Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Notes towards a new morality

When you can wear your hair as a scarf it's time to think about a trim.

"He means well, it's just that he's not well..."

It is always possible that you might be more handsome with a beard.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

On Beauty

The Sony Bravia commercial is old news perhaps, but my daughter's enthusiasm for it has yet to wain. For the record her favourite bit is when the dustbin gets knocked over (she's five). She responds to the ad because it is beautiful; an excellent idea expertly executed. Is its beauty sullied by its commercial association? No. Shakespeare and Rembrandt, one might sensibly imagine, born in the late twentieth century and anxious for exposure might have taken the shilling and worked in a similar field, there being little in the way of feudal patronage on offer. Nicolai Fuglsig, the ad's director would not, presumably, count himself in such elevated company, but it is likely that his signature work has created a fuzzy feeling in more souls than The Tempest and The Nightwatch combined. I have a feeling that I will remember the bouncing balls long after the text of Prospero's apology has escaped my elderly recollection.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Everlong (acoustic)

Kindly hosted by someone I have never met

Because it's late and there's no gin in the house. And because the whale unbecame. I will kiss my daughter and sleep.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

By Heligoland

In which the security officer of a cruise ship, who somewhat resembles Edward G Robinson, solves the mystery of a missing necklace to the satisfaction of all parties before, in a final twist, and once the matter is beyond recall, realises that said necklace has been stolen once more by the eccentric British noblewoman from whom it was initially recovered.

Monday, January 23, 2006

T. S. Eliot joined the ministry

My grandfather, who died at the beginning of World War II, is a hero. He was awarded the George Cross in recognition of a act of selfless bravery which saved a number of lives. His citation appears here. Thirty years separate his death and my birth so his gallantry is something of an abstraction to me. I have the diary he kept, sporadically, between 1920 and 1928, and there is scarcely a clue there of future derring-do. My grandfather seems a little priggish, somewhat romantic, idealistic even. But there is no evidence of boldness. He criticises his shipmates for sloth and drunkenness, but never confronts them. He is hypersensitive to issues of right and wrong. And this is the only foreshadow of his end that can be traced. He kept doing the right thing until it killed him. You could argue that leaving a wife and two year old son to the mercies of the state because of some reckless impulse for correctness was not the right thing to do, but there was a war on, and the great majority of us can only imagine how falling bombs might alter one’s perspective.

I have thought about this a great deal and I believe that it is unlikely that I would have done as my grandfather did. I can’t say for certain, of course. I am the sort who gets involved if a unfair fight starts, or if someone right in front of me needs my help. But I will never travel the world to succour the starving, or do voluntary work with the homeless, or tithe my income to deserving charities, nor did my father. I think, however, that we have both striven for a degree of moral rectitude, if only of a reactive kind. When a situation presents itself I try and do the right thing, and my father was the same. The premature death of my grandfather might suggest that this is an inherited strain of behaviour, but it’s more to do, I think, with the example that our respective fathers have set. I try to help people because that’s what my father would have done. My father had the unfortunate responsibility of growing up in the shadow of a man he never knew, could not consult and could never hope to emulate - my grandfather’s heroism was rubber-stamped and signed by the King, after all – but found his own way of interacting with the world which rewarded him with the affection of everyone who met him.

Heroes are made by circumstance, so the French say. Perhaps they’re right.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A brief note on beachcombing

This is Vancouver, Douglas Coupland's "City Of Glass". Coupland is a beachcomber. Mystical and romantic associations cling to beachcombing like barnacles to a bottle. From what I can gather the practice consists of walking along the shoreline picking up other people's rubbish with a view to reusing it, and there's nothing wrong with that, unless you're expected to be somewhere else, I suppose, in the operating theatre, perhaps, or on traffic duty. There is nothing any more noble, or ennobling about it however, than its inland, urban equivalent of going down a skip. Indeed one might expect to discover a greater variety of reusable objects in a skip as the items to be found therein are not limited by buoyancy issues, and are unlikely to be layered with crustaceans. I like to clamber on rocks, and hear the waves drum out the earth's heartbeat, as much as anyone, but I think it's a mistake to dilute the experience with sporadic refuse collection. You don't need an excuse to walk upon the beach, with the bottoms of your trousers rolled. Unless you're a cardio-thorassic surgeon with timekeeping problems.

"What's that? The patient died! Well, at least I managed to find half a pair of running shoes and a plastic biscuit barrel without a lid."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

You can't have one without the other

My marriage has entered a particularly stable stage in the last few months. In truth I can only speak for my half of our marriage. My half of my wife-and-I's marriage has entered a particularly stable stage in the last few months. The specifics are these: we continue to agree about the best way to raise our daughter; we understand and sympathise with each other's respective difficulties with each other's families; I accept my wife as a separate but similar individual when we are alone together rather than doing that freaky thing where I forget this and somehow consider her as an unruly extension of my greater self; when I talk to other attractive women I am able to reason that my life would be substantially less comfortable if I were with them rather than my wife.

The most important point, I suppose, is that I have come to see these changes of perception not as defeats, but as footholds on the greasy rockface of the abyss.

That was my Jack Higgins moment for today.

Here's a thing. I am disgusted with myself for my cosmic ignorance with regard to the hot political issues of the now. But not so disgusted that I'm prepared to do anything about it. I get the New York Times in my inbox every morning and I skip over the current affairs section to look at the interesting stuff. People have dismissed me as glib since I lost my political conscience almost twenty years ago. And they were all absolutely right to do so, excepting those who said "glib" when what they really meant was "drunk". I still consider myself vaguely of the left, but then so do Suzanne Vega and Natalie Imbruglia. I am absolutely captivated by trash, as long as it's well done. This might make make me an aesthete in a fin de siècle sense, but I suspect that what, Huysmans notwithstanding, it makes me, is irredeemably, unforgivably shallow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Brushfield Street happenstance

This is Dr Nick Bradshaw, and some other people, you can see their names. Nick's a pretty smart fellow. I count him as a friend - he cashed a cheque for me once - though I've seen him perhaps three times in the last five years. He was living in Brussels for a while, and then South London, both just a train journey away, both just too far to go, it seems.

On Tuesday morning I half-trip on the way into the shop where I work. This small incident recalls Nick to mind and I relay this thought to my colleague Paul. Nick used to see the world a little differently from most people and among his observations was that if, say, twenty-five percent of accidents occur outside the home, and seventy-three percent occur inside the home, the remaining percentage can only be accounted for by bizarre threshold accidents.

Later I dwindle off to the post office, and to light a secular candle for my late father (this habit may require further explanation at some other time). I walk with my head up, alert to possibilities. And I see him, Nick Bradshaw, walking the other way. We chat, briefly, about fatherhood, and other stuff. He tells me that he's given up the academic life and is working for a bank - the pay is better apparently. He is returning an empty box that he bought as a present for his sister. The box was supposed to contain some kind of paper lamp.

"Didn't you notice that the box was a little light?" I ask him.
"It's a paper lamp. How much is that going to weigh?"

We work out that it's more that two and a half years since we've seen each other. At this rate, I tell him, we'll only see each a dozen more times before we die. That's taking an average, a mean life expectancy, not allowing the possibility of premature death for either of us. Nick doesn't really answer this. Perhaps his better grasp of statistics reveals to him something that he thinks I'm better off not knowing. It's pretty chilly on Brushfield Street, the wind blows easterly from All Saint's towards the City. We say goodbye, agreeing to have lunch sometime soon.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Underlined reflections from an old notebook (Part 2)

Having shot the priest the two old men realised that they would now have to dispose of the gun and the getaway car.

...his eyes rimy with confusion. I gathered him aside.

"The results have been less than encouraging."

...she is hiding behind her hair.

He looks, for all the world, like a man trying to get his head around something.

Drink reduces us all to cliché.

The front of the building looked out to the Atlantic, west southwest, and got the light all day, and a extraordinary view of sea and sky and little else. It felt as though he had turned his back on England.

A dark little suspicion persists, that I have been gulled, at least in part.

Underlined reflections from an old notebook (Part 1)

My journey to work is significantly shorter and more crowded than it was six months ago. I travel into the city now, and I see different faces everyday. On the train out to Essex the same approximate group would occupy the same seats on the same carriage, forming a kind of silent, mobile community. To those others on the first eastbound carriage, if they registered my presence at all, I was recognisable as the guy in the brown shoes who scribbled furiously in a red plush notebook. It was bile, most of it, inspiration came rarely, on occasion no words would come at all - the pen hovered just above the page and there was something altogether ouija about it.

Nowadays, most days, I stand all the way in to Liverpool Street. It's no hardship, of course, but I am denied the luxury of scribbling. I rediscovered the plush notebook though, sifting through a disused messenger bag in search of sunglasses. And I discovered that semi-automatic writing is about as useful as ouija.

These fragments I have shored against my ruin...