So, where the hell have I been?

Well….on holiday, actually, and (by choice) well way from the internet, English language TV and pretty much anything that might tie me to my usual existence.

The thing is, this has been the only two weeks of the year when I was not surrounded by idiots engaged in a project which is, finally, anti-human (or at the very least the opposite of what a humane endeavour should be). And I made the most of it. Lying about in a shady spot in a sunny place, eating, drinking, sleeping….. day-dreaming…. thinking… and other intensive stuff.

You know, it’s sad when you realise that for the sake of the planet and most of humanity it might be best if the Isle of Man did not exist. Which is a harsh truth.

Before I was forced into finance sector work I was not driven to “do good” outside of work. I just lacked the guilt most liberals get about deciding to “get on in life” while quietly knowing you are stepping on others to do it. Mostly because I chose to live simply when I could rather than step on those others. I might not be achieving much in terms of changing or improving the world, but I did no harm either.

But these days I have little choice, because others depend on me, and I feel very beat up about the effects of that. Yes, I provide for my family, and am no burden on civic society or public parasite, but at what greater expense?

So, for me or anyone else in my situation, rather than continue to beat yourself up about it, the question is: “What are you going to do about it?”

And in answering that I’m drawn back, yet again, to Mark Boyle, an astute artist back in the 1970’s who explained his quite unique work thus: “The greatest change you can make to your environment, short of destroying it, is to change your attitude to it.”

Actually, Mark spent the best part of half a century subtly altering everyday situations so that people were nudged into doing just that.

All of which gets me thinking, “What, then, can you do from the Isle of Man to add to the sum of human joy rather than be the cause of more human misery? How do you balance the scales to compensate for your continued, immediately economically vital but in wider terms destructive life?

Those I love most have practical ways of spreading joy outside of rubbish jobs – music, cooking, baking cakes, or just fixing broken objects.

Me? I’m a contemplative, or as some would say, bone idle. What can I do?

But at the very least, I decided the very worst thing I could do was to write more gloomy missives, confirming what many strongly suspect.

So what do I write instead?

Come back sometime and find out.

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Red Nose? No thanks!

As the astute will have noticed, this is a work day, so if I am writing this I cannot be at work. There is a reason for this, and that reason is Red Nose Day.

It seems to be a law of the land that on Red Nose Day merchant bankers and other stains on humanity sit in baths full of baked beans (which they claim is hilarious) and female varieties of the species bake fairy cakes (which are inedible). It is not a law of the land that I have to watch, or sample the cakes, or throw money in a bucket to do either. Until it is, I simply take the day off and do something interesting instead.

But I am always prepared to negotiate with such buffoons. If, let’s say, they would act like at least halfway decent human beings on most of the other 364 days of the year (no, let’s be honest, humanity needs that to be all 365) I would stop wishing they could fall under a runaway bus on a steep hill. I still would not “donate” to their fake charities, because the poor have enough misery already without having TV celebrities inflicted on them.

Also, of course, when not at work I meet far fewer people of limited intelligence with a variety of speech defects indicating descent from car-thieves, Calvinist butt-heads or sheep molesters. Instead, I can (and did) spend the day reading a book written by someone whose humour is much blacker than my own, and whose tolerance for such freaks makes me look like a benign uncle on his second whiskey at Christmas.

Last night, by comparison, I was in far better company. To wit, joining the finest accordionist the island has ever known and his wife (i.e. my parents) at a once-in-a lifetime performance given in a small venue by the greatest Shetland fiddler and accordionist in world history. And they were all so witty, modest and friendly too.

It was …. how can I put it ….. like a winter night in a comfy old chair before a roaring peat fire in a cottage with solid walls and a sea view, sharing reminiscences and a bottle of single malt with old friends. Yes, that good.

Even coming home to watch a harrowing, very graphic TV documentary about Syrian prisoners – the day after yet another zealot carved up innocent bystanders to demonstrate his contempt for….well, who knows any more what excuse these nut-jobs plead – could not restore Business As Usual.

The importance of not being earnest

It’s been quite a weekend for anyone interested in the social circle around Jeff Bernard.

Firstly, yesterday morning there was the announcement of John Hurt’s death. It was of particular interest to me because, in addition to being a personal friend of Bernard’s (who nicknamed him “the Naked Elephant Man”), Hurt actually portrayed both Quentin Crisp and Jeff Bernard on screen and stage. His role as Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant (and later An Englishman in New York) are key elements in the virtual canonisation of that unique individual. And, as I mentioned here, he took the lead role in a BBC radio production of Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell just a year or so ago. So, great talent, one of the last of the real Soho boho scene, and will be sadly missed.

Then, last night, there were not one but two BBC productions about Francis Bacon. I missed the first, partly because I had other things to do, partly because if an “arts” programme about Bacon sought the opinion of Damien Hirst then that indicates abysmal research, and would never be worth wincing through in case of accidental delights. See Brian Sewell on both and you will soon understand why.

But the second – advertised as a bio-drama about the tragic relationship between Bacon and George Dyer (whose “introduction” to Bacon was falling through his studio ceiling while trying to rob it) – well, that was absolutely different. Even though it only started at 1 AM I was never going to miss it, especially as the director was John Maybury, who really does straddle a border between film and painting with his extraordinary visuals.

I was not disappointed, even though I’m still only waking up as I write. Now I really do understand why Bacon made that flip remark about the only way to get through life being to regard nearly everything and everyone as unimportant. Maybe Quentin Crisp’s ruling that the first rule of being a stylist has to be “Live alone” also applies.

Like both, I’m joking but seriously. It must be absolute hell for someone as driven as Bacon to portray the world in a way not yet accepted or understood yet also find love or just be close to another person.

Maybe this odd relationship between two totally different outsiders was purely symptomatic of the times in which it happened. Maybe now, with gay relationships gone mainstream, and most gays making it clear they just want to be as dull and suburban as everybody else, it would be totally different.

But somehow I don’t think so. For myself, I’ve accepted that I can’t pursue the only things that interest and drive me full time, and by so doing ignore or destroy the lives of people I have responsibilities to. I’ve accepted that I’m stuck in a job which means nothing in order to pay the bills in a venal, nonsensical world, and will have to find the discipline to do the good stuff elsewhere.

The main thing is that, like Bacon, I can regard nearly everyone and everything as totally unimportant. It’s just that the people and stuff that don’t matter are centred on my employment, or political, social and economic inconveniences of the era. I find ways to negotiate them, but will never, ever give them the satisfaction of taking them seriously or letting them get to me.

And the people that do matter are family and some close friends – the only people for whom I consider making time out from my “real work”, which isn’t strictly art, or journalism, and certainly not politics, which can’t be valued in any accounts ledger, and which doesn’t even bring me an income.

Odd and totally impractical as this all is, it is all I can do, and the ludicrous pursuit of it all that makes getting up in the morning worthwhile.

Back to work, then

Well, having been back from my “short break” for almost a week, I suppose I should start posting again.

My time away was time to reflect. Because, with the best will in the world, the painful truth is that ideas which I used to take for granted no longer stand up.

Maybe that’s the problem, most of us never do revisit these things, or take a step back and examine them objectively. I have, and now wonder how I could ever believe them.

One problem locally is that if you come into contact with people who agitate over one issue, they’ll be the same people who agitate over others. So they become an insular little group who assume that if you think A then you also think B, C …. and right through to X,Y and Z, without once examining any of the issues on their own merits.

A little clique, no different to the ones who control all decisions over certain political issues, and do it, not in recognisable civic groupings which anyone can join but in the golf club bar, or church, or masonic hall, or just drinks parties in someone’s home supposedly to celebrate something totally unrelated.

Networking would be the polite term. There are much ruder ones.

So, mooching around Edinburgh just before the Fringe got going was a pleasant change. A little under a week surrounded by people who were, in the main, quite sane, and none of whom appeared to be married to their cousins. Some proper art, some museums, shops, restaurants and bars staffed by people who wanted to help (rather than moody adolescents or smug “take it or leave it” merchants who knew you couldn’t go anywhere else). I think Edinburgh has the hang of this tourist thing, unlike the Isle of Man.

On the other hand, you know the UK economy is really screwed when even the begging is outsourced.

I kid you not. As I have family there, I’ve known Edinburgh all my life and was well used to the “jakies” who begged for coins from tourists. Not any more.

All the good pitches were taken by foreign beggars with exactly the same quasi-religious victim pitch I’ve seen East European gypsies make in Hungary and Romania. Even the bloke we bought a Big Issue from turned out to be Romanian. The local bums don’t have a look-in – totally outclassed by professionals who’ve really thought their act through ….. if only the fringe’s street performers and their sad, cliched acts could get such a kicking from similar new competition.

No, seriously though, a pleasant few days with time to think. Then it was back to the office last Thursday morning to pick up exactly where I left off, and count the minutes down to Friday night and a peaceful weekend catching up on my sleep and dreaming of Edinburgh…

…except that it wasn’t peaceful. In fact, the reason I didn’t post over the weekend is that it was such a blur of creative effort, from which I’m still recovering at work (where feigning labour while filtering out the inane is second nature to me).

Firstly, I came home from holiday to find that a book I’d promised to review had finally arrived – the morning after we left. Not just any book, mind you, but a philosophy professor’s first novel, which, for reasons to complicated to go into, the author only sent to one of my editors, who trusted me to review it. So, the thing had to be read by Friday night, then written about by Sunday. And to further complicate matters, my other editor e-mailed – also the day after we left – to say his publication was, as you might politely put it, “re-grouping” after a fall out amongst the publishers. An entirely new publication is to replace it, so from now on I have half the space for the column I’ve written for over a decade, but carte blanche to write on contemporary issues only elsewhere. Oh, and the deadline is next Friday.

ULP!

But somewhere amongst all this I do intend following the sage (if drunken) advice Francis Bacon once gave to Jeff Bernard, that the only way to survive life is to regard very, very nearly everything as totally unimportant.

Enough for now. A single malt awaits.

If you did miss me, I’ll take that as a compliment. But if you want more rubbish, you’ll still have to wait for the weekend.

Staring at a wall

I hate work.

I know everyone says that, but I loathe it to an extent which doesn’t seem to be true for other people. It isn’t laziness because, actually, I am driven (and certainly very, very disciplined), just not to pursue anything which might constitute a “career”.

Years ago I learnt how to happily stare at a blank wall for an hour or more, and this seems to disturb people, though I honestly cannot see why. For me, every day in an office making money move around the world – or indeed almost any activity which leads to the creation or circulation of wealth – is far more pointless. Employment makes me lose the will to live. So, from observing advocates and similar blights on humanity I pace myself to put up with it by calculating, at 15 minute intervals, how much money I have earned.

Then, at the precise second in the day when my employers stop paying me, I power off my PC and go home. Applying the same logic to my own employment as my employer does to the provision of services to a client, to do anything else would be uneconomic. A waste of time, brain-cells and effort.

Then I sit at home, more productively, staring at a wall or writing. What would be the point in doing much else?

I do not watch TV or net-surf, as such activities seem to drain intelligence and reduce concentration span, and I seem to have read as many books as might usefully offer either sane guidance or amusement. Hobbies are for train-spotters. Distraction is the enemy, and feeling you have to do something is – for me – a sign of weakness.

So, as soon as this is posted, it will be back to staring at my wall. Much more of this and I may need to go and lie down.

Faster, shorter, trashier

Blame it, if you must, on a week reading nothing more challenging than Jacqueline Susann, and loving it. And who couldn’t love someone who cranked out her writing on a candy pink IBM Selectric?

Anyways, m’dearios, I have decided to go back to writing churned out furiously at top speed, put up there immediately after, then forgotten about. I’m almost an anti-blogger because I dislike the presuppositions of the internet. I’m not interested in the dull evolution of some eternal truth, to be unveiled in full at some indeterminate point in some other bugger’s future. I revel in the uniqueness of now, even when it’s rubbish.

I get off on the real hack vibe – produce against intense pressure, go to print, just chip paper a week later. The nearest equivalent I can think of is improvisational jazz, or the kind of music performance that depends upon chance elements. Once only, no rehearsal, and even better when performed with total strangers.

Knowing it can all go totally wrong is the biggest buzz, but also when something happens that you absolutely could not anticipate or plan for. It stresses the uniqueness of every place, every moment. It could be glorious, exquisite; or it could be awful. You will never know until it happens, and I will never worry about it.

That’s what’s missing about e-journalism. It isn’t of a time and place. It proposes a lie that somehow things in cyberspace always evolve but that there is no unique moment, no mistakes, no tedium. On the internet you’re supposed to revise a piece ad nauseum as new information comes to light. But sod that: is any creative’s life sad enough for that malarkey?

I’m particularly unwilling to go back and “correct” something that is totally of another moment. It should be understood as a snapshot. Reading it recalls that moment only, not an eternal truth. Not that there are any, anyway, but who cares?

As Tom Wolfe says, tongue –in-cheek, in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, “art is not eternal.” More than that. The best is not even good, or made to last.

This blog was never meant as the literary equivalent of a Chippendale chair. From now on, I make it trashier, more disposable.

I write it, post it, and forget it.

Read it as you will, enjoy it or hate it, but don’t ever ask me to revise it. Because by the time it upsets you, I will have moved on.

Jingle Hells

I was amused by the reference to ‘community carol singing’ in http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/head-to-ramsey-for-lantern-parade-community-carol-singing-and-fireworks-1-7616500 . It’s all part of a ghastly local authority plan to try and entice visitors to Ramsey for Christmas shopping, as also outlined at http://www.iomtoday.co.im/what-s-on/manx-entertainment-news/penguin-christmas-family-fun-in-ramsey-town-centre-1-7612479 .

A penguin nativity, put on by Baptists? Is that for real? Well, maybe as close to reality as anything involving evangelical oddballs, I suppose.

I assume this is an attempt to cash in on that dippy penguin film that such fundies have (wrongly) taken as some sort of ‘proof’ that only families with one daddy and one mummy are ‘natural’. Best not to tell the witless that, rather interestingly, zoologists say that penguins quite happily adapt to a nature red in tooth and claw by bringing up babies in groups with two males, or females… or really any combination of supportive adults available, and that mating for life with same sex partners is also nothing unusual for them.

Sadly, this will be a gathering of the kind of people I’d never voluntarily spend time around outside the one building in Ramsey that, until last week, was staffed by people I would. For your sanity and stomach’s sake, best to stay well clear.

I also fear all this frantic activity will be enough to break the new Chinese paving slabs. Perhaps it’s all part of some fiendish plot so that the company run by a disgraced politician’s family who got the contract to wreck the square in the first place can get paid to make it suitably ugly – yet again.

And seriously, who on earth sings carols in public? These days, who, below the age of 40, even knows the words or tunes?

Now, I’m happy enough singing all the wrong words to Christmas carols I learnt at junior school in some church out of mischief – if only because it’s twice as funny when I’m the only one who knows either the right or wrong ones. In fact, I have one obligatory visit this very Sunday, so will make up for it by doing just that.

But in a public place, and funded by public money? Not really. Just give the whole disaster a wide miss.

And if you must waste time and spend your hard-earned buying useless objects for ungrateful sods who have no need of them and will never use them, here’s a tip. If you order online via the chain stores, you only need to deal with the adolescents who staff such places for a minute or two while you pick them up. As all the real work putting your order together will have been done by real people (probably migrant workers on agency contracts), then there is nothing these grumpy little zit-farmers can do to screw it up.