Tuesday, October 31, 2006


For the past few mornings I've woken up and walked perhaps a hundred yards to paddle in the Mediterranean before breakfast and rinse my feet under a boardwalk shower as the sun climbed over low cloud. I've climbed the narrowing, steepening stairway to our apartment with groceries that taste sweeter having been bought in a foreign currency. There's an old joke about a guy hitting himself over the head with a hammer; when asked why he's doing it he says "It's great when it stops." I don't think I was ready to come home. It isn't great now it's stopped.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dirty Protest

Our premises, despite their location on one of London's more picturesque streets, are decidedly low-rent. There's no heating and the water supply is limited to a pipe projecting crudely from a wall downstairs. I'm obliged, therefore, to cross the market to the public toilets when nature calls. I went in there earlier, and in one of the cubicles someone had stuck yards and yards of paper to the walls using their own excrement as paste. A can of Tennent's Super stood empty, presumably, by the bowl. The whole thing was a tableau of hopelessness.

Which is not to say that my own attempts at self-expression here are of any greater value. But I am at least trying to communicate my sense of anomie without getting shit under my fingernails.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Arson, considered as a method to expedite probate

I'd love to burn it all. Carpets, linen, white goods, furniture, everything. Leave just the bare stones or better still knock that down and shift the land only, and see what that fetches. I hate the whole business and once again wish it could happen without me. It's irresponsible. It's not the way things are done. But I'm pretty sure, given the circumstances, that I'd get away with a few hours of community service. The back lawn never took; an intense fire, fit for Guy Fawkes, wouldn't matter at all.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Suppositious Angler

Izaak Walton, Freeman, Ironmonger, my Stuart counterpart (if you'll permit the conceit), looms large in my consciousness today, as if the imaginary catgut that somehow connects us down through the centuries has been tweaked by an unseen hand. This weekend I shall venture out into the Hertfordshire countryside and perhaps breathe the air on Amwell Hill. Then I'll contemplate a stream, and look for a flash of pike or grayling. The stream is life, flowing endlessly. I will strive for a gentler, more pious life. I will live long and well. I will accommodate changes of rule without compromising the core of myself. I shall not be a scoffer, witty or otherwise.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Strange to know nothing, never to be sure
Of what is true or right or real,
But forced to qualify or so I feel,
Or Well, it does seem so:
Someone must know.

I once attended a lecture given by Noam Chomsky, but he wasn't discussing the iniquities of U.S. foreign policy, he was talking instead about his main sphere of expertise, linguistics. He used words I was familiar with and discussed concepts I thought I understood (I had some grasp of the structure and development of language, or so I believed.) However it was impossible to follow what he was saying. My friend, Ian, attended the same lecture. Emerging from the auditorium into a bright Oxford afternoon that seemed to mock our own lack of brilliance we realised that we had shared an experience. We were unused to not getting it. It was too hard. Ian said "Every time I thought he was saying something I recognised and agreed with he would dismiss it as an example of inexact or idle thinking." It felt like we'd been reprimanded, but neither of us were sure what for. Ian completed his degree and is a partner in a firm of patent attorneys. I never fully recovered.

I click on Big Bang on the Wikipedia home page. I should explain - I used to take an interest in physics, in the wondrous massiveness of it. Astrophysics, cosmogony, the whole thing. My interest shifted to particle physics, practical physics, if you like, as I progressed through my twenties. There were enough external factors making me feel insignificant, I didn't need further reading to reinforce the idea that I was no more than a blip on a blip and that all my endeavours would disappear into the baseless fabric of this vision like footprints in wet sand. What's new, I wonder, in the world of extraordinarily clever men trying to figure out why and how the universe became, what gives?

It's a depressing exercise. I get halfway through a series of sentences but keep having to click on further links to ensure that I've understood the concept of the sentence from which I've linked. But the new article often contains ideas that are beyond me. It's like looking up an unusual word in a dictionary where the definitions employ still more obscure words. I descend, spiralling into an inescapable pit of unknowing. Philip Larkin, whose great facility was to communicate the panic and despair of the 20th century with a degree of calmness and well-concealed optimism comes to mind.

Strange to be ignorant of the way things work:
Their skill at finding what they need,
Their sense of shape, and punctual spread of seed,
And willingness to change;
Yes, it is strange,

Even to wear such knowledge - for our flesh
Surrounds us with its own decisions -
And yet spend all our life on imprecisions,
That when we start to die
Have no idea why.