Saturday, 30 June 2012

Stuff happens

© TsukiMizu
It's been a funny time recently. And time has flown, which isn't exactly a surprise now that I realise time flies when you're doing the mundane and not adding new memories. I went in to something of a semi-hiatus, sometimes visible, sometimes very much under a rock. The visibility would come and go according to the sheer volume of issues that were being flung at me.

And goodness there was been some stuff.

Last Thursday I went to see my flatmate performing with her choir, one of the highlights of the year and, the moment when all her hard work and practice comes to fruition. Whilst I don't sing, except to scare cats, the choir is also a big part of my life as Wednesday evenings are worked around the sacrosanct practice. It's important. I was looking forward to it. And... I was in a state. It had been something of a crunch day, a number of things happened, I won't list them, but the big practical one was that it was confirmed that my contract would not be renewed post the 22nd of July. This wasn't a surprise. The project was part of the large-sporting-event-in-East-London-that-shall-not-be-named and as I had completed everything some six weeks earlier than planned (including the extras), it was time to go.

Which is good, as I really don't like Notting Hill.

So there it was, another, more pressing issue. I lost myself in the music in the first half. The EC4 rendition of Zadok was quite epic, the sensations created by the opening words were as close as you can get to orgasm without the sweatiness. Not that I can really remember you understand. Anyway. Epic. But as the music drifted away and the interval started my heart rate went through the roof. I'd been sitting for 45 minutes and yet had a rate of 128. Ouch. I needed to focus. So I listed all the major issues. It came to twelve.


I went straight home after the concert. Which I felt very bad about, but was also for the best on a number of levels. Which I won't list. I was being stupid, emotional and deeply stressy. I really needed to sort myself out, not just for me, but because I didn't want anything to upset our relatively happy home. Contrary Towers really is my oasis of calm, one of the few places I feel incredibly, genuinely happy, nothing can be allowed to upset that. I didn't sleep much that night as I the issues circled in ever tighter spirals

In the morning, I got a hug. And we talked. My lovely flatmate confirmed in seconds what it had taken me all night to work out, I needed to focus on the things I could actually do something about. And then, even simpler, I needed to focus on what mattered the most. And this was work. Yes I know many of the other things mattered, but, actually, everything else can be dealt with once the income thing is solved.

I am incredibly lucky to have such a sensible, straight talking, friend.

With that in my head I could then think of the next problem. I've become a little, or lottle, reclusive. Introspection is a nasty thing, it can be all consuming and not at all productive. I'd already loosely agreed to doing things this week and decided that unless I was seriously stressing I'd do them. I needed to break the cycle of hiding.

Friday evening we went to see Evelyn Glennie performing at Wigmore Hall. Which was amazing. And to think I had decided the evening before that I would give up my ticket and head to Norfolk. I'd, needless to say, changed my mind after I thought about it and realised that this was about the most pointless and destructive thing I could do. I'm so glad I went.

It did mean that the trip to Norfolk was even shorter than usual, which, given the circumstances, was not a bad thing. During the weekend I got thinking about the words of Shakespeare in Henry V...

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

How apt. And, in a weird way, how I felt. I wanted to face things head on. Not necessarily with rage, duh, but it was time to reclaim me from the mire.

Monday. I'd arranged to join my bezzie for the pub quiz. We used to go regularly, but this had fallen off as I was finding it increasingly difficult to socialise without fear of bringing my feelings meh to the fore. And I have missed her terribly, also there were two other dear friends. Which was a fabulous bonus! There were maudlin moments and, at times, a flashback to when a year earlier three of us had sat together in the same place on a far darker evening. I did slightly break the diet, but what the hell. It was a truly lovely evening and if I could hug all three of my friends again now to thank them, I would. Fact.

Tuesday. I was out again. This time to visit a dear friend in Surrey. I was a little more concerned about this as it was time to come clean and tell her about me. I'd held off telling her before for various reasons and, actually, I wanted to talk face-to-face. I needn't have worried. She was as lovely as she always is and I felt I could kick myself for my stupidity at being so nervous about explaining all. Plus she cooked a lovely meal! We talked for hours and it was all too soon before I had to head to the station and back to Contrary Towers. The next morning I received an email from my friend. I cried a little. On the underground. But it was for the right reasons because what she said was just lovely.

It was a fabulous way to start the day.

Wednesday. I was supposed to be going to the Royal Institute for a talk, but as we'd arranged to see Dr Dee at the ENO on Thursday (my flatmate had seen it on Monday), I felt I needed one night at home. Plus it meant I could cook as I had a feeling that after practicing Verdi's Requiem my flatmate would be somewhere past exhausted. It's a piece I know well, and just thinking about it exhausts me. I listened to the Sir Colin Davis/LSO/LSC version of Requiem I have as I cooked. I know that recorded music is no match for live, but still a good version. When she came in she looked utterly exhausted. So it was food, the briefest of chats and then I chased her off to bed.

Notting Hill. Pfft.
Thursday. By now I'm starting to get a little twitchy in the client's dungeon. I know they are paying me to be there just in case, but jeez it's dull. It has though given me time to think about what I want to do next. And I'm working on that. Fortunately I wasn't in total isolation as, in common with most days, I could be silly on messenger with my flatmate. So I spent much of the day sorting out an account creation system for a different client. At dead on 6pm I skipped out of the office in to... Blazing sunshine. WTAF? It reminded me of Fuerteventura, windy but really warm. Meanwhile in the rest of the country there was floods, hailstones and general meh. Britain really does have mental weather.

As we sat in the Dress Circle waiting area of the the ENO, drinking fizz, we talked. I said I'd decided I'd had enough of being in hiding, or words to that effect. I had not meant to take the hiatus, it was simply a result of too many things happening that were too difficult to resolve in my own head. It was time to begin living again. As Shakespeare wrote, once more unto the breach. My lovely flatmate was far more succinct, she simply said...


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Losing the Plot: a review

Life is full of happy little examples of the butterfly effect. Not all involve Fuji-san and hurricanes. Some bring true, undiluted joy. It's happened before in a singularly life changing way, both recently and many, many years ago. Actually, now there's a subject for a blog post, thought it is rather part of my old life. Hmm, I'll think about that.

Anyway, as I was saying. Little happenings, big results. Now this is where I have to admit to one of my spoof accounts, I operate the @LimehouseCut account, the idea being to talk about life around Limehouse Cut from the canal's point of view. So the other week the canal was a little grubby, human detritus, something dead floating in the water, generally a bit meh. I wondered who was responsible for the Cut, more to the point, were they on Twitter?

They were! So a quick plaintive plea was put out to British Waterways, please send the little cleaning boat... Whether or not they ever did I have no idea, I did ask the Cut, but being the strong, silent and discreet type it refused to answer. But what I did find was that the Cut had a new follower, @mikrontheatre.

Oh. What's this?

It transpired it's a touring theatre company that uses the canal network as its modus operandi, how fabulous, a small band of wandering Thespians. In a boat. What could be better?! I read their blurb:
“Mikron is the little touring theatre company with the reputation for tackling large scale subjects and turning history into vivid and dramatic entertainment. 
We tour on our narrowboat, Tyseley, in the summer and by road in the autumn, to every conceivable type of venue, reaching audiences that other companies cannot.”
Oh! And they were coming to the LondonCanal Museum a few days later. Rather annoyingly they were putting on two different shows on two different nights, one of which I couldn't attend as I would be attending a concert featuring my flatmate. And she would never forgive me. I booked a pair of tickets for the Wednesday to see Losing the Plot. How could I not, the title at least matched my current state of mind.

Originally I'd hoped to be able to take my lovely bezzie along for the evening, but she was unsure whether she would still be working at that point. Hmm. So I put out a who wants to come message on Twitter...


Honestly. Free ticket. I know it would mean having to speak with me at some point, but I'm not that scary. Am I? Oh well. Later in the day though, my theatre buddy @These_Boots popped up, oooh. I could have kicked myself, why hadn't I thought of her before? Well, I had, briefly, but thought it might be impossible as she was no longer working in London. Duh. I'm not very bright at times. Funnily enough, my flatmate asked me exactly the same thing when I said there was a chance she would be able to attend.

Yes, I really am thick at times. And she knows it.

Anyway, I couldn't have asked for a better companion and, being the sort of lovely person she is, she insisted on paying for her ticket, though it wasn't required. So, fast forwarding a bit. The big night. The show, fortunately, had a latish start, handy as my friend was attending an event where she felt it was bad form to leave the High Sheriff in the lurch and pop off to see a band of wandering Thespians.

Tssk. Priorities darling.

The good news was that the Canal Museum is a seven minute full tilt walk from Kings Cross. And the train was on time. And we didn't get stuck in crowds of aimless tourists. Quite a win really.

The Canal Museum is a fabulous little place, I keep meaning to visit properly, one for a future weekend I think. I was very aware of it as it's sort of opposite Kings Place, a regular haunt of my flatmate and I. And canals are something I've become increasingly interested in, I imagine as a direct result of living by a canal. That and being a bit of a history junkie.

The audience was a reasonable size, though I didn't do a headcount, or even a chair count for that matter. There wasn't a stage as such, more a centrepiece prop that gave the impression of an aged shed door on an allotment. Oh yes, which reminds me, the synopsis...

Set in Thistledale, the allotmenteers were a happy bunch about to celebrate the diamond jubilee of their formation, along with their annual “Heaviest and Longest” competition, when their world was rocked by the mysterious Harvey from the council...

I won't go in to the detail of what happens in the play. Why? Well, I believe if you love theatre, or just want a really good laugh you should go and see it. It was one of the most entertaining pieces of theatre I've seen in a long time. It mixed elements of music hall, with comedy, a little sexual innuendo, kazoos and a serious, beautifully presented, point.

The final solution to their world being rocked was found, and the deliciousness of the idea presented was a loophole with sparkly diamonds wrapped in a twist of anti-bureaucratic irony. It was beautifully done, and perfectly presented.

There was a taste of humour, history, political indifference, David and the Goliath, jealousy, love. And marrows. Obvs.

The songs were superb, particularly the “Ballad of the Allotmenteers” a ripping ride of social history from the Saxons to present day. For emotions and an impression of the sadness of a lonely heart you couldn't better “Cabbages and Peas” sung by Maud. Oh, and Harvey Granelli's “The Italian Connection”. Oh gawd, I'm going to list them all at this rate.

The highlight though? The audience being encouraged to sing-a-long with the Marrow Song!

Now here's the thing, when I think of performances I rate them by whether or not I could suspend my disbelief. I did so recently during part of a recent performance of Salome, similarly seeing La Traviata at St Marks Church in Florence (must write about that). That moment when you find your mind is telling you you're not sitting in a museum near Kings Cross, but are actually in a small allotment. In t'north.

And I got this in spades (sorry). The transformation of Ruth to Brenda, or Maud to April the bee keeper were sublime, but Colin (ex drummer, maybe a bit too wild in his youth) to Harvey (swarthy, shiny suit and, mama mia, strutting) was astounding. The fact that as they changed characters they left the old character as a broomstick was ignored. They were all, totally, utterly, real.

It was fantastic.

I have to apologise to the rest of the audience that night, my friend and I laughed, a lot, I have not been so entertained in such a complete way in such a long time. I can't even begin to tell you how much you should see this play if you can, it has something for everyone and it's put in with such simple perfection that you will come away...


Yes. It was one of those. In the same way that seeing La Traviata in Florence ruined opera for me as I had seen it in its purest, distilled, essence and big productions now feel false by comparison, this play had achieved the same. And then some. It might be a while before I can see a normal production without feeling slightly ripped off by the bloated extravagance.

I did have a similar experience last year when I saw Into Thy Hands at Wilton's Music Hall, but where that moved me with the sheer intensity of the emotions, Losing the Plot left me feeling nothing but elated.

You can't ask for more than that.

So, if you want to see theatre at its purest and best, get thee to the Mikron website and see if they are performing near you. You won't regret it.

Trust me, a canal told me.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

It could be worse.

As I sat this morning on the Hammersmith & City line, feeling slightly disgruntled with the world, I had a wake up call. The man sitting next to me was blind.

I didn't realise at first, why would I? Just another miserable passenger hiding in the dark of their mind. As we approached Kings Cross he pulled out his Crackberry and listened to a message using text-to-speech. The penny didn't drop. It wasn't until he got out his foldaway white stick that I made the connection.


It's a salient reminder. However awful things are, it really could be worse.

Try being grateful for what you have.

Monday, 18 June 2012


I can't even bring myself to say the word.

We started last night. The formal. Official. Serious... Diet.

Meh. And we will be blogging about it. Or I will, I don't think my flatmate will live that long. She will pass out from malnutrition and exhaustion.

You will find the dedicated blog at the shiny new Contrary Towers blog :-)

Sunday, 17 June 2012


So. I watched a film last night, The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Taking time to sit and watch anything is a rare luxury, which I then paid for by working until nearly 2am, but it was spontaneous, impromptu and a nice diversion.

Or would have been.

The trouble is, that whilst the film is very funny, it is, nevertheless, a romantic comedy. Bugger. That was smart. All was well until the point when they kissed and the whole game changed. Been there, done that and... Missing it insanely. I can't even begin to say how much I miss kissing. Or being curled up with someone talking, watching something, reading or just enjoying the feel of warmth and the gentle rhythm of another's heartbeat and breath.

Making it worse was that I was watching with the nearly-ex. We'd stumbled in to some kind of silent truce and it was holding, which is good. But I was in a dangerous place because if they'd made even the slightest hint that perhaps some affection was in the offing then I would have swallowed all my pride and accepted. But it wasn't. Which hurts all the more.

But it was inevitable, I suppose, I get the same sense of loss when I catch sight of someone in the throes of a joyful embrace. As Lily Allen sang in Littlest Things

Sometimes I find myself sittin' back and reminiscing
Especially when I have to watch other people kissin'

Yep. That.

Thinking about it though, it would have been beyond wrong. Seeking something for the sake of something is never going to turn out well, I learnt that only too well last year. It has to be real.

So I'm trying to fill my mind with other things, the feelings are flowing around in torrents now, which is tricky as there is nowhere for them to go, and incredibly frustrating feeling on so many levels. I think this is how I sat there until 2am writing some insanely complex code because, well, it was better than the alternative of thought and memories.

And nothingness of being lonely.



For the touch of breath
The scent of skin
The ripple of warmth
The drawing in

The joy of a sigh
The mingling of lips
The rise of a moment
The rush
Of infinite din

Feeling soft warmth
A touch
A tension
That fluid pause


Friday, 15 June 2012


How do you do it?
How to move on?
With no one to sing to
No need for a song

How do you search
For the one that is true?
When the one that you want
Is still haunting you.

How can you find
A simple peace
A calm retreat
With sweet release

How to keep trying
In the face of a wall
As each ringing silence
Makes hope tightly furled

How do you know
When there is no more
To accept this reality
To close the last door

How do you know?

Distractions and the alchemy of time

If you know anything about the residents of Contrary Towers you'll know we like distractions. Show us a shiny thing and we'll be off like a shot. Actually, don't show us a shiny thing and we'll go looking for shiny things.

We do have quotas you know.

And alchemy. We like that too. I know my flatmate is by far the expert on the subject, but we have alchemy here every day in food, ideas and conversations so why not have an alchemy of time? It turns out we do, but more on that in a bit.

And then there are connections. We utterly love connections, those seemly serendipitous events that make you go hmm, they are all over and bring exciting new threads of discovery as we stumble on them, as my flatmate recently reflected on in her blog.

This week I've been working on compiling an anthology of my rather awful poetry. The reason why was simple, I wanted to be able to read them on my Kindle and I wanted to revisit some dark places. I write from the heart and much of what I write is probably unintelligible without the context, and I'm hardly going to share that.

What struck me profoundly was my perception of the time. The advantage of using a pooter to record my poems was I had a record of exactly when I wrote the poetry down, not necessarily when I created it as I often wrote it longhand or on my phone first, but, close and I tended to set the posting times to match.

The actual time-scale was tiny. Yet the effect that events then were having on my life was both devastating and profound. It's an effect we've all seen, an apparent distortion of the passage of time. As I compiled I came across one poem that summed distortion of time perfectly, there were others, but this one is the almost definitive...

Eyes lock.
Breath felt.
The quickened heart.
A flush
so hard to miss.
Time stands still
as the bubble grows
to shelter
love’s first kiss.

Which brings us back to the connections. As I was pondering this, an email turned up from the Royal Institution promoting, amongst other things, a talk by Claudia Hammond on the subject of time perception. Oooh! Sadly my flatmate couldn't be there as she's busy debauching Belfast so it's up to me to talk about it. Not good as she is obviously the brains of the bunch.

There is one final connection, of course, it being the RI, it meant that once more I would be in the self same lecture theatre were we heard James Burke talking about connections last November. That's apt. With candles. And little sparkly bits that light up the word apt.

As an opener, Claudia talked about Alan Johnson, a BBC reporter that was kidnapped in 2007 for 4 months. The initial task was to see if we could remember when this was. Trouble is at the time (I checked when I got back to Contrary Towers) of the kidnap in March 2007 I was coming out of having my hormone system switched off and having daily injections to reboot me, for want of a better phrase, I can remember almost nothing of the period. Which I know is a dreadful thing to say, but I am glad it turned out okay for Alan.

Before we got to the date, Claudia talked about the times when time slows down. Many of us have had those moments when something dreadful happens and time literally seems to slow down, I've had it on a motorcycle as I headed straight towards a car that decided to swing back on a road, my friend obotheclown had something similar when, I believe, he was out in the clown mobile. My first true experience of time slowing down was when I was 11 and trapped in an upturned yacht in an air pocket. I was there perhaps ten minutes, it felt like an eternity.

And this was her first point. At times of extreme stress we observe the effect. The idea, as she explained, was that at these times we build memories. Lots of memories. And this makes perfect sense. When the mundane is taken away and replaced with the extraordinary you will absorb every detail. But, as she explained, it's not just about the real level of danger or stress. The danger could, simply, be perceived.

The example, again, was Mr Johnston.

During his captivity he was allowed a wireless and on this he could listen to the BBC World Service. Unfortunately he heard news of his execution. Oh. And you get annoyed when somebody tells you who won Britain's got X come dancing?! Time slowed down again. With no information as to whether this was the PR blooper of millennium by the kidnappers or simply a mistake by the press all he could presume was that we was about to die.

I imagine that focuses the mind.

The thing that struck me at this point, and thinking of my own experiences of time distortion, was that it's all about context. Claudia went on to give an alternative context, that of being ill, specifically of having a high temperature. I'm rarely ill, but I do recall a couple of incidents when I must have been as (a) I didn't eat and (b) I was disconnected from my pooter. In both of these I recall time dragging and, thinking about it, I was rather running a temperature. It has to be said, Claudia is a very amusing speaker, the description she gave of the discovery of a connection between a high temperature and a slowing down of time perception raised many a laugh.

The person that made the initial connection was a psychologist. His wife was ill and every time he left the room briefly she complained, on his return, how long he'd been away. So, like any good psychologist, he decided to experiment on his wife ;-) He got her to estimate the passage of time, against his watch, when she was at different temperatures. In total he did this 30 times and recorded the results. These were clear, the perception of time did slow down and, subsequently, this has been confirmed by others.

So fear and temperature. I can get that. But...

Something still didn't add up. What about the kiss? Neither stressful not temperature raising (well, maybe a bit). Claudia moved on to that. A group of people were brought together. They were given time to network (ooh, another connection, must answer an email when I've finished) and then asked to choose who they would like to work with for the next task.

Except it was a fix.

Half of the people were taken, one by one, and it was explained that nobody liked them so they would have to do the task by themselves.

The other half were taken, one by one, and it was explained that they were so astonishingly popular that everyone wanted to work with them, so, would they mind awfully working alone.

So we now have half in the lonely-zone whilst the others were popular-but-working-alone. Sounds about right. You might not be surprised to learn that time slowed down for time lonely. Who would have thought it, emotion pays a part.

And this, suddenly, gives an explanation for my own experience of time standing still during the first kiss. As I think back, and goodness I do often, I can remember every single detail. And then some. The details built, grew. Formed alliances and grew a bit more. It was a profound, deeply emotional, very intense experience and built more memories in seconds than I'd done in several weeks. It's not at all surprising it felt that time stood still with hours passing in what may have been seconds.

I have no idea.

We moved from this on to the hows. How could it be that we can measure time if, as a result of much work there was no single, identifiable clock that allowed us to have a comprehension of time. Bud Craig put forward one suggestion that we count up emotional moments and, almost by definition, we get more with fear. And kissing. Obvs. On one level I like this concept. But still prefer the idea that it slows because we are stuffing the memories in.

We moved on another question. If you were expecting a meeting on Wednesday and the meeting is moved two days forwards, which day is the meeting on? There are two possible answers. I have to say I wasn't wholly convinced with the argument here, it came down to being do you move through time or does time move through you. I have a horrible feeling this was almost a red herring as it was more of a linguistic issue. The issue of precision I've ranted about in the past. Though I will refrain from saying what Claudia said until I've had a chance to ask a few people about which day the meeting should be.


Telescoping. Now being middle aged, though I will point out I am still on the lower age bracket a the RI! I knew there was a reason why I maintained my membership there, the only place on the planet where at 45 I'm not in the fifty-something bracket. I iz thirty something. Perception.

Obviously borked.

Where was I? Oh yes. Telescoping. And this was where Mr Johnston came back in to the room. As it were. Apparently we can remember, what I'll call, world events up to about three years ago. Anything beyond that and we start getting the dates wrong. Because of the emotion of the events we think they were more recent. Why? Memories, more to the point, more memories made.

Brilliant! Err, hold on, but what about my extremely distorted view of events last year?

It turns out that whilst three years is the magic time for world events, on a personal level it's... two months. Oh. So less time than we've been in Contrary Towers. Suddenly my confusion over dates was making sense. My perception was, quite rightly, wrong and, in a perverse way, was normal. I'm normal!

No giggling at the back please.

Next we have another glorious phrase, the holiday paradox. This is essentially stuff happens, we get to the end and it seems like it was much longer than we expected. Huh? The answer, if all the above is right, is simple.


We make them. Normally, in a week, we might remember 6-9 things (I will resist the urge to remove the dash) but on holiday we might remember 6-9 things in a day (still resisting, but much more tricky). In short, holidays last longer because we have more new memories. And the new bit is the key.

New memories. Shiny. Sound familiar?

On the subject of sounding familiar... Predicting time. I live in a world where a millisecond is an eternity but three months is never enough. I am shockingly bad at predicting my time. But, it transpires, I'm normal! Again! Who knew?! I can predict others, but mine? Honestly, I was supposed to be cleaning Contrary Towers, which will be why at 0040 I'm still writing. Just don't tell my flatmate. Our little secret. And in that lays the reason, our perception of how long it will take to do something might be a teensy bit idealised with no allowance for issues or distractions, yet when you look at how long somebody else would take to do something we suddenly become extremely realistic and an awful lot more accurate.

I was singularly pleased by this. The best advice given to the question of how to deal with time the issue of time management was... Do less. Or at least agree to less.


In summary, time might be (effectively) constant, but our perception of time is very much based on the context. I'm only too aware of this on a Contrary Towers day of distractions when we seem to squeeze in an impossible amount of stuff. But, as it turns out, all we do is have new stuff, which makes new memories and, hence, makes it feel we fitted more in.

I guess this shouldn't be a surprise, but it is still quite profound to have it said so explicitly. I have to say I enjoyed the talk very much, I also expect I will enjoy the book Time Warped, though I will point out it's cheaper to get off Amazon, just without the signature, obvs. More importantly I went away with a number of concepts that make sense to me, the distortion of my perception of time has become more understandable.

So the secret to achieve the alchemy of time is: Do interesting new stuff and build new memories. I'm sure Clare, my flatmate, will like that one.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

People watching

I like people watching.

Really, really, really like it.

Trying to work out people's stories, or the relationships. Wondering what a phone call is really about. I truly am a nosy bag. Some months back I was meeting someone in the Hampshire Hotel for champagne and conversation, but was constantly distracted by wondering what was going on elsewhere in the bar.

Quite bad.

I'm just very curious about people. And will happily place myself somewhere so that I can do just that. It's harmless. It's interesting. And it reminds me that people do have conversations. I am saddened though that increasingly it's more about watching people sat in a group of 2 or more, all hunched over their telephones sending messages.

Even then you can get a fairly good idea of what the interaction is, or, at least, one side of it. The way a face lights up when a message is from a lover, a barely contained laugh, sadness, or anger, frustration, relief and even... Indifference. They are all there, written all over the reader's face.

And there's the funny thing. It occurred to me that, actually, maybe we are seeing more of the emotions when seeing somebody so utterly engrossed in their latest message. Perhaps, with training, social intercourse becomes to precise, controlled, and people are able to attenuate the hidden messages they are giving off.

One to ponder.

In the meantime, a stream of words that came as I wandered through Portobello Road market earlier in search of peppers for dinner. And watching people. Obvs.

People abound
Their tiny touches
Their holding of hands
A look in their eye
As a promise is made
A cooling, a sadness
As love goes in shade
Hidden conversations
Serious or mad
A touch on the arm
A look made them glad
The tactics and efforts
The hopeful have tried
All are seen clearly
By the one that’s outside


Only one survived until lunchtime.
Sometimes the muse strikes.

In my case my muse was too busy scoffing her face with pie, so not really striking. But there was something in the air, something that actually made the words gel and form in my mind instead of flailing around seeking a home. I've written quite a lot recently, much of which has given a glimpse of the pains I'm going through in the world real world, but proper, creative, words have been trapped in the darkness.

But I am, through disconnecting and recreating myself, finding calm and an acceptance that, well, this is the way it is. And I think this is what woke the inner muse up. Surprisingly, the words appeared on the Central Line.

Less surprisingly, they started with a smile...

A smile
A glance
Those ebony eyes
Warmth exchanged
Through human ties
Making a moment
Joy professed
So little needed
So much with less

That felt better. One of those brief visual exchanges that suddenly makes the underground a nicer place, yes, even the Central Line. A little further on I sat, next to the smiler as it happens, but as I am (a) a wuss and (b) see (a), there was no further exchange. But I did write again.

This time about the swifts that were out in force last night. They were quite stunning to see as they swooped and dove for flies, the impression I got was of the air being almost solid, they barely flapped a wing, rather they looked as if they were riding rails. But in this aerobatic dance I realised something, it was literally about life and death, these astonishing flying machines were doing little more than hunting and killing for food.

Invisible ground
The Swift
Fly shooting
Darts around
Taking each moment
Feeling each breath
As Gaia expresses
Both life and death

And finally, well, not finally, but finally for now, I reflected on standing looking down on the Limehouse Cut this morning, enjoying the surprising sight of the sun blinding me. I did see, for the first time, a couple of the boats being used for the 2012 games canal service. It'll be nice to see the canal being used regularly as they shuttle from Limehouse, via the Olympic Park, to Tottenham and back again.

Sun glint
With blinding light
A wasteful sight
In silence
And glowing glee
That body of water
From the sea

Monday, 11 June 2012


A ravelment of feelings
Divulsed from the heart
Levigated now
Hope, torn apart 
A fine gentle powder
All that is left
A dusting of memory
In an empty chest 
Seeking a new shell
So impossibly hard
Raising the barriers
Of the latest facade 
Just a realisation
That came to me
In the simplest situation
Of an early cup of tea

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The cold light

In the cold light of day
I read through sore eyes
Remembering moments
Of bitter-sweet lies
Remembering torments
That pushed to the edge
Of that towering precipice
With a crumbling ledge
With each passing hour
Each thing that I learn
A passing of want
The death of a yearn

Moving on

It's funny what you remember.

A little less than a year ago I wrote a poem, a lament. A reflection of the signposts that pointed to childhood memories and a place I felt safe. I wrote it at 6:29am on a Sunday morning. I imagine I would have written it in a single sweep of thought, I often do, but revisiting it I see the signs, a simple message, clear, concise. A note and reminder to an older me of where I was. And it wasn't a nice place. Little did I realise the day was about to get an awful lot worse.
Two glorious piers,
guard my sweet Tyne.
Stretch far from sand’s shore,
embrace memories of mine.
Forever shows home,
my haven
no more.
I didn't write again until the next day. I published at 8:09am, but I know that was only because that's when I next received a signal. I was on the 7:59 and merrily heading back to London with tears streaming down my cheeks in the quiet confines of First Class. One word in that sentence was a lie, I'll let you work it out. My words...
Husk filled with vacuum,
devoid of a dream,
void for a future,
maelstrom of now,
blue sky as poison,
fears for friends. 
The moment love ends
You see the night before we had a discussion. The one where you're told, in no uncertain terms, that your nearly twenty year marriage has reached the end of the road. Now this wasn't entirely a surprise. Far from it. But, you know what, I still had this vague hope of finding a resolution, a way forward, something that would be better for the children than wham-bang-divorce-ma'am. In reality, love had ended a long time before, it takes a long time to admit it though.

So I entered a very bad time. A bad time that has continued. I spoke with three people that week, about what was going on in detail (I did have to explain to my then main clients what was going on to explain the fits of tears). One of these people was then seeing, what turned out to be, a total fuckwit. Yep, I confided my total life collapse in somebody that was a shit and a fraud. One was my best and closest friend and, by a twist of irony, my having a meal with her in the week and refusing to answer messages lead to an extension of the torture for another year ("I thought something had happened to you and realised maybe I still cared", FFS). The third was further away. Somebody I'd only actually met briefly but talked with regularly.

It was during this conversation, on the banks of the Thames, that I talked of my plan B, my little place, with a view over the roof tops, and space to write, a few plants (are you listening Percy, Basil and Charlie) and, well, space to be me. To be free.

To heal.

We also talked about my potentially visiting in the July, for their birthday, but, with another offer dangling in the wind, an offer of closeness. But with an understanding. A very clear understanding. I thought it was a joke.

During the week a time was set to talk about things. Ironically, as it turned out the time was set on the Thursday, the self same day I met with my best friend and ended eating pasta in Carluccio's in Smithfield, at the time I felt it was like a date with the hangman's noose. Little surprise that I wasn't too fussed about answering a text message from my about-to-be-ex.
A time is set,
the circle complete.
To decide our fate,
a simple meet.
So terrified,
of this it’s true
No idea,
not a clue.
It wasn't until the time that I realised how stupid I'd been for not answering that text message.

So here we are.

Nearly a year later.

I did go to visit the third person. And... I shouldn't have done. I went for the right reasons. I went because I'd promised a friend I would be there for their birthday if I could. I went there to escape for a while. I went to do something frivolous.

I didn't go to break a heart.

I did have a naysayer, somebody who said it was ill advised, I ignored her. You'll be pleased to know I do listen to her advice now. But I did go. And things happened. And... I foolishly believed it was meant to be simple, friendly, comforting. What utter nonsense.

You would have thought that by now I would know that when it comes to feelings there is nothing simple, friendly or comforting. Things I've never, nor may ever, talk about here, but certainly more than enough to tell me that feelings are a dangerous place.

You see, the real problem with feelings is that, invariably, there is an imbalance. I know this only too well. You might fall deeply and inescapably in love with somebody, but if it's not reciprocated then there will be trouble ahead, or, you have to deal with it and hope that one day the feelings will evaporate. But definitely an imbalance.

And this imbalance can take on a darker form. Not intentionally. I would never say that. Over time I realised there was a problem, it didn't take long, a simple admission was enough for me to realise that this was difficult. Over an extended period of time things became more tricky. It was slow at first, a gently growing awareness that you are being contacted more often than you feel comfortable with. I can't remember the date exactly, but I do remember a period when I needed silence. So I switched my phone off whilst I thought. I realise now that I did that because of the regularity of tweets, texts and calls.

The trouble was, I was also working in the evenings, being a freelancer it comes with the territory. I'd switch my phone on so I could connect to the internet to send email and I'd receive a text. No harm there.

Except there was.

You see some networks have proper delivery notification. So the text would terminate on my handset (to use the correct parlance) and a notification would be sent. And then. Within seconds. I would get a phone call.

Every. Single. Time.

I was, for all intents and purposes, being stalked.

Now this is a big and quite unpleasant thing to say. I wasn't really, but I certainly wasn't being given the space I asked for and it did feel very stalky. This went on for a very long time. It wasn't just phones. If I dared to appear in Twitter I would have my musings answered in seconds. Every one. I was, literally, becoming twitchy about this and, quite rapidly, reduced my output, what I said, what I talked about and so on.

I tried to go on breaks, times when I specifically asked not to be contacted. But it never lasted. I could either switch off my communication channels completely or I could receive message after message. Don't get me wrong, the majority were friendly enough with no pressure. But that's the thing, it starts becoming about how you can't say anything without someone always making a response. It is quite disturbing.

When we eventually sorted out Contrary Towers I was worried about saying anything, but, I was excited about finally having a proper place to live in London and things would slip out and, being watched, it would be picked up on. This was followed by the inevitable requests for the address. Sorry, but it wasn't going to happen. The one thing that my flatmate and I were quite clear about was that there was some stuff that had to be left behind and as much as the request was innocent enough, it was on the back of the twitch I felt whenever I posted something and had a reply within seconds.

There are so many things I could say at this point. Things I won't because, frankly, it would be wrong to say them.

Anyway. In the end the messages became to much and I effectively abandoned my old Twitter account and moved. I left a lot behind but, actually, it made sense because I am dealing with some bigger issues. This went well for a while, where I moved my outlet to was a locked account and I carefully decided who to open up to. As I'm still unsure of my future I wanted to keep it relatively contained. Sometimes though, I make mistakes, often if you've been making notes, and I managed to leave my account unlocked after having replied to some things and had forgotten about it.

Not surprisingly the third person eventually picked up on this and started following. And sent a text. I lost sleep over this, literally. My AlmostSenseless account has a very special purpose, it's the raw version of me, not the publicly acceptable facet that I mostly show. But, I reasoned, this was somebody that was a friend and maybe they wouldn't leap on my every tweet with such voracity given the obvious change in circumstances. The advice I was given implied I was wrong.

The advice was right.

Within 48 hours we were back to pretty much every single message getting a response. I was again being told what was wrong with some local situation when, actually, I already knew what was wrong because I check this stuff. I was, in my eyes, being stalked again.

A fuse blew.

It was all so unnecessary. Did I have to spell out that thou shalt not reply to every single fucking tweet? As I fumed through the tunnels I made a decision, I was going to relock and I was removing the constant contact. Enough was enough.

The thing is this. I am going through a torrent of problems and pressure that I can barely hint at. The biggest part being that, on the previous Sunday, the carefully rebuilt faux sham of a marriage had collapsed once more, but this time it was nasty. And, you know what, I really didn't give a monkeys hoot that somebody couldn't accept that something wasn't going to happen. I was more concerned about holding it together long enough to not think that Oxford Circus looked like a good place to enter the underground for the last time.

So I am very angry.

I am about to lose my one outlet because I won't be left alone.

And I blocked. Then, when I got to a proper computer, I locked. As I said earlier, enough was enough. I needed to keep a lid on my sanity. Was this unfair? Yes, at the time I thought it was. At the time I had no idea that they would try calling anyone that would listen and was close to me to put their view...

...Later that day I received a direct message. I had behaved abominably. In the midst of the world falling apart I was presented with the reality that one of my closest friends thought I was abominable. Excellent. Well, the solution there is simple and this is the path I'm taking.

I am excluding myself.

I am no longer capable of being a decent human being as I am incapable of accepting emotional blackmail with good grace. I've really not covered a fraction of this, but that's what it is. My last tweet was as a result of the first laugh I had that day. For the briefest second the darkness that had been enveloping me dispersed and I said something funny which I then passed on. I had no idea that within a minute or two that I would find I was, quite simply, scum.

I don't care any more. I want to give so much, but that doesn't mean I should have to take the negatives all the time. I don't care that in a single moment I have probably lost most of my social circle and am staring at extreme loneliness beyond my flatmate and one other. And when she finds the one, as I desperately hope she does, I know I will be alone.

In my life I've learnt that it is nearly always me that makes concessions, adjusts, adapts and makes the effort to make people more comfortable. I've been doing it explicitly for forty odd years, but no more. I know I regularly screw up, but you know what, if you had to live inside a head this confused you would too. What I don't want to do is allow external factors to put me in a place which causes problems at home, I don't want to disturb the calm that we've managed to find in Contrary Towers, some things are just too important and I know that allowances have been made for my emotional state. Which is unfair on my flatmate, she shouldn't have had to feel like she had to. I've told her next time she should just give me a mental slap.

At least by excluding myself I can avoid damaging anyone else.

Please don't think I'm being all passive aggressive. I'm not interested in that and my only subtlety here is in not naming names, no point and, let's face it, in the unlikely event this is read then they will know who they are. Nor do I want or expect a response. But I won't sit quietly on my hands and accept all the blame for this, I've been on the receiving end of, at times, incessant passive aggressive, the self same stuff that has pushed me in to a quiet corner.


Now fine, if you've seen the homage to the original Italian Job, stands for freaked out, insecure, neurotic, emotional. I use fine a lot. I usually prefer fucked up for my f, but then I'm not g rated. I'm definitely emotional. My emotions have directly lead to the breakup of probably the single most important connection I had in my adult life, I know because I asked. So I might as well let them drive me to break everything else. Maybe when left with nothing I'll finally be able to work out what's right and wrong. Maybe I'll finally be able to move on.

I'll keep writing. I need some outlet, some means to express what is going on inside. It will just be one way. I can't currently see a reason to lift this self imposed exile. Ironically it also means that it's unlikely these words will be read as I won't be saying I've blogged to promote my writing, not that this matters.

In the meantime I will continue to deal with the accelerating breakup of my life. A difficult time, but fear not, I won't keep it festering inside, it will be expressed in the form of poetry.

Expect it to be dark.

Friday, 8 June 2012


As thoughts expand
And a soul laments
The curtains fall
And bring

This my quiet place
Inside the mind
As daisies join
With people

And in this chamber
Of sweet acclaim
I seek solace in
That healing

Can I hope to leave?
To make amends
I fear this time
The soul won't

So I wait in silence
Tormented soul
Fractured parts
No longer

Give me a reason

Give me a reason to love you
A simple reason to care
Show me a way from the madness
I can sense it's already there

Hold my hand in the darkness
Fill my world with sweet light
Be there at that crowning moment
As I open my eyes to your sight

Give me a way to find you
I need to see who you are
A simple sign that defines you
A vision without a scar

Give me a reason to love you
A simple reason to care


A growing shame
The weight of guilt
Inflicted blame
A sense of self
Of total fault
Painting wounds
With shades of salt

A perfect jail
Of battered oak
And rusted nails
The stench abounds
Of guilt's foul scent
All moments lost
To regret's lament

At once alone
No temptation felt
No joy condoned
A darkened cavern
Where pain eloped
Hand in end
With the remains of hope


Thursday, 7 June 2012


For the warmth of a kiss
The feel of a hand
The need for affection
To colour the bland

For the look in an eye
When you see love smile
The need for close breath
It's been the longest while

For the leap of the heart
As I hear their name
As passions grow wild
And devour the tame

For the moments long past
And the nights now so long
To feel warm love
Or has it all gone?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Tumulent temptations
Soak in the rain
Cooling, impossible

Tasting temptation
With bitterness sweet
A focus divided
Feigned calmness

Avoiding temptation
The scent from a smile
A breath
Of a touch
With guile

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

No Kews in Queue. Errr.

It was a bank holiday. Again.

I had planned to be back in Contrary Towers on Monday night, but, unfortunately a combination of an epically bad weekend and the last train being so early meant I was neatly stuck in the worst place possible. Pfft.

On top of this I received two messages on Twitter that made my heart run cold, the worry for my flatmate was quite palpable, she was truly in dire need... Firstly I saw...
@AlmostSenseless and we are out of jam *wails*
And then, to emphasise the dangerousness of the situation...
@AlmostSenseless and no milk #hopeless
Which was why I was out of bed at 5:15am and heading for the railway station to catch the first train out and return home. Yes I could have hung around a bit longer, but things really had been tense and, not to put too fine a point on it I desperately wanted to see a friendly face. That and we had a plan. We were going out!

I managed to work for most of the way to Cambridge, which was nice. It was weird being on the first train, the tables were still damp from being washed down. And it being a bank holiday it was... Silent. Almost nobody on the train. Fabulous.

The next bit from Cambridge to Liverpool Street wasn't so nice. Again the train was completely empty. Good. I did various things worked a bit and... At the next station a few people got on and... One of them sat right next to me. The. Train. Was. Bloody. Empty. WTAF? Why next to me? And he kept sniffing. Grrrrr. I was not a happy bunny. But I was being calm. Ish.

Anyway. I was glad to get to Liverpool Street. Even more weirdly I was actually glad to see the Central Line. I thought I'd never use that phrase. Even coming out of Mile End, what seemed about 8 seconds later, was a joy. The sweet sound of the police sirens was like music to me ears, I was almost home. One quick stop to Chez Lidl for essentials and I could have my first tea of the day. Hurrah!

Incredibly, my flatmate was actually awake. In fact, she'd been awake for some time. Crikey. Time for tea then. But no crumpets. I'd picked some up especially, but she was on some new diet that meant no crumpets before 9am, a weird plan, but apparently scientifically proven.

The crumpets came with the second cup of tea. Phew, I was quite worried for a moment there.

Interestingly, I didn't manage to vapourise the crumpets. I don't for one minute doubt the fact that our thermonuclear grill is the root of all evil, but, well, mine didn't come out carbonised... I added butter. By the lump. Obvs. And we ate. With honey.


The plan was that we would be going to Kew gardens to see the new David Nash exhibition which we'd seen separately, so had to be a good prospect. Now this would involved travel to a mysterious place known as West London. To hamper things further we would have to go to an area shrouded in primeval fog known as South of the river. Oh dear.

My plan was get on the District Line to Richmond, sit there for a while and get off a Kew.

My flatmate felt we needed to look at options. So she tried ever more complex routes, to see how quickly we could get there. We couldn't. There is no quickness. It was District Line to Richmond or, well, a slower route. We headed to the District Line.

And then counted off the 25 stations to Kew. 25. Sheesh. We chatted. I threatened 99 bottles of beer on the wall. She asked are we nearly there yet several times and then... We realised something. We had both separately seen posters for the event. I had even read the blurb. But neither of us could quite recall when the exhibition was on.


So from about Temple to Earls Court we  kept straining to see if there were any posters for the exhibition. None. Until... We saw one. And saw when it started. The 9th of June. In four days time. Gah.

If you are a regular reader of the goings on at Contrary Towers you will know that such mere details do not concern us. But still. As ever we are ahead of the curve and there before the crowds. Bleeding edge. Fashion leaders. Trend setters. Can't-read-dates-of-posterers. You would have been disappointed if we'd got it right.

We reached Kew. My flatmate bought coffee. We giggled as we walked to the gardens about something or other. We paid. We went in and... We found that the art works were in place. Hurrah.

And then we had the most calm, meandering day. We walked, chatted, sniffed flowers, took photographs, pondered art and generally defused. Lunch was a calm affair, well, if you ignore the fact that the people in the Orangery couldn't grasp the concept of serving people in order. The astonishing thing was how quiet it was. If you ever want to go to Kew on a bank holiday and want it empty, make sure it coincides with the Queen's Jubilee and a threat of rain.

After lunch we wandered out to have a look at the Kew Olympic rings, each of these was made with a large number of a particular plant, which looked fabulous. The only danger point was the green... Mint. My flatmate ate some. She is impossible.

By now the rain has decided that it's going to stay for the afternoon. So we headed off for the tree walk. As we wandered, the quietness became even more apparent, at one point it felt that, literally, we were the only people in Kew and we were in real danger from the killer squirrels.

However, we were safe from squirrels, instead we found yet more of the art that we'd come to see. I might write more about this at another time, i.e. when I'm less tired, but one piece rather reminded me of a Henry Moore was named the Torso. Needless to say we didn't know it was called this until we got close, by which point my flatmate had started a series of poetic words that did, again, convey the idea of a body... You can read this when she writes it up (that was a hint...)

Flatmate not giggling
The works really were quite impressive and, in a way intimidating. Some were quite barking, whilst others might have had us giggling with smutty thoughts that we probably shouldn't have been having. Definitely more to ponder on this.

The tree walk is amazing. As my flatmate said, it was a part of the gardens that, previously, would have been largely ignored, but now was a truly incredible chance to see the trees from a different perspective. I was particularly impressed with the way that the walk structure had been built. The metal surfaces appeared to be unfinished and had gently corroded to a delicate rusty colour, blending beautifully with the trees. This combined with the shape of the upper support branches gave a positively natural feel to these very unnatural structures.

If you're not bothered by heights then go up. If you are, then go up anyway, but don't look over the edge. You have been warned.

We headed for home. And... Pie.

Purpura Barbam Lignum (honestum)
As we walked back out of the gardens we did come across an interesting tree, obviously we had no idea what it was so we decided that we knew more than the experts in the garden and named it Purpura Barbam Lignum, it really did have the most lovely purple blossom that reminded us of moustaches, but had to call it beard instead. As you do.

It was decreed that it must be Northern Night in Contrary Towers and, hence, only pie, chips and gravy would do. All we had to do was find some... Easy.

We waited a while at Kew station and a train turned up.
Me: Funny looking underground train. 
Her: It's overground, it'll be fine, we'll go to Stratford
This made sense, I believe there are retail outlets in that hellish part of London. Possibly some that sold pie. So we got on this strange, wide, train that didn't have the right colours on the route map and had names I'd only heard tale of in horror stories read to me as a child to keep me away from North West London.

The trouble is, the route it appears to take appears to go very, oh, Grimsby, and as you will know my flatmate is (a) impatient and (b) can't survive more than a nanosecond without food. We changed at Willesden Junction. I'd never heard of this before. Ever.

I had though heard of the Bakerloo line and was happy with this choice. Once we found the right platform. Off we went again. Next stop, Baker Street. There was, as you might imagine, some, discussion over where to change next. We'd lost interest in the Stratford thing, let's face it, we've been there before and all we did was drink champagne and buy shoes. Not helpful. It had to be Canary Wharf. Home to three potential purveyors of fine pies.

The reason I'd argued for Baker Street was simple, I'm a lazy mare and there the Jubilee and Bakerloo lines are on the same level and have adjoining platforms. It was plain sailing from here. We sat, she read me bits from the book she's reading, we giggled and... We reached Canary Wharf. Hurrah.

Waitrose o'clock.

Pie. Err. Pie. Pie? No. Pie! No. Where? Huh? We were getting to the point where we thought we might have to give up and go to Tesco when I had vague recollections of them having frozen pie... It took a while, but then... PIE!

There was the inevitable heated discussion over the best sort of chips to get. You have to remember that other than the dirty croquettes we keep for emergency purposes, we largely cook from scratch, so this is still relatively new territory for us. Fortunately we could at least agree on this, so crinkle cuts it was. And greens as Waitrose had no Broccoli. Yep. Just like Lidl last week. Has Tesco cornered the market? Are there furtive broccoli dealers waiting in the shadows ready to leap out with an easy fix when you are in desperate need? Who knows. I do know this is starting to get old.

The transport home this evening was to be the D3, because it turned up.
Me: We can get off near Westferry
Her: Are you sure it doesn't go past ours? 
Me: Yes 
Her: You sure? 
Me: Yes, it'll be fine... 
And on and on it went. Continuing in the bus. The belief was we'd get off near Limehouse Police Station and... Turn right thus proving me wrong.


We got off... It turned left! Haaaahahahahahaha. This being followed by my I-can't-believe-you-didn't-believe-me-face and her I'm-sure-you-paid-the-driver-off-face. But that mattered not as I then saw... A yellow car!!! I really need to get out more.

Which meant I had to do a little dance to celebrate. On Commercial Road. In E14. Err. Not smart. Still... Yellow car! We popped in to Chez Lidl, collected some medicinal Bardolino and scooted back to Contrary Towers to dry out and cook pie.

At this point I'd just like to say that my flatmate makes utterly brilliant gravy. Properly. And used bits of Charlie the Chive plant to add a little extra.

Not Charlie!
All in all it's been a good day after such an awful beginning, I know that even pie won't solve the level of frustration (on several levels) that I'm carrying around, but nice days help and do give a certain level of hope that there can be nice days again.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Let's spend a Penny...

It's inevitable really.

Anything that involves anything in this country will lead to someone making some ill thought out and feeble comment that they will proclaim as fact. I imagine it's the same in every country and culture. But I tend not to see so much of those on my, ewww, facebook timeline.

Last night I read various comments regarding the Jubilee. They were started by a guy I was at school with and later in the discussion another joined in that was ranting about the monarchy being, and I quote, "SCUMBAG PARASITES". All a bit predictable. All a bit... Meh. Is that really the best you can do? I pondered this in the dark hours of the night, looked up the OED definition of parasites and considered what the monarchy is, at least from my point of view.

Then this morning I read a marvellous blog post by @obotheclown which rather prompted me to write this. In it he was actually talking about snide comments regarding achievement. Whilst one could argue that it takes no achievement to, by dint of accident of birth, be in a particular family, it does rather take an awful lot of effort to keep doing a job in the face of, well, everything, regardless of how good the fringe benefits are.

But back to the OED for a moment...

1 an organism which lives in or on another organism and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other's expense.
2 derogatory a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return.

Hmm. Gives nothing in return? I'll admit here and now I am something of a monarchist, this probably means that I'm going to find strychnine in the next cup of tea I get from my flatmate, but there, I said it. I recognise there are flaws in the system, but as I've written before they are better than the alternative. The alternative being a republic with an elected el presidente. Another bottom feeding politician whose soul positive attributes are to look good and have a better marketing team than the other guy. And let's face it, until the world moves on it's likely to be a bloke that's elected and won't that be good?


Whatever the issues, going by the OED, it's not parasitical. In the self same facebook thread it was pointed out that the monarchy costs each and every one of us 60p a week. I have no idea whether it's an accurate figure, but it sounds vaguely right. The response was "And it's my 60p, why give it to worlds richest reptile?". Okay. Let's look at this. I get paid weekly through an umbrella company. So I happen to know that my tax, excluding National Insurance, was £635.20 for the week. Of which approximately 1p goes to the monarchy.


1.1538p if you want to be pedantic, but 1p, sod it, I'll sort out the difference in December. 1p.

That 1p filled my eyes with tears of joy as I watched 1000 boats being rowed down the Thames. That brought millions out to line the river to see the spectacle and honour not just the Queen, but the history she represents. That had groups and communities up and down the country and across the world coming together to celebrate something that was quite unique. That 1p did more than any bollock brained politician or planner could ever manage to do.

It brought people together.

In a time of deeply unsettling economic turmoil, the country, largely as one, stood up, hummed the National Anthem and had a jolly good time. Sod the weather, this is Britain, we do rain, it's not going to stop us. It was particularly heart warming to see representatives of the Little Ships as part of the pageant, an emotional reminder of another set of people who, against the odds, joined as a nation and gave two fingers to those that would wish to oppress us.

The monarchy is a lasting reminder of the last time this country was properly invaded. I know that there was a later full on invasion that I learnt of just before New Year, must check with the flatmate for details of that, she will probably remember, but this didn't have quite the same impact. Anyway, an event that, ultimately, took us on a path to produce a nation of, well, bloody mindedness like no other.

And that's what I saw. That's what I see. The Queen could abdicate. She could enjoy the her later years and spend time with her husband and consort, time that they ultimately sacrificed sixty years ago. But no, whatever you say of her, she sticks to her duty, she represents us all and she does so with a bloody mindedness and stiff upper lip that should make us all proud.

Let's just keep spending that penny every week.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Art. Unexpected. Ouch.

When I wrote last night about the Diamond Geezer exhibition at the William Wilson Gallery, I touched on the postcards that were the catalyst for me to visit that marvellous little exhibition. But I didn't say to much about them. Three reasons, firstly I'm rubbish at writing reviews, if you want a good one you need to visit my flatmate's blog, secondly, by the time I started writing I'd had a glass of wine or two and wasn't really focusing, thirdly, and maybe most importantly, I had no idea how to approach it...

So forgive me if this comes across as a load of tosh.

Whilst I really wanted to see the exhibition, I was more than aware that the cards in question were a bit close to the knuckle and referring to a coming large sporting event that will be making travel between Poplar and Notting Hill even more difficult for me than usual. The sort of close to the knuckle that might get lawyers interested, or at the very least the press. And not in a good way.

The cards were by Sadie Hennessy, who, according to the gallery blurb, creates hybrid objects & images which are both comfortably familiar and deeply unsettling, oh yes.

This was the advantage of having gone with somebody who's been before, we could go straight to the cards and, I must admit, I did confess that it was these that had made me make the unexpected trip to collect them. As it was I'm truly glad we did as they were the last ones on the shelf.

At first glance they appear quite simple, hardly subversive at all. Until, that is you realise what the cards say, how they say it and who they say it to. It was a fine, British, two fingered salute to the insanity of the Olympics and the nonsense that surrounds it. Having spent the last few weeks, well, months actually, doing some stuff that's, err. Actually, I won't say anything about that, I'm not that brave. But anyway, having listened to the insanity of the great ticket grab and talk of how fabulous it will be able to see quarter-finals of name-of-sport-I'd-never-heard-of, I fell in love with the in your face UK Olympic Wanking Team with such utterly perfect phrases as "it's what your right arm's for".

On closer inspection you notice that the team is sponsored by Amateur Wanker, a faux commercial organisation (I presume!), giving yet another poke at the commercialisation of the Olympics. This. Was. Brilliant.

I bought the cards.

Not that they were expensive, I just had to have them. Next up Dawn told us a lot more about Sadie and referred to a pile of seaside rock... I'd not even thought about them, but in that innocent seaside treat lay another close-to-the-knuckle story.

Apparently there was a rumour that Gary Glitter was going to move to Herne Bay, not that it was true, but she had some Herne Bay rock made with his name running through it. A fabulously simple, but powerful, connection to make between sweets and perverts. Not surprisingly it received, from what I understand, a great deal of attention. Controversial art? Absolutely.

I love seaside rock, but this is one piece I will never eat.

The thing that struck me was this use of a common item to make a statement, as with the postcards. And it wasn't just about the medium, it was almost the reflection of the state of the local gossip that was the catalyst to the art creation. It reminded me of life back in the small market town in Norfolk where I have a house with my nearly-ex. A few years ago there was a strong, heard it from a reliable source, rumour that either Liz Hurley or Hugh Grant were going to move in up the road from me. A new place was being built with, well, I won't say what I think of it, but all a bit nouveau. It was all bollocks of course, but there was a thread of connection as, apparently, one of Hugh's godparents was the Lady of the manor. I would check, the validity of this but, actually, in the words of my flatmate, I can't be arsed.

The point is, in small places what they can't find out, they make up, rumours fester and grow like Russian vines, taking a hold that's tricky to remove in the face of facts. Facts really can be quite inconvenient in the face of a good yarn.

Before we went on, Dawn showed us a box of postcards, again by Sadie. I must admit I wouldn't have noticed them, partially because I didn't have my reading glasses with me, but largely because I was on such a short time leash that I wasn't dwelling on each object as I would have preferred.

Inside the rather well presented little cardboard box was ten cards, ten black envelopes and an Accident and Emergency card. On first inspection, as with the other items, all looked innocent, dreary postcards from various places... Until you read the messages. All were suicide bridges, except for the collection of emergency phone boxes, and all presented in a way that would pass muster on any largely ignored seaside card rack, the sort of thing you'd grab and send to your Aunt Gladys because you always send her a card.

They were subversive in their apparent innocence. I think I might have fallen a little bit in love with the whole concept.

I bought a box. How could I not?

And with that I had to rush back to Notting Hill and my afternoon working in The Dungeon. For the weekend I was returning to Norfolk to spend most of the Bank Holiday with the nearly-ex and my children. I showed the nearly-ex the various items, with great excitement, and, frankly, they were unmoved. Which I felt was sad as I'm sure they would have got the art at one time. But today, oh yes, today I showed my eldest. It took him a few seconds, but he got it, tear rolling, face creased with laughter, got it. I was so proud.

And, actually, I was so glad that we could share a moment and have a mutual appreciation of what was being represented, even if it's likely that our views were in different places, it mattered not, he was suitably moved and felt it was, yes, a little bit subversive.

Sadie has a solo show coming soon, I really can't wait.

Oh, and if you go to see the Diamond Geezer exhibition (which you should), bring me back a stick of rock, there's a love...


I did something I've never done before this evening. I dictated a poem in to my phone. This was mostly so the nearly-ex didn't expand on the Arctic atmosphere that had been around for a few hours. But the first three lines appeared and I had to record them without it looking like I was sending messages to all and sundry.

The remaining three pairs of lines came as I spoke. I've transcribed what I wrote as I spoke it. I'm glad I did this, within five minutes of having the thought I couldn't remember the first lines. Poetry is of the moment. As a wave on the sea, transient, you either see it... Or you don't.
This empty life
No joy
No end 
Seeking respite
Seeking amends 
Wanting hope
Finding dark 
As I watch the people
Dance in the park

Saturday, 2 June 2012

By Royal Dissent

6th June 1977. 
Dear Diary,it's very exciting. Not only are we staying with my Uncle Stanley and Aunty Barbara in Maidenhead, but tonight we're going to Windsor Great Park to see the Queen. Apparently she's going to have a bonfire, seems a bit strange in June, don't we have them in November? Oh well, she *is* the Queen... My Dad's rotten, no, not that one, he still won't let me listen to the new song God save the Queen, I can't see why, it being the Jubilee.
My memories of that day are quite clear. My brother remembers less, he was 7, and as for my flatmate? Well she'd not even started school properly. I can remember us calmly driving from Maidenhead in to Windsor, parking up and then sauntering in to the park. It was very exciting, genuinely, the first beacon wasn't going to be lit until after dark which meant we got to stay up late! Oh yes.

I can remember the wait being quite long, no idea how long, but we waited patiently for her to pass. Which, eventually she did, she waved, we waved back. And then we left. Got back in our Jade Green Ford Escort and, if memory serves me correctly, drove all the way back to the North East. We preferred to travel at night then. Fewer cars on the rubbish roads.

What I didn't realise at the time, and I've only just discovered, is that the Queen was late. I'm not sure whether she was late coming to the park or late actually lighting the beacon, but late never the less. She's never late. And it was reading about her being stuck in the crowds that made me write the above preamble. You see, I can't remember the crowds. Maybe they were lower in the park, maybe closer to the beacon. It matters not, they were simply not near us.

Or at least, again, that's my recollection.

My flatmate might argue that my recollection is about as reliable as an ice tea pot, using the incident of me going to buy grapefruit and returning with melon as quod erat demonstrandum. But I would have remembered the crowds. Or police cordons. Or barriers. I would have remembered bridges being closed and issues, issues, issues.

But there were none.

The Queen turned up, cadged a light off her sister, started a fire, and went home for gin. Simple.

Unlike this weekend. Some things haven't changed. Johnny Rotten is still on the scene, err, flogging butter. And Apple, who launched their Apple II (snappy!) on the 5th June are, I believe, still making an occasional device. But the rest has changed. The world has gone mad.

With each step around London I was becoming increasingly dispassionate, disillusioned even, with the forthcoming Jubilee. It wasn't for the fact that the Queen has been doing her duty for sixty years, this I think is a wonderful dedication to duty. It might be a job with a shed load of benefits, but would you want to do it? No, my issues were with the commercialisation of everything. The icing on the cake was an advert for bottled water. I first saw this in Bank station as I walked between the Central Line and the DLR. A bottle of water wearing a crown at a jaunty angle. Oh FFS. Really? How much did the advertising creative who came up with that get paid?

Everywhere there were crowns. And Union flags. And indications of what you must buy to celebrate. There were programmes, events, competitions and... Exhibitions. All with the same, gushing, get-them-in-and-get-them-spending cynical view that was simply leaving me stone cold.

The spirit of the pageantry and, yes, anarchy of '77 long since burnt away.

Or was it?

As we sat in the bar at the Royal Opera House sipping champagne on Thursday evening, my flatmate showed me pictures of an exhibition she'd been to that day. Called Diamond Geezer, it was showing at the William Wilson Gallery lurking in a former jewellery workshop in Hatton Garden. She described the pieces, the ideas, the connections and I thought, yes, I must try to get there.

What she also told me about were some very close to the knuckle postcards. My advice to her was if she had the chance the next day to go and get them before they were sold out, or, worse still, were removed because of legal interference. And then we went in to see Salome, which I talked about last night.

Anyway. We were chatting on MSN, I mean exchanging interesting and relevant insight that would help the task that were engaged in, when the subject of the gallery came up, I again said she should get the cards and emphasised it by saying:

If you don't you'll kick yourself when they are withdrawn
And if that happens and you do you'll have subversive art
I'm almost tempted to see if I can get down there and back without anyone noticing.
And with that another lunchtime distraction was born. Keep in mind that Google maps reckoned it would take me 28 minutes to get from my client's office to Chancery Lane. So in a lunch hour I could just about get there and back... I was going to have to stretch the point.

Besides, if I'm seeing a show about guilty pleasures, I should do it as a guilty pleasure, it's only right.

I scooted off to Holland Park for the trip back East. I was even almost on time! The gallery was a little tricky to find, fortunately, my flatmate knew the way which certainly saved a lot of hassle. I was initially struck by the way to the gallery entrance, through a fascinating courtyard between the buildings.

On arrival we met one of the gallery's directors, Debra Wilson, who was kind enough to talk with us about the art and give an insight to the inspiration or story of the various pieces. I'll not dwell to much on the pieces as, frankly, my flatmate has given a much better view over at her blog. What did strike me though was almost the lack of the subversive. Initially I thought there was some, the burning of legal tender to produce diamonds being one, the tearing, again of legal tender, being the other. But, sadly, these had been done, apparently, with permission. No crime. No one way trip to the tower. All terribly civilised.

Even A taste of Honey by Cathy Lomax felt positively respectful, yes it does present a far more seductive portrait of the young Queen than we're used to it, but, so what? As I was reminded later in the day reading the Evening Standard, she wasn't born to be Queen, like her father she had the top job thrust upon her whether she liked it or not. I imagine her dad having to die to get the job would count as not liking it. Anyway, if you have the time have a look at a photograph of the image by the artist over at Flickr.

There was a conceptual piece by the other director of the gallery, Chiara Williams, called Queen and Consort that was rather interesting. I have to say I'm truly glad Debra was on hand to explain it. Essentially it was a commentary on the Duke of Edinburgh, his position outside the inner circle and the mess created by his inevitable gaffs. All of this seemed fair enough. Until I thought about it later in connection with the Lomax portrait and the many late night discussions I've had with my flatmate regarding men. And this is my view, whatever people think of the DoE and EII, the reality is that at one time they were both young, in love and... He made her laugh. If you're to believe the almost inevitable comments, one of which appeared in the Standard, about the Queen having a wicked sense of humour then, actually, you can see where the DoE fits in.

So what if he annoys a few people. I imagine he was pretty pissed off when he discovered the love of his life was suddenly being turned from a young vivacious woman in to a head of state. And there for me is the irony. In terms of all the potentially subversive art, the most subversive thing about the monarchy was, actually, part of the monarchy. And his representation as a bit of an erect prick would probably have made him laugh. Or make yet another guffaw inducing comment.

It matters not. As much as the Queen has dedicated most of her life to the country, then, let's not forget, so has he.

I would agree with my flatmate that The Great Frock 'n' Robe Swindle newspaper was worth collecting. It's amusing and, almost certainly, anti-monarch. Which I'm most definitely not. But the paper itself is quintessentially British. Having read it from cover to cover I'd argue that it is no more subversive than Spitting Image was in the eighties. Yes, comments were made, yes, people would be shocked. But you know what (and this might be the red wine kicking in) the very fact that as a nation we can be so subversive and continue to keep our liberty says an awful lot for how good our system is. Warts and all.

Whatever the faults, and goodness there are many, I would rather a Monarchy that didn't oppress comment and, indeed, had one of the most likely to offend people at it's heart, than something, well, like anyone else has. It's not ideal.

But it's ours.

And on that thought I realised just how right the exhibition's description was. It was about our guilty little secret. The secret that, as a nation, however dysfunctional, we can come together and celebrate by whatever means a representation of a flawed system that's kept us together since a bunch of Normans decided that Hastings looked nice this time of year.

That sounds pretty subversive to me.

Ladies and Gentleman, be upstanding and raise your glass. To the Queen.