Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Tossed Coin

Midair, and winking,
an eyelid that flickers

an REM of cupronickel,
silvered eyeball blank

with numismatic bliss,
the abdicated will-to-choose

heads, I shall follow my brain
tails, I shall follow my dick.

Any coin-tossing man knows.
All choices, at root, are this choice.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Life is modest

But after all, life is modest; it is consciousness that is vainglorious. This is because it is in the nature of consciousness to exaggerate (we can go further: consciousness really wouldn't be possible without this exaggeration).

Thursday, 29 July 2010


Joannes Stobaeus quotes Aristotle to the effect that 'he who has overcome his fears will truly be free.' (A variant version of this sentiment is: I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who overcomes his enemies.) This is one of Aristotles' more famous assertions, I suppose; and there's a level on which it's patently true: our fears can make slaves of us. But that's not to say that a life utterly without fear would be anything other than a ghastliness: only the psychopath lives the completely fearless life (only a god or a monster, in Greek idiom). We need to embrace the good fears, the ones that make us human (the fear that those we love might come to harm; the fear that we've hurt others' feelings, the fear of failure) and live them as moderate components of a joyful life.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


Clouds and contrails against the blockprinted blue of a mapmaker's ocean.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Pouring a glass of wine

The wine pours from the bottle, from the cylinder through the glass pipe neck. The wine is a twisty rope. It is toxins that give it that red hue. The wine is the red snake that leaps down from the bottle writheing in the sunlight to curl in the glass.

Glug glug

to dirty ears.

Monday, 26 July 2010


Never mind Pre-Raphaelite art. We need a Pre-Lascauxian art.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A New Midas 4

[Parts 1 & 2; Part 3]

: 4 :

When Leo came down for breakfast the following morning he had come to a conclusion. His parents, the doctor -- none of them had believed him. His teachers would probably be just as doubting. He would tell Peter, but otherwise he would keep it to himself.

What had happened to him? He had to try and find out. Also, he was going to have to find more money from somewhere if he wasn't going to starve to death.

His Dad was sitting at the breafast table drinking coffee, with two pieces of dry toast on a plate before him, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice waiting next to the juicer. 'Good morning Leo,' he said. 'Your mother is unwell, I'm afraid, so it's just me.'

'Oh dear,' said Leo. 'What's the matter?'

'I've no idea. She was fine. But then she drank a cup of tea and immediately she started throwing up. She only just made it to the toilet in time! She's gone back to bed.'

'Perhaps there was something wrong with the tea?'

'Hmm,' said his Dad, his attention on the TV in the corner of the kitchen. He was watching the news, as he always did. 'Anyway, you must be hungry, my boy. You hardly ate anything yesterday!'

Leo thought guiltily of his midnight snack, and of devouring the contents of his piggy bank. Although why he should feel guilty is a mystery. It was his money, after all! Surely a person is entitled to do what they wish with their own money? At any rate, he said to his father: 'I'll take some toast and ... eat it on the way to school, alright?'

'Hmm?' said his Dad, not paying attention.

'I've got to rush to school, Dad,' said Leo. 'I'll grab some toast and eat on the way, OK?'

His Mum would never have allowed that; but his Dad wasn't really focussing. 'Well don't take my toast -- I must have overtoasted it. Rock hard!'

Leo put some bread in the toaster, ran to the hall to grab his bag and jacket, and came back just as the toast popped up. He wasn't even going to pretend eating it; it was all for his Dad's benefit. But Dad wasn't even paying attention. 'Have a good day,' he said absently, lifting the glass of orange juice to his lips, his eyes still on the breakfast news presenter.

'Bye Dad,' said Leo.

His Dad made a peculiar grunting noise, and for a moment Leo thought he was going to stop him. But then he said: 'tastes funny,' and he peered into the top of his orange juice.

Leo went to the front door, and opened it. He was just about to step outside when his Dad burst from the kitchen, leaped across the hall, and dived into the downstairs loo. At once, Leo could hear the unmistakeable, revolting sound of his father throwing up.

'You OK Dad?' he asked, coming back into the house.

The sound of vomiting stopped, started retchingly up again, and then stopped. 'Oh dear,' groaned his father, from the other side of the loo-door. 'I appear to have been sick.'

'I could hear! Are you going to be OK?'

'It must have been the orange juice.'

'Or,' said Leo, 'maybe it's a bug, and you caught it from Mum?'

There was a silence. 'Possibly,' said his Dad. He didn't sound convinced.

'Do you want me to stay?'

'No, no. You go to school. I'll be fine. I feel better, actually. Better out than in, as Shriek says.'

'Shrek, Dad. It's Shrek. How many times?'

'Off you go, Leo. Have a good day.'


Leo walked down the road to the corner, and threw the two pieces of toast in the big hedge. Then he went up to Margate Road, and waited for Peter. Soon enough he saw his friend approach.]

The first thing Peter said was: 'So where were you yesterday? Bunking off school?'

'My folks took me to the hospital.'

'Something seriously wrong?' Peter made a fist with his left hand and punched Leo on the shoulder.

'Listen, Pete. Something really ... odd has happened to me.'


'I had a really odd dream, right? The night before last. And when I woke up yesterday morning, I couldn't eat food. I could only eat money.'

Peter looked at him like he was talking a foreign language. Then he said: 'say all that again.'

Leo said it all again.

'OK,' said Pete. 'Now, you say you can't eat food. You mean you don't feel like it?'

'I mean I literally can't eat it. It's fine on the plate, but when I put it in my mouth it's like it turns into metal or stone or something.'

'Does it?'

'Only in my mouth! When I take it out again it's fine again.'

Peter looked closely at his friend's face. Any adult would not have believed this story. Most kids would have thought it was a joke, or a lie, or just a crazy thing to say to get attention. But Peter was Leo's best friend; and best friends believe one another. So he didn't mock, and he didn't cross-examine like a courtroom lawyer. Instead he did something practical. He unzipped his satchel and got out his packed lunch. 'Ham sandwich,' he said, pulling it out out of its little plastic bag. 'OK?'

'OK,' said Leo. 'A regular sandwich.' He poked his finger into the bread to show that it was soft. Then he put the sandwich in his mouth, so that it was half in and half poking out. Pete leant closer. 'Looks the same,' he said. He fingered the poking-out bit. 'Feels the same.' Leo tried to say 'feel the half that's inside my mouth', but because he had a sandwich in his mouth this came out as 'hee hurh harh hurh huh-high huh hurh'. But Pete didn't need prompting. He slipped his little finger inbetween his friend's teeth, and touched the sandwich inside. 'Wow,' he said. 'It's rock hard in there!'

Leo removed the sandwich, and Peter pressed it between his fingers. 'Soft,' he noted. 'Put it back in.' The two boys repeated the procedure. 'That,' said Peter, scratching his head, 'is so weird.'

'Isn't it, though? Here --give me some money.'

Peter was astonished, but he wasn't an idiot. 'Wait a minute ... use your own money!'

'I've eaten all my money, haven't I!' said Leo. 'Just give me a ten pence piece.'

Reluctantly, Peter fished a single coin out of his pocket. Leo took it, put it between his teeth, and bit it easily in half. He handed the rest of it back, and Pete ran his finger over the bite marks ... hard and cold. 'Wow,' he said. 'Just wow. I've never heard of anything like this.'

'What am I going to do?' Leo asked.

'I dunno,' said Peter. 'I suppose you can't just stop eating. So I guess you'll just need to eat money. Did you tell your folks?'

'They don't believe me! They took me to a doctor -- that's where I was yesterday -- and she said it was all in my head! She said I only think I want to eat money, and that I could eat proper food if I wanted to. But you saw for yourself, it's not like that.'

'Can you drink?'

'Water's OK,' said Leo, putting his hands into his empty pockets and kicking at the ground scuffingly. 'I can drink it; but only if it's pure water. I guess water isn't food. I tried some lemonade, but I didn't swallow. I could tell, as soon as it was in my mouth, that it had changed.'

'That is because,' said Pete, who was a clever individual, 'lemonade has sugar in it, and sugar is a food. It probably changed to iron filings in your mouth. Good job you didn't swallow!'

'What am I going to do? How do I get cured of this?'

Pete slapped his friend on the back. 'I don't know. But we'll work something out. And we'd better get going, or we'll be late for school.'

So they started off, down Margate Road to the bottom, past the Newsagents and the Pizza shop, and left into Wilson Road. 'I'll tell you what worries me,' said Leo. 'Eating money is all very well. But it doesn't go very far. You know?'

'I was wondering if it was a super food,' said Peter.

'Super food?'

'You know -- maybe you eat a pound coin, and it lasts you all day.'

'No. It lasts for as long as a pound-coin-sized piece of regular food would last for you. And that's not very long. That's what worries me! With a pound coin, I could buy two packets of crisps and have money left over for some sweets. That would fill me up better than the money itself.'

'Or you could buy a whole loaf of bread,' Peter pointed out. 'And that would go even further.'

'Exactly! What am I going to do?'

They were at the school gates now, joining the incoming throng. 'We'll figure something out,' Pete said.

Saturday, 24 July 2010


The media (I mean: newspapers, radio and TV, the internet) are so-called because they were originally 'in the middle' (medius, medialis, 'in the middle') --in the middle, that is, between 'us' and 'reality', representing it to us. But POMO 101 teaches us that 'the media' now supplants 'reality'; news reports on media events, 'celebrity' now means only 'famous for media prominence' and so on. We may need a new word; termina, perhaps.

Friday, 23 July 2010

In the Kalahari Desert

James Fenton's oddly titled 'The Manifesto Against Manifestoes' (PR 73:3 1983; reprinted in Fiona Sampson's A Century of Poetry Review, Carcanet 2009) has nice things to say about Craig Raine.
The most profoundly interesting narrative poem I have read recently is Craig Raine’s ‘in the Kalahari Desert’. I can remember vividly the circumstances in which I first read it and the sensation it gave. Some poets contrive to tell you: ‘whatever happens, you will not be able to write like this.’ From others the messages is: ‘this too is possible.’ The reason why there are so many imitators of Raine is that he belongs firmly in the second category. He is generous. He is encouraging.

But much misunderstood and misread. He is, primarily, an emotional, an erotic poet. I8t is perhaps the eroticism which is in advance of his day. When a poet looks at his wife and thinks of a tomato, one may feel that he lacks feeling. But when he further shows that his feeling for tomatoes is more deeply affectionate and more sexually alert than most poets’ feelings for their first girlfriends, one is obliged to think again. Obliged to feel again.
'Obligation' is the wrong currency for erotic poetry, I think, and the tomato is surely too obvious a vegetable (or fruit) for Fenton's analogy. But most of all I try to square his observation with the sense I get from reading it that however obsessed with sex Raine's poetry is, it is really, really unerotic. I think it has something to do with the way his images focus too intent a gaze; too precise under the lense; too clinical ... like Swift's Gulliver being repulsed by seeing too much of the Brobdingnagian women. Human sexuality needss a cloak of selective unknowing cast about it to function properly. Porn can't be too vivid.

Anyway, Here is Raine's rain-free poem, the one of which Fenton has such a high opinion:
The sun rose like a tarnished
looking-glass to catch the sun

and flash His hot message
at the missionaries below--

Isabella and the Rev. Roger Price,
and the Helmores with a broken axle

left, two days behind, at Fever Ponds.
The wilderness was full of home:

a glinting beetle on its back
struggled like an orchestra

with Beethoven. The Hallé,
Isabella thought and hummed.

Makololo, their Zulu guide,
puzzled out the Bible, replacing

words he didn't know with Manchester.
Spikenard, alabaster, Leviticus,

were Manchester and Manchester.
His head reminded Mrs. Price

of her old pomander stuck with cloves,
forgotten in some pungent tallboy.

The dogs drank under the wagon
with a far away clip-clopping sound,

and Roger spat into the fire,
leaned back and watched his phlegm

like a Welsh rarebit
bubbling on the brands. . .

When Baby died, they sewed her
in a scrap of carpet and prayed,

with milk still darkening
Isabella's grubby button-through.

Makololo was sick next day
and still the Helmores didn't come.

The outspanned oxen moved away
at night in search of water,

were caught and goaded on
to Matabele water-hole--

nothing but a dark stain on the sand.
Makololo drank vinegar and died.

Back they turned for Fever Ponds
and found the Helmores on the way. . .

Until they got within a hundred yards,
the vultures bobbed and trampolined

around the bodies, then swirled
a mile above their heads

like scalded tea leaves.
The Prices buried everything--

all the tattered clothes and flesh,
Mrs. Helmore's bright chains of hair,

were wrapped in bits of calico
then given to the sliding sand.

'In the beginning was the Word'--
Roger read from Helmore's Bible

found open at St. John.
Isabella moved her lips,

'The Word was Manchester.'
Shhh, shhh, the shovel said. Shhh. . .
It's not my favourite Rainey poem, though it's certainly vivid and evocative. But the beetle-orchestra, the pomander stuck with cloves and the phlegm have just a touch (only the slightest touch, but enough to draw their sting) of strain about them. The dogs drinking is very good though; the trampolining vultures a nice line; the baby in the carpet is precise and really moving and the punchline (cruel of me to call it a punchline, I suppose; but there you go) pretty good.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Thorn poem

The river is stilly, green
as snooker table baize.

No breeze winds or gusts.
A man stands in a rowboat

like the letter þ.
Th for Thom; for there; thistles

blue in the static heat, the
endlessly prolonged flashbulb shine

of the sun. Th for thick,
for the fluid body of the Thames.

For this, for this, for this.
The boat is not in motion.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Tragic Content

Derek Walcott, writing in Poetry Review on the subject of ‘The Poet in the Theatre’ [PR 80:4, 1990-1], asserts:
Great tragedies are based on the propulsion of metre as well as of character; that is, a symmetry of sound as well as of plot.
Wishful thinking, this (of course a poet would like to think this is the case). But nobody ever cried at a poetic sound effect. Even if Walcott means 'tragic content is rendered more tragic by the proper use of metre and language (though that's not what he said), he;s seriously underestimating the ability to drop into the melting mood at the prompt of an old song, an advert, a limerick, a pub anecdote, a look in a paticular somebody's eye ...

Later he is more on-target:
The idea of vacuity in modern tragedy is like the idea of the existential or the nihilistic: spiritual vanity. The depth of modern contemplation is of staring into the holes, the emptiest ‘O’ of all. Such vanity lies in the faith that for the tragic poets of the modern theatre, be they absurdists or minimalists, history happens only where it has meaning. And since for such writers history is now meaningless—at least as morality—where history does happen is the only place where modern tragedy can be played.
On the other hand, that 'O' has tragic potential, don't you think ...? A kind of Singularity of tragic content; the black hole of empathetic affective suffering.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


T S Eliot thought Lear’s poetry ‘not nonsense, but a parody of sense.’ This is a pretty fine parody of critical engagement, actually: for in fact something the reverse of this is true—after all nonsense, as all young children know, is prior to sense. Proper grown-up poetry, like Eliot’s own, is something like a parody of nonsense.

Monday, 19 July 2010


According to Caryl P Haskins Of Ants and Men, humans ‘have domesticated perhaps fifty species’ of birds and animals; ants have domesticated ‘some three thousand species of insect.’

This is offered as a kind of ironic testimony to the superiority of the ant (go to the ant thou sluggard, and consider her ways ...) But it ignores the fact that we humans are one kind of beast; and that ants are legion (there is one specie of human, but 22,000 species of ants). Besides, talking about the 'birds and mammals' we have domesticated does not cover the very many types of insects we have enslaved to our uses, from silkworms through bees to ... yes, ants.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A New Midas 3

[Parts 1 and 2 here]

: 3 :

After he had performed he coin-trick several times; and after assuring them over and again that he couldn't eat the food they offered, Leo's Mum and Dad took Leo to the hospital. This did not go well. For one thing they had to wait for several hours in a crowded, nasty smelling waiting room. When they finally saw a doctor, she was very obviously exhausted. Leo’s father explained the situation, and the doctor looked at him intently, as if about to topple forward into sleep. ‘He cannot eat food,’ Leo’s Dad said. ‘He can eat money.’ The doctor blinked. ‘Very interesting,’ she said. ‘What I shall do is refer you to a child psychiatrist.’

‘No, no,’ Leo’s Mum said. ‘This is not a psychiatric problem! This is a real business. Show the doctor, Leo—’

‘I’ll demonstrate both sides of my dilemma,’ said Leo, to the doctor. ‘Here is a Mars bar.’ He pulled open the wrapper and showed its wrinkly chocolate spine to her, poking him finger into it to show that it was really a Mars bar. She raised one eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. ‘You have to look closely at it when I put it in my mouth,’ he told her . ‘To see that I’m not shamming.’ In went the chocolate bar, and he bit down hard. As hard as he could. When he pulled it out, he showed it to her again. ‘You see? I bit as hard as I could, but no toothmarks at all!’

The doctor peered at the Mars bar, and then shook her head. ‘I don’t see—’

‘Wait! Here’s part 2!’ He took out a fifty pence coin from his pocket, showed it to her (so she could see it was real) and then put it between his teeth. He bit through it as easily as if it had been cheese, and swallowed half.

At this the doctor looked surprised. ‘Yes,’ she said. Then she turned to Leo’s parents. ‘It is an interesting case. The child psychiatrist will be able to ...’

‘It’s not in my head!’ Leo objected. ‘It’s a real thing!’

‘Leo,’ said the doctor, ‘people get poorly in lots of different ways, in their minds as well as their bodies. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you shouldn’t be worried.’

‘You saw me eat the coin!’

‘People with mental, eh, difficulties sometimes do eat inappropriate things. I wouldn’t eat any more coins, though, if I were you. It won’t do your tummy any good.’

‘I bit it right in half!’

‘Yes, you clearly have very strong teeth, which is excellent! Now,’ she turned to Leo’s Mum and Dad, ‘strange food cravings may indicate a deficiency of trace elements in his diet. I’ll give you a link to some possible food supplements, and arrange an appointment with the child psychiatrist I mentioned. Until then, please try to stop him eating anything that might injure his stomach.’

With that she hurried off. Leo couldn’t believe it! Worse was to follow: in the car, driving home again, his parents decided to agree with the doctor!

‘Of course it must be psychological,’ his Mum said. ‘What other explanation could there be?’

‘I’m glad,’ said his Dad. ‘Proper treatment will soon sort him out. I don’t know what I was thinking before! Eating money? It’s absurd.’

‘Mum! Dad! It’s not psychological! It’s real!’

‘Of course you would say that,’ his Mum, replied, turning in her seat to face him. ‘That’s how psychological illness works!’

‘I know it seems real to you now, son,’ said his Dad. ‘But we’ll have the head-doctor sort out your crazy brain, and you’ll see how daft it all is.’

Back home, Mum made him a cheese toastie, but despite being ravenously hungry he couldn’t eat it—of course. But though the begged for some banknotes or coins, his parents had got it in to their heads that the doctor was right,. ‘Fill yourself up with coins? Crazy,’ said his Dad. ‘You’ll rattle like a piggy bank.’

‘Of the metal edges will cut you up inside and that could be very dangerous.’

So he had to go to bed without supper, his stomach growling with hungry as loud as an angry dog. He was much too hungry to sleep. So he crept down the stairs and sat on te bottom step, listened to his parents discussing him in the sitting room. ‘I feel terrible sending him off to bed on an empty stomach,’ he heard his father say. ‘The doctor knows what she’s talking about,’ said his mother. ‘When he gets hungry enough, he’ll eat what he is offered.’

They clearly didn’t understand. Leo went back to his bedroom.

There was nothing for it. He was going to have to eat his piggy bank.

His was an old-style piggy bank—no lid, or easy-opening doorway; the only way to get at the money inside was to smash it. So Leo wrapped it in his duvet to muffle the sound, and hit it hard with his fattest hardback book, edge on. It cracked solidly, and unrolled the duvet to see a mouth-watering pile of coins, and even a few banknotes.

At exactly that moment there was a knock on his door. His mother’s voice: ‘Leo?’

Hurriedly, Leo pulled the duvet over the smashed pieces of pig and the clinking pile of money. ‘Come in!’

Mum came through and leant over Leo. She smelt of food—beef paprika and red wine. ‘Good night kiss!’ she said, touching Leo’s forehead with her lips. ‘Good night, my dear. We’ll sort you out first thing tomorrow—don’t you worry.’

Leo craned his neck and kissed his mother on her cheek. ‘Goodnight Mum,’ he said, eager to get her out of his room. ‘Very tired, need to sleep.’

‘Night-night then!’ She went out, turning off the main light as she passed. As soon as he was alone, Leo pulled his torch out of his bedside cabinet, went under the duvet and started eating the contents of his piggy bank.

To begin with he gobbled down coins greedily—because he was so hungry. But pretty soon he became interested in the different flavours of the different kinds of money, and so he slowed down to savour the experience. Copper coins, the pennies and tuppences, tasted like bread, or bran; not dry exactly, but not especially flavoursome either. After he'd eaten fifteen or twenty of these coins, though, he felt the edge go off from his hunger. Ten pence pieces (he had a lot of those), tasted slightly better; slightly saltier, with a tang; and twenty and fifty pences had an appealing mild vinegar and cheese flavour, that after the blandness of the coppers was very nice. Pound coins tasted sweet, vaguely honey-like, and he gobbled the dozen he had saved over the years in quick order. The piggy bank had also contained one five pound and one ten pound note. The fiver tasted delicious: not in the least papery, but more like a flavoursome, juice sliver of fruit -- blueberry-ish. The tenner was better still: a sweet, succulent, jammy flavour. This made sense to Leo: the more expensive the currency, the nicer tasting it was likely to be.

Soon enough, all the money had been eaten. At least he wasn't hungry any more; and then, having put all the broken pieces of piggybank in the bin under his desk, and replacing his torch in his bedside cabinet, Leo stretched himself out under his duvet and was asleep in moments.

[Part 4 next Sunday]

Saturday, 17 July 2010

A thing of beauty

The time had come to be more precise about things, and revise Keats's 'a thing of beauty is a joy forever.' According to all our evidence, a thing of beauty is a joy for anything from a few hours to five thousand but intermittent years.

Friday, 16 July 2010


What does the Bible teach, at root, about slavery? The Old Testament sets up a narrative-in-small: Joseph is sold as a slave, but escapes, because he is clever enough to acquire friends in high places -- the highest, Pharaoh himself. This then structures the larger narrative of the first great movement of the Testament: the Israelites endure bondage in Egypt, but escape, because they (through Moses) are connected with the higher powers (The personal, familial relationship with Pharaoh; the 'Let my people go!'). This makes for good storytelling, but it is, at a crucial level, mendacious. After all, billions of humans have endured slavery, and almost none of them have escaped their horrible fate, for very very few slaves have ever formed useful relationships with the men at the top. But this happy-ending myth is then carried through into the New Testament, where Christ (Chrestus, 'slave') is sold, beaten and put a slave's death, but escapes not only slavery but death itself because of his personal (familial) relationship with the man at the very top. Do we take from this the moral: be clever, ingratiate yourself with the powers that be, and you'll escape slavery? That seems very wrong somehow.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Gags II

More of these, likewise archived for an unknown posterity. *sigh*.

I can't shake the feeling that a trilby ought to be three hats, not one.

Buffalo? Huge hairy belly -- doesn't look very buff to me.

Apparently different prepositions have different temperatures. How cool is that?

Norse Code: drött, drött, drött, dísir, dísir, dísir.

Did you see those two Daleks who got married? You've got to wonder who wears the trousers in that relationship!

At a game with the guys yesterday. Picked up 20K. Worst scrabble hand I ever had.

I get wheeled about in a low-slung trolley with a sign round my neck begging pennies. That's just the kind of guy I am.

She started reading out chapters from Martin Amis's longest novel! 'Darling!' I told her, holding up my hand, 'too much Information!'

Turns out the murderers were Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon. I do love a good Whodunnit.

Post-Singularity? It'll be 'ding' and 'ding'. You see, the posthuman always rings twice.

Which Sex & City character are you? I'm Missionary Constantinople.

Idea for a film: me, in Alexandria, telling people off for being naughty. Title: I Scold In Alex. Investors?

David Thomas Perdue was too noisy. That's why Proust sent his famous memo, re: shush! D. Tom Perdue.

It's unlike any other sweet. You could say, the fruit pastille's another country, they do things differently there.

So the corn on my foot is actually leprosy! And I thought lepery-corns were supposed to be lucky.

Dear Boris Johnson. My suggestion: rebrand the Underground as 'Underworld: London', staff it with Goths and charge people £12 just to enter.

The police arrested me for letting off fireworks and swearing in public. I can't complain: they got me bang tourettes.

I don't watch a lot of television. Just the front bit, where the screen is.

'Jean-Paul Sartre' translates into English as 'John Taylor'. I feel this explains the rather Duran-Duran-y flavour of L'étre et le néant.

These lizards are a sight for sauri.

I bought what I thought were Extra Strong Mints. Turns out they're actually Extra Strange Mints. This one tastes of Infinity

A teetotaler: someone whose entire pleasure from imbibing liquids is small enough to be balanced on a golf tee.

I'm very disappointment with Primark. They sold me the fifth Fermat number, 4294967297. Turns out it's divisible by 641! Bloody Primark.

Should I get a set of white-walled tyres? Do I want to cruise the miracle mile? Also, I don't have a car, so it would just be me walking around carrying some tyres.

Such a negative artist, Oscar Wilde. 'All art is quite yesless,' he once wrote.

I'm something of an idiot savant. Although without the 'savant' bit.

I'm checking back to find out which Honours list is the one in which the Hara desert got knighted for 'services to desertification'.

She wore a raspberry beret. Sadly for her, a raspberry is really too small to make an adequate hat.

Tray was the only lactating man I ever knew. I now understand how it was he had such a beautiful girlfriend. It was all because the lady loved ... to milk Tray.

The chap translating the screenplay of Planet of the Apes out of the original Latin died halfway. Should've been Planet of the Bees.

Shakira. As I understand it, she's not actually a 'Shah'. It's more of a courtesy title, like Duke Ellington.

I choose to believe that the Knack's 'My Sharona' is actually about the rare potato delicacy, 'Mash Arona'.

They call it 'pollen'. I call it Misery Cocaine.

White females who like playing with diecast metal toy trucks sadden me. It's those honky tonka women that give me the honky tonka blues.

Not having a beard makes it hard for me to prise myself out of bed. I lack get up and goatee.

Einstein stole his best ideas from that Scots physicist, Professor E E Quayle McSquared.

My advice: don't travel to China to play their ancient black-and-white pebble strategy game. Just don't Go there.

I'd like to use more fractions, but I just don't see the percentage in it for me.

An oxcart! Brilliant. That really is the best thing since bisoned sled.

Adidas also make sex-toys of course, under their alternate brand 'adildas'.

Copenhagen's disillusionment with its founder, Julian Cope, reaches new levels as the city reverts to its old name: Teardropexplodesnhagen.

I'm going to withdraw my official endorsement from arpeggios. From now on, any musician playing one must call it a 'peggio'.

The Badger-Stoat wars take a savage turn. New orders issued to the Badger medics re: treating the injured: 'if it aint Brock, don't fix it.'

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And continues with 5.28 million other steps. People forget the second part of that saying.

A storm in a teacup. Or a 'brewhaha', as I like to call it.

I'm listening to Fatboy Slim's 'Right here! Right now!' It's like being in a car with the world's bossiest satnav.

[And finally, the worst gag I ever made:]

The smell of Chewitts makes me go 'ack!'. Of course I try to see the ack-scent-Chewitt as positive.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A New Prime Number Theory

Not a real one, obviously (I'm neither a genius mathematician nor a crazy person, after all); but a fictional one, for a story I'm, distantly, planning. In my fictional future world, numbers are written not as binomial fractions, but as delta, hyperdelta and inverted hyperdelta forms. Instead of a line separated numerator and denominator as in a regular fraction, a triangular fraction constellates three numbers around a Δ. Hyperdelta fractions add two extra numbers in particular relation to the three, which can be thought of as in the third dimension. For an inverted hyperdelta fraction you must imagine a fourth dimension, in which imaginary numbers exist in superposition with the five numbers of a hyperdelta fraction. When construed as, alternativelt, hyperdelta and inverted hyperdelta fractions, all prime numbers show complex but regular patterning.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Go Down Moses poem

Moses goes down the mountain
with horns upon his forehead.

Went up a man, but he descends
a deep-sea diver, Cousteauian,

holding the deepest of deep breaths
grasping two ingots of stone

to weigh him down, wondering if
he's really ready to encounter

the grotesque forms that sealife takes
upon the abyssal floor.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Anger, violence

People think 'anger' and 'violence' are somehow the same thing. They're not; it's an error of clumsy causation. Violence is explosive; anger implosive.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A New Midas 1 & 2

: 1 :

The Dragoman family were rich, and lived in a grand double-fronted house near the middle of town. Mr Dragoman worked at a company too big for town altogether, so he had to go to the railway station every morning and ride away to the big city. Mrs Dragoman worked for a charity that attended to lost dogs and cats. She went to her office on Mondays, Thursdays and Friday morning. Little Leo, their son, went to school, of course. One day he asked his mother 'why did you call me Leo, mama?' And she replied: 'Leo means Lion, and the lion is the king of the beasts, you know.' It gave Leo a very grand idea of himself to hear this. He began strutting around the school exactly as if he were naturally superior to everybody else. When his best friend Peter made fun of him, at lunchtime, Leo grew cross, and told him: 'my family are much richer than yours! We could buy and sell you!' This was a phrase he'd heard his Dad use. 'You can just shut up!' he told Peter, in a sour voice, like unsugared lemons. 'That's simply a mean thing to say,' said Peter. 'Money is obviously bad for you, to make you behave so badly.' 'You only say that out of envy, because your family doesn't have any!' said Leo. They were both pretty sulky when they went back into classes.

That afternoon Mrs Raine-Jones told them the story of King Midas. Of course you know it, but I'll just run through it for the benefit of any eavesdroppers: Midas was a king thousands of years ago, in ancient Greece. He helped out a god, and in return the god said he could have one wish come true ... any wish he liked. Midas wished that he could turn anything to gold just by touching it. Obviously, he was thinking: 'wouldn't it be great if I could make gold just by touching things? I'll be the richest man in the world!' So the god granted his wish. And at first Midas was really pleased. If he touched his chair it became a solid gold chair, and if he ran his hand through the pebbles in his garden they became solid gold nuggets. But soon enough he realised he had made a terrible mistake: because when he sat down to eat his supper the food turned to gold as he put it in his mouth; and when he lay down in his bed, empty-bellied and miserable, his mattress, sheets and pillow all turned to gold as well. He didn't enjoy putting his head on a metal pillow, or lying on a metal bed, no matter how precious the metal; and neither would you. Finally Midas gave his daughter a cuddle, and turned her to solid gold, killing her on the spot. How terrible!

He was in a fix, wasn't he, Midas? No matter how rich he is, a person cannot eat gold; and without any food or drink Midas wasn't going to live very long. Perhaps you know the end of his story already. If you don't I'll tell you it -- but not yet. I have to tell you Leo's story first.

After school, as they walked home together, Peter and Leo quarrelled again; this time about the story of King Midas. Although I think they actually quarrelled because they'd fallen out at lunchtime, and each of them was still a bit cross with the other. Peter was of the opinion that the moral of the story was that having too much money was bad for you. Leo said: 'if I had the power to turn everything into gold, then I'd use the gold to pay somebody to find a way of solving the problems. I'd have people weave me special cloth out of really fine gold thread for my sheets and pillows.' 'And the food thing?' said Peter. 'Well,' said Leo. 'I'd get somebody to inject nutrition directly into my bloodstream.' 'Don't be stupid! It would turn to gold as it was injected in.' 'No it wouldn't,' said Leo. 'Midas could only turn thing to gold that were outside his body. Otherwise, he'd turn his own heart and liver and so on to gold, and die.' 'That wasn't part of the story that the teacher told,' Peter pointed out. 'But it stands to reason,' said Leo. 'And what about your daughter!' said Peter. 'Oh,' said Leo, kicking an empty plastic bottle somebody had dropped on the pavement so that it bounced off the bus-stop. 'I just wouldn't hug her. Or else I'd dress myself in special gold-thread clothing first. It would be like being one of the X-Men. Inconvenient, but worth it for the power.'

The two boys were now at the corner; Pete's house was in one direction and Leo's in another. Most days they'd go together off to one or other house together to play; but today they were pretty cross with one another, so they separated. 'You completely missed the point of the Midas story,' Peter said, bad-temperedly.

'You did, you mean,' retorted Leo.

'The point of the story,' said Peter, 'was that too much money will be the end of you.'

'That's exactly the wrong way about!' snapped Leo. 'It's having too little money that kills you -- look at the third world, and poor people starving to death.'

So the went in different directions, and in no good mood. But after he'd done his homework, and eaten his supper and watched a bit of TV, Leo forgot a little about the fight with Peter. It would probably be OK the next day, he reckoned. Neither he nor Pete would apologise, because that wasn't they style. But they wouldn't mention the fight either, and by breaktime they'd be playing again like the best friends they were.

: 2 :

By the time he went to bed that night Leo had forgotten all about Midas. But Midas had not forgotten about him.

Funny how these things can be.

Even though he'd been born thousands of years ago, Midas had never really died. Having been touched by a god, you see, he hadn't been able to; for the god's touch had put the spirit of gold into him, and gold is imperishable.

That very night, at exactly midnight (which is when this sort of thing always happens) he appeared to Leo, as somewhere halfway between a dream and a ghost. Leo wasn't scared, although perhaps he should have been. They talked, the two of them for a long time, but in the morning the only part of the lengthy conversation Leo could remember -- and even then, he couldn't remember is precise -- was when Midas's spectre said something like 'you can't eat money,' you know. 'Oh but you can,' Leo had said, smugly. What he had meant was (as far as he could remember): you can take your money to a supermarket or a restaurant and turn it into any food you like! It was like that song his Nan used to sing sometimes, about how money can't buy you love. Leo wanted to say to say to her: it can! Not directly, maybe, but with money you can do nice things for a person, and buy them lovely presents, and then they'll love you! Or, at least, they won't hate you.

The last thing Leo remembered from his dream was Midas leaning over him. 'Then money will be your food, and your touch will flow.' Then he took hold of Leo's ears (weird, eh?). He took Leo's right ear in his right hand and left ear in his left hand, and he pulled ... he drew the ears out like they were made of bubble-gum, not flesh. As he lay with his head on the pillow, Leo's ears stretched, and stretched, until they were a yard long. It didn't hurt him at all, although it felt a little weird.

That was the last he remembered.

When he woke up, in the morning, the first thing he did was check his ears. There they were, on the side of his head, like they always were: no longer or wider than they had ever been. 'What a strange dream,' he said to himself.

But he knew something was wrong as soon as he came down for breakfast. He knew something was wrong.

He couldn't eat his toast and jam.

It wasn't that he didn't want to. It was that he couldn't. When he put it in his mouth it felt like a small panel of brass. His teeth couldn't bite into it. They clanged and jarred when he tried. When he took the thing out again, and held it in his hand, it looked just like regular toasted bread and jam. It felt like it to, when he poked his finger in it.

'Don't play with your food, Leo,' said his Mum.

Leo tried again. But the food was literally inedible. Not that he wouldn’t but that he couldn’t eat it.

He understood straight away what had happened. He wasn’t stupid. This was the Midas dream—a curse had been put upon him. It was obvious: he would have to eat money.

The tricky thing was going to be: persuading his parents that someting so wild and peculiar had happened at all. They were going to think he was making it up.

Then he thought of a way of convincing them.

'Mum,' he said, putting his toast and jam back on his plate. 'You have to let me try something.'

He got down from the breakfast bar and dashed over to the mantlepiece. On the shelf was a long oval bowl, blue and white, in which Mum and Dad kept their keys and loose change. He picked up a copper tuppence piece and a silver fifty pence. As soon as he held the coins in his hand, he felt the rightness of what he was going to do. He just knew.

‘Mum,’ he said, facing her. ‘It’s not that I don’t want to eat my toast. I do want to. I love toast, and I’m hungry. But I can’t. Something weird happened to me last night, and it means I can’t.’

‘What do you mean—what something weird?’ his mother asked, suspiciously.

‘I’ll explain, as best as I can. But first, look at this.’ The tuppence was metal hard in his hand; but as soon as he put it between his teeth he could feel it had become soft, pliable. He bit down, and sliced the coin in half.

It tasted like brown bread, with something slightly salty on it. It tasted good.

Leo displayed the half-bitten coin to his parents. They were, of course, amazed. ‘How did you do that?’ Mum asked. ‘Did you chip your teeth?’ his Dad asked.

Leo sat down. ‘Nothing like that,’ he said, heavily.

[Next section, next Sunday]

Saturday, 10 July 2010

End of the World Poem

The great disaster has come, and
wasted Hastings, sacked Southampton,
turned Portsmouth into Pompeii;

glowing embers drift south, down
over the south downs.
The towers of London are broken to blocks.

Canterbury interred and buried
under debris. Dover over,
Brighton dark, Bournemouth burned.

The sun rises the way it used to set,
purple, the herald of blackness.
Clouds occlude the higher sky.

The air is foul and not breathable, which is why
there are no creatures to breathe it.
Static intereference is dustily literalised.

This is the way the hemisphere ends
Neither bang nor whimper: a Rothko.
The Thames flows backwards. Red hills heave.

Friday, 9 July 2010


Better to write history than live it. May-you-live-in-interesting-times and all that ...

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Medea poem

It matters whether furious Medea was
sane or screwy
mad or cold,

It matters -- though it doesn't matter
to her bairns,
who are dead

either way. But it matters whether the
glint in her
grey-blue eye

like the star of sunlight in rippled water
is a come-on
or a back off.

whether her soul's heart pulses with life, or is dead
heaving with
maggots only.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Martyrdom of Man

Wikipedia: 'William Winwood Reade (1838-1875) was a British historian, explorer, and philosopher' ... no desire to enclose that last word in inverted commas, I see. Still, Reade is most famous for a book of which many nineteenth-centuryists have heard, and few have read:
The Martyrdom of Man (1872), is a secular history of the Western world. In it, Reade attempts to trace the development of Western civilization in terms analogous to those used in the natural sciences. He uses it to advance his philosophy, which was secular humanism. He attacks traditional religion and morality.

Reade was an atheist (although this has been disputed by a surviving family member) and a social Darwinist who believed in survival of the fittest and wanted to create a new civilization. Cecil Rhodes, an English-born South Africa politician and businessman, said that the book "made me what I am". The title of the book is well known to many who have not read it: in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson: "Let me recommend this book, -- one of the most remarkable ever penned."
My interest in the book is its sciencefictional aspect: for Reade takes his sweeping overview of history from the past through the present and into an imagined utopic future. But in fact the proportion of the book that is SF is small.
I began it intending to prove that “Negroland” or Inner Africa is not cut off from the main-stream of events, as writers of philosophical history have always maintained, but connected by means of Islam with the lands of the East; and also that it has, by means of the slave-trade, powerfully influenced the moral history of Europe and the political history of the United States. But I was gradually led from writing the history of Africa into writing the history of the world. I could not describe the Negroland of ancient times without describing Egypt and Carthage. From Egypt I was drawn to Asia and to Greece; from Carthage I was drawn to Rome. That is the first chapter.

Next, having to relate the progress of the Mohammedans in Central Africa, it was necessary for me to explain the nature and origin of Islam, but that religion cannot be understood without a previous study of Christianity and of Judaism, and those religions cannot be understood without a study of religion among savages. That is the second chapter.

Thirdly, I sketched the history of the slave-trade, which took me back to the discoveries of the Portuguese, the glories of Venetian commerce, the revival of the arts, the Dark Ages, and the invasion of the Germans. Thus finding that my outline of universal history was almost complete, I determined in the last chapter to give a brief summary of the whole, filling up the parts omitted, and adding to it the materials of another work suggested several years ago by The Origin of Species.

One of my reasons for revisiting Africa was to collect materials for this work, which I had intended to call The Origin of Mind. However, Mr. Darwin’s Descent of Man has left little for me to say respecting the birth and infancy of the faculties and affections. I therefore merely follow in his footsteps, not from blind veneration for a great master, but because I find that his conclusions are confirmed by the phenomena of savage life.

On certain minor points I venture to dissent from Mr. Darwin’s views, as I shall show in my personal narrative, and there is probably much in this work of which Mr. Darwin will disapprove. He must therefore not be made responsible for all the opinions of his disciple.
But looking at it again, I'm struck by how much the book's opening paragraph reminds me of the opening paragraph of Our Mutual Friend.
The land of Egypt is six hundred miles long, and is bounded by two ranges of naked limestone hills which sometimes approach and sometimes retire from each other, leaving between them an average breadth of seven miles. On the north they widen and disappear, giving place to a marshy meadow plain which extends to the Mediterranean coast. On the south they are no longer of limestone, but of granite; they narrow to a point; they close in till they almost touch; and through the mountain gate thus formed the river Nile leaps with a roar into the valley, and runs north towards the sea.

In the winter and spring it rolls a languid stream through a dry and dusty plain. But in the summer an extraordinary thing happens. The river grows troubled and swift; it turns red as blood, and then green; it rises, it swells, till at length, overflowing its banks, it covers the adjoining lands to the base of the hills on either side. The whole valley becomes a lake from which the villages rise like islands, for they are built on artificial mounds.
I think it has to do less with specific lingusitic echoing, and more with the idea of setting one's text out with a description of a real river topography that also articulates a potent, carcereal symbolic logic.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

June poem (The Length of the Day)

The fly is terribly excited by the window pane.
Dances upon it, swerves off only to rush back
to do his lucky-strike prospector jig once more.

Will night never come?

The sky’s gone all idée fixe, shouting its word
over and over: blueness! blueness! blueness! Oh, the
relief when Nine turns the sky into the flag of Japan!

Will night never come?

The heartbreaking clarity of western skylines.
This is the stuff that lungs wrap themselves round.
This is what the bubble in the spirit-level is made of.

Will night never come?

Today is the longest day of the year,
After today, a tailor with a flawlessly stitched face,
the year starts pinning back its bolt of blue cloth.

Will night never come?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Grown man

We say ‘grown man’ to refer to physical maturity. But we might as well take it as oppositive: this man was grown, this other man was built in a factory.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Science fiction

Science tells us that the cosmos is immensely diverse and complex. A fiction predicated upon science ought to reflect this: ought to prize diversity and complexity. Two-dimensional caricature and simplification, stereotype and ‘plain’ style have no place here. You think the book of the universe is written in a plain style?

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Larkin's MCMXIV

We don't think of Larkin as a particularly self-reflexive poet, I suppose. But sometimes: as in 'MCMXIV', his retrospective first-world-war poem:
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
Lark, there, evokes the poet's name; and the 'long uneven lines' turn the would-be army recruits into the phsyical structure of a poem. That, more than the tropological momento-mori death's-head-grin of the 'archaic faces', brings the poem back to itself.
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;
That last is surely a drinker's observation. But the 'lines' come back in the third stanza:
And the countryside not caring
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
'Domesday' carrying the nostaligic backward looking glance even further into the past, even as it self-consciously looks forward to Verdun and the Somme. Yet the lines are here the underlying structure of things; and things, on a very straightforward level, are in this case: this verse. The last stanza is the one that gets quoted so often:
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word--the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
Which is properly affecting, in part because it manages to disguise its characteristically Larkinian self-pity so effectively. But the sense remains that this is a poem not about the first-world-war so much as it is a poem about first-world-war poetry.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Boat time poem

Boat time is not like clock time.
The forceful tremor of the swell
is all in the ebb, and the headbutt
of a half-tyre forehead on the stone wall.

This grey road has uncertain camber.
It has plasticity, and yield. Time
tastes of iodized salt: crystalline
white, pale pink and gray in colour.

The wind folds its wing over the surface
Like a mother dove with her brood;
and the little beaks and backs, the
white feathers fumble in the nest.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Advice to would-be writers

Acquire the habit. That's all, really: but you must understand that the habit means: write all the time; think things through in terms of how you you would write them up all the time. Which is to say: become a writing nerd. It's an uncomfortable truth, in an age in which 'nerdiness' is so denigrated, but there you go. The nerd live for, eats sleeps and breathes his/her chosen object of nerdiness. That's what you must become.

Put another way: I read an article about Jack White in which various beautiful women who had dated him explained the main reason why they'd broken it off ... they'd started seeing him because they thought they'd be dating a rock star; but it turned out they were actually dating a massive rock music nerd. And in a nutshell that's the crucial difference. Many people aspire to become writers because in their head they're in love with the idea of being a sort of literary rock star. But to be a good writer, you must make yourself into a massive writing nerd. That's the price you pay.