Monday, 31 December 2007

The Winter People

My novel starts with a prologue. I reproduce it below to complement the estuary photographs.

We live on the Northmarsh: this is the place where we live.

Waves of time break on the foreshore of this echoland. The salt-driven winds, funnelling through the estuary, touch our lives until they are swallowed by the hills and ridges that protect us from our enemies.

We are the spirits of Neanderthal people, overpowered by the force of the equinox tides, broken by the persistent cold. Sometimes we are summer people basking in the crisp white sunlight, but mostly we are winter people: living on the sea rim, foraging for scraps until the daylight becomes bright again.

We were alive in this place thirty thousand years ago, yet we are diminished into silence by the age of the hills. Imagine a world where a hundred years pass in a minute. We get a much better view of the place this way: things take time to develop properly.

In this world, we lived on the Northmarsh five hours ago; the hills that fed and protected us were made ten years earlier. Ten years of silence and the sounds of wind, water and animal song. In this world, we learned to sing.

Early in the morning, when the pink light touches the hills you can believe that time has stood still, but the illusion is soon broken. Stone Age people breathed only eight minutes before the present. We are far older than that: we are Neanderthal.

In this story, echoes of the past resound in the present. Ian Mason, the dreamer they call ‘Ina’, lives in the today. He and his friends are changed by the Northmarsh. They deny this, of course, but they are as touched as we are by the evening sun dipping below the waves.

Like us, they dream of riding the smooth surface of the sea. Unlike us, they dream of sailing boats, whilst we drown in the deep darkness. Like us, they pass like shadows over the landscape; unlike us they dream of a future for their children.

The sea is ever new, but has travelled the tidal currents since before our time. We bide our time and we watch the story unfold. How does Ina win the battle for life, whilst our children perished in the storms? What have they gained and what have we lost? Now we shall tell a story for ourselves.

As above, so below.

We are burned by the dreams that come at nightfall. They hold us, own us, and leave us unable to breathe. We have no words to soothe their pain, no language to share their terror. Our dreams stay in our heads. We feel, but we cannot discuss. We hurt, but we cannot share. In the icy cold on moonless nights, we burn. Are we the only people living in our heads?

Ina dreams his life in a digital age. He is burned by images that come through his computer screen. A moment’s abuse can be captured and shared for the world to see. Private moments become public property as tears of grief are turned into bits of information, and sent round the world forever.

This is his modern life: ideas, thoughts and experiences can be reduced to information objects. Saved objects live forever; unsaved objects are lost forever if their power is withdrawn. But which dreams will survive, and which will be lost? See how they compete with each other for his attention. Observe their struggle for existence: only the fittest survive.

Abracadabra: ‘the blessing and the curse’.

We are careful to conceal ourselves; the living people may glimpse us under falling leaves or out of the corners of their eyes, but never face to face. That alone is Ina's blessed gift and pitiable curse.

In this story, nothing is as it seems. We see the ice from the snowfields turn to melt water in the spring and then boil into steam on our fires. Everything flows and nothing stays. 'You cannot step twice into the same river'. For Ina and his friends this is true, but not for us. We are ghosts.

Will we tell a new story, or an old one with a different twist?

Once upon a time.
Once there was, and once there was not.

In nomine Matris,
Et Sororis,
Et Spiritus Sancti

This is the start of our story.


A lot has happened since my last posting. I have been revising the early chapters of my novel to send to an agent. I tend to hone and hone my writing. There is a real danger in trying to over-explain things, so the reader has his/her mind made up by the author. So, a lot of this editing is losing words here or there that 'scaffold' the plot. I am trying to increase the dramatic tension, and you can't do that if you over explain or (even worse) predict and flag up the tension too far in advance.

My story is set in a place called Northmarsh. It is based on a town in Somerset UK called Clevedon that I know well. It is a Bristol Channel port with the second biggest tidal range in the world. There is something very elemental about living on an estuary, always conscious of the tidal flow. It looks as if humanity evolved close to estuaries and tidal rivers, when our diet was rich in sea food and oily fish. (This adds an interesting evolutionary twist to the Omega 3 and intelligence debate).

Limestone and tidal surges. No wonder our Victorian forebears wanted to stamp their superiority on the place by building a monumental pier!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Bearing fruit (i)

Many thanks for your interest and for your comments. They are thought-provoking and really welcome. Neanderthals live in our minds as more than bones and artefacts. I am reminded that they were more than organic brains and buckets of neurotransmitters, too. Certainly more, but not less, either.
Inuit women, I read, stop menstruating in deepest winter in response to declining melatonin levels, prompted by short day lengths. What if... Neanderthals conceived in the Spring/early summer, to give birth in late fall/winter. How important (and risky) was winter feeding, tracking the herds?
And if the FOXP2 gene was different in Neanderthals, then my presuppositions about their linguistic limitations have some plausibility.
So many competing ideas. I think I want to pay tribute in coming posts to four great thinkers who have given me more food for thought than I can ever properly express: Steven Mithen, Susan Blackmore, Stan Gooch, Carl Jung. Completely different - and doubtless each would be uncomfortable with some of the other names in the list. They are not the same - indeed they could not be more different in their work. Think of them as four points on the compass that guide me through the landscape.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Magnolia petals

Thiyel stirs at the back of the cave, where he is sleeping off a meal of doe deer that he ate earlier in the afternoon. Maxtla rises and moves towards Thiyel, pulling the fur blanket back to reveal his small barrel-like body with its dense covering of reddish hair. He is bruised and has hips gnarled by arthritis, but he is still gaunt, strong and fit. He stands up.

Maxtla turns to Thiyel and shows him a withered magnolia petal. Maxtla holds Thiyel’s arm and he falls silent, taking his hands off his genitals. She points with her other hand in the direction of the stream. Thieyel looks in that direction and a picture of a flowering tree on the streamside comes into his mind. Maxtla taps six times on Thiyel’s wrist. “Go”, she says. Thiyel grunts, rearranges his furs and steps out into the moonlight, touching Maxtla's breasts as he leaves. Will he remember what he has gone for?

Later, Thiyel returns with ten magnolia petals and the body of a small rodent that he found decaying by the stream.

Friday, 24 August 2007

'The Inheritors' by William Golding

Another way of exploring the problems of Neanderthal psychology is to look at the work of other authors that have ploughed this particular furrow before. Joseph Carroll, a University teacher from Missouri, provides a powerful set of tools for evaluating these kinds of novels. My own, less sophisticated, attempts are below:

William Golding wrote 'the Inheritors' in 1955 and I think it is a brilliant piece of writing. His premise was that the Neanderthals were gentle hunter-gatherers, an idea in marked contrast to the zeitgeist at the time.

He writes almost the whole book from the point of view of the Neanderthals, who do not understand the dramtic changes that are happening to them. For this reason, the plot is quite hard to follow on the first reading. A good synopsis appears here.

Golding establishes his world view from the opening lines and we can use chapter one to look at how he does his. The main protagonist is called Lok.

"Lok was running as fast as he could...Lok's feet were clever. They saw. They threw him round the displayed roots of the beeches, leapt when a puddle of water lay across the trail...Now they could hear the river that lay parallel but hidden to their left."

Golding gives Lok's feet human-like powers: they see, they hear, they guide. Further, Lok is dependent and trusts his feet to guide him. This hints at a lack of integration that I discussed previously. Instead of Lok being lord and master of his feet, Lok is subservient.

The language is enriched by close attention to the world around him (the trees were beeches, the roots were displayed, the river lay parallel), which gives a real sense that Lok is at one with his world.

Golding has his characters speak to each other in short sentences:

"Faster! Faster!"
"There, Liku."
"The log has gone away."
"One day. Perhaps two days. Not three."
"I have a picture."

There is no use of past or future or tenses or the subjunctive mood. This is consistent with the idea that Neanderthal language was less sophisticated than our own.

This causes novelists great problems, partly because dialogue is an essential way of developing the plot. It can be a succinct alternative to pages of description.

Golding overcomes this by the use of 'pictures' which can be shared between the Neanderthal family. The pictures are visually rich and seem to convey a sense of urgency and emotional mood.

In the novel, the character Ha is praised as having 'many pictures' and Lok's leadership qualities are questioned because he does not have reliable pictures.

This is a powerful plot device, which is almost irresistable. Jean Auel seems to use it extensively in the Clan of the Cave Bear. However, is there any evidence that such an ability ever existed?

I think it unlikely. Chimpanzees seem to rely on vocalisation and imitation to convey complex information. Their hunting stategies rely on vocalisations and young animals learn from the older ones. If Neanderthal genes mixed with Cro-Magnons (and that is a big if) then we might expect to see evidence of this kind of telepathy between modern humans and within ancient tribes. I think that the evidence for this is weak. Susan Blackmore's acknowledged failed search for evidence of psi should make us nervous of accepting telepathy.

[This is not the same as saying that primitives (such as Aboriginals) do not visualise and remember their landscapes as images.]

Yet, novelists need to find a way of getting their Neanderthal characters to talk with other and convey information without boring the pants off their readers.

Back to the writing page...


Maxtla stares into the cold heart of the fire and tastes her racing heartbeats. A dark shadow, the aura of a raven’s wing, drifts across her eyes, blocking her view of the flames. Her heartbeats taste as wet earth on tired bones. Her breathing deepens and her heartbeats slow: the shadow lifts and takes the taste away. She knows that something is about to happen. A headache forms deep in the nape of her neck as the muscles tighten.

The scent of burning fat rises from the fire. Maxtla stirs as a memory of a warmer day floats into the air. She looks into the flames and sees an older woman holding a leg bone that was once her father. ‘Moon’, a voice screeches in the back of her head. ‘Watch for the moon’, says the wise woman who listens to the screeching crone. Her mother raises the leg bone higher and passes through the flames. She starts to chant phrases from her past.

‘Tonight, Maxtla,’ mother commands. ‘It must be tonight. Look at the moon.’ Maxtla looks up and the clouds clear to show the face of the full Sap moon. A shaft of white light illuminates the darkness as her mother fades into shadow. The old crone jabbers ‘Now’, and the wise woman advises, ‘be ready’. Images from her girlhood drift across the fire, she tastes red droplets on her lips and hears a scream of separation; she now knows that the evening will grow much darker. Her legs shoot pain upwards and tell her to move. She rises and bows her head to the spirit of flames.

Beside Maxtla sleeps Tronkyin, an ailing child, one whom the gods seek. Breathing fitfully, with short wheezing breaths, the baby’s grip on the present is weakening. Maxtla strips bark from a young willow branch and rubs the juice on the child’s lips. Tronkyin licks the juice, winces at the bitter sweetness and falls into a deeper slumber.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Inner eye

Well, how was it for you? Did yesterday's writing get you closer to thinking like a Neanderthal? For me, it was ok. Just about ok. It was interesting how the vocal contributions of the left and right hemispheres became 'personified' as the wise woman and the crone. I was not expecting that and this sails us straight into Jungian archetype territory, which could be quite significant.

I think that clues to Neanderthal thinking must be found in contemporary people whose brains are 'less integrated' than usual. For example, synesthetes, whose sensory experiences of taste, sound and colour get blurred.

'Maxtla stares into the cold flames of the fire and tastes her heartbeats...Her heartbeats taste as wet earth on tired bones.'

Well, its a start, but I think the blending could and should go further.

One symptom of schizophrenia is visual, auditory or olfactory (smell) hallucinations, thought to be caused by reduced activity of the pre-frontal cortex.

This moves the experience on one stop further down the tube line to the primitive. The voices - become personified - and are experienced 'out there' (in the 'real world') rather than 'in here' (in the unreal world of my head).

I remember reading Jung saying that the hallucinations of schizophrenics were not random rubbish, but revealed 'truths' that the schizophrenics could never have learned. This was evidence of the collective unconscious. In his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung describes encounters with unconscious objects in his mind, that read like ghostly projections.

A dark shadow, the aura of a raven’s wing, drifts across her eyes, blocking her view of the flames.

This is the most difficult passage in the writing, yet the most compelling. Where was the shadow? Was it on the outside of her eye (between the flames and the eye), within the eye (like a detached retina) or within the brain - in which case how could it 'block the view of the flames'?

There was a woman called 'Ruth' in the 1980's who was reputed to hallucinate solid objects. She was studied by Richard Gregory. She was apparently able to hallucinate the image of her daughter on her lap, and the amount of light entering her eyes was allegedly reduced in proportion. Gregory concluded that there was some evidence of this:

'the supposed hallucinations acted like coloured filters held over the eye.'

So, perhaps there is a continuum between 'in here' and 'out there', which the novelist could explore.

I was desperate to use the ideas of an inner (or third) eye, or chakra, but these are metaphysical or religious concepts, not physiological ones. Is the pineal gland the inner eye? I do not know. Aura has two meanings: the spiritualist one of a force field of psychic energy and also a medical one, the disturbance of vision (often a shadow) before an epileptic fit. I quite like the ambiguity of both meanings here.

Jung was very wary of the dissociation of the soul, which was greatly feared by primitive tribes.

We . . . can become dissociated and lose our identity. We can be possessed . . . by moods, or become unreasonable, so that people ask: "What the devil has got into you?" We talk about . . . "control", but self-control is a rare and remarkable virtue. (Jung, Man and his symbols).

Perhaps this lack of integration is the same as 'losing self-control', and was common in Neanderthal people.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Exploring Neanderthal minds

Can we think without language? My thoughts are an internal dialogue using words. The more words I know, the more precise my thinking. Do young children, with their limited language, think the same thoughts as older children? Perhaps not, but surely they can think, even if they can only express their thoughts in terms of their body. They are good at making their intentions felt, partly because the older people around them are sensitive to their communication. Parents 'know' what their babies need, even though the babies do not use words.

So, what kind of mind would we have without the single dominating internal dialogue? Who is speaking in my thoughts and who is the audience? Experiments with split-brains show that the right side of the brain has a limited language function, but it gets 'shouted' down by the dominant left hemisphere language centre. The right hemisphere has awareness of nouns, but limited ability at using grammar. What would our thinking be like if each centre competed with each other for our attention. Could we develop independent personalities?

Neanderthal humans became extinct in Europe about 30 000 years ago. Modern humans are not now thought to be related to the Neanderthals.

Who knows how Neanderthal humans thought or how they communicated with each other? Modern thinking suggests that that their brains were as developed as ours, but were not as well integrated.

But perhaps we can use this to find some clues to Neanderthal thinking:

Maxtla stares into the cold flames of the fire and tastes her heartbeats. A dark shadow, the aura of a raven’s wing, drifts across her eyes, blocking her view of the flames. Her heartbeats taste as wet earth on tired bones. Her breathing deepens and her heartbeats slow: the shadow lifts and takes the taste away. She knows that something is about to happen. A headache forms deep in the nape of her neck as the muscles tighten.

The scent of burning fat rises from the fire. Maxtla stirs as a memory of a warmer day floats into the air. She looks into the flames and sees an older woman holding a leg bone that was once her father. ‘Moon’, a voice screeches in the back of her head. ‘Watch for the moon’, says the wise woman who listens to the screeching crone. Her mother moves the leg bone higher and passes through the flames. She starts to chant phrases from her past.

‘Tonight, Maxtla,’ she commands. ‘It must be tonight. Look at the moon.’ Maxtla looks up and the clouds clear to show the face of the full moon. A shaft of white light illuminates the flame as the mother illusion fades. The old crone jabbers ‘Now’, and the wise woman advises, ‘be ready’. Images from her girlhood drift across the fire, she now knows how the work will grow tonight. Her legs shoot pain upwards and tell her to move. She rises and bows her head to the spirit of flames.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Hush! Caution! Echoland!

The opening words of Finnegans Wake are etched in a glass window in the tourist bar of the Guinness factory in Dublin. Looking through the words you can see the beautiful city beyond.

What a jolt: reading the book in Bristol, it seems a tricksy intense jungly kind of a book. A dense tangle of allusions and illusions. A cocktail of cleverness shot with cheeky humour. But look-see, I am wrong again, this book is as rooted in Dublin-town as Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist.

I love the way that his new words send me off travelling to new places. 'Here is the way to the musyroom!'

Echoland. All lands echo as the past impinges on the present. Thank you, James Joyce, for waking me up. I could write a whole novel around that idea.

"Waves of time break on the foreshore of this echoland. The salt-driven winds, funnelling through the estuary, touch our lives until they are swallowed by the hills and ridges that protect us from our enemies. "

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

The Waves

I seem to be irresistibly drawn to re-reading 'The Waves' by Virginia Woolf. I am on my third reading. The quotation at the head of the site:

'But when we sit together, close, we melt into each other with phrases. We are edged with mist. We make an unsubstantial territory.'

comes from The Waves. Each time I visit it I am impressed and moved by different things: the rhythms - it is almost like a epic poem - the precision of its language - the ways in which the characters melt around each other. Each 'voice' is supposed to be a different facet of VW's personality.

This time it is the compelling vision of a happy childhood, in the garden, around the servants, under the full glare of the sun, hiding in the shadows. I have wanted to write about childhood for a while, but I really don't know how to start - mine was so uneventful that it is really dull.

Anyway, as I ponder this, here is another quote from the most quotable lady herself:

'The balance between the outer and the inner is, after all, a terribly precarious business. They depend upon each other with the utmost closeness. If dreams become too widely divorced from truth they develop into an insanity which in literature is generally an evasion on the part of the artist.'

This is an interesting tool to use to evaluate my Ping story. Can someone be really respectable on the surface, yet have a turbulent secret inner life? There is a case going through the Bristol courts at the moment which may yet provide us with some answers.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Amusing ourselves to death

Porcupine Tree's bleak analysis of 'youth culture' is clearly an oversimplified stereotype of the 'hoodie generation', but it has a sense of familiarity about it. Perhaps it is an inevitable consequence for societies that are obsessed with "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

This sent be me back to re-read parts of the late Neil Postman's celebrated book 'Amusing ourselves to death'.

The following is the foreword to that book:

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Fear of a Blank Planet

Below is the controversial video of Porcupine Tree's song 'Fear of a Blank Planet'. On April 16, 2007, the music video for the title track debuted on Porcupine Tree's MySpace, though it was temporarily removed a day later in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech due to the band finding the content, namely children wielding guns, distasteful at that time. This video was directed by long-time collaborator, artist Lasse Hoile.

The song (and the album) paint disturbing images of young adolescents bored, narcotised and passive through the cumulative effects of TV, dope and prescription drugs.

Monday, 16 April 2007

What's it all about, then?

I have posted a number of pieces of my writing, all written fairly recently. They are sketches, attempts to capture a mood or explorations of different 'voices'.

Since August 2007, I have returned to my preoccupation about how best to write about the psychology of Neanderthal people, who became extinct in Europe about 30 000 years ago. Each posting is a short 'reflection' on the subject, followed by a short piece of writing trying to capture the essence of Neanderthal thinking. The prologue to my novel is presented for the first time.

'Persephone' and 'The hanged man' were written in the summer of 2005 and try to explore mythical worlds from feminine and masculine perspectives. 'The Guy Fawkes man' was written at the New Year 2006 and explored a recurrent dream in which I was sitting in a dingy room looking at a faded rose garden through smeared grimy windows. 'Ping...' tries to explore the irrational world of a rational person. It was written during Easter 2007.

'burned...' was written in November 2006 for a dear friend who is living with and conquering breast cancer. I wanted to get some of the emotional intensity that Candas Jane Dorsey got into her story "Time is the School in Which We Learn, Time is the Fire in Which We Burn." Of all of the stories here, this is the one that is most personal to me, because I wanted it to become a powerful force for good.

'dazed and confused...' is a narrative, diary, style of writing. I find it quite challenging to write in the first person voice. I tend to write quickly and then edit hard over a long period of time. I wouldn't say that any of the pieces here are finished. They may yet develop a life of their own in coming months.

Sunday, 15 April 2007


I love Jeanette Winterson's writing and I elevate her to the status of 'National Treasure'. I like 'Oranges' very much, but I think that the later work is so much better. I try and read 'Art and lies' every year. I admire the way that she attempts the impossible and usually succeeds in making it look effortless.

The following is a homage to Jeanette.

"I was standing in a meadow of flowers and my feet were wet. I was picking armfuls of fresh young herbs: queen anne's lace, biting persicaria and neem. Every so often I would stop and eat them. My dress was clammy with dew, but I did not seem to mind. I skipped around the field, seeking the freshest shoots to eat.

My breasts grew firm and shapely; my nipples pressed through the moistness of my dress, but I did not feel cold, only ready.

I was not alone. My companions were hand maidens, who seemed to enjoy splashing in the water; the skin between their fingers and toes was webbed and they swam in the stream as easily as they walked through the herb field.

"We are here to ripen your desires." They sang as they collected wax myrtle, southernwood and mugwort. "Eat and dream, for you are telling the story."

So I ate until my belly was full of desire, and I stood up strong, firm and moist, ready for one of my choosing. I was empowered and fully in control of my youthful body.

I looked down and my private parts had grown into an orchid flower. I felt down with my fingers into the softest of petals. My pubic hair had always been a protective calyx of green sepals that had now folded back to reveal their white secrets within. My large labia were now a ring of five open petals, pure white dusted with yellow sparkles. My pussy lips formed an inner curve of white petals bespeckled with crimson patterns to be an open cup, a welcoming chalice, drawing all things inwards to the dark spaces within. From the secret depths grew a white stigma just visible in the narrow opening between the petals. My tiny bean, always so well hidden in its monk's cowl of flesh had transformed into a large brown anther, split longways to spill the brightest golden pollen. What was my private secret was now revealed for the world to see and visit.

As if drawn by irresistable and unopposable forces, bees started to fly to me magnetised by my secret places, mesmerised by my pollen.

"Kore is ready. There is none as beautiful as she."

"Your maidenhood is yours to give as you choose. If you choose to give it to one man, then you will be respected." said the chief companion.

I replied, "Then I will become one man's possession."

"If your maidenhood is stolen from you, then you will be pitied and feared amongst women and ignored by men."

"Then I will become dispossessed."

"If you share your maidenhead with many, then you will be all men's property."

"Then I will earn the right to my shame."

I turned flushed with anger. "Why can I not give my body when I choose and to whom I choose?"

"Kore, that is the choice we all wanted, but few of us achieved." said the chief companion, whom we must call Circe.

"Like us, you will gamble with the cards the dealer gives you."

"Who is the dealer?" "There is no dealer. Just a necessary conjunction of objects."

The bee had flown a mile with single-minded determination. It arrived and pushed itself into my tissues with experienced accuracy. It took no time. No time for preliminaries: conversation, acquaintance. It did not even wipe its feet, bringing any pollen from its conquests on the rougher edge of the meadow. Small lice crawled from the hair on its belly into my personal darkness. I felt it rub itself over my stigma, and I shuddered with a coldness of betrayal. Seeds.

My stigma was bruised by the encounter, whilst the bee moved upwards to my anther. Licking, inserting its thin tongue into the split, widening it so that the pollen spilled out all over its length. Licking, the taste stimulates a frenzy of sucking, biting and chewing.

"Stop." I said. "Those grains are for all of the people I choose to love."

"No", he commanded, his mouth glowing with bright stolen gold.

"No, only me. It is all for me, and will always be."

At this he grew tall, and tore his bee skeleton open to reveal the sagging flesh of the King of the Dead. His acne-lined face, broken teeth, sagging eye-lids, and thick blue lips had deceived me. His breath had travelled from the rotting pits of the charnel house.

Fertilisation. A double fertilisation is needed to make a seed. He only provides pollen and is free to fly away. I make a commitment with the food of my flesh.

I looked my body. My beautiful flower was hidden by course black hair that spread across and up and down. A thin line was marching upwards to surround and conqueror my navel. My tight smooth skin was road-mapped with pale streaky lines. The flesh around my thighs dimpled to hide the blue-veins of well-travelled motorways.

Thin dark hairs demarked the edge of the areolae of my nipples. The shape of my breasts fell as they turned into milk bottles. The smooth roundness of my belly became thin and stretched as the seeds grew inside my fruit. Shadows of hair on my top lip, grey hairs at my temple.

All of these things he had caused to happen.

"Come." he said. "It is time to go. You will live with me in the houses of the dead. Welcome to my hell."

He laughed and raised his right hand as if to strike me. The earth opened and swallowed me into the crack in the fabric of doom."

The hanged man

I am slightly frightened by tarot. The rational side of me thinks it can become a deluding self-fulfilling prophecy; the more spiritual side of me thinks that it is a terrifying window into the unknown. Charles Williams wrote beautifully and authoritatively about the Fool as the 'still point of the turning world' in his novel, the Greater Trumps. In doing so, he may have inspired his friend, TS Eliot.

The following is a sketch of an idea. The trouble is that I'm not entirely sure of what the idea is, but it haunts my dreams.

The hanged man

A summer morning, stream greeting water meadow, time and space are one.

On Northmarsh, the man in a dark business suit steps from the taxi that has brought him to this place from a glass and chrome office in the city. Here is the same man in a peasant smock who has walked to this place from the village over the hill. Here is the same man in rags of animal skin who has left his cave to hunt deer and who wandered to this place.

Here is the man who has left behind his Blackberry organiser, his phone and his pager. Here is the same man who has left behind his plough, his dogs and his horses. Here is the same man who has left behind his sharpened stones and his short spears.

Here is the man who has left behind his mistress, his wife and his party escorts. Here is the same man who has left behind his wife and the binding frustrations of the 'thou shalt not' commandments. Here is the same man who has left his senior wife and his secret liaisons with the shameful cagga.

Here is the man who has abandoned the beliefs of his parents in favour of what is in vogue. Here is the same man who cannot afford to stray from the pattern laid down by his forebears. Here is the same man who is burning in the full glare of Mother Moon and Father Sun.

Here is the man who steps onto the stream-soaked meadow as the water stains his hand-made shoes. Here is the same man who steps into the water in his home-made working-farmer shoes. Here is the same man who steps into the water with his callused bare feet, hardened by years of running on stones.

The man wades across the water meadow, past flowering marsh marigolds and yellow irises. He is drawn to a lone ash tree guarding the streamside: its broad trunk is split into two climbing boughs. He sits in the space between them, dangling his feet into the water.

Here is the man who does not know why he came here, but who knows that he cannot leave this place. Here is the man who sits and waits for something, without knowing what it is.

Father Sun moves across the sky and is replaced by Mother Moon. Here is the man who is hungry and wet, but who dares not move away. Here is the man who is mocked by his tribe, whose values and motives are scrutinised by the male elders. Here is the man who is secretly pitied by the mothers. Here is the shaman, who goes into inner space.

The guardian moon goes to sleep as the sun rises on the second day, and the third day, and the fourth day. Drinking only the sweet dew from the sky, eating only leaves whose sap takes the pain away. These are nourishment enough.

The pain?

The pain of sitting? The pain of waiting? The pain of not knowing why? The pain of feeling that there is no purpose to the why?

The pain of having nothing to fill the day.

The sun moves across the sky, and the patterns of light speckling the leaves are constantly changing. Breezes move the leaves in unpredictable ways. Insects fly, clouds form and move and die, rain comes and goes, fish swim in the reedy shallows of the stream. Energy flows through the food webs of life.

The nothing is filled to bursting with unpredictability, the stillness is filled with constant motion. Orbiting electrons explore empty spaces.

Here is the man who cannot begin to count the number of objects moving in the nothing.

Here is the pain of having nothing filled with objects moving unpredictably through the stillness. The power is within all things: the power flows from object to object.

Six days, seven days, eight days, nine days.

Waiting. Waiting for nothing. Nothing happens.

Nothing happens and the man rises in response to its coming.

Here is the man who starts to climb a bough of the tree, losing a shoe in the climbing. Here is the same man who tears his darned smock on a sharp branch. Here is the same man who leaps up to grasp a sturdy branch.

Climbing for no reason, other than to climb. There are two twisted branches forming a t-shape to the main bough. They have grown alongside each other in parallel for many years: like twins, they have grown to accommodate the others ups and downs.

Between the branches is a space, just big enough to take a man's foot.

Here is the man sliding his bare right foot into the gap in the branches, so that it is jammed tightly against the supporting wood.

Falling down, the man is upside down with his hair and arms in the water. He is prevented from falling (or if you prefer, is supported) by the twin branches of the tree supporting his right foot.

Here is the man who folds his left leg so that his foot touches his right thigh. He makes the shape of a figure four against the morning skylight.

Here is the man who sees a plastic credit card and a few Euro coins fall from his pocket into the water. He looks at the shape of the card. It means nothing: it is a pennyworth of tat that pollutes the atmosphere. The Euros mean nothing: it is a pennyworth of cheap metal.

Here is the man who sees his rosary beads fall from his smock into the water. He looks at the shape of the necklace. It means nothing: it is a farthing's worth of wood and cow hide.

Here is the man who has nothing to lose because he owns nothing.

Here is the man who looks calm and untroubled. The moment of nothing is upon him. He does not flinch or cry for the gods to deliver him. He does not curse or moan. He does not plan or scheme for promotion in heavenly places.

Here is the man who accepts. Here is the man who accepts what nothing brings. Here is the man who has renounced taking, but who is ready to receive. Here is the man who has renounced giving, but who will not hold onto any of his possessions.

Here is the man who is ready for what is coming next. Here is the hanged man.

The Guy Fawkes man

This is a story based on a recurrent dream I used to have. I have not dreamed of it since I wrote down these words about two years ago.

The Guy Fawkes man

I sit in a room about twenty feet by six: on the plan of the great house it is little more than an annexe, a walk through to the rose garden. The swirling seventies wallpaper is torn and stained by decades of ups and downs, outbursts and implosions, its bright orange colours faded to a dull nicotine yellow. Even the reserved English need to leave their signatures on things, like scent-marking territories. None of us belong to this room, and few of us deserve it.

The chair is almost as old as the wallpaper. Its wooden arms are scratched and burned with cigarettes: in places the plastic canvas is torn from its fabric backing, and the white space is filled in with blue biro ink. Fountain pens are not allowed in this place: too dangerous.

In places, the chair is split and the foam rubber insides spill out like a disemboweled Guy Fawkes. I learned that in school. Guy Fawkes, hanged, drawn and quartered in 1606 for crimes against the King. They only teach you important things in school. Stands to reason, someone up there knows best and decides what is important for us to know. I know lots of things about Guy Fawkes.

I ramble on, no one seems to notice, let alone care. I gave up expecting care a long time ago. Still, this is my chair. I have to fight to keep it mine, of course. There are lots of border disputes. Younger pretenders to the throne, and all that. I stand my ground: I shout and swear and throw plastic cups of water. Glass is not allowed in this place: too dangerous.

Once that Slattery woman came and sat in my chair when I had gone for a whizz. I got back and I saw her grinning with those big fat lips and heaving shoulders. I threw myself at the chair, shouting and spitting. I called her a 'poxy cunny ho'. That got her off fast enough. How was I supposed to know? It wasn't my fault they had to sedate her to stop her cutting herself. She must have hidden the blade inside her clothes, because they are not allowed in this place.

After that I was pretty well left to myself, which pleases me just fine. Next time they try it, then they will be sorry. I am plotting. Remorse? No, not really. The Fluoxetine pretty much. Sentences are shorter than they used to be, and sort of hang in the air. I shiver more and my pee smells funny.

The roses in the rose garden are swaying in the breeze. The buds are swollen and ripe, full of spring rain. I have watched the rain fall. The red colour at the tip is spreading down the veins of the custard yellow petals. It looks like jam sponge; I like jam sponge. No one ever goes into the garden, no one ever smells the flowers, no one prunes the stems back. There are more flowers than leaves, but the plants are mostly thorns. I like these roses, they like being ignored. We ignore each other.

My view of the roses is blocked by the rain on the French windows. The doors are locked and bolted. Their white paint has faded to yellow by time and cigarettes. The grey-blue air of the room fights the light. Sometimes I see particles floating in the air, caught in a shaft of sunlight. Up and down, in and out, they move. The air is full of cancer viruses. I shout and shout, and people leave the room. I choose to stay, to protect my chair. I have this sense of responsibility. My shouting attracts the border guard with the red eyes and the needle. I suffer the chill, shake and pee on the chair. That marks it for a while, and I buy myself time.

Three days and nights of oblivion, living in slow motion in a world without dreams. Thirty-six hours of a numbness that starts in the middle of the inside of my head, and stretches down nerves and sinews to the tips of my fingers. Only my nails and hair grow bigger. The rest of me shrinks.

Thirty-six hours and I return in splendour to my chair: the Slattery ho moves to one side to proclaim my Coronation. Her arms are covered with long sleeves to hide the scratches. The chair smells like me: it is mine. We both understand this.

The retinue moves back a respectful distance, and I am alone with the French windows and the rose garden. The paint is peeling away from the glass. The putty is cracked and falling out, leaving gaps that are filling with settling ash and tar. The wood rots as condensation from the glass surface collects in small crevices. In the corners of the windows, soot and mould settle into layers.

I said to Catesby and Fawkes, 'what is the point of this venture? Why destroy the king and his parliament, if we are not to be made kings ourselves? They disagree, speaking of 'higher callings', but I think I made my point. The Wintour brothers certainly agreed with me. We talked about it as we walked round the rose garden. 'Let them do the deed and move in later', we agreed.

Slattery ho disturbs my meeting by holding her head and screeching. I am forced to take my leave of the conspirators to look at her. Evans, a brute of a man, has pushed his fist through the glass of the fish tank and has eaten the ho's goldfish. There is water, glass and blood on the floor of the main room. She groans in a deep rhythmic pattern, which synchronises the banging of her head on the wall. The wallpaper leaves a greasy yellow stain on her brow.

The border guards come with their restraining bands and needles. 'Show's over citizens, get back to your lives.' Slattery ho falls onto the floor in a fetal position and hugs onto her feet. Her groaning falls into a low persistent moaning.

The roses are filled with rain water, and the tips are turning brown with rot. This year they may fall unopened. The water fills up the spaces around the roots, and floods over the stone paving. Paving darkened by lichens and moss, undisturbed by the absence of walking feet. This is what is important, Evans the fish-eater is not.

I used to wander through the rooms of my brain unfettered and free. This room was where we shared our lives, the living room. That room was where I dreamed my plans, the map room. The Fluoxetine pretty much took residence. I live in the basement now, with the old newspapers and the broken toys. It is fine, I never needed all of that space.

I had a visitor once. She looked at me and smiled with those big fat lips. I shouted at those lips and called her a 'poxy cunny ho'. That got her off fast enough. How was I supposed to know she was my sister? It was not my fault, she should have announced herself. That's what Catesbury's servant would have done. She left quite quickly, with her business unfinished. No one calls these days without speaking to my secretary first. It is only proper.

In the rose garden, the rain falls faster and the thorns grow sharper.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

The Lucifer Effect

Cuckoo pint at Goblin Combe (part one)

Philip Zimbardo's book is outstanding and deserves to be discussed seriously by the media and the opinion forming chattering classes. It is remarkably informative and easy to read.

Zimbardo discusses his Stanford Prison Experiment with the hindsight of thirty years, as well as other experiments (such as Milgram and Asch). There are many newer studies and a detailed account of Zimbardo's analysis of the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Here are some quotations:

'Maybe each of us has the capacity to be a saint or a sinner, altruistic or selfish, gentle or cruel, dominant or submissive, perpetrator or victim, prisoner or guard. Maybe it is our social circumstances that determine which of our many mental templates, our potentials, we develop' (p297).

One of the factors that leads to bad behaviour is 'anonymity'.
'Anonymity can be conferred on the way that people are treated in given situations. When others treat you as if you are not a unique individual but an 'undifferentiated' other being processed by the System...[then] you feel anonymous. This ....can induce antisocial behaviour.' (p301).

Any system that encourages (or merely 'allows') people to behave anonyomously without responsibility for their actions and which permits 'antisocial behaviour' will encourage people to behave in increasingly extreme ways.

This could be a classroom or a website forum or even Abu Graib or Guantanamo Bay.

cellular visions: the inner life of a cell

I remember as a teenager being quite taken by a novella by James Blish called 'Surface Tension', in which life below the surface of a pond is described in an almost mythical context. I wonder how many of today's teenagers would be prepared to make an effort to read such a story. (To be fair, I recall trying to read it again as an adult and finding that, for me, the 'glory had departed' from the story.)

The modern teenage mind is a different country from mine - it favours a more immediate visual impact and does not expect to have to work at at something very long before it gets its reward. There is a sense of instant access, instant gratification and then move on.

I found this animation on YouTube which paints a picture of life inside a living cell. Perhaps this has the kind of visual mythology that could impact upon teenagers' minds.

So, imagine you are on the Magic School bus with dear Miss Frizzle, and enjoy the view through your windows:

Friday, 13 April 2007

The FTO gene and obesity

The HYS page on the BBC news page made me laugh out loud, not least because some of the 'fattist' comments were quite funny. The obesity gene story is nicely summarised on the Wellcome site.

Its not surprising that the media coverage has (deliberately) set out to exploit the 'nature OR nurture' aspects of the story. After all, the same debate raged in Psychology for much of the last fifty years. That said, it is a flawed argument. Genes (DNA) can only operate in conjunction with the environment, and to pretend otherwise is naive. But the argument makes for good telly and chat blogs.

I'm interested that the gene frequencies are so high: 1 in 6 have one copy of the FTO gene (or allele). That is very high for a gene that potentially causes so much harm.

The allele frequencies in the population often reflect natural selection in the past. For much of the last 30 000 years we have lived on the edge of starvation, and any alleles that promoted eating or the conversion of food into storage products would be at an advantage and be selected for by evolution. This probably why the FTO allele is so frequent now. (Similar arguments are used for the levels of the cystic fibrosis allele and for sickle cell anaemia allele. In these cases two copies of the allele are harmful and can cause disease.)

What is new in our evolution is our ability to eat large quantities of energy and nutrient-rich foods. Since it has been an evolutionary advantage in the past to eat as much as we can, it is hard to break this habit today.

We are, at the end of the day, still hunter gatherers exploiting our territories for whatever we can get from them.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Explosion at Iraq parliament cafe 12/04/07

"I strongly condemn the action. It reminds us, though, that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people and a symbol of democracy." George Bush

"If George Bush were to be judged by the standards of the Nuremberg Tribunals, he'd be hanged. So too, mind you, would every single American President since the end of the second world war, including Jimmy Carter." Noam Chomksy 20/05/04

burned by the fire within

burned by the fire within


Okay Mr Einstein, I know you got it wrong. Time is not a curve. It is a piece of elastic, like the one holding my knickers up. Stretch it out looooong, and watch it s-s-s-snap back, flicking you in the eye.

At 03:15 am, the time to 03:16 am stretches out for a millennium. I did not ask to experience this, Mr Einstein, you understand. I did not invite this; I wish I was travelling at the speed of light. Then time snaps back, curving upwards out of control, forming neat little folds hiding all of those future years, compressing them into moments. Hang on a minute, I was rather hoping to enjoy those years, if it is all the same with you. Where have they gone to? Then they flick me in the eye, and it makes me cry. I wish I could cry more, but I think that if I start I will never stop.

03:15 am, and here I go again, on my own, all aboard the SS Nightwatch. ‘What’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster, is it a monster?’ He sleeps still, next to me. I can hear his breathing. How can he sleep like that when I am awake, having to captain this ghostly boat. Just look at my crew, I would cross the road to avoid looking them in the eyes if I was back on terra firma.

Still he sleeps, I can count his breathing: where is he travelling tonight? Which land is at the top of his faraway tree? All of these years spent sleeping with someone, never to really know what was in his dreams. ‘Did you dream about me, last night, darling?’ ‘Well, you were in it, yes.’ In the background, I suppose, cooking dinner and pouring the tea. ‘Shall I be mother?’ ‘Oh, yes, please.’

No woman ever stars in her own dreams. They are always focused on other people: ‘my child is in danger, can I reach her in time?’ ‘My husband is needy, can I still be alluring to him?’

And what is he dreaming of, I wonder?

‘Scoring the winning goal?’ ‘Writing the cleverest story?’ ‘Finally getting a place on this committee of professional people.’

He never says. ‘Oh nothing, really.’ Have men got nothing better to do than to dream about nothing at night?

First mate ‘Why-did-i’ looks up from his charts. There is a really big squall blowing up from the past, Cap’n. We need to get the men and the children below decks right now. This is no place for dependents.

‘Marry him?’ Because I loved him; because he asked. Because I couldn’t get. I had to work hard to get him to ask, though. He was so clumsy and nervous, stammering and stuttering through his self-consciousness. I quite liked that, I thought it a good sign. He was malleable; he would listen, he would care for me.

Alas, constant reader.

And children, yes, we wanted a house full of children. They are my garden, my delight, my future. And sex, within marriage, for procreation and for when he is giddy and excited and does not have a headache. Pretty normal, really.

First mate Why-did-i is struggling to bring down the sails, the wind is ripping holes in the canvas. I will need to get out the darning needles tomorrow. Why-did-i cannot do this alone, he cries out in the night for help, and the wind throws his words to the sea. ‘So-how-did-i’ rushes up and together they wrestle the flopping wet canvas onto the deck.

Get to captain this ship? Well, it kind of happened by accident, really. There was a bump in the road, a turning that had to be taken and a moment when a decision was made. Not by me, you understand. Never by me. Yet deep within, in a place that I thought was on my side.

Was it a decision, made with foresight, taking into account the best interests of all of the parties concerned, their welfare, their future prosperity and emotional wellbeing? Were the needs of my children’s children taken into account? Did anybody ask me, what I thought? I don’t recall so; I never saw it in the minutes of the meeting.

Perhaps it was a mistake, a slip up, something in the wrong place at the wrong time. A few nanometres to the left or to the right then something else would have been made, a different decision taken, a different outcome.

Perhaps this is all that life is: layer upon layer of happy and unhappy accidents. No grand purpose, no design, no intelligent designer.

I see that 'Is-that-all-i' has joined the night watch. We have the full crew now. Let’s sail through this storm, its going to be a ripper.


I swear I can hear them, like the scrabbling of mice behind the skirting boards. What are they doing tonight? These tiny mini-me’s struggling to get independence, power, autonomy and eternal life? Are they travelling up and down miles of tubes, looking for a safe motel to rest from their journeying?

Perhaps they are resting in a lump, still and not moving. Like a baby in a manger. It was a fearful annunciation.

‘Mary, greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’

And a sword will pierce your heart.

One day you are, and the next day you are not. So unreal. Here I am inside, journeying between salvation and damnation, sliding along the edge of hope, whilst pouring pasta into a saucepan, listening to why a teacher was stupid and a friend cruel and why life is soooooooo unfair, because the homework is due in on Monday. Why the meeting ran on because he ‘wouldn’t stop talking and listen to what I wanted to say’.

Cleaning cat sick from the floor and remembering to buy loo roll for upstairs and did I phone mother and what will I say and can she cope and what about dad and all of the people who know and how will i tell him and them and they are all so hungry and the phone rings and yes i am sorry you are not feeling well with a cold and ‘flu is it and of course i will do that shift for you tomorrow and oh the pasta is boiling over and i must go because oh did he well that’s a shame and well, i’m sure it will get better soon and oh, right the pasta is stuck and what do you mean you do not like the bolognaise sauce you liked it last week and no you can’t eat something else and well what time is that meeting due to start no i forgot no of course you must go and no i will stay in and be there for everyone’s

feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding

Feeding. It is feeding on me, growing larger and stronger, seeking to make a hostile takeover of my favourite company.

Give me the sword. Put it to the sword, I do not want to lose all of this; who else will do the feeding?

I wonder if I can rush around my internal house, collecting up all the bits of anger I have dropped onto the floors over the years. If I collect them into a single bag, and then squeeze it smaller and tighter and harder and brighter and thinner to focus it like a laser beam onto it. It, the malignant thing that was once benign. It, the thing that was once me.


Go away. Leave me to my feeding.


Poor Mary, it was a pretty unusual contract, having to have a virgin birth in full view of all of the oxen and asses and the smelly shepherds At the Annunciation, I suppose the angel had to cover himself by reading out the full terms and conditions in the small print. (Are angels male or female? I don’t know and I can’t be bothered to get up and google it.) The devil is always in the detail of the small print. Or is it God that is there in the detail?

The power of the Most High will overshadow you and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Typical really, the men do the deeds and the women count the costs. I wonder if I am pointing my fire power at the right target. Maybe I should besiege the Gates of Heaven?

What I hate about the Kingdom of Heaven: whatever happens to us, no matter how ghastly or painful or unfair or unwarranted, the Christ has suffered more. So there is no point in complaining and the lake of self-pity is put firmly out of bounds. A neat trick, that. So, we just have to put up or shut up, and the response is a deafening silence.

What I love about the Kingdom of Heaven: whatever happens to us, no matter how ghastly or painful or unfair or unwarranted, the Christ has suffered more. So here he is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. A neat trick, that. So, we just have to put up or shut up, and the response is a supportive silence.

The devil/god is in the detail. Pick and mix, according to my mood.

It’s late, nearly 3:16 am. Did Mary watch the long walk to his death, his bleeding stumbling, carrying a cross that was far too heavy for him, even for his carpenter’s frame? Did she ask Simon to go and help him? Could she still smooth the way or was she by then a spent force? An empty vessel? A broken reed? A piece of broken pottery? A hag with dried up dugs? Did she see Judas counting the tear-stained silver; did she forgive him? Was he only role-playing as she was? Did she submit to the sword piercing her heart or did she put up a fight?

Was it too much for her to bear? Did she look away, this Queen of Heaven with the saddest of eyes?

Soul or heart or breast? It’s all the same to me. Or is it? Maybe or maybe not. If you bring the sword to my breast, will my heart and my soul be safe? Is it just biological stuff: adipose tissue, lymph and ducts? Or is it part of my essence?

I love my breasts, their curves with their thin pointy round nipples. I love the way they snuggle into tight clothes. I love the way that men like to look at them, even now, after so many years.

‘After the torchlight red on sweaty faces, after the frosty silence in the gardens, after the agony in stony places, the shouting and the crying’.

Dear old Tom Eliot, squeezing himself into constipated consonances in an attempt to strain every drop of his personality from his verses. Yet, there it remains, the unresolved sexual tension. He and his wife, with their ‘book of common prayer’ facade, their Bloomsbury manners and stiff upper lips. It was probably the only part of him that was stiff, whilst furtively lusting after that which was forbidden and illegal. Silly old sod.

The Church Fathers busily divided each part of their personalities into water-tight compartments, separate and inviolate. Then flailing their protesting flesh into submission.

If love is so simple, why make it so forbidden?

And you, Holy Mother, did you see your Son seeking solace in the touches and softness of flesh in his lonely nights in the garden? Did you warn him to stay away from him and from her, just in case the paparazzi gospel writers got wind of the story?

This might be blasphemy, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did. To lie still with someone whose heart beats synchronise with your own: to feel the empathy of acceptance. This is what quickens the Spirit, this is what gives us strength to go into the darkness, into the haunted room, into the empty silence.

"My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Were you there when he said that? Did you cry out and run to try to wrestle the cup from his lips? Did you remember when you cradled his baby head to your nipples?

“Yet not as I will...”

That’s the double bind.

“...but as you will”.


Okay Mr Einstein, I know you got it right. God does not play dice. He has no need to, of course. He owns the board, the cups and the dice, so he has no need to take risks.

But did he take a risk, a big risk? At the moment when the nails ripped through the flesh, did he play dice: did he risk everything on the turn of a single card? Can he change his mind?

I am hanging by a thread in time, risking everything on a turn of the card. Do you understand that or do you turn away with a shrug? Is the Mother alongside me now, synchronising my heartbeats with her own?

Did you cry, Holy Mother, as you rose to meet the darkness and the sword reached into your heart? Was it all over in an instant, in the cold sweat of a waking nightmare? Or did you linger, with time to wonder and question?

Did you see him again, afterwards? Did he speak with you, did he explain, did he apologise or are you still left wondering, left outside this victory from the depths of defeat? Tell me mother: is it still a Man’s game?

November 2006

Ping ‘rage_hard_then_die’ and move on

Oak leaves unfurling in early Spring

Kathy Sierra is a 'celebrity' in the world of blogging. Her blog is intended to promote 'optimism, creating better user experiences, helping users spend more time in flow, and learning. '

How can it be, then, that a lady such as this has been forced to stay at home, terrified of death threats from an unbalanced 'troll'.

I wonder if there are psychotic monsters out there, hiding behind the apparent anonymity of untraceable IP addresses. Or if it is even more subtle and worrying?

Do we, reasonable and moderate people, become different when we control the mouse? Do our actions become intemperate, simply because we spend so long staring at our flat screens?

A couple of weeks ago I was flamed for wading into a forum to protect the memory of a friend whose reputation was being mocked. The sense of anger I felt was pretty real - no sense of virtual feelings here.

The story below tumbled out of a dark place with (I confess) a worrying ease. I think I ought to go and read Philip Zimbardo's new book (The Lucifer Effect).

Ping ‘rage_hard_then_die’ and move on

Ping_snear^owooo^shhh....thinking is for wussies, Descartes. I do and therefore I am. I surf and I am King. W00t...Yo, I’m ripping a Colombian line. Nescafe for junkies. Watch me sail, watch me fly right through you. Blink or get out of my way; yr buggin’ me with your unhealthy freak show. I am cadet: eat my dirt or die in a poxy ho.

Now, he’s gone off-line and has left me alone. I monitor their comings and their goings and their natural selections. I don’t need to listen to this inferior bleating tonight; I just need to win. Christ, downstairs I can hear the Eastenders music playing for the third time tonight. What sort of person needs to watch it three times just to understand the story? Thick as shit, that’s what. Story? There is no story.

This is the story. I sit, a funnel spider on its web, waiting for you to drop by.

Look at you, prodding and poking around. Who sent you to me tonight? Haven’t you got better things to do? Shall we talk, little girl? Type:

my name is mel ;)...wots yrs?

Will you stay, please stay, I want you to stay.

yrs is mel, 2? Like mel C or mel B? I lk U mel B.

Can U C my silly puppy? He’s called rags.

And so it goes. All night I can do this. They can’t see what I do with my left hand, whilst my right strokes my mouse. My left hand wraps round razor wire.

Ping_smear^weee^shhhit. Is it worth being nice? Will I gain – can you be frightened, just a little bit? Can you twist around my fingers? Just a little bit?

Come closer onto my web. I want to see you squirm.

No, quick.

Will you go, please go, I want you to go.

She’s coming upstairs – needs another piss. It’s all the tea that she... I close the door to... Don’t need her seeing me talk to you.

‘No, just a spreadsheet for work. You know what its like at the moment.’

Piss, wipe, flush, wash, dry, pull the light cord, pad downstairs: to chocolate and Midsomer murders.

So, here we are co-joined in the flat-screen twilight. You and I, drawn together across the spaces, with our mingled IP addresses. The talk of the ages.

What did you come here for? Who are you pretending to be tonight? Yourself? No, not here, not tonight. This is the masquerade. Come as a syphilitic corpse, or a buccaneer or a crucified messiah. Anything but you. Who would want to talk to you?

Will you stay, please stay, I want you to stay.

I certainly don’t.

mel B – I think U are a man. Fuck you and die a leper’s death.

I bar the IP address; the ghost fades from my screen.

Alone. Again. Waiting for traffic to drop by.

Traffic. IP addresses. Avatars. Monikers. User Names. Identities.

But never people. Never people with juices to taste and souls to suck dry.

The people left cyberspace long ago; only the vampires, the wraiths and the psychopomp pirates surf broadband today.

We blogged ourselves to death. And death is what we crave.

Drugs we can get online: delivered by moonlighting pizza boys on bikes.
Sex is mechanised and battery driven.
Power is in the hands of the biggest cocks.

Tomorrow I will change the world.

Come again.

Ping ‘Milgram’s legacy’ and pay

Everyone has a idea and mine is really cheap. Cheap is good, cheap is power. Cheap is me. Remember Stanley Milgram? He had the right idea, but got the wrong ending. It wasn’t the 14 who refused to give the experimental subjects 400 volts of electricity who were the heroes. It was the 26 who pressed the fire button that we should celebrate. Homo superior: the brave new world of cybernauts.

Oh, I saw the film of them in action: all hand-wringing and sweating protests. ‘I refuse to take responsibility’. What kind of white liberal crap is that? Press the play button anyway and Ping_snear^owooo^shhh, off they go to oblivion.
Oh, yes they were shocked when they saw what they did; yes they were relieved that it got them off the hook.

But what a hook. They might run blubbering to priests and analysts, but which of them in the middle of their night-sweats could regret the moment when they felt for the only time in their lives the primal sense of lust, the sweetest sense of freedom, the original source of power in their veins. The breath of life in their lungs; the screaming, tearing invincibility.

Then the slow come down which lasts forever: the guilt, the tears, the shame.

The shame of what? The wistful regret that the moment could not last longer. That they could not return to the place again.

Milgram, you corrupted us! You explained away our darkest impulses; you removed our right to be wrong.

So, I’m writing wrongs. Think of me as a liberal-slayer, an evangelist for the dark-side.

And visit

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends We're so glad you could attend Come inside! Come inside!

Pay up front using your PayCheck account. $50 dollars for entry to the ride (additional surcharges may apply) – oh but what a place for an evening well spent. Choose your partner for the evening from our extensive menu bar. Girls, boys, lesbian couples*. Black, Asian or Eastern European. Choose naked or clothed. Choose eighteen+ or underage legal.

*(ladyboys, jews and queers are available at 48 hours notice; cost to be negotiated in advance).

Then, choose the questions: easy, medium or hard. For each incorrect answer you get to press the button. And kerpow! A real electrical shock. None of this liberal poncing about with stooges and confederates. The real schizzle. The big deal.


Watch them squirm, watch them cry out, watch their skin burn, hear them swear, cry out to their gods, see them vomit and sweat, let them fall to the ground unconcious, only to be brought back again for the next question.

Which question you will ask?

How far will you dare go?

There is a clock running, the meter is racking up the costs. Do you want to go just a little higher, up to the magic 400 volts? Dare you, should you, will you? Will you take the ultimate challenge*?

*(additional surcharges will apply, calculated on a unit rate per volt above 150 volts)

A film of the encounter will be placed on a secure website for you to download for a modest cost; after all, you will want to savour every moment, relive each second of the ultimate thrill ride.

I am thinking of branching out into merchandise. Lampshades and book covers made from their skin; organic compost from their decomposed wastes.

It pays to be green these days.

Do you know just how cost-effective this is? The subjects come almost free of charge. The people carriers are glad to find their traffic secure homes, where they will not run away to cause embarrassing trouble. No identities, no fuss, no mess. Pile ‘em high and sell them dear: the next step in pornography.

Deal or no deal?
You’ll love it to death.
Wanna try some?

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Well, isn't that odd?

Wednesday 11 April 2007

I bought a new map of Glastonbury and the Mendips today, so that I could confirm an odd thing.

If you start at Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Well (this is a garden dedicated to the Mother goddess), heading in a north north westerly straight line, you pass through or near the following places:

* Westbury sub- Mendip
* Cheddar Gorge
* Burrington Combe

Each of these places is associated with Neanderthal and Early Human caves and artefacts.

You then run through St Bridget's church, Chelvey. This is an ancient (pre-Norman) church built upon earlier grounds, which is associated with the Celtic and Pre-Celtic goddess. It is one of the few churches on England dedicated to the Christian version of the goddess.

If you continue your line you pass over Nailsea Causeway (past the ancient church of St Quiricus & St Julietta, Tickenham), and end up at Cadbury Camp, an Iron Age hill fort associated with Arthurian legend (local myths link it to Camelot). Arthur is associated with Glastonbury, too.

Strange, but true.

dazed and confused in old Bristol town

Flowering blackthorn

Tuesday 10 April 2007 5.20 pm Bristol Broadmead

It's one of those rare April days - the teatime westcountry sun is as bright as the sun that shines on Florence, the same sun that led generations of Renaissance painters to try to capture light and air in paint for draughty cathedral walls.

I am sitting in the market square facing into the sunlight. Everything has a bright lemon and red halo, Bristolian shoppers are transformed into angels emerging from the irradiance.

I have done the usual list of displacement activities that people do before they sit. I have checked my phone for messages (none). I have made a call, I have checked the news from the BBC. There is nothing else for it: I shall have to sit quietly and wait.

Sit quietly and wait. I am busy making 'sitting quietly and waiting' into active 'busy-ness', by forcing myself to become invisible. (Why bother trying? I am effectively invisible anyway, no one notices or cares that I am sitting here. That is the way that I like it.)

At Tesco Metro to my right, a hurly burly bouncer ejects a customer from the shop, shouting loud enough to distract me from my attempts to squeeze my atoms into outer space. 'Don't pick a fight with my staff. Go right away.'

The ejected man does not recognise the rules of social engagement. He is not frightened of the bouncer man, and the bouncer man does not like that at all. He cannot get the shopper to understand, so he does what bouncers are trained to do: he shouts louder.

The dejected man is old and his face is weary and careworn. Elderly Chinese, probably a recent immigrant. His English is not good, his clothes are from charity bags. He has the start of words, but not their endings. His sentences fade into a grey goo. He carries an aluminium NHS walking stick. He raises it to the man, threatening to beat him.

Fucggggg oggggg. Monegggggg is wrongggg.

Bouncer man, he needs no trouble. A Chinese man with a stick, shouting and putting two fingers up to him with tears and anger. He be trouble. Bouncer man walks away.

Leaving the man alone with his raging injustice.

He rushes to the shop window, raising his stick and calling out in cantonese rage. He open his bag containing two items: scones and chicken nuggets.

Three sexy school girls with long legs and pushed-up cleavages, flow past shrieking at him with derision, howling with laughter and menace, pointing and calling him 'weird psycho man'.

A long way from home, and a long way from being able to deal with their pubescent powers.

The man turns to me and walks towards my seat. 'Don't make eye contact', says a man sitting next to me. Don't make eye contact. Calling us, the man comes over. My companion slips away, leaving me alone.

He is standing in front of me shrouded in bright light, like an avenging demon. I avoid his eyes, but he sees into me anyway. He sits by me, pulling out the shopping from the bag, looking at the prices, adding up the totals.

At this point, he is no longer an unstable lunatic, one step from being sectioned; he is a poor man, who feels he has been robbed by a wealthy tyrant. He cannot bear the shame.

Then the red mist descends. The stick waves, the swearing and the shopping rage return.

I see my family at the other end of the avenue. I get up and walk to meet them.

My lasting memory is of the uncertainty I felt when he probed my invisibility, trying to draw me into his world. I could see his need, but I was reluctant to get involved. Yet, despite and in spite of myself, I was already involved.