Early Memories

Sunday 10th April

I always say that my first memory is of a motorcycle accident outside the Memorial Gates of Stowmarket recreation ground, commonly known as the rec.  And I think that it must be, but if I really think hard I am not sure.  What I remember, what I always remember is an accident, a motorcycle accident.  Though I don’t remember the actual accident, just the headlight’s beam lighting up the names of the fallen, the rain, the shattered glass, and sometimes a rider holding their head. I mentioned this to my mother once and she can remember nothing, though I must surely have been with her.  So what am I remembering,  I suspect that the bike merely skidded on the wet surface and nobody was really hurt and what I am remembering is the memory of me remembering time and again and telling myself that this was my first memory.

Memory is such a faltering and feeble thing, and we layer it with other occasions, other memories get jumbled up with it, our emotional response to the remembered memory becomes part of the memory itself and we are never sure if what we are remembering is the true memory or the repeated and often distorted memory of the act of remembering.  And dreams are often like that, sometimes so vivid and clear and upon waking they dissipate and dissolve and all you are left with is a hazy memory that you had a bad dream and something about….but you cannot quite recollect the details at all.  And my first memory, the motorbike accident is like that; maybe it was just a dream I had as a child.  But I cling to it, because I want to remember my first memory – and all the others too before I get too old and my memories fade altogether.  That is one of the reasons I write, to record things before I forget them.  Written down they may not resemble the actual truth any more than my memories, but they are an anchor to stop my mind from wandering too far from shore.

And the weird thing is that each time I try to remember this specific first memory it gets harder to pin down, as if the very synapses are snapping from overuse.  So maybe I invent it, and re-invent it and cannot even remember the times I have tried to remember it.  It has become almost an icon, and I trot it out whenever I am asked for my first memory – but whether it ever happened I begin to question.  And then I begin to wonder if any memories can really be trusted.  And the act of writing it down with whatever distortions time has levied on it adds another layer on top of the memory, and then I think am I only remembering this recorded version and not the real thing.  Which is one of the reasons I like to listen to old records, because there time stand still and I don’t need the memory of the songs, they are there, pristine and glistening and undistorted by my memory of them. I simply need the prompt and I am word-perfect singing the words along with the artist, memory regained and perfect again.

Bringing It ll back Home

Saturday 9th April

Not the album by Dylan, great as it is but the realisation of what is really important, so I suppose the sentence should really be ‘Bringing it all home to me’.  We are such petty selfish little creatures, forever complaining, never really happy or content with our lot.  Always looking over our shoulders at others we perceive as luckier, wealthier or happier than we are; not for a moment considering that many and possible most others are looking over their shoulders thinking almost the same about us.  And the things we worry about are so small, the electricity bill, or a leaky tap we should really fix, or some correspondence we have received (especially if it is in French) or an imminent visit or journey we have to make.  Or even worse, when we feel a bit downtrodden, taken for granted or ignored, we begin to say to ourselves how miserable our lives are, how nobody knows what we have to put up with and such nonsense.

We have a roof over heads when many are homeless; or even country-less as a war we helped to start and now are having difficulty finishing reduces their poor and once beautiful country to rubble.  And we have the temerity to complain of migrants coming here and getting benefits (it is the same complaint one hears here in France, encouraged by a right-wing press just as in England).  We are warm, even if we complain about the price of electricity, we are never really cold.  We have plenty of clothes, in fact most of us wear more or less the same things, ignoring perfectly good alternatives hanging in our wardrobes; none of which stops us buying even more through boredom or a feeling that we want to reward ourselves.  We have plenty of food; Supermarkets have never been so abundantly full of stuff – and relatively cheaper than ever before too.  There is of course still starvation and hunger in many parts of the World, not least some deprived areas of our major cities, but this barely makes the news these days; only when it is too late and hundreds are dying do we raise our heads from the trough.

And we are well and healthy, a few minor aches and pains notwithstanding, we still have better healthcare than any generations before us, medical breakthroughs keep revolutionising what is possible and over half of cancer patients now survive (only to die of something else eventually of course).  Which brings me to the reason for this blog.  One of the women we know here in Eymet is in hospital.  A few weeks ago she seemed fit and well, though she complained of a bad back. Gradually she was in more and more pain and seeing various doctors.  She has cancer in her vertebrae, and it has spread to her lung and elsewhere too.  What the prognosis is we don’t yet know – but it isn’t looking good.  She is fifty-eight.  So hearing that news today has brought it all home to me.  I will try to stop whingeing on about anything and everything (none of which really matters), at least for a while and hope sincerely that our friend can recover.

2066 – Janek Feeling Poorly

Record date 20660821

I am feeling under the weather, distinctly not myself, poorly even.  It is probably a combination of the fitness regime, the hours in the weightless chamber, and the drugs they are making me take.  I feel spaced-out, my head wrapped in some sort of alu-foil blanket, even my eyesight is becoming a bit blurry, I am actually having some difficulty in reading what I have just typed.  Ah, that’s better – the screen has understood and increased the font and the resolution, fading the brilliant white ’paper’ to a duller, off white, almost ‘Egyptian Cotton’.  Cathy and I once fell in love with ‘Egyptian Cotton’; the colour, not the fabric, and we painted our first flat in it, every room and the ceilings and skirting boards too.  It was so restful, and seemed to take on whatever colour you put up against it.  I haven’t decorated in years of course.  The plaster finish they use today doesn’t require re-painting, and most screens can project any image or blank colour onto your walls, so the idea of actually dipping a brush in a tin of paint is as old-fashioned as using a Biro to write with (though actually I still used one, and a foolscap notepad to jot down references when I was screening numbers all day long).  But in a funny way I enjoyed painting.  Walls, that is – I was shit at Art, I could never even hold the brush right, let alone make my daubs look like anything on the backing-vid screen.  But painting walls was so relaxing, just that very task of trying to smooth out the paint, and the repeated down-strokes getting lighter and lighter until you were brushing air and all the brush marks disappeared and you had a lovely even block of colour.  That was a real achievement.  There is absolutely no sense of achievement in the screen projecting colours on your walls for you.  I would sometimes come home and find Blue walls all over the house and Cathy and I would fight about it, me gradually lightening the tone, and she darkening it.  In the end I didn’t even notice the walls at all, or Cathy either I guess.

The medics say that my grogginess is just my body getting used to the new regime, and I should be better in a week or two.  We are on a very tight schedule though, I have to be got fit enough to start the ‘conjoining’ process in a month’s time.  Before that I have to build up both my muscles and my brain.  Like the Astronauts of old, I am being prepared for my voyage into the unknown.  Strange to think that so much hope was once invested in space exploration.  By humans anyway.  It took them about sixty years to realise that it was far wiser (and cheaper) to train computers to go into deep Space rather than try to adapt humans for it.  The observations made by these machines are far more accurate than any person, wracked with space-sickness and blurred by emotions, would ever make.  But disappointingly there is very little of interest out there.  The Moon, Mars and even Venus and Mercury are just lumps of rock, bare and devoid of any signs of life – ever, and even the minerals they contain are almost impossible to mine and transport back here.  To go much further just takes too long.  Space colonies would just be too expensive to maintain, and even the Chinese have given up sending people up there.   Space travel will just have to wait for another century or two.  Maybe my great, great grandkids will get around to it one day.

And how many will I have by then too; I wonder what has happened to them, to that sperm?  Well, of course, I know exactly what has happened to that sperm, and the next lot they took yesterday, and will carry on extracting (mining my body for genes, the new super-mining industry of the twenty-first century).  I mean, I wonder what the kids will be like.  Will they be super-intelligent already?  Will there be discernible signs of evolution after just one or maybe two generations?  They have told me that it would be unethical for me to actually ever contact them.  They will never meet me, their biological father, how strange is that?  But that would be, apparently, unethical.

Un-fucking-ethical?  What is this whole programme if not unethical?  Just what in Cosmos name are we doing?   They with zealous excitement and an almost religious fervour and me with a mixture of sardonic resignation and scepticism; our joint endeavour is highly unethical.  Even with their auto-trotted-out ‘for the greater good of mankind’ bollocks, I find it hard to accept.  Not that I had any real choice.  And if not me, then others would have been coerced into the programme.  That’s the justification I have come up with anyway, because a part of me, maybe a part I should have long ago discarded, still feels guilty.  Or not so much guilty as cowardly; I feel a coward for not saying no to William. But think about it, I had no choice.  Really, I had no choice.

Stop The World – I Want to Get Off

Thursday 7th April

It was the early sixties and the world was just getting connected.  We had a couple of satellites floating around and land-line telephones and we got news from America pretty quickly, or so we thought.  And there was a comedy hit record by, I think, Anthony Newley called “Stop the world, I want to get off” which bewailed the then feeling of being oppressed by news of World events and being constantly bombarded by things.

Little did Anthony know what the 21st Century would be like.  The world back then was barely connected at all.  Telegrams were still used.  You had to wait to be connected to overseas phones.  Air travel was expensive and most importantly there were no computers or mobile phones.  You have to make a conscious effort today to be un-connected.  Lots of customers to the Café ask if we have wi-fi; as if having a coffee is such a waste of time unless you are checking your e-mails at the same time.  And I am just the same.  First thing in the morning and late at night and several times during the day I boot up the internet (I can’t stand internet or e-mail on the phone, the writing is too small and my eyes are bad enough anyway) desperate not to miss an e-mail.  I also love reading the newspapers and BBC news on-line, it is like an addiction and there I am hunched over the small screen frantically dragging on my own little drug of choice.

And sometimes I just wish life weren’t like this.  Wouldn’t it be lovely not to switch on the telly or the e-mails, to be unconnected for a whole day or even longer, not this desperate need to scroll down and see who is posting on facebook, or more likely, who has responded to one of my posts or my blog.  “Stop the Internet, I want to get off” would be the 21st Century edition.  I wonder if any budding little Anthony Newleys are out there in their bedsits trying to write the next hit.  But of course they would record it themselves and post a video on Youtube of them singing it and repost it on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, because without the Internet it would be almost impossible to get the song out there.  Have fun….

Three Landmark Joni Albums – 1. Blue

Wednesday 6th April

I could easily write at length about every Joni album, they are (almost) all wonderful.  She started out sounding like a conventional folk-singing songwriter, though her songs were that little bit personal and her tunings obscure.  By her third ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ she was really on fire, her songs sounded from the heart, her playing was incredible and the record had such great songs as ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and ‘Woodstock’ on it.  But her next ‘Blue’ was a quantum leap forward.  The record is simply brilliant and brought her international recognition and fame.  She used an Appalachian Dulcimer on several tracks and that rich plucked sound infuses the record.  I love this album, it was of course the first one I ever bought of Joni’s, then worked backwards and bought everything she later released too.  Favourite songs; ‘Carey’ (get out your cane and I’ll put on some silver), ‘Little Green’ (a song to the little girl she put up for adoption, full of hope and a touch of sadness), ‘A Case of You’ (the most complete expression of love), ‘River’ (I wish I had a river I could skate away on), and the brilliant closer ‘The Last Time I saw Richard (and he told me all romantics meet the same fate, drunk and boring someone in some dark café).  But actually there isn’t a bad song on the record.

Joni’s voice seemed to have deepened on this and subsequent albums, she sounds more grown up, not the shy ingénue of earlier records.  Her piano playing is simply wonderful too; she was already absorbing jazz techniques and what seem like random notes emerge into beautiful haunting melodies after a few bars.  And then there is the cover, that rich deep dark blue – almost indigo, and the high cheek-boned face looking away from us, full of emotion and feeling.  This was almost the first truly ‘confessional’ album, sung in the first person and it seems as if every song was personal to Joni; she was laying her heart on the line for us.  With this record Joni established not only herself, but opened the door for many female singers who followed her; no longer were they to be pretty pop princesses or gentle folk-singers but real artists.  In many ways she is the equal of Leonard and Dylan, lyrically and musically, and most important she can really sing beautifully too.

She followed Blue with a string of great albums through the Seventies, and each was a progression on its predecessor, but for me she hit another height of perfection with ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’…..

Secret Foreign Bank Accounts

Tuesday 5th April

I am amazed at the lengths to which the rich will go to not only hide their wealth but to increase it.  As a younger man I always thought that a million pounds would be enough for anyone; it seemed (and still does) a huge sum of money.  Inflation, especially of house prices has meant that many people now find themselves with (possibly unrealisable) assets in excess of that magical figure, and if I had hung on to my London house for a few more years it would have doubled the price I got for it.  However, gaining a huge sum of money has never been a goal of mine.  Like most people I like being comfortable and not having to worry about going out for a meal or having to buy the occasional expensive purchase.  So what is it that drives these multi-millionaires into not only acquiring more and more, but to find ever more complex ways of hiding it from the taxman of whichever country they live in?   Greed, my friends; I am afraid it is that vilest of human sins, greed.

Today (Monday) we learn from a whistle-blower who has released tens of thousands of documents from a Panamanian based Financial Group showing billions of dollars deposited, hidden and transferred (in other words – laundered) by various companies and individuals across the World.  Implicated our Putin and the Saudi’s, several heads of Government, many Tory donors, six members of the House of Lords and three Conservative ex-M.P.s.  Also David Cameron’s father has used this company/bank/or whatever it calls itself in the recent past.  And while no illegality has so far been discovered the only reason for using such Foreign or Off-shore banks is to hide your money from prying eyes, usually the Government of your own country, the press and poorer people who have no choice but to pay taxes on the money they earn.  The story is still unfolding and we may find even more details as the mass of documents is sifted.  And this bank is only one of many thousands sprinkled around the globe in Territories that are happy to host them.  I can only imagine the sums involved, but what is clear is that if ‘honest’ and ‘ethical’ declarations of tax had been made on these assets then much of the poverty around the world could be alleviated.

The problem of rising inequality in a globally connected world is huge and can only be tackled by Politicians of all countries insisting that banks share all financial transactions so that tax evasion can truly be tackled.  And the penalties for laundering money must be much harsher than the paltry fines at present.  Or we can only hope for another huge Financial Crisis to bring the system to its knees, although as we learnt from the last one brought about by greed again it will be the poor who ultimately pay for the sins of the rich.

Joni Remixed – I love it

Monday 4th April

I have always loved Joni Mitchell ever since I saw her on Sight and Sound early in the Seventies.  I have all her records and recently I joined her Facebook fans page.  Someone posted a whole album’s worth of remixes by modern bands and DJs of some of Joni’s songs and it was offered as a free download.  Now, I am not a fan of downloads generally, but this was one of those rare exceptions where this material will never be available to buy on a CD so I downloaded it, not expecting to be that impressed.  My daughter Laura is a great dance music fan and has introduced me to Massive Attack, Groove Armada, Faithless and a few other artists and I like lots of it; this is not music I would normally buy and it simply re-affirms my belief that all music is good music, there is just some I am less familiar with.

So, the Joni remixes.  I straightaway burnt these tracks onto a CD, and the kind contributor had also supplied a printable CD cover and sleeve.  I started listening recently and all I can say is “Wow”.  Joni started off as a fairly conventional singer-songwriter playing guitar and piano and Appalachian zither but by the mid-seventies she had drifted into jazz.  I have one interview tape of her where she says she was always looking for a different sound.  She stopped recording in the mid-nineties but I am sure that she must actually like what some of these DJs have done with her music.  There is a certain element of repetition in most dance music which can be quite entrancing at times but this album has six versions of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ which can get a tad boring.  However I really love this record, these ‘new’ versions of old songs are simply wonderful.  They are given a new life completely and I am sure Joni would love them, even if she may have been a bit reticent to let them ‘mash-up’ her songs so much.  The great thing about these remixes though is that it is still Joni’s voice and words shining through all the ‘beats’ and other noises going on.  It makes you realise just how she might have sounded had she emerged in the noughties rather than forty years earlier.

So, a welcome addition to the ever-growing Joni catalogue; I have just ordered a new 3cd set of radio performance she made over the years – quite a few unrecorded songs are listed, so I am really looking forward to it.  I never tire of Joni.See original image



Incomplete Sentences – No. 13 – “I Have Nothing To Wear”

Sunday 3rd April

Before I am accused (unfairly surely) of misogyny I must state that I have nothing but admiration for the female sex and especially in their unique and novel use of language.  It has been said before that Women are from Venus and Men from Mars, and while I do doubt that planetary ancestry it does offer a clue as to our different ways of thinking.  Men, or at least me, tend to use language in a logical way.  A split second before saying something I try to find a form of words which will convey what I wish to declare with clarity in the expectation that my listener, equipped with a reasonable understanding of the English Language will be able to comprehend my meaning.  My reasoning for this is that the use of words should be as clear as possible to avoid possible misunderstanding.  However, and before you shout me down Ladies, I must first state that all generalisations are odious and prone to exaggeration and many examples of exceptions will be found by the astute observer; not everyone uses language in the same way.

Indeed women have developed a skill, sadly lacking in men, of conferring totally different meanings, sometimes the complete opposite of the words actually used, to their sentences.  In my pursuit of knowledge I have made a special study of this use of language and I think I have discovered the key.  They, women, (and again I am generalizing) have come up with a way of omitting, either single words or occasionally whole portions of a sentence, in order I can only assume to be able to cram even more words in later on.  And amazingly other women know instinctively (or maybe there is some secret code learnt in their teenage years or by reading Women’s magazines – I can only hazard guesses) what the sentence would have looked like had the cleverly omitted words actually been spoken.

“Does my bum look big in this?” is a good example.  The real sentence would go something like this.  “I am asking this question not for your judgement; in fact I am not looking for anything like honesty – I simply want you to say ‘No, darling, not at all – in fact it makes you look quite slim’ – so the question, to which you know the answer you must give is ‘does my bum look big in this?”

But the one which always confuses me is “I have nothing to wear.”  The fact that the woman speaking is in fact not naked at the time makes the sentence of course untrue as a statement of fact.  And confusingly this is often said while the woman is standing in front of an open and bulging double wardrobe full of things to wear.  Now, I would hate to accuse these females of dishonesty.  And in fact they are not speaking untruths at all; they are simply omitting the end of the sentence “which I want to wear today” or “that is new and my friends haven’t seen before”.  There are actually many possible endings to the truncated sentence “I have nothing to wear.”  Us men, unequipped with either extra-sensory perception, and unschooled in this secret use of language, can only stand dumbfounded before said bulging wardrobe in amazement, our eyes in fact seeing what the woman cannot see, that there are actually many many things to wear, some of them only worn once, or dare we mention it never at all and still in that pristine shop-perfect state.

Maybe the Government should set up special lessons for men to equip them with the skill of inserting missing words into women’s sentences.  Life between the sexes might be improved immeasurably by such a decision.  Or am I……(Women, please complete this sentence using appropriate language only).

2066 – More reflections from Janek

Saturday 2nd April

Escape.  There is no escape, or so I have discovered.  Maybe it wasn’t the system I was running from but myself.  And now I am being offered the greatest escape of all; the possibility of escaping from myself.  Or the ‘myself’ I used to be.  As I look back I do miss them, my wife and kids.  But really, I lost them years ago.  The people I know now look similar, but they are strangers; hazy pictels on a poor res screen that resemble people I might have once known.  Though no longer, I even find it hard to remember remembering the memory of them, let alone themselves.  I have been informed that I have been discovered dead on a South London street somewhere, a victim of street gangs; my mangled body too badly damaged to be viewed.  I have been buried and I am sure Cathy and the kids will have cried.  If only for the man they thought they once knew a long time ago.  So, in a way I have already escaped.  No more wife and no more children.

And now ironically I am to be a father again.  Well, to be precise, the father of many.  The ‘select’ programme has always had two objectives.  As well as the final amalgamation of human and computer there is the second strand; creating a new direction for the species.  The programme has a long-term objective of changing the human race, so that it will be the equal of, and not some sort of inferior servant to the very machines we have created.  Apparently they have discovered special abilities in me; in my brain, to be more specific.  I am wired differently from most other, (actually all others, they tell me) humans.  My brain works more like a computer, in certain ways anyway.  It is all a bit technical, so I won’t bore you with the details, it is all to do with linked synapse connections, but it seems that I am ‘special’.

All human beings are special of course, in that the complexities of personality, hormones and intelligence have made each one of us slightly different.  Suffice it to say they want my genes, although so far they still haven’t managed to identify exactly which combination has made my brain work slightly better in some respects than other humans.  Of course I have always thought of myself as more than a bit stupid, and there is no dichotomy there.  Great intelligence, or the way one brain works faster in one way than another, certainly doesn’t make you generally cleverer than other people.  There are many scientists, many working for the ‘select’ programme, who believe that all humans are capable of far more than they have so far achieved.  That we are all potential geniuses (genii?), it is just that somehow we haven’t managed to switch on those parts of our brains which would make us so. They say that somehow, probably by some genetic quirk, I managed to switch some of mine on.

So they are going to try to replicate my little deviation into hundreds of children.  They have lined up over three hundred young fertile volunteer mothers for me to impregnate.  At first I thought I might actually get to fuck all of them.  See, what I was saying about being incredibly stupid at the same time as remarkably clever.  No, all they need from me is about a teaspoonful of sperm.  And not even a nice female assistant to help me produce it.  A state of the art, latest model, syn machine is all I have been given.  Not that I am really complaining; this model is the works.

They are working on my soupcon of spunk now, genetically weeding out what they think are the stragglers, and supercharging the best candidates.  The whole thing is being speeded up from the ‘natural’ process.  The embryo-to-feotus stage now only takes a few hours, and once implanted the entire pregnancy lasts but a few weeks.  And these ‘superkids’ will be speeded through childhood and should reach puberty at about five years old, when their eggs and sperm will in their turn be extracted and a new generation started.  So about every six years, rather than the twenty of old, we should get a whole new generation, and by selective manipulation and advances in genetic research the boffins running the programme reckon that maybe in thirty year’s time, or the end of the century at the very latest, we will have the first real ‘hyperkids’.   Incredible if remotely possible; Cosmos knows what they will be like – and just as much strangers to me as my own children I am sure.

The Americans are really the keenest on this element of the programme, and talk of this ‘Brave New World’ we are creating, as if they were ‘God’ himself.  Even though, as we all know there is not, nor ever was, a ‘God’, these old ideas still linger, especially in the land of the brave and the free.  Strange, I read some old book once which was actually called ‘Brave New World.’  It was a real dumb-ass story though, written by some old guy, must be over a century ago now.  Science had overtaken most of his ideas by the time I read it and it just seemed silly.  That must happen to anyone stupid enough to try to write about the future I suppose. But people have, it seems always written about the future, or what they imagine the future might hold.  By definition it is a pointless venture, no-one can predict the future, not even our Hypercoms with their extrapolations and posited and tested theories.  Not even, of course, and I hesitate to criticise my ‘employers’, the scientists on the ‘select’ programme itself.  They imagine that by changing the human race, by, as they like to think of it, speeding up our evolution, they will create ‘better’ humans.   I am not so sure, for all we know this new breed of ‘hyperkids’ may have lost something in the process (or gained something even nastier).  Maybe we need these life experiences, these mistakes, these foibles, these weaknesses, to make us realise we are not so important, in the scheme of things.

Anyway, I may be wrong; I usually am.




April Fool

Friday 1st April

I wonder where the term April fool comes from?  Probably some farming wisdom about fools who planted or harvested too early and there was no fool like an April fool.  As a child we all looked forward to the first of April when we would try to trick our friends or family into believing something unusual and delight in exclaiming April fool when they said “Really” or seemed to believe our innocent lies.  The practice seems to have died out of late though, or maybe it still goes on in schools.  There have been a few notable April Fool’s jokes, most notably on the BBC when they reported on Spaghetti growing on trees and apparently thousands of viewers were fooled.  The Independent used to always run some silly story, usually about Europe – and I would (in the far off days when I actually bought a paper every day) scour the headlines trying to guess what the April Fools story was by the title (I wasn’t always right either).  The best April Fool however was in America, where a National newspaper had the headline “New violet smelling ink used for the first time” and almost all their readers would gently sniff at the paper and declare that they couldn’t (or maybe in some cases that they actually could) smell the news-ink, before reading just above the headline the date.

And now we wake up and think “That can’t possibly be true, can it?”  Donald Trump, despite trying his best to alienate Muslims, Hispanics, the poor, women and most foreigners – is actually on course to win not only the Republican Nomination but the presidency itself.  The demographics are all in his favour, and Hilary is hardly sweeping all before her on the Democratic side.  Last night on BBC news they had a special programme about the man, interviewing friends and even his butler (I kid you not, his butler!!!) and they all said what a wonderful man he was.  He may indeed go on to be considered by Americans in much the same light as Ronald Reagan, another ‘buffoon’ we ridiculed at the time who is now considered as one of their greatest Presidents.  Yes, please check the date, but Donald may indeed Trump Hilary and become President in a few month’s time.