Saturday, December 29, 2007

today : the erosion of culture.


J'accuse Simon Cowell. I don't care about his talent shows, record labels, Rolls Royces or even his trousers. In fact if he has found a way to be rich and successful then in many ways good luck to him.

What I care about is the fact that he has cynically stolen a little piece of my childhood.

In days past the Christmas number one WAS special. Okay, not as earth shattering as Santa Claus forgetting your house but as part of the cultural traditions of Christmas it was fun. People would release songs to try and get to be the Christmas Number One. Radio stations and TV would speculate on which song would make it and children like me would enjoy the slight excitement of it all.

Some of the blame does not lie at Mr Cowell's door. 20 years ago the Christmas Number One was special because it was number one for two whole weeks, due to the fact that the people who counted the chart returns were on holiday. After computerised counting came along, this was all done automatically and the week long gap in counting disappeared.

But still there was a race to be Number One at Christmas. And somehow reaching that goal inferred a kind of pop immortality on the artist that achieved it. For anyone who enjoys and follows pop music this created a national narrative that everyone could join in with.

But Cowell has destroyed that. We know now that the Christmas no.1 will always be a reality TV star winner singing the kind of bland schlocky megaballad that people like Celine Dion churn out.

This cynical corporatisation of culture is emblematic. Everyone who grew up eating Opal Fruits or Marathon Bars, using Oil of Ulay or Jif cleaner has suffered the same erosion of their traditions by the money-makers. Everyone who can no longer shop at a local greengrocer, milliner or one-town department store suffers too. These are, in themselves, microscopic changes, but important. They eat away at the individual nature of culture and memory, gradual corporatising and homogenising the world at the behest of profit.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

today : Chris de Booooooom!


Even the most anti-nuke, pacifist, anti-neocon, regime-appeasing liberal will be thrown into a dilemma with the news that Chris De Burgh is to perform a concert in Tehran. If you knew that the pudding bowl haired overly-sentimental but slightly creepy crooner was to be in an appointed place at an appointed time, would you not be tempted to press the button that sent heavily armed nuclear missiles towards the venue, collaterally vapourising a problematic regime?

Friday, December 07, 2007

today : a lost art

A tiny moment of sweetness echoed through time and landed in my lap today. On opening an old (1957) book I acquired, a letter fell out. it was typed on tissue thin paper through a fading ribbon. Here's what it said. They don't write 'em like this any more.


Sunday May 29th 1960 7.30 a.m.

Dearest beloved Dormouse,


So very good to hear your darling voice again - you always sound like liquid sunshine, and hearing you makes the whole world better for me. Feeling down in the mouth because of this damned cold and 'flu'; and also mainly because of what I think you meant to convey to me about yourself. Never mind, my love, and I'm truly sorry . Don't worry about anything; leave me to worry hard enough for both of us.

This has to be very brief because I must drive quickly to City Square to catch the Saturday post if not already gone (today's Sunday) More tomorrow.

Lots of Love. See you soon my love.


Yours loving old


Bear.

Monday, December 03, 2007

today : Rock the Bells


Last December I wrote about how it's such a shame that Fairytale of New York is designated a Christmas song and more or less ignored as one of the greatest songs of any season. I heard it for the first time today, because December 1st in shoppingworld means that it's Christmas and everyones' lives must be soundtracked by an endless and tedious loop of the same twenty or thirty pop songs featuring mainly bells. Carols don't even make an appearance any more. It has to be Now That's What I Call Xmas Tunes (on triple CD).

My impatience with the contemporary Christmas soundtrack is based on two things:

Firstly, many of the songs aren't even Christmas songs. Since when is A Spaceman Came Travelling by Chris De Burgh a Christmnas song? David Essex's A Winter's Tale, Never Do A Tango With an Eskimo by Alma Cogan. What do Eskimos have to do with Christmas? Baby It's Cold Outside - nothing to do with Christmas, Frankie Goes to Hollywood - The Power of Love, Aled Jones singing Walking in the Air.? Happy New Year by Abba (although I would probably include this because the Abba girls harmonies have a quality that conjures the feeling of melancholy and wistful regret that I feel each time I attend a New Years party)

Perhaps the least Christmassy song of all time is Last Christmas by Wham. Apart from the title, which is occasionally repeated there is nothing in there related to Christmas. It's just a fluffy break up song - probably Wham's worst. The same goes for Stay Another Day by East 17 (whose lead singer Brian Harvey became famous for running himself over with his own car and blaming it on a jacket potato)

It's a pretty repetitive and rather boring song that incidentally features bells. At least Modern Romance released a Christmassy version of their pop salsa hit Best Years of Our Lives in 1982 which featured a sleighbell intro. Somehow they never make it onto compilations.

But here is the problem. Bells and sleigh bells do not make a song into a Christmas song. That would give New York Minute by Don Henley the status of an almost-carol (Come to think of it Someone's going to emergency, someone's going to jail might describe Christmas Eve in some places I know). On the principles involved by the boffins that choose what is a Christmas song for inclusion on a triple CD set, any song that has bells or mentions sleighs, snow, ice, and winter is allowed in the category. So Winter in July by Bomb the Bass, Nantucket Sleighride by Mountain (Which famously was Weekend World with Brian Walden theme tune), Informer by Snow, Ice Ice baby, Cold as Ice, anything by Snow Patrol, Immigrant Song, Hazy Shade of Winter, Black Sabbath's Snowblind, Life in A Northern Town, Winter in America by Gil Scott Heron, Walking on Thin Ice, anything by The Icicle Works, Winterlong by Neil Young, Walk Out To Winter by Aztec Camera, Nine While Nine by the Sisters of Mercy (it mentions Ice on the windowpane), anything by the Drifters, about half of Dead Can Dance's album tracks, Rock The Bells (also Jinglin Baby) by LLCoolJ, Anything by Belle and Sebastian or The Belle Stars. But none of them ever are.

Secondly, we have Slade. Because in Britain at least I wonder why anyone tries to write a Christmas pop song when Slade made the perfect one. Their Merry Xmas Everybody is pretty much the only song you need. It covers all the bases, being a nostalgic paen to Christmasses past for the adults, a checklist of Christmas activities for children and a raucous singalong. It is set in both the real and fantasy world; in fact it is a kitchen sink Cristmas sons without peer, portraying a fantasy of reality ecompassing what Cristmas actually means to normal people (i.e. little or no mention of religion in the lyrics). In the middle eight Momma kissing Santa Claus section it even contains a poignant touch of melancholy - acknowledging in the minor chord sequence the fact that Christmas is the time of year that sometimes triggers family breakdown, relationship difficulties and suicide.

Everything that came after was fake and rather pointless, a bit like someone saying "Y'know, I like what that guy Schubert did but I think I'll come up with a new tune for Ave Maria"

Friday, November 30, 2007

today : Yeah, but I prefferred the one you've never heard of.



So there I was watching Silence of The Lambs the other night. It is fantastic. Discussing it with a friend a couple of days later (this person is incidentally clearly deluded, being a fan of Hannibal - even thinking it's a better film that SOTL), it got me thinking.

I remember when 'Lambs' took over the culture for a while, bagging all those Oscars and being the must see movie of 1991. More than that, it's iconography slipped into the culture. The first example of this I can remember is int he Rosanne show, when DJ went trick or treating on Halloween 1992 and was wheeled around on a trolley with a muzzle on. When the film went ballistic there appeared a category of people who sniffed and declared that it wasn't as good as Manhunter. Hopkins's pantomimic Lecter was nothing like the book. Brian Cox did it much better.

I believe that, at the time, I may have said a few things like that myself. But what I actually doing was just following the lead of snobby broadsheet critics and self-declared cool people who used the Manhunter/Silence of the Lambs comparison as a way to nominate themselves as cooler/cleverer/better read/just better than the public. The same thing happened when Heat came out. People started raving about the TV movie version that Michael Mann made back in the eighties.

I've written before about my displeasure at the cult of 'edgy' and the cultural (actually the snobby media's) obsession with what is 'cool'. The fact remains that some things become popular because they are simply better than other things. There is no real formula to this (or if there is, I am not telling you before I've sold it to Hollywood and the record industry): certain songs, films, TV shows and consumer goods simply strike a chord with masses of the public. And that's that. Toy Story is a good example. It was a global phenomenon - and really really good by anyone's measure.

Which makes the 'cool' crowd uncomfortable. Their raison d'etre is to be different/better from the rest of the mundane world, and it makes them uncomfortable. So what they have to do is create new paradigms of cool and decry their previous pronouncements. Most often this is done by denouncing the creators of the once cool but now necessarily uncool thing.

There was a moment back there when James Blunt singing You're Beautiful was quite cool. I personally don't either love nor hate it, but let's face it, it's a pretty good pop song all in all. It has that wonderfully catchy hook and a simple sentiment that is put over well. Blunt was an interesting character with an unusual back-story. Had the song not taken over the world it would have been fine. But since it hit the top of the charts worldwide and became ubiquitous, it became risible, when really it is just annoying like any overplayed song. Blunt likewise is a laughing stock. His crime? To be successful and rich and apparently having it off with a succession of famous beauties.

In fact music is a great place to look at how cool works. Every music fan can remember being into a band before anyone else and knows the feeling of slight disappointment or even mild betrayal when suddenly they become popular and every bandwagon jumper becomes a fan.

This is most often how critics behave, like bratty adolescents who have had their secret cult taken away from them. But critics are always in the position where they discover things early because they get to see hear and read pretty much everything before the rest of us. That's why the most vitriol is reserved for cultural phenomena that seem to spring up out of nowhere; stuff the public adores without the championing of the critics.

The worst crime a cultural commentator can commit is to not be in the know about what is hot or cool en ce moment.

today : A teacher's lot


Anyone who has spent any time as a teacher witll recognise the plight of Gillian Gibbons. A complete lack of training for new staff in issues that might affect them, a keenness amongst more established staff to pick fault with the new teacher, certain staff members who hurl complaints about their fellow teachers around like confetti, the desire of the management to avoid defending their colleague at all costs and the total willingness of people outside the school to believe that the teacher is not an altruistic professional but somehow an individual whose motivation is pernicious and nasty.

It sounds like pretty much every school I have ever set foot in.

Terrorists Strike The San Fernando Valley (again...yawn)


Perhaps the Hollywood writers' strike is a good thing. For a start off I read that filming of the 2008 season of 24 has been put on hold indefinitely because it hasn't actually been written yet. Maybe the writers and producers of the show can take the opportunity to have rejig, because the 2007 season struggled and wheezed its way, in an attempt to fulfil the whole 24 hour format.

Now I'm not really in the camp that says that 24 is a PR exercise for torture. That's because, unlike the many special interest groups that jump on TV shows and attack their ideology, I know the difference between fiction and the real world. Also, torture has been a staple of spy thrillers since spy thrillers were invented, Felix Leiter being fed to the sharks, Bond strapped to a table with a laser heading for his cojones - torturing spies, and spies torturing others, is a familiar thing, The problem with 24 is that everyone gets tortured, and in increasingly nasty ways. People die from it, or are killed just for the hell of it as Jack and co exercise the demons that drove them to be insomniac action spies in the first place.

It becomes repetitive, and ultimately boring.

The other thing that jumps out more and more is that, with the world teetering on the edge of destruction and Presidents and governments under peril from double agents and power-hungry corruption, all the action takes place within about 20 miles of downtown LA. At least Alias tried to pretend that Sidney and co were zipping around, rendered to all corners of the map to fight their bloodless fights. To have one major world-threatening crisis focused on Los Angeles is okay. Two is just about acceptable. But six in a row is just unbelievable. There is no real reason why much of CTU's work couldn't be done from anywhere, given that it is all based on computer screens. Chloe and Co could easily operate from a cheap site in an industrial estate in Slough and not suffer a dip in performance (and to be honest, if they can only avert a crisis with the help of one maverick agent who only gets anything done if he goes dark, you'd think someone would question their efficiency and done some outsourcing by now). They also seem to get attacked about once a season. If your top anti-terrorist HQ was so vulnerable in real life then you might do something about it - perhaps bulldoze it for the downtown LA real-estate value and build a new one underneath a mountain in Utah.

The problem is that it's just not credible that in trying to take over the world/bring down America/set off nukes, terrorists would repeatedly focus their attack on Los Angeles, a place most people wouldn't notice if it was nuked and a place much of middle America would secretly quite like to be blown to smithereens. In the world of 24 Washington, New York City and any other large city or military installation is ignored.

Yes I know it's budget constraints. The same ones that used to set every cowboy movie in the dry parts of California (and some backlot in Studio City) when the real prairies are green and rather lush, But after so long it gets samey. Spies and anti-terrorist people are different from the rest of us, who restrict our movements between home, work and the shops and inscribe tight geographical circles.

The bottom line is that 24 needs a rethink before the the law of diminishing returns claims it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

today : for whom the 'ding' tolls


I have only just completed watching the final episodes of the Sopranos, given that the show is exclusively a DVD event for me and it was only released here last week. They were imperious, hitting an effortless groove in the way that the first part of season 6 didn't quite attain.

And like everyone (and despite the spoilers that so many media journalist gleefully, stupidly and arrogantly threw around) I was surely surprised by the ending. I think it's great fun that the final diner scene has begun such a huge ongoing discussion. However, I was confounded and unhappy with one element of the final section. I thought that Melfi's conversion and rejection of Tony was too hurried. Those two have such a history that it seemed rushed that Eliot would tell her about a scholarly article, plant a discussion at a dinner party and then bam! she dumps Tony just like that. It didn't really feel natural. But that's a small shrug in the carpet.

So did Tony get capped? My thought is that he didn't. The black screen leaves us, of course to make our own judgements. But the Sopranos is one show that has earned the right to leave loose ends (as opposed to those shows that exist to contrive 'cults').

My preferred thought is that things just carry on. The black screen reminds me of another great unresolved ending in American fiction. i.e. "And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

today : It REALLY IS all Bush's fault.


Last weeks headline was that each American family has spent 20,000 dollars on the war - totalling 2 trillion dollars. But in actual fact that total is closer to 40,000, given that fuel prices in the US have risen at an insane rate. Less trumpeted than the tax figures was the fact that the major oil companies have increased their profits by 2 trillion. Effectively another tax on Americans, and easily trashing the Bush tax cuts from his first term. No wonder the housing market has started to collapse. People are spending all their cash on getting to work and the supermarket.

I still believe that the Bush presidency was based entirely on one simple principle: to help big oil leach the country for as much cash as they could. It is a very clever strategy.The war in Iraq is nothing but a big political funnel, designed to pour cash into the coffers of Bush cronies for years to come. And the oil companies don't even have to speculate to accumulate like other business. It's a no risk deal because not only will the government underwrite the whole project, they will use ordinary tax-payers money to finance it all. The 30 billion of contracts awarded to Halliburton and the like in Iraq were just an apertif. The real cash has and will come in having oil at 100 dollars a barrel. And you can explain it all away by playing the peak oil game - telling the public that this blatant price-gouging is nothing to do with foreign policy and cronyism, but the fact that oil is running out.

It's misdirection worthy of Derren Brown. The government maintains its base by scaring decent conservative people into believing their opponents will legislate to force all All-American sons to turn gay and get married to Queens, insist that every woman should have mandatory abortions and ban prayer, not just in schools, but in the whole country. It is the equivalent of shouting 'look at that!' (in a Barry Davies voice) in order to take a sneaky bite of someone's sandwich.

It is now very clear that the Bush administration has been up there in terms of the worst of all time. The fact is that they have deliberately let down everyone. Including the type of conservative middle Americans that they purport to represent. And the misery is gradually catching up with us over here. The Northern Rock crisis can be directly traced back to the cavalier attitude the Republicans have had to spending and running up deficits. The knock on effect will probably be a house price slowdown in the British economy, interest rate cuts and and bump in inflation. Which kind of undoes all the relatively decent work that Gordon Brown did in flattening the economic cycle and avoiding recession over ten years. How ironic that, now he is PM, Brown is likely to face the most testing economic climate for a decade.

The key thing he had in his favour at the start in 1997 was Clinton's and his balanced budget. Bill was probably the most economically reliable President of recent times. Brown was able to ride the wave of stability for several years before the Republicans' endless spending spree started to kick in.

Monday, November 19, 2007

today : not quite so Spooky

That is the last time you punch me in the face


I want to be a spy. Obviously I possess almost none of the qualities required.For instance I am habitually indiscreet, not especially brave or devious and terminally bad at office politics. I also didn't go to the correct university.

But the reason I want to be a spy is because it's cool. Or was.

Because watching the recent season of Spooks, there seems to be something missing.

Of course Spooks has been on a downhill slope ever since the high point of Lisa Faulkner having her head fried in boiling chip fat. And that was in Season One episode 2.

But over time, enough characters have been killed off that somehow the show has lost its balance. In the first two seasons Zoe and Danny gave the show some heart. When they went the heart was provided by insecure mother hen Ruth and by Adam and Fiona's juggling of marriage and the amorality of an espionage career. But now that has gone.

As far as I understand, David Wolstencraft envisioned it as a behind the scenes drama, exploring the difficulty of being a spy and also a real person. And for much of the first four seasons it managed this. Whether it was Tom putting that woman out of the BT ads into peril or the dangers of his pillow talk with a CIA woman, Danny having to assassinate someone for the first time whilst pining over Zoe, Zoe herself juggling photographer boyfriend, infatuated flatmate and Mata Hari work duties, or Harry and Ruth doing a kind of remains of the day thing, it kind of worked. The missions were always counterbalanced by the personal.

But gradually the spy stuff has taken over and the plots pared down and made more brutal. The heart has gradually drained away. The final drops evaporated with Ruth's bizarre banishing to Venzuela. The female spooks are now the underused cipher Jo (who only seems to exist these days to get punched in the face) and the ice cold Ros, who brings a positive lack of heart to the team. And now Zaf has been 'kidnapped' there is yet another hole in the team, which means pretty much everything focuses on Adam, who has mysteriously got over the death of his wife and his dalliance with the nanny and moved on to more dangerous territory.

Other quite radical changes have happened in the latest season. The entire thing has a continuing storyline, which features much more LeCarre style intrigue and high level politicking than before. I can see what the producers are trying to do. There are only so many race against time scenarios that can be played out until it gets overly repetitious. But it hasn't really worked. Spooks only grips when the pace is quick and the new long-form construction is too slow. Also, they changed the music. There used to be two or three different pieces that signified preparation action and emotion. But they've gone too, contributing to the loss of Spooksness in the new season.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

today : dreamers of the dream


I've never been interested in dream analysis. Mostly it is nonsense on a par with astrology and the like. The endless dictionaries that provide a guide to the symbolism of your average night-time reverie are as pointless as lists of personality traits according to whether you were born with Saturn rising in the Plough, or whatever. I don't think you can interpret a dream where your teeth are falling out in simplistic terms, if at all. Even Freud seems rather flawed. I kind of think that he was on to something conceptually, but The Interpretation of Dreams seems to me, like the other bits and bobs of his original writings that I've read, as much an exercise in building a watertight theory, even if the pieces have to be jammed together to make them fit. Perhaps it was the style of the time to declare yourself right about everything.
(I also wonder if, if dreams are wish fulfilments, then do you have less dreams the happier you are, given that you have less unfulfilled wishes?)

There are people who endlessly write down their dreams in order to analyse them. I must say, I've done it once or twice in the past. It can be fun to connect remembered fragments of dreams to waking experience, emotional quandaries and such. But I don't really hold by the idea that there is much credence in this. It's like cold reading. If you are looking for a connection you will find it. The recurring dream in which I have tender and intensely vivid sexual encounters with ****** ********, a girl I fancied rather strongly 20 years ago, signify nothing other than a possible measure of regret that I only adored her from afar and, although I did once share a bed with her, did not actually have a waking sexual encounter with her. I seem to remember it involved industrial quantities of alcohol. There is a little mystery in that I only started remembering the dream about 3 or 4 years ago and what happened in the intervening 11 years, I don't know. Maybe there is some sound or fragrance in my house that triggers it, or something.

In some ways I wish it had stayed unremembered.

What got me really thinking about this was an especially vivid dream that I was awoken from by the milkman's pick-up truck having a broken exhaust silencer. The milk-man delivers about 3-30 am each morning to the cafes and restaurants close by to where I live. My street is the closest to get access to the back of these places, and there is a useful alleyway for them to use. Mostly, the sound of the truck and the clink and rattle of crates of milk bottles doesn't wake me. But one morning a few months ago the truck obviously was having problems. It roared along the street like a stock car, and in a second I was stone awake, propelled right out of a dream. I couldn't move for half a second and then remembered that I'd been dreaming. The fact that I awoke so quickly must have short circuited the dream into my memory, and it didn't evaporate. The details are fairly mundane, and did not feature ****** ******** whatsoever. In fact the main detail was the feeling I had at the moment I woke up. In my interrupted dream I had walked into a room, knowing, as I walked along the long corridor towards the door, that I'd visited it many years before. It was utterly familiar. I'd apparently experienced deja vu inside my dream.

I have no scientific knowledge of the nature of dreams. In many ways the tantalising wispiness of a half remembered dream is the best thing about them. The fact that it gets away from you and doesn't seem to inhabit accessible memory is where the intrigue lies. The fantasy that I constructed on the the back of my dream deja vu experience is that it was not deja vu, but that I was actually visiting a room I'd been into years earlier. That inside my dreams there is a narrative that spans over years and decades. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was an entirely parallel life that is lived whilst asleep?. I'm not talking about real Schrodinger's Cat kind of parallel universes or anything that can be described as spiritual. (I pretty much think that people who see ghosts, experience alien abduction, have out of body experiences or visit the gates of heaven are just mistaking their dreams for reality).
What I do like is the notion that maybe the life inside our dreams is not random or schizophrenic, but ongoing and interconnected, perhaps in the shape of an unfolding modernist novel.

It would be nice to know that in this alternative unconscious universe, without having laid eyes on or spoken to her in waking life for almost 20 years, actually I'd been ****** ********'s lover for at least 11 years.

Monday, November 12, 2007

today : some more on how it is


The thing about writing about depression is that it isn't a pleasant read. I looked at my last entry, which was an honest attempt to portray my feelings on the subject, and felt a shudder of revulsion. This was because my words look like pathetic self-pitying whingeing. Which, of course, is exactly what they are. That's what it's about.

And to admit the utter meaningless of life - or even get close to it, is taboo. It's the dilemma faced in discussion of any taboo. How can you discuss the power of using the 'n' word when use of the 'n' word is taboo? You can't, without facing sounding racist or ridiculous. Cultural rules don't allow us to be comfortable with such topics.

The thing is, you're supposed to have perspective on these things. Descriptions of despair can only be in two categories: the reassuring scientific diagnosis or the equally reassuring haven of poetry and art. Simply talking about it outside the boundaries of psychology or art is not allowed. Normalising total negativity isn't something we do, despite it being many peoples' normal experience.

Even to use the word nihilism to describe my feelings about myself and the world gives them a theoretical, political aspect that isn't really there. Depression is nihilistic but you don't come to a considered conclusion to reject belief. It's just how it is, how it feels. It even happens against your better judgement, so to speak. But that's because you don't have functioning better judgement.

Writing about suicide is even more taboo. There is nothing more ridiculous and ironic than suicide being a crime. Because by definition a crime is something not only transgresses society's agreed norms, but can be punished. If you're at the point where you will take your own life, then I doubt anything can act as a deterrent.

I used to, like pretty much everyone, see suicides in two categories: cowards and attention seekers. There may be some truth in those stereotypes. But I can also see that there is a point at which giving up is so much easier than 'soldiering' on (even the phrase carries some stern moralistic overtones that define those that don't as the opposite of soldiers i.e. cowards). Cowardice (whatever that actually is - it's one of the most relative concepts) has nothing to do with it. Only last week Britain was kind of shocked and disbelieving about Jehovah's Witness - a young mother - whom, having given birth refused a blood transfusion and promptly died. Who, amongst the population wouldn't take the blood transfusion to make them better? Who wouldn't give up an arm or a leg if it was gangrenous? Who would face an operation without morphine? So if the world is totally unbearable and the absolute perception is that there is no way to make that feeling better, then who would refuse the pain relief? It's just logical. At least suicides have some control and some esteem in their actions. If a light is giving you a blinding headache who wouldn't get up and switch it off?

Yet the immorality of self elimination is so deeply dyed into our cultural genes that we just don't want to talk about it (also, it's a type of death, and we avoid discussion of death entirely). Again it is simplified for consumption. The coward or the attention seeker. Reducing people to these simple and easily rejectable categories is almost as if we are saying these people deserved to die. They don't fit in with the rest of us. They were worthless.

What's difficult to grasp is that self-eliminators are on the most part not the Jehovah's Witnesses who make a choice and take their chances with God's will. Suicides are people who either have, or conclude they have, no choices. When the pain is this total in nature, then the painkiller has to match it.







today : this is how it is


Depression is such a difficult thing to describe. It's like love in some ways, in that the literature of love is composed entirely of metaphorical attempts to basically sum up in words that which can only really be wordless, or beyond. Pretty much all emotion is the same.

Swimming through molasses, fighting through a fog, weighed down with lead. The fact is that the very essence of depression is its wholly prosaic nature. There is nothing poetic about it for me. Its mundanity is its curse. If Morrisey had been truly depressed then writing lyrics would have been beyond him. Forming a band would have been an unreachable dream.

When love is described as a series of processes, it becomes pornography. When depression is described as a series of processes it becomes diagnosis or melodrama.

For me depression is characterised by inability. The inability to face and perform the most basic, normal,. fundamental tasks of living that otherwise are the bits of life that we don't even think about. Those undramatic gluey bits of everyday life that soap operas cut out, if you like.

Going out of the door becomes a task that engenders the same level and intensity of fear as crawling through a flooded cave or jumping from a tall cliff into water (both of which I have done). The nervousness that might afflict a lone traveller at night in a strange city, afflicts me when walking round the supermarket or out on the street.

Sometimes in life there are things that aren't pleasant. I'm not talking about major surgery or identifying a body. I'm talking about things that simply hold little or no pleasure.Chores. Balancing a cheque book, paying the gas bill, hoovering. These kind of activities - jobs if you like - loom as massively as running a marathon or facing the results of a biopsy.

The littlest of setbacks, sometimes not even setbacks, just incidents with the potential for negativity, can send my mind running and racing like an over-revving old car with the choke left out. The paths of thought speed on down the road not taken all the way to the edge of a cliff. Visualising what might happen in any given situation leads inexorably to doomsday scenarios. The paths of optimism are simply blocked off and my mind is forced to follow the low road.

Here is a scenario. A minor problem arises. Maybe a utility company informing me that my bills are going to rise. A standard letter sent to all customers. The idea of paying more when I have less and less starts me off. Almost immediately I see a situation where I can't make the new payments and end up defaulting and facing the utility cut off. Even worse is having to borrow to pay the extra, thereby admitting that I couldn't keep up the payments or even worse, provide enough for myself to survive. Driving in the car the doomsday scenario looms. Defaulting will dent my credit record and make it even more difficult for me to have the normal balanced middle class life I aspire to. I already have almost nothing and acquiring it will take a step nearer impossible. Oh, given that I'm disabled I'll never earn enough to afford a mortgage. I'm disabled. Perhaps I could afford a mortgage if I had a partner. But I'm disabled. Who wants to marry a cripple? A depressed cripple. There was so and so and then so and so. Would've liked to marry them. But they rejected me because I wasn't good enough, most often not physically what they aspire to. I am a reject. A depressed crippled reject. A bitter depressed crippled reject. And I'm not young any more. And I'm only going to get more disabled. And financially I'm not even in a position to own my own house. And the car is now making a strange noise and needs fixing.

And the panic attack starts. Light-headed, tightening chest, headaches, shame. Shame because I used to be able to handle everything with relative ease and now a letter from the utility company has crushed me and funnelled me into having a panic attack. I'm freaking out. I can't concentrate on anything long enough to work it out. I can only think how I'm a pathetic bitter, crippled reject who can't face the simplest of everyday incidents without spiralling out of control.

It almost looks ludicrous when it's written down. But this is how it is.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

today : The Martial Plan


It's the same old story. You get yourself in power by, what some people would call, foul means, you do a pretty average to poor job (and possibly corrupt) of running your country, almost completely funded by debt and loans and the support of some rather dodgy allies. Then, as your popularity crumbles away, in order to retain power, you start to take away citizens' rights under the guise of fighting extremism and terrorists, and sack any judges that have disagreeing political opinions to yours.

It seems that from not even knowing Musharraf's name in 1999, Bush is now friendly enough with the General to email him a copy of Rove's playbook.

Monday, November 05, 2007

today : TV reviewlets


The Sarah Silverman Program

Just got this on the Comedy Channel and it's basically a low rent pointless rip off of Larry David Whichever self-absorbed fool is behind this stuff they didn't even get the point. At least 'Larry's' comedy was based on him trying to do the right thing and being hapless. The 'Sarah' character just behaves like an awful wanker and someone needs to kick her in the shins. Anyone can write toe-curling; the hard thing is writing jokes. Even harder is pulling off the trick where the audience just don't want the characters to die immediately because they are so annoying.

Californication

Don't understand this. Is it someones idea of a fantasy of cynical cool, a satire of cynical cool or just made by people who think they are so cynically cool that they haven't noticed that they are inhabiting the inside of their own backsides? either way it's a comedy drama that has no drama and even less comedy, peopled by appalling shallow characters you would punch if you met them.

Ugly Betty

So, it turns out that fashion people are stupid pathetic shallow backstabbing vermin. Thanks for the enlightenment. See also, America's Next Top Model where the contestants are photographed as murder victims and then congratulated : "Wow! you actually look dead!"

Lost

As entertaining as doing a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on it, or a crossword made up entirely of consonants. Showing the endless drink driving trials would be more fun.

Thursdays are funny on BBC2

Ermm...no they aren't. Jennifer Saunders satirises TV. Her character is wholly vile, and ...wait for it...her name is Vivian Vyle!. Genius. Peter Serafinowicz seems like a nice chap, unfortunately the scripts are a compilation of all those sketches that magazine writers who harbour the mistaken belief that they are great undiscovered comedy writing talents and that the lame drunken jokes they made with their mates at the weekend or in the sixth form, are worth writing down and turning into comedy sketches, write in their magazines when they haven't got enough actual writing to fill the magazine. Also stuff that was found on the floor in the abandoned Hale and Pace writers room. And by the way I've simply had enough of Graham Norton giggling about bottoms.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

today : I kill a conversation



The other day I got into a political discussion with someone I didn't want to discuss politics with. I just wasn't in the mood and I knew this person enjoys testing himself against me each time we meet. Sometimes I enjoy it but generally it gets a bit macho and rather pointless. Although we occupy different parts of the political spectrum, I don't violently disagree with him in quite a few areas, but as I said, I wasn't in the mood.

Out of politeness, this time I went along with it for a bit. The topic quickly strayed towards immigration, and I shouldn't have worried about how to let the guy have his debate fun and then move along before I got bored. When I declared that immigration was the political topic that I was least bothered about and that the only reason it is shoved it the top of the political agenda is that it is yet another false enemy that deflects people away from noticing and worrying about the manipulation of power by international corporate interests, the conversation ground to a halt. I didn't even get to the bit where I point out the irony that a globalised economy needs freeflow of migrants in the same way it needs a free flow of goods and capital, yet they were playing on peoples' racist and xenophobic tendencies in order to scare people into chasing invisible ghosts.

The fact is that my adversary simply refused to believe that on a list of important issues from 1 to 10, immigration, on my list would be a firm number 10. It simply did not compute. The responses moved from 'How can you say that?' to 'I don't believe you believe that.' almost instantly. He could not accept that I am not worried about foreigners invading our nation, about people coming over here and using our health service, jobs and housing or any of the other issues that mindless knee-jerk racist xenophobes (...sorry, reasonable anti-immigration people) parrot out as their objection to immigrants. The conversation ended.

He didn't walk away sighing and shaking his head from side to side, but he may as well have done. Instead he looked up and addressed the room. His exit strategy was quintessentially British.
"Anyone for a drink?" he asked.



Thursday, November 01, 2007

today : I challenge conventional wisdom


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
Show me in the poem where it says that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. Go on!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

today : adults only



The other day I was listening to Elgar's Cello Concerto and drinking a tot of malt. Now I am not a habitual drinker. I can go for months without touching alcohol at all. In fact, there are plenty of alcoholic drinks that I don't even like. Wine for instance. Sometimes it is wonderful, but much of the time I can take or leave it. Unlike many who don't drink I possess no moral stance against alcohol, nor am I in a twelve step programme. I just don't care for it much.

Actually there is a reason why I forswear drinking. If you have mobility issues, then reliance on a car is paramount. Couple that with the sheer amount of painkillers I tend to take, then alcohol doesn't go well in the mix. Rather than being a social lubricant, it becomes restrictive. This, I must admit has led to many a night when I have watched the evening get away from me. Even in a lightly toasted (why doesn't use the word 'tight' anymore to describe intoxication. It seems to have died out in the seventies?) state, a room full of people move psychologically and socially into a place the non-drinker finds hard to access.

Anyway, I digressed away from what I was really thinking about. That is : when did I become an adult?

If you saw me you would think this obvious, as I am clearly a middle aged man. Yet adulthood isn't really about looks. It's more about attitude. It's a concept. A friend of mine who is only slightly younger than I recently bought a house and complained about the sheer responsibility of getting broken bits of it fixed. The roof and the floor were just going to sit there in a state of brokenness until they took on the task of sorting it out. No more calling the landlord.

Which brings me back to single malt whisky. I do like a nip now and again, and keep a decent bottle or two in the house. Whisky is a defiantly adult drink and drinking it is an adult experience. You almost never see young people drinking whiskey. I imagine that appreciation of malt requires a maturity of palate. Let's face it, whiskey is pretty awful in many ways. It's bitter, very strong and has little sweetness to soften the taste. It is, all in all, a rather jagged experience.

Now I'm sure there are millions of people who have written rapturously about whiskey. I'm not going to attempt anything like that. But suffice to say that jaggedness, the sheer borderline unpleasantness, is where the pleasure lies. Whiskey drinking isn't easy. It's complex and challenging. Whiskey is one of those drinks that almost defies you to like it.

Somewhere down the line this became appealing to me. When was that?

today : girl in water

© photo by me 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

today : oh my God I still can't believe it.


Personally I don't believe in a creator. None of the organised religious doctrines add up to me. There are always unbridgable gaps in logic. I guess that's where faith comes in. In my teenage years I flirted with religion but even though I tried quite hard, just could never bring myself to make the leap of faith. I always wanted more answers before I made a decision.

Now that doesn't mean that I am closed to religion. What disturbs me slightly about the new atheism is that it seems to be predicated on actively disliking religion and even (as Ainsley Hayes accuses Sam and Josh in season one of the West Wing when they talk about gun control) hating the people. Dawkins rhetoric is inflammatory, such as aligning religious education with child abuse. And I don't disagree with that it some ways. Anything that removes choice from a person's repertoire by making it taboo is to be frowned upon. Clearly Dawkins' mission is to promote atheism as a proactive ideology rather than a passive, disinterested stance, and his language does the job admirably.

Yet personally I can't quite bring myself to dislike or even disrespect the vast majority of Christians, Muslims or whatever that I know. I even recently met a Wiccan (although I think that he wasn't really a practising Wiccan, given that I knew more about his religion than he did. I think it was just a pose). I guess in this way my feelings are similar to when I was a teenager. Only this time I can't quite bring myself to make the leap of lack of faith.

I've touched on this before but what makes me uncomfortable is the increasing level at which religion is derided as a matter of course. Yes, I am deeply uncomfortable about the more fringe elements of the radical right. in the USA. But I am willing to bet that most American Christians are either fairly decent people or don't know any better. Few of them possess the malevolence of money grabbing preachers or racist talk show hosts. Similarly, I don't know a practising declared Muslim or Christian who isn't wholly focused on their family and pretty much wholly committed to being...well, nice. And it's the niceness that I find appealing about religious folk. However bizarre and illogical their belief in a creator, the moral framework that religion gives them generally means that they at least, try to be pleasant.

Ultimately, whatever your opinion of religions themselves, there are more religious people who don't use their belief in a creator as a reason or a pretext for war than those that do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

today : oh my God I can't believe it


It's dead trendy these days to be an atheist. I'm not talking about the kind of passive atheism of the regular non-churchgoer (which could maybe best described as mere disinterest), but since everyone's been reading Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion, it has now become fashionable among the kind of dinner party intellectuals who read popular science books to declare their disbelief in any kind of creator in between insisting that Rudy Giuliani's Zero Tolerance wasn't really the cause of the decline in crime in New York, but that the introduction of abortion 20 years previously was the key factor...because statistics prove it.

Dawkins brand of zealous atheism is an interesting and odd phenomenon. Perhaps he is expressing, and crystallising, the feelings of many people, but this outbreak of atheism is basically a lot of people declaring allegiance to a negative. How odd would it be to write a book and attach an 'ism' to, for example, people who dislike cheese. Unfromagism. Or everyone who doesn't support Man Utd. Antifergusonism. In fact it's quite a good game to invent negative ism,. abonoism: don't like U2, antiastrosim : don't believe in horoscopes, aterrapiazzism : lack of belief that the earth is flat.

I wonder if the whole 'new atheism' is a rather serious phenomenon. After all God has been on His last legs for almost a century. But the current times (end or not) are battered by the breakers of belief. What with fundamentalist Christianity on one side and fundamentalist Islam on the other, with a myriad of bizarre beliefs inbetween, perhaps iteration of faith in the visible is some kind of reaction to the irrational nature of the forces that are shaping and threatening the world.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

today : When the hammer falls

Little do they know but in a few years they will probably be dead


Like many men of my age, I am acutely aware of the fact that bits of me are wearing out. It can lead to accusations of hypochondria, which I counter by waving my disabled credentials at people. In fact, further proof comes from the fact that the NHS would not spend the money on fixing me were there nothing wrong: ergo I can't be a middle aged hypochondriac but actually ill. So I am about to face a pretty major operation to fix my ankle and allow me to walk again without excruciating pain. Naturally, I am worried. There is a significant chance the operation may fail, leading me to never walking again. And that is before I start to think about the fact that operations can go hideously wrong and kill people, as well as MRSA and the like.

But the main worry I am having is being incapacitated for several months. I will be more or less unable to move. This means that despite my better instincts I will probably give in to the temptations of boredom and switch on the TV during the day. I am not looking forward to it, because daytime TV is definitely the worst invention of modern times.

I don't remember the beginning of daytime TV in the modern sense. The earliest I recall is Afternoon Plus, which I am pretty sure featured Judith Chalmers before she turned orange (she was in black and white in those days, so I can't be sure). This must have been from when I was a small child in the early to mid seventies. Afternoon Plus featured the usual housewifey interest items such as yoga, cookery, how to sew curtains and becoming emotionally stable in a fraught, loveless and deeply unsatisfying marriage with only small doses of Valium. Later, there was Crown Court. Still one of the best shows ever on TV. It was cheaply made on one set and, in playing out single court cases, had a small cast. I remember being utterly gripped by it all. In fact I can't fathom why it hasn't been revived. Not only are court cases essentially gripping, but a show like this would fulfil a public service remit - seeing as, in this country we know more about the US legal system than our own.


Fast forward to the present day. Afternoon Plus kind of still exists in the shape of This Morning, which features a range of housewifey interest items from yoga all the way to cookery. But elsewhere the schedules have been consumed by a bunch of self replicating clone shows that are all different spins on buying, selling and cookery. In the case of buying and selling you have two choices : antiques or houses. One glance at the morning's TV schedules reveals :


Grand Designs,
Trade Secrets, How Clean Is Your House?, Property Ladder, Location, Location, Relocation, Relocation, Selling Houses, A Place In The Sun, DIY SOS, Homes Under The Hammer, Escape to The Country, To Buy or Not to Buy, Cash in the Attic, Bargain Hunt, Sun, Sea and Bargain Spotting Car Booty, Flog It

Oftentimes these shows are on consecutively. So that the daytime becomes an infinite vortex of valuations, makeovers and 'character' auctioneers. The BBC ones like Flog it or Cash in The Attic also endlessly drag out the action, so there is a valuation, a reminder of the valuation, another reminder of the valuation when the thing gets to auction, a couple more reminders of the valuation during the auction, a declaration of the sold price (with a valuation reminder on screen just to be sure), a reminder of how much the item went for, a pointless guessing interlude where the presenter wonders how much the running total is so far, followed by a voiceover reminding us how much we were after and how much short or long the prices are so far, followed by, at the end of the auction, another guess at the possible total followed by an announcement of the total and how much short or long it is of the target amount. In short, it is TV for people with Alzheimer's.


The shows are presented by the kind of people whom, in the past would have made half a living writing shallow articles for Womens' Realm and the Readers Digest Monthly. On daytime TV they are the 'experts'. The valuers are mainly antiques dealers who have watched too many episodes of Lovejoy, and many consider themselves eccentric. Now we all know that the worst thing in the world is someone who considers themself eccentric, wacky or in any way a 'personality'. They are, without fail, the shallowest and most annoying people you could ever meet. Why do they end up on telly? Is there not a person somewhere in TV land who has the nouse and the balls to just say no to these people? It seems not. It seems they roll out the red carpet and give them money.

It's like handing out guns to terrorists.


The house shows are just as bad. In fact they are pernicious and evil as well as being tedious. The nation is in the grip of a neverending obsession with house prices, which in part is fuelled by the obsession pumping out of the corner of the living room all day every day,
In the past people who bought a house, bought the house and then proceeded to remake it in their own image. It was a long term project. These days there seems to be some idea that people want to buy a house straight out of a magazine (or a TV show). The TV shows fuel this expectation. In effect the cost of upgrading a house in your own image, rather than being spread over several decades, is put onto the initial buying price of the property. In the past people bought a house to live in. Nowadays people don't talk about houses and homes, but 'The Property Ladder'. Making money from property is apparently the main objective of purchasing a house. I know people who literally sit at home with a calculator working out how much they have made each day from the rise in the value of their house.

The thing that the house shows don't do is actually explain that house prices can (and will) go up as well as down and that there is no inevitability in an inexorable rise in 'prices' (when these people say prices, what they actually mean is values, but the underlying concepts of economics are generally beyond these preening buffoons). When the hammer falls on the property bubble we will look back on these endless shows as quaint reminders of the time when we all thought the party would never end - a bit like those charming home movies of people barrelling around in open top cars and throwing beach balls to each other during the inter-war years.


So what will I do with my time when I am incapacitated? Probably listen to the World Service and do jigsaws.

Monday, October 15, 2007

today : to lose one leader...


Whoops, dem libdems shoulda listened to their uncle saltydog two years ago when they were warned not to chicken out from choosing simon hughes as their leader. but, of course they did, given that it turned out he was gay n'all. so they went with the safe pair of hands that turned out to be so safe, not even the safest of safe-lovin' voters would vote for them. of course, they've gone n done it again. flatlining poll numbers mean nothing, especially on the back of a tory bounce created solely by a media who were cheesed off that they didn't get to write their 'brown's faltering start' stories (with a little help from brown's spin doctors, whom, fearful of their jobs post tony, decided to spin brown a little too hard until he fell off of the slippery rotating disc like some Jeux Sans Frontieres contestant dressed as a giraffe and carrying a bucket of jelly).

so they are back at sq 1. only now hughes is a party elder and unwilling to run. i don't blame him, maybe he didn't want all the homophobic innuendo and 'investigations' that would come his way, as they would any openly gay party leader.

for all the reasons i have stated before - quick recap, the party system needs a centre to stop us from becoming ridiculous like America and to hold the magnetic centre between the left's tendency to become shouty student activists with right-on piercings and finicky right on-ness, and the right's tendency to want to murder non-whites and lurk around the doors of Netto stealing money off the poor, plus who will people in Cornwall vote for? - the libdems need to get their act together, and quick. Ming was pretty useless as a leader, but Kennedy wasn't. I wonder if he's got his refuelling under control? Y'never hear about it. They need someone, if not openly gay, but
really liberal, to make Cameron look like the establishment wolf in family friendly clothing that he is, and to remind labour that authority and authoritarianism are not the same thing, despite being close to each other in the dictionary.

today : no need for satire


Thursday, October 11, 2007

today : 2 o' clock

© photo by me 2007

today : excuses excuses (and ouch!)


It is unusual for me not to post for a week. However, an operation on my bad ankle has made it very difficult for me to type. Why? you may well legitimately ask. Surely your fingers are not affected adversely by a procedure on your ankle?

Your logic would be sound, because my fingers are not affected at all. But, as I cannot get up the stairs to the computer, this point would be immaterial.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

today : clouds at dusk

© photo by me 2007

today : unrewriting history


I am pretty sure that weddings count as normal social occasions, and the one I attended at the weekend seemed such. Yet for me it was not normal. Friday I knew that I was going to struggle, as a stress fracture in my foot was causing me a lot of pain. Also, due tot he fracture, a slight over-reliance on my other foot over previous days was giving me trouble too. Both my feet are painful and afflicted by various problems. Only this was one of the times when it was just worse. Both were injured and both were agonising.

Waking up early Saturday morning I pretty much couldn't walk. By this I mean that the pain meant that I could barely put my feet to the floor. Actual movement was next to impossible. Yet I had a wedding to attend. I am extremely fond of the bride (yet another of my favourite women
mystifyingly marrying someone who isn't me) and did not want to miss her special day.

I climbed in the car and set off for the 300 mile drive from where I live to the venue in Scotland. Upon arrival I decided that I would simply try and do what I always do, which is to make it through and just ignore the pain. I tried. I really did, but ended up leaving before the wedding breakfast and driving the 300 miles home.

When I made the decision to leave I made light of it. I wrote the history thus:
"It's fine. I'm just having one of those bad days. I'm oh-so glad that I came. It was a lovely wedding. I'm ever so sorry I can't stay longer..."
As well as the fact that we disabled people tend to live on little enough money that even one night in a very well appointed country hotel is just another
unpayable debt; so staying late and therefore staying over was out of the question, it wasn't really fine.

Yes, I was having a particularly bad day: in more pain than usual and less able to ignore it. But this normal social occasion was simply out of my reach. It started with standing around in the bar chatting. What can you do but sit down, and therefore be under the conversation of the other adults and too immobile to to join in with the kids?

After the ceremony, which was delightful, there were the photographs. Two steep flights of stairs were easier than walking a hundred yards to a lift, so I negotiated them. The photographic set up was in the middle of a lawn, accessible by some more steps or a steep grassy bank. Everyone wandered onto the lawn, accepting canapes and drinks from the mingling waiters. I stood, leaning against a low window sill, and watched the guests head across the grass to where the photographer wanted them. I then watched the waiters go by, taking the canapes and drinks to the assembled revellers. They walked by me far enough away that I wasn't in their focus, but too far away for me to hail them without shouting. The photographer walked past me and went back up the steps to a balcony, where he ran through his little script, gathering the guests in groups for their photos. Then he moved people to the other side of the lawn where more groups were photographed on the steps of a summer house.

The waiters took more drinks out onto the lawn. Clearly the photographs were finished but the guests were encouraged to mingle on the grass for almost another hour. After about 10 minutes I headed inside. The party was happening 100 yards from me and I had nowhere to sit down. I shuffled my way to the lift (ironically there were stairs to get to it) and went back upstairs. I decided to wait in the dining room. So I found my place and sat down to wait. After a minute or two a nice hotel staff member informed me that the dining room wasn't yet prepared and would I mind moving next door to the ballroom? So I stood up again and walked to the ballroom to wait. About another half an hour elapsed before the other guests were ushered back indoors. As they arrived, someone started up some music and an emcee began to instruct how everyone to dance a traditional reel. This was a prelude to the post meal entertainment - which was to be a Ceilidh.

It was at this moment that I decided to leave. The flow of social activities for the day involved nothing I was physically capable of joining in with. Nothing that did not, or would not, cause me more pain. The steps and getting to the lift had increased the level to about an eight and a half out of ten. The
endorphins were kicking in and I had no appetite.

What actually happened was that I borrowed
someone's room key and went to lie down. I knew it wasn't going to work, in terms of getting me physically back in the game, but I didn't want anyone to think I had left impolitely, without appearing to try. I really didn't want there to be a fuss. I have been to enough weddings where some guests try and make the day about themselves rather than the marrying couple and I think it selfish and appalling. I also absolve the bride or groom. Neither was in any way responsible for my position. They had to be attentive to everyone there, and neither of them is my personal assistant, advocate or Mother. I stayed in the room for two hours or more, until the meal and speeches were over.

The fact is that the history I wrote when I left was mostly false. The service was pleasant, but every other part of the day was nightmarish for me. I am used to being in pain. That's just a regular thing. But the real reason I left was the absolute feeling of exclusion. There was this party happening and every part of it was predicated on being able bodied. Going up and downstairs,
mingling on the lawn, dancing a reel, being turfed out of my seat for not being like the other guests, even getting to a room (had I booked one). I was, by necessity, abandoned on the sidelines. I ended up with my nose pressed against the window, watching life happen inside. I may as well have just not been there. And as far as records show, I wasn't. The photographer simply hadn't thought to change his routine so I could be included, so I was just left out. The world of this normal social occasion could not handle someone abnormal, so I was ignored.

It was only luck that meant as I was leaving he was too. I grabbed him and insisted he took a photo of me with the happy couple. Had our paths not intersected, then I would have been excised as well as excluded, like some disgraced Soviet general being airbrushed, or a mad cousin hidden in an asylum so as not to bring shame on the family.