I value kindness to humans first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper, and old men and women warmer in the winter, and happier in the summer. Brendan Behan
watched Doctor Who tonight with the same contradictory mixture of
pleasurable anticipation of excellent & well-integrated special
effects, committed performances & heroically absurd plotlines
coupled with slight irritation at an undercurrent of the somewhat smug
self-congratulation that has typified the new series so far. If this
revived series has fallen short of the gold standard promised us in the
feverish build-up, it is in the sense that comes across that the
creative & production teams just know that, come what may, we’re
going to love the package to bits.
This nod-and-wink certainty
detracts to some extent from the earnest hand-to-mouth amateurism that
typified all but the very last of the previous series. Surrounded by
pasteboard sets & risible costumes, the team had, to some extent,
to woo us; they had to work hard to enjoin us willingly to suspend our
disbelief as uneasy looking extras wearing pantomime cod’s heads &
swathes of fish-netting emerged from the sea. Now, in these post Star
Wars, post analogue, post modernist times, too often the genuinely
quirky, distinctly English wit that peppered the early series has been
replaced by the rather jaded archness of the languid stand-up comic
whose knowingness makes him cosily complicit with his audience.
Sci-fi, however mainstream, must retain at least an element of wonder;
it must instil in the spectator some sense of awe in the face of the
unknown & hitherto imponderable.
So it was a joy tonight for
the vintage viewer to be re-acquainted 30 years on with Elizabeth
Sladen as Sarah-Jane Smith, last seen bidding a wistful farewell to Tom
Baker’s Doctor. Although she must be pushing 60, those three decades
have been very kind to her & there was no sense of faded lissom
sidekick when she hugged David Tennant’s skinny, boyish regeneration
as, once again, the Doctor prepares to head off into the Fourth
Dimension. Her presence restored a little of that relative innocence
from a time when we didn’t know nearly everything & could guess the
back on earth… I was hanging out the washing yesterday afternoon &,
in the tall beech in the copse at the bottom of the garden, I heard the
mechanical pocking of a woodpecker. I looked up & there in plain
view was a green woodpecker hammering away at a dead branch.
exactly a David Attenborough moment, but when coupled with the sighting
of a muntjac deer trotting down the middle of Lawns Close late last
autumn & a pair of hares boxing in the middle of a vast fallow
field a couple of weeks back, at least I’m drawing some dividend from this investment of living in the English countryside.
night we (Fishing for Eels) played the Amnesty ceilidh up at St
Christopher School. There was a smallish but utterly committed body of
dancers present throughout & an overwhelming atmosphere of the old
St Chris in the nature & quality of their response. We all felt
that we played a blinder – each generously attributing it to the work
of all the others - & we resolved to get together again before too
It’s a particular pleasure for a bassist to get a chance
to play alongside a half-decent drummer because there aren’t that many
of them around. Chris is one of the best I’ve ever come across & it
was a real joy being part of the engine room with him last night. I
used my old black Fender Jazz in preference to the excellent Bass
Collection instrument that I used to play with the band. I was
delighted with the tone & the sustain I got, although this morning
I felt as though I’d been pulling a plough single-shouldered across a
field of stones, such was the reaction to having the slab of wood
hanging around my neck for upwards of two-&-a-half hours.
friend recorded the three sets through the control board, but he wasn’t
very happy with the results. He’s going to faff about with the sound
levels & then dump the results onto a CD. In the unlikely event
that anything worth saving comes from it, I’ll upload it to the blog.
Duct tape is like the Force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together. Carl Zwanzig
There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. Douglas Adams
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. Douglas Adams
Astronomers say the universe is finite, which is a comforting thought for those people who can't remember where they leave things. Albert Einstein
In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time." Unknown
It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others. Edward P. Tryon (physics professor)
Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that man doesn't have to experience it. Max Frisch
I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown. Woody Allen
Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning. Rich Cook (fantasy writer)
There is a coherent plan in the universe, though I don't know what it's a plan for. Fred Hoyle
We are an impossibility in an impossible universe. Ray Bradbury
My theology, briefly, is that the universe was dictated but not signed. Christopher Morley
I'm worried that the universe will soon need replacing. It's not holding a charge. Edward Chilton (physics professor)
The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us. Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson)
An elderly couple had dinner at another couple's house and, after the meal, the wives dutifully cleared the table and withdrew to the kitchen. The two elderly gentlemen leaned back in their chairs & lit cigars. Blowing a plume of blue smoke towards the ceiling, the guest said to his host:
"Last night we went out to a new restaurant. It was absolutely splendid. Can’t recommend it highly enough".
"Oh, really?" the host responded. "What's the restaurant called?"
The first man opens his mouth to reply & then knits his brow in deep concentration, finally asking his companion:
"Er… what's the name of that red flower you give to someone you love?"
"A carnation?" his friend suggested.
"No, no. The other one," the man responded testily.
"No, no, no," growled the man. "You know - the one that’s red and has thorns."
"Oh, you mean a rose", his friend laughed.
"Yes, that’s it, that’s it! Thank you!" the first man said. Then he turned toward the kitchen and yelled:
"Rose, what's the name of that restaurant we went to last night?"
the process of shifting pictures from my images folder on the old Salon
blog, I took a brief nostalgic trip through my back pages. From a
scrutiny of the comments boxes, it was immediately clear that many of
those who followed my blog & who were regular commenters are still
very much in the loop & the happy interaction maintained over up to
three years continues to flourish. However, it was equally apparent
that, since the move to Typepad, I have lost contact with a number of
ex- & present Salonista pals, & also with several who visited
from the great outdoors.
Most of us who have left Salon have
reflected out loud on this sad falling away of old contacts. I foresaw
the inevitability of a degree of sink-or-swim in stepping outside the
security of a close-knit, self-regulating community. But what did
surprise me a little was the abruptness of some of the severances after
such long & congenial relationships.
Maybe there was an
element of out-of-sight-out-of-mind for some Salonistas during the
prolonged period in which I couldn’t access the Salon server. (This
denial of access – now known to be an issue common with Belkin wireless
routers – extended to both Blogger & Typepad for a while too). In
a busy life in which blogging is fitted into a particular time slot
during the day, this is understandable. In my case, because of
increasing demands from Reuben & Rosie & Emma’s indisposition
as the pregnancy advances, I’m having to write & post late at night
& thus sometimes against the urgings of sleep. Most bloggers who
are not enjoying the benisons of a private income will, for one reason
& another, be similarly situated.
But – such practical
considerations notwithstanding – I find myself pondering the unusual
nature of the relationships that build up between bloggers. And,
because I feel that all phenomena that are either underpinned by faith
& belief or set against widely held orthodoxies should be
questioned rigorously, I query in the first instance, the substance,
quality & very nature of those relationships.
bloggers, we enter a public forum of such potential scope & range
that merely to contemplate the territory for a moment is to induce a
sense of agoraphobia! And, having pitched our tent, we proceed to
unleash data of the most subjective & revealing nature. Whether
through the medium of serious & considered political, cultural or
religious commentary, or via diary entries recording the implementation
of our sexual predilections in anatomical detail, Self will, in the
case of the half-decent writer, shine through. Which, presumably, the
vast majority of bloggers intend to be the case.
It could all
begin & end, of course, at the point of posting. So far the only
difference between scribbling it all into a vellum-bound notebook &
typing it into a Word document is the fact of having uploaded the piece
to a public website.
But if we check our readership
statistics, instantly we acknowledge an active consciousness of the
availability of our writing to others & our interest in their
interest. And if we activate the comments box provided by our weblog
host, instantly we open up the possibility of interaction with those
with whom we are sharing our most sincerely held convictions, our most
passionate beliefs & our deepest feelings. This sequence of
actions – writing, reading responses, reacting to responses –
establishes at the point of response the basic coordinates of a
But what kind of relationship? On the
surface the conditions may seem to exist for the most intimate kind of
friendship. Because the data released exists in written form, framed in
many cases in an attractive format, the reader may absorb it at his/her
leisure, consider carefully the nature of what is being said, react
favourably to the manner in which it is couched, apply the information
to his/her own experience & understanding &, ultimately,
empathise with the material & thus its writer.
This is a
curiously seductive process of utterance & response. It bypasses
most of the procedures that are customary in establishing foundations
at the beginning of a relationship. The rituals of introduction that
are expressed both through paralanguage, gesture & body language
simply don’t take place so the two parties effectively forego the
social & psychological ceremonies that are endemic to animal
behaviour & which prevail with equal significance in the encounter
structures dominating human introductory interaction.
question is: does this process of ‘instant intimacy’ effectively
transcend the awkward blocking & avoidance strategies that two
individuals meeting physically for the first time might employ (even if
each feels an immediate potential bond with the other), or does it mean
that without the interposition of such scrutinising & filtering
processes the relationship is essentially spurious & inauthentic?
& their needs & capacities being mightily various, neither
scenario provides an immutable truth. At this point in my pondering, I
have to use myself as subject & ask what I feel I get out of the network of relationships that I have built up during my three years of running a weblog.
a paradox emerges. Although I have never met any of my blogger
friends, in some instances I probably know as much about them as I do
about many of those with whom I actually hang out. In fact, it becomes
apparent on careful consideration that I may have been granted more
unstinting access to the inner lives – the ambitions, fears,
aspirations, personal priorities, creative goals - of some of my
blogger friends than is the case with all but the closest of the
corporeal variety. And yet, with a few exceptions, I have little or no
sense of the corporeal selves of those with whom I might share so much
of my inner life. A few misty photographs may have been posted once,
or a masthead snap of a face with a fixed grin or grimace might top
their blog. In one or two cases, an MP3 brings across the flavour of a
voice, but almost invariably in a formal & thus an artificial
So there seems to exist a curiously phantom element to
these inter-blogger relationships. We may feel a powerful sense of
connection to the spirit, the soul, the essence, but have never heard
our friend laugh, order a pizza or swear at a jaywalker; we have never
held a door open for them, bought them a beer or given them a lift to
In conclusion, does this expose the relationship
as essentially ephemeral or bogus? Absolutely not because where the
absence of the sharing of a physical dimension for the friendship may
be seen as invalidating its essential currency, rendering it somehow
artificial, it can also be seen as providing the conditions for a
peculiar purity & intensity of communication. This individual has
availed him/herself of the proffered intimacies – those ambitions,
fears, aspirations, personal priorities, creative goals - & has
reciprocated in kind, demonstrating both understanding & common
experience & thus sympathy at least & empathy at best.
Untrammelled by the attendant (& not necessarily irksome)
complications of practical encounter, the functioning of the
relationship is streamlined & its currency is enhanced.
I would venture to suggest that the substance & quality of such
encounters require a healthy & developed interest in other people
& a vigorous & sustaining family & social life in the
material world. Those who stalk discussion groups, seeking out the
similarly emotionally challenged would fly beneath the radar of the
serious blogger seeking out meaningful & rewarding interaction.
post started out as little more than an expression of gentle regret at
the falling away of valued contacts following my move from Salon/Radio
Userland to Typepad independence. It has turned into over 1,300 words
of undisciplined speculation on the nature of ‘e-friendship’ between
bloggers. But one of the aspects of blogging that I enjoy most – both
as writer & reader – is the opportunity it provides for the flying
of kites. And then, from the responses of friends, acquaintances &
passers-by (& the readiness to give ground), a little truth might
begin to emerge.
Oh, & if any old pals just happen to tune in to this one, don’t become a stranger…
My English teacher at school, the distinguished poet (although none of us realised it at the time) Brian Merrikin Hill, when teaching us King Lear, presented us with the simple but provocative question: If you had free choice, would you live your life as a wise but unhappy Socrates or a happy but ignorant pig ? The pale & sensitive amongst us elected, nobly & tragically, for the former; the windburned sporty crew opted, cheerfully & instantly, for the latter.
In my own teaching in Theatre Studies I occasionally posed the same question & each time concluded rather sadly that pallor & sensitivity are in short supply these days.
During my reading of Andrew Motion's biography of Philip Larkin some years ago I had a go at a sort of parody of the latter's style in a poem called In Parentheses. It places me firmly still amongst the pale & sensitive (although I'm getting a little impatient awaiting the arrival of the wisdom).
From the fastness of our dreams where no clouds obscure the view, we put aside our petty schemes and envy deeds that others do.
Is there more to life than this? we ask at break of every day. The morning call, the goodnight kiss, the foot upon the primrose way?
Safe or sorry, choice is clear: not pig in sty but Socrates. Cultivate the known, the near, you’ll live life in parentheses.