Proof Reading

Saturday 31st October

By far the worst part of writing a book is proof reading the damned thing. You have sweated over it, got stuck, abandoned it several times, started again, thrown it in the bin in anger and sat down and tried to rescue it.  You have tried a couple of endings which didn’t work and one which may have.  You have re-written it from start to finish.  Cutting out pages of dross, whole chapters lost forever, embellished lines here and there, added exotic adjectives, teased out a metaphor until it snapped, enlarged on neglected sections.  And then re-worked it again, looking for trite sentiments, excising and re-writing whole sections.  And then when you are just about happy with it, you have re-read it, imagining you are a first-time reader, seeing if it flows, of the story holds your attention, if the plot isn’t too obvious, or too obscure.  Adding touches of the weather, stray thoughts that might enlighten things.  And even then you are never really happy.  You cannot escape the feeling that you might have written a better book if life hadn’t gotten in the way, if you had had more time, more concentration, less other stuff to think about.

But finally you submit it for publication.  You get a reader’s assessment that points out one or two things you missed and a few you disagree with.  So you try to address those issues too.  A final read through and you re-submit it.  By now you almost know it by heart and are truly sick of it.  Then comes the worst job of all – the proof-reading.  Not only is it tedious beyond belief, trying to look at each sentence in isolation.  Should there really be a comma there.  Should I maybe make that sentence shorter, break it in two.  Am I repeating myself too much.  And again your concentration slips, and you find you aren’t even looking at the words anymore as you know them so well.

Anyway you find a few mistakes and they will be corrected.  And the worst of it is that you know as soon as someone new reads it they will spot an even more obvious mistake that you had never noticed.  I do it all the time, even to professionally edited and proof-read books.  But it is a task I am half way through, and have broken to write this blog, which is full of mistakes too I expect, but I am damned if I am proof-reading this as well.

2066 – Janek is like a mouse in a cage…

Friday 30th October

-[ I wasn’t downhearted that Janek had evaded us.  This might be a game of cat and mouse, but in my experience the cat always wins.  Sooner or later the mouse will want cheese.  He will stick his nose out of his hiding place and good old kitty will strike.

And really Janek, I thought you might be cleverer than that.  What were you thinking of, you looked awful, like some dirty old tramp.  And the beard?  That was a dead giveaway.  Who wears a beard nowadays?  Only those clever designer types who use their facial hair as a fashion statement, but that might work in Hackney or Leyton, where all those pretty boys and girls choose to live, but not in South-East London, Janek.

And of course you should have known that the old remnants of the ‘working class’ were the quickest to buy into the new world dream we had created.  It was always the middle classes we had to be smarter with.  Why do you think there was only one mediocre level of credit for them, and thirty six gradations of strata for the old ‘middle class’?

If only the ‘middle classes’ were as easy to manipulate as the drone strata.  We only have to fill their screens with cheaply made rubbish, give them unlimited manna, free porn channels and their own shoddy version of syn and lots of synthetic-booze and they are happy as the proverbial swine in their own ordure.

So, what happens next Janek?  Of course you have no idea, frightened little mouse that you are.  But kitty here knows what to do.  I ordered all the surv-cams in a five kilometre radius to switch from record to recognise.  I downloaded all known images of your face to the regional Hypercoms and waited.  After all this was now a waiting game, and hunger if nothing else would soon force you out of your mouse-hole.   You might as well have surrendered there and then; you must have known the odds were stacked against you.  But you always were a stubborn little mouse, weren’t you Janek Smith.  The net was closing in, but you still had a trick or two up your sleeve, didn’t you?]-


I’m A Sucker For The Old Guy

Thursday 29th October

As I have got older myself I have become a sucker for the old guys.  Dylan, McCartney, Neil Young, Paul Simon – all old guys now, but still going strong.  But the oldest of all and the best is Leonard.  He still tours, though less frequently than a few years ago.  He has also made two new albums in the last decade, where many of his fellow ‘sixties’ stars have retired.  And he keeps releasing new ‘live’ records.  And I am a sucker for them too.  How many times have I heard these songs?  And yet I never tire of them.  He once had a strong if deep voice, where now he barely whispers.  Sometimes indeed he practically intones the songs, reciting them and letting the backing singers carry the tune.  It matters not at all.  I just love to hear his voice in whatever incarnation I hear it.  Much like Dylan in fact.  Though Leonard does seem to get away with it better than Bob these days.

In the last few years we have had a double ‘Live in London’, a single ‘Songs From The Road’, a triple ‘Live in Dublin’, and now ‘Can’t Forget, Memories of the Grand Tour’.  At least this last one has some sound-checks of never released songs, and ‘almost’ rehearsals.  There have also been a few unofficial live albums from concerts in the Seventies and the Eighties, along with his own official ‘Live at The Isle of Wight (1971)’ and ‘Field Commander Cohen (live from 1979)’.  I have them all, though on the internet there are hundreds of Bootlegs of other concerts available.  I don’t actually compare the different versions of the same songs, the differences are sometimes subtle and sometimes huge, but as I know every word I am simply singing along, either out loud (if the occasion allows) or in my head.  These records are actually almost religion, a spiritual union between me and Leonard.  Just as when I was a teenager The Beatles were singing for me alone, now Leonard is singing these songs just for me too.  I really don’t care how many more live records he releases (the more, the merrier) I will buy them (after all, he is releasing them just for me).  And I couldn’t care how many faces people pull, how often I hear that he is depressing.  They simply haven’t listened, or are (more likely) incapable of hearing.  This is no surprise as after all he is singing just for me. And as long as he is willing I will continue to be a sucker for the old guy.

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The Irony Of The House Of Lords

Wednesday 28th October

I have always thought the House of Lords a complete anomaly.  Originally it was by far the most important of the two Houses of Parliament, as if like the King, Lords governed by Divine Right.  But slowly the ascendancy of the Commons has been established. The Americans took the idea of a second revising chamber further and made this also an elected body.  Though another anomaly of the American system is that each State elects two Senators regardless of the size of the electorate.  Senators serve for six years and one third is elected every two years, so that there is a slower evolving idea of public opinion.

Our House of Lords has been slowly changing too, with less Hereditary Peers (but still some, and the ridiculous idea of Bishops) and far more appointed ‘Lords’.  In many cases this is simply a gravy train for retired Politicians, a reward for services to the Party, and totally indefensible in the Modern World.  And in some ways we should ask “Why do we need a second ‘revising’ chamber anyway?” “What is wrong with Democracy?” And on one level I do agree.  However we do not have Democracy, or anything approaching it.  Under the ‘first past the post’ system we have had successive Governments with majorities who won far less than 40% of the vote.  If we had true Proportional Representation then the Government might have more validity.  Also there should be some mechanism to ensure that things which are promised in the Manifesto are actually acted upon, and promises made during the campaign are adhered to.  However I quite like the idea of a second chamber which can look at and amend proposed legislation provided it is elected.

And last night we had the Lords to thank for stopping, or at least causing a pause for thought, a particularly nasty piece of Legislation which would have (and may still do, of course) hit the poorest in our society very hard indeed.  This Government did not include these measures in their Manifesto, and specifically denied they would change Family Tax Credit during the election campaign.  So, good on you, House of Lords – unelected and ridiculous as you may be.

Late October Sunshine

Monday 26th October

The weather here in South West France is splendid in the Summer; lots of really arm and sunny days – but Autumn can be quite mixed, with a fair helping of rain. Unlike the Mediterranean landscape, it is very green here.  Occasionally too we just get one of those beautiful clear and sunny days. Sunday was just like that.  It started off much like any other morning, a bit overcast, a touch gloomy and quite nippy.  But around ten the day burst. Almost like a late flowering shrub into life.  It was warm and spectacularly sunny, the square was bathed in light.

We always put out a few tables and chairs, even if it is raining, as it helps to advertise that we are indeed a café, and that we are open.  And business has been steady, with visitors seeking the warmth and shelter we offered.  But yesterday people were sitting outside and taking in the late October sunshine.  It almost feels like a stolen little pleasure, a last gasp of Summer, and of course it could well be the last really splendid day if the year.

We had a new exposition too, the really quite delightful paintings of Ingeborg Neale.  And just as the weather outside brought a touch of warmth and sunshine, inside Ingeborg’s paintings too brought a touch of warmth.

Life in the Slow Lane

Sunday 25th October

The Eagles, of course, had a hit with ‘Life In The Fast Lane’, and a pretty good song it was too.  Mind you I cannot think of a bad song of theirs either.  But the song expressed all the excitement of being young and with-it, and things happening all around you.  It was also a great driving song.  But as you get older you no longer want to hog the fast lane, in fact pulling over and letting those younger and faster and more reckless pass you by is really quite satisfying.  And like that old story of the tortoise and the hare, they may overtake you now but they will never quite catch you up either.

And after my short, but too long stay in England, it is back in the slow lane for me again for a few weeks.  One gets used to taking things easy over here.  In the local Spar mini-supermarket, where you can actually get almost everything, it is normal to have to wait at the till.  And not for the big queue in front, but for the shopkeeper to have her normal morning conversation with the French woman who has just popped in for a litre of milk.  At first you tend to be a bit annoyed, but then you learn to wait and not be in such a hurry, because Madame will certainly not be rushed.

Shops open at erratic hours and even then sometimes not on schedule or even at all.  No warning is given, just a hastily written note to say they are fermee.  Oh well, there is always tomorrow, unless that is Dimanche, or maybe Lundi, or even Mardi.  Surprise surprise some shops bars and restaurants are closed on Mercredi too.  And even when they are open they close at 12 for two or sometimes three hours and are open until – maybe five or sometimes six.  But here in the slow lane, what you don’t do today you can always do tomorrow.

The first thing you lose after leaving England is STRESS.  Welcome to life in the slow lane.  No good honking your horn – you’ll get used it soon.

The Benefits That Dare Not Speak Their Name

Saturday 24th October

There are two benefits which are sacred.  They will not be touched.  In fact we do not even talk about them.  But maybe it is time that we did.  The first is Benefits to Pensioners. We are incredibly living in a time when on average (which is always a dangerous concept) Pensioners incomes are higher than average wages.  And they are going to get higher. Actual retirement pension, which used to be called ‘Old Age Pension’, is subject to a triple lock.  It will rise by whichever of these criteria is highest – the rate of inflation, or average pay increases or 2.5%.  And at a time of practically zero inflation that means that this will steadily rise and far higher than anyone else’s pay or benefits.  Then there is Housing Benefit which is paid to many pensioners who still pay rent.  Many are claiming Carer’s Allowance for their partners too.  On top of these there is the Winter Fuel Allowance of £200 a year and free TV licenses for over 75’s.  I am NOT advocating scrapping these benefits, but they definitely should be looked at.  It cannot be right that rich people are receiving a Winter Fuel Allowance at all.  And it may well be that despite these benefits there are Pensioners still living in poverty.  But Pensioners Benefits are ring-fenced for the very simple reason that these people actually vote.

The second group of ‘secret’ benefit recipients are M.P.s themselves.  And even our esteemed Prime Minister receives a payment for the mortgage on his Constituency home and claims for travel.  After the recent scandal of M.P.s Allowances it was all supposed to be sorted out.  The problem was that the people sorting it out were exactly the same class and mindset as the M.P.s themselves, so the nonsense has carried on and may actually be even worse now.  There is no way that any Housing costs should be paid for by the public purse.  A small list of reasonably priced Hotels near to Westminster should be available for free stays when Parliament is sitting and train tickets (second class please) issued for M.P.s with Constituencies out of London.  And NO other Allowances at all.  Each M.P. should be allocated a Civil Servant Secretary paid for centrally and that should be it.  And there should be a minimum attendance required.  Why should everyone else actually have to turn up for work and not M.P.s?   And we should simply scrap the House of Lords and all its allowances, replacing it with a Senate voted for six years on PR, one third being re-elected every two years to review and amend legislation with a more balanced view than the Commons.  But of course as M.P.s also pass the legislation these Benefits are hardly likely to be touched either.  But don’t pick on the poorest to cut benefits while these two groups are never to be looked at.

Anyway – rant over for today.  Have a good one.

2066 – And things keep going wrong

Friday 23rd October

part three – the net closing in….

 Diary Entry – 20660524

“I have made contact, and it was a disaster.   Total failure.  I was correct in my supposition that this was the lowest strata level; that roughly thirty percent of poorly crammed and hapless individuals who do manual labour for the lowest level of credit.  But I was wrong to think that I would be in any way accepted.  It seems that these people are just as conditioned as the rest of us.  And I really should have looked in the mirror a bit more carefully.  I have a ridiculously thick and black bushy beard, it seems my follicles have gone into overdrive ever since I stopped taking the inhibitors, and my hair was wild and growing right over my ears.  Stupid fool, I had a pair of scissors in the first aid kit, I should have used them to make myself a bit more presentable.

It happened like this.  I decided to try to make contact in the small and shabby looking Tesda store.  I decided to just try to act natural, and so, bold as brass, I sauntered in as if I owned the damn shop.  Smiling to my left and to my right I strode into the shop.  Almost as if I had a neon sign flashing above my head the few shoppers seemed to move away from me, one or two even dropped the plastic baskets in their haste.

“Listen, it’s okay.”  I said, as they moved away from me, parting like waves in the sea they just drifted away from me.  I even reached out and tried to grab the coat sleeve of an elderly man.  I desperately tried to smile some re-assurance at him.

“Get away from me, you dirty scag.” He shouted, yanking his arm out of my grasp.

“No, it’s not what you think.  I am not a reb, I’m not a crim of any sort.  I mean you no harm, I just want to talk.”  I was gabbling.  And the sight of all that food, manna or not was making me woozy, I may have even been swaying.

“Call the Polis.” The old fellow was shouting.  “Call the Polis at once.  We have a destitute in the shop.  A fucking scag, call the Polis.  Somebody quick”

And I heard the unmistakable sound of swivelling surv-cams.  I hurriedly buried my face in my overcoat and ran for the exit.  There was already a small crowd gathering in the street, attracted by the commotion.  I charged through them and ran down the street.  And as I turned the corner I heard the screech of a Polis auto drawing up at the Tesda store.  I ran like I have never run before, my heart pounding furiously in my chest.  Two more corners to gain and the factory would be in sight.  Quick, run Janek.  And I made it.  I just got the heavy metal shutter back in place as the Polis auto came roaring past and down the street.  By some miracle they hadn’t spotted me, they continued down the street for a bit, then as I watched through a dirt smeared upper window they reversed and turned left, completely lost.  Their roof–mounted superbeam sweeping the buildings and road as they drove slowly back down the street, but they missed me.  Thank Cosmos they missed me.

How stupid I had been.  How I had miscalculated; thinking I might get some sympathy from this most easily brain-washable section of society.  They were the ones who believed everything on Disnews, they swallowed it all.  All the sab rumours, the constant stream of rebs being arrested, the enemy within, and all that bullshit.  All those newscasts weren’t directed at me, they weren’t for us clever bastards; they were for this lot. I had always been a bit sceptical, I knew a bit about propaganda, I thought I might be able to detect it, I knew that some of it must be made up.  It never really bothered me, and I never took it completely seriously.  But this lot were so gullible, hooked as they were to their screens watching Soapy-sope after Soapy-sope, half-believing that the characters were real.  And where the Soapy-sopes ended and where Disnews began was getting harder and harder to discern.  If the screens and the glamorous lives lived up there were more real than your own mundane existence, then is it any wonder they couldn’t tell what was real and what was fiction.   It was hard enough for me sometimes.

But what to do now?  I couldn’t risk another encounter, not now.  No doubt the Polis would be looking for me now.  And still I was hungry as shit.  I could almost feel the net closing in on me.”

“We’re All In It Together!”

Thursday 22nd October

Well, you don’t hear that so much these days do you?  It was the Tories favourite catchphrase a few years ago, when we were all encouraged to stand together to get the Deficit removed by 2015.  And the promise was that we would all be paying equally or fairly or proportionally in some way.  And the public swallowed it pretty much.  At the last election they even believed Cameron and Osborne when they were asked if they would touch Family Tax Credits and they said “We have absolutely no plans to do so.”  Mind you they promised in 2010 that they had no plans to increase VAT and they did that too in their first budget.  One can only conclude that there is actually no forward planning at the Treasury at all, and that policies appear like rabbits out of a hat a few minutes before the Chancellor stands up to present his Budget.  Heaven forbid that anyone should think they had misled people in any way.

But now that the election is safely out of the way; (what a nuisance it must be for them) the true strategy can emerge.  At the same time as Inheritance tax thresholds are being raised so that Millionaires will pay far less tax, and that the abolition of the 45p tax rate is only another unplanned statement away – we are seeing the poorest in our society paying the price.  On average those on the lowest wages will lose £1350 a year.  That is £112.50 a month.  I would hate to lose that much, but imagine if you are both working and have kids and are only pulling in say £1500 a month anyway as many on Minimum wages will be, then that is a hell of a pay cut.  “Ah but” the Tory Millionaires in the Cabinet say “We have raised tax thresholds and the Minimum wage will increase to £9.00 an hour by the end of the Parliament.”  True, but firstly the tax threshold benefits everyone, even those earning millions.  Secondly the cuts to Family Tax Credit will hit in April 2016 and the rises in Minimum Wage will be phased in over several years.  So the poor will take an immediate hit now.  Also, as we know, they have no plans whatsoever to change Taxes, so who knows what further unplanned reductions will suddenly pop out of the Chancellors mouth in the next few years, especially as he has promised to eliminate the deficit by the end of this Parliament, and may begin to panic if it isn’t happening.  Mind you didn’t he say the same thing five years ago? Oh, so that’s okay – we have nothing to worry about really.

Joni – River – and all that Jazz

Wednesday 21st October

I never really got jazz.  I suppose I considered it a bit like Abstract Art.  How can you tell if a mistake has been made?  Was that splash of red in the corner deliberate; was that blast of Sax intentional – and more basically, were the musicians even playing the right notes?  Joni Mitchell started off as a fairly conventional singer-songwriter, though a brilliant lyricist or even poet.  She started using strange and open tunings and gradually from ‘Court and Spark’ onwards she got jazzier and jazzier, culminating in ‘Mingus’ which took some getting used to.  But always holding it together was her voice and her wonderful words and I learned to love ‘Mingus’ too  She veered back to a more conventional style in her later records which sadly I think were slightly inferior.  Still, an incredible artist, and currently slowly recovering from a brain aneurysm which nearly killed her.

I am currently listening to ‘River – The Joni Letters’ by Herbie Hancock.  It is his jazz interpretations of a few Joni songs with (mostly) guest vocalists but including Joni herself on The Tea Leaf Prophecies.  And it is a lovely album.  I sometimes struggle to discern the, or indeed any, melody but the words keep me hanging on in there and I am learning to “hear” Joni in a different way.  The last track and the reason I bought the record is Leonard Cohen reciting ‘The Jungle Line’ to a lazy piano backing.  This was actually a quite early song of Joni’s, from ‘Hissing of Summer Lawns’, and though I had always loved it I never understood the lyrics.  Even with Leonard’s smooth voice slowly enunciating each syllable I still don’t really understand it.  Not that that matters at all; the words are still incredible, as is Leonard’s vocal delivery.  I probably will not buy any other of Herbie Hancock’s records and will still mostly avoid out and out Jazz.  But this is now definitely on my Favourite list.  Incidentally (for all you anally obsessed collectors like me) I will file it along with Joni’s music and not under H.

River: the Joni Letters [VINYL]