Friday, 14 December 2012

Xmas Filler

I haven't done one of these for a while. None of the ideas seem right. Or rather, they seem right when I have them walking alone through the streets of Norwich in the dead of night: cold red hands clenched in too-thin pockets; hat-brim pulled down to shield my eyes from the hail; mind full of ideas, songs, memories, philosophical musings and accurate skewerings of people who have annoyed me at work. It's just that when I sit down at my computer the following morning (oh, all right, afternoon, whatever - the period immediately after waking up) the ideas that fizzed and sparkled from my mind's keyboard the night before feel heavy and forced and I have to spend an hour playing chess with random strangers in the hope that I might win one and feel better about myself.

I like to treat my readers to an Xmas poem, but I'm running out of time and haven't written one yet, fortunately my archive has come to my rescue with this winter-themed haiku. Whenever I do a haiku post, I like to give a little fact about these lovely Japanese poems. Everybody knows the syllable count, and way back in 2009 I told you that the plural of haiku is haiku, but did you know that a true Haiku should reference the weather?

A Winter Haiku

Like snowmelt, a friend
Departs. Beauty lost may not
Return next winter.

Anyhow, enough of the Xmas cheer. Tonight, I face another night of office party pub crawls and choristers on their way to carol services and people, faces red with the chill of the December night, asking if we do mulled wine. Think of me if you are out tonight and offer the barman a drink. And remember, when he says, "Thank you, I'll take a half of Guinness," the correct response is: "Have a pint." 

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Choral Variation (part one - the early weeks)

What constitutes a band? (Don't worry this is a reminiscence post not a musing on a possible relation between string-theory and M-theory - but in case Stephen Hawking is reading, remember you read it here first. And Stephen, I also once came up with a convincing and beautiful explanation of universe generation involving an infinite yet curved geometric plane spinning into a kind of multidimensional blade after a night drinking Guinness and Sambucca. So, if you ever feel the creative intuitions drying up, I recommend Guinness and Sambucca - not in the same glass obviously!) I've digressed too much, I'll start again:  

What constitutes a band? As a founder member of Nineties Dorset phenomenon: the Choral Variation, I like to answer this question in the broadest possible way. A band is any group of people who call themselves a band. The Variation were not hidebound by the sort of conventional activities of rehearsing or playing gigs, nor did we bother with such conventions as learning to play our instruments properly or sing. Nevertheless, a band we called ourselves, therefore a band we were.   

The band consisted of me, Jamie, Le-ann, Julia and (occasionally) Ed. Three of us met up at a celebration of Ed's wedding last week and they reminded me that we had written a song in 1996 imagining ourselves as adults. Regular readers know that I seldom throw away anything - so I dug it out when I got home. It has a certain melancholy sweetness in its naivety. Here it is in full - notes follow (The only alteration I have made is to change my own real name to Finn to preserve the anonymity of this blog.)

The Summer of '96

Do you remember the summer of '96 
When we didn't know what was to come?
Do you remember the summer of '96
When everything we did was fun?  

It was the year before I left this town
And we all stated to lose touch,
When the days drew in and the sun went down,
I found I couldn't do as much.

Do you remember the times we spent playing whist
And writing songs outside?
Do you remember the times we spent getting pissed
And remember how hard we tried?

The tiny problems seemed so big
But they were never quite like now.
Looking back and thinking of it
We solved them as we knew how.

I got a letter from Ed yesterday,
Says that he's doing alright
Since he left these shores for the USA
Searching for his endless night.

Three weeks ago I saw Leann
But I had nothing left to say.
I kept in touch as best I can
Though she lives so far away.

As for Julia she joined the force
And sailed across the world.
Friendship never ran its course
But then, that's how life unfurled.

And finally Finn settled down
Had two daughters and a son.
He lives in a small suburban town
But there's so much that he hasn't done.

The original was sung in the first person by Jamie on our debut album 'To infinitively split' - and was inspired by the fact that Jamie was moving to Somerset (a whole thirty miles away) and our adolescent reflections on what that meant for our futures. Finding Yeovil too cosmopolitan and crowded for his tastes, Jamie left for Bangor in North Wales and eventually settled on the Isle of Man.

I got a letter from Ed a few weeks ago inviting me to his wedding reception. He has no plans to relocate to the USA.

I bumped into Le-ann unexpectedly at a gig in Dorchester a couple of years ago, we had plenty to say to each other.

Julia never joined the navy, thank goodness.

I have no progeny. I live near the centre of a small city. There is so much that I haven't done. But that could be true of anyone. I can only suppose arrogant, cocky 15-year-old me, intended it as a warning to cynical 31-year-old me: settle down, breed, live in suburbia, regret. In that order. Annoyingly, he can talk to me by writing contemptuous song lyrics on a sunny day in 1996, but I can't talk to him until Hawking finishes that time machine - someone buy him a sambucca!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Set of all Sets

I couldn't sleep last night and, like most people (I'm guessing - I haven't done a poll or anything), when faced with insomnia, I like to think about some of the great problems of analytic philosophy. "Does the set of all sets contain itself?" I wondered. Here is some of my reasoning presented in that most venerable of philosophical forms: the dialogue.

Bertrand: Does the set of all sets contain itself?

Freddie: Yes. Obviously. Otherwise it would be indistinguishable from the set of all sets except itself.

Bertrand: But, if the set of all sets contains itself, the copy of itself within itself also contains itself and so on.

Freddie: wtf! Mind = blown! 

Bertrand: I thought you'd like that.

Freddie: So the set of all sets does not contain itself?

Bertrand: But if it does not contain itself then it is at least one set short and can't really be the set of all sets.

Ludwig: It's a meaningless question. Try counting sheep.

Bertrand: Pay attention Ludwig, he tried that here.

Freddie: He was much better in those days, look it's got a nice photograph and a little poem... 


Friday, 7 September 2012

On songwriting.

Some songs take longer to write than others. The earliest draft of this one comes from a journal I kept in 1999.  Versions of it pop up in notebooks for the next ten years as I revisited and tweaked it. I wrote the final verse in 2009 and did some final editing today. I once recorded an early version of it on a four-track at the Pondorosa in Martinstown. I played the guitar and sang and Phoebe Thomasson played treble recorder. The producer, Jonnyboy, suggested I lay down the vocal track twice to compensate for my natural descant (weak voice) so I got to sing along with myself!

I could hear Andy say
As he hurled his Earl Grey at the door,
"Roll me another joint
'cause I can't see a point anymore.
All the love in my world
Appears to have curled up and died.
Now nobody can know 
The hate I feel so: it's inside."

I could hear Andy yell,
"We might all go to hell anytime."
That, "To like to get high
And to love her were my only crimes.
So roll me a spliff 
And one for later if there's enough.
For now she is gone
From this moment on it gets tough."

I could hear Andy shout 
As he staggered about in the hall,
"I'll cope, I'll get through
I don't need her and you hate them all.
Maybe, it wasn't just her,
Never knew if you were on my side.
All the love in my world
Appears to have curled up and died."

I could hear Andy cry,
"I don't care if I die after this."
Then he calmly explained
That he'd opened his veins at the wrists.
I remember the words -
The last that I heard Andy say
Were, "I'm so sorry bud
'bout the tears and the blood and Earl Grey."

As far as I am aware the recording only ever existed on a minidisc (remember them? My spellcheck doesn't). 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

On work

Nothing kills creative endeavour like having to go to work. Ubilol hasn't blogged for months.  Now she's got a proper job, who knows when we will get another sublime piece of artistic prose or a slanted defence of Bertrand Russell's inability to answer a taxi driver.

Russell famously said that there are only two types of work: Moving matter around at or near the surface of the Earth and telling other people to do so. Perhaps, in the 21st Century, there are two more: Rearranging information in a digital format and working in a call centre.

I've spent the last decade moving matter around for money and when my boss left me in charge for two weeks got to experience the horror that is telling other people to do so. I had to take two weeks off to recover.

Now I'm back from my holiday and committed to my new regime of working less and writing more. Just like Bertrand would've advised. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Fourth of July

Exactly a year ago, my friends Kate and Chris got married. I wrote a poem as a gift to them and performed it to the six people who were still awake at midnight on day three of the party they threw. I thought I'd post it here today as it has a topical title.

A Declaration of Dependence

Geography wed Geography
When the Old World wed the New.
The Old World's got the lineage,
The New World's got the view.
But the waters of the Schuylkill
And the Irwel mingle true.
The Angel of the North wed Liberty,
The Old World wed the New.

History wed History
When the Old World wed the New.
Paul Revere went riding
With Lady Godiva nude.
Walpole slept with Washington
And hilarity ensued.
Dependence was declared between 
The Old World and the New.

Bitter ale wed lager
When the Old World wed the New.
The foaming cream of Manchester 
Came wrapped in a Ribbon of Blue.
When John Smith met Jack Daniels,
He said "How do you do?
I think we'll chase each other now
The Old World's wed the New."

Fantasy wed Fantasy
When the Old World wed the New.
Buffy gave up slaying vampires
To travel time with Doctor Who.
Bagpuss donned his thinking cap
To solve mysteries with Scooby Doo.
Henry's Cat wed Lisa Simpson.
The Old World wed the New.

I recommend you check out the happy couple's blogs (links under their names above). Kate is documenting the progress of writing her second novel. Chris writes the weekly Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure.  


Friday, 8 June 2012

Littoral lullaby

My putative novel has reached the traditional 15000 word abandonment point so I spent a week writing a poem about a mermaid.  Not your standard lobster-befriending, clamshell-bra-wearing disneyfication but The Mermaid from Dorset folklore.  


In Dorset folklore, The Mermaid is a fearsome creature who can control the waves and is often held responsible for deaths at sea. Superstitious fisherfolk will throw some of their catch back in the water to appease her. This practice is known as paying the Mermaid's share.


The Mermaid's Share


On clifftop sands,
A young girl stands,
A spyglass to her eye.
With hopeful gaze,
She softly prays
Her da's ship will come by.


Beyond the Fleet,
Where two seas meet
Around the Portland Bill,
The sharkskin breeze
Breeds lethal seas
That slaughter sailors still.


A dangerous place,
The Portland Race
Can sink a ship at will.
One trawler braves
The fearsome waves,
Her lobster pots to fill.


And on her bow,
The Captain proud
Recalls his daughter's plea:
"Don't sail today,
Oh Da please stay,
Don't go no more to sea!


Last night I dreamt 
The waters rent
And pulled your trawler down.
And from the main
The Mermaid came
And sang and watched you drown."


"Why, Molly dear
You need not fear!"
The Captain deftly lied.
"Since I was three
I've worked the sea,
Poseidon's on my side.


I've trawled the deep,
Seen Dolphin's leap,
I've paid the Mermaid's share!
This evening, if
You scale the cliff
I'll wave to you up there."


Upon the cliff,
A girl stands with
A spyglass at her side.
She shades her gaze
From low sun rays
That light the evening tide.


With squinting eyes,
A ship she spies
In peril on the sea.
Her raised spyglass
Reveals the mast
And rudder broken free.


The crew of two
Kick off their shoes
And dive into the sea.
Their lives to save
As rising waves
The old ship's fate decree.


The Captain now
Grips hold the bow
And offers up a prayer.
He knows their fate
But it's too late
To pay the Mermaid's share.


With deafening crash,
White horses dash
The Captain overboard.
He gasps for breath
And prays that Death
Comes quickly for them all.


The briny cold
Grasps at his soul,
No help can hear his screams.
A haunting sound 
Wails to the drowned,
A song from Mermaid dreams:


"I sing to you,
A captain who
Ignored me once before.
You cast your net,
Repay the debt 
You owe to sea and shore.


You trawled the sea
Since you were three,
You stole my bounty fair!
But in your greed
You saw no need
To pay the Mermaid's share.


You sailors three,
You lied to me
And lied to kin on shore.
And for that sin,
With me you'll swim
Down here forever more!"


On clifftop steep,
A young girl weeps
For loss beyond repair.
And vows her sons,
In years to come,
Will pay the Mermaid's share.  




Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Giant nuclear ape

In an earlier post, I mooted the idea of changing the banner at the top of this blog to better reflect its nature now that I am teetotal, debt free and no longer writing a novel. Okay I lied about the first two and the third is the subject of this entry.

How on earth did I think, three years ago, that writing a novel would be a good thing to do with a hangover and that it might solve my debt problems? Everybody knows the only way to pay off debts is to borrow more from another provider and hope that your future self will be better equipped to deal with the problem than you are. Hangovers are even easier: just wash down a double dose of ibuprofen with my patented ratio of orange juice and bubbly water and you'll be back down the pub in no time.

Hangovers and debts are BAD reasons to write a novel. A plausible good reason might be that you can't work out how to change the banner at the top of your blog or that you are a self-obsessed pseudo-existentialist with too much time on his hands. As I fit both these categories, I thought it high time I had another go at a longer project. And this time, I thought, just for a different challenge: no time-travel, spaceships or zombies.

You are probably thinking that I have set too hard a task for myself and you're probably right. I'll probably run out of steam and have to introduce an improbable apocalyptic event (supervolcano, anyone?) at about 15000 words, but for the time being my theme is rural decline due to the evils of capitalism (and definitely not the ravishings of a giant nuclear ape created in a secret government experiment).

As an inveterate city dweller who tends to rise at the crack of noon, I am obviously ill-suited to tackle this subject on imagination alone. So I e-mailed one of my contacts in the farming industry (oh alright, my brother) and asked him to describe milking procedures to me in a few brief lines which he duly did and, well, I never drank that much milk anyway and its amazing what they can do with almonds these days.     

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Nodding off

I'm something of a champion sleeper - averaging about 10 hrs a day. A casual reader will be able to infer two facts from this:
that I have no children and I don't drink caffeinated beverages. Readers who know me, of course, know that I am just bone idle!


Peaceful lethargy


Spending time in bed
I love days like these
Lying like I'm dead
In peaceful lethargy.
Light a cigarette
Play an old LP
Maybe I'll forget
To get up today.
I have drunk and danced
And taken drugs instead
But given half a chance
I'd rather stay in bed.


Occasionally, however, this very laziness can lead to a seeming paradox: I find myself unable to sleep but unwilling to get up. The classic solution to this is to count sheep. As a child, I remember trying this and not being very good at it. I still don't know if you are supposed to imagine a field full of static sheep and count each one or are you supposed to count them as they move through a gate from one field to a neighbouring one? Both methods have their problems.  In the 'static' scenario - it is very difficult to hold the image in your head whilst you count and in the moving scenario it is very easy to miss one unless you imagine a very narrow gate of the sort more commonly used for humans than livestock. For instance, a sheep could not navigate a kissing gate.




I solved this conundrum by just counting numbers instead. Although after a while I found this a little slow and so started doubling numbers instead.


Slightly off topic, but the highest number in my Penguin dictionary of curious and interesting numbers is Graham's Number. This links to a short description of it that ends with a sort of joke.







Wednesday, 21 March 2012

On Moving

I recently moved in with my girlfriend, Charlie. Moving house takes longer each time I do it. I don't know why I accumulate so much paper. Always a chance for a good sort out, I finally threw out all my university notes (after a quick glance to confirm my suspicion that I would never need to enlighten myself or others about Bare Phase Structure again). However I can never bring myself to part with old journals, scribbled notes and half finished poems. The reason moving house takes longer each time I do it is that I like to sit down and re-read all of these before deciding that I can't bear to part with them.


Increasingly, this blog has become a place where I like to share these poetic or philosophical musings with my loyal core of followers (Hi!). I should really get around to changing the banner at the top as I haven't been writing a novel for about two years now (although I did recently almost complete a short story about some ladybirds).


My hero, the poet Adrian Mitchell (whom I was privileged to meet on three occasions and with whom I once shared a lift from Bridport to Dorchester) told me that if you ever write a poem for someone you should share it with them. This next, I wrote over a decade ago for a girl on another continent that I fell in love with when I was 17. I found it tucked into a journal of abandoned playscripts and an essay on morality that I appear to have cribbed from Plato.  


A Song for...


When the air was full of music
And the sky was full of stars,
When we sat and watched the Arkansas
And dreamt the world was ours.
When the nights were lit by moonlight
And the days afire with sun,
When we drove up through the mountains
Or to Pueblo just for fun.
When time was an illusion
And hours could seem like days,
When your smile was full of laughter
Or your angry eyes ablaze.
When the room was filled with blue grey smoke
Drawing patterns in the air,
When we stopped and talked for hours with friends
And when no-one else was there.
When we swapped our life experience,
Our sorrows and our joys,
When I think I see your puzzled face
Or hear the softest voice.
My mind is full of memories
Of the times we had back then,
When you reach out - I'll hear your call
And I'll come back to you again.


And in the shadow of the hills,
Beneath your mournful gaze,
I'll hold your hand in silence
And we'll dream of future days.