Sunday, December 11, 2005

Talking trees

Amaptocare is a major public arts project by Jochen Gerz. If you sponsor a tree, you choose the species, which determines the price. A small lectern beside it will be engraved with your answer to the question, "If this tree could talk, what should it say for you?" Jochen has spoken to over 300 out of 600 of the donors already, mostly in person. As I'm not in Dublin, he phoned me last week at an appointed time to discuss the text to go beside the wild cherry tree that I chose. I told him I lived in Ballymun till I was 23, but I wasn't sure what was required, that it was too easy to philosophize. He said that what he was looking for was something personal, rather than general. I wasn't able to answer there and then, though I had thought a lot about it. In the end, this is what I emailed, and this is what will go beside my tree:

"I heard the cranes on tracks singing to progress when they built their concrete house of cards. A hollow evicted became a hill. Cubitt Haden & Sisk raised seven giant mausoleums to seven system-built heroes. Spiral arms gerrymandered out across constituencies. Refugees fell in from the tumbling city. Now where hundred-foot lighting masts used to sway, the hill has been righted back to earth. Where only the odd sapling pined, a forest advances from Santry woods south. Listen to the singing of blackbird and robin in the branches now, and circling above in their changeless Dublin accent, the seagulls still crying, still laughing."

Friday, November 11, 2005

I am not a Camera

The latest volume of my forgetoirs. Following the runaway success of the previous volumes, "Dog Man Walking", "A Fool to Myself" and the hilarious "Not Me Again".

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Raymond Williams prize 2005

This year's Raymond Williams prize for community publishing has gone to Willesden Green Writers Workshop for their anthology The Monkey's Typewriter, which includes one of my own abominations.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Inside the walled garden

Charleston is a literary and artistic Ali Baba's cave. If you go to the Small Wonder short story festival there, it's worth going early and taking a tour of the house. Virginia Wolfe lived there for a while with her sister Vanessa, before filling her pockets with stones and wading into the river Ouze. The rooms of the house are covered in paintings, fragile murals, decorations - every inch had to be beautiful. There's a sculpture of the head of a boy, a gift from Renoir, as well as many rare and wonderful paintings. The tales of tortuous relationships would put any fiction to shame. I'm reading more about it in "Deceived by Kindness" by Angelica Garnett, which I picked up in the shop there on the recommendation of one of the marvelously enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guides. The house is restored and preserved by the Charleston Trust. T. S. Eliot read from his manuscript of The Waste Land for the first time ever in the sitting room there, and somebody fell asleep during the reading. Another speaker said that somebody had fallen asleep while Maynard Keynes read something, which sounds slightly more plausible. Whatever. There are lots of funny and amazing stories like that, and a lot of sad stories too about the place. I spent a sunny morning in the walled garden, working on a short story, on a bench with nobody else around, just fruit trees, flowers, bees, and statues. A party of schoolchildren passed through later.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Small memoir of Brendan Behan

My parents are from the tenements of Dublin, and so am I, though we moved out to a Corporation house in Finglas when I was about eight. Later in the 1960's the tenements started to collapse after some dry summers, and they were cleared, and the residents relocated to Ballymun, which itself is now being demolished.

My mother and father were members of an Amateur dramatic society in Dublin. They also had a passing acquaintance with the Behan brothers. On the day of my parents' wedding in 1953 the reception was in a local pub, and Dominic (or was it Brian?) and Brendan Behan were there. My mother remembers the brother as nice and presentable, she didn't mind him. However, she didn't have much to do with Brendan, who came in later. She described him as a "foul-mouthed chap in a coat tied with a string."

Brendan Behan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "By far the most famous Irish writer of his time he was once hired to write an advertising slogan for Guinness. As part of his payment for this the company offered him half a dozen kegs of their stout. After a month the company asked Behan what he had come up with, Behan had already managed to drink all of the beer they had given him and produced the famous slogan Guinness makes you drunk." (Wikipedia)

Monday, August 15, 2005


Things happening in that other dimension or those other dimensions probably impinge on our universe. All sorts of wild imaginings come to mind, but any other world would make no more sense than our own, and no less. Our universe as the snow globe in Citizen Kane. What the hell is this? Never mind why, when, where, just what? What? What is this? Big bang! Gets us nowhere. What what what. Rocks. What are rocks? Minerals. What is mineral? Atoms. What are atoms? Bits of atoms. What are bits of atoms? Energy. What is energy? Something. What is that something? Something else. What is that something else? Nobody knows. We don't know what we are, or what our world is.

Nothing one can propose can be built on anything but sand. At the end of every proposed explanation is another question: what is it made of? As T. S. Eliot said (in The Rock?) all of our knowledge only brings us closer to our ignorance. How can I think and write and listen to sweet Paul Simon melodies and wear out my creaking knuckles to program computers and live and die in ignorance and everyone we know all disappear and stupid mad animals massacre people and disease boil us alive, dismantle and eat us, and still Paul Simon is singing so sweetly, and all the gods fight it out in a temple amongst themselves, and...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

State of the universe

Following from previous speculations (below). Observation leads to description which is the attribution of properties to entities. Entities have properties whose state only they themselves "know" authoritatively, e.g. alive. Albeit consisting of mutually ignorant entities, the universe nevertheless is the set of all properties of all entities according to their owners.

Nothing and nobody inside the universe can have an overview, which might require an additional dimension or additional dimensions. Seen from a world with an additional dimension, our universe becomes an observable object, like the snow globe in Citizen Kane maybe. To us the extra dimension is a physical barrier, absolute and unvarying to all within our universe because not observed by any, like the barrier of the third dimension to a 2-D line drawing.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"If I want your opinion I'll give it to you," said the dying man to the doctor

How can we know the dancer from the dance? (W. B. Yeats)

Thinking about those imaginary people who go off on rockets at nearly the speed of light, and come back after only a year in their own lives to find that thousands of years have elapsed here on Earth...

It is people's own version of events that is authoritative for matters concerning themselves, most dramatically whether they are alive or dead. How somebody else perceives the timing of one's being alive or dead may be interesting and strange, but it is irrelevant to oneself as the owner of the attribute "alive".

From various vantage points, other people may think that one dies at different times, some seeing one drop down dead later than others see the same thing. Nobody may see it sooner than it actually happens, I hope it's safe to assume. If the soonest to know is oneself (not that one can really know, being dead), can we say that the time when it occurs is the only possible time for the owner of the attribute, and always earlier than all other observations?

So even though different observers can't agree on the timing, there is a time in all of their pasts after they have seen it, which corresponds to the time in the dying person's present. The event in the owner's realm, in this case the owner's death, is a fixed mark around which the observers are arranged and correlated. There is one absolute version that is authoritative, the owner's version, and it determines the observers' experiences absolutely.

All versions are not equal, since the secondary ones held by the observers are variously inaccurate, but the owner's version is absolute and it precedes and controls the others. The mistake is to say that all versions are equally valid. You could say that you don't really care about the attributes of an event according to the owner of the attributes until they impinge on you, however it is the case that you are at the mercy of those incoming attributes as they were established before they reached you. Your fate was sealed in the realm of the owner, in that sense.

Therefore it is necessary to get rid of the idea that one can see anything happening, all that can be seen is a trace after something has happened. In effect we don't see anything, we only see images and traces of things. That is what seeing is, it's a property of the observer, arising in response to events that have already occurred earlier. As to what things are, we can't say, all we know are the effects they produce.

Even though we have the fascinating mystery of living in a haze of relativism, where none can see any other accurately, and "outside" things are not the same for any two people or for any two entities, we still have absolutes within us about which we know with authority. We know we're alive as long as we're alive, and we know what we think and feel, absolutely unmoderated by anybody else's version. Our subjective experience is ours alone. Outside people and entities also know about the attributes they own. Communication bridges the uncertainty, it is transmission and reception, across the quagmire of timespace, with noise and delays on the line. Over.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


DeadDrunkDublin feature

Carmencita has found a home. The "drunk" bit reminds me that "Novices and Pros" was originally going to have this epigraph: "Desperation and drink are bad guides. One will make you walk all over town and never meet anybody you know. The other will lead you to the wrong people and the wrong places."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Slag Lit.

Carmencita is a sort of anti Bridget Jones, who leaves a trail of destruction wherever she goes. I must post an excerpt sometime. Any agents or publishers reading? I need an advance. I'm brassic.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What is seen and what is

Can an entity have properties of its own, known only to itself, were it capable of knowing, and so absolute not relative? Isn't the falling item, whether observed from a train or from an embankment, only what it is itself, and not the varying impressions that observers receive?

We only know what we can observe ("seeing is believing") but that is a problem not an advantage. Otherwise why say "only"? Our impressions are always to some extent out-of-step with underlying reality.

The inner properties of something may be held in a fixed frame of reference which is the containing item itself. Equally the frame of reference that is authoritative for effects on an entity, is its own frame of reference, what it encounters from its vantage point. That we cannot see things that way is merely our problem.

Two entities may collide and the fact that various others cannot see the collision at the same times is their problem. It's no consolation to the items which collide and are destroyed. When did it happen? When the entities collided. Never mind where we were. We had a distorted view of each entity, and we will receive a distorted view of when they collided, but the entities are not in any doubt themselves. When did it happen? Ask the collision. When did we see it? At different times.

Things have conditions and properties which we try and ultimately are not able precisely to discover. Does the theory of relativity confuse what is observed with what is at the point that owns the attribute, where the attribute is a condition of the entity and not a condition of its image? Images are distorted, but attributes that underly them are authoritative. Relying on images, we cannot see in a precise or timely way, that which the items in question "experience" or bear as attributes of themselves.

So turning to that intangible and much denied concept, the soul, and thereby losing the goodwill of any readers who've got this far, maybe it is the sum of one's absolute attributes, known not to oneself even but to itself, invisible and inexpressible except imperfectly, about which one can only wonder.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Square one*

There are now so many books it's as if there were no books. And so much of every medium it's as if there were no media. If everything is told then we're back to square one, with as much to make sense of as we started with and no distillation, no reduction, no summary, the "raised voice" of the poet inaudible in the racket, the vision of the painter indecipherable in the welter, and as for music, forget it.

But it's a fallacy, because there's a new world for every individual, every day, untold, undepicted, unlived, unknown, and other things starting with "un". Yes, you got it, the old world is gone with the wind.

*On browsing

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Language as understanding

You could argue that while we have no language to describe, we have no understanding. When people say they can't understand the motivation of the suicide bombers in London, at the same time they are saying that they have no language to describe it. I thought when Police Commissioner Blair said they behaved like a cult, a death cult, that was it - he had classified them for us. It's a way of understanding Al Qaeda, a religious cult with a typical charismatic leader, and a typical tropism to suicide of the members.

I'm only referring here to the indoctrination of the cult members, their organisation and behaviour. The politics underlying the formation of the cult are more complex and are well-known. A lot of people agree on some of the politics, and are angry about the injustices, but very few are minded as a result to kill themselves and massacre the general public.

Equally when people talked about a clash of cultures or clash of civilisations, we were at a loss to know how to answer. Was it something observed, which simply had to be accepted? We hadn't the language to respond. That is why it seems helpful to me that the Spanish prime minister should call for an alliance of civilisations to combat terrorism. Even if it's embraced by the most guilty, as a sort of cop-out, I think it's a useful idea, a useful phrase, a worthwhile aim. It sounds very simple now, but until the language was adduced it was as if we were to some extent in a state of suspense and danger, a question was left hanging.

When the Spanish prime minister contemplated the problem, perhaps his thoughts constituted a search for the words, and his words are a gift to us, a gift of understanding conveyed in words. Not new words, but a classification of something unclassified, with a rightness, a sort of solution to a puzzle. The quest for understanding of something being a puzzle, and the words of explanation being the solution. It might be a solution instinctively known, and embodied in the behaviour of "right-thinking" people, but until the words were formulated there was a hunger, a need, an uncertainty. From uncertainty, fear and anger and then violence are born.

What is the sense of rightness, of solution that I feel on hearing these words? One person's solution may ring true to some people, but false to others. For me I think it's the extent to which the solutions, the new words, give hope and reassurance, and also propose a goal or direction to pursue that leads towards peace and security, away from war and the threat of destruction.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

On the train to Cardiff today

There was a very big man, who needed two seats, diagonally opposite me with a table between us. He was a bus driver, with vouchers that let him travel anywhere on Great Western for a fiver. He had a hot pie and beer for breakfast. A lot of crumbs were flying everywhere. He read a magazine about steam trains for a while. Told me all about the places he could go with his vouchers, up the Pennine way, Carlisle etc. He went to San Francisco last year. Not very many trains in America. Thirteen in the morning and thirteen in the evening rush hour and that's your lot, in San Francisco. It has a good underground, but it doesn't go very far. Las Vegas has no train station at all. The railway goes through but doesn't stop. We both agreed that was very funny. Our train was 20 minutes late, had to slow down because of some problem ahead. Nothing, apparently. Know how many late the trains are arriving in San Francisco from Chicago? 130. What, 130 minutes? Yeah. They had to follow behind a train two miles long full of pig iron or something like that, going up hills at about 12 miles per hour. Two of these things collided there some time ago head on, and the locos were flipped 120 yards away. Know how much one of those locos weighs? 160. 160 tons. Insisted on helping me locate the slot for my Bluetooth adapter on the back of my notebook computer, took command and slotted it in. He has one of them on his as well.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

2 minutes silence at Edgware Road

I was driving today near Edgware Road underground and got caught in the two-minute silence. Well I suppose that's an ungenerous way of looking at it, let me say rather I took part in the two-minute silence. All the traffic stopped for more like 10 minutes from 5 to 12 till 5 or 10 past 12 p.m. Workers came out of offices. Chefs with tall chef hats were among the staff from the Metropole on the corner opposite. People got out of their cars to look. The car radio announced it was on 2 minutes silence after the chimes of Big Ben. I couldn't see anything, but people ahead of me were looking across the road towards the station, so I assume there was some sort of ceremony. I saw more on TV when I got home. Staff from St Mary's Hospital came and stood in front of the main entrance, nurses, doctors. These were people who had treated the wounded. The Greek bus driver whose bus was blown up, gave an eloquent and marvellous speech. This man walked for 6 miles covered in blood in shock after the blast, but today he could have been a famous author or politician. We have great people driving buses and in all walks of life, you know, we just don't hear them often.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cardiff night train

I started making notes about the view on the 9:25 p.m. (Tuesday) train from Cardiff to London, Paddington. I sat facing in the direction the train was going.

A wig of cloud on the mountain head
A cloud embryo in the belly of the horizon
A goldscape cave and coral clawscrape
Shockhaired fogey in a tunneled blackout
[illegible] of [?] striplight switchback [?] [illegible]

Then we were diverted after some station, and the train sped backwards the way it came, and I saw the same things again. Weird.

I'd worked late after Sunday midnight, caught the 7:45 a.m. train from Paddington to Cardiff on Monday morning, and worked continuously on software at a new customer site and afterwards in a hotel through till dawn on Tuesday, then skipped breakfast and back on-site again from 8 a.m. till 9:10 p.m. jumping into a taxi that had been waiting since 9:05 p.m. and pell-mell back to Cardiff Central station.

I'm telling you this to give you some idea how I felt on the train. I'd had to skip breakfast though I nipped out for a sandwich and Starbucks soy-latte. Thanks to Great Western and a charming young lady in the buffet car, my dinner on the train was a heated ciabatta mushroom omelette sandwich, and two cold tins of Stella Artois. The effect on me was something like a tranquiliser dart meant for a hippo.

I read a bit (Martin Amis's 'Money') then I fell asleep writing (Carmencita Aikenhead).

The last line instead of being horizontal veers upwards back over the previous lines. I'd conked out mid-sentence. I've no idea what the last two lines are supposed to mean.

I got into London after midnight and shambled onto the last Central Line train to Baker Street, where there were still trains running on the Jubilee line to Willesden Green. I was stocious.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Answers on a postcard, please

Why are we alive?

How do we know that the universe we see is not just a tiny cell in a much bigger structure?

Can you be wrong just by being yourself?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Notes on waking

Day n

Inertia of pleasure is at its height when called to relinquish. Though we know needs must rise, some greater good suffuses the belly with restorative well-being.

Day n + x

Debating within (whether to rise). Once again drawn to a zone of mystical pleasure, that which is pleasing merely to contemplate, rightness of form, marvellous to contemplate, the better thought. Somehow it has to do with...something about...gone.


Friday, May 20, 2005

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ranns across the water


Morning, Nantlle Valley

Just back from a writers weekend there. A most remarkably beautiful place and a very, very pleasant vegetarian experience amid fields of sheep and sportive lambs. A Welsh heaven altogether. I could happily spend my whole life there, if only I had the wherewithal. Luckily it's not for sale, it's there for the poets and their gambolling iambs. Poets from Ireland and Wales are creating a bridge made of words between Eire and Cymru. I don't know why I'm blessed with totally undeserved joys such as last night's readings in the new Galeri at Caernarfon by the inspirational Gwyn Parry, who had some Welsh poems and some in English, the formidable Eabhan O'Shuilleabhan a stern and sharp writer, heartwarming Nessa O'Mahony's amazing captured ghosts, and top of the bill a marvellous Irish poet Jean O'Brien. I couldn't understand a word of Ifor Ap Glyn, being a complete ignoramus where Welsh is concerned (which I would like to change) though to be fair he handed out translations of his pieces, which I haven't read yet.

I wish I could show you more of the pictures I took, but I'm a little baaaashful.

It was the first writers' weekend organised by a certain group of poets who live around the Nantlle valley. Organisationally it needed a bit of clairvoyance to know what was happening, and what else would you expect from something "organised by poets"! (Imagine a smiley face here.) But those were just little teething troubles with the event. I was one of two people from London, the rest were mostly from Ireland, having bought a package including the ferry to Holyhead. We were fed vegetarian fare throughout and soya milk and fancy teas and all that, very nice sweets too. The location is a Welsh garden of Eden, in short. Beside a lake, with the clouds putting on a show over the surrounding mountains every morning, and Snowdon appearing at the end of the valley sometimes. It's also slate world, more slate than it's easy to imagine. We had workshops with local poet Gwyn Parry and also with Jean O'Brien. Poets Nessa O'Mahony and Eabhan Ni Shuilleabhan with connections to the centre were also on hand. I got a copy of Nessa's second book, "Trapping a Ghost". Jean is a well-known and distinguished poet in Ireland. I was able to grab a copy of her third collection, "Dangerous Dresses". I had to be quick. People were buying copies not singly but in threes and fours.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bird singing after midnight

I thought it was a nightingale, but why should I be disappointed if all that forlorn threnody was only a robin, afraid the night might never end.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Forest flame & wildflowers

Pieris "Forest Flame" is just past its best now, starting to go to seed already (if I look closely). I've been meaning to try and snap it. This is one of three in my front garden that came from Inverary about ten years ago. The others are a bit bigger than this one, but harder to photograph. Forest Flame is a beautiful evergreen and apart from the profusion of pendulous white flowers, new foliage emerges bright red - hence the name.

Went to the barbers this afternoon, braving scarification by a mad Kosovan whose traditional haircare seems to involve repeated blows to the scalp with the prongs of a steel comb. He wasn't there today, thank Allah, and instead there was a very nice, strapping lass in his place.

You never know what you're going to get when you go into a barbershop in London. The last place I tried had a soundtrack of dreary chanting by an Arabic male voice choir, and a constant stream of fit young Arab blokes passing through - "Salam Aleichem" "Aleichem Salam" - chatter, chatter, and away again. They slapped hair oil on my hair without asking and I came out looking like Lon Chaney (senior).

Down on the High Street, I am struck by the beauty of water standing by the kerb, and the bright glow around the edges of dark clouds at the end of the high street. It ought to be enough to live these things, and not have to tell the world, but there is some urge to share, to tell people and have them say, I know - and did you see? So much waste...

Or profusion, I suppose. These wallflowers are growing wild in the front garden too, with some other purple flower underneath (violets?)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Belly dancing in Kilburn

Went to see Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry at the Tricycle Theatre tonight. A documentary not a drama, it's edited from the inquiry proceedings by Richard Norton-Taylor. One has to trust his selection of scenes from such a long transcript to give a fair impression, and it felt about right. The acting was excellent, especially Sorcha Cusack as Bernadette McAliskey, and the whole cast as well, not a dropped stitch anywhere.

Walking back to Willesden Lane, an apparition! We stopped to watch the sashaying of a belly dancer through the half-darkened window of El Andsaloasse Moroccan restaurant. I dream of Jeannie.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The walls have eyes

A spy tells me The London Silence is available from Willesden Library. When last seen, the copy there had three date stamps on it. I don't know how the library got it, but it wasn't down to me. (You can't prove it.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Read all about it

An abridged excerpt from "Gerry Boysey's Human Circus" appears in the Spring edition of readallaboutit, Brent Library Service's free magazine, available from today. It's a taster for an anthology to celebrate ten years of the Willesden writers workshop, which will contain the complete piece. I'm guessing whoever chose the illustration hadn't read the text.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Next generation poets

click to enlarge

I don't fit the bill but you can find me impostering anyway in Willesden Library Centre at 8 pm on Thursday 20th inst. with other members of the local Writers Workshop. We're supporting readings by poets Catherine Smith and Nick Drake to "celebrate the launch of the Next Generation Poets collection of books."