Breakfast of Champions – Referendum, Writing, and Travel

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Yesterday I finally weighed in on the Independence debate. What do you mean, last minute? There is a WHOLE DAY to go yet!

Anyway, I wrote about it on Facebook, and then on tumblr. Then, for good measure I copied it onto a site I’d not seen before, WriteHere.com which is easy to join and format free for those who can’t be bothered with the fiddlearseing you have to do on WordPress and have to do a bit on tumblr.

Apparently we will know the outcome ‘breakfast time’ on Friday.

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As a Londoner for more than 25 years, clearly, I don’t get a vote. I am, however, happy that this debate has happened whatever the outcome. As Josh White puts it in his post Free of London in Souciant

“The independence of Scotland would also humiliate the Cameron government, possibly beyond repair, showing up the Conservatives as a vulnerable force. This is likely the case even if Scotland gains greater powers and remains within the UK. The Left should be asking itself, “Why haven’t we been able to undermine the Con-Dems in this way?”

Whatever the map looks like on Friday morning, the terrain is already changing.

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Speaking of blackberries (oh come on, we all know that was the elephant in the room!) it’s been a year since I read out Pattern Recognition at Have a Word and I’ve written very little since, I’ve barely even blogged, and that is a SAD THING for me. So in the summer I started a Facebook group First Thursday Writers and The Like with the idea of holding a salon at home. This was possible to consider because my new flat is large and central, and I got the idea from having had hopes dashed of doing a course in Narrative Non Fiction at City Uni. I had to recognise that I am really not well enough to do a full time course. After I recovered from the inevitable soul crushing I looked at short courses, and I noticed that, for people who had done a short course, they were offering a monthly meet up course for people who had completed one of the term long courses. I was attracted to that but thought HANG ON because I know enough writers and creative people with writing projects to drum up a group myself and have them come to me, which, in my quest for less travel to events literally couldn’t be easier to get to. So I started a Facebook group and invited people who either lived in London or who might be likely to visit once a month, and got started. We had our first meeting this month and there was only three of us, but we had a really productive session. I read out Pattern Recognition again, and also some other snippets. First of all, it had been some time since I’d looked at it and I thought it would have sort of ‘gone off’ and would need ripping apart, but it actually hung together quite well. The other thing I got as feedback was that the other snippets I’d read out, which I’d been seeing as random beginnings of other projects also hung well with that piece. It gave me some heart to carry on, even though it will inevitably be very slowly.

Today I opened up the Facebook page to anyone anywhere who is writing and wants to get posts from the group – it’s mainly me posting in it just now, and I have been sharing stuff about writing, mainly to remind people that the group still exists, but someone commented that they liked the posts and I thought, well then, why not make the page open to anyone to follow, even if they will never make it to London for a meeting, after all, isn’t that what the internet is good for?

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Between moving house and messing with medication I’ve not traveled further than Brighton this year. This is a pisser because I really benefitted from extra warmth last year. One way and another I haven’t been able to get a shot of warmth this year, beyond the hot spell in London, and, being unwell I’ve not wanted to travel alone. I had a shot at meeting a friend for a holiday, but for the past few months I’ve not been able to walk for more than ten minutes at a time without a river of pain down my shoulders and back, and that’s without carrying anything. I’d be miserable being abroad if it didn’t make me feel more well, and with hotels as well as flights I felt it was too much of a financial risk, too. Enter Ken with an invite to Munich! Exactly NO hotter than here, but equally, a cheap flight away, a change of scenery, and staying at his makes this a less scary prospect. We have 24/7′d before, and I know he won’t mind if I can’t manage more than a bit of dog cuddling, epic conversations and cake eating, and if I have it in me he knows all the local walks, the cultural stuff, and *whisper* if I am well enough I want to go to Weimar and see the Bauhaus museum.

IF.

 

Eye Eye!

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Forgive me, readers, it has been some time since my last confession. If you are friended to me on the face book you will know that I have been moving house and beetling up and down to Brighton, to boot. And that I have had horrible deprivations on the broadband front. I’m still tethering, here, so bear with.

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I’ve moved to Old Street, just round the back of the eye hospital.

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And just round the corner from the Ironmonger Row swimming baths. I haven’t gone yet, but I’ve taken the precaution of buying a voluminous swimming costume so as not to frighten people.

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This isn’t really the East End as such, but it is safely back in the warm embrace of Arsenal. Even though I don’t give a rat’s ass for the footie, it was still odd being in the realm of Spurs. Why should it matter? It doesn’t. It doesn’t matter.

Still.

Even so.

So I decided that I was going to style myself as being ‘in the eye of the storm’ being the still point that I am, and living round the corner from the eye hospital and it’s lovely bonkers clock, and on my way to photograph it I saw this monster of a building.

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I wouldn’t mind, apart from the general fright it gave me, but it turns out this is the children’s eye hospital! A whole façade dedicated to the sort of thing that could put your eye out. THE TRAUMA. And it isn’t even right next to a psych wing.

This deserves a lot more time than I’ve got right now. Because YOU KNOW HOW BUSY I AM! Anyway, I’m not busy, but I am knackered, so. As you might imagine a few people took photos at End Of. and this is a snippet of Alison Moyet!

Alison. Moyet. YO!

Now Wait for Last Year

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…was the first Philip K Dick book I ever read. Kenny McBeth lent it to me. I was somewhere between 14 and 16 years old, and had never read science fiction before.

This seems as good a time as any to break it to you that I am neither going to give you a round up of last year, nor am I going to tell you what I’m planning for next. No. We do enough time travelling as it is. Lets take a while to stare out the window.

My current view. Lovely, isn’t it?

And what a lovely view it is and has been for the past week and a bit. Julie generously gave us her house for a fortnight while she Xmassed and New Yeared up in Scotland, and I have spent an inordinate amount of time staring out this window. Or less staring and more gazing. It has been a very literal change of scenery.

Also good for staring/gazing at is fire. There is an open fire in the sitting room and Julie had left us logs and kindling.

This is not a stock photograph. IT’S A REAL FIRE!

I used to know a fireperson. I say ‘fireperson’ advisedly because she was a lady fireman. And this was years ago, and even now, you don’t get many of those kicking about. I didn’t know her well but I found myself sitting next to her at a party once and decided to tell her about a house fire I’d seen in San Francisco. She was, and very well may still be a very quiet woman, but she was suddenly VERY interested. Her immediate question was “How many engines?”

Here’s a pro storytelling tip. Try and notice shit. This is my worst quality in story telling skills – I have a dreadful memory and no eye for those sort of details. I was far too busy watching a big building MADE OF WOOD go up in flames to count fire engines, but her question made me realize that would have been a good thing to have noticed, too.

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We did NOTHING for NYE. Not unless you count going to see a flat, walking on the beach, getting underwear and shoe soaked on the way home, spending the avo with Collins and Collins, two of our Brighton Besties, and being in bed by 8, listening to The Midwich Cuckoos on iPlayer til about 10 when I zonked out and Ten left me to it to go commune with the Hackspace via hyperspace.

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The evening before we’d had a few people over and the Gorgeous Gregorie brought over all sorts of bakery.

Gregorie CLAIMS he is a ‘shop girl’ but really he is a BAKER (Well, REALLY he has a show where he does Judy Garland’s audio diaries)

My ‘cookery’ involved doing things like putting a lot of pretzels in a bowl with chocolate peanuts. DON’T JUDGE ME.

Do you think I should teach cookery? Maybe I should. The world needs to know all about chocolate peanuts and pretzels

Alice told travelling yarns, and at one point Chim and Ten took the dogs out and I demonstrated how I get Pops totes excited about going out through the medium of whispering and saying key words. Gregorie, who is proud to be ‘Bri’ish’ (he’s French) was appalled.

Anyway, that was our social event. I literally invited people to come at 7 and leave at 10, which is, in fact, what they did.

I take my bedtime seriously, yo!

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So, back to yesterday. The flat we went to see involved going past Julie’s first Brighton house. Much as I like the blue, her house was known as ‘The Pink House’ so it was kind of sad to see a change of colour.

Don’t it make my pink house blue?

The Pink House parties were legendary back in the day. I believe the neighbours all pretty much loathed her. Not just for the prodigious partying but also for the fact that she punched a hole in her roof and built a balcony which, due to a mixture of the height of the building and the location of the house on the brow of that bit of hill, looked down over everyone else’s gardens.

The flat we saw was very small and a serious fixer upper, but the location was perfect, and also there was a bonus of a shared well kept garden. For the win, but we have to wait for him to see the Camden flat for a possible three way swap. Tenterhooks!

We took the route avoiding the worst of the hill, something I’m making my business to do, since the whole place is rather more aerobic than I am used to. Passing the trees I mentioned in m’last post we spotted a notice about the flotsam trees.

You can clicky through to the website of ONCA gallery and find out ALL THE THINGS

When I shared the post on fb, Trill told me that they were there to raise consciousness about the rubbish on the beach. Depending on what you are reading this on you might not be able to read the text, but the three trees worth of flotsam was collected in one day by one person.

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Today we start getting ready to go home. Julie gets back on Friday, and we have appointments and stuff to get on with in London, so we’ll need to get on. It’s been lovely here, the time has flown.

THANK YOU JULIE!!! SORRY ABOUT MELTING THE PAINT ON YOUR SUGAR JAR BY PUTTING IT IN THE DISH WASHER!

And finally…

Bob found a sponge and brought it all the way home.

Poppet is entirely confused by these sponges. I think she thinks they should be edible, I also think they seem a bit like salted soft toys, which, putting it that way, I can see the appeal. At any rate, she brought this one all the way back to the house and wouldn’t let go of it til we were indoors and Ten picked it out of her maw.

In Brightlingstone

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“Since we live on an island, and have the sea about us, we cannot want an excellent cold bath”

An excellent cold bath

Do not fear, I have not been out bathing. I have been in bathing, inasmuch as I have bathed, in a bath, but there are those that do, in the sea. All year. No matter the weather. I have met some of them, because a friend of mine made a short documentary about them. But I’ve not seen them this trip.

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I have napped, and walked, and eaten, and watched a couple of films. I am particularly pleased with my pairing of Manhattan and Frances Ha. I hadn’t seen Frances Ha before, so didn’t know exactly how well matched they were, but they are, and I can recommend the juxtaposition.

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On our way down to look at the sea yesterday we spotted this tree.

Blending and toning

Here is a closer look.

Monochrome. Classy

On the way back we saw that there were two others, both colour themed.

Blues

Orangery

It’s kind of hard to tell whether this is a grafitti, public art, or community art. Whatevs. There it is.

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So, and lastly, I’ve made you a little tumblr elaine4queen.tumblr.com/day/2013/12/28

Alone and Existential in Palermo – What to do?

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Ken is gone, and I have 24 hours alone in Palermo. What to do? What to do?

Can you guess what I did yet?

After a solid week of walking the alleyways, closes and vennels of the old town of Palermo I decided to head over to the Botanical Gardens. Partly to make Ken jealous, but mainly because I knew I needed to pass some time before flying and I always like a garden. In fact, not a lot of people know this, but I used to have a membership to Kew and would go there at least four times a year. I had to check out from the hotel, and although they let me leave my bag with them for the day I don’t think they’d have let me have a lie down between excursions, so I had to do something that was both time consuming and in some way restful. Enter stage left (the direction of the goodies, as we now know from the visit to the Puppet Museum) your friend and mine…

Your friend and mine, Carl Linnaeus, inventor of the binomial nomenclature we use for the naming of plants today.

He’s like – Check out the crazy good garlic. I’m going to take some home with me and give it two names. (It is possible this is not garlic, but bear with me, I am no plantsman, I just like eating).

Like the museums we visited, the botanical garden was quite small by UK standards, but probably not because they have less stuff, more probably because they don’t hand over acres and acres to lawn. Also, the plants we need hothouses for they don’t. There’s only one greenhouse in the whole place.

There was also a LOT of potting going on. Presumably they are potting things that don’t need a lot of water, or else they’d have to employ everyone in Palermo just to keep the container plants alive.

Here’s the naughty Ficus Macrophylla again;

Ficus Macrophylla. Famously shit at lining up to create an avenue.

So good they named it thrice.

I had a bit of a sit down in the shade IT WAS SO HOT and took a few snaps from there.

Super sunny nice day.

Pretty.

It was really nice to get the overpowering petrol smell out of my nostrils. The sooner Palermans get into electric cars and bikes the better for everyone. The orange grove smelled lovely.

Oranges may not be the only fruit, but they are *A* fruit.

I still had time to be ridiculously early for my flight, and the rest of the day was rather wearing, so the trip to the Botanics was a good call. It’s hard to imagine that I arrived back in freezing cold London at the end of this splendid day.

Not that I wasn’t pleased to see Ten and Poppet, because I was. But, you know. Palermo! I miss you!

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ETA – Turns out there is another greenhouse, but I missed it. The one I went into had some cactus going on, but there was also cactuses outside. It really just isn’t that cold.

Il cane innocente, Il giovane Montalbano, e mi sento male

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In ‘my life as a Hanna Barbera cartoon, the dog known as Ms Roberta “Poppet” Bobs stole my sausages the other day while I was answering the door.

piccolo cane innocente

Other dogs have a good line in looking guilty even if it’s just that they are skilled actors, but Pops just looked at the plate in my hand, hypnotised by her own pleasure, while I was telling her off, transparently thinking “Those were good, are there any more?”

She understands when it is in her interest to do so. Ten used to talk about perambulating the animal, but I think she’s sussed that one out, so it’s lucky I’ve become entrenched in The Young Montalbano so now we have a spot of Italian to spice up our linguistic feints.

I have tried watching Montalbano before, with The Snack Thief which I found slow and boring, and not about sausages at all. Whether it is the young handsome actor in the prequel or to do with the writing or the directing I don’t know, but whatever the reason or cunning combination thereof, I am really enjoying this series. I now believe I should be living in Sicily, and a quick glance at the weather forecasts tell me that I am right.

What is less appealing is that the town which plays Vigàta is apparently notorious for crimes against dogs, and for there being a lot of street dogs, for want of a pound. I saw a picture when I looked it up for daydreaming purposes which would curdle your blood. So, mixed reviews, there.

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In other not unrelated news, I have been abed for a lot of the week. Ten’s been away so I’ve had to do what I’ve had to do, but I’ve rather run aground and today he is doing everything and I am most grateful. While I am unfaithful to him with Salvo he is dealing with the piccolo cane and the shopping and so on. I am so very sluggish and have been absolutely tanking the triptans. I only hope that today’s turn of the full moon sees off this current malaise, because I’m at a terribly low ebb, unable to get on with the writing project, and generally feeling crappy. So, sorry for lack of posts, but this is the reality of life in the hermitage right now.

What is nice is that Ellis has invited me to Have A Word again in March. Lets hope that I am well enough to write something by then… There’s another thing on, in April, again in Brighton, which is probably going to be called END OF, perhaps with some other words appended. It was only cooked up a couple of nights ago by Julie Burchill, and is going to be a fund raiser for a domestic violence charity. The spots are only 3-5 minutes, and I think perhaps it’s not for me, but I am glad to be in on it, it’s a great project. However, I also intend to get up to Scotland in the in just springtime, and I dare say I will need to be realistic about the wellness to travel ratio that I can cope with outside of the high days of June – August. I really do need to work out how to get somewhere warmer for a bit.

Pattern Recognition at Have A Word (full text)

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HAVE A WORD – October 2013

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)

Pattern Recognition

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.

It really happened