We’re on a road to nowhere

Tuesday 31st January

Two song titles in a row – the girl must be getting hard up for subjects these days.  This is that famous song by Talking Heads and incidentally one of their few hits and one which might have been more acceptable and mainstream then their earlier efforts such as ‘Take me to the River’ or ‘Psychokiller’.  This was late in their career, and maybe they were getting a bit soft, or just couldn’t help but write themselves a big hit when they were only one album away from that inevitable break-up.  But for whatever reason this one struck an instant chord with the public.  The breezy full-on tune which starts with a minimum of intro, and then we are full-tilt into it, the traditional tinge to the rather dense and heavy sound bringing the familiar into the unusual.  Then David Byrne’s lyrics, with their plaintive refrain “We’re on a road to nowhere” instantly makes a connection with the listener.  As Haruki Marukami says ‘if you can’t understand it without an explanation, then you won’t be able to understand it with one.’  And nobody needs any explanation to that phrase, it is universally understood. It succinctly sums up what so many of us feel about the human race and our headlong plunge into the void.  But it may also be just as much about the personal, and turning the love song on its head, be about a relationship that is also on a road to nowhere.

And are we really on a road to nowhere, is there no salvation for us, mankind?  Does it all have to end in our own and maybe the planet itself’s demise, or are we perchance destined for greater things.  Is our road actually a road to somewhere – could it just be that we will save not only ourselves but the planet itself, and who knows perhaps one day the Universe too. Is it not at least possible that of all the myriad and almost infinite number of planets in the Universe, this one planet, the one we find ourselves on, holds the key to unlocking the secrets of life, the creation and a way to stop the entropy and the eventual end of the Universe too.  Not probable, hardly credible, so unlikely as to be ludicrous in this ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’ as Yoko once described it, but maybe, just maybe we are actually on a road to somewhere.

“It don’t hurt you when you fall, only when you land”

Monday 30th January

The words are courtesy of Michelle Shocked, a rather remarkable Texan woman I first heard in the early eighties.  She sings her own hybrid mix of country, blues and gospel and anything else that comes to her ear.  Her politics are pretty left wing and out-there, and she also has a very American attitude to religion, which I find annoying in the extreme.  But she also has the voice of an angel, and sings some very memorable songs, and always sings from the heart and with total honesty.  She has this incredible talent for writing lines and tunes that you remember, and that pop into your brain at the most unlikely times.

This line is from a song called “Over the Waterfall” and I never quite understood the meaning of that rather clever line.  I mean, of course it is true that falling in itself doesn’t hurt one, but the landing, the bump, the broken bones when you do come to earth, do hurt.  So what?  It still hurts like hell, and whether the pain is during the fall or the landing, the fact that you have fallen results in the pain surely.  But today I suddenly perceived another meaning, and maybe one which Michelle had never realized herself.  I was sitting minding my own business, when that line came into my head, and you know how it is sometimes, I just couldn’t shake it out.  And it suddenly came to me that it was an analogy for life; nobody can stop you falling, it is human nature to fail and to have set-backs.  But it isn’t those setbacks, those failings, those troubles that cause you the pain, but how you land; how you deal with them that matters.  So we shouldn’t be scared of falling, to fall is to be human, we just have to learn how to land.  So when a love affair breaks up, or a friend dies early, or some other drama in one’s life loom so large it seems to black out all hope and the world seems dark and painful, we have to learn how to land with as few broken bones as possible.  The lesson here is not in living your life so carefully that you never fall; no-one can be that clever, but in being able to cope with the falling, being able to achieve some sort of soft landing, to be able to not let the stumbles and pitfalls of life drag you down completely, but to have the ability to survive, to carry on, and to overcome.  Just like going over the waterfall in the song.  It don’t hurt you when you fall, only when you land.

What is it with new gadgets

Sunday 29th January

Amazing, isn’t it, how hope triumphs over experience time and time again.  You know that you really should have known better, but curiosity sometimes gets the better of one’s good judgment.

I may have mentioned that I am a dab hand at poached eggs on toast; at one time I practically lived on them, during the few years after Grandma died and my mother and I were almost camping in the house at Putney.  And I still cook them an awful lot, sometimes for breakfast, but more often when you just cannot face peeling potatoes and trying to assemble a real dinner just for oneself, far easier to just poach a couple of eggs.  The trick is to get the water just right, rolling over but not ferociously boiling, and of course you have to know your toaster.  There is nothing worse than toast that is ready minutes before your egg, and the butter re-solidifies as you wait for your egg to cook, or vice versa when your egg spoils because the toaster just will not brown the toast.

I was in John Lewis, just browsing really, not intending to buy anything, and I drifted down into the kitchen department.  I had noticed more and more these red rubber cooking utensils, form spatulas to oven gloves, and especially cake cups.  Well my eye was taken by a new line, egg poaching cups.  They are quite deep red rubber cups that float in the boiling water and, so it says on the label, simply run a spoon around the edge of the egg to remove it from the cup.  I thought to myself, what a good idea; because the only downside to poaching eggs is the cleaning of the saucepan, where all that frothy white sticks like glue, second only to weetabix in its stickability, and you end up having to soak it for ages in soapy water.  So, without a moment’s thought I bought two of them.

I tried them out this morning, and what a disaster.  Because there is no hard rim on the red rubber cups you have to crack the eggs one at a time into a teacup and then pour this into the cups, so more unnecessary washing up.  Then I found that no matter how low I turned the heat, the water kept rolling over into the cups, incidentally swilling some egg-white into the saucepan where it immediately stuck to the sides.  The rubber acts almost as an insulation so the eggs took twice as long to cook and the toast was cold.  Then removing the pan from the heat I extracted the half empty cups.  Running a spoon gently round the edge I tried to plop the eggs out.  Guess what, the yolks came out, but the white remained stuck like a limpet to the red rubber.  And after a very unsatisfactory meal it took ages trying to wash and remove the recalcitrant bits of egg-white from the red rubber cups; pointless really because as soon as they were clean they went straight in the bin.

1Q84 (Books 1 & 2) by Haruki Mirukami

Saturday 28th January

Well, that seemed a marathon read, I can tell you.  Not that, on reflection, all that much has really happened.  As usual in Mirukami novels an awful lot of food prepared and eaten, description of clothes worn and of course the girls ears, well one of them anyway.  Also the obligatory cats, in the shape of a story read by Tengo, the male character, called Town of Cats, and an awful lot about the moon, or rather two moons which suddenly appear in the world 1Q84.  The novel is set in the year 1Q84, which is a slight deviation of the year 1984, and whereas most of the world is living in the year 1984, a few people have slipped gear and found themselves in the slightly different world of 1Q84.  I kept finding myself reading IQ84, as in intelligence quotient, rather than 1Q, maybe a Freudian slip too far. Well, as you might expect the book is weird, but not like most magical realism, this is a very grounded novel, grounded in the quite everyday, except that there is always the hint of evil just around the corner, and sometimes right in your face.  I found the book a bit too long to be honest.  There was so much repetition too, so many re-iterated and repetitive reflections by the two main characters.  This of course is how you build up characters in a novel, by re-enforcing the peculiarities and dilemmas they find themselves in.  Nobody wants to read a straight narrative…and then they did this, and then they did that, but perhaps a bit more editing of Mr. Marukami’s long-winded and slow unfolding of the story might have been in order.  Maybe when you get this famous nobody dares tell you how to write.

Like all clever novelists he has left us just at the exciting bit, a hair trigger literally away from some sort of resolution, and I will now just have to buy Book 3 I suppose. But I may not rush to read it too quickly.

Sitting here, pen in hand

Friday 27th January

Sitting here, pen in hand, and I am lost for words.  Words that usually swirl around and around in my brain have suddenly deserted me.  I am sitting in a Pret today, I am giving Stabucks a rest, and I must say their almond croissant is excellent – the coffee is okay, but not a Starbucks I am afraid.  What is that secret ingredient they use, that makes you just come back and back.  I am looking out over Baker Street, watching all the busy people rushing about dodging the few drops of rain as they scurry to work.  What a strange world we inhabit, so much activity that seems so important and yet we ignore the really important things far too easily.  All of this rush and bustle and striving to obtain the means of survival, or actually to do far more than feed and house ourselves.  If only we could somehow get back to those simple ideals.  This takes me back to those BBC2 late night documentaries about some undiscovered tribe deep in the Amazon, the Kreen-Akrore maybe, and how different their lives are from our over-developed and greedy ones.  They seem to have all the time in the world for each other, and for building family and tribal bonds, and the children run around in the sun without a care in the world, no schoolwork, no exams, no sats, no worrying about a career for them.  They know what they will do when they grow up, they will be just like their parents, a bit of hunting, a bit of gathering roots and berries, a lot of sitting around and talking to each other – what bliss.  But then the corollary looms into view, the threat posed by the external world, the animosity and inevitable warfare with any other tribe invading their territory, even the film crew and documentary makers bring with them the inevitable contagion of the outside world.  That is why Communism failed.  That is why Aldous Huxley wrote of his Noble Savage living on a large island cut off from the rest of humanity.  This disease called Man.  And yes, that s exactly what we are.  A Diss-Ease, upsetting the ease of life.  Maybe that is part of the human condition, to never be satisfied, the real key to our success.   The very fact that we are essentially a miserable bunch of unhappy apes means that we are always striving for something else – no matter how much we already have.  And that is how we have conquered the world.  Some conquest my dears.

Where it will all end; no-one yet knows.  In the meantime, my Pret coffee has gone cold and is a little bitter now, so time to pack up and go back home.  Bye for now.

“I can imagine living without a man, but I would never dream of living without a dog”

Thursday 26th January

Not my words, I can assure you, but those of a friend.  I have both lived with a man and am now without one, and until the right one comes along I will remain without one – so imagining does not come into it. I have however never had a dog, so this particular attachment is not precious to me, though given the immediate choice, a dog does seem to hold more appeal.

My friend, who I will not embarrass by naming, has been married three times, and has had numerous liaisons in-between too.  So, she has probably rarely been without a man herself.  She has two dogs, and assures me that when one dies she replaces it with another with as little delay as possible.

One has to wonder though what value she really puts on the relationships she has with either.  Are the men as interchangeable as the dogs, even though the dogs may be easier to replace; maybe if one is not too discerning then the men may be easily replaceable too.

I find it far harder to strike up friendships which may lead to something else though.  Maybe just my natural reticence, maybe a fatal flaw in my personality, but I just do not strike up friendships with people.  I need to get to know them slowly, before committing myself.  And that may also explain why I have never had a dog, that instant affection which people experience when they see a little puppy face seems to be somewhat lacking in me, I am always that little bit too cautious, too much consideration and not enough impulse, and then the moment, or the possibility of a moment, is gone.

So I remain here without either a man or a dog, though little puddy-tat is probably thankful for the lack of both.

I looked in the mirror and saw I was old

Wednesday 25th January

Of course, I look in the mirror every day; we all do I am sure, but I don’t really see myself.  Not the real me, I look only at my reflection and not at myself.  I am looking to see how well I may have applied my make-up, or if my teeth are clean, but I don’t look at me.  Besides one is so used to the reflection, that you don’t really look beyond those familiar features and into the face, do you?

But today, it really hit me, that I looked old.  I have had a bit of a cold since the New Year, not a real stinker, no runny nose, no ‘maybe it’s flu’ type of cold, just a really irritating sore throat that will not go away.  I have drunk I do not know how many bottles of cough medicine, and have sickened myself with lozenges and Strepsils so that I cannot even bear to look at the packets any more, and still the cough persists.  I almost wouldn’t mind if it actually developed into a full blown cold, because then I could understand where it was coming from.

But the worst of it is that I feel tired all the time.  I wake up tired, and it really doesn’t help going to bed early either.  I feel that I am tired of it all, my situation, the weather, London and most of all, of course, of myself.  I looked in the mirror this morning and thought “My God girl, you are beginning to look old.”  Not just my age, or tired, but old.

So I must try to buck myself up a bit.  I need a new project, and not just the book. Don’t even ask how that is going, because it isn’t going anywhere except maybe into the bin soon.  Perhaps I just need a holiday, but I have never been that sort of a person who can just go off on their own.  I did that once in Paris, and don’t want to do that again in a hurry.

So I am just going to huddle up under a blanket and watch stupid telly all night.  Old as I look or not.

I read the News today, oh boy

Tuesday 24th January

Adrian used to go on and on about this song, and played it enough to make me slightly sick of it.  It was The Beatles, of course; or to be more specific John Lennon, one of his undoubted heroes.  It was from the album that came to define them in many ways, Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  To be honest it had passed me by, well almost.  Even I in my self-imposed seclusion was not totally immune to the currents that swirled around me in the late sixties.  But I had never bought any Beatles records; maybe it had never occurred to me that they had anything particular to say to me.  I did like Yesterday, with its nice string quartet backing, but not much else caught my ear back in the sixties.  Adrian played them incessantly, especially ‘A day in the life’, which he insisted was the key to understanding their later music.

I had almost forgotten all about them, despite hardly a month passing without some reference to them in the news itself, which at one time was so full of them.  The press and the public they serve has largely moved on, and the pop-stars one reads of now I have never heard of at all.  It might as well be a foreign language.  And this is of course as it should be; the young push in and shout to be heard, and shove us oldies out of the way.  I wonder how many under thirties can even name the Beatles, let alone know their songs.

Radio 2, not my first choice for listening, but often Radio 3 or 4 become a tad boring and I listen in to 2 for a change, and I heard that chilling plaintive and weary and sad voice calling out across the years. “I read the news today, oh boy” and it is that simple but so important “oh boy” that makes the sentence memorable.  The line “I read the news today” on its own means nothing, but the refrain “oh boy” tells us all about the mood of the singer, and that you the listener are being set up for something.  It took just the couple of seconds of those words to take me back to that little flat in Hackney, the drawings on the wall, the Biba wallpaper, the pine table and the sad but wonderful few months of my first love.  It was all there large as life as soon as John started singing those words.

And it will be whenever I next happen to hear them I am sure.  And they always catch you by surprise, these familiar but half forgotten memories, all it takes is those few words “I read the news today, oh boy” and you are caught again, unawares and unbidden, and taken back to the days of your youth.

Permanence and Illusion

Monday 23rd January

I read a poem out loud at the writing class today, and instantly wished I hadn’t.  Nobody, not even I the author, really understood it.  It was right at the end of the class, people were a bit tired and ready to leave and I was the last to read my piece.

I won’t bore you with the poem itself, it was called Permanence and Illusion and is I think another of my ‘the differences between the sexes’ things; where the man is all cold logic and precision and the woman a bit more vulnerable, with hints of sacrifice and suffering.  Anyway no-body really got it, so it couldn’t have been that successful could it?

Strangely I still love it, especially these two couplets :

I thought I knew all about you / could read you like a book / but turning around for a second I found / you’d changed in the time it took.

And the sharpest stone in your armory store / the one that cut me to the core / was soft at the edges, rounded and smooth / a net to hold and bathe my wounds.

Yes, I know a stone doesn’t have a net. And how can a net bathe and soothe my wounds?  I don’t know quite what I meant but for me, it works. For me the words just make sense and are beautiful.

Pity no-one else saw it.

I will read some prose out next time, and hopefully mine won’t be the last piece to be read next time.

Inanity Beyond Belief

Sunday 22nd January

One of the boring aspects of visiting friends is this modern habit of leaving the TV on when your guests arrive, or even worse – ignoring them and watching the wretched thing.  I am not sure if any etiquette book exists which deals with the TV/guest thing, but if it hasn’t been written yet, then here is a tip for the compilers. One should always switch off the television the moment your guests arrive.

I called in on my friend Joan, we were actually going out for dinner later, but she asked me to come round early for a catch-up..  I arrived even earlier than I had planned just before six and the television was on.  Worse still Joan was watching it avidly; she almost had no time for me.  No welcoming cup of tea, no friendly chat – in fact no chat at all; every time I spoke she barely heard me, she was so absorbed in the programme.  And honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if it had been something of worth, some serious documentary, or even a compelling wild-life film.  The news might be understandable had there been a tsunami, or a siege or some other absorbing subject.  But no, she was watching Total Wipeout of all things.  I know that early Saturday evening television is not renowned for its intellectual challenge, but one would have to search high and low to find anything more mindless, and on the BBC too!  I had never watched it, (I wonder why not?) but after a few seconds, almost certainly not a minute, I could see how awful it was.  A series of “contestants” try to complete a watery obstacle course, where the highlights are the slow-motion replays of people falling off large moving mechanical objects and into the water.  No skill required at all, just the ability to make a fool of one’s-self for the cameras.  I am not sure what was worse; the relentless enthusiasm of the young people who time and time again got knocked into the water, or the idiotic commentary, as if any of it had any consequence at all. They must be very well paid or extremely hard up to have allowed themselves to be persuaded to take part in this nonsense.

But no, the most irritating and unbelievable spectacle was Joan herself, who was laughing hysterically at every repeated and completely obvious pratfall, laughing just as loudly as the twelth contestant fell off a large red ball as she did when the first one fell.  And I had always assumed she was a reasonably intelligent woman, but she was highly amused and assured me that she never missed watching this inanity beyond belief.