Monday, July 31, 2006

St Michael Prayer News

Stuck for something to do in a time of slaughter? Why not pray for Saint Michael (archangel)to step in and stop the carnage. I've found it helps my stress levels somewhat. As my acupuncturist says, it's as bad as it's ever been.

I found two images in recent days in the local street, both abandoned and prominently in the middle of my path - the other one was the Queen of Spades/ Swords.

They are both on the kitchen wall, protectors in these dark times. I feel we all really need them, the news is now so unwatchable.

With me prayer is an instinct that church didn't wipe out. How can it be wrong to ask God, and/or the angels, or any other beneficient alien super-being that may be floating around Planet Earth to step in and assist the weak and helpless as they are wasted by the actions of evil men? Even if you are secular, it addresses something deep with the human psyche, it's a way for us to take part in the collective unconscious, of collective imagining and empathising, which certainly is affecting the fate of the species. Saint Michael, we need your energy right now.

I am writing music, and trying not to let the sombre mood affect it too much. It's a melancholy blues number about failure.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Word Deluxe Twist Family Feud Life Puppy

I am writing this because I cannot sleep. I am disturbed by the news in a way that we citizens of the so-called developed nations rarely are, from our civilised comfort zone. The face that I can see with my eyes closed is that of the Doctor in Qana, who said that the events of yesterday, and the failure of the world to react to prevent the violence continuing, showed that the rest of the world "had turned to robots".

I don't know which is worse - Israel justifying the slaughter of innocents because "they were a human shield" (so that makes it perfectly OK then?) or the failure of our own leadership to condemn the war crimes as such. I feel a sick sense of disgust, no wonder I cannot sleep.


Subject: Aug 5: National emergency demonstration
Date: Sat, 29 Jul 2006 01:10:51 -0700 (PDT)

STOP THE WAR COALITION
NEWSLETTER No. 2006/28
29 July 2006
Email office@stopwar.org.uk
Telephone 020 7278 6694
Web: www.stopwar.org.uk

IN THIS NEWSLETTER:
1) AUGUST 5: NATIONAL EMERGENCY DEMONSTRATION
2) KEEP SIGNING THE LETTER TO TONY BLAIR

************************************
1) NATIONAL EMERGENCY DEMONSTRATION
On Saturday 5 August there will be a national emergency demonstration in London calling for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire in Lebanon and Gaza, the end of Israel's attacks and the end of Tony Blair's support for George Bush's wars. Dozens of coaches have already been booked to bring protestors to London. Everyone who is outraged by the barbarism we are witnessing in Lebanon and Gaza should support this demonstration.

NATIONAL EMERGENCY DEMONSTRATION
END ISRAEL'S WAR ON LEBANON AND GAZA
SATURDAY 5 AUGUST: ASSEMBLE 12 NOON
SPEAKERS CORNER, HYDE PARK
(Nearest tube Marble Arch)
MARCH TO PALIAMENT SQUARE FOR RALLY

* Spread the word among your friends, neighbours, work colleagues, fellow students.
* Phone or email the Stop the War office to get information about coaches in your area.
* Download the demonstration flyer from the Stop the War website (http://tinyurl.com/enffa), photocopy or print it, distribute it as widely as you can.
* Take leaflets to your local mosque, church, community centre etc. Leaflet tube and bus stations.

George Bush and Tony Blair insist the carnage must continue. They are rushing bunker busting bombs and laser guided missiles to Israel, which will be used to raise much of Lebanon to the ground. The UN describes what is taking place as "horrific". Half of those killed by Israel's bombs have been children (http://tinyurl.com/jq8xo). Gaza has been turned into "a prison with no way in or out, and no protection from an fearsome battery of drones, precision missiles, tank shells and artillery rounds", with once again children being the main victims. (http://tinyurl.com/ggael)

The rest of the world demands the slaughter stops now. On Saturday 5 August, we need the biggest possible expression of our disgust over Tony Blair's slavish support for Bush's endless wars and for our demand that Israel's attacks on Lebanon and Gaza end immediately.

NATIONAL EMERGENCY DEMONSTRATION
END ISRAEL'S WAR ON LEBANON AND GAZA
SATURDAY 5 AUGUST: ASSEMBLE 12 NOON
SPEAKERS CORNER, HYDE PARK
(Nearest tube Marble Arch)
MARCH TO PALIAMENT SQUARE FOR RALLY
Called by Stop the War Coalition, CND, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, British Muslim Initiative, Lebanese community organisations.

************************************
2) KEEP SIGNING THE LETTER TO TONY BLAIR
If you haven't signed our letter to Tony Blair, add your name now here: http://www.stopwar.org.uk/lebanon/sign.php.

The letter is being signed at a rate of one name every 10 seconds. We handed it to 10 Downing Street with the first 10,000 signatures at the CEASE FIRE NOW rally in Whitehall on Friday 28 July. We will hand it in again with tens of thousands more names on the national emergency demonstration called for Saturday 5 August. Add your name now and join the demonstration on 5 August.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

College Green Again



I knew my address as a rhyme. It was find-my-way home mantra, in case I strayed too far from home turf.

"six-teen college-green,
ess-ee nine-teen"


All of us children would chant it, asserting that we had all committed our home address to memory and could thus be trusted to wander off and find the way back should we become lost. It was our licence to roam.

College Green was a pleasant post-war council estate built in the enormous grounds of the Edwardian College for the Blind, which had once existed at the crest of that part of the hill, until being reduced to rubble by Nazi bombs in the 1940s. The large perfectly flat space where the college had been set into the steep side of the hill was now a lorry park for articulated vehicles, littered with skeletal shopping trolleys and smashed bottles.

Trees were thick and leafy, all the way up the narrow path to the brow of the hill, where Crystal Palace's shops and pubs maintained a steady buzz of human activity within the slightly dilapidated Victorian triangle which had been built for the great exhibition of 1851.

This prime land, looking down on London's tall towers to the North, and across Surrey heathland to the South, enjoying a prevailing breeze from the coast which kept the air clean and fresh, was covered with a glorious variety of lime, lilac, birch and sycamore against privet and holly, with pre-war planting adjacent to empty plots of wild growth, and some areas fenced off and untended since the war, full of nettles and elder and rusting corrugated iron; but although almost all the old wrought-iron railings and gates had been systematically removed and melted down as part of the war effort, the place still retained some of it's secluded grandeur.

Much-needed cheap modern council housing was kindly situated in this little dip in the crown of Crystal Palace Hill. College Green Estate was built in around a natural bowl in an incomplete G shape, along paths which followed the wonky natural contours. A single small grey concrete block of flats rose in the middle of the bowl, it's top below the line of the hill, and this was incongruously approached by a straight avenue of mature horse chestnuts, plane and oak. Here also was a small park with a modern playground, including a wonderfully tall and fast slide, a sick-making roundabout, two lines of proper swings with long, strong steel chains, and a vicious Witches Hat which was capable of braining a child.

This is the place I learned to ride a bicycle without stabilisers.

I ventured out, through what was once probably a rear exit for the gardeners, into Harold Road, and there was the rest of the world, and the rest of my life.

When we moved from College Green, I was 5, but we stayed in this area until I was 14. We kept on moving to various estates around the hill, 5 children crammed with Mum and Dad into inadequate space. I explored the entirety of this hill, all it's slopes from Sydenham to Thornton Heath, from Anerley to Crown Point, down South Norwood Hill to the swimming baths, and all the way to Addiscombe, on my bike.

Addiscombe is the place I was born.

We moved to College Green when I was 2 years old, so it's the first home I remember.

Coming out of College Green, the streets surrounded a large Recreation Ground, which we called the Rec.

This is the place I ran for my life with the dog, and sought shelter in my ex-piano teacher's house as the man grabbed hold of me and tried to pull me out to beat me.

Two thirds of the Rec was surrounded by neat 30s black and white fronted semi-detached houses with pampas and coloured stone (i.e. posh) paved fronts. My end was Harold Road, the other Hermitage Road, leading up to the Convent. At the Harold Road end stood an avenue of stately, somewhat delapidated, red brick 4 storey, 12 bedroom Victorian mansions, with gardens of cedar and fruit trees, verandas and wisteria. The splendid Rec boasted enormous London plane trees, the ubiquitous horse chestnuts, and little copses of silver birch led through a formal garden to tennis courts. There was a gentle slope downhill to where Rockmount School and St Margaret's faced the park, and a line of large beech trees which were so healthy they drenched the streets in nuts every September. Mature elm trees bisected the park further down opposite the school. They were dying, one by one sprayed with the fatal white X, felled and removed, victims of Dutch Elm disease.

The playing fields part of the Rec weren't the flattest in the Borough of Croydon, being on the top of a wonky hill, but they had proper goalposts, marked out full-sized pitches, lots and lots of grass, a park-keeper's hut covered in grafitti, and were a pretty safe bet for a decent bit of park life at any age, or time of day.

This is the place I accidentally kicked Andy Marks in the balls during a game of school football, and heard a teacher use a swear word for the first time in my life.

If I turned left up Harold Road, the way led up to Spa Woods, and on the brow of dangerously steep Spa Hill was Tivoli Lodge.

This was the place my Nana and Grandad used to live, and where Aunty Barbara now lived, Tivoli Lodge, opposite the Beaulah Spa pub, backing onto Spa Woods.

This is the place my Mother came out one childhood morning after a heavy fall of snow to find that one of the circular rose gardens had disappeared. The enormous hole was several feet across and very deep. It was the old water source for the Spa, long since disused, which had drawn Victorians in the 1890s for it's health giving properties, and artists like Sisely to paint the views across London and Surrey. The roses had been standing in just 2ft of earth on some wooden boards. It took the debris from three air-raid shelters to fill it and make it safe.

If I turned left again and made the arduous journey up to the very top of this part of the hill, then I got to Beaulieu Heights. This was pushing it, strange territory, on the edge of South Norwood Hill, which kept on going down 380ft until you hit flatland. Beaulieu Heights was scary and dark, steep and amazing, right underneath the huge ITV television mast. You could hide and not be found. You could bomb people with acorns. You could actually get lost there.

This is the place I felt my first breast.

First published 21st February 2005

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Friday, July 28, 2006

We Are Living Like Kings, These Days Will Last Forever

Personal honesty is like an onion - there are many layers to it and it makes you cry sometimes, but even bitter tears are not bad, if they are tears of sincere regret, of learning, letting go and moving on. I have over the years applied my simple philosophy as often as I can bear it, like cold water on the morning face, shocking at first, but good for the skin tone. Speaking of which, I have been incredibly lucky that my superb looks lasted me well into what they refer to as middle age although quite what is middle about it I have never understood. Time being relative, I always assumed middle age was a misnomer, and looking about me at the comfortable, rotund Buddha bellies of my peers, that life after 35 was in fact, midriff age.

At 43, I looked into the mirror, and realised that for the first time in my life, I look my age. The man staring back at me with that gorgeous, devil-may-care scowl is me. I finally seem to be the age that I have actually reached.

I have waited all my life for this. These marks of decay are signs of survival, badges of honour. I honestly never expected to be here. And frankly, I don't look too bad, on a good diet with enough sleep, but with the arrival of what I like to call my facial furniture, those fixtures and fittings which were once temporary minor creases, subtle discolourations and slightly stretched skin under the eyes are now large indestructible suitcase-sized Samsonite bags, lines on the forehead are there not just after a particularly debauched night, but now permanently etched, not deep but no hiding them. I also have the got-to-watch-that-pasta beginnings of a comfortable, sofa-sized double chin, grey emerging from the mid-brown remains of my hair, and after a week of avoiding the cuts, spots and scabs of shaving, a black, red, blond, brown and white beard. I just need a red bandana, ear-rings, a parrot, a cutlass, and a galleon. Haaaaarrrrr!

All good things must come to an end, as we say to each other to pacify our unquiet hearts, not believing a word of it.

I remember deciding not to lie one day when I had returned bored from an afternoon in the park when too little had happened. It was that phase after Nan's death where Mum was ill, and so I traipsed up to the bedroom and spun a lengthy yarn about big boys with knives. I was so convincing (another reason I changed tactic) that Mum wearily said, "Well you had better call the police." I drifted out of the darkened room, calculating the consequences. If I continued to lie, how would I keep track of all the lies so that I didn't contradict myself? Shit! I rather embarassedly returned five minutes later and confessed I had made some of it, well all of it, up, and I was very mildly chastised. I think Mum knew I was bored and lonely.

As a far from bored and rarely lonely young adult, I was often fiercely insistent on what was "the truth" and what were "lies" until I worked out that truth is always seen from one angle but must be understood from many. Gradually, some wisdom emerged, I became less of a pain in the butt, and I began to see that the real issue about honesty is the personal kind. Don't kid yourself, became my mantra.

I won't say I have maintained my current healthy regime over the last 12 years because if I did I would start to laugh out loud and fail to hit the keyboard with sufficient accuracy to continue this strange, recursive story of my physical ageing. Despite my deep dedication to three things - my work, my loves, and my pleasures - I remained exercise-free, with the exception of bicycling and the odd kick-around, until I was 25-26 years old. At that point I worked out that I could no longer party five nights a week, and three of those on the trot, without feeling a little bit tired. I knew I didn't want to burn out, so, action was required, if only for reasons of hedonism and vanity.

So, I got myself a half-brick, to build some arm muscle. Did pushups, sit ups. Started to swim regularly. Acted more sensibly more often when I partied. By the time I was 30 I was fit. Had muscles. Zero fat. 145 pounds of cavorting party animal. I was meditating twice a day, attending an Aikido dojo twice a week. Coffee free, rarely drank alchohol. Never smoked cannabis, not while training anyway. I was in balance. I was single.

I wanted immortality, as near as I could achieve it, so I started to study Taoist methods of living. This meant learning to maintain high degrees of sexual arousal without ejaculation, first on your own, then with a partner. I was doing some pretty serious meditation, socialising with hippies, and I sort of experimented on myself and without really expecting anything to come of it. But these techniques are ancient, esoteric, carried on for generations, not for defunct ritual purpose, but because they work. If you summon up huge amounts of self-control, you develop will-power. I already had quite a lot of that. I got more anyhow. I managed to cause some real problems before I understood how it worked.

If you follow Taoist teachings, they say, make sure you are balanced. You also have to develop the energy of your emotions, to grow self-love, acceptance and kindess to others. So, I calmed down and worked on being happier. In a Glastonbury courtyard, I took my painful little finger to a healer called Ash. He said, as he gently manipulated it, "You know, this finger is to do with communication. I think you need lots of loving sex." He said it matter of factly, inoffensively, while I ummed and ahhed and tried to ignore my cynicism. When I left, my finger which had been annoying me for months, was pain free, and to my great surprise, two weeks later, I met a woman, and fell in deeply love.

"We are living like kings, these days will last forever," said a man one Soho morning to Suggs. He was right, but his illusion was complete, his downfall imminent.

Our bodies do their best to contain our exhaustion and trauma, but eventually, it shows up in some physical form of one sort or another, in frown lines, fixed expressions, twisted ankles, cricked necks, eczema, bitten nails, black eyes. Likewise, the emotional body can take so much before rising levels and salinity and coastal drift make sea change inevitable. I guess I took quite a lot of changing, on the inner level. I was a steel sea-container, tough, strong, rebuilt twice over. I did the inner smile and iron shirt meditations, I circulated my energy, I stored my chi, I sang and danced, I partied and played, and my heart started to open. I mean, not in terms of it bursting out of my chest. I was totally unprepared for the death of my previous self, my priceless ego. I was shocked. My life was changed. All the love I had never expressed I released in an unstoppable torrent, and it took me with it.

Some people seem miraculously consistent, they are born, they become themselves, and like an apple on a branch, they develop smoothly to ripe fullness until they fall. These people are fated differently, they have a different trajectory. My apple had a worm in it, it blew down in a gale, I was turned into cider and sold in a gallon container, I coursed through the veins of a spinning drunk, he fell over his feet and hit his head on a log, where he lay pissing and bleeding, spilling out apple-alcohol onto the mud.

Even after the bliss, pain, tragedy, despair, confusion of this major relationship which spanned a decade, people would still guess my age 8 or 9 years younger than I was when it was over. I survived that one looking pretty good in fact. It was the five years that followed that did all the damage. Those adventures that my baby-faced, scowling features witnessed and provoked are tales I have yet to tell. When I see myself in the mirror now, I am viewing the price of success.

Still, I think I've worked something out. Even looking the age I am, and twice the age I feel, I am loved. It must be for some other reason.



First published 10th June 2005

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Calling Time

OK - before you deluge me with sympathy - I wrote this November 2nd 2005. I'm trawling my archives at the moment to re-publish some old things you might have missed, while I get well, and I found this, written when I was sick, and never published. Not like me to be shy...




I am very sad. I have pepper throat. My body is complaining again about living in the foul virus soup of London, my feet tired of stepping over pigeon shit, vomit and phlegm. However I feel sad not for myself but for my close neighbours. Their daughter died on Halloween night, killed by inoperable brain cancer at the age of twelve.

Her dad, told me yesterday as I cursed my way back from the café, where we had taken the business meeting in the interests of fuel. I passed him tottering slowly up the stairs, and said hello, knowing he was under a lot of strain, no censure from me, certainly, if he was drunk. He said my name as I passed, and I turned, and then he said his daughter's name, and paused; then two words - "... she died..."

He spoke so quietly. I felt the awful blow of this man losing his only child. "When?" I asked. "Last night," he replied in a whisper, his face no longer masking his grief, his tired eyes desperate in pain, searching my frowning face. I said, "I am so sorry," and hugged him. He hugged me back tightly like a kid, stayed there for a long minute. He was shaking. We climbed the next few stairs and hugged again before parting, grown-up children in leather jackets, lost for words but not actions.

I was with a colleague last night, so I didn't have time to myself. I got stoned, and crashed early, awoke with the virus attacking me. It can attack all it likes, it won't kill me. I sat up in bed and after ten minutes realised I was crying. I am finding this difficult to write for tears. I've taken my laptop out of the shared room that I was in so that nobody is embarassed by my emotion. I am wiping the keyboard with a cloth, and blowing my nose. I am writing this just because I have to, not because I want to. She was a nice kid, intelligent, quirky, smart; they were a great family. I suppose I had better drink tea and get myself together. I guess I had better write a card and buy flowers.

Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
Down at the Chinese Café
We'd be dreaming on our dimes
We'd be playing
"Oh my love, my darling"
One more time...


Joni Mitchell, Chinese Café / Unchained Melody

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Aunty Beeb

My parents were soft lefties who genuinely wanted a better fairer society, and some more in their pay packets. They read the Daily Telegraph and The Sun. I couldn't understand it. "Why do you read these two right wing rags?" I would ask chirpily as a political 7 year old, boycotting South African fruit. "We are more than capable of distinguishing hard news from editorial bias, Deek" they replied candidly, hiding the plums. Page 2 of the Torygraph always carried the salacious unedited details of whatever court case was playing across our nations screens and front pages. The Sun was a 5 minute read which meant you had something to say in the pub, not that my parents ever went there. Anyway, BBC News would tell us what was happening, wouldn't it?

It's hard to explain to outsiders the role the BBC has played in shaping our national identity. Now I have traveled to the big lands over the sea and watched how they construct and absorb their collective world views, I can see how lucky we are to have been able (for some decades at least) to have formulated something that attempted to stand for values other than blatantly commercial. During my early years, there were still only two channels, only one of which carried advertising, and even now, the UK is fairly restrictive regarding the messages of mammon.

It's too easy to accuse the BBC of representing "the establishment". That is like accusing a house of having walls, or the sea of being wet. Of course it is. We knew it was stuffy, straight, conservative. There was no pretense, no change, it was predictable, mostly in a good way, setting the standard for many aspects of living room entertainment, informing the nation that it was still Great Britain, even if it didn't feel that great anymore.

Now people are using the BBC as the basis for meaningful art, as correspondent after correspondent bucks the old "balance/censorship" dictat to show the truth, or as much of it as the news editor will allow, about what is happening in Lebanon. This would never happen if the war was being prosecuted by British forces, of course, but at least there is a change from the automatic refusal to call a war crime a war crime.

Keep on, Jeremy Bowen, Ben Brown, and let's hope you don't get shelled.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

You Only Live Twice (Twice)

I was writing on about predictive dreams recently and I mentioned the dream I had about Diana. Here it is again. Originally posted last year. It's dark, this piece, about being on the edge of breakdown. It occurs to me now that these unknown human gifts we have sometimes surface in order to increase our very slender chances of survival.

- - - - -

It is not the physical death of the body, nor mortal fear inspired by religious myth, nor the agony of physical failure that worries me. The death that I fear so much is that which we experience in disappointment, the death of hope.

I did experience hopelessness once or twice as a child, but not as a young adult. Throughout my 20s and halfway through my 30s I remained strong, shrugged off defeats, persisted, came back and enjoyed victories. When things went wrong, I turned up a collar of determined optimism. When the collar didn't work anymore, I changed it to dogged fatalism. My psyche rose intact several times from ashes, smacked into shape by the iron hammer of events, forged in heat, and remained recognisably, cheerfully, pugnaciously mine. Everything would work out, eventually. Until one day, I woke up and everything in my life was in pieces, and what wasn't broken had gone, and with it, my hope.

Despite extreme mental trauma and occasional psychosis, I retained sufficient sanity during this long period of clinical depression to recognise that, since I am not by nature suicidal, I would have to continue life, with or without hope, until my body expired. I had no feelings about this one way or the other. I presumed hope may return, but even this presumption was a message from a past now unavailable for further comment, an abstract, vague, unrelated memory from a version of me that was now dead. I had not yet got around to clearing away the body, there were parts of it rotting everywhere. I could recognise them by the fact that they resembled me as I had been.

Emotionally, I was flatlining, dragging myself from bed to kitchen to bathroom to bed. I kept the TV on, even as I slept, awakening to stare blankly at the screen again without changing channel. I didn't care what I watched, as long as it wasn't music, which disturbed me - it just had to take the final remnant of concentration. When my eyes hurt, then I employed a radio. Talk radio was best, or sport, or world news. I didn't leave the house. I was agoraphobic. I had enough food for a week, ten days, mostly canned, dried. Nothing fresh. I was thinking anxiously about that ten-minute trip to the shop to re-stock for five days, if I was thinking anything at all.

I had a prescription for a low-level SRI from my doctor, but I was scared to take it.

Two months before the crash. It was the Edinburgh Festival, cultural showcase for the world, and I was producing interactive content in a rock club, with art-music acts like The Divine Comedy, and suffering the indignities of a cocaine-addled promoter's bipolar behaviour.

It was a hot August, 1997. My girlfriend was appearing in a cool Edinburgh show, one half of a physical performance duo, which was doing well, eyecatching posters up all around town, decent to good reviews, newspaper coverage, and as I had spent as much time building her career as mine, I was pleased. There was no recognition of this, though, from her work partner, an uptight controlling character who resented my influence, and who created conflict. I felt I had to always avoid the "choose between" syndrome - between work and relationship, between work partner and love partner, between training and sex, between domestic life and touring. Anyhow, for once, we were able to attend the same festival on different gigs, and I had looked forward to it.

About a week into the month-long festival, one night the promoter asked me to go to the front of the stage and video; as soon as I did, I was grabbed left and right by two huge security men, lifted bodily, and carried through the amused crowd to front of house.

Apoplectic, I insisted that I was acting on request of the promoter, and demanded that they find him to verify. He was nowhere to be seen. Turns out he had wanted the material, but had a deal with the band management that nobody would video them, and he was sending me into the pit to see how true it was. The venue manager looked apologetically at me, seeing my disgust, and sensing the truth of my story, as he said in his gentle Scots accent, "Sorry mate I am going to have to ask you to leave." I left, thinking of of throwing bricks through windows, of torching cars, boiling and raging.

I walked home down Princes Street, to the nice flat at the other end of town where we were staying, cursing the puffed-up conceited pimp who had humiliated me on a whim. The kind journalist who was putting me up took me out and poured beer down my neck, consoled me, advised me to let it drop. The next day, I took legal advice. Yes I could sue them. No it probably wasn't worth it. My hope began to leave me, then, although I didn't know it until sometime later.

Having no further work to do, but with more than half a month's tenure remaining in a pleasant flat in a capital city full of beauty and culture, I determined to enjoy myself, but it was not easy. I was harbouring a morbid fear which had come from a dream at the beginning of the month, before we left and came north. I had woken up with a voice in my head, my own voice, but as if spoken to me, not by me. It said, "You haven't got very much longer to live."

I struggled fully awake, shocked at the experience. I had been dreaming, but the dream had disappeared. All I had was the final line, certain and indisputable. "You haven't got very much longer to live." Fuck. I remember jumping out of bed and trying to rationalise, but it was impossible. I had just been told that my number was up. It was a dream, it was only a dream, I told myself. As I waited for the morning kettle to boil, I shivered, as if a ghost had walked over my grave. Later I recounted the tale to several friends, and did my best to laugh it off, but I had never, and still to this day have never experienced anything like it. It was so direct a warning, and however irrationally, I knew that I was kidding myself that it was not meant for me, and I tried hard to suppress the memory.

After the video debacle, as the empty days moved on towards September, although I could not yet see my depression, I realised that physically I was in trouble. I had chronic fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, occasional palpitations. I had finished working for the company I had set up three years previously. I was in a waiting room. I was waiting to see what happened next. I had no idea what it would be. This was a new thing. I felt directionless. I may have drifted for periods in the past, but even that was conscious drifting. In this I had no option.

In Edinburgh, a kind female red-haired GP saw me and told me I had ME, that I needed to relax, stop working immediately, and go see my GP as soon as I got back to London. I looked at her blankly as she talked chirpily about relaxation tapes, sensing her worries about my mental health, thinking, you are very nice, and you are right, but you have no idea how to deal with me, no idea what I am experiencing, none at all. I knew I needed to relax, but it was deeper than that. I needed to let go of the years of holding it together, for myself and those around me.

I went back to the flat and thought about how isolated I was, and the lack of intimacy in my love relationship. Although we were both locked into our work and had been under strain, I thought everything would be fine. I thought our love was strong enough to last. I thought I would get the support I had given. I got nothing except a terse request not to rock the boat.

Thus I found myself alone in a foreign city with no work and no companionship, and I spent time walking around, just anywhere. I found myself up on the castle rock, looking across Edinburgh. I found myself watching an obscure play in a tiny, dirty theatre, surrounded by Spanish students. I found myself at the bus station, looking at destinations. I had some money at least, so I went shopping. I bought, over a period of three weeks, black shoes, black trousers, a white shirt and a black jacket. Funeral attire, I realised later.

The final week dragged to a close, and we were joined by old friends who somewhat distracted me with their family energy and good heartedness. I was feeling tired more than anything now, as my emotions closed up, shut down, and more and more the expectation grew in me that my dream was right. I was witnessing each day as if it was my last, I had abandoned all thoughts of anything future, baffling attempts to draw me into conversation so that I could just wait to see which second on that ticking clock would be my last. We survived the last night, the fireworks, the bonhomie, the drink.

It was Sunday, August 31st, 1997. A bright, sunny morning in Edinburgh. We packed the van, ready to leave. "Diana is dead!" announced S, just back from the shops. Cue general disbelief and mild consternation all round. My head started to spin. "How? When?" I marched to the shops and bought a copy of every newspaper - the first editions with partially-clothed paparazzi pictures of Diana and Dodi on the beach, full of claims that the relationship was destoying the royal family, the second editions, respectful R.I.P. headlines, with all scandal removed. I walked back to the van, slowly, thinking, "You haven't got very much longer to live." It wasn't me. I wasn't meant for me. It was Diana, it was about Diana's death. I felt a wave of euphoria, and I smiled for the first time in three weeks. "You know the best thing about this?" I asked a Scots passer-by, showing him the paper. "It's not me." I caught a bemused grimace back, and decided it was too complicated to explain.

It is amazing how long one can labour under particular illusions, the accuracy of one's perceptions and analysis being chief among them, illusions revealing their clever mechanisms at the moment of downfall, suddenly unmissable mountains appearing as the mists vanish.

As the great tide of grief swept the nation over the following week, it had a soothing effect on me. I felt that somehow I had caught an advance glimpse of this very public death, and interpreted it as my own, and so while all of Britain wept for this stolen icon, I experienced relief, and a resurgence of hope. But, I was still wrong. My lovely partner went to Venezuela, and although she sent me postcards and faxes proclaiming love and loyalty, she left me within a week of her return. And then, die I did, although not physically, or permanently. Just for a while.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Thinks You Are Wasting Your Time Reading This Blog

Read the Independent yesterday. In between articles about how the Israelis are brutal, sick and stupid, I found this renunciation of blogs and bloggers by yet another journalist who doesn't understand how we bloggers can possibly manage to keep up regular, good quality output that people actually want to read (Blog of Funk: 30,000 unique readers per month, and rising). "Where do blog writers find the time? Do they never go to the theatre, read books, make love?" she moans.

This is a sad article, for which the phrase "chattering classes" was invented, and which generally explores as many ways of denigrating the blogging phenomenon as possible, in a self-righteous, uninformed and largely abusive way - "there is a glut of pathetic drivel and idiocy" she writes. After the briefest of appreciations for blog-writers-in-tyranny, she rails against "anonymous blackmail and intimidation." Of course, this does exist - as in life, so in art, but this kind of negative behaviour is but a tiny fraction of the blogosphere, as we who dwell here understand.

We bloggers are from a different place - we are from the tippety-tap classes, that being the onomatopoeia for the sound of my fingers on this keyboard. For the record, I spelt the word onomatopoeia accurately from memory - variants of spelling being one of the many small things about blogging that Yasmin "reely" hates. We should apply the same level of disregard to the journalist's typical lack of HTML coding ability - when was the last time Yasmin wrote A HREF I wonder?

The last word in her article is "fad" and when I read this, I smiled, because I know that whilst a certain proportion of bloggers try blogging only to abandon it - like many other things, such as interior design, hardcore politics, soft drugs, or group sex - many other blog writers, for better or worse, build blogging into their lives. In the past these true journal-ists would have been writing in isolation, but we contemporary writers are blessed with the modern miracle of interactivity - and frankly this is something that scares the Gucci pants off most hacks, whose idea of interactivity is submitting to an axe-wielding editor.

I may not be typical, but I have to stand up for blogging. Blogging has added friends to my life, improved my writing, and even slightly increased my financial wealth - though not, I hasted to add, directly from this page. Blog interactivity is the reason I kept going when I was wondering why I blogged in the early days. Comments always arrive on the days when I need them most. I generally read all the blogs written by my most avid commenters, and if they are good blogs, I subscribe and you can find them all in the well-populated (and regularly pruned) right-hand column. I count bloggers whom I have never yet met among my friends; I intend to travel to at least four countries and two US states that I have not yet visited in order to put face to word, and share some real conversation, at some point not too distant.

Meanwhile, back at the Deekster Ranch.. I am awaiting treatment for my borderline hyper-thyroidism - a rare condition in men, which is frequently mis-diagnosed. I have been referred to an Endocrinologist. There is a splendid array of symptoms listed on various websites, very few of which I have, including the truly bizarre "lung in front of neck". But I am suffering from unpredictable tiredness; and after the above refutation sticking a very funky finger up to the luddite Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, which I felt was necessary to re-assert my personal droit de blogging, (say it in a French accent for maximum comic effect) I am going to do something I have not done before in this blog, which is to trawl my own archives for a short while and re-publish some of my old articles. I won't disappear, I'm just going to be concentrating on getting well. BRB, as we internet people like to say.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Lily Spotted In Islington


I finally set the phone up so that I can Blog remotely. This could prove to be a useful thing I guess.. With bloggers being banned in India, imprisoned in China, and sacked everywhere else, it gives me one more route to instant publishing. Shame about the thumb-stress though - this tiny article took a long time to make!

(Back home...) I also realised that there is no way to size the pictures in the phone to fit my blog template (400 pixels). I may have made a mistake here - I should have kept the specific mobile blog it set up automatically for me, and now I want to un-merge it with Blog of Funk. Let's see how helpful Blogger support can be.


Done it!

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Back To Hospital

In an hour and 40 minutes I'm off to have the first of my voice therapy sessions "proper" where they will re-educate me in the ways of vocal peace.

Can I just say at this time: aaghaghhhh!

London is quite spectacular in 36 degree heat and here are the photographs to prove it.












This one is dedicated to Retarius. Whenever I see a picture of a bike, I wonder how he is.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blackfriars Bridge

Been travelling a lot.. last night I snapped some pics with the new phone - this one coming over Blackfriars Bridge at dusk.



Can't get my sparkling new telephonic camera-enabled blog phone device to sync with my Mac address book though - but looks like I've found the forum to lurk in.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Nothing Of Any Great Consequence

Today, I am turning off my mobile phone, as it is the day of number portability in the Deekster household. I was advised to "turn off my phone when I went to bed." I said, sorry mate, don't mean to be funny but, that doesn't mean anything to me. I don't do normal hours. I might be going to bed anytime. He thought I was joking, I could hear it in his call-centre voice.

We persevered, but once he assumed I was taking the proverbial, from then on, I got nothing but lary, frustrated grief from the smarmy git and after finishing the call when he point blank refused to tell me exactly which hours I had to turn my phones off I had to call back (another ten minutes listening to the o2 twinkles... you are in a queue... ) before I could confirm that the number change was scheduled from a woman who was far more helpful. "Yes you're in the system," she confirmed. I felt good about that and I gave her all the explanations for my not observing conventional bedtime that the previous call-centre-plonker had refused to countenance. She laughed, believing me, warming my heart in the process and doing so much good PR for her company I think they should pay her an extra thousand pounds a day. In some parallel universe I arrived at her call centre with flowers, we went out drinking champagne that night, dancing naked under the stars, later coupling in the long grass with the intensity of a supernova and a can of beans.

So, a week later, my two phones - the new one, the old one - are both off, while my number "ports" from one operator (the evil Orange) to the another (the saintly o2) and as part of the deal I now have the Sony Eriksson K800i.
"It’s here. A Cyber-shot™ digital camera and a small and sophisticated feature-packed 3G phone all in one. Bring the K800i with you and you have a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus, image and video stabilizer and built-in Xenon flash ready for any moment, anytime. BestPic™ technology lets you capture several images in quick succession with one press of the camera key. Pick the best. Delete the rest. A camera stabilizer function compensates any small movement of your hand when you’re taking a picture and shooting video. When you’ve taken a photo, you can share it straight away using Bluetooth™, multimedia messaging or blog it."

My new phone as well as having a stunning camera is a blog phone. I'm not sure what this means, but anyway, following instructions, it's now been blogged, entirely without problem, utilising my very own BlogOfFunk™ technology.

Sony Eriksson K800i much the same size as the old K750i but the extra 50 must mean grams as it weighs more like a PDA or even a proper camera, which I guess is what it is. It has a sexy rubberised outer layer which makes me feel rather pervy when it's pressed to the shell-like, during engagement in the long and in this weather rather sweaty conversations which I have been medically advised to avoid.

I was going to get the Nokia N91 since Nokia have developed a podcast application but... well, I like the ways of Mr Sony and Mrs Eriksson and their hybrid technology and do I have time to learn an entirely new operating system, new menus, etc? No clearly not, I am far too busy blogging about anything of little consequence, in order to take my mind off the heat, and the enormous amount of work I am doing despite being medically advised to take a break, and the news. I was planning to go to Cyprus end of August but I am having second thoughts.

This is how blogging works for most people, isn't it? It helps people get through their lives, does away with the pressing need for therapy and meaningful first person exchange, provides a neat and clean tidy table cloth to eat our lives upon; and you can thus avoid mention of anything more impossibly difficult to deal with, like the dreadful, sick, sad obliteration of a nation and its people.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Lily Allen

I'm never one to despair at the current state of music and bemoan the insipid paper-thin constructions that masquerade as contemporary pop stars, because I am too damn optimistic. If I need to hear good music, I make my own, and anyway, very little of the sounds I listen to these days are in the charts. London is constantly buzzing with a rich and vibrant underground music mix, and the best tunes will never be broadcast. But for the first time in more than ten years, someone has kept a hold on the Number One chart position who I can recommend wholeheartedly to everyone who has ears. In fact - why be prejudiced against deaf people? They deserve this music too.

Lily Allen - daughter of actor Keith Allen and producer Alison Owen - has produced a debut album which soars high above the skies of Islington. She has a timeless observational humour, rhymes which I have been waiting for since Ian Dury died, and above all else the kind of originality you don't get anymore. Except, here she is right on my doorstep, doing a natty two-step.

The album Alright, Still is a winning combination of pathos, wit, melody, underpinned by the easiest dance beats in the world, faithful to early ska, but minted in the now. All the tracks I have heard are simply brilliant, but the one I most love right now is the ode penned to her little brother Alfie, berating him for spending too much time smoking weed. These are the words of a concerned big sister:

"Oh little brother please refrain from doing that,
I'm trying to help you out so can you stop being a twat,
It's time that you and I sat down and had a little chat,
And look me in the eyes take off that stupid fitted cap..."


Here's a Miranda Sawyer Observer article about Lily from May, here is Lily's self-constructed MySpace site - you've missed the entire album, which is released today but there are some good tracks to hear still. Search out "Nan, You're A Window Shopper" which is hilarious.

Thank the God Of Music for her shameless wit, her natural profanity, the truth, and for melodies you can sing after one listen. I get the impression that this may be the tip of her creative iceberg, and if so I sincerely hope Lily makes ten more of these albums. If she does, I will be a very very happy man.

Buy her record and improve your life!

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

What Difference Does It Make?

'Their bodies litter the road' says this BBC article about Lebanese civilians fleeing the Israeli offensive, although reading the non-mainstream news in blogs reveals predictable polarisation and denial. As of now, at least 130 Lebanese unarmed, non-military civilans have been killed by air attacks from Israeli F16 jets, as opposed to 12 civilian deaths from rockets in Haifa. I know that in conflict both sides are to blame - but the difference is proportion.

I found some shocking pictures od child casualties at http://kadmous.org a Lebanese blog.
"These are the pictures you will see, only, in Lebanese newspapers tomorrow. yes, too strong & maybe non-postable for ethical reasons, but what is going on in Lebanon has gone beyond any ethics in any worldwide dictionary. This is what the Israeli raids are doing to my country, to my people. This is what they will keep on doing, under the pretext of “self-defense”.

This war has nothing to do with kidnapped soldiers, or fighting Hezbollah. Neighbourhoods which have absolutely nothing to do with Hezbollah (like Jouneh which is a Maronite Christian area) have been bombed. If Israel wanted their servicemen back, they could negotiate as they have done previously. This military activity is in fact reducing the Israeli prisoners' chances of survival.

This is about weakening the infrastructure of the Lebanon so that the economy is screwed and the Lebanese people return to misery and poverty they have worked for a decade to escape. The Israelis have the same attitude towards the Lebanese people as they do towards their own Palestinian population - they are entirely dispensible in the pursuit of "national security".

It is like taxi driver Hussein Abrahim says:
"This is a war. Where is the respect for other countries? The problem is that Israel and America don't respect other countries sovereignty."




Update: I just heard from Jerusalem that the Israelis are using phosphor bombs in Lebanon. Phosphor bomb weapons, in themselves, can be described as chemical weapons proper, as the buring white phosphorous in them produce lethal thick clouds of highly toxic smog. This weapon was used to some extent on German cities and towns in WWII.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Carlsberg Don't Do Mums

"Carlsberg don't do Mums" said the man in the beer advert, "but if they did..."

I can honestly say that my mother doesn't have a clue who I am, what I am doing, and that she has only the vaguest idea of what makes me tick. I wish I could say she was reading this blog, but she doesn't use the internet. We set her up a broadband connection and gave her a computer. A year later it was in the same place, unattached, never switched on. I suppose I should be grateful that she sends (and even sometimes responds to) text messages - usually when she is stuck in traffic and has nothing else to do to relieve the boredom. She occasionally sends cards and calls me if I haven't called her after a couple of months.

When I called her recently to give her my medical news, she gave me 5 minutes of scant attention before breaking off to remind father about the football match on TV.

Don't get the wrong impression here - I'm not feeling neglected or unloved. But, my Mum is very definitely not a Carlsberg Mum. She's 72 and still making up for lost time, enjoying her freedom with her husband, having the robust "we waited all our lives for this and we're making the most of it while we're still here" attitude. My Dad goes along with everything she wants, more or less, and if she's happy, he's happy.

Thank God for that. Good for them. It means that since they are seldom at home (unless recovering from some injury or other - the last was a broken toe) and I am permanently busy and several hundred miles away, I am really not expected to visit.

My sister is much more sussed out than I am about controlling my Mum, giving strict instructions about when they are allowed to arrive - but then, she has the bargaining chips of children. I managed recently to coincide at my sister's and spent an afternoon with them on neutral territory. That was a success.

Once, when I was feeling particularly low and unloved, I told Mum that she didn't know how to relate to me for the simple reason I had no children. "My children are my work," I said, expertly mixing insight with a measure of resentment and a garnish of pomposity. "Why don't you come visit me? You never do because I have no children."

To my great surprise, she took this entirely seriously; and a weekend visit to London was arranged. Now, I really did not want this to happen, but having said my piece, I could hardly say no. When they arrived afew weeks later, Mum was suffering a recurrence of her breathlessness, which meant she could not walk very far at all. She was not being DELIBERATELY unwell of course.. just funny how these things always seem to happen. It meant that she became the focus of the entire trip, as we accomodated her and ensured that she was OK.

We had a nice weekend, actually, we ate and drank and chatted, and on the Monday morning, I arranged for Mum and Dad to visit the London Eye, which they loved, whilst I determinedly went to my regular therapy session, meeting them afterwards for lunch. I printed my blog - or at least fifteen or so pages of it - and bless her, she took it back to Somerset with her and read every word.

I am just like my Mum, I realised then, the same emotional age, needing the same reassurances, too easily wounded, distracted by fears, afraid of missing out, determined to be the centre of attention, needing love and not very good sometimes at getting it.

The visit did me good. I've been much kinder to both her and myself ever since.

Don't You Think It's Time You Dropped A Few Pounds? What Time Do You Call This? The Oldest Noodle

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Arabic Glyph

8 (eight) is the natural number following 7 and preceding 9. The SI prefix for 10008 is yotta (Y), and for its reciprocal yocto (y). It is a composite number, its proper divisors being 1, 2, and 4. Eight is a power of two, being 23, or two cubed.
8 is the base of the octal number system, which is mostly used with computers. In octal, one digit represents 3 bits. In modern computers, a byte is a grouping of eight bits, also called an octet. The number 8 is a Fibonacci number, being 3 plus 5. The next Fibonacci number is 13.

In the beginning, various groups in India wrote eight more or less in one stroke as a curve that looks like an uppercase H with the bottom half of the left line and the upper half of the right line removed. At one point this glyph came close to looking like our modern five. With the western Ghubar Arabs, the similarity of the glyph to five was banished by connecting the beginning and the end of stroke together, and it was only a matter of the Europeans rounding the glyph that led to our modern eight.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Amphibians Say No To Extinction

The extinction threat to amphibians is clear:
Nearly one-third of the world's 5,743 amphibian species are classified as threatened with extinction. The amphibian fungal disease chytridiomycosis is the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates in terms of number of species impacted and threat of extinction.

"Amphibians are an essential part of the global ecosystem, and we're really nice looking too," said Dendro Mendelson. "We deserve to remain on Earth."



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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ivor Cutler

How is that Ivor Cutler managed to cease being my neighbour without me noticing? He's been up there living on Dartmouth Park Hill ever since I've been living in north London. He died in March aged 83, and for some reason his departure went unnoticed, he left so quietly, and it took an obituary in a magazine four months later to tell me.

"I wore my elbows down to the bone for you..." he sang plaintively to me from a cassette recording and playback device, as I sat in a smokey Glastonbury living room, stoned as a twat, harbouring carnal desires for the patchouli-scented hippy chick who was energetically massaging my neck and warbling on about crystals. His work was a mixture of poems and songs and performances, which he gave in his soft Scottish accent, and seemed always to be kind and yet bitter, frivolous and also deeply serious.

The first time I met Ivor in Bumblebees, the "alternative" food shop in Brecknock Road, off Camden Road. I noticed him while I was shopping for Tamari and Cider Vinegar (names I always considered suitable for the offspring of some pop star) and I could not resist approaching him. He seemed chirpy. He wore a brightly badged, decorated grey beret with a small porcelaine Victorian doll on the brow and he was playfully chatting with the female shop assistant, who clearly knew not who he was and was giving him that carefully amused distance that you give crazy elderly people so as not to offend them in case they turn nasty.

Bumblebees is a small shop but it has a complex layout, and I found myself near the nuts, scoop in hand, doing my usual trick of adroitly combining expensive nuts (cashews, walnuts) with the cheaper mixed salted variety in order to "add value" to my purchase in typical capitalist style - please note, this is not the kind of action I would be doing these days.

Ivor, having regaled the sexy young shop assistant for a while, made his way to the superb and mouthwatering selection of chutneys and jams, and so I stood within a foot of him, knowing that here was the man who had starred in the Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour, and who wrote stories about sparrows and poems about flies. I couldn't resist singing quietly to introduce myself.

"I wore my elbows down to the bone for you..."

Ivor started, and looked round, alarmed, and I instantly felt terrible. I realised I shocked him. What right had I to sing this man's songs to him in a shop? I apologised, and said, "You're Ivor Cutler, aren't you?" He blinked and visibly recovered.

"No no," he said, "that's quite alright, quite alright, you rather took me by surprise." He gazed at me with soft yet penetrating eyes. Here was the man who had gone onstage in the middle of sixties acid rock gigs and blown their minds with his words alone.

"I like your work a lot," I said.

"Thank you," he said graciously, with none of the assumption of famous people who are used to compliments. He seemed genuinely pleased now. He wandered away, then came back 30 seconds later.

"You have the kind open face of a man who can be easily hurt," he said. I didn't know what to say or think. He smiled at me. "What do you do?" he asked. "I write.. er, and sing.. " I stammered. My normal aplomb had vanished as I tried to process his intuitive declamation.

I left him alone and carried on shopping, my ears burning with mild embarassment, which is not an emotion I experience very often at all. By the time I came to the counter by the door, arms laden with jars and bottles and sachets, Ivor was paying, and discussing the year with the cashier.

"It's the year of the cat," he was saying, "but also the year of the rabbit. You see, the Chinese believe it is a magical beast which can disappear and reappear, and so it can be both, or either." It was uncanny - even his everyday speech had the same quality of his recorded poetry, it put you into another space where reality's pause button was pressed down and possibilities started to open up. I felt myself gently detaching.

He turned and smiled at me. Feeling less bad now, seeing that my brief incursion into his mind had done no lasting damage, I added, "In the war, the Dutch name for "cat" was "roof rabbit" - they were so hungry that they ate them." This seemed to tickle Ivor and he uttered a spontaneous treatise on Holland.

"Yes. The Dutch are a peculiar race," he said, "who eat butter with everything, but they are prevented from becoming fat by the huge distances they travel by bicycle."

I chuckled, and noticed that the shop assistant seemed to be enjoying Ivor more in my company. Perhaps she felt safer, perhaps she realised that he was not making any special effort to entertain her and had no agenda towards her - he was like this with everyone.

She turned to me and raised her dark eyebrows. I put my stuff on the counter. Ivor said "Ta ta," and left.

The shop assistant smiled broadly at me. As I paid, I felt I was the lucky recipient of Ivor's charm.

I stepped out of the shop into the sun, still smiling, assuming Ivor would be gone, anticipating that I would tell my friends about the encounter, and walked towards where I had chained my bike. To my surprise, there was Ivor, unlocking his own.

"I hope you didn't mind me singing your song in the shop," I said.

Ivor came close, and gently took my arm and looked me in the eyes. "Not at all," he said. "But you see... I write these things... in a certain space.. and often they are about quite personal matters.. despite that I sing them for other people. You sent me back in time."

I was moved by his explanation, by his directness, and he knew it. "What's your name?" he asked, so I told him, and that I lived locally. He insisted on taking both my name and phone number which he wrote down in a shaky hand, before leaving on his decorated boneshaker. "FRESH AIR MACHINE" said one of the stickers.

That evening, I got a call from Ivor, to my great surprise. We chatted for about an hour. The next day he sent me an envelope full of stickers, which I still have, a most precious possession. One of the stickers carries a phrase which became my mantra, a quote from Craig Murray-Orr: "Creativity requires a certain ignorance" which is always somewhere visible in any workspace of mine.



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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A New Earth: Only Twenty Pence

Months ago I was Charing Cross Road, the heart of London's book trade, and I went into Borders with GGF. Whilst she availed herself of the toilet facilities adjacent to the cafe, I picked two books at random from the shelves, sat in chair by the escalator, and started to read.

Ten minutes later, she returned grinning and refreshed, and was surprised when instead of putting the books back on display, I stuck them under my arm and began carrying them towards the checkout. I was in that mood - why not? They seemed interesting. It was a long time, I figured, since I had pulled two books randomly off any shelf; and I was not reading enough, in general, except long articles on 3G, Podcasting, mobile media. Both these books were on arcane aspects of existance, the kind of book I would consume by the bushel, once upon a time in my twenties and thirties, before the drive to become more than a passing blip on culture's radar consumed me.

I read the first book quite soon after the purchase, and I so enjoyed it, a paperback written by the "psychic barber" Glaswegian Gordon Smith, The Unbelievable Truth. It's everything you'd expect, with bells on - he tells it as he sees it, with friendly, jargon-busting summaries at the end of each chapter. Perfect for reading on the tube, on the way to a meeting. Perfect for horrifying urban intellectuals at self-conscious cocktail parties. Perfect for middle-age, when the fear of death grows closer.

The second book, a majestic hardback version of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, I scanned, read the chapter headings, and dipped into, but my head was so far from its themes of renewal and awareness, that I put it on my shelf. I made it prominent to remind myself that I was going to read it.

Four months later, I find myself instructed by doctors to rest so that I don't lose my voice permanently, and with the weather being good at last, I picked up the book and started to read it.

The universe has a habit of delivering things to a person capable of receiving them at the time they are needed, whether they recognise it or not. At the point I bought the book, I was full of strategies for advancement, team building and putting deals in place, Eckhart's words were just strings of unapproachable philosophy. Hilariously, I now realise, that is precisely what the book is about - the enslavement of awareness by the thinking, planning ego, subsuming the present moment to the future, denying oneself the reality that now is all we have.

Before I picked up the book to read it, I was already thinking deeply about what it was in my actions and attitudes that had brought on my sickness, not in a guilty way, but because I knew that I was out of alignment. I have been over-working rather than working hard; I had abandoned my patience. I was out of alignment.

If you identify solely with your thinking, verbal mind, probably best not waste your money on this book. If speech sometimes drops away at the sight or sound of something so beautiful that you are momentarily lost to yourself, absorbed in the experience and the moment, then buy this book and enjoy it.

This book is like a home-coming for me, reminding me that my values are not and will never be the same as this insane society of which I am but a tiny part, reminding me to care less about attainment as far it concerns other people, so that I might work more effectively from my own sense of inner purpose, and re-assuring me that awareness, despite its problems, is preferable to living a life of unconscious emotional reactive pain.

The compulsive dramas of ecopocalypse and Middle-Eastern fascism play out in the news, and like my own medical dramas, they preoccupy me. This morning, having walked GGF to the station, I was thinking to myself, as I walked across the deserted green of Highbury Fields in the 7am sunlight, that I've been focussing too much on the depressing facts of this torrid Earth. That was when I thought I'd write about Eckhart and the effect of his book upon me.

This is where I am supposed to be, I thought, as I wandered, full of reflection across the dry grass. Then I looked down and there were two ten pence coins, fallen out of someone's pocket. I laughed and picked them up. I felt the universe was rewarding me, and I was immeasurably richer.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Gaza Voices



The picture links to the BBC website describing the situation in Gaza.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Déjà Vu - Again

I only ever get déjà vu during significant periods of my life, and I've had two moments of déjà vu in the last three days. The first was in the Royal Free Hospital, sitting with two extremely friendly and efficient medics, one from South Africa, one from Australia, shortly before I had a camera stuck down my throat to video my vocal chords.

The second was just now... in my own home! I was re-potting plants, sorting out my balcony garden in the hot July sun. I am writing this within five minutes of the experience.

I am having to re-organise my work because of the voice-box problems; it's an odd one - I feel extraordinarily pleased. It could have been so much worse. I've been sent off, but I will play again.

It felt like déjà vu watching my national team crash painfully out of the World Cup last night. Everybody knows that we weren't that well organised, weren't playing to our potential, and frankly, we went as far as we could. Some would say it's a miracle we got as far as we did.

In a word it was agony. Yes, the referee was biased. Yes, the penalties were unbearable. But England seemed a much more peaceful nation, this north London morning, now we're out of the World Cup - the St George's cross flags are still everywhere, but they are all prettier, with less expectation attached.



I enjoyed the France-Brazil game so much more.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Asteroid Avoids Planet Earth

Asteroid 2004 XP14, will sweep within 270,000 miles (433,000km) of the planet - only slightly further away than the moon, and should be visible by telescope from North America and Europe most clearly on Monday. It is estimated at half a mile (800m) wide.

Don Yeomans from Nasa's Near Earth Object Program said: "It's not Earth-threatening."

He then went on to list a series of things which are much more Earth threatening, including:

NASA went on to claim that 2004 XP14 has what it terms "natural space intelligence" - "Any rock in its right mind wouldn't risk coming too close," said Don.

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