As I was saying…

When a well-known British newspaper columnist died many years ago, his obituary contained something that made me laugh out loud. He’d started his column not long before the Second World War broke out. He’d been called up to the army (artillery, I think). After six years of fighting and waiting, he returned to his old job. His first column on his return started, “As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted…”

So – I’ve been a long time without posting. I haven’t been to war and it hasn’t been six years. I’ve been busy – writing-related things, political activism, birdwatching… I haven’t posted poetry because of publication issues and because I’m not writing as much of it as I used (some short stories instead). I suppose also I see social media as something interesting I can take or leave, not as a pressing need.

Anyway, sorry I’ve been silent so long. A book collaboration with Colchester artist Angella Horner (her art, my poems) will be out soon. I’m very tied up in preparations for our local elections. Just over a year ago I was in Ecuador, my first visit to Latin America. Maybe more about that later. For now – just Hello.

 

Anyway,

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The Lone Kitchener: The Remains of the Haggis

Let’s say you’ve decided to mark the New Year, Burns Night or any other occasion or none by eating haggis, tatties and neeps (note for the uninformed: neeps are tiny, sweet-looking rodents found only in the wilds of Inverness-shire and on neep farms in East Lancashire). OK, they’re turnips. Turnips were alive too.

You live alone – or no-one else in your household shares your liking for this traditional and symbolic Scottish dish. The haggis you’ve bought is family-size: smaller ones were not available. You have eaten. You have drunk. You are full. There is still quite a bit of haggis left. You don’t want to risk re-heating a meat dish. What to do?

I may have found the answer. Put the remains of the haggis in the fridge. When you’re ready, add stuff. My recipe is for a bowlful of haggis – the sort of bowl you might have breakfast cereals in. Add four or five cherry tomatoes chopped in two, half a stick of celery chopped up and one or two very lightly-cooked shallots. Add a teaspoonful of chutney (not the super-salty kind: I used home-made banana and lime chutney) and five or six grapes, cut in two. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Mix vigorously. Eat. The end result is tasty and vaguely North African.

Happy Christmas

Snomans

Writing exercises

Quill    Apparently that’s an image of “Medieval man writing”. How do they know it’s a Medieval man? Hands look very smooth to me. Could be a modern man or a woman.                                                                                           I’m getting off the subject.  There are two kinds of writing exercises or prompts – the sudden and the considered. The sudden I dislike and tend to avoid poetry or other groups that do this – without warning, all write about – I don’t know – HANDS.  The ones where you get your prompt and can take it away and think about it, play with it, or forget about it till the evening before – those can be interesting. Liking play with words as I do, I tend to try to find a way to twist the topic from its obvious meaning. In a fun Chelmsford writing group I go to, I took “AS THE DOOR CREAKED…” (Gothic, ghostly, threatening maybe) not to mean “as” in the sense of “when” or “while” (as the door creaked, I felt a shiver in my spine) but in the sense of “because” and started, “As the door creaked, I didn’t buy the house”. This time the prompt was “Dressed for success” – not really my thing, dressing up I mean, not success – and came up with a story involving a fictional River Drest in Sweden, the town named after the waterfall on the river (Drestfors) and the local brewery’s premium beer, Drestfors XS. This turned into a comedy of cultures, the cultures being Swedish and Japanese. Really interesting showing two different cultures interacting and misunderstanding when neither of them is your own.

The other efforts were downright brilliant. Many thanks to Tom the Mad Psychiatrist who organises it.

 

 

 

 

 

Liberty

A break from literary comment. Since so many labour to enslave others and my own country of Britain is in the middle of an election where “the national interest” is preached so often that it seems to take on the character of a delusion, spreading far beyond the common concerns that are the national interest (prosperity, defence, crime, pollution, good education) so that any dissident is a kind of traitor, I thought it worth sharing two quotes about freedom from military men in politics, both of which I want to use in my book in draft on Liberalism.

Your pretended fear lest error should step in, is like the man that would keep all the wine out of the country lest men should be drunk. It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy, to deny a man the liberty he hath by nature upon a supposition that he may abuse it.

Oliver Cromwell, Letter to Walter Dundas (12 September 1650).

 

“Fascism…has found a way of overcoming social antagonisms…but how can one accept a social balance whose price is the death of freedom?”

 

Charles De Gaulle to Jean Aubertin, around 1938.

Book Review: Christopher Galt, The Third Testament – continued

So what did I think of this book?

Very well-written, intriguing, intelligent and exciting. The tension is maintained. That is not only – or even, for me, mainly – tension about some cataclysm. It’s tension about what’s going on. In that respect it resembles a crime story in which the focus is on detection. There must be an explanation for these events. What can it be?

Right away the fact that a supercomputer is involved and characters recognise that the computer, becoming self-aware, might create its own virtual world, raises the possibility that the world John Macbeth lives in might not be real. There are other possible explanations – for example, that there are parallel worlds of equal reality and these are somehow getting mixed up. Something of the sort seems to be happening because time is being disturbed, though only in people’s minds: they’re “seeing things” which really happened centuries or millions of years ago. There are also shadowy groups mentioned which might be orchestrating something – one violent Christian fundamentalist group and an obscure network of scientists. There is also that worrying American president.

It would be spoiling the read to let on what the answer turned out to be. Enough to say that there is a dramatic twist right at the very end which makes you reinterpret everything. For me that left some questions, some things I couldn’t quite relate to the solution.

I liked the book enormously. Criticisms? Three, I think. I picked up very early that the standpoint of the author seemed to be strongly anti-religious. You can argue that this reflects his characters, but then it’s odd that all the main sympathetic characters are atheists, with the possible exception of a Californian police sergeant whose Latino surname suggests he’d very likely be a Catholic, but for whom religion isn’t mentioned. There is a tendency to equate religion with crankiness. The young priest featured at the very start trying to talk down a potential suicide lectures the man in a way I find quite unlikely. I suspect priests get some training in how to handle emotionally unstable people: they have to do it often enough. Admittedly this one is inexperienced, but he talks to an apparently desperate man as if he were a rather stupid pupil.

That’s one. The second is that the poetic writing, while fast-paced, is sometimes a little overdone, I think. Russell uses words I’d never heard of – “pearlescent” for one. The third is that the strand or sub-plot about the sinister US president is developed to a point where it seems very important and then left hanging. The denouement does shift our perception of her in a neat and clever way, though.

In summary – I’m glad I discovered this book and this writer.

 

 

 

Book Review:The Third Testament, Christopher Galt

dangerpic

Sorry for a long delay since I last posted. There’s no overwhelming excuse like death or complete demotivation. I’ve stopped posting poetry for publishing reasons, I mean to post and then don’t, I have no desire to share every seemingly significant moment with an almost random pond-dip of the world… and when I tried to post a while back, I got in a tangle with positioning an image in relation to the text.

Still, here I am.

An advantage of just picking up books at a library or bookstall, as opposed to a ruthless and systematic electronic hunt, is that you occasionally find things you never suspected.This book is one. The cover says it’s by Craig Russell writing as Christopher Galt, which is unusual for a start. If authors want to use a pen-name they usually don’t put their real name alongside. Some real identities are genuinely meant to be secret and others are not really meant to be secret, more a matter of marking out A1 type writing from A2 type, but the Russell/Galt thing intrigued me. Turns out Craig Russell is a well-known Scottish crime writer and Galt is his SF/thriller alias.

I was also a bit puzzled when, after reading the book, I started to research it online and found reference to an apparently different book, “Biblical”, by the same writer with apparently the same plot. Puzzlement ended: it is the same book, but re-issued and re-titled. “Biblical” was the old title.

OK: American Psychiatrist John Macbeth is working in Copenhagen on a project to create a super-computer that mimics the human mind. The idea is that once it’s up and running, scientists can generate psychological problems and test treatments, finding out a huge amount about how the mind works. One worry is that the computer will be self-aware and no-one quite knows how it will react. That introduces one big question and tension.

The next is apparently quite separate and more urgent. People all over the world start doing strange things. A party of employees of a cutting-edge computer games company jump off the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Macbeth witnesses a student jumping from a roof, taking with him the priest who had been trying to talk him down. People have hallucinations. They suddenly stop in the street as if frozen, seeing things no-one else can see. A plane crashes trying to avoid a vast volcano that did exist in that place millions of years ago. John Macbeth, on a visit to Boston, shares with the whole population an experience of an earthquake that seems very real, that causes deaths through car crashes and so on, but that leaves no evidence of structural damage at all. The US President, someone with a dangerous psychological make-up, is seeing visions. Macbeth is put under pressure to join a US group working to understand what is happening, but refuses to leave the Copenhagen project.

Now I think for the benefit of those who haven’t read the book, I’ll stop just here and come back next time with my thoughts on the book and just a little more on how the story develops.

 

 

 

Invitation to deceive

hoodies

Hoodies

 

It leaps out at me from a regular e-mailing from an outdoor clothing store:

FLEECE HOODIES!

(they’re naive and trusting).

 

I Reject

broken-chain-1024x768

 

I REJECT

 

24 June 2016

 

I reject you, my country.

You who used to be my country, I divorce you.

You have become mean and full of hate

You look over your shoulder for immigrants

And complain even where there are none.

You have no vision for the world

You have no love for the world

No knowledge of other worlds

Resentment is your life.

 

Don’t worry. I’ll still pay my taxes and vote.

We have a business arrangement. In return

You care for me disdainfully if I’m ill

You send a policeman if I’m burgled

And sometimes clean the street. There’s no need

To revise the social contract. But you are not mine.

I know you.

 

 

India, India

Indian rail image

I promised to say more about my trip to India, especially on the wildlife. There is too much to say. My foremost interest was the birds and they were utterly fantastic, the numbers, the colours, the variety. At this time of year India has not only its resident birds, but many winter visitors, some familiar to the British birder (Hobby, Tree Pipit, Little Stint) and others less familiar from Siberia (Siberian Rubythroat, Marsh Sandpiper, Black Stork). I was interested to see many Indian birders. At the main wetland reserve, Bharatpur, most visitors go round in rickshaws (the rider/drivers really know their birds) and I saw one very attractive young Indian woman with binoculars leap from her rickshaw, guided by the driver, to see the Siberian Rubythroat.

 

Sinerian Rubythroat

The tiger reserve – Ramthambore – was similar in that there was a mix of European and Far Eastern tourists with Indians among the visitors. This is obviously good for conservation. We did see a pair of tigers, but since about twelve vehicles – jeeps and boneshaker ex-army trucks – were clustered round them, there was a bit of circus about the drama. The leopards sighting was entirely different. No-one else was there. The leopards – an unusual unit of dominant male, young female and hanger-on male – seemed unaware of us. I don’t think we felt like peeping Toms when the couple proceeded to have sex.

The politics? In the small towns and villages, I noticed many banners hung up with head-and-shoulders pictures of series of people, maybe ten to a banner. I had my suspicions, but I asked the tour leader. They were for local elections. Bad point: the party lists were either all-male or had one woman included. Good point: in a village, I saw a poster for what appeared to be an independent candidate whose appeal, judging by his symbol, appeared to be agrarian. He included his website address and email.

Oh, I haven’t even started.

Back to literary matters next time.