Just poured myself a beer …

It’s time I let rip. Most of my posts are composed like school essays, plenty of notes and constant editing to achieve A* and all that stuff. This one comes straight from the black hole somewhere deep down. First thought, best thought … Alan Ginsberg had it right. DH Lawrence too, he never edited anything he wrote and you sure in hell couldn’t uninvent him! DHL was a great admirer of Walt Whitman, another literary berserker. Anyway …

A bottle of beer by my side, JB Hutto’s Stompin at Mother Blues on the hi-fi … real music, check it out! … and a solid determination to let everything I type stand, no matter what! Deep breath, here goes!

We are an evolved species. We share that with every other species on the planet. That means we are as good as it gets. We know how to survive. It shouldn’t be beyond our collective wit to create a sustainable world for future generations of all species. Make no mistake, we find ourselves with a hell of a past – much of it recent – to expunge. In my lifetime, on my watch, we have even entered a new era named after ourselves – the Anthropocene.

But for most of our history we were in partnership with nature. We knew how to play her with finesse, living off her without taking too much. We only took as much as we needed to survive. Honourable, you might say. Something happened – the jury is out on the what and why of it – to make us want a cushion, an excess of protection against what nature often in the form of other humans threw at us. We created money, property, secure investments and whatever took us through the night …

Panama is the outcome, Panama and all the other so-called tax havens in the world that separate humanity more than any bogus division that has been devised – and devised by whom, one might ask, but isn’t that a whole other question? – bogus divisions such as race, creed, class or colour. Modern science has proved we’re all the same under the skin so get used to it. Everything you read is propaganda of one sort or another – this excepted, of course! – and most of us are pretty good at spotting spin. Hemingway said the most important thing a writer needed – and which of us isn’t a writer? – is a built-in crap detector. I know when I’m talking shit and so do you.

That’s what I mean. We’re an evolved species. We been around a long time. Strip aware the bullshit culture we’re all immersed in – me included, I’m not pulling rank – and we’re left with inherited instinct coupled with an awareness of the instinctive sense still alive in others. I look at the reproductions on my wall – may science be praised! – and see the art of Monet, Turner, Japanese prints, Van Gogh. Coming out of my speakers – the JB Hutto ended – is Boo Boo Davis, erstwhile harp player turned drummer with Muddy Waters, singing along in Howling Wolf style with a superb Dutch band. This was another random choice from my CD collection. Anything I don’t like goes in the bag for Oxfam. This is a stayer. It connects with history.

We are here to fulfil the hopes of our ancestors. We live the life they imagined. They weren’t all struggling in the mud. Our own idealism didn’t spring from nowhere. We may have been lucky to encounter idealists in our own lives – I cite my granddad and his daughter, my mum, as personal examples – but all they did was strike a chord in our inherited potentiality for this stuff. We are primed for hope and mad optimism, like it or not. Depression is a stupid cultural imposition. The human brain is hardwired for happiness.

I speak as one whose glass is half full. If you’re interested, it’s Hobson’s Rich Ruby Porter aka Postman’s Knock 4.8% Vol. Never mind half full, it’s nearly empty. What say I open a bottle of something else? You’ll have to shout, my internet is kinda slow … OK, we’re agreed on another beer, or is that just me?

Right, glass refreshed, onwards! Only connect, said EM Forster. Great … the question is, what to what? Duh, you’d have to be stupid not to know the answer … everything to everything else. We can do this stuff. The elephant in the room is death … and who doesn’t love elephants, with their long memories and touching graveyards? Pun intended …

Our awareness of the Grim Reaper is universal. It binds us together. Birth, taxes, death. Get used to it. Unless you tried to buck the common trend in Panama, or wherever. My dad was a tax inspector. He was proud that he helped shift the burden from poor to rich. To live in a land was to accept its rules, to feel honoured that you could contribute to the fairness that made your nation great. To honour the spirit of the law as well as its letter.

I didn’t always get on with my dad. To be honest, he was a bit of a cold fish. His own dad was lost at sea in WW1 … which of us isn’t affected in some way or another by that appalling conflagration? … so without a role model himself, he wasn’t that great a dad. Plus there was that big generation gap in the 60s … we were something new, man! My mum took dad to the musical Hair and he wasn’t comfortable with hippies crawling all over him on their way to the stage although my mum was up for anything. He and mum had their problems and for a while I was piggy-in-the-middle so dad was hard to get on with.

With the benefit of hindsight, though, my dad was spot on when it came to the morality of taxation.

Where was I? Oh yes, death. Our common knowledge of death binds us like nothing else. Some fantasise about an afterlife, but what if this is it? An all-too-brief window of wonderfulness? Doesn’t that make it all the more precious?

I’m 67. Who knows how much longer I’ve got? As they say, I’ve had a good innings. My generation is probably the luckiest ever to have lived. Free cod-liver oil and orange juice on the NHS, no war, no obesity after rationing and before fast-food, the mind-expanding experience of rock’n’roll and all that entailed, full employment, the sexual revolution … I’m starting to bore myself, need I go on?

Waddya mean, pour another drink you old soak? I told you this would be uncensored. A friend of mine once said I had a shopping-bag mind. By this he meant I no sooner made one point than I would answer it myself much as a supermarket shopper would pluck items from here, there and everywhere. Probably comes from the observation of my parents’ incessant arguments … one long argument, as it happens. I’m painfully aware of both sides of every question.

Right, where were we? The CD has ended, time for another. What’s it going to be? I have a big collection. Another random choice. I bet you can hardly wait.

Can. Ego Bamyasi. Life is good, each day borrowed from nowhere, the music continuing as long as it can. Joke, haha. Gallows humour is all we have. Best make the best of it. Seriously, though, the sweet thing about not believing in the sweet hereafter is that here and now is all the sweeter.

Did I just say that out loud? What I crave above all is a natural reverence for life to replace the crazy cults that crave a higher existence beyond. Life can be hard. Keats called it a process of soul-making, envisaging a heaven on earth. Nietzsche said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Buddhism offers a useful description of what we’re up against to achieve higher consciousness:

Ordered from the least to the most desirable, they are: Hell–a condition of despair in which one is completely overwhelmed by suffering; Hunger–a state dominated by deluded desire that can never be satisfied; Animality–an instinctual state of fearing the strong and bullying the weak; Anger–a state characterized by an unrestrained competitive urge to surpass and dominate others and often a pretence of being good and wise. These four states are referred to as the Four Evil Paths because of the destructive negativity that marks them.

Continuing, Humanity is a tranquil state marked by the ability to reason and make calm judgments. While fundamental to our identity as humans, this state can also represent a fragile balance that yields to one of the lower states when confronted with negative conditions. Rapture is a state of joy typically experienced when desire is fulfilled or suffering escaped.

Which of us hasn’t been there and bought the T shirt? And could Google be the portal to a new stage in human evolution? If so, we need to evolve a way to use it to our advantage. The facts are out there but we need to teach our children how to access them … or perhaps, get them to show us! As I understand it, the higher worlds available to us all here and now are Learning, Realisation and Compassion. These are the escape routes from the lower worlds. Together, they constitute Nirvana.

Or as near vana as you can get. Let’s not get precious about this …

Moral: keep studying, keep your mind open, keep your empathy flowing. As to the last, I’m intrigued by the French poet Rimbaud’s phrase Je est un autre – I is another. For me, this is a cry against the egoism of subjectivity and for a more objective fellow-feeling … I contain multitudes in the words of Walt Whitman … but I’m open to other interpretations.

Anyway, the beer has run out and the CD has ended. The rest is silence …


New Broom for Bafflesby?

And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the turn of our final candidate this evening to try and convince you that he is your best choice for the job of Bafflesby Town Mayor …

“Hi, folks, I’ve got something to confess. Last night I sat down to write this speech, but you know what? I couldn’t. That’s right, my friends, I couldn’t write a single word.

Now that don’t sound like Ewell B. Flush, I hear you say, Ewell B. Flush is always shooting his mouth off. Haha, maybe so, but not last night! Last night, whenever Bafflesby came to mind, my hand began to shake and my eyes just filled with tears. You guys have had it rough.

Believe me, I know, I’ve seen the TV coverage. The quaint old streets of your beautiful battered borough awash with filthy water. Your historic job-centre full to overflowing with the good folk of Bafflesby – decent, honest, hardworking – what a choker! And do you know what I said to myself? Ewell B. Flush, I said to myself, there but for fortune go you! I’m filling up right now just looking at your eager, expectant faces.  Yeah, it’s the gospel truth, I’m full of it!

This is a great crowd. I bet we got people here from every part of town. A cross section, as the boffins say, and let me tell you … you have every reason to be cross! You know what, you guys deserve a voice for a damn change! Come on, let’s hear you! Who have we got from Barmcote? Yay! Witsend? Whoo-hoo! Potherfield? Haha! Greater Dumdale?

Yeah, one or two … now, all together, give it up for Bafflesby!!!

See what I’m saying, folks, what can’t we achieve when we stand shoulder to shoulder? Believe you me, if I wasn’t way up here I’d be right down there alongside you! Oh yeah, I hear what you’re saying, what does Ewell B. Flush know about us? What does a multi-millionaire from Nobhill know about life down here on our foolishly built-on floodplain? Well, let me tell you, I’m listening. I hear what you’re saying.

Rest easy, I’m looking out for you. Every day without fail a copy of the Bafflesby Bugle is delivered to Flush Fortifications, freshly-ironed and brought to me on a silver salver. Nothing but the best for Bafflesby, you see! And every day without fail I have it read to me cover to cover, every word, no matter how depressing – even the football news!

Elect me mayor and I’ll buy Bafflesby Rovers!

Only kidding … or am I? Seriously though, I share your pain. And I take special note of the Letters Page. Several correspondents suggest that flood-prevention barriers around my golf course made the flooding of Bafflesby town-centre much worse. I say, sure, the children’s playground was six foot underwater but life is much more than swings and roundabouts.

Scratch that … er, life is no more than swings and roundabouts. You win some, you lose some. No pain without gain. My golf course goes under, the golfers go elsewhere. Golfers are competitive people, they know it’s dog-eat-dog out there. They go to Broad Acres, they go to Par Venue, they go to Leafy Lanes.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What does Ewell B. Flush care? He owns every golf course in the damn country! It’s no skin off his nose. He throws a bunch of golf-course workers from Bafflesby out of work, so what?

Excuse me … so what? Is that your idea of how Ewell B. Flush thinks? Well, it’s my turn now and have I got news for you? You can’t be too greedy but Ewell B. Flush doesn’t just think of Number One, thank you very much. His golf course keeps going, his workers ain’t adding to Bafflesby’s unemployment statistics. We’re talking win-win here. I’m a winner but I don’t play winner-takes-all. Elect Ewell B. Flush and you can all be winners.

Apart from the losers, of course … you can’t have winners without losers. Elect Ewell B. Flush and make sure the losers aren’t from Bafflesby. You all know that Offshaw & Gonn are considering decamping lock, stock and barrel to Dymbleton. You gonna give those jerks down there your jobs? Let’s hear it! Hell, no!

And guess what, an incredibly reliable source tells me that Offshaw & Gonn can be persuaded to stay here if Ewell B. Flush is the new face in town. So I tell him that all you decent, honest, hardworking folks – yeah, give yourselves a round of applause! – will work for peanuts to put their beloved Bafflesby back on the map.!

It’s true, last night I had nothing to say. But tonight I’ve seen the fire burning in your eyes. Tomorrow I’ve a mind to put my money where my mouth is. Elect Ewell B. Flush and we’ll build a wall round this town. Those dopes from Dymbleton are a bunch of lazy freeloaders. They don’t deserve to shine your shoes. You folks have battled in the teeth of a gale. Flash floods, falling visitor numbers, fleeing employment opportunities – a perfect storm! Elect Ewell B. Flush, my friends, and together we can change the weather!”


Lost – Reward Offered!

Nothing personal, Cyberspace, but here is a wild shot in the dark …

Many people have past experiences which haunt them, hazy memories that hover just out of sight like a dream you can’t quite remember. If only you could draw them out into the light of day and give them a good hard look, find out what they really mean to you …

When I was a young child I read a story – whether short story, novella or novel I can’t recall – which affected me deeply. I would dearly love to find it again. Trouble is, I can’t remember much about it, other than the way it seemed to stir something deep inside me.

Anyway, here’s what I remember, in case it rings a bell with someone.

The main characters were two very contrasting creatures who go on a voyage across water – sea or river or perhaps both. At one point they sail up an inlet or estuary. They set out with a purpose or quest of some kind and have experiences from which they learn important, perhaps gently philosophical lessons. The creatures – two, I’m sure, though there may have been others – were an unlikely pairing. I’ve always thought crab and bear, for some reason, but this may be a later memory overlay. The difference between the creatures was as striking and peculiar as that, though.

Other than that, well, this image fragment – an illustration, perhaps, or more likely an inner  visualisation – the boat arriving at a wooden quay or pier, lights twinkling in a village … and that’s it. Not much to go on, is it? It sounds like a children’s story but there was probably a more grown-up dimension, too, some quasi-religious or ethical message within a kind of myth or fable. I remember thinking how beautiful the story was and being moved by the creatures’ thoughts and feelings, perhaps by their unlikely friendship.

So can anybody help me find it? I’ve tried libraries, bookshops, the internet … all to no avail. Please feel free to pass this on, reblog, whatever. Being reunited with my uber-story would mean a lot to me.

And your reward?

Well, as the bishop says to the actress, what could be better than the satisfaction of knowing you have made an old man very happy?

I’d also love to know if you have something like this in the dusty attic of your mind – if you’ll forgive the metaphor! Who knows … perhaps I, or one of my readers, may be able to help you find it?

Haikumania (The Results)

Well, that was fun!

Fishing online for linked haikus netted some little treasures. My thanks to those who contributed. Their sites are well worth visiting – just click on the names below. The first and last haikus are mine, as is the title.

I shall definitely do this again with some variations gleaned from other blogs. WordPress is the best school I’ve ever been to and this little collaboration has been a lovely learning curve for me. Just goes to show, you’re never too old to learn …




Travelling Light

Where to be happy?
Misty lands far away or
here beneath blossom?

Beneath sun and leaf
under an English oak tree
where we breathe and sigh                                   Opher

or sharing our souls
as we nature’s soul share?
The place? In our minds.                                        dunnasead.co

Our minds disconnect
into the sun’s warmth, the wind
a thought on the skin.                                             memadtwo

In the urinous shade
Of the car park’s stairwell, green
Lichens sit and swell.                                                peter boughton

Decay begets life.
Beauty is in the mind’s eye
Here, there, everywhere.





Thought it might be fun to follow up my previous post with a little experiment in collective composition, a series of linked haikus. The idea is that I write a haiku and invite another which has some, perhaps slight connection with mine while standing alone as a poem in its own right. This allows the emphasis to shift between poems.

The first haiku received will become the second poem in the sequence and in turn provide a springboard for the third, which triggers the fourth and so on. Each new haiku need only connect with its immediate predecessor but to keep things orderly please respond in the Leave A Reply box, ignoring Reply button under Comment boxes. Scroll down these to find the latest haiku in the series.

My role will be to decide when to bring things to a close, at which point I’ll publish the sequence so far and ask for a concluding haiku – this will be the only one that has to connect with all previous haikus in the chain. Throughout, the first poems received will be used provided they conform to the Oxford Dictionary definition:

Haiku – a poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.

Can’t think of anything else, so here’s my haiku to get the ball rolling:

Where to be happy?

Misty lands far away or

here beneath blossom?

The Window

Brussels is the latest western city to feel the agony of loss following Paris, London, Madrid and New York. Refugees from failing states flee intractable civil wars in huge numbers, leaving behind many more in terrible suffering. The world’s leaders appear divided and bewildered in the face of multiplying problems: economic, political, ideological, sociological, environmental, ecological. The words of WB Yeats, written almost a century ago, have an uncomfortable resonance today:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I thought I knew this poem but one phrase has just struck me for the first time.

‘The ceremony of innocence.’ Could something like this, I wonder, be a way of rescuing our beautiful but fragile world from the twin and perhaps conjoined threats of life-killing consumerism and death-wish fundamentalism?

To answer this question, I’ll take a short digression.

I’ve been reading the travel writings of the Japanese Zen poet Matsuo Basho. Over 300 years ago he set out on a series of journeys designed to strip away the trappings of the material world and bring spiritual enlightenment. Old and unwell, he travels in all weathers, visiting shrines to historical figures and beauty spots mentioned in old poems. The sense of an ancient culture still surviving in Basho’s day is astonishing. Of one Samurai warrior, already 500 years dead, he writes:

His life is certain evidence that, if one performs one’s duty and maintains one’s loyalty, fame comes naturally in the wake, for there is hardly anyone now who does not honour him as the flower of chivalry.

Speaking as a would-be pacifist, I understand that this refers to an ancient code of conduct far broader than crude militarism. People 1000 years gone are described as vividly as if they still lived. Everywhere he goes, Basho sits down to write chains of haikus with local people, each person contributing a poem in response to the previous one:

I was told at Oishida on the River Mogami that the old seed of linked verse once strewn here by the wind had taken root, still bearing its own flowers each year and thus softening the minds of the rough villagers like the clear note of a reedpipe.

This reminds me about the Songlines of the indigenous Australians, those epic linked verses describing natural landmarks that guided young men on Walkabout all over the continent. Children had mentors in neighbouring tribes, a powerful force for peace. Like the indigenous American tribes, the first Australians had a sense of their wider nation as one people. All three peoples worshipped their ancestors and revered nature, which I take as proof that evolutionary awareness is instinctive.

Basho’s travelling companion Sora writes with almost Darwinian curiosity about ‘a pair of faithful osprey nesting on a rock’ at Kisagata lagoon:

What divine instinct
Has taught these birds
No waves swell so high
As to swamp their home?

They visit the lagoon to see an aged cherry tree which featured in the following haiku written by Saigyo, an ex-Samurai turned itinerant poet,  500 years before they get there:

Buried in the waves
So that it seems
Fishermen's boats are sailing
Over the waves of blossoms -
A cherry tree at Kisagata.

Basho idolised Saigyo and modelled himself on him. He was particularly impressed with this poem:

My sincere hope is
To leave the world in Spring
Under the blooming cherry -
In February, if possible,
On the eve of the full moon.

Saigyo died on 16 February 1190. Somehow I am reminded of the indigenous American idea of choosing the place where you will go to perform a last dance at the moment of your death. To live life to the full, we should embrace death as teacher and friend – in other words, an equal. We are life and we dance with death. Accept that with good grace and the dance will be elegant, joyous, serene.

Perhaps this might allow us to find a fresh way of looking at the world, happy just to be here. This is hard to envisage but I’m encouraged by Nietzsche’s curious statement, ‘Everything is permitted because nothing is true.’ After all, kids play Pretend quite naturally.

Some people say that the hippy vision embodied in the following Steve Miller song was just a game of Pretend but I am inspired by the accompanying pictures which our ancestors, bless them, would find astonishing and like something out of a dream. We should renew our capacity for everyday wonder. What else could have drawn us outdoors when we were young or Basho when he was old? And as we reflect on Brussels and consider the bumpy road ahead, it’s worth remembering that others have travelled this way before. In the words of the song:

think love you’re surrounded

we are one you and I


Bafflesby Employability Guidance (BEG)

We at BEG share a burning belief in work as a one-way street to liberty, equality and universal brotherhood. We are passionate about this because we speak from experience. We have steady jobs and want to spread the glad tidings to those in Bafflesby who haven’t – work can set you free!

As social creatures our deepest desire is to be part of a winning team firing on all cylinders. We yearn to belong, knowing that together we are greater than the sum of our parts. But when we – or rather, you – are still on the lowest rung of the ladder, our – well, your – first taste of teamwork will be as a mere cog on a big wheel.

Those at the bottom often perform their tasks without knowing why and seldom see the end product of their labours. School-leavers are familiar with this and will feel at home right away, of course, but if you have experienced the world of work you may have soaked up other attitudes. Perhaps you’ve heard that old folk mantra, ‘Find a job that suits you.’

We say, ‘Nice work if you can get it, Granny, but youngsters in today’s competitive marketplace should suit themselves to the job.’

Put bluntly, you can’t be a square peg in a round hole. You have to fit in. You must be ready to work all hours, wear an embarrassing uniform, change work practices at the drop of a hat, do whatever you’re told without demur and smile no matter what. Employers want a happy workforce and are happy to sack anyone who isn’t.

Fortunately, there are many ways to prepare yourself for this brave new world. Cook a meal but don’t eat it. Get ready for a party but don’t invite anyone. Decorate a room, lock the door and throw away the key. Remember you live in a 24/7 world, so set your wake-alarm for random times day and night. If you can’t stop hitting Snooze, consider a GPS-generated klaxon-implant. Prepare for zero-hours contracts by doing absolutely nothing for ages and ages followed by sudden, brief, random bursts of activity. If prolonged inaction bores you, give your CV yet another tweak.

For help untweaking your CV, call our Testimonial Rewrite Assist Secure Hotline (TRASH) to find out about our award-winning gold-star emergency-rescue service.

We recommend wearing clown costumes around the house. Once you pluck up the courage to answer the door in them, you’ll soon be walking the streets without a single stab of shame. Drop objects of increasing weight on your bare toes while monitoring your smile in a mirror. Tie shoelaces with unfamiliar knots. Perform routine acts blindfolded. Practise getting dressed in the dark.

Remember that all these exercises are dummy-runs for the real thing, so expect to feel like a dummy. You may also feel:

sick                confused               humiliated         weird              isolated              alienated

lonely            peculiar                 rejected               lost                  broken                invisible

stupid            unappreciated    forgotten            hopeless         feeble                  useless

Don’t worry. It’s normal to experience one or more of these symptoms during your acclimatisation to the world of work. Feel them all simultaneously and you may be close to despair, however, at which point cut out the homework and watch an escapist movie. Avoid hobbies with a carefully-crafted finished product, because they can lead to dissatisfaction with a working day where you produce nothing of any value. Don’t attempt original or unorthodox leisure activities in case they interfere with dull and repetitive work routines. Far safer to consume crap on TV and surf the net for amusing pictures of cats!

Watching Breaking News cycle endlessly with no analysis is the perfect way to prepare for a job you don’t understand and can never complete. Ignore complicated questions about vanishing species, melting icesheets, acid oceans, weather disruptions, arid farmlands and toxic air. None of these is your fault. In fact, forget all about sustainable ecology. Just remember that your only chance of sustainable employment is full-steam-ahead economic growth which encourages the rich to go out and spend their buried treasure.

Try to forget how hard you worked during your education. Academic values count for little in the real world. Graduates can become excellent baristas. And most anthropology graduates work for corporations that employ their knowledge to sell goods and services to the human lab-rats and guinea pigs they once studied with wide-eyed wonder. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Perhaps you already have. If your coffee break is the only thing you look forward to at work, wait until nobody’s looking and take a discreet internet trawl through The World’s Worst Jobs. This should help you count your blessings … but if any of them are better than yours, consider applying.


Bafflesby Employability Guidance (BEG)
an Offshaw & Gonn jobseekers service