Tuesday, December 20, 2005

There's no battle we can't win 

Donald Rumsfeld being interviewed on right wing 'news' channel in the US.

Host: (laughing) "So what do you think about Howard Dean claming that the US cannot win the war?"
Rumsfeld: (laughing) "That is just ridiculous. We cannot lose. We cannot lose the war over there. The only place we can lose the war is over here, thanks to comments like that. We cannot lose over there. We cannot lose a battle over there, we will win every battle. Our technology, our fire power, our army, our courageous men and women. They can't beat us in battle.. that is just ridiculous."

What's that well known phrase about 'battles' and 'wars' again?

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I am reading... 

For days afterwards he cannot banish the thought: his mother waiting patiently in the blazing heat of December while he sits in the circus tent being entertained like a king. Her blinding, over-whelming, self-sacrificial love, for both him and his brother but for him in particular, disturbs him. He wishes she did not love him so much. She loves him absolutely, therefore he must love her absolutely: that is the logic she compels upon him. Never will he be able to pay back all the love that she pours out upon him. The thought of a lifetime bowed under such a debt of love baffles and infuriates him to the point where he will not kiss her, refuses to be touched by her. When she turns away in silent hurt, he deliberately hardens his heart against her, refusing to give in. - Boyhood, J.M. COETZEE.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Suffering for your art 

Today I'm frustrated.

The break-up happened long ago, although it really happened long before that.
It has been hard work. There are different stages and it's like you're island hopping, and from each island you strain to see the last and wonder if you were ever really there, and you strain to see the next and wonder if you will ever get there. And eventually you reach the mainland and you move on. Not because it's easy or desirable, but because the alternative, to let it own you, is just plain ludicrous.

It seems reasonable to expect something in return for all this hard work and effort. Me, I would like to write, and no writing of worth will come from robots. Robots will not tell stories of hearts singing or screaming; of feelings of ultimate power and potential and dreams of the future; and of loss when those dreams are taken away.

Surely you have to draw on your personal experiences, painful or joyous, if you are to remind your readers they are alive.

Without these experiences, I'm left with a string of uninteresting observations and bizarre exaggerated conclusions.

I'd be writing about a world where failure to clean up after your dog results in being shot by a sniper with a dart gun, pumping the owner full of quick-acting laxative - if you don't clean up after your dog, you'll be cleaning yourself up.

I'd be writing about a world where thousands of TV sports channels broadcast protracted build-ups to major football matches - some of them having started their coverage of the 'big game' decades ago. Presenters would be artificially bred to anchor just one pre-match commentary.

It’d be something like Orwell meets Kafka meets Jerry Seinfeld. Basically, a load of crap.

So maybe you can see why I haven’t quite been able to let go of everything, not just yet. Not until I've at least tried to create something of worth out of it. After all, it’s great source material. This sort of thing doesn't come along too often (thankfully), and I'd be crazy to ignore it.

I just haven't been able to write it down before. Well, I've written it down before, but that's just dumping everything on a page. I've not been able construct something useful from it; I just haven't been in the mood.
I've kept hold of a small part of it, I've picked at some small wounds that I should have left heal. Saving it all up from a time when I am ready.

Yes, I’m prolonging some of the suffering, but at least this suffering is going to be worth something.

It could be worse. If I were a real artist, I would jump at the chance of suffering for art. I’d lock myself in a room and shut out the world and go back and relive the whole thing.

Sod that, at the rate I work I’d have to drag the process out for years, and what a wonderful mess I’d be at the end of it.
There’s always the possibility you’d emerge brandishing some wonderful creation, but it’s more likely you’d waste years and come out with some drunken ramblings.

I’ll just draw on the ending then, with a few echoes from what came before. I’m not going to go back and try and remember what it was like and how I felt. I’m not going to do that to myself. For that I’ll have to wait until the next time it comes around; although I’m not sure where I’ll get the time to write about it while it’s happening. People in love have no time. Maybe in the past they would spend time apart and have time to contemplate their predicament. These days people in love spend all their time either gazing into each other’s eyes or visiting IKEA.

Back to the problem I wanted to talk about. Why I’m feeling frustrated.

The other day I was feeling suitable emotionally affected and suitably clear-headed at the same time, so I thought about writing.
Straight away I came up with a picture, a structure, some scenes; a vessel into which I could dribble my soul. I started to write and it started pouring out of me. I heard a voice on the page which I thought could be my voice. After an hour was very pleased with what I had written, but I was far from finished. I went to bed with my head full of ideas.

The next day I promised myself I’d return to the task in the evening. I’d been looking forward to it all day, but when I finally tried to set my mind to it, I struggled. I could barely write my own name. What had happened was that the previous evening’s writing exercise had helped me work through some of the outstanding process. I’d loosened my grip on what I had been holding on to and had stopped scratching the remaining wounds. I just couldn’t go back to the words I had written as my mind wasn’t in the same place.

So what am I to do now? I could go back to that last island and pick up where I left off. I could take myself back there if I really wanted to. But I really don’t want to.
I feel different now; lightened, clear-headed, logical with bouts of wild optimism. I really can’t face dragging myself back now that I know how I should be feeling.

Maybe I am destined just to write about trains and washing-up and stuff.

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Window seat gestures 

There are four or five gestures you need to master (perform and recognise) in order to smothly negotiate a busy train or bus journey:

1) [When sitting in the window seat] Perform the gesture that means: "I will be getting off at the next stop, please be aware and be prepared to stand up and let me get past. I don't want you to stand up straight away, just make sure you are ready when the time is right." You can get this message across by packing stuff into bags, fidgeting a bit, playing with your coat, looking at your watch, these sort of things.

2) [When sitting in the aisle seat] "I understand the movements you are making. I understand that you will be getting off at the next stop and..."

a) "..you want me to be ready, to make sure I can stand up at short notice without tipping my drink over my sandwiches etc. but not to let you past just yet."


b) "...I too will be getting off at the next stop so there is no need to ask to get past me when the time comes. I'm aware now that you will be getting off too, so I will get up and move to the door in good time incase that is your preferance - I will do this even though when on my own I tend not to stand up until the train stops"

3) [From the window seat] "I understand what you have just told me. I understand that you are now aware that I am getting off at the next stop.." (normaly done by relaxing whatever you were doing to execute gesture 1).

a) "...you will be ready to stand up and let me past when I am ready (when I say 'excuse me' and shuffle across the seat)


b) "...I am aware that you are also getting off at the next stop and am also aware that you will stand up and move towards the door in good time to cater for my wishes. I understand that you have indicated this clearly to me and for me to jump the gun and try to get past you would be considered rude"

The satisfactory performance of three of these gestures will result in two passengers having complete knowlage about eachother's intentions. They will know what the other person wants them to know and in addition they know that the other person also knows this.

Failure to execute one of these gestures can result in confusion and fustration. For example assume that gesture 3 is not performed satisfactoraly. The passenger in the aisle seat will be left thinking: "I know that he wants to get off at the next stop, but does he know that I know?"
While the window passenger who believes they have performed gesture 3 satisfactorarly is left thinking, "I have informed him that I know that they know that I want to get off at the next stop, but he's acting like he doesn't know this - he's still performing the gesture used to tell me he knows that I want to get off".

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Let the train take the strain 

Ok, time for my eagerly awaited collection of train related observations and anecdotes (who says I don't give you anything for Christmas):

First up.. two activities to make you feel special:

* Visit a major London station with a single large departure board (I used Kings Cross) in the evening rush hour. Stand in the middle of the throng of people staring at this board, but face in the opposite direction. Look around at everyone's face, then look diagonally upwards and imagine someone taking a photo of the scene. How special do you feel? I felt great for a while, then I felt like I was in one of those adverts for HSBC that claims that everyone is an individual. (Then I started imagining the next scene in the advert, me walking around a busy open plan office in smart suit and tie but with my penis hanging out.)

* This one only works on certain trains (it works on the inter-city between Swansea and London), also it works best if you've had a few drinks from the 'travelling buffet car'. This is the place where the 'travelling chef' lives. I always get excited when they announce "we have a travelling chef on board today," expecting that Ansley Harriot will be camping it up or Gorden Ramsey will insulting passengers. Then I remember what they really mean is that there is some spotty YTS kid warming up eggs in a microwave.

When the train is travelling at speed it becomes rather difficult to keep your balance when walking through the carriages. The tendency is to walk quickly and aggressively to give yourself enough forward momentum to avoid falling on the seated passengers. The automatic door system in these trains assists this approach as doors fly open almost instantly so as not to impede the lumbering idiot charging though them. They also make a cool hissing noise.

So here's what you do. Imagine you are a powerful wizard (travelling from London to Swansea to do battle with the forces of evil). Walk quickly from one end of the train to the other (on the way back from the buffet car to your seat). When you near a door throw your arm forward with out-stretched palm as if you are throwing a great electric blot towards the door which will then hiss and snap open (you obviously need to get the timing right). Yes, you do have the power to command doors to fly open! Continue through the next carriage without breaking stride and repeat. Your gestures can get and more elaborate (you could use both hands, or start to wind your arms up before unleashing the bolt).

I've only tried this once, had a few drinks inside me and it felt great. Great that is until I got to the last door, on which I used my most elaborate and powerful move. Both arms wound up, and a mini stride forward and a power-pose. The door hissed, then twitched, then started to open. Very, very slowly.

Anyway, give it a try, let me know how it feels.

(more train stuff to follow)

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

The hectic build up to Christmas 

All I want is a large room of my own. To sit in the middle of it surrounded by my own junk; organised, sorted and displayed. To feel clean headed and to have some space in which to think, plan and create.

What I have is a small room cluttered with my own junk, and no space to think. Small cluttered space cluttering my thoughts and ambition.

I can leave, but only through never ending, unfulfilling travel.

Here is my advent calendar:

Two Fridays ago I got up at 4am and drove through the snow to the train station. I had no change for the parking meter so had to drive back and return on a bike with frozen fingers and snow in my hair.
I took the train to London and changed at Reading for the Waterloo train. All the trains in my direction were delayed due to technical faults and all trains in the other direction were delayed due to some faults in someone’s life. (The trains are bad enough without people choosing to jump in front of them. Please Samaritans can you advise against it and suggest something a little less disruptive to the public transport system?).

On the way home I ran into the most crowded train carriage I’ve ever been contained in. I sprinted to catch the train in time and threw myself past the closing doors before realising there wasn’t really any room for me inside. We were packed tightly, forced to stare at each other ears, noses and throats as there was no room even to tilt head back slightly and gaze upwards. It was fun though. Forced into such personal space invasion, people had no choice but to talk. To make jokes, throw away comments about our predicament. All talk was addressed to everyone and most people joined in (Unfortunately I wasn't able to as my witty one-liners always come to me too late). A middle aged city type and an old man teased each other like they’d been friends for years, and we all chuckled. When the train stopped and the doors opened we all joked at the people on the platform trying to board. We were part of the group, we’d lived through something together, and they were the outsiders, jealous of what we had and desperate to get on, to become part of it.
When a major stop came and people started to leave and the crush started to ease, the older man joked goodbye, "I'm not being rude, but thank getting away from you lot, goodness knows what I've caught off you", then became serious and thoughtful and said, "Actually it's been quite fun, talking and all that. It's been nice. It's a shame it hardly ever happens". And I think everyone knew what he meant.

The next day I went to watch the rugby, and then went out with Rhys for beers afterwards.

I got up at 4am on the Sunday to take a taxi to the airport. The young polish guy serving coffee asked me if I realised that Espresso is strong and very small.

From there I flew to Moscow via Amsterdam.

That evening I was walking around Red Square.

I worked in Moscow the next morning then took a 2 hour metro ride back to the hotel before going out for a 4 hour walk.
In the end I got frightened by the size of everything. The roads, the buildings, the endlessness outside the inner-ring road. My imagination was in full flow and it terrified me.

The next morning I visited the offices again before getting a taxi to the airport.

I flew to Holland.

I worked in the offices in Holland on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They have a new coffee machine with a steam nozzle. On one occasion I spent five minutes heating and frothing a small cup of milk, fascinated that I could make a spoon stand upright in my creation. It tasted divine.
On Wednesday night I went out for Mexican food with some friends then tried to play snooker. I got back late.

On Friday I flew to Newcastle. I arrived about 9pm and went straight out to some pubs. I went to bed at 4am (I felt I was meeting myself getting up).

On Saturday I looked at some houses and put an offer in on one (that was later rejected).

On Sunday I went shopping for clothes. Very traumatic, rather expensive, and I don’t like anything I bought. Give me house hunting any day. I also went window shopping for espresso machines.

On Monday morning I got up at 4am. I took a taxi to the airport and flew to Bucharest via Amsterdam.

I felt sick and tired when I got there and decided to go to bed. I woke up later to get some food and do a little work.

I worked in the office on Tuesday. I went out for Hungarian food in the evening. Then back to the hotel to bitch about work.

I worked in the office on Wednesday before leaving directly for the airport and flying back to Cardiff.

On Thursday I worked from Cardiff. I had been blocked up all week, I managed to blow a marble-sized ball of black and green snot out of my nose, I was fascinated by it.

On Friday I woke up at 4am, biked to the train station and took the train to London.

I'm on my way home now.

Tomorrow I will drive, or take the train to Leicester. I will drink too much. I will eat curry and sleep in a cheap hotel room with another man who is always smug after having a poo (this really annoys me). I will wake the next day and drink too much. I will watch a game of rugby that we will loose (although there is always the remote possibility we will pull off the result of the decade).

I will take the train home (cross country on a Sunday, I must be mad).

I will work from Cardiff on Monday, Tuesday.

On Wednesday I will get up at 4am, take a taxi to the airport and fly to Holland.
I shall do a little work during the day then attend our Xmas party where I will drink a little and eat enough.
The next day I shall fly back to Cardiff.

I'll probably be assassinated by a Greenpeace hit squad on the way to the airport.
Taking a return flight to the continent just to attend an office Xmas do! I am a hypocrite if nothing else.

On Thursday I shall work from Cardiff.

On Friday I will get up at 4am and take the train to London.

On Saturday I will rest, wash clothes and pack.

On Sunday I will get up at 4am and take the taxi to the airport. I will fly to Los Angeles via Amsterdam. I will be tired when I arrive but I will hire a car and drive south for two hours in traffic (being a Sunday it will at least keep moving). It will be dark when I arrive at the hotel. I will sleep and wake very early the next morning.
I will go to the office on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday I will only stay there a few hours before leaving for the airport.

I will arrive back in Cardiff midday on Xmas Eve. Later I will drive to Swansea. I will probably not buy presents for anyone, but every year I care less and less. I will think myself clever and enlightened for not participating in such a pointless exercise (I will smugly give everyone 50 quid). But then will feel like a guilty, undeserving scum when I open a present bought for me with thought.

So what is the solution? The idea of shopping for consumer crap with 1000s of other brainless zombies wasting precious brain activity on stuff that probably nobody wants and certainly doesn't need, grates with me like running nails down a blackboard. The idea of being compelled to do something just because nobody has the balls to question this great big consumer trick that shops and marketing men and branding experts are playing with us (that I also fall for time and time again), upsets and annoys me. However, maybe it's just the fact that I hate being compelled to do anything.

So I hate shopping for other people, while other people thrive on it. Let's pretend for a moment that you didn't buy presents for people at Christmas. Instead it was tradition to write a computer program for them. You could do a good job and write a useful and thoughtful program, or you could make a token effort. You’d be subconsciously judged on how good a person you were by the effort you'd put in to this task. Now I wouldn't mind writing a few computer programs for people, I may have a few good ideas and come up with some good ones. Most other people would hate the idea. Tough shit, it's tradition and this is what you are expected to do. If you don't do it then you are thoughtless scum.

Maybe the computer program writing isn't a good idea. You'd need some sort of training or idea of what to do. I'll try again with something that other would find offensive and repulsive, maybe as offensive and repulsive as I find the act of shopping. Let's say that for Christmas you were expected to cut and arrange animal faeces and offal into amusing shapes, and that's what you present to your 'friend' or 'family member' on Christmas day. You'd start in November thinking about what shapes would be suitable for a particular person, and how you could go about creating them. This is a rather repulsive and pointless idea, but it's still somewhat better than the idea of shopping for crap made by Chinese slaves and containing a whole rainforest of packaging; and remember that this crap is only available to you because some fat rich people want to get fatter and richer and will do it by happily screwing you, and the environment, and the rest of the world. Any system responsible for putting families of giant animated teddy bears wearing Christmas hats and singing crappy Christmas songs in shopping centres at the end of October!! has to be evil right?

So my alternative could be to open a bank account and put fifty quid in it for each of the presents I should have bought. I could continue to add to it for birthdays when I couldn’t find a suitable present. After a few years we could use this money for something like going away for Christmas or giving to charity.

I’m tired and just want to stop moving.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

All I want for Xmas 

Assuming I get a house (wait until next week to find out):

* Gaggia Classic espresso machine
* Dualit Toaster
* A kettle (not one of those igloo shaped ones from IKEA)
* Clothes horse
* A Lucky Cat
* A Stuffed Animal
* A wine rack
* A painting or two. I have the one from Moorlands. I'd like to have one commissioned. Maybe one depicting our departed cats (Yowl, Jess, Dog) ruling the roost in animal heaven (being waited on paw and paw by dog slaves etc)
* A plant or two (something for outside that will fit in a walled yard)
* A tin opener
* Welcome mat
* "I am a personal shopping assistant" T-shirt
* A fruit bowl
* Some low energy light bulbs
* Socks
* Couple of second hand high back chairs like these
* Nasal hair trimmer
* Filing cabinet
* Iron. One that turns off automatically after 15 mins - cos I get paranoid about not turning it off, even when I know I have. I even have a little "I'm turning the iron off" song that I can sing when I'm turning the iron off. If I can remember singing the song I can normally accept that the iron is really off.

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