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war.”

Except of course, it is. And while we’re here Gerard, assault rifles and an RPG are categorically not ‘heavy weapons.’ Heavy weapons are things like howitzers, the type of materiel that levels buildings. Notwithstanding that, Facebook was instantly full of journalists demanding that every newspaper in the world ran the cartoons of the prophet that were supposed to have irked Islam in the first place, while some of their friends on their timeline took these events as yet more proof if proof were needed that all Moslems are terrorists. Obviously. They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true, as Joe Jackson used to tell us.

I didn’t see any of these people demanding that the crap that journalists wrote about WMDs and missile attacks in 45 minutes was also reproduced, another time that newspapers were jumping up and down begging to be weapons of war, too excited to report facts and more than happy to repeat any bullshit the government chucked their way.

We Are At Conflict

Gotcha! when over 300 Argentinians were drowned by the British Navy and Bastards! when the Argentinian Navy killed far fewer plucky noble Brits was the time before, when once again newspapers were only too happy to be weapons of war, trumpeting the Our Brave Boys chorus.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted, or got someone to Tweet for him: “The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”

There is clearly no terror at all when we flatten Baghdad, or Kabul, or invade other countries, or go to someone’s house in a foreign country and kill everyone there then throw away the body in case anyone wants a good look at how we shot exactly, or drones strike a wedding, or when we do anything military at all. Obviously. We kill hundreds of thousands of people instead of a dozen for the very best of reasons always and frankly they respect us for it, he might as well have added.

Any murder is sickening. It diminishes everybody, murderer, bystanders and murderee alike. But we don’t stand by the freedom of the press any more than the press, as a whole, wants to get off its collective arse and go and do some open and honest reporting when the public is being lied to. And if you seriously believe that this or any other government doesn’t simply embargo and D-Notice inconvenient facts while piously talking about freedom, there’s not a lot of difference between the simplicity of that stance and the upholders of any faith who maintain their invisible friend in the sky wanted people machine-gunned.


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The Christmas List

Traditionally, as you sink into the bottom of a large glass and wonder why it is that with eight boxes of books still unpacked since the move fifty-one weeks ago, two boxes of DVDs ditto, internet access and three large boxes of CDs, a saxophone, two guitars, a harmonica, a penny whistle, a laptop and an un-numberable er, number of notebooks, you’re still arsing around on Facebook marvelling at the state of other people’s lives, the more rubbish the better so you can feel good about yours, (Your car won’t start again? You got a job selling advertising space? You live in Bradford? I am soooooooo sorry…LOLS) it’s time to look back to other times and other Christmases. And not to look at the ones that are all about “we just got back from our 14th power break to Iceland in time to collect the new convertible.” If anyone apart from me actually says power break anymore. Pass me my Ray-Bans, would you? Mega.

Well I think it is anyway. It was alright for Charles Dickins, so I can’t see what YOUR problem is with it, exactly. It’s this anger management thing, isn’t it? I’ve been told about that before. I was JOKING! Jeez….

Anyway. Probably my most memorable Christmas was in Lyme Regis. We’d gone down there for ten days or so. It was one of those times when the more you remember it, the more you remember about it. The epic walk that only stopped when the abandoned railway line we were following headed off over a derelict viaduct and we eventually decided that we wouldn’t follow it. It wasn’t a very health & safety conscious trip though. That was the day after or maybe before we got cut off by the tide through reading the Tide Tables in the fossil shop and not having a phone with us had the option of climbing the cliffs that were marked “unscalable” on the map.

Well, they aren’t. Some of the time was spent sliding twenty feet back down towards the waves, surfing the scree, some of it was spent in a lunar landscape that very few people have ever seen and more was spent hacking through the bramble patch at the top of the cliffs once we’d got to the top, but we here both are separately all this time later, telling the story. Some of it was seriously ‘maybe-we-aren’t-going-to-get-out-of-this frightening, but come on, we’re English so we can’t talk about it and anyway there was nothing much around in the way of choices aside from drowning. It does focus the attention. Buck-up and bang on, what?

We’d thought a friend was coming down to join us but he didn’t. We stayed in a flat in a two hundred year old building belonging to another friend where odd things happened. I couldn’t get the Mercedes I’d had for six months down the narrow alley to the flat. What I thought was a shotgun in an usual case that was going to be my Christmas present turned out to be a vintage Martin saxophone, so old it was marked Low Tone because back then they hadn’t invented the word ‘Tenor.’

The second day after I’d opened it I couldn’t find the clamp that holds the reed on. We turned the flat upside down looking for it, packed, unpacked, but it wasn’t there anymore. We had a trip to the nearest town to buy a new one but none of the Bridport shops had one. When we got back it was sitting in exactly the centre of the bedroom floor, in plain view, on its own. I spent twenty minutes in silence watching someone make a phone call, which I wouldn’t normally do, except that she was naked and shining from her bath. I remember that still.

When our other friends came down for New Year and the street was shut by the police for more saxophone action and we ended up face down in a pile of rubber balls, that was another good bit too.

But of all of that, Christmas Eve was the best. We’d spent most of the evening in The Volunteer after trying out a drink or two in the pub at the bottom of the hill where they took the bodies from the famous shipwreck, where the landlords little dog wouldn’t let one of the bodies alone, licking the dead man’s face until he lived again. That was around the corner from the hotel I’d stayed in when I needed to get some time on my own and came down to Lyme, staying in a room that no hotel could offer now, with a shared bathroom at the end of the corridor and a single bed, much the same as it must have been when American officers were billeted there prior to D-Day in 1944.

Lyme Regis church, on the top of a hill.
Lyme Regis church, on the top of a hill.

At about half past eleven the first few came past the door. By quarter to there were more. By five to there were so many people streaming in their winter coats and some distinctly out of them down the hill that we asked the barman what was going on. Church. Midnight carol service.

So we went. It was like something out of a Jimmy Stewart film. There were the kind of old people you’d expect to see in church. There were the traditional Christmas drunks. But there was everybody else as well. Giggles of girls in their teens with vodka-vacant eyes. Guys who looked like they’d been up welding cars till late. Every kind and age of person you can imagine, smart and scruffy, sober and drunk, old and young, all crammed into this tiny stone church on top of the hill, singing the songs that somehow we really all knew.

I don’t do church. Not even if it’s called St Michael the Archangel, which gives it a bit of clout in the world of angels and other made-up stories, I’d imagine. Promised Land, anyone? Or have you just had one?

I had to go to church when I was a child and I stopped as soon as I could. I don’t believe in the Queen as the head of my faith, because I don’t really have one and I can’t see what she’s got to do with it anyway, coming from a family that even changed its name to suit their circumstances. The girls pushing thirty now who were only going back to their childhood beds by way of half an hour in Daryl’s Renault first probably didn’t have much of a faith either. Except we were all there while the wind howled outside, safe together in the light, singing songs about cold and starvation and death and poverty. And nobody said they could have got all that at home. Not even me.





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It Had To Be You, Django

It Had To Be You, Django

What is there to say, Django Reinhardt?
You take forever now to smoke
That cigarette on the album cover.
A perfect swirl of smoke
Rises past your svelte lapel.
It all went pretty well that evening,
Even from here I can tell.
You did the gypsy thing
The jazz thing, the war thing
And now I’m older than you then
I still can’t do the guitar thing
The way you did with just two fingers.

Your wife made trinkets out of celluloid
Shirt collars, the same stuff they used to use
For film and like old pictures always could
It can burn. And then it did.
The caravan you lived in,
You two crazy kids in your teens,
The whole thing caught light
And as you saved your wife
You lost your hand; or at least some fingers.
You thought it would change your life
And it did but not the way
Anyone might have thought.
You were a gypsy jazz musician.
You looked like a Jew;
That’s what people said in those days.
Some places they still do but you,
When the Nazis came you got lucky.
Hitler might have detested jazz;
And Heydrich, the Reich Gaulieter of Bohemia
And Moravia wrote the rules but the guys
With the boots and the guns, the farm boys
And the doctors, the fliers and the sailors
Listening to Lili Marlene and Bing
And Miller and Dorsey, all of that swing thing
They liked that stuff. They were hep to that jive,
Man. Betty Grable! What a dish!
That music swung too, so Django, you didn’t
When nobody would have taken bets on you
Coming out the other side of that war.
Nobody at all. But someone looked after you.
You hid in plain view, playing at the Hot Club de Paris,
Not down some alley off a half-forgotten street
In an unfashionable arrondisement.
Not you. You were still up there with your name
In lights same as it was with you and Grapelli,
Back before; Someone else
With a pressing reason to leave Paris fast.
But it worked out somehow.
Nobody knocked on your door
In the small hours or if they did,
Only for friendly reasons
And with some pressing urgency,
The way it is sometimes.
Someone was looking after you.
And then June ’44
And America and electric guitars
That you never really liked
Listening to you, it’s plain that’s true.
The fluency still there but the sound flat.
Maybe nobody knew what electric guitars
Were for back then. Maybe even you.
Transatlantic meant a week on a ship before
You came home again to Soissons-sur-Seine.
Thirty seconds of pain before
You put down your guitar for good.
You played better with two fingers
Than most people learn to play in two lifetimes,
That sound that people danced to, crooned to,
Swooned to, the forever sound of golden years.
In an imaginary past full of promises
That no-one meant to break, but still.
You know how it goes. You do now, anyway.
You played Limehouse Blues for a place
Where now you need a million,
To even think about it. That’s blue.
Nagasaki for a somewhere else
We don’t like to talk about too much.
You told us, back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
The women wiggy waggy woo. And maybe they do.
So I’ll see you in my dreams, and in nuages,
In a Sentimental Moon, Beyond The Sea,
In Echoes Of France with those Swing Guitars,
Swinging In Springtime. It had to be you.
Django. Didn’t it? That and Stephan’s Blues,
Double Whisky, Christmas Swing. Just for Fun.
Oubli. Parfum. Swing 39, 41 and 42.
All of these your tunes. It just had to be you.

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Who’s getting scared now?

Who’s getting scared now? Tell me?

Tell me, how does it feel?

Like a lot of people maybe (Would you? As we used to say? Would you like a lot of people? We were intolerable. But that was then.) I keep trying to get healthy. But it can be scary.

I stopped eating meat that had been to a slaughterhouse, because I don’t think it’s right. I stopped drinking milk for the same reason. I eat fruit and fish and vegetables and I don’t really eat potatoes apart from fish and chips on a Friday and maybe oven chips once in the week, I don’t eat lard or bacon or processed, manufactured food apart from baked beans, again maybe once a week, and the occasional biscuit, but really not very often at all.

But child of my times as I am, I keep thinking it’s not enough. But nobody told me getting a better diet could be so scary.

I remember going to Holland and seeing those odd loos they have in what seem like otherwise perfectly normal people’s houses, designed so that once you’ve gone to the bathroom you can inspect your own droppings and admire or otherwise the consistency, colour and presumably the overall presentation. “Darling, can you come in here a minute? There’s something I’d like you to take a look at.

Sadly, it’s like a car crash, once you know it’s going to happen you can’t not watch. But here’s a tip. If you’re going to do that, don’t drink beetroot juice, the way I have every morning. It’s healthy, isn’t it? Full of antioxidants and stuff that combats free radicals, a colonic surge against the Taliban of hostile flora in your small intestine. It’s also supposed to reduce your blood pressure, but I can assure you it doesn’t.

It does at first, admittedly. You can feel yourself going light-headed and the blood drain from your face as you think just this once, it can’t do any harm can it? Just one quick look in the pan? You know, just in case there’s anything wrong inside? I mean obviously there won’t be, but better safe than sorry, no? Just a peek. It’s not as if I’m going to be selling tickets or anything. Just a quick look.

And then you stagger back from the pan, reaching out to the wall to steady yourself, jaw slack, and the word “omigodI’mgoingtodie” stillborn on your lips before you realise, no, think about it. If that was actually a pan full of blood from your insides you’d already be dead. It’s beetroot juice. That’s what it does to your wee.

I mean, they could have said, couldn’t they?

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And dream of sheep

Except I didn’t. Anyone who knows anything about me knows about my thing with Kate Bush. I know. We don’t talk about it, but it’s always been there. Ever since I saw her in Laura Ashley in Bath with her mum, probably. I mean, it probably was her. It was like the

I mean, ANYONE would. Even the Pope would, probably.
I mean, ANYONE would. Even the Pope would, probably.

time I saw Gerry Halliwell walking down the street with her mum in Berkhamstead, where Ed Reardon lives. I didn’t know it was Gerry Halliwell. She wasn’t particularly good looking or anything, and it was just when the Spice Girls were starting to be famous. There was something about her. But nothing like there was something about Kate Bush.

I really, really wanted to meet Kate Bush. Who wouldn’t? Although, as someone collapsed laughing on a beach in Greece once when I said that, as I stole her justified incredulity and put her words in Poppy’s mouth in Not Your Heart Away, ‘Meet her? MEET her? You mean shag her!?”

Well, um. sort of. Obviously. Ok, yes then. I really, really, wanted to do that. Who wouldn’t? As they used to say at the time, one in Kate Bush is worth two in the hand.

All this remembered shabbiness was prompted by talking about dreams. My best worst one ever was about Kate Bush. I’d gone home to my flat with someone nice I’d only just met and we went to bed. And later I dreamed.

I dreamed I’d gone home with Kate Bush, who’d quite sensibly said I was a bit pissed and she wanted it to be special so we’d both remember it. Someone actually did say that once, and it was. I won’t mention her name in case her husband reads this. Sort of sorry about that. But not really. But it was, anyway. Back with Kate the upshot was no go then, but in the morning. I said, as people did at that Kronenbourg 1664-fueled time, no, wait, that’s not fair, you have to. It’s practically the law. Kate acted as if, like most girls then, she’d heard this one before. She wasn’t going to be swayed on that one. In the morning.

As day follows night, the morning came. I woke up. The other side of the duvet is turned back. The other side of the bed is still warm. I can hear her in the bathroom, getting ready and this is going to be so utterly, utterly mega and the door opens and the poor girl I’d taken home is greeted as she walks through the doorway into my bedroom with the words….

“But you’re not Kate Bush.”

Look. I’m sorry. It could have happened to anyone. I didn’t mean anything bad. No, wait, look, I’ve got some croissants, I think…..

And so on. And utterly tragically, that’s a true story.

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But not quite yet

Some extraordinary things have been happening lately. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that when everything looks particularly hopeless and awful, something good happens. The last couple of months haven’t exactly fit my life plan, but the past few days have seen some really rather good things happen.

About a month ago I stupidly managed to kill my iPhone by leaving it on the boot of the car then driving half an hour in the rain and leaving it in the rain overnight. It was no consolation proving I drive carefully. I missed a phone call I needed and had to go and buy a phone which although good, obviously isn’t an iPhone, and so it almost synchronises with my MacBook but not completely.

I lost touch with someone for reasons that were unclear to me at the time and also missed out on walking some dogs, as well as separately coming to the end of a work contract and not having a new one lined up. But two days ago the new phone rang very unexpectedly at 2 am and I spent the whole day yesterday walking with dogs, as I did again today, in the Suffolk countryside, as well as enjoying the company of someone I didn’t think I would be talking to again.

In a minor but important vein I made some really rather wonderful red pepper and sweet potato soup with herb dumplings and even if I did forget to put any baking soda in, it was an unexpectedly good supper.

A phone call this morning suggested a new work contract at more than double the fee for the last one, I was able to help someone, I got a six mile walk in today and just before throwing it in the bin when I checked the iPhone one last time after leaving it in a sealed plastic box with some rice and those gel sachets you get in new shoes, it started accepting a charge and after 20 minutes of being force fed electricity starting to reboot. Early days for that, but we’ll see.

I’ve been trying to start a new book and found through talking to someone that how it starts is obvious now.

I found the full text of the ‘For whom the bell tolls’ quote too. I first paid attention to it a long time ago, but I re-found it just recently. It’s here:


 It tolls for thee…

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it
tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as
that they who are about me and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me,
and I knowt. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions;
all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action
concerns me, for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head
too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a
man, that action concerns me. All mankind is of one author and is one volume;
when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into
a better language, and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several
translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war,
some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind
up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie
open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon
the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all;
but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.
There was a contention as far as a suit (in which piety and dignity, religion
and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to
prayers first in the morning; and it was determined that they should ring first
that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls
for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in
that application, that it might be ours as well as his whose indeed it is. The
bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet
from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who
casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? But who takes off his eye from a
comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any
occasion rings? But who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of
himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a
piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of
thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me because I am
involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee. . . .

John Donne, from Meditation 17


Maybe everything is connected. Today, although a lot of the afternoon was spent on my own rather than being involved in mankind except on Facebook, which probably isn’t what John Donne had in mind, I’m getting that feeling. Any man’s death diminishes me. And life is an odd and today a quietly happy and thankful thing.

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