Archive for May, 2012

The last post was my 500th and I felt, perhaps self-indulgantly, that the milestone deserved a little marking.  I started blogging 8 1/2 years ago in order to regulate my writing and give me an outlet effectively to replace lined pieces of paper and diary-type books which were constantly going missing.  In that time I’ve met people both online and in person, had some excellent contributions, and hopefully made the odd one or two.  At the beginning this method of communication was comparatively new, there were people doing it who had been for some time but there were a great many more who had never heard of it and looked quizzically when I mentioned it.  I had heard about it through media coverage of the so-called Baghdad blogger, Salam Pax, who started at a similar time to me but was picked up very early in The Guardian due to the currency of his postings in Iraq at the time.  Pax last posted in 2009 from what I can see and largely ramped down in 2006.  By this time there were many people blogging, it was before the phenomena of Facebook and Twitter where people needed an outlet for their mindless inane ramblings.  Some of it was unadulterated tosh, but the same might often be said of mine, why should opinions of the global and national events of the day be any more valid than those of very localised events about the type of clothing one is wearing to parties?!

In the early days I wrote a lot, at time a self-confessional, at time chronicle and usually rants from the rather left wing of the political dial.  Within a few months there were a few people who seemed to regularly read my ramblings.  It was nice to have a connection to others across the world at a time when in my personal life I was confined to a small one room bedsit and writing was the escape.  Additionally the interaction from others often sparked new ideas and new posts and the desire to write often enough was good for regulating my output and stemming the lethargy that I often succumbed to.  I’ve spoken to those who share similar political leanings as me to the holocaust denier on the other end of the spectrum.  There is no greater catalyst to inspire writing than the actions of others, whether one agrees or vehemently opposes.  There was even a period of about 3 months when I wrote every day just to see if I could do it.  As I was listening to the news constantly in order to have subjects to rant about I was very much alive and participating in the online world at large and it spilled over into my work life, an environment increasingly unaccepting of my brand of political diatribe.   In some ways my actions through the formative years of the new job I started at almost exactly the time I did my blog shaped people’s opinions of me that last to this day, for better or worse.  By the middle of 2006 due in no small part to personal reasons my output subsided and became perhaps 2 posts in a month rather than a couple in most weeks.  It became almost a chore, a desire to keep something going that I had held dear to me at a time of flux but my heart wasn’t in it in truth.

I went on hiatus for a long while, online fripperies took up far more time than they should have done, it was a more immediate method of communication replacing face-to-face contact in many cases, it did make you feel connected for a while but then, at least to me, became far more disconnected a medium due to its short conversational style.  There is little place for wordy monologues now and some might say this is a good thing but I object to trying to shoehorn what I wish to say into 140 characters.  This may make me more verbose than I should or could be but to speak to the outside world with only really the people you know following you, if even them, feels like an admission that the essay is dead, or just in-depth conversation.  I do not wish to play a part in the murder of prose.  I like long words when searching for the correct word or term for something I want the one that is most apt, or apposite, but were I to say ‘more appropriate’ that would already take up 10% of my allocation so I would have to restrict myself and this is low-fat communication, better for you but tastes like shit.

Besides which as an experiment I checked myself occasionally to see whether or not I had a sort of pithy retort the like of which I might see fit to post in so short a space.  The only time I remember thinking that I had a good tweet was –

Drinking Irish beer in a Cuban bar in a German city.

– which I thought possessed both my own activity and one of some interest and would be worthy, in that moment only, in my having such an account to post to.  This was in 2010 so had I been an early adopter of Twitter the endless tripe that might have preceded and ensued would have been a pretty unfulfilling experience both for me and anyone unlucky enough to read my feed more than the once.  That is not to say there are a great deal of people here nowadays, it is like the small town in the Klondike that had its brief bedlam of people and activity when blogging became the online gold only to become a ghost town when the resource was exhausted and people went in search of it elsewhere.  Every now and again a lost traveller stops in to ask directions and I think the Wild West analogy should probably stop there.

I found the silence made my writing more about what I wished to say than what I thought people might wish to hear.  I don’t mean that I was purely writing for the audience but I was probably more likely to self-censor to protect some of my own identity.  Now it is back to barking at the moon, people are no longer blog diving and therefore no longer find you which is at times liberating and at times discomforting.  Anyone who writes does so to be heard, otherwise you wouldn’t write, it is a method of communication just as direct speech, but unlike talking it affords you the time to work out what it is you want to say before someone comes back and tells you that you are wrong and why they think so.  It is also a way to commit one’s life to posterity, even if you write about things that are not related to yourself, the words you use, the way you see things and the experience of your eyes in seeing those things changes all the time as you age and it is in the very style that this is most visible if you know how to read it.  I find the idea of trying to build a picture of someone based on throwaway comments that have been distilled into a mere sentence saddening, as if identifying a body from dental records rather than unearthing a perfectly preserved specimen that tells so much about the individual and the time in which they lived.

Perhaps people have just evolved to the point where demands on their time are so many and so varied that to sit and write long blocks of text is a luxury they feel they can no longer afford.  Maybe it is a fashion the future generations will see as folly and return to the written word.  Or I might just be a dinosaur clinging on to a fading food source as many around have moved on, evolved or died out.  If it is the latter then so be it, I shall go down writing.

Song Of The Day ~ Air – Alone In Kyoto

It was admittendly some years after Fi’onna that I had heard the afternoon play. Initially it was easy to listen to the mellifluous voices, those of actors familiar, the woman’s warm yet vulnerable, the man’s enthusiastic and slightly swashbuckling. The nature of the familiarity of those voices led to a superficial involvement for a time, until the plot deepened it was so carefully crafted and well-acted that it pulled like a plughole and it brought it all back. The play highlighted the highs and the lows of non-physical contact, a relationship that is often more intense than those not familiar with it could imagine, often more intense even than the physical itself. It is something I know, something I got caught up in, an intensity that burns to the touch but is as nurturing as the sun in what would otherwise be the blackest darkness. There is the sensual direction of the person being as much as you could ever hope for, there is nothing to suggest they may not be all you wanted, needed and perhaps more. There is the heightening frisson of getting slowly, almost inexorably, closer and closer to someone, the very denial of certain senses necessitating an inexorable reliance on the others. A reliance we are not used to, a downhill run too steep to be measured or braked. What begins as a safe gradual relaxation of the boundaries, distance affording a cape of seeming invincibility, continues as a headlong dash, the wind whistling past, the thrill of the speed and the knowledge that the sensation is daring, exciting, utterly out of control, maybe there is no end, maybe this time the brick wall is made of paper and the velocity will bring you crashing through to the other side and a world where pain and cynicism is replaced by contentment and a lack of expectation of either good or ill, a living for being alive. It is as much beauty as it is tragedy.

The dynamic whilst not unique to inter-personal relationships is more critical because the lack of the space between. Those undulations of moods the patterns of love, trust, fear and faith coinciding only at specific points on the graph to allow empathy and connection whilst at other times seeming so distant as if reality tries to yank back from the edge of something that could be so much better. The highs of the psychological narcotic are such as to be so alluring, so consuming as to lay waste to the otherwise mundanity of the day. This in turn left the yearning in times of no drug to be as excruciating as to be physically tortured and the effects on mood just the same. There is all too often so little information that just to survive the silence we invent something, anything, just to show we are still there and they are with us, the mind trying to give us one last safety net suspending us over that abyss that spells a pain we cannot begin to speculate on. For me it was as emotionally violent as a previous relationship had been physically so, although on this occasion it had not been by design merely by circumstance.

In truth I could romanticise about how it all started but I don’t really know, or remember, or perhaps both. What I do know is the chain of coincidences that led to it. A chance comment on a picture put up on a profile to justify the humorous title of same led to a cheerful response because something in the comment had seemed bright, neither serious nor flippant, more friendly than merely polite. Therein began a conversation that effectively lasted 2.5 years and the effect a further 1.5 subsequent to that, the full fallout cannot be adequately measured because all events in our lives shape the people we become. We would be different if not for them and the world and our perception of it and those within it would be altered. We are the sum of our experiences coupled with our genetic predisposition as to what we are able to experience. Given these factors and who we are at a specific time we were perhaps always going to head along certain paths. I was always going to fall for her because she was always going to be the one that drew me in at that time in my life.

Just as the deep rush of positive emotion made me feel childlike, the exuberance, the cradle of a new creativity, a tone to my writing and a sudden outpouring of feelings and fresh awareness of the world and the things around it. The garage door opened, the light coming only from the gap under the door now flooded in with a radiance that brought with it warmth, vivid colour, and a small amount of fear. So the end when it came left a feeling the like of which I had not felt since 17, that first breaking of innocence, the dashing of the hopes that you may have held within you since the notion of deep relationships first starting growing from the soil in your dreams. Such uprooting is not like trimming the leaves or deadheading the flowers, nor even cutting into the stem, it is a wrenching from the roots removing the whole plant. It will not grow back. This is not hyperbole, this is not some idea that the world is over, it isn’t, there may be other circumstances there may not but this strand of innocence is gone, the empirical evidence now replaces the dream, any future moment that appears to be proceeding down the same path will ring alarm bells. Others will inevitably be judged by the sins of them that have gone before, it is unfair, it is unavoidable.

I have long since speculated as to whether given the chance to expunge the events and memories of that period I would do so. At times I have had distance and grace to think that I would not, that the writing to her and the emotions accompanying it were such as to tell me that which I did not know about myself, a level of me I had not hitherto attained not even been aware of, a seam yet to have been mined. There have been darker times when the hastily applied dressing has come off and opened up the wound a little to reveal raw flesh beneath and the twinge of pain that just piques a reminder, briefly spells the agony that once required such hasty binding of the cuts then. In those moments I would go back to the cynical and yet more naive me – a person not aware of that which could be and the consequences of both its successes and failure and I would tell myself to run in order to preserve the little saplings so that they may live to grow in better soil,

Like so much that we have to put away before its time so as to function properly day to day there sits at the back of my mind a box and in it the ephemera of each section of memories and unsolved little strands of them that wait in case ever needed for a little haunting, a little self criticism or just occasionally, very occasionally to be tied up and put on the shelf with the other things that time and closure has rendered benign. The latter is far rarer than the formers but not impossible and the catharsis drawn from such a situation is liberating. I sometimes believe that were I to have neatly tidied all the boxes I would be a happy man living a normal life, but I might also be dead with nothing left to make me live from one day to the next. It is only ever likely to be something I hypothesise about.

To open such boxes is a dangerous business, like chemically induced highs you may never quite know what you are going to get and once the walking of that path is begun there is no turning back for some time. Moreover it is not always within your control to keep the lid on the box and so in this instance it was that the play acted as the catalyst that heated the feelings causing them to expand and push off the lid to release themselves into the air again. It did not awaken the sorts of emotions there had been before, neither the level of love nor the level of anguish. In fact it wasn’t to do with the level of these at all, the detachment itself was both illuminating and disquieting. Time had not healed, the wound was still there but it had not bled for a while and I had forgotten what it felt like to have it do so. It could never be as bad as it was originally, then there was no way I could have expected that severity of pain, now it is just like revisiting something unpleasant but familiar where it is more the memory of how unpleasant it was at the time that causes the emotion than the specifics of the actual discomfort now.

In physical relationships we very often have things that go wrong and breakups that are not of our choosing, but there has often been much beforehand that we have learnt, the very variety of our senses bring us to conclusions of what is going on. After these there is often a proximity to a person that forces us into a state of acecptance or ambivalence, we are forced to confront the situation head on, the person continues to exist in our physical world (even if at times we may wish they did not) and this requires us to act. This is not at all the same with distance, endings are abrupt, feelings forced off like a broken circuit, sinapses still twitching and shaking as the energy of the impulses ebbs away. It is not just that a relationship is dead, the whole world with it has died, the person no longer exists and this is unnatural and allows your brain no peace. The cliff face has collapsed whilst you were standing on it.

Memories of things in the physical world are rounded, colour and odour, a sense of how someone moves and holds themselves, their bathroom habits, their clothing anomalies, the foibles that come together to make up the whole. Yet this means that the life goes on as an undulation the peaks and troughs not always noticable in the way they might be for the lack of stark comparison. But is this not better than the sharp climb to a world of more personal completion and the plummet to a world where the realisation that one is not and has never been whole renders it an aberration, a place devoid of the pleasures one used to take comfort in?

If you return to black and white having seen colour where black and white can no longer ever be the same, would you prefer to have continued life in black and white in ignorance that this is a hollow bliss or a comfortable numbness or is the fact that you then know that colour exists making your world the richer even if you are not able to enjoy it. Answers on a coloured postcard.

Song Of The Day ~ Gotye (feat. Kimbra) – Somebody I used To Know

So let’s look at the old car first. I can get a nice old car for £500, I have done for the last few years, cars that in their day cost a great deal of money but are now out of favour.If my car were to get 35 miles to the gallon – not a great deal by modern standards (and actually a little less than I do get but it makes the maths easier). Say I was to do 500 miles a month with 35mpg and petrol at £1.40/litre that would mean I would need 14.29 gallons for my monthly mileage (1 gallon = 3.79 ltrs) so 54 ltrs. which is £75.80 per month. My tax would be £220 /year which equates to £18.33 / month. Insurance generally costs around £35/month and then you have to take into consideration general wear and tear and other costs such as MOT and any work that needs doing for it. (MOT – £40, assume £100 to sort niggles and £100 wear and tear, on brakes, fluids, tyres, seals etc. = £20/month)

So my old car, with nice specifications costs me somewhere in the region of £150 a month – no small amount of money when you consider I’ve spent £500 on the car in the first year this means £2290 in total so over a 5 year period (being that of the warranty of most new cars) this would mean £9450 – let’s say £10,000 for sake of argument, and the odd major blip to do with the engine or such like. At this point I own my car and could sell it for a similar amount to that which I paid provided I have kept it in good condition. (I could also decide to convert my engine to lpg gas power which would decrease emissions as well as lower the cost of fuel. This conversion would cost around £1000)

To get a new car of equivalent initial value at the time as mine is no small cost, but let us take one that is a hybrid to give the full advantage of a new car.. Were I to take a BMW (the same make as my old car) this would cost £48000 and get 44.1mpg so let’s not take that or the comparison would be not worth making. Let’s take a VW Golf Bluemotion. Reasonable spec and around £8000 outright buy price. For an extra £300 you can get a service warranty for 30000 miles or 3 years, whichever is the shorter. Taking my 500 miles a month figure you would not exceed the 30000 in the 3 year period. As the car is new you would not have to pay for an MOT test and let us presume the tax is £0 (I don’t think it is, but some hybrid cars are so we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt). Let’s also give it an inflated mpg because I know some claim to be able to do over 70. So taking 70 mpg baseline x my 500 miles I would need 7.14 gallons half the amount and only £37.90/ month for fuel. So for my first 3 years I’m paying £9364 in purchase price and fuel, add £1260 for 3 years worth of insurance (although with the car being worth far more the insurance will be higher) = £10624. The subsequent 2 years will cost more, I will no longer receive free servicing and if I do not get the car serviced I will lose further value on it – already my car will have depreciated by >20% just for having used it at all. However the car should be reliable so let us half the £500 I have allocated to my older car for niggles. The insurance cost is likely to stay steady because although the car depreciates in value and I get a no claims bonus the cost of insurance is usually rising, and I was generous at the beginning so you’ll have to allow me this one! So £250 niggles, £840 insurance, £910 fuel, £100 x2 wear and tear = £2200 +£10624 = £12824 full 5 year cost. Rounding up as I did with the old car analogy it’s £13,000

The difference in latent financial cost is therefore £3000 however there is of course the environmental issue of my old car’s emissions, these have a much higher concentration of CO2 compared with a modern car, some of which have very little. Though I could get the lpg conversion for £1k. It is estimated that 11% of carbon impact comes from production of the car with the rest coming from the usage. So were you to buy a hybrid car for example it is likely to be more environmentally efficient than a used car. However in the example of the VW Golf as I have given I am having to come up with £8k just to start the process, if I were to go for the finance option of paying every month I would pay a great deal more in total – somewhere around £10k and if at any point I missed payments I would effectively own nothing. This does not detract from the environmental argument but even were I to look at a used hybrid car I am looking at around £5000 minimum, even factoring in a part exchange on my old car at full value that takes it down to £4500.

So using this rather basic example green cars are indeed cheaper to the environment than old petrol and diesel cars the cost is not environmental but financial. It is simply not feasible for most people to come up with several thousand pounds, when the squeeze on petrol prices, the loss of earnings due to inflation and the rise in home energy prices are pushing surplus income to a bare minimum. I would I confess reluctantly give up my old car but given the large reduction in monthly expenditure it would certainly persuade me to do so were I to be able to afford it. The lack of being able to save this money where those with more disposable income were able to do so further widens the division between those on the higher incomes from those on the lower ones. It is the same sort of argument with taking the train (where it exists as an option for your journey), or regular buses (should the routes exist that make you able to use these) the cost of these so frequently price the lower-incomed out of the market. Environmental considerations are wonderful if only we could afford them.

Song Of The Day ~ Deacon Blue – Raintown

When I first saw the trailers for Derek I was concerned as it looked like Ricky Gervais had written what was supposed to be a comedy about what appeared a clichéd depiction of someone with learning difficulties and/or autism.  It seemed that if the trailer looked this crass I was either misinterpreting the program, or that the depiction was inaccurate, or just that it was a shit and potentially very bigotted piece of writing.  I have to give context here, I do not like Ricky Gervais, I don’t find him particularly funny and as a person he comes across as pretty objectionable. I saw him first on the comic current affairs program the 11 o’clock show many years ago where he was given a brief solo spot, I did not find him at all funny he seemed bland and a little puerile and I did not expect him to return to the screen.  Looking back now it is easy to superimpose thoughts I have had since onto how I felt about him then, in truth I simply did not give him much time, he wasn’t prominent or notable enough.   Now I could see his performances then as having something of the counter-revolutionary alternative comedy about them, the post-modern Jim Davidson if you like, stripped of any tangible malice or outright bigotry but neither especially witty nor observant.  The comedian for Thatcher’s children and that’s still an overriding impression I have.  My guess is that he would be very matey if you were in his gang and a right twat if you weren’t.  So that does tell you the colour glasses I’d be wearing when casting a critical eye over his output.  I hope I have retained some objectivity or at least that my subjectivity has grounds!

The Office was largely well-written and certainly well-acted and had David Brent been played by someone else I think the tragi-comedy element would have been drastically heightened.  It is easy for me to find fault with something that has been a huge success, but success means good no more than it means perfect. For me the Ricky Gervais David Brent was consistently annoying, not uncommon in anti-heroes but with few if any redeeming features and here lay the lack of any sympathy for the character it was an exercise in car-crash tv waiting for the next excruciating cringe.  Having myself at the time an office workplace and line managers with equally few redeeming features I wallowed in this dramatisation of what seemed like my career it was an identification with rather than a wry regard from without.

Gervais’s next project was ‘Extras” which seemed frankly an excuse to get as many famous actors onto a series as possible, as if simply notches on a slate.  I found it disengaging and consequently disengaged.  I heard few if any people speaking about it and no evidence that i had made a rash decision.

Gervais then went to Hollywood and the trailer I saw for the film in which he was cast made me think of a vehicle of a Black And White Minstrel show using Gervais as a quirky Englishman playing to American stereotypes.  Now this is not fair since I did not see the film and trailers are notoriously biased toward what they think will appeal to the audience they are hoping to attract, but I’ve once written a review of a film I didn’t see that received a favourable comment from someone who had done so I’m no stranger to judgementalism!

And so on to Derek.  The only thing I had heard about the program was Gervais’s assertion that this was a favourable portrayal.  For the entire program Derek is shown with facial ticks, a perpetual open-mouthed gormless expression, a shuffling gait and a constant repetition of words in what would often be categorised as an autistic fashion. It is the pastiche of how anyone might perceive the autistic, the sort of ‘man in the street’ view of “the afflicted”.  Derek’s dress sense is no less clichéd the shirt top button done up, the lack of any colour in the clothing, stereotypical light brown shirt and dark brown jacket with nylon slacks directly out of 1974. Having been very recently to a centre dealing with people with extreme conditions of learning difficulty I can state without fear of contradiction that in those I met fashion sense has moved on at the same pace as everyone else’s.

Ultimately the show was meant to be a comedy and so should be judged in that light but the comedy elements Gervais writes are obvious and badly crafted, the sitting on the bowl on the chair, the falling in the pond are both utterly cringeworthy and tedious. Sometimes being able to see what is coming can be funny others it looks staged and ridiculous and this falls into the latter, it makes standing on a rake or slipping on a banana skin look new and edgy.  When he tries to show anything other than a vacant staring open-mouthed simpleton it comes across as clumsy, no more is this better illustrated than when one of the elderly inhabitants dies and Derek is recounting that she has said that it was more important to be kind than clever or good looking at which point he stumbles out that he is neither clever or good looking but is kind.  It just seems awkward, something one could not imagine a character that is not autistic saying, one would have expected more self-deprecation from a non-autistic person.  It was a scene that could and should have been tender and emotional and with minimum difficulty save for an ability to act.  In The Office Gervais had the excuse to look into the camera as this was in the context of it being a fly-on-the-wall documentary, Derek uses the same premise but his continuing to look in the camera gives more the impression that the style is used to allow Gervais to keep attention on him rather than anything else.  The character would probably have been a great deal more convincing if less comfortable in from of the camera.

Kerry Goodleman’s performance had some heart and her head butting one of the chavs on the way out of the pub was definitely the funniest moment of the 1/2 hour, admittedly without comparison.  Karl Pilkington, who in the limited experience I have of him comes across as a fairly vacuous person, gives a performance that shows Gervais up and this is in spite of Pilkington’s character being very unsympathetic.  Where Pilkington’s character performs the task of highlighting how little we think of the treatment of elderly people the defence is mounted in such a way by Gervais as to make it look like it is only normal for it to be so negative since those who do care have something wrong with them.  There was little else that offered any redemption and I cannot help but see it as a loss of time in my life that I would like to have back to spend more constructively.

If this is supposed to be sympathetic and demonstrating feeling for a character who may suffer ridicule and stigma due merely to his style and manner it is a horrendous way of doing so and is either the fault of the writer(s) or Gervais’ acting that this does not come across at all. The character and acting of Gervais in this is self-indulgant, ill-conceived and cruel.  It strikes me as being one that Gervais has seen in someone somewhere and decided to embellish and exploit for comic purpose in a sniggering and schoolboy way and this perhaps more than anything else shows how we allow certain people to be treated.  It is childish in the sort of way that is not merely ignorant humour but has a nastier streak.  Whether or not Gervais feels such a critique is unfair this is the way I found the program and I fail to see how anyone else might find it otherwise.  The trouble with humour is that whilst it is to be defended in its lampooning of things and I have stood up for Chris Morris in the past for his very sharp and deeply uncomfortable depictions of bigotry and fear it is because I feel that his doing so is not of malicious intent but is designed in essence to be constructive to prick the bubble of malign acquiescence that that which is harmful.  Of course once again this is my subjective interpretation of constructive so perhaps I should defend Gervais’s right to be shit, he will certainly continue to be so with or without my blessing.

Song Of The Day ~ Echobelly – Dark Therapy