Monday, 22 July 2013

The Anti-Coffeehouse (5): Wherein Be Dragons, Criminal Minds, and A Lack of Sense

I’m surprised at how many children are here already.  Its 8.02 a.m., and the coffeehouse is half filled already.  It’s the school holidays.  Were the children driving the parents insane from 4 this morning (much like mine)?  Parents, children, toddlers, babies.  Thankfully, not yet too loud.

The man closest to me has a small girl on his lap.  Dressed in pink, mouse brown hair in bunches.  He’s one of those parents who becomes a cartoon, much the way some teachers do.  He is reading Where the Wild Things Are to his daughter, in a deep expressive voice.  His wife, and what looks like her friend (a woman with an angry jerky demeanour – the world owes her and isn’t yet paying, I can see) keep interrupting him, talking to him.  He replies to them in the same voice of indulgence and pantomime bonhomie he is using on the child.  He ordered the families coffee and juice this way too.  He can’t turn off bluff, humourous, capable parent.  Still.  Worse ways to be.

The baristas are voluble this morning too.  Chatting away loud and almost shrill.  The older manageress is a lot more talky lately.  She’s a large and strong woman.  Considering how much I see her lift and carry of the deliveries that come, I am surprised she still has size.

A toddler boy wanders past my table in that absent way tiny children do. He glances at me, not really seeing, one hand on the chest of his blue dolphin embossed T-shirt.

I’m distracted too.

I have a friend in trouble.

There lived, a very long time ago, and yet very much also in the distant future, a woman with many names.  Many names as we all have for our many selves.  This one name I will give her is Jane, for I think perhaps she saw herself as plain.  She had no idea.  She was a dragon slayer, as are we all.  She embarked upon a quest to live a happy and reasonable life, and was beset by many travails.  Some followed thick and fast upon the others, and were cruel and longlasting so that she eventually felt herself in a forest surrounded by thorns, darkness and a path ever narrower.

There I was, watching Criminal Minds last night.

I’m addicted to that at the moment.  It feeds my screaming need for orderliness.  A crime occurs.  We don’t really know why or how or if there will be more.  As the episode unravels, we do know.  Gradually, all the threads are pulled loose, and the seams of the suspect (they call them an ‘unsub’ = ‘unknown subject’) become clearer and clearer.  They profile the crime to profile the perpetrator.  They get to know the enemy.  They stand outside of themselves so that they can get the big picture of the interior of another, through the details of their actions.  They use past experience, statistics, models of behaviour, to make likely composites of who, and eventually, why.  And at the same time, in the way of the best US crime dramas, they give us snippets of the investigators themselves.  So as the profilers profile the unsubs, we profile the profilers.

It started off being interesting and has graduated to unmissably watchable.  As usual, when I watch anything, I am liking the 2 most extreme characters the best.  I am loving Dr. Reid, the almost autistic statistics genius, with the eidetic memory and rather lacking social skills.  Adoring him.  And I am loving Hotchner, who grew up from a childhood of abuse to try and understand and catch twisted minds instead of becoming one in his turn.  He is perfectly neat, perfectly tidy, perfectly controlled, perfectly professional, almost cold. (Think early Scully demeanour in the X-Files.)  I love the way he barely smiles, carries the darkness inside, always thinking, trying to outwit it.  Trying to hold the line between work and family life by compartmentalizing.  Reid appears to have no family life.  Yet.  But I know my US dramas.  This will change.

So I am finding the unfolding of reasons, the understanding, the tidiness of the stories incredibly satisfying (this despite some loose ends left flying each episode which I also notice).

I go through life needing my stories badly.  The ones told by me and the ones told by others.  I think I subscribe to a version of chaos theory; that even beneath what appears to be the total mess of everything and everyone, there is also, there, patterns and order, could I but draw back far enough to see it.  I become increasingly aware of the necessity for the edit of the stories. Of being careful which ones we tell ourselves at any given time.

In watching Criminal Minds I tell myself I can understand the hearts of dark.  Mine and others.  That it can sometimes, and in some ways, be tidied enough to live with.  To accept, to work with.

And then, my friend.  At the moment caught in darkness she is surprised by, maybe.  One of those of us who tries to be ok as long as possible before admitting there is a clutch in her chest that tells her she is in trouble.

I couldn’t tidy my imaginary criminal facts anymore last night after I contacted her.  (And how could I not?  I saw her call out.  I am a crap friend in a thousand ways and constantly let down myself and others, but I try to be there when I can.  Sometimes I can.)

As we wrote, I could feel her telling herself the wrong story, as we all do when fearful upset.  The story where she was all to blame and her head was boiling away at it.

It’s weird how it’s so plain to see when it isn’t yourself, that the friend is not to blame in the upset.  A sequence of horribly stressful events both major and minor.  That went on and on for ages.  That she held up really well through, despite a position of responsibility within them that was girded round with not being allowed to intervene.  A messenger unable to act, only to watch and feel.  How unsurprising it is to me that a sensitive person would be having a bit of meltdown now it’s sort of over?  It’s just natural.

And yet, for some reason, when we’re in our own heads – and I am a prime example of this – we imagine we should be able to cope like a General of an Army, or the Leader of a Country.  Just to accept, do with compassion for others, yet oddly not for ourselves.  When its over, we seem supposed to be able to just file it away and on to the next episode of life, as if its that neat, that tidy, that SIMPLE.  That orderly.

On all sides of Jane, the forest pressed.  The leaves were dry, the leaves crackled, they were old, yet strong, wound round with vines of an unpleasant ivy.  Jane sat down with difficulty and regarded her situation.  Somehow, she felt, this loss of direction, this pressing in could have been avoided.  She could see no wider forest; the trees themselves pressed in against her.  Through their branches she saw glints of scale, golden and mean.  She heard the hiss of a dragon’s breath.  Now, when she was without her weapons, for earlier they had been discarded as further into the forest she wandered, she was expected to fight. 

I know what I crave is a fantasy mindset.  That real life is filled with so many people, so many stories they tell themselves and each other for oh so very many different reasons (life experiences, brain chemicals, a million passing moods, the economy, the childhood, the present situation, the person who snubbed you in the office or the stranger who smiled at you in the street)…what hope do I have of anything but the most provisional and superficial understanding of anyone (including me), or of any event (even ones I am present at)?!

As long as I understand my quest’s results will always be nothing more than provisional.  There will not be a tidy ending to each episode and on to the next one apparently untouched and unscathed by memory: life is not a jigsaw with each piece fitting in and making sense.  There will always be info I missed or to which there is an alternative interpretation, or an extra one.

I might love Sherlock Holmes (another very orderly thinking creation), but when he says a man is guilty based on his crossed arms body language, I always want to say – but was the room he was in cold?  Give me all the info.  Or at least more of it.

Bluff male parent and entourage are gone.  Schubert tinkles on the speakers.

A man with an old stripy purple polo shirt sits diagonally opposite from me.  He taps away on a laptop.  He has an ‘I’m working from home’ look.  He’s got shortish messyish black hair with mutton chops.  It needs a wash.  He’s wearing those thick rimmed black 1950s glasses.  I hate those.  They only look halfway good on men with large boned faces that keep them in proportion (someone like the yummy film critic Mark Kermode).  This man is small, and has a downturned mouth, a 5 O’clock shadow. He looks not finished yet.  I wonder why he rushed out of the house looking all unwashed?  I wonder also, why he hasn’t realized the extremely loud jingle buzz noise his phone makes when it receives texts is extremely annoying?  Why do we all have to hear that?

(I’m painting a picture in my head that he’s going through a divorce, hence his roughed up and generally miserable look.  Maybe he had to leave the house and flee to the coffeeshop because he thought he could have a think and make sense of things, sit about in your pants mental health day at home – but his becoming ex-partner announced she was staying at home today.  There was a bit of a stand off.  Did they actually argue?  Can’t see this one yelling or raising a hand to anyone, unless drinking maybe.  But he couldn’t take the flow of her words – is she a ranter like I can be? – and so he quickly gathered his stuff, not even shaving or washing his face; he may even have slept in that polo top, and he just gets the hell out of the house.  Comes to the neutral ground, for peace.)

Just then, his phone rings. His face changes, loses its sad sulky half awakeness.  In a voice I didn’t expect, a calm and happy chirpy chappy cockney voice, he takes a work call.  He deals with it peacefully, while stacking up his croissant crumbed plate and cappuccino froth rimmed cup neatly onto a tray.

He seems genuinely completely fine.  He’s just a slob. A happy slob, in fact.


See.  I’m no profiler. 

I’m that dangerous specimen.  A person with an overactive imagination, who sees patterns both real and imagined and sometimes cannot see the difference between them.  I’m not Sherlock Holmes, or Hotchner or Reid.

I’m just a teller of stories, not a purveyor of facts.

That’s what I need my friend to understand.  We are all spin merchants to a degree.  She is spinning herself into a corner at the moment.  But she, and I, and anyone else who knows her and loves her can at least partially help to spin her out again, with a story slanted differently.

Jane remembered previous times she had met herself in this forest.  Other times she had seen the dry crackling leaves, the old strong ivy vines.  Those bitter thorns.  She remembered other dragons.  She took out her pen, and cleared the earth immediately before her, just enough so she had space to write.  The dragon pressed inward, bowing the trees closest to her.  Uneasily.

“I, Jane, Slayer of Dragons, here remember the dragons I have slain before.  I wielded sword in the name of the knight I respect so much and who inspires me so.  I wielded sword in the name of my daughter, a princess of great intelligence who even now awaits me at home.  I wielded sword in the name of myself, in the name of a path to a good and reasonable life.  Who are you, Dragon, to stand before me now, and try to threaten me? Did I not kill all your brothers before you?  So that I am here still and they are not?”

All this and more she scratched out upon the forest floor, as though scratching on a cell’s floor.  At each brush of the pen over the Earth, the dragon shook and hissed.  Branches began to flame around Jane. 

But she wrote on.

Chirpy chappy has taken his messy unwashed self away; looking peaceful and fine.  I thank him in my head for his imaginary character he gave me, that clearly wasn’t him (and obviously said loads more about me).

Bespectacled woman with side parted hair and crossed legs sits opposite, reading one of those sagas about Liverpool in WW2.  She’s in her late 30s, coral T-shirt, white cardigan, denim skirt.  Her face is clear, unlined, really almost blank.  She has remained unmoved by both chirpy chappy’s phone beeping debacle and the increasingly loud children.  Strangely, she is also impenetrable to me.  I can’t do her: she suggests nothing to me.  The blandness of her clothes, the fact she’s reading the sort of emotional potboiler I can’t read (too much suffering often in those, relentless)…the fact her black sandals are flat and incredibly simple, her legs completely shiny and smooth (has she had electrolysis to get legs that smooth and hair free; or was she waxed within the last week, but not the last couple of days or she’d still be a touch red…?).  It all tells me no story.

Her uprightness, her unwavering concentration on her open book.  She’s a closed one to me.


Because she hasn’t looked up once I can’t even get a feel for any character in her eyes, or change of expression on her face.  In fact, she has not moved.  At all, except to turn pages and recross her legs.  I wish the author of that book were here to see this woman’s dedication to the reading.  That would be very nice for her.

What would Reid say?  What statistics would he come out with to explain her stillness, her strange emotionless manner?  His character makes more sense to me than this brilliantly opaque woman.  But of course he does.  I’ve had tidbits fed to me over a whole season arc so far, many episodes.  His behaviour remains consistent, for the most part.

Ouch.  A barista breaks a plate.

Life just does not make any real, consistent sense.  I don’t care which philosophy system you have read, studied, or follow: it’s just an eye.  The eye you have chosen to see with, closing the other.  Denying everyone else’s eyes and their vision of what is real, or true.  There is no one consistent all-time truth; at best it is temporary and provisional, and it moves[1].  We cannot even truly know those we know.  Let alone snap judgements we make about people we merely see around the place or hear about on the news (and mistake our opinions for solid facts).

Kate has gone into labour today.  She has gone off into hospital to produce a news event we’ll not hear the last of for ages.  I feel a bit sorry for Kate (she’ll just need a rest when she’s done), and for the baby (who just needs ‘mum’, not all this other crap).  It’ll be a circus, eclipsing other things we might do just as well to know.  What a world.  That's just today.

The new Pope is selling indulgences.  If you like him on Twitter and follow and retweet, you get ‘time off’ from Purgatory.  Hmm.  What a world.  That's just today.

Time periods clash.  Medieval practices surround us in the 21st century.  Far from everything having gone all technical, scientific, mentally evolved and silvery in this future made present, we instead have a world where science fiction really does rule.  I think we live in a multiverse within this one universe, and we can see different dimensions and sectors everywhere we look, increasingly polarized and separate from each other, and yet bumping up together.  Enlightenment reason rules some sectors, a sort of secularism.  And in others, organized religion of some kinds sends whole other sectors of the world further and further backwards…And of course, I live here in my own little almost anything goes mental sector.

I watch the reasoning in Criminal Minds while down the road somewhere, a man or woman beats their partner (because they love them of course) behind closed doors.  People cut and hurt themselves feeling a pain in their heads so bad that only actual physical pain can blank it out for a moment, make it even bearable and almost explicable.  Today I live in peacefulness; next door is pain.  I have spoken to people going through pain, and all they ever want is to be where I am today, just this one day, in a headspace of peace.  So I cannot allow my knowledge of their pain to ruin my day, though I find the knowledge corrosive and undermining.  I must live the peace I have for now.

Next door again to the pain is another house, where there is safety.  Children feel safe as their parents scoop them up for a hug.  Those little legs curl about your waist, the head lays trustfully on your shoulder, hands pressing your back, pulling them closer.  And just for a second: there is some form of sense.  You understand how important, truly important it is, that you provide safe haven for this tiny person who understands both so much and so little of the rest of the world.  In some ways, they still feel you ARE them.  In hugging you, the bigger part of themselves, you know and they know, that all will be and is, ok.

For however long a hug lasts.

Or a text from a friend to hold your hand in cyber in the dark one night.

Or whilst I sit rapt before the profilers, and continue to seek. 

Or sit here in the coffeehouse and watch, and spin my little tales.  Which make my world go round.  And round.

Jane feels in her head a slight lessening of the pressure.  Around her the trees seem to flinch.  She writes:

“I bind you, Dragon.  You may not bar my way.  You may not slow me down.  You may not threaten me here.”

She takes the sash from her waist and in the new space created infront of her, she has room enough to raise it before her eyes.  She sees the dragon behind the trees watching, his eyes angry, wide, murderous.

She does not blink.  She takes the sash and ties a knot inside it, and the dragon howls, branches and whole trees breaking into a flame deep and blue with its heat. 

“I will go on, Dragon.  You will stop.  Here, now.”  She hisses louder than it does, tying another knot, and another.  There are nine when she is done and she lays it out before her, before the trees, smoking and burning, before the dragon’s malevolent eyes. 

“I need no sword to stop you, Dragon. 

I write you to stillness. 

I tie you to this place

You will move within me no more.”

There is a terrible cry, a roar of fear, and the vines fall from around Jane, and coil around the dragon, holding him still, holding him fast. 

“Fiat.”  She says quietly, lowering her head.

She leaves the sash where it is, before the tied dragon, who struggles but cannot break free.

She picks her way around him, bending to take her pen.  She steps onward, onward into the forest.  She continues on.  Soon we cannot see her anymore.[2]

[1] The only sense I bank on is that I observe in nature, and how we all flow within it.  It’s surprising and changing; changing and yet samey.  But that’s just me.
[2] The only reason the dragon is not slain is that this is not my story to complete.  I can only suggest.  Jane must slay.  But I can remind her she is a Dragonslayer.  I have to thank Tylluan Penry for the Dragonslaying idea.  I just finished reading her very interesting and helpful book, Staying on the Old Track (2013, Wolfenhowle Press, Amazon has it).  She has a whole chapter about using stories to mythologize and tell your way out of troubles; and remind yourself of those you conquered already.  I haven’t done it exactly as she recommended, I haven’t used the very formal style or the repetitions that I see are a powerful part of the story telling process, as I had a bit of a different aim.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

5 Things I Thought Were Amazing As A Child


I still think this is amazing now.  Especially the green kind.  Like a lot of children, when I used to go to circuses or fairs, I was running scared from the clowns or the ghost train (or the rollercoaster come to that), but I loved those hook the fish stalls, and I gravitated towards candyfloss (which always seemed to be near the fish) every time. I did not understand how sackfuls of what looked like fat pink sand could be poured into this…er…butter churn gravitron thing, and then metamorphose into thin spider webs of eatable sticky hair.  Mystified me.  I had a very cute smile when I was little, and the makers of the candyfloss used to let my mum or dad lift me up so I could lean right over the machine and see the making process better.  The slow churn of the machine, its of sort of rolling motion, and the moving of the magic stick around the edges, picking up the spun threads…

The way I used to be given such a massive bag or stickload of the stuff (how did it stay up on the stick?!), and when I bit into it, it was rough like my mothers scouring pads in the kitchen, and yet wettened so easily.  Dissolving into goo and then resetting as darker coloured bite marks in the middle of the floss clump; while I pulled back my head, chomping on the quickly becoming nothingness in my mouth.  Hard lumps of recrystallized sugar in my teeth.

That sharp smell.  Sunlight in my eyes, my upper arms getting that first prickle of sunburn.  Old summers.  Wondrous stuff.

Walks with my Dad around the Coast

We used to go on a 2 week holiday to the seaside every summer without fail, until I suddenly stopped seeing it as fun (what on earth was wrong with me?; teenage hormones are insane).

Every very early morning, while mum did I don’t know what, dad and I would go for a walk.  Hand in hand, while the air was still full of the chill of the night, I would trot to keep up with his incredibly long stride.  If it was very chill he would tuck my hand in his jacket pocket.  Sheepskin, fur lining.  So soft and warm.

We always stayed very close to the sea, wherever we were. So the way we would go would be down to the path on the seafront, and follow the coast way, sometimes for up to 2 hours, as far as the next town.  We walked from Westgate to Margate; from Hove to Brighton.  That sort of thing.

This was back when Walkmans were a miracle of new technology.  Dad had the most snazzy one available: with 2 headphone sockets, AVLS and a jog equalizer (i.e. if it got bumped while you ran, your tape would play on undisturbed, not jumping).

We would both plug in, and sharing Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Beethoven’s Eroica – whatever he fancied, occasionally Sinatra or Miller, we would walk the coast.

I used to try and match my stride to his, big gulps of sea air to keep up.  I used to love the look of our legs, striding out in perfect unison.  Shared sounds, shared reactions to the music, seagulls breaking through, waves crashing against the bits of the path that were very close to the beach – droplets of salt smelling spray landing on my face and hair.  And with dad, who back then used to call me “chicken”.  Such wonderful happy memories.

Walking Across Victoria Park with My Mum

Another great walk, from when I was really small and collecting my first memories.  Aged 4 or 5.

We used to live in Bethnal Green to begin with; where I began.  I walked with mum a lot.  Wandering through Roman Road Market with her, my hand firmly in hers, and being knocked constantly by people much bigger than me – by their bags mostly, and shopping for very cheap easily breakable plastic toys in blister packs – we did that walk often.  And we fetched a lot of fabric and buttons for her sewing.  Sometimes I was given buttons by the stallholders (that cute smile again): one was in the shape of a green flower with red edging: I kept it for years and then it vanished.

The other walk was Victoria Park.  As a child, everything is so BIG.  I remember Victoria Park as an endless stretch of green, going on and on and on.

In the hot summer of 1976 there was one day when we walked forever.  I don’t know exactly where we were going or coming from; usually we had a destination, we didn’t just walk.  I asked for an icecream, because I was so thirsty, and truly, we had been walking for days, I was convinced.  Mum responded with her usual frugal reply that we had icecream at home and would be there soon.

I don’t know why we adults ever bother saying ‘soon’ to children.  I remember this mythical soon tormented me in its not now-ness.  The present moment of my thirst was everything.  The way the sunlight was too too much, and the grass so dry it crackled beneath my sandals.  I could feel the heat coming up from the earth through my feet.

“Please?” I wheedled.  Doing cute face.

“Soon,” she said, pulling me on patiently.  She'd seen that face a thousand times before.

The world was nothing but grass and flatness and blue sky, with trees in the distance on all sides.

I have no memory of getting home and having the icecream, though I must have, because mum never lies: if she promised me icecream I would have had some.

All is remember is the eternity of the hot weather, the baked out ground, the sun on my head through my hat, and the dried grass prickling my feet round the edges of my sandals as we walked.

Though the moment is filled with unsatisfied longing, the fact of my hand in my mother’s, clammy and endless, and the day never finishing…it’s a favourite memory, burned with the heat, in my brain.

The Red Wedgey Shoes

I wonder if every child has a memory of a really cool pair of shoes??

I don’t know where these came from, but there’s pictures of me in them, looking very proud and happy.  Little red leather slip on’s, with thick rubber soles, and a slight wedgey platform.

They were as comfortable as wearing nothing on my feet.  They were cold weather shoes, and I would wear them with patterned white woolly tights.  And my little red coat with the fake brown fur collar.  For some reason I have no strong sensory memory of the red coat, or great feelings of happiness about it, though in the pictures it looks as cool as the shoes and they go great together.

It’s the shoes I remember.  I did that kid thing of not wanting to take them off and wanting to wear them in bed.  I remember studying them and staring at them, stroking the softness of the leather (I know its weird!).  The very gentle muted red.  That rather ugly thick tan coloured rubber sole, the matte finish.

I have never been as enraptured by a pair of shoes since, and have not grown up to be a shoe person.  (I am a bit of a boots person, but not in a 'I have 50 pairs and worship them' kind of way, nope).

Something about those shoes appealed to my sense of perfection.  They were absolutely 100% harmonious with me.  The design was simple and uncluttered, oval toed. A little bar of same colour leather came over where the navicular bone would be, with a curlicued ‘V’ cut into it.  Perfect fit.  Their warmth on my feet.

I felt like…not a lady or a woman in them, or a princess, or anything like that.  But I sort of felt like I became the shoes.  As though I became the soft red, the snug warmth of them when I wore them.  They were me and I was them and we were a good thing to be.

Funny the things you remember.


I have more memories of gardens and grass than almost anything else before I was 7.

Which is odd as only one place we lived then had a garden and that garden isn’t one I remember well.  Apparently I played with my cousin Suzy in it often, as she lived over the fence next door. 

I have extensive memories of my maternal nan’s garden – 2 of them.  The first garden I used to help her pin washing up in.  There are pictures of me in a small fabric pinny, grinning away officiously as Mistress of the Wooden Pegs which I am holding in a small woven basket.  The garden is long and thin, with a concrete path going down the centre bisecting it.

The 2nd garden is the one I remember more.  Lying with my Uncle John (favourite uncle of them all!) on a mattress brought out onto the grass.  Jumping about and elbowing him (poor man, shirtless and pinking in the heat, with his old blue jeans on, patiently keeping company with the energetic jumping bean that was me).  Or just lying on my back, watching the clouds go by.  Wondering what would happen if the sky was the ground and the ground the sky.  I knew everything wouldn’t fall down from what used to be the ground; trees would just hang upside down, shedding their leaves to the sky, in the opposite direction.  There would be so much more space in the world, because the sky seemed infinite and uncluttered.  (I forgot that humans will always put stuff down and surround themselves with things wherever they are, wherever the ‘ground’ is.)

Sometimes I would lay in the tall uncut grass at the bottom of the garden, to look for grasshoppers. Of which there were infinite varieties, no 2 the same.

I was expert at lying very still and then reaching out to catch one.  I would hold it very gently by its back legs, so I could look at it for a few seconds.  They were so interesting.  Then I would let go and off they jumped again.  So many different kinds, all with different colourings and head shapes and size of legs.

In the autumn the garden smelled of smoke often, as granddad would have bonfires.  Crackles, sparks of orange shooting up to the darkening sky, and us standing about, well back.  Sometimes I was allowed to hold sparklers.  The air was sharp and prickly on my nose, thick with swirly smoke snatched this way and that by the breeze.  When the brightness of the flames began to hurt my eyes, my nan would lead me inside, and I would have white bread toast with mixed fruit jam, cut into perfect triangles.

I find it almost impossible to believe that they are gone from the world.  That their house is long sold and changed beyond recognition.  That I will not see their cool pantry again with its old fashioned latch.  In my head, I still stand in the small tidy kitchen, being handed a plate of toast by my nan, while granddad potters in the garden, in and out of the shed.  Its all still so.  (And if all time happens simultaneously, then it is indeed so, and I am still there – always there – so should feel no sadness at this, and other things past.)

I think a part of me will always be making daisy chains in the tall grass at the bottom of that garden, before I am called in to tea.

Always on my stomach down really low, examining the grass and looking at its striations, watching ants moving so fast over all obstacles.

Feeling the coolness of grass against my cheek when I put my head down to rest and look at the world sideways.

And that thrum I hear in my head and feel through my body when I close my eyes.  Coming from deep in the earth.  Deepest comforting thrum, moving through all of me.

Grass is brilliant.  Grass is still my friend now, after all this time; one of my bestest friends.

Monday, 8 July 2013

The next lot of Dr Who books read this year - Part 4

And here we go again.  Part 4 of a series of posts.  Wonder how many more I’ll get through on this series, this year?  You’ll see, below, that this was a very mixed bunch indeed, this latest lot.  Some I loved (Paul Leonard’s Venusian Lullaby); and some I’m amazed I got through (Eric Saward’s The Twin Dilemma). Strangely, the strength of the plot has nothing to do with whether I am enjoying these – some of them have very slight plots but are written and characterised so appealingly I am happy and sail through.  Others…I really enjoyed The Twin Dilemma as an intro to the 6th Dr on TV (unlike lots of other people!)…but the book.  I think it may be the most unhappy (though hopefully not unkind) review I’ve ever given to a book I didn’t actually rip up.  (Yes:  I once ripped up a book.  It was so full of hate and nastiness I felt that no one else should be subjected to my copy, at least; so I tore it up to rid myself of the bad feelings it had provoked…It was a very nasty thriller I read some years ago – nowadays we’d call it torture-porn, but we didn’t have that term back in the late 80s!  So.  Not a habitual destroyer of books: each to their own in reading, I say.)


And a note on order.  Target Originals are not read in order of publication, but in order of each Doctor.  And I jump about in terms of which Doctor I read at any given time.  But each Doctor’s individual stories will be read in order of broadcasting on TV.  The Virgin New Adventures for Sylvester will be read in order; as will the BBC 8th Doctor series (as though they had been on TV, see?  I’m trying to get an arc flavour).  The BBC Past Doctors series and the Virgin Missing Adventures are simply read in terms of which one I fancy next, as they are stand alone adventures slotting in-between the TV ones.

  1. Doctor Who: Earthshock, by Ian Marter (Target Original)
    (5th Dr.  I just didn’t get into this one.  It felt very bitty, and unconnected and none of the characters felt particularly real, even the Doctor.  The Beryl Reid character swaggered and behaved like a stereotypical boar through the book.  Nyssa felt unnecessarily excluded from the main action, Tegan behaved like a stereotype of herself [‘a mouth on legs’], and Adric dying seemed like something of an afterthought – though it was the most affecting moment in the whole story on TV. Hmmm…Not sure what went wrong here?  Maybe its me, and I just wasn’t in the right mood for this one – though I am finding the 5th Dr adventures way more readable than they ever were watchable – but here’s an exception. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  2. Doctor Who: Edge of Destruction, by Nigel Robinson (Target Original)
    (1st Dr.  This one watched very well but didn’t read so well.  I wasn’t absorbed.  The jarring nature of the hysteria and paranoia seems to have been more visual in this story than I realised.  I also found the denouement rather contrived: all because of a stuck button, The TARDIS spent the entire book trying to tell them what was wrong with the ship by means of poltergeist phenomena and electric shocks [eh?]; possession – for example some silly episodes with scissors that did the plot no good and were red herrings of the most irritating kind[really truly ehh??!!].  All a bit silly.  There could have been a much better reason, and the way the TARDIS chose to communicate – and how on earth it managed it could have been way better explained.  More believably.  Liking Barbara’s role in this one though: like the idea that she saw a narrative and followed that, where pure science, being emotionless, was unable to see the links.  That was a nice touch, thought provoking.)
  3. Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma, by Eric Saward (Target Original)
    (6th Dr.  Good God, this one almost derailed my marathon entirely.  TURGID is not the word.  At first I thought the writing was quirky, but then…in too many places it is perfectly serviceable before slipping into some truly strange narratorial choices.  He found it impossible to stick to the point, whatever it was at the time.  Not in the adorable manner of Lawrence Sterne either.  Just as if he wanted to focalise every random character that was mentioned in passing.  And some that weren’t random characters really.  At one point, by example, a cat watched some other characters leave a scene.  We then get treated to a description of what the cat knew.  We focalise a cat that is never seen in the story again, for 3 pages, for absolutely no reason.  I am amazed this story got told at all, what little there was of it, because the author’s inability to keep himself interested in it long enough to tell us, was obvious.  Painful reading; except the bits that were good – which is why I’m so irritated with the rest of it!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  4. Doctor Who: Blue Box, by Kate Orman (BBC Past Doctors Series)
    (6th Dr.  This one was a problem.  It started very well, then made a fatal error – an error I am noticing in several of these after show independent tie-in books.  Whilst the presentation of the Dr and whichever companion are usually finely and perfectly played, the surrounding story often feels like a crowbar.  Either something to do with its setting – there really is too much America in the modern books, the joy of the Dr in many ways is that he is a galaxy wide traveller, but that like any ‘homegrown’ hero, he keeps mysteriously popping up most in his country of authorial ‘origin’.  He’s more parochial than we like to think.  Even the faraway planets bear odd resemblances to England in their bureaucracies etc.  Anyway, the point here, is that the story was a good one (about the birth of the internet age and hacking), but Kate Orman was determined it be partially a ‘road movie’.  There was so much driving about and crashing in motels and popping outside for a smoke for some exposition that I got very very very bored and wandered off.  I think I read maybe 13 other books before I summoned the sudden interest to come back to this one. 

    Thing is, I like Kate Orman’s style, I think she’s a really good writer.  I like the way she painted Peri and Colin Baker.  I liked, for the most part, the subsidiary characters, especially Luis and Mondy; though Swan was so psychotic as to be something of a mystery.  But though the plot was grand, all that driving about and going from one place to another reminded me of something Stanley is always saying about the older Dr TV stories – the 8 parters.  That the middle episodes are usually lots of pointless and irritating running about.  This was the problem here.  Like in The West Wing when they parade about having urgent conversations while walking purposefully, because it’s more dramatic than people endlessly having conversations in little rooms, sitting still.  The story was great, but I felt like I could have edited it to a smaller novella and it would have been tighter and much easier to read, a feckload snappier.)
  5. Doctor Who: Venusian Lullaby, by Paul Leonard (Virgin Missing Adventures Series)
    (1st Dr.  Eat, Remember.  This is a bit of an unforgettable read.  Rarely have I read a world so well constructed, so fully alien.  I had trouble visualizing and following the characters in places because the names, customs and action, to a degree, were all so completely different to here.  It wasn’t the fault of the author that I got lost here and there, as I was following the gist and was very tired.  I think I must really like this author: this is the 2nd Who of his I have read and it had similar themes to the last [though a happier conclusion]: a very civilized race at the end of their expectancy; their planet is dying.  What to do?  Accept? Fight and try to leave?  And if someone comes miraculously offering rescue, are they to be trusted?  There was plenty of heroism in this, and plenty of intrigue, suspense and action.  Much thoughtfulness.  Ian and Barbara prove their mettle.  William Hartnell is urbane and effective.  I enjoyed it immensely and would read it again. 10/10. ACTUAL BOOK. )
  6.  Doctor Who: Tip of the Tongue, by Patrick Ness (Dr Who 50th Anniversary e-short story series, BBC)
    (5th Dr.  For a tiny thing, this wasn’t bad at all.  Took me about 45 mins to read with interruptions, and I enjoyed it, though it was a bit childlike, and Nyssa was slightly not herself in places.  Characterisation of Peter Davison was strong, though.  I liked the US setting [for once!] and its strong evocation of a small town during WW2. The poverty and racial tensions were quickly painted but well done.  The Truth Tellers were a strangely memorable idea and my image of them in my head is sinister, where the story was not.  The points about slavery and freedom were nicely done: not in your face and preachy, just told in the story itself, subtle.  The best way to get people to think on something.  ON KINDLE.)
  7.  Doctor Who: The Doomsday Weapon, by Malcolm Hulke (Target Original)
    (3rd Dr.  I thought I might find this one boring, a mining planet, Jo and Pertwee start arguing with colonists – its all about mining: again!  And yet I didn’t.  I got right into the ins and outs of the colony’s viability, their conflict with IMC, the large mining company.  The lovely portrait of Dent as amoral and utterly loyal to his paypacket and his little house and his IMC chosen wife.  I loved the line he came out with about how you could always trust people who were unscrupulous and ambitious; as of course, you can’t – but he meant they would be predictable, so you know where you are with them, and know to have eyes in the back of your head.  The moral repurcussions of the mining company trying to clear out the colonists from the planet by means of deception and violence were well explored. 

    I liked Jo’s proactiveness here; she disappeared for almost the first third of the story, but reappeared later, escaping, being recaptured, but generally not being fatalistic and trying to help.  Bit inspirational, in a funny way.  The Master felt crowbarred into this story, not entirely sure why he was there, what his real input to the story was, though his search for the Doomsday Weapon of the title was in character enough. This aired as Colony in Space – Stanley tells me that stories ending in ‘In Space’ are often regarded as the crappest, by officionados; I disagree, I liked this one. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  8.  Doctor Who: Timewyrm Revelation, by Paul Cornell (Virgin New Adventures Series)
    (7th Dr. Have to say I am pleased to see the back of the Timewyrm.  I didn’t like her as a character right from the first book; and I STILL say it was both courageous and bloody stupid to start the New Adventures Series with a set of 4 books all based around the same character…when there’s such a risk this character be found flat and boring as feck.  Saying that, this book was a good send off for her, and a strange book altogether.  I liked it a lot; and I also found it very self indulgent and rambling.  The beginning and end were very tight, and the middle rollocked all over the place in a very irritating and gambolling kind of way.  It was a fever dream of a book.  Rich in imagination and vivid imagery, it suffered though from two main flaws, in my reading. 

    First, the characterisation of Pertwee [who pops up at first in an artist’s smock, really?!]  is not believable – apart from saying ‘old chap’ a lot, a simple verbal tic, he  didn’t sound like himself, the sorts of things he would say.  And the cameo by Tom Baker – if I hadn’t have been told it was him, I would never have guessed – as one of the most recognisable Doctors…this is a problem.  And second, the book had a failing that is very current indeed, very timely: it was far too epic in tone.  I see why it was, what with being set in the Doctor’s head, a massive landscape.  But it felt like an ambitious action fantasy film with an addiction to that irritating one size fits all operatic theme music we get treated to so much these days in cinema.  There was too much angst, too much shouting, too much near death – the stakes were too high, too often!  A failing of pace, or tone??  Not sure. 

    I really did enjoy this book, I hasten to add – I finished it in 2 days flat, and I flowed along with the stream of consciousness changes of scenes, the dead-not-dead-oh-dead-again-ness of Ace and then Sylvester…and it ended very nicely indeed.  There were some marvellous subsidiary characters: I really liked Emily and Peter Hutchings, and Emily’s link with Saul [the vibe between Emily and Saul was a sort of non-sexualized hark back to The Witching Hour and Lasher, by Anne Rice: the disembodied spirit; except this one was friendly and had a stronger link to the vicar than anyone else, but the echo of Anne Rice was there, and it’s a nice concept, I liked it].  I enjoyed the little loose ends all being tidied away at the end; this gave me satisfaction.  Not sure how to conclude – loved it; and found it irritating – almost in equal measure.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

And there you go, for this instalment.  Who knows which ones I’ll read next?  There’s likely to be more 1st Dr coming, as I am enjoying William Hartnell a lot.  I’m wondering how the New Adventures and BBC 8th Doctor series can carry on as long as they did…because you can’t truly, subject your main characters – especially the companions – to such anguish and torture and betrayal (etc etc etc) as these 2 series do, every book, without it all becoming rather desensitizing.  I’m interested to see how they go on.  For the first time, I find myself wondering about these 2 series in particular…whether I’ll actually be able to get through them all.  As the BBC Past Doctor series and the Virgin Missing Adventures, being more stand alone adventures, and jumping about more…they feel more self contained and any massive trauma inflicted in them: for instance, in Mark Morris’s Deep Blue, when the 5th Dr and most of the UK turn into horrible creatures; and despite the rather magic wand ending, you got the impression that a bit of amnesia and time passing would make the next adventure possible.  Whereas the 7th Dr series and the 8th Dr series – they flow on and on with not that much of a time gap between each one.  You start to feel like each of these 2 Doctors should perpetually suffer a thousand yard stare.  They should be traumatised.  As should Sam and Ace (and I’m told much worse awaits her in particular in the next few books). 

I’m not entirely convinced this level of emotional and physical trauma and  angst is the best or only way to go with these stories.  You don’t really want to finish every book you read wrung out and a bit sad, do you??  I don’t mean all the stories should tip into farce or slapstick either…just that the idea of more adult books for the Dr Who character doesn’t ONLY have to mean violence and war and betrayal for the characters – and on an epic galactic scale.  Smaller stories can pack just as much of a punch.  And I’m starting to want to see some of these too, in these ranges.

Let’s see what’s next, and where the authors take me…let’s see more science fiction and a slightly less heavy handed (over dramatic? sentimental? over emphasized?) tone when it comes to emotional matters, hard choices and the like. 

Just thinking aloud…

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The BlackberryJuniper Philosophy of Birthdays

It’s my birthday soon.  I like birthdays.  None of this getting older, feeling miserable, what haven’t I achieved yet bollox for me.  Which is surprising I know, given my usual level of negativity!

But I think birthdays are brilliant.  You don’t have to have a party if you don’t want one – or any of the traditional trappings if you don’t like them.

No!  It’s International You Day.  For this one day (or any day close to it you can hold at least partially free for yourself if you have to work that day), you do things you like, for yourself.  With the company you would like, or none.

The idea is: it’s the one day a year that is entirely yours, entirely about you and how you would like it spent.  No one tells you how you’ll spend it, and if they do, you’ll calmly and quietly tell them you’ve already made plans if you don’t like their well-meaning idea.  (People often project onto others what they’d like for themselves, without realising; or else what you would have liked – but 5 or 10 years ago, your tastes having moved along now and them not having noticed.)  If they argue with you, they aren’t really respecting the International YOUness of the day.  They get to be bossy on their International THEM day, not yours.  See?

Obviously, you aren’t going to sabotage your own nice day with wishing things that can’t be so, like:

(a)   wanting to be with a partner, friend, or set of friends you don’t have any more
(b)   wanting it to be a replica of an occasion in the past: stupid and impossible and doomed to disappointment, sadly
(c)   wanting to do something you really truly can’t afford, or could – but only if you go into quite a bit of debt (e.g. I want to go shopping for the day in New York!  I want to go to Dublin and drink in a special pub I saw in a film/ read in a novel!  I want to go on the Orient Express!  Go to Russia to see the Bolshoi Ballet in situ!)

Etc etc etc.  Whoa there, horsey!  Calm down!

For the day to work nicely and feel satisfying, you have to balance something you’d like to do, the company (or not) to do it with, and a reasonable budget.  Some years I was not well off, and my treat, because I am fortunate enough to have a mid (proper) summer birthday, was to go and have a picnic in Hyde Park/ Kensington Gardens with aka Laughing Girl, Troubadour and Fry.  This was such a cool treat I ended up doing it about 4 years in a row.  Not too expensive: some food made, some bought.  And no expectation that each year would “be as good as last year”.  Just the same location because it was a nice sunny grassy warm place, good for people watching and not too noisy. 

Fry was young at this time, so each year was different for this reason alone – he was a totally different little person each time, and I could more readily see the development and differences because of being in the same place each year, for just this one occasion.  Likewise, my relationships with Troubadour and Laughing Girl changed and flowed, so the conversations were never the same twice.  Or the weather – one year we got rained off just as we had lovingly set out all the little dishes of bits and pieces to admire them; that was both funny and bloody annoying…)

This year I’m doing something more low key still, in tune with my more or less skintness and social isolation.

Nothing is happening on the actual birthday, which falls on a Wednesday (except I have to take Fluffhead to both the doctors and then a PTA thing at his soon to be nursery; so that isn’t my day at all).  But on the Saturday, Mum will visit and we are going out to a neighbouring town for a morning of charity shop perusal.  There are about 10 charity shops in the main street where we’re going – joy!  I never get a chance to go in them, ordinarily.  I also never really get a chance to hang out with mum, because when she visits it’s always to help me out with Fluffhead, these days.

So we will hang out, and spend a tiny amount of money buying stuffage in charity shops.  I’m a wicked good charity shop shopper.  I find excellent clothes and books and DVDs.

The secret is simple: you can go in there wanting a certain thing all you like, but don’t be too specific as it leads you to be blind to what is actually present – see what is there and if you need or like any of thatOnly be terribly specific if its vital that you have a winter coat or something; in which case, be prepared that you may not get what you wanted because of your very specific requirements.

I just realised I have outlined a very good General Philosophy of Actual Real Life.  Huh.  Don’t be too caught up being specific with what you want or you’ll blindly and single mindedly miss what’s actually going on around you, which you might also have liked.  (It’s that ‘life is what happens while you’re busy making plans’ thing.  And the thing about the journey being important, not just the destination.  Doesn’t apply to all situations, but to quite a large number.)  Amazingly, considering I apply this with perfection to charity shop shopping – a naturally wilful, disorderly and stockwise unpredictable environment – JUST LIKE LIFE – I cannot seem to apply it to my Actual Real Life at all.  More huh.  You try!  Do better than me!

Anyway.  Then we’ll go to a local bakers and have a cappuccino and a bun or something.  And a chat.  Be together.

When we come back, mum’ll have Fluffhead for a bit and Stanley and I will go out for a nice walk or something, or to get ice cream and cookies.  (I’m on a diet, as usual for this time of year: hello Weight Watchers Online, your reliable summer income has returned once again! – but no diet this day.)

That’s it.  We’ve hardly any money, but I get to hang out with 2 really important people to me (no Fry this year, he’s working this day), and talk uninterrupted.  And I get a little unpredictable shopping (aka treasure hunting).

Its enough, it’s grand, it’s good.  It marks the day out as special and different, and it causes no financial stress or complicated logistical nightmare.  I’m pretty introverted, so it also appeals to my preference for one on ones, as opposed to Big Groupy (Confusing Headache Making) Things.

See?  And you should (yes: I boss you today, in the manner of opinionated bloggers worldwide!) do what you like with YOUR birthday too.

Go on wargames, go bird watching, go on a spa day, spend the day making muffins – or in bed, resting if you’re exhausted.  I am going to make some Sunshine Muffins I saw on a Ceebeebies prog, and have pro-pointed up to make all Weight Watcher friendly, just for the hell of it.  I like baking easy things; it’ll make me feel happy.

Do something All For You, that makes you feel happy, peaceful, buzzed.

Be quiet if you’re always subjected to noise.  Or vice versa (yikes).

Go out feeling pretty and glittery and glossy if you feel you are always frumpy, mumsy or worky (ok, I’m still channelling myself here).

Read, alone in the garden listening to birdsong, if you want no fuss from others.  But make a nice fuss for yourself.

Your birthday belongs to you.  In the present, now.  It’s not a symbol or reminder of anything in the past or pressures in the future.  (Special Circumstances: If something very bad happened near your birthday in the past – and I know one friend for whom this is so and it ruins her birthday every year – make like the Queen: declare a different date, and make it 5 months away.  Have your birthday when you’d like it to be, when you can enjoy it.  Why the hell not??  Take your day back.)

Your birthday is Out Of Time.  It’s like a Solstice: a marker of balance.  You are poised between last year and the year to come.  You can hope, dream and plan (or regret); but don’t let it rob you of the one day that is All Yours.

All Yours.  A present moment.

One day in the whole year.  You can spare one day, for you.

Do something that makes you Happy.