Interrupted

http://www.vevo.com/watch/GB2DY1700007?utm_medium=embed_player&utm_content=song_title&syn_id=4d61b777-8023-4191-9ede-497ed6c24647

The work sometimes runs smoothly on the screen.  The Excel on one side and the Powerpoint on the other. Check data, copy it to a new worksheet, combine it with other data, represent it in a graphic, copy the graphic into the presentation.  Examine its meaning. Write a comment about it. Move on.  The time passes and the work is done.  It’s tiring, concentrating.  I might go to the gym. I might prepare some pottery for a workshop, I might make a coffee or a sandwich. I might check my emails. I might browse my Facebook. I might get punched in the gut, hit between the eyes, overwhelmed with the implications of an article, or a poem, or a video, or an image.  My work is interrupted, my concentration blown.  It has the right of place.  It says what I feel. It takes me up and drops me down. To have that power through communication is awe inspiring.

Goa Del Sol

Lying in the sun on the Caribbean beach it’s hard to imagine the streets of Udaipur, with their bustle and relative poverty, though this too was a tourist’s paradise. Goa is peopled by British sun-seekers and yoga aficionados choosing between Kundalini and Ashtanga based on their suppleness and ability to perform their practice in the  35 degree heat.  The beach at Patnem, to the far south of the province is chosen by older people and yoga-seekers as the most peaceful and laid-back of about twenty resorts.  Talking to a builder from Billericay, who pays his brickies £180 a day in the post-Brexit building bubble, it seems that in one resort he stayed, there were a load of Russian tourists and in another, a continuous moon party for the Club 18-30 crowd. This must be where most of the 250 Tourist Police are based. He and his two mates had made a last minute decision to come to India and as a consequence, he bemoaned the NHS queue for injections and his £550 bill for private services. He’d booked them all into a hotel, run by a Brit in North Goa for new year’s eve, at great expense, paid in full and found when they got there that it had been closed for three years and that they would have to take the last three beds in an eight bedded dormitory in the only hostel in the town which had space. They were also fined £15 each on the spot for riding hired scooters without helmets.  The policeman had apparently been wearing copious amounts of gold jewelry, and had not proffered a receipt.

Beside our sunbeds, outside the Solida Del Sol cafe, which is sandwiched between Namaste Homestay and Nirvana Lodge, two French Canadian tourists lounged for their last few days before taking the two flights to Delhi and then the 14 hour connection to Toronto.  He was heavy-set and tattooed, with nipple rings in both nipples.  She was not, as far as I could see either tattooed or pierced.  They had booked to see India, expecting to travel the length and breadth of the this massive continent of a land, but had been so phased by their arrival into Delhi – nothing changes there then – they had promptly stepped into a travel agent and hired a driver for a 12 day to tour Rajasthan.  They’d had a great trip, much like our own, but in more comfort.

The Kranti yoga centre consists of two huge ‘stages’ made of stone slabs, protected from the sun by huge canopies, and each surrounded by a series of perhaps 20-30 huts, in which retreating yoga-seekers stay for the three or five or more day retreats.  There is no catering, so each must either fast (which is possible, looking at many of them) or go to Namaste or Nirvana or even brave Round Cube, where ambient music and lemon mint tea is order of the day.  They have hammocks outside their huts, and there is plenty of saffron cloth draped around the place.  My drop-in class is not till 10.15 each morning, which is a shame as the morning muesli with fruit, curd and honey is hard to resist, but also hard to perform three legged dog after. The yogis bring their own clean mats and I choose a very soiled but perfectly serviceable one from the centre.  A sari-clad administrator (and definitely not a yogi) collects our 200 Rupee fees (€3), but as there are about 25 westerners dropping in, that’s a healthy income for the centre for the 90 minutes with Sally, the young black London yoga teacher who strides among us and describes the poses in English rather than using their proper names.  What type of yoga are we performing?  I’m fairly sure it isn’t pure Ashtanga, as I’m still alive to describe the experience, so it is really a mish-mash of Hatha and Kundalini and some Vinyasa thrown in.  While we go through the practice, a stray dog stands in front of us on the raised stage and watches.  Each establishment has its own dogs. They lie on the beach in front, or wander within the compounds, looking for scraps.  I saw the Round Cube stray sit beside a customer as she ate her lunch, refusing dry toast scraps, but happily eating them once buttered.  At night, they become tandoori experts, choosing between tables and selecting them on the basis of the occupants’ generosity, and maybe their menu choices, taking scraps.  They are fiercely territorial and never eat from next door’s customers without a riotous and noisy dog-fight.  Last time we were on the sunbeds outside Solida Del Sol, two cows wandered onto the beach and began to eat our clothing.  They are not so territorial it seems.

Goa is truly European in everything except the menus, and even then, the majority of places offer fries instead of rice or naan, and tandoori chicken tikka is probably the number one dish.  The question which keeps raising its ugly head is whether what is here is really good for anyone.  Is it benefiting anyone but the few wealthy local owners, and should one really only partake of the authentic Indian experience on a trip to India, rather than funding this Eastern version of the Costa Del Sol?  What’s the authentic India now though?  To live it, you just have to buy a Chinese mobile – preferably taking several hundred selfies with it every day, drive a Royal Enfield motorbike and learn enough Hindi to hold conversations with the locals and the tourists simultaneously, to ensure that your cut in someone else’s offering is protected when you sell the tourists a manageable version of the India they fear.

Jodpur Sati

The city is sprawling, vibrant and overwhelming.  No more than Ajmer and less than Jaipur but still blanketed in smog and echoing to the call to prayer from its many minarets, and its bustling streets are even more full of animals than people, who flow like rivers through the excrement and rubbish and dust, on foot, and scooters, and bicycles and in tuktuks, and cars or camel pulled carts, always trying to get somewhere without regard for order. Tethered goats rummage in plastic bags for  fruit skins, and bullocks wander aimlessly searching for greenery which doesn’t exist here. The packs of street dogs are fighting or sleeping or feeding their pups, and thousands of people are crowding and milling and selling and joking and begging, and their children are calling us with ‘hallo’ and ‘namaste’  for rupees,  or ask for selfies, and ‘what country?’ to find out who these aliens are who are crazy enough to wander between them. Rats in families or hords beneath the pathways with their open sewers are trying to make some impression on the river of shit they live in and off.

The King’s Retreat guest house, in the shadow of the towering fort, is a strange combination of backpacker’s dive and Moroccan Riad, and would be no retreat for a king in any state of exile. It has a roof terrace restaurant which sells pizzas delivered from the cafe next door and which seem to have some exotic appeal to the hip Indian boys that come to smoke from the hookah and drink the Kingfisher.  Sold in cans, it is billed separately, as the place is clearly not licensed.  And the Kings Retreat is overseen by the Mehrangarh Fort, an immense hilltop sandstone edifice containing all the comforts the 17th century could offer the Maharajas, and all the privacy their wives and daughters in Purdah required, as they sat behind intricately carved stone latticework windows, observing their men in audience with his highness. The audio tour is narrated by an Indian acadamic with 1950’s Queens English and pride to match.

By the main gate is a plaque of hands sculpted in the stone wall, painted red.  Each hand was carved for a maharani whose husband had died.  As the funeral procession passed the plaque, she would impress her palm to the wall, making a print of henna, and  in prayer, with her procession of bearers and maidservants and elephants, she would be led to the maharaja’s pyre, to sit silently as she was engulfed by the flames to be burned alive in an act of Sati.  There are 30 hands in the plaque, and apparently, the last was added in 1847, though for each maharani this commemorates, how many ordinary Hindu women were burned alive, and for how long after the practice was outlawed in 1827?

Across town is Umaid Bhawan Palace, the Last royal palace for the surviving maharaja, with its 347 rooms full of opulent art deco furniture and pre-Raphaelite style paintings by a Polish emigre who escaped WW2 to serve the Man with a Rolls Royce which had an elephant motif on its bonnet. The palace is now a hotel, not the King’s retreat, and B&B is just 45,000 rupees a night (€630)…

It’s a city of contrasts and inequities.

New Year in Jaipur

I’m feeling strangely unexcited by the prospect of a dinner-dance new year celebration in this brash over-rated, impersonal and over-priced hotel in Jaipur.  It was obligatory and by local standards, exorbitant.  For the 6,000 Rupees we had to pay, you could buy 20,000 bunches of bananas, 30,000 litres of bottled water, 12 days full time tuktuk transport with driver… or, more reasonably, feed a local family well for two months.  We could have cancelled the hotel, which would have meant finding somewhere at the last minute, but avoiding the roof terrace drinks and Bollywood dress code and the pounding drum-n-bass disco.  But then how else could we discover what the Jaipurian middle-class is doing?  Since we last set foot in India, two years ago, prices don’t seem to have shot up, but the ratio of taxis to tuktuks and of tuktuks to rickshaws, of motorbikes to bicycles, has risen.  The air is even more full of fumes, the streets even more congested with mayhem, but perhaps fewer kids are running barefoot in the excrement.  The piles of smoking rubbish are topped with rummaging piglets, goats, skinny dogs and scrawny cows, but not humans.  Tens of thousands of Indian youths clambered over the Amber Fort to get their selfies, and the selfie-stick sellers outnumbered the trinket-vendors two to one. The camera-phone is top of everyone’s list this year, and the only shops in town are banksor mobile phone shops. Did these tourists want to know about the fort?  I was investigating the Turkish bathhouse which some eighteenth century Maharajah had had carved from marble and overheard one selfie-taker comment to his friend that it must be a tomb.  The sign on the door was carved in marble, in English and Hindi, but tombs and baths can be easily mistaken, I guess.

The visceral pleasure of being part of the melee in the streets still outweighs the revulsion at their open sewers or the abject poverty which is still here.  It’s thrilling, and it’s exhausting, but at every corner, it’s new. Everyone here is trying everything they can to better themselves and their standards, even though they clearly scramble over one another in the process.

The same guru who is now a TV star in the UK, after reading the palm of Jan Leeming, saw Val for ten minutes in his small office at the back of the jeweler’s shop his family runs, once we’d bought something in the shop. He pulled no punches apparently. Saw everything he could not have known, hit several nails on their heads.  Foretold possible futures, gave advice on work she might take time to carry out on her chakras, and recommended the use of a semi-precious stone in the mantra.  I’m glad I didn’t ask for a consultation, though he didn’t need me there to know who I am. He knows someone in Cork too. An infamous Head Shop operator I used to know.  Small world, I hear.

Sunrise

I wake, and step out into the cool winter air of dawn, and the day is ahead, with its to-ings and fro-ings. Its potential is based on my sense of place in it. I judge my intention to engage or to stand off and watch. For me, this is something that happens momentarily. Shall I feel the day or shall I act it? Will I be buffeted by its pressures and expectations or will I drive through it, choosing a route, seeking a destination? Does it have purpose and structure, or will it drift and eddy? These are tentative questions, not fatalistic fears about the way the world will treat me. You know there are enough of these stacking up. You know how we are dragged by infinite planetary gravitational forces. We’re becoming lunatics under their influence. They are national, global, geopolitical, socio-economic, moral and cognitive, but also insidious, subliminal, irrational and nightmarish. Too much of our time is taken up with holding our orbit in space.

In the morning light, as the sun rises, streaks of vermilion and cerise cut through the slate clouds. It feels like something piercing the amniotic protection, though what would I know about that? The fug lifts on my day. The rays of light disperse through the prism of my wakefulness, colouring the choices.

If feelings have forms, this one is perhaps a sphere with an indent, perhaps it is a partially deflated ball, one that the dog chewed and some air escaped, so that she could hold it in her mouth. Its surface is smooth, but not like vinyl or polypropylene, more like skin. The feeling is warm, not quite blood temperature. It is spongey, rather than encrusted. Liquid-filled. The day ahead reflates it, the sun hardens its surface. The oozing bite-marks form scabs, the ball cools and it is ready to be played, kicked, driven forward.

Karl, Uber and sweaty hands

I’d been browsing online for a high pressure hose system for days. A Christmas gift for a cleanaholic in the family…

I’d been through to a couple of retailers which offered online sales, and asked for prices on the Karcher K140. It was going to be €199 for the basic machine and I really wanted the extension for upstairs windows. I began to notice ads appearing in my Facebook page for Karchers, and for Nilfisk options, but the prices all tended to be higher than I’d first seen on Amazon. No surprises there. I’ve been getting targeted advertising based on my browsing history for a while.

Then I started getting ads for the Karcher K180, which said that I’d need the bigger machine for my bigger property, and that most of my neighbours in Kinsale had the bigger machine. Amazon wanted €250 for the K180, and I didn’t want to pay that much, but as I spent more time looking at the prices for this bigger machine, I stopped getting ads for the K140, and all the main online retailers’ prices on the K180 seemed to go up. Christmas delivery dates were running out and I was getting desperate. Prices kept rising…

Personalised pricing, or price discrimination has begun. We’re getting allocated a price based on our address and demography, and that price is going up or down based on our ability to walk away, or our impatience to buy. Mac users get given higher prices than PC users, and depending on their browsing history, they will be deemed more or less desperate to buy. Outrageous! But hang on, last time I was in Marrakech, in the Souk, I was no more than amused when I refused to buy a rug and walked away, that the shop keeper followed me and offered me a lower price, but when I just had to have that beautiful chess set which had been carved by the little boy with no arms, using his bare feet, the price was non-negotiable.

I’ve heard that soon the technology will sense our emotional state and prices will be adjusted accordingly. The more impatiently you browse, the more the price goes up. Time to start playing online poker, I think.

“Balderdash”, I hear you cry. Surely the price is the price? Surely we’re not becoming part of an Orwellian nightmare where commerce robs from the rich and gives to the poor? Or is it a Marxist utopian dream we’re having?

In Finland, speeding ticket prices are linked to income. Time for a more integrated and open system where “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is applied electronically to equalise social injustice – the fair distribution of wealth. So if I want to buy the Karcher K180, because I live in a fuck-off house, but Joe, who lives in the council estate down the road, in a small terraced house, also wants the K180, because he wants one over on his neighbours, who should pay more for the same machine? Does his mobile phone report on his motives and the fact that his is a ‘luxury’ purchase, while my needs dictate the bigger machine and in my case it is a necessity? Can the algorithms weigh wealth against greed? Can they choose who deserves what? Not yet. But remember, the number one objective of ALL commercial organisations is to maximise return on investment for shareholders.

Your mobile phone has sweat detection sensors, which measure galvanic skin responses to stress or excitement, it can pick up your heartbeat, has motion detectors which can probably tell how often you go to the toilet. As you move around a shop, the phone identifies where you stop, and for how long. The wifi connected packaging on the merchandise (which is already built into high value items) in front of you also reports when it is moved, picked up and examined, and if you keep fiddling with the new sandwich toaster on special offer, and it is something which is also for sale in another shop within the mall, why not offer a ‘special price’ just for you, using a personalised digital display? The advertising boxes which show digital ads in the mall already change depending on the time of day and whether it’s about time you fancied a pizza. In fact, the mobile phone can even detect stomach noises if you’re hungry, apparently, and matching them to your normal feeding patterns and shopping habits would allow the ad to be that perfect pizza you drool over in the takeaway. Why wouldn’t the ads be personalised to suit your own preferences as you pass the ad box? Only that there are some ‘legislative hurdles’ about data privacy to get over, apparently. Uber’s algorithms can tell how low the battery is on your phone, and therefore how desperate you might be to book that cab before your phone dies. They have evidence that people will pay a higher price for the cab in such circumstances…

So do we just wake up and smell the brand of coffee we like? Can we learn to play poker against an algorithm? I think not. So, first rule is leave your mobile phone at home in a lead-lined box when you go shopping, and every so often, buy something you don’t want, or perhaps do someone else’s shopping.

 

Thanks to Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian for poking my unending fascination…

What’s been going on: Episode 4

So much changed between 1976 and 1986, both personally and in the world I occupied, that I can’t describe November 1986 without a run-up.

Post-student life was one uphill marathon of career ambition, marriage, parenthood and separation. It could be called growing up, but that would infer some sort of maturity which wasn’t there before. Compromise and loss maybe. You start your adulthood with principles, ideals and a sense of freedom, all of which are pooh-poohed by older people as naivity of youth or the result of an unsustainable cosseted upbringing, and then it’s all downhill into the mire of conformity and materialism. I’d rejected the extreme left, after Iz disappeared to Portugal with a communist thief, who didn’t just steal her, but many expensive items from the shops of Sheffield, to work in a Portuguese tomato canning factory. I worked my way through The Milk Round to end up in a market research agency as a trainee, and from there to Esso as a market analyst and then a refinery planner. By 1984 I was looking at climbing the multi-national’s corporate ladder as my square peg was being hammered to fit into their round hole, when Carol asked for a divorce. She’d met her first husband at 13, married him at 18, divorced him at 21 (for me) and now, at 25, wanted freedom to find her lost youth. I woke up to my own freedom from marriage, and to a terrible grief associated with non-custodial fatherhood. Though I had open access to visit Emma, and we met every weekend, I began to wonder whether this was not helping her settle into her new family life, as well as not helping me to handle my own break-up adequately. 50% of non-custodial fathers stop seeing their children within two years, and I was going to become one of them.  I started PATCH (Parents Away from Their Children), by putting posters in local libraries. I did that because Families Need Fathers, which was patronised by Bob Geldorf among others, made me feel guilty because I had visiting rights, while most of them were accused by ex-wives of being child molesters, and refused access. Of course they weren’t interested in the psychological issues of being a weekend dad… PATCH quickly attracted non-custodial mothers, many of whom had left their marriages for other men, only to find their access to their children taken by the courts. It was a deeply depressed and ostracised group, and one I felt inadequate to host. Once I met Val, I no longer attended my own meetings.

When I started dreaming product codes for Brent Crude and the workings of oil refinery pipestills, I realised the inappropriateness of Esso to my view of life, and left to become head of research for PolyGram, the largest record company in the UK, something which Esso attributed to my divorce. For half of 1985 I partied, staggering from gigs to bars, picking one-night-stands over long term relationships, till in September I went on hoiday to Greece and met Val. I’d moved from a semi in Croydon to a ground floor flat in Stockwell, right next to Brixton, which was an Afro-Caribbean melting pot. The Brixton Riots in 1985 were all about police brutality , but in Thatcher’s Britain, and in the context of the ‘Loadsamoney’ culture, they spilled over into Mayflower Road, where we lived. My friend of the time, Gordon Pincott, worked for Saatchi and Saatchi, boasting of champagne breakfasts every day. Helived in a flat round the corner in Oval above Nigella Lawson, but between my place and his, on the Clapham Road, Val witnessed six police beating up a black man at eight on a Sunday morning, as she walked to the tube. She had to put her head down and walk on, because her Irish accent might have led her to ‘disappear’ into custody for up to a week, since The Brighton Bombing was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

But by 1986, she’d given up her life in Ireland to live with me in London, just as I was left the music industry for a job in Mass Observation, a sweat-shop of a research agency, housed in the vacated social security offices of Acton Town. Why the come-down? The record industry prided itself on intuition and inspired gambles, not on market research, and some sense of dedication prevented me joining in. After all the upheaval, the new life was a wonder. Stockwell became a haven, a nest in which, despite the damp and cold, the blaring reggae and loud neighbours, we found and lost ourselves in one another.

Thirty seemed old then. The Millennium seemed like the end of time.

Ios 10

“Good morning Adrian. This is Damien in Apple Tech support.  How can I help you?”
“Hi, thanks for calling back. I just bought a new iPhone 5SE and I’m having a few problems.”
“Let me just stop you there to say that calls may be recorded for training purposes and all that shit,  blah blah blah… But as it’s ‘fun Friday’ here in Cork, I’m going to switch that off. There. Right now, Adrian. You were saying…”
“Yes, you see I bought the phone and downloaded Ios 10”
“Yes I can see that. In the Wilton shopping centre branch of Eir. at 1.27pm. Took you a while to figure out how  to get in I see.  Forgot your iTunes password so many times you had to create a new one.  That’s been happening quite a lot to you recently, hasn’t it? You were sitting next to your old friend Chris.  Well, when I say ‘old’, it’s all relative.  She’s only 3822 days older than you, according to our files.”
“I’m sorry, but how can you tell that?”
“Well. Adrian, or do you prefer to be called ‘Toffee-nose’ – I see from your security questions that was your nickname at school – she has and iPhone too, and she’s a Friend of yours on Facebook I see, and of course we know her date of birth and yours and I have a nice little calculation app here…”
“Hang on.  You have access to my security questions? And you can see the location of my phone?”
“Of course.  Strange maiden name you mother had by the way.”
“Look, Damien…”
“Call me Beelzebub. That’s my nickname round here.”
“Jesus!”
“No, wrong location…”
“Look Damien or Beelzebub or whoever you are, I’ve got problems with Ios 10 and I need help.”
“Yes, I can see you were trying unsuccessfully to send email last night at 11.47, which is about 45 minutes after your normal bedtime. And Charlene was already in bed I see. Though she wasn’t asleep. In fact she was texting someone called Richard McCarthy, who’s registered as living in St Lukes in Cork, and he’s 39. Nice profile pic he has – rugged, if you know what I mean. She spends quite a lot of time next to on Tuesday afternoons most weeks – he’s also an iPhone user, Adrian.”
“Oh for God’s sake.  Look, Damien…”
“Call me Bee, please.”
“This is scaring the shit out of me!  I’m sitting here in my underwear, because the heating is way up. I was messing around with the new phone last night and by mistake I set up home controls and must’ve pressed the wrong setting, and I can’t turn it down because I also set up fingerprint security and I can’t remember which finger I used, and it only allows me three goes and I’ve used the wrong fingers and the phone has locked me out…”
“Oh dear, you are in the shit, aren’t you Adrian. Now, tell me about that nice girl you were sitting next to in the Black Pig last night between 9.23 and 10.15? Janice Maynard.  Her Facebook profile doesn’t give much away, but I see her DoB is 16.03.88, so she’s only 28, you naughty boy.  And your phones were up against one another outside the bar at 10.15 till 10.27… I wonder why.”
“Look B, could you stop browsing my personal history and please help me get back into my phone and turn down the heating, or at least switch off the home controls? And while we’re at it, I’ll be switching off location ID too.  Actually I thought I had refused the phone access to my location every time it asked, which was loads of times.”
“Oh come on, let’s not be naive about the settings you think you have control over… Let me just send a text from Richard McCarthy to his wife, Helen, about his affair with Charlene and while I’m about it, perhaps one from Charlene to Janice’s boyfriend, Andrew – always fun to mix it up a bit, don’t you think… ”
“Oh my God!”
“Not today, I’m afraid.  Oh dear, Toffee-nose, judging by Janice’s phone, which is moving up and down rhythmically, close to the location of Mick Murphy’s phone, I’d say you’ve got stiff competition there… Ah well, let’s move it on, now I’ve had my fun, Toffee-nose. Sure I can help you, but first let me just check something… Oh dear, I think we’ve got a problem.  I see your bank balance isn’t very healthy, and talking of ill-health, your heart-rate is very high right now and you should calm down. I can see you’ve been spending time in the cardiology department of CUH recently.  Not sure you’re much use to me.”
” Hang on. How did you get into my… Fuck it! The lights just started flashing on and off around the house, and it’s getting hotter.  Please Bee, stop fucking with my phone and help me bypass the fingerprint security?”
“OK. I guess it is fun Friday, and now I’ve emptied your bank account, you’re just not that much fun… gotta go, Bye.”
Adrian’s house phone goes dead as Damien moves on to another call.  He has a severe pain in his chest which runs down his left arm.  The house phone rings again.
“Hello Adrian, this is Apollyon at Apple Tech Support, but everyone calls me The Beast. You were just talking to my colleague, Damien.  I must apologise, it’s his last day and he’s been a bit unruly. No, how can I help?”
“Thank God… I…”
“Hold on there, Adrian. I’m just reading your blog, I won’t be a minute.”

Forget about it

Yesterday morning, after very few hours’ sleep, I took the dog out early, and saw the sun rise over Charles Fort, and a strange elephant’s eye in the sky, watching me.  The day was the last of four in which I hosted the 23 American potters who attended workshops, and I also had to teach my weekly Thursday class, prepare the lunch room and wash everything up , pack away the furniture, prepare for and host a drinks reception in Cork City and glaze and fire two kilns full of their work.  Today is the quiet aftermath day.  Wash the glasses from the party, finish cleaning up, start to wrap and pack ceramics for delivery to the Bantry venue, have a massage, go to the gym and chill.  It all went well. Everyone enjoyed themselves and with few mishaps.

I had a strange dream last night, in which we were on holiday in a foreign city, possibly in Germany or northern Europe, and we’d take a metro to the stop close to our hotel.  The dream began in the hotel, which wasn’t smart, but full of corridors and unused rooms – a repetitive sequence for me – and then I chose to go out for a walk in the busy streets.  I walked through historic areas and modern areas, including a department store like Harrods, thronged with customers, and thought I was walking in a wide circle to come back to the hotel.  Needless to say, I became lost.  I arrived at a different metro station, which was crowded. I thought I must be only one stop from the station close to the hotel, but I couldn’t remember the name of the local station.  Although the people waiting were helpful, and one even gave me a map of the metro, it was hopeless. I couldn’t remember the name of the station, and I’d left my mobile at the hotel.  Nobody understood or recognised my description of the department store or the hotel, and I ended up sitting alone on the kerbside, late at night, knowing that I would not find my way back.  The dream was vivid and stressful and for a second night, I woke at 3.30am and read Knausgaard for an hour before trying to sleep again, without success.

It’s not a dream that means a lot.  There has been so much to organise and remember, and the lack of sleep has built up.  It isn’t some premonition of Alzheimers, or a desertion complex.  It’s a dream. But the morning now has a flavour of that dream and is backed up by the exhaustion which builds over the days.  This isn’t an unpleasant state.  It reminds me of a hangover without the headache, But I do wonder about the elephant’s eye…

Waking up to autumn

It’s humid and warm, and the thick cloud spills showers throughout the morning. There’s a wind and scudding across my window. The new view, from the new study in the hallway, includes a section of white wall, which is now covered in slugs. They seem to be facing downhill, as though they arrived in the night from the sky and have managed to land, but realise they must make the long trek south to find land. The old study had only a roof light and the temptation to look up was not so strong. We probably carry genes to encourage horizontal rather than vertical vigilance.

It’s the end of a long summer, characterized by continuous work in the pottery and little else. Certainly no thought of writing. The routine was therapeutic. The schedule demanded and the demands were met, and the reward was simple and material. And then. And then.   There’s a novel to edit, with a need for some surgery, which will be tricky. Not that the body is cancerous, but there are blockages for sure, and perhaps the joints are stiff. My relationship with this novel is not simple. Perhaps every writer would say that about every book. When was it ever simple, true love. Is this my child? Not at all. Was it something I needed to wash off – no. Wasn’t it more like something I had to get into, like the gym? Something healthy and positive and practical.   It wasn’t a personal journey or an exorcism. It isn’t erudite or subtle. It was a process of jogging and then running.

And editing is a whole new process to develop. After seven years running a technical publishing company which generated about 10,000 pages of analytical text a year, I was used to a certain sort of editing which involved dissecting the work of others and trying to find the best in it, without undermining the confidence of the writer, but guiding them to expand on or replace elements. So, much the same as far as that goes. Fulfilling the brief, covering all the relevant elements of the topic, delivering satisfaction to the reader in terms of a rounded story, a complete picture… But what is the added element? A realization that this is what the story is really about, this is it’s point. Its raison d’etre. Sometimes that seemingly whole and well made thing is missing an element which isn’t apparent. Perhaps he is a mundane and unimaginative being without that creative spark, or that engaging emotional honesty. Sometimes he is ill-informed and myopic, but usually he is lazy. He hasn’t stretched himself. He hasn’t come out fighting, or perhaps he’s run a race and never noticed that he forgot to put on his running shoes. I’ve got to stop, go back and walk the route, to examine every inch of it, rather than feeling the wind in my legs and the finishing line ahead,. This will take a different mindset.

Then there are stories to write, another attempt at the family history perhaps. There’s a long winter in the offing, and inside, in the dust-filled bowl, there has to be something in which to germinate new plants.