Here we are at Have A Word… L to R Peter Daniels, who read an epic porny poem of yesteryear and yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, Ellis Collins, the promoter and envisioneer of HAW, Grégoire Aubert, who MEMORISED and delivered Judy Garland’s diary tapes, ME, and Alice Purnell, who had everyone in fits with her self depreciating humour – she even described the OBE medal she was wearing as a ‘badge’.
The photograph was taken by John McCullough, with Peter’s camera, as he pointed out to me, so obvs the camera gets top billing – well done camera, with your evil mechanical eye – where did I gain those ten years and mattress front? I’m much younger and skinnier in my mind’s eye.
and here is the text of my piece… (recorded version coming soon)
Cayce Pollard is the dashing heroine of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Cayce is allergic to branding. This means that she has an unpleasant physical reaction to the sight of logos. So, she has filed the branding off the button on her jeans, and unpicked the labels. The stronger the logo, the stronger her repulsion.
Cayce, I wish that my ailments, like yours, were a kind of superpower. People pay good money to go to design school to refine and learn visual skills. But you cut through all that. You are hired, for good money, because when you see a new design you know whether it’s good or not. Not because you have training or aptitude, not even because you have “good taste” or what might be described, vaguely as an ‘eye’ – but because you are allergic. Your employers simply expose you to prospective stylings and watch for a reaction.
Cayce is a “cool hunter”. This sounds old fashioned in 2003, by the time Gibson is writing and is definitely a term with a use-by date. So why use it? The book isn’t set in the future, it’s sci fi credentials are more of a ‘what if’. Science fiction writers, have lots of rules about what ‘can’ happen in any given scenario so it’s enough to give her this ‘allergy’ and bizarre occupation and let the story roll. ‘Cool hunter’ in Gibson’s hands is a kind of linguistic branding. He’s not here to sell us cool hunting.
Like Cayce, I snip off labels, but that’s because they make me itch. Labels, washing instructions, sometimes even stitching. But it’s true, nevertheless, I don’t like to advertise a brand. And I do have a keen eye. As we all do, when we are sensitised. It can be taught, but it’s also in our genes.
It only takes a short while, for example, when picking blackberries, to not only recognize the best ones by eye, but also by touch. Those small ones may be black enough but their skin is too taut, they haven’t matured, they are going to taste bitter. They take a little more effort to pick, too, being recalcitrant to leave the vine until their incubation is complete. Very voluptuous ones come away with the softest sigh and often leak quietly onto your fingers, but although they are sweet they don’t keep at all and if you make the mistake of putting them in with the rest of that day’s pickings the whole crop becomes sticky and muddy. Best to eat them as you go along. Blackberries’ blood shows red on your fingers but wipe those fingers on your clothes at your own risk – the brackish black will stain forever, marking the tale of your feverish wipings between pickings and gobblings.
In my sick bed I listen to Pattern Recognition, the BBC’s adaptation of the novel, being read by Lorelei King. Fiction is the simplest iteration of gender reassignment – Gibson writes from a female protagonist’s POV, King reads it out – as a woman. The naturalness, to the ear is seamless, a sleight of hand. The spoken word is only one iteration from the page and it fires your aptitude for pattern recognition just as well, and the ability for you to visualise – here I am a woman, here I am a man, here I am a well person… here I am an action hero.
Karl Marx says “Every schoolboy knows” that any culture contains within itself the information for reproduction. As in the petri dish so in society. We recognize a pattern, we reproduce a pattern, we are the pattern. Spatially or over time, From ‘how to get up in the morning’ to ‘how to run a society’ from how to conform to a subculture to how to scramble eggs. From bacteria to computer programming. We recognize, we reproduce. All intelligence involves pattern recognition – from monkeys to machines.
I reproduce the conditions of being myself as I am now. What is stopping me from stepping out of this body and having another life entirely. Nothing indeed, if I step into fiction.
Early September the last gasp of blackberries struggled to the fore between their picked or rotted siblings. Only a couple of miles away, further out of London, the season was just beginning, the berries still green. The second week in September I was in Brighton, and though there were some manky berries on the vine, there were plenty of ripe ones, and some still red raw unripe. The end of the season looms, and much like the Marks and Spencers sale – a lot of dingey items you’re sure were never in the shop before hanging sadly, rail after rail, frumpy and saggy, unappealing to touch or eye.
Attuning to choosing something ‘just right’ is something even a very small child or an amateur can do very quickly, like learning to cook pasta ‘al dente’ though this is to the eye and the finger rather than to the tooth. Our bodies reproduce one skill another way – I learned to touch type – my fingers spider across the keyboard as if each one of them had an eye. I move quickly between the bushes, not like the weekend pickers, out to amass enough to bake with or freeze or share with a large family, I only want a handful a day for my porridge. I’m looking for that perfect ripeness. All the while learning to avoid the thorns and their bullying friends the nettles. But thorn and sting avoidance has less to do with pattern recognition than the picking itself does; that is to say, choosing berries. Recognizing patterns. This discernment allows us to prefer one brand over another because we are, and have been for generations, well adapted to refinement in and of itself.
Technically, pattern recognition is about any manifestation of phenomena – both in nature and in culture. Pattern recognition refers to something called ‘machine learning’ which is why it’s no leap to having your own robot secretary deciding which emails are really for you and which are spam, and which can inform your provider with tailored ads or your government about any nefarious plans you may have to take a set of tweezers onto an aeroplane. I find the Wikipedia entry on pattern recognition almost entirely unintelligible. It’s nice when a novel gives you the sensation you understand something important about a subject, I think. It feels effortless, like all good design.
Artificial Intelligence is based on pattern and recognition of pattern. Like the loom, there is only one story underneath, the one of zeros and ones.. and ALL. THIS. STUFF. comes out of it! In living colour! Incredible! Even ‘Nothing’ can’t reproduce itself without completion and with that completion comes the notion of ‘one’ and therefore ‘other’. Straight away there are two units and the basis for a pattern. As every knitter knows.
I can’t live with patterned wallpaper any more than I can bear textiles with writing on them. Even in a foreign or imaginary language, my eyes scroll over and over trying to make sense. I’m the same with repeated patterns. There’s something about the sense of demand that bothers me – less a ‘leading’ of the eye and more of an insistent repetitive tug. My brother visited China and tells me westerners often suffer headaches from their stymied search for meaning in the signage around them. Welcome to my world, you travellers – at least you’ve got a ticket home to the safety of non headache world.
My car broke down and I abandoned it. I got ill. I stopped working. I got a dog. Clothes had to change their function. No longer did I have a giant motorized handbag come winter coat which I could slip out of in heels and office clothes. Now I had three or more outings a day with dog. I got her on Christmas Eve 2009. Happily, I had already acquired a repulsive but warm ski jacket from TK MAXX. It was cheap, it was super warm. I don’t ski, but guess what? Those hyper mobile arms for the skiing are also good for throwing a ball. WIN. However, when the zip finally properly broke I was relieved to get rid of the offending garment, printed in purple and gold onto taupe, with it’s indelible mud stain from pocketing grubby balls, and went considerably upmarket with a Helly Hensen parka. It’s a nice coat, and I don’t pocket balls any more, so it’s stayed nice. What I did discover though, was that because of the initials, HH, Helly Hensen clothing is worn by neo Nazis in Germany. This worried me, because what if I visited Germany in the winter, in my coat, who’s to say I wouldn’t be read as a neo Nazi? Apart from probably having no corroborating visual clues – but what do I know, as a foreigner?
Although the point was probably irrelevant it still bothered me, and a friend suggested getting rid of the logo – which was when I realized how VERY branded this coat was. I don’t wear clothes which have their branding writ large, but this thing has it’s branding writ many. Every. Button. Counting… 1,2, only three different bits of branding on the inside of the coat, and my hands and eyes surmise 8 on the outside. 11. On. one. coat. ELEVEN. Quite subtly done, but still, I am a walking billboard for a fashion item while suffering what is known in the medical trade as an ‘invisible illness’. The juxtaposition between what is apparent and what is not is enmiserating. I wish. I had. stigmata.
On the last day of September I took the dog round the Paddock. The blackberries were almost entirely gone. There was the odd jewel high up away from the main bush, where the beads of dead fruit were desiccated, tiny and dulled. Their neighbours, the mounts from which glistening fatted fruit had been successfully plucked were similarly shriveled. Indeed, entire branches were dying back, brown leaved and frail, the sap having entirely retreated, while the non fruit-bearing branches were still vivid and green.
Having not lost the weight I’d intended to, I’d grudgingly bought a new pair of larger than I’d like trousers, the makers of which saw fit to add a small stitched label to the waistband declaring, in white embroidered letters on black “A true feeling of Authenticity”. I find myself a black felt pen and scribble the lettering out, feeling a little.. queasy.
Took the dog out to the Paddock yesterday. Sounds fancy, but until I learned it was named that I used to call it “The Scruffy Bit”.
Things have changed over the past couple of weeks.
The blackberries are nearly all gone.
These were hanging high up. For the birds.
And these rose hips are everywhere.
I love Virginia Creeper this time of year.
And ‘Swinger’s Delight’ – Pampas Grass is a bit of random suburban gardening in what is mainly a small nature reserve.
So here we go to Have A Word. The event organizer, Ellis, was kind enough to describe me as a “Comedian” on the poster. And the flyer. And probably on the radio show he was on today… so lets hope that people don’t remember that before I take the stage, because NO PRESSURE to be FUNNY then!
I remain convinced that he has done this to get me back for threatening to everyone about a boring story he told me about ironing a shirt. He has no idea of my horrible history of outing people… still, best not to spoil the surprise.
I have this feeling as if I’ve blogged all this before, but probably I’ve mainly talked to you a) in my head or b) on facebook, and of course, although originally I was down for October, Ellis asked me to do September instead, so I said yes, and then it was cancelled, so then I was back on for October. And yet, in an astounding feat of procrastination I have still managed to not finish it yet. Six sleeps…
Anyway, I am grateful. Ellis is the sort of person who has an idea and then ‘just’ does it. And I, for my part, am the sort of person to say, once that person has done a lot of hard work and it has proven a success “Ooh! Can I join in?”
Hence we are at this pretty pass. As it happens, I’ve done this sort of thing before, but it’s been a good 10 years since the last iteration. Since then I’ve listened to a LOT of Radio 4 and when Ellis said he wanted 15 minutes I didn’t even consider doing some shorter things or a thing of whatever shorter length and then just stopping – I wanted to talk to time. This is proving an interesting exercise, and I am actually nearly done. Do you want to read the opening? Here it is;
Cayce, I wish my ailments, like yours, were a kind of superpower. Your allergy is the BEST allergy. People pay good money to go to design school to refine their eye and learn visual skills. You are employed because when you see a new packaging design you know whether it’s good or not. Not because you have an ‘eye’ but because you are allergic.
Cayce is allergic to branding. This means that she has an unpleasant physical reaction to the sight of logos, so she has filed the logo off the button on her jeans and unpicked the labels. The stronger the logo, the stronger her repulsion.
Cayce is a “cool hunter”. This already sounds old fashioned in 2013, ten years after the publication of the novel, which, given it’s set in ‘the future’ might sound problematic, but sci fi writers, like all successful novelists, have rules, some genre specific, and some more general about what ‘can’ happen in a given scenario. ‘Cool hunter’ has been around for some time before he writes – the ‘coolness of ‘cool hunter’ is a kind of linguistic branding.
And this is nearly the end of me ever mentioning Pattern Recognition by William Gibson again. I go off on a noodly jazz style riff about the blackberry season and my own relationship to fashion. The idea is that it all hangs together MARVELOUSLY. But I may have to wait and see if it does. Particularly since I’m clearly not writing it NOW am I? No, after not blogging for ages, suddenly it’s vitally important I stop watching TV, listening to radio, playing Words With Friends, and all the other activities and tasks I seem to be getting done at an amazing rate and blog instead of WRITING THE THING. Typical.
I wish I could like autumn more. I mean, I do like it in theory, but my body doesn’t. I’d come off preventative pain killers and was doing really well til the weather hit, and then I realized that wasn’t going to happen. If I could work out how to manage it financially I’d look into moving somewhere where the weather was basically UK summer most of the time, then I might even be able to work. I was stunned at how well I was when I was in Spain, earlier.
Also, I am saying a sad goodbye to this year’s ‘tan’. I do know that most people wouldn’t count this as a tan as such, but if you compare the blue lines where my flip flops have been to the regular flesh colour on the rest of my feet I think you’ll agree that I’ve done well. I’d just carry on wearing flip flops if I could, but even on a hot day there’s dew on the grass in the morning, and what I have discovered with my summer of the flip flop is that it’s not the cold that’ll get you, it’s damp. Any amount of moisture makes flip flop wearing untenable. I even wore my flip flops to Epping forest the other day without major incident, though they are not ideal off road footwear.
After my flurry of visits abroad I’d got rather mired in the Tottenham Riviera, and it was great to be asked on a day out to Epping with my friends Ian and Al and Al’s little boy, Cameron. Ian did the driving, and we arrived at the bit where the bikers congregate. I would have liked to have taken some pictures, but, well, bikers. Friendly enough but lets not push it. There’s a little cabin where fried food and hot brown beverages calling themselves ‘tea’ and ‘coffee’ are sold. These are seriously muck, but the bacon sarnies are just the job at fortifying you for a woodland walk. Poppet had a fantastic time eating horse poo and wallowing in stinky water and running about like an idiot. Cameron had his BMX bike with him, so we could walk quite far without Al having to carry him, which has been a feature of our walks thus far. For the past few years Al has actually had to carry both Cam and a bike a fair bit, so it’d just as well he’s a gym bunny.
Al and Ian are the people I see most, and do feature in my “should I move?” scenarios. I’ve been all over the place with the home swapping thing this summer, and I’ve had to wind it down now. Partly because it was taking up too much of my head room, and partly because time is passing, and my window of relative wellness is becoming smaller as we move towards the winter, and November is the scheduled time for the scaffolding to go up, probably for several months, while we get new windows and roofs and they replace our heating systems. This should effectively trash what decor there is here, and so between the unsightliness of the scaff and the likely wreckage indoors I can only see the keenest person looking past all that. So rather than field inquiries over the next while I’ve left the profile hanging with just central Brighton as a preferred swap. It’d take me away from easy striking distance from Al and Ian, but nearly everyone wants to visit Brighton, and of my friends who have bought, most have two bed flats, so I can visit THAT LONDON as they call it, and also reconnect with my Brighton friends. Anyway, we mustn’t hold our breaths, since I’ve rarely had a bite from a Brightonian.
In the meantime, Have A Word is coming closer and closer. I’ve done a bit of writing but must do more. It’s mainly about picking blackberries, but then, what else is there to write about? Hardly anything. Blackberries it is.
It’s coming up to Invisible Illness Week so here’s my response to the 30 things questionnaire you just clicked through to (well, if you didn’t it’s there anyway, just like the tree that fell in the forest).
1. The illness I live with is: fibromyalgia and chronic migraine. Some say chicken, some say egg, either way, it’s bodily pain, exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety and severe headaches, lots and lots of headaches.
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: Not sure. about 8 years ago. Never sure about dates and things. I am supposed to keep a record of all sorts of things, but in reality I am too ill to manage that sort of paperwork.
3. But I had symptoms since: Probably birth. Colic is now seen as a precursor of and a kind of migraine, ‘growing pains’ are now seen as a sign of fibromyalgia. I also suffered headaches as a kid, was put to bed with an asprin and dismissed as ‘attention seeking’. If pain really got you attention, I think I’d have noticed by now, and from my pre-crash experience (about 10 years ago now) I know that there are better and more effective ways to get noticed.
4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: Having very few choices about anything – from what to eat to where I can go or what I can wear or who I can spend time with. At the moment I am struggling with the fact that I can’t, and haven’t been able to for some time, decorate my home or even put pictures up.
5. Most people assume: I’m ok, I suppose. And that nothing they can do can help and that whatever I am doing is what I want to be doing, and however I have things or do things is how I want them. I remember a visitor being surprised at how few pictures I had up. Rather than ask me why, as a formerly active visual artist and someone who has a huge collection of images in frames, I might not have them on walls, she regaled me with tales of her own decor preferences and activities.
6. The hardest part about mornings are: Mornings are the best time of the day for me but I know that all the spoons will be used up by the time I have eaten and bathed, and if I do do something, go to an appointment, do a task, then I will be paying not just the rest of that day but for several days hence. So I suppose the hardest thing about mornings is knowing that even if I feel okay for a little while it won’t be for long, and I have to get through the day somehow – and having done so I won’t be any further forward with anything.
7. My favorite medical TV show is: None. I don’t like medical shows. People may think that I am interested in ailments, I’m not. I like murders and comedies.
8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: My heated blanket.
9. The hardest part about nights are: That if I am awake I will be in pain, and that the night will feel even more endless than the day.
10. Each day I take _approx 10 pills & vitamins. (No comments, please)
11. Regarding alternative treatments I: have tried a lot of things. I always listen when people tell me about treatments, because sometimes there might be something that actually helps, but mostly I just feel even more misunderstood and isolated – going to appointments of any sort involves travel and probably being extra ill for several days afterwards, and alternative treatments are costly too, so unless you are going to drive me to the appointment every week and pay for it too, then probably save your breath.
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: Visible. I’d like to have Stigmata, something nice and visual. I used to get nose bleeds a lot, and the level of sympathy was off the scale – DUDES! Nosebleeds don’t actually hurt!
13. Regarding working and career: I miss working, and I miss financial independence. I miss creating something in the world. I miss the social contact. I miss being an expert at something. I miss having a vocation, an actual reason to get out of bed in the morning.
14. People would be surprised to know: How angry and upset I get – I feel I daren’t express myself a lot of the time, I have few enough friends as it is without alienating them. I know it’s not anyone’s fault that I am unwell, but I do feel like I have to be on my best behaviour all the time – I even try to be bright and breezy on the internet for fear of bumming people out. I only write as much misery as I dare, but I feel much more. And that sense of having to be well behaved is a bit of a burden. Sometimes I do write ‘I feel crap’ on facebook, and I love it that people ‘like’ or say ‘aw’ – it’s amazing how much that helps.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: How little it really matters, and how little there is I can do about it.
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: be of any use to anyone else ever. I love it when I can help someone with something. Especially when it involves something I know or am good at and can still do (not much, admittedly).
17. The commercials about my illness: don’t exist in the UK, thankfully. I remember saying to a psychiatrist ‘will I be able to do that yoga pose if I take that drug’ – the ad was on the side of a tissue box. What rot. I imagine drug commercials are a lot like sanitary products ads, full of people who are busy doing cartwheels on the beach. I’m glad I am spared seeing them. Mind you, the anger might be quite aerobic.
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: Making plans that have any chance of coming to fruition.
19. It was really hard to have to give up: yoga.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: blogging. It can be done from bed, it can be any length, and it needn’t be done at all. No one is let down if I don’t blog for weeks. It doesn’t take materials or much in the way of physical action, all I have to be well enough for to do it is to handle the screen time and string a sentence together, and even then I don’t have to do it all at once.
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: go swimming.
22. My illness has taught me: compassion.
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: “Why don’t you get a taxi?” I have never been a big fan of taxi rides, the converations are tiring, and even being in a car in silence with someone I don’t know is tiring. They are too expensive, and they WILL give me travel sickness. If I am not going somewhere because it’s ‘too far’ I’ve already weighed up the logistics.
24. But I love it when people: find a way to include me.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: There isn’t one. No platitude from any quarter can help. Ten and Poppet and the internet people, they help, but sayings and quotes just piss me off.
26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: you are entitled to your feelings.
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: “I never imagined that so many days would ultimately make such a small life.”
— Franz Kafka, from “Diaries”
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: Be there. Also, it’s helpful when someone offers me something specific – when you are in pain and maybe your brain isn’t functioning the last thing you want to do is guess what someone is prepared to do for you. Ask “Do you want a cheese sandwich” not “Is there anything I can do for you?” because there is, but I’ll be damned if I can think what it might be, right now even if I am lying here starving.
29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: Honestly, if I don’t do it no one else is going to do it for me. I am constantly supporting causes, even if it’s only ‘clicktivism’. What is horrible is that even high profile illnesses and disabilities don’t get the kind of support or research they need. Watching Pink Ribbon Inc shows how big companies and individuals spend so much money and effort fundraising without actually helping anyone.
If a cause like that fails so resolutely, what chance is there for mine?
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: perhaps all is not lost. If you did get this far, thank you so much for caring to. I feel like I should apologize for having wasted ten minutes of your time. If you did make it this far, here’s a little tumblr for your trouble – THANK YOU! elaine4queen.tumblr.com/day/2013/8/25
August bank holiday, generally scorchio, as appropriate for the Notting Hill Carnival, and we’ve dived straight into autumn without a thought for due process.
And what have I been doing since last we met? Well, the usual lot of nothing. I’ve been experimenting with coming off medication, eating my body weight in blackberries, and not getting my Have A Word thing written…
I’ve been picking a few blackers most days when I’ve been out with the dog. It’s always amazing how different really fresh things taste to – well, less fresh things.
It’s been hot, and I am chronically underslept. The rain brings a certain quiet, but also makes me creaky, so it’s swings and roundabouts health wise.
Have A Word is a thing m’friend Ellis has been doing in Brighton for the past few months – there’s no website as such, just a rolling series of HAW fb pages. It’s a monthly spoken word evening in aid of Sussex Beacon and it’s just gone into profit. Ellis is one of those people who ‘just does’ things. A couple of years ago he picked up a camera and within a few weeks had an exhibition – still showing regularly now. Similarly, he ‘just’ decided to host a spoken word event, and now he ‘just’ does. I love that. Inspirational!
So, of course, without really thinking about possible consequences I asked if I could do a spot, and now I have fifteen minutes to fill on September 11th. I have *something* written, but not 15 minutes worth of something, and I’ve been quietly panicking away here. I had a couple of false starts, but have settled upon doing a sort of jazzy noodle version of a ‘book report’. It’s not a book review – I am barely talking about the book that kicked me off at all, but I quite like calling it a ‘book report’ because that’s what we did at school. And I was quite good at it. But it’s not really one, it’s just me starting off with some of the elements of a book and noodling off with it. The book in question is Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. My ‘report’ features blackberries quite heavily, which the novel does not. And fashion branding, which the novel does.
In other news I have been looking at swapping flats again… not sure whether it will happen or not, but I’ve seen a few now, and am narrowing down my focus – I’m not in a fit state to be moving just for the sake of it, and the Riviera has it’s plusses. But sometimes I start ‘shopping’ and contact a whole slew of people and then some of them get back to me and I think – did I really think I could move to Kilburn? Was that a thing?
Two current front runners involve a flat just off Brick Lane and one just north of Victoria Park – so, areas I’ve lived in before and not just mad night time digital ramblings. Now I have to write to someone and tell her I was QUITE MAD to think I could move so far away from ‘everything’.
And finally, here’s a GPOY of Pops.
I'm a full time spoonie who lives on the scenic Tottenham Riviera on the towpath of the River Lea. I have an awesome geeky boyfriend who doesn't snore... and a dog who does.
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