An extra hour and a half out of bed in the morning

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Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

Mentally, I am not best disposed towards the rush. Physically, I am as capable as the next man – unless the next man is Usain Bolt – or in fact any one of the many, many millions of people who are actually more capable of rushing than me, in which case I am patently not as capable as the next man. OK, I withdraw that. I’ll start that sentence again… Physically, I am quite capable of the last minute dash, but it does not suit me temperamentally. My morning routine has to be quiet, sedate even. I am a sloth on a mission. I factor in every manner of unforeseen circumstance (which I now realise renders them foreseen, but you get my drift) and rise about an hour and a half before I actually have to. My daily shower, dress, coffee, breakfast etc custom, takes up a fraction of the time I have available to me and, consequently, when all of that is done, I watch quite a lot of morning TV before I leave for work: specifically BBC Breakfast, and it is due to this regular TV consumption that, more and more, I find myself facing the day with a burgeoning sense of dullness in the soul. Not so much pessimism as the grinding realisation of ‘how things are’. The realisation that no matter how long I close my eyes, when I open them it will all still be there. And when our world leaders move over, it will just be for an even bigger schmuk.

Now, I do understand the restrictions imposed by the BBC Charter. I do understand that in order to physically demonstrate its impartiality, the beeb must give equal voice to both sides in any argument and, in order to do this, it is often necessary to interview representatives of both opposing parties simultaneously, whereupon I can do nothing but admire the interviewer for having the tenacity to get a word or two in edgeways every now and again. The ramming in of pre-prepared ‘soundbites’ would be accompanied by an audible ‘clunk’ were it not drowned out by the cacophony of two parties talking over one another at an ever-increasing rate of decibels, yelling ‘If you’d just let me finish…’ at some hapless reporter who is attempting to respond to a producer’s call to ‘wrap in thirty’ without punching somebody on the nose.

One feature of these confrontations is often an accusation by one party (and quite often both) of intransigence by the other; an unwillingness to negotiate. This is usually accompanied by the bald statement that a return to the table for full and frank discussions – without precondition is, in fact, conditional upon ‘the other side’ conceding to all demands before the negotiations begin, e.g. ‘We’re calling you out for not negotiating whilst we are demonstrably willing to negotiate – providing you give in first.’ What has happened to the English language? At what point did Negotiate come to mean ‘Earnest discussion on a subject of disagreement undertaken only after the point of the discussion has been conceded’? It’s nonsense, and it worries me.

In all aspects of this life, compromise is essential. Compromise works, but it is a two-way street. It only works when both sides compromise a little – otherwise for one side it is ‘giving in’ and for the other ‘total victory’; both are unhealthy options that can lead only to bitterness and disappointment – like grapefruit sorbet. Total victory smacks a little too much of bullying, and no-one is able to pick the positives out of total defeat. You are right to believe in the veracity of your own opinions, but wrong if you believe that you will persuade anyone else to support them by shouting loudly. Opinions are wasted if decisions have already been made. An imposition of definite outcome does little to engender positive suggestion and ‘I see your intransigence and raise it by my own obduracy’ will seriously help no-one. Disagreements are not settled in that way – even if you allow yourself an extra hour and a half in the morning in order to do it.

A compromise is an agreement where both parties get what neither of them wanted – Anon

A Wingful of Eyes*

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It’s amazing how often you have to go back to the beginning in order to find the end.

More often than not I begin to write with no clear concept of where I’m going. About half way through I begin to get some kind of clue of what I am trying to say and, by the time I begin to understand the point towards which I am painfully inching, I find that it has been there right from the start.

When you write, whatever you write, there are only three places you can be: the past, the present or the future. The past is ok, but it requires such a lot of research. Everything is checkable. Everything is verifiable. Everything is refutable. Even if the past is only used as a backcloth, it has to be correct. There will always be someone to tell you if it is not. The way I write, I tend to focus whatever concentration I can muster onto the voices rattling around inside my head. These internal conversations lead to everything else and when they take wing, it is a little too easy for me to take my eye off the factual ball. I don’t want to know that he couldn’t have switched the kettle on as electric kettles had not been invented at that date or she couldn’t have hidden the samovar in her knickers as no-one wore them then: the concentration necessary to get the background right would mean that I would have no chance of keeping up with the narrative popping around inside my skull. I would become the poor man’s AJP Taylor – and, for my money, one of those is quite enough. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. If you want to read what can be done by gloriously mixing together fact and fiction (both your own and that of others) have a gander at ‘W.G.Grace’s Last Case’ by the magnificent William Rushton and understand why I avoid even the slimmest chance of comparison with him like the plague.

The present, I find, is such a difficult tense to write in. The grammatical hoops through which one has to jump, chew you up (I know, I know, but these hoops can chew) and spit you out. Most fiction written in the here-and-now is actually written in the past tense (as, intriguingly is most fiction set in the future) because it makes things so much easier. The present is, however, a great place to write because it needs relatively little research – unless the taxman is reading, when it needs loads. I know what happens if I switch the kettle on – it blows the fuse because I never remember to put any water in it; I know what happens if I get on the number 9 bus – I arrive two hours later than planned, on the other side of town to my destination, with a fungal infection I most certainly did not have on departure. There are few constraints to setting your work in the present, for a start, most of us have absolutely no idea of what is actually going on, so we have no factual basis for saying ‘Hang on a minute, that would never happen’, and therefore opportunities to tamper with reality (or something similar to it) are almost limitless. You cannot deny that Donald trump is currently President of the United States of America, but I defy you to find any good, solid proof that he is not an alien lizard.

Push hard enough against the present and you will fetch up against the future. It waits in store for all of us: we are all heading towards the self-same exit door, but we will not all reach it at the same time. But (and this, I have just decided, is my point) what we do all gain with age is the belief that we can see how things are going – that having seen where they have been, we are somehow more able to understand what lies ahead. In that, we are, most of us, sadly deluded. Just take a glance at Brexit (sorry): whichever way it ends up going, whatever the eventual outcome, vast swathes of us will have been proven wrong in our prophecies of doom or in our visions of a golden tomorrow. That’s just the way it is. Few of us can assemble our experiences of today and somehow use them to accurately predict the shape of tomorrow. There are, of course, exceptions. ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ for instance, was written in the past, predicting a future that, for much of the world is now the present. The world is full of Big Brothers, China alone (it would seem) has a million Room 101’s. However, for every prediction of thoughtcrime we have one of a world ruled by mutant frogs. The thing about the future, it seems to me, is that it is actually just the past dressed up in a different way. The uniform has altered, but the righteousness of incontestable ‘truth’ remains unhindered. There will always be those that ‘do’; there will always be those who control those that ‘do’, and there will always be those that ‘do’ those that control those that ‘do’.

Maybe the ability to predict the future relies simply on the ability to observe the past and to understand just how, exactly, it evolved into the present. Change the names, throw in a pacifying drug, a constantly wittering radio companion, an overarching discipline, a war-mongering despot, a gullible proletariat, a never-ending war, a totalitarian regime and Presto! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the future. As I say, it’s amazing how often you have to go back to the beginning in order to find the end.

There is a feeling we all know
Something happened long ago
When you remember who you were
Makes you what you are today
*‘Wingful Of Eyes’ – Gong (M. Howlett)

Be born, grow, mature, die. Why?

 

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When I first saw the six word stories of PoojaG and Tetiana Aleksina/Tony Single I was, to say the least, intrigued. I am by nature an old windbag. I find it hard to stop myself before I have slopped six thousand words around the screen, never mind six. When I start, I seldom know where I’m heading until I get there. When I begin a piece I seldom have any idea of where I’m going to stop, until I hit the buffers.

So, what you have at the head of this page is my very own six word story. I was in some doubt as to whether what I had written actually qualified as a ‘story’, but when I looked it over it had a beginning, a middle and a definite end. It also had intrigue: it invited audience participation. (BTW, if you believe you know the answer, you are one of the lucky ones, don’t question your knowledge. Me? I struggle to understand the question.) It had, subject to your own imagination, the potential to encapsulate every possible plot device you can think of. I was quite pleased with it.

…And then my mind, as it does, skipped on. If I was to write an ‘average’ book-worth of such stories, it would contain ten thousand separate tales. Could any other author produce such an anthology? And if each story had a title? What if each title also included six words? A mere five thousand yarns in my collection. Not quite such an impressive tome perhaps, but still the source of a tale a day for within a whisker of fourteen years (allowing for bank holidays). More intriguingly, I could instead go for writing two blogs per hour, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, at my current output. (Obviously just one per hour with a six word title.)

But there is only so much one can take of a good thing, and God knows where that leaves me with just the fair-to-middling to offer.

I considered, briefly, the possibility of writing my blogs as I do now, before taking the scissors to them, à la David Bowie, and chopping out pithy six-word sections that would stand proud and profound in isolation. That, of course, threw up (or possibly down) yet another stumbling block: he was a genius, he could do that. I, in contrast, would probably end up with something that more closely resembled the contents of a six year old’s Scrabble board. Neither proud nor profound and probably, except in the most insubstantial of ways, not even a story.

And so, despite the manifold attractions of the six word way forward, I decided to return to the sort of claptrap that I am capable of producing, and to leave the six word stories to those who can do them, whilst I remain:

Watching what others do much better.

The Thinking Hat

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I have written before about not knowing what to write about – it’s what I write about when I don’t know what to write about. It happens surprisingly often. Most days I get home with pockets full of scraps of scribbled-on paper which, when laid out on my desk somehow coalesce into something coherent. Or at least as close to coherent as I ever get. I write pretty much every day and I write twice as much as I need. I have a computer full of ‘Just in case I can’t think of what to write about’ pieces and I do raid them every now and then. I could publish twice the number of blogs I actually do, but I do not do so for two very good reasons:
1. I realise that I already skate upon the perilously thin ice of boring you to death, and doing so on an even more regular basis could very well be terminal for both of us, and…
2. Well, it’s tempting fate isn’t it? I know my brain. The very second I let it into my little secret ‘Listen, we’re easily writing enough waffle to get us through six blogs a week. I think I’m going to go for it.’ It will seize like an outdoor padlock and no amount of WD40 will get it open again.

This is the state into which my cerebrum has currently descended. It does so maybe once a fortnight. It hitches up its drawers and lurches off into its dark corner, pulling the door tight behind it, where it rocks gently back and forth, sucking its thumb and screaming for silence – I hate silence. Sometimes I leave it alone, knowing that by tomorrow it will be back to its old self and spewing out more tripe than I know what to do with, but other times I fear that its hermit days might become permanent and I need to face it out.

Shaping up to the content of one’s own head is not always straightforward. For a start, if it doesn’t want to come out to play, it isn’t always easy to make it. Coffee will sometimes drag it out; chocolate or whisky (all three if it is being unusually intransigent) but flushing the bloody thing out into the open isn’t guaranteed to make it co-operate. Sometimes it sulks like a five-year old child, swallowing its Lego so that it can’t possibly eat broccoli, sometimes it just stares at the wall. And you have to be particularly careful about where the confrontation takes place. What happens inside your head can quite often spill out of your mouth, and that seldom looks good on the bus.

I’ve been writing for many years: sometimes moderately successfully, sometimes less so, but always writing. I was taught long ago that writer’s block does not exist and, although I know very well that it does, I adhere to this mantra. What I was taught to do was to write – it doesn’t matter what – that the very act of writing will spur the brain into action and, after a little cough to clear its throat, it will start to drip gold onto the paper. I know people who routinely throw away the first thousand words they write every day because they know it will be junk. There are days when I would willingly go through their bins. There are many days when the first thousand words I write are the only thousand words I write and, junk or no junk, they are kept for future reference. It’s a bit like being bored to death by a 0-0 draw, but keeping the game on the recorder just in case you somehow missed a goal, despite the fact that you know the final score.

Now, I must ask you to indulge me here, I am not prone to navel gazing: it has never really helped me and anyway, I can’t do it without a mirror these days. What I am currently gazing at is (are?) my finger nails. Don’t worry, I have not pulled them out in a fit of pique: they remain attached firmly to my digits. A little too firmly in fact. You see, I have a nail which routinely splits along its length. (Yes, I would love to know why.) It drives me mad, so I have taken to superglueing it together. And, yes, I know you are miles ahead of me, what I am currently looking at is a handful of glistening finger nails, attached to fingers with which I dare not pick up anything. I cannot decide what to do with them. I cannot, for instance, type into Google ‘What should I do with a handful of superglue?’ knowing that I will get no further than ‘W’… and I do not want to become any more firmly attached to the keyboard than I already am. I dare not run them under the tap, as I’m pretty certain that it will just set my fingers in such a manner that to separate them will mean that I have to succeed where Al Capone failed; by removing my own fingerprints. I have no idea of the depth of skin on a finger, but I’m pretty certain that set superglue goes deeper. Anyway, what I am currently doing is watching it as it dries and typing, as best I can, with my one unaffected pinkie.

Ah yes, and there is one more thing you need to know. I am wearing a hat. It is my thinking hat. It didn’t start off as my thinking hat, you understand. It started off as my hat. I have a head that is generally unsuited to titfers, but I found this one last year and I liked it: my wife didn’t object too strongly and only one of my children refused to be seen with me whilst I was wearing it. So I wore it. However, spring has now unfurled into summer and a much lighter hat has become de rigueur. My grey felt hat has taken up residence in my office and I have developed a habit of wearing it whenever I am searching for an idea. Due to the finger-issue I have been unable to remove it. I do not want to take it with me wherever I go, so, on my head it remains until my fingers have dried. Still, it’s not all bad. It has given me the germ of an idea…