Friday, 18 December 2009

750 - Loving Cancer

Four and a half years ago I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. So now when I walk a tightrope I carry a marble in my right hand.

There's cancer in my family history too. More serious stuff. Sometimes I mull, on both accounts, because it makes good sense to mull. I don't think that's hyperchondria, just provisional planning.

Given my spirituality, which is that everything is interconnected, and everything is love, I've been wondering how to love cancer. Mine, and the stuff in general. What works, I think, is this.

I know it's usual to think of myself as a discrete (meaning separate) being. We speciate, over millenia, become unique and unmingleable creatures. We also speciate within ourselves: stem-cells become bone-cells or neurons or blood-cells, which occupy a particular niche in the body, and no other. Geoffrey Miller, in Spent, introduces this thought eloquently. He's far less than convinced that we speciate psychologically, developing personality traits that equip us for particular roles, which are not, then, readily transferable to other cultural or biological situations. However, insofar as it doesn't make sense to be a wise man at fifteen, or a flirt at a funeral, and insofar as there are distinct personality dimensions which vary, admittedly on a bell-curve, from person to person, I think that a case could be made for this, too.

Cancer is about cells mutating to do what they are not equipped to do (chiefly to grow, unstoppably). Cancer cells breakdance when they should be brokering deals. They offend our sense that we are sacrosanct, every cell with a purpose, every intrusion guarded against.

But there's enough biology out here to argue the opposite. Endosymbiotic theory, for example, argues that our cells contain fragments of viruses and other living matter: our mitochondria existed as creatures in their own right before our distant ancestor cells absorbed or were invaded by them. Now they power our cells. As fast as we consolidate our uniqueness from other creatures by breeding amongst ourselves, random mutation and other environmental factors acting upon us compel new variations of form. These have resulted in our present appearance, but biologists say our present appearance is far from perfect, inevitable, or 'finished'. Psychologically, culturally, our world shifts and blends, sharing words and ideas: that's what culture means.

I feel my spirituality has to embrace this, and if it does, I can no longer make the blanket declaration that I, in pristine form, am unintrudable upon, or that mutation is, by definition, bad. If it's all natural, in a loving world, then it's all loving.

There is a force to this, to drive me from complacency. But in this sense it is the drive from innocence to experience to, as mystics call it, second innocence. I am forced beyond the limits of my body to consider greater permeability, greater interconnectedness. Physically, I lose a part of myself, perhaps, but that part feeds a bacterium that feeds, or acts upon, the environment near it, and the food-chain is recharged (my ball entering a food-chain is admittedly a bit icky). Or psychologically, my surgeon gains self-esteem, a lift which augurs well for his or her family's well-being. Why not consider this a result of the cancer? If it is not accounted for, of course all that remains to be said is bad press. It depends where you draw your lines, and I draw wider lines now than I did before.

The interconnectedness feeds in the other direction, too. If illness can raise a medical institution (I've been well-served by the Northern Cancer Care Trust), it is also true that an institution can raise an illness, as builders and engineers with asbestosis testify. And finally, that institutions can become cancerous (mentioning, in one instance, no financial names, and, by implication, demanding of myself that perhaps the bankers are not morally reprehensible, and doing no more than their brief part in our vast cosmological interconnection.)

I've rambled. Better get back on the tightrope.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

751 - Quote From 'Spent' Supportive Of Storying

Spent by Geoffrey Miller is providing me with some valuable insight into the evolutionary psychology behind pop culture and consumerism. The quote that follows sums up, in a flourish, our long history of role-playing: where, evolutionarily, it comes from, and where, technologically, it may be going.

This is just the kind of scientific perspective my arguments about the art of storying need to build on if they are to amount to anything, so it is encouraging to catch in Miller's writing such joie de vivre, such engagement with the imagination. The paragraph follows a discussion of avatars in the role-playing game World of Warcraft:

Most animals have very little behavioral control over their physical appearance. They can groom themselves to keep feathers or fur clean, but they cannot select a different species, sex, age, shape, color, or body texture. Ever since humans invented body ornamentation at least a hundred thousand years ago, however, we have been able to transform our bodies in ever more dramatic ways. Tribal peoples wear animal masks; British civil servants cross-dress; children play dress-up; the Florida elderly don toddler-bright colors. As people do more of their socializing through virtual-reality worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, their visual appearance is becoming less constrained by their true physical characteristics, and more constrained by their psychological traits, such as aesthetic preferences and idealized self-images. Virtual-reality users will soon be able to create avatars that resemble a mini-Mao, a Botox syringe, a mantis-legged cantaloupe, a pearl necklace, Nigella Lawson, or the evil Archimandrite Luseferous from the Iain M. Banks novel The Algebraist. Such customized avatars will reveal nothing about the physical appearance of the users, but a lot about their psychology. They will demonstrate more forcefully than ever before that consumerism is not about owning material objects, but about displaying [the "Central Six" individual differences that distinguish human minds from one another]. [pp. 142-3]

I particularly note the mixing of fact and fiction, literary allusions, and reference to idealized self-images. The Storying argument is that the opportunities laid before us in virtual-reality function because they are already radically present in true-reality. Storying is about winkling out and expanding these opportunities in first as well as second life. It is music played on the strings Geoffrey Miller and others have analyzed.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

752 - Hairy Toe

Dug this out: a rough for a storyboard for use in schools, illustrating a Halloween poem about an old woman who finds a hairy toe in her vegetable patch. Come night-time, the owner of the toe creeps into her house to get it back...

I don't know if anything ever came of the project. The idea was to use images of the bones (no pun intended...) of the poem's plot to inspire children to write their own verse. They'd then be presented with the original poem to read alongside their own.

I like the egalitarian approach, and the focus on pre-word inspiration. I'd hate to think the idea disappeared...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

753 - As A Left-Leaning Guardian Reader, Why I'm Looking Forward To A Tory Government

It's about ideals.

I can remember discussing the merits or otherwise of Maggie Thatcher coming to power in 1979 with my friend, James Goodman, aged eight. And I can remember reading about the Falklands in my parents' paper of choice, the Telegraph, before they switched to the (namby-pamby) Times.

But in the eighties, as a teenager, Channel 4 grabbed me, and Channel 4 was the Tube, and Friday Night Live, and late night movies with a triangle in one corner to guarantee something shocking (sex rather than violence, I hoped). And the role-models Channel 4 revealed to me were arty and left-wing.

While the Tories were dying in the early- to mid-nineties, I was discovering and starting to express my ideals. Love, freedom, social progress, tolerance, integrity. The Left gave me a ready language for this, and the Right seemed hell-bent, at least through the media I consumed, on despoiling every ideal I aspired to.

It was pretty tough to discover, post 9/11 (I'm a late developer), that the Left are as capable as the Right of trashing an ideal. Their (our?) response to the Anti-War march in London did it for me.

So now I'm starting to grasp that you don't actually get your ideals, they come and get you. Moreover, they are never trashed: you only ever trash the image you have of them. My ideals are intact: it's just the culture I learnt to express them in that is (for the moment) broken.

I could retreat, bruised. I could try ditching my ideals, for the nastiness in the Nasty Party. But the third option is to make the effort to discover and learn the language by which those ideals are expressed by the Tories.

Short-term pain: accusations of sell-out. Medium-term gain: idealistic bilingualism. Long-term vision: the fulfilment of Labour's vision, by Labour or Tory - I'm really not bothered. But I'd quite like to see the expression in my Tory friends' eyes when they realise the New Jerusalem they've built has Bevan's name on it.

Friday, 27 November 2009

754 - Gary McKinnon Update

An excellent phone-in on BBC 5Live this morning, after Alan Johnson failed to stand in the way of the extradition to America of Gary McKinnon, illustrating the poverty of thought behind the way the British Judicial System (and politicians, and some members of the public) treat people with mental disorders.

Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi, in Radio 4 Today's Thought For The Day slot, said of justice and charity that in Jewish tradition a word exists with nuances of both. Justice in this sense always includes a flow of compassion from those with power to those without.

Pertinent, given that America and the British Government possess the power in this instance, and Gary's is being withdrawn by them bit by bit.

As for the argument that due legal process should be followed, it occurred to me this morning that whenever a new sense of human rights is taking shape, there are those behind the curve and those who lead. If we are becoming aware of the need to respect people with mental disorders like Asperger's Syndrome, still a new diagnosis, we should expect that aspects of our legislation do remain unenlightened.

To catch someone up into such a system, once we are aware of its failings, is as if the American Union had allowed a former slave to be dragged back across the border to the Confederate States in the American Civil War, and is just plain wrong.

755 - Cats, Pigeons and Christmas Get-Togethers

A paragraph from the excellent and provocative book Spent by Geoffrey Miller, applying kin selection to family parties and the like:
Thus, the healthiest, most attractive individuals in an extended-family clan tend to elicit the greatest attention and fondness from their relatives. They get more cookies from grandmothers and more job offers from uncles. From this viewpoint, family reunions can be seen as periodic rituals for mutual quality displays among genetic relatives: each individual tries to display his or her physical and mental traits in the best possible light to potential familial benefactors, and at the same time tries to assess which relatives are worthy of receiving his or her generosity. Poor families may have public-park barbecues while rich families congregate at estates in Kennebunkport or Balmoral, but in each case, similar social functions are served. Privileges, hopes, expectations, and resources are redistributed according to quality inspections of newborns, marital-prospect assessments of juveniles, and longevity assessments of the elderly. We all want to look worthy to our relatives, to the extent that they can do anything for us.
(p. 101)

As a recipient of profoundly average-sized caches of cookies I find this oddly comforting. It gives me a positive handle on all the tugs and torsions I've resented myself for feeling, whenever I've been at festive gatherings in the past.

This year, grasping at what is going on, Christmas is going to be fun!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

756 - Angel

Need to get back to the oils....

This is a miniature from five years ago. A bit freaky?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

757 - Sexing Whitley Bay

But it's not just the Kiss-Me-Quick heyday, or the post-nineties Nuts generation Stag and Hen hostels on South Parade.

More important than these - got to be - are the Lighthouse and Dome. Classic rod and cup imagery. That St Mary's Lighthouse - on the site of an illicit and rowdy tavern, souwestered keepers gone, but up-thrust tower still in place, north end of the bay, outcropped in the sea - is masculine, is more obvious. Even though night sees it sheathed in pink, it's the deep pink of a raspberry condom.

The Dome at the south end of the bay is perhaps a little less sexed. There's a hope tentatively floating that it becomes the headquarters of Mind Sports UK, and, as one myself, I agree it does look like a slaphead with a wonky crown. But that might be to miss the point. Crowns and bald heads are male, but the milky-white dome is a smooth breast, nippled (the flagpole on top a not-so-subtle disguise), and fronted, when the statues on its towers are in place, by the twin girl-muses of dancing and song. Tonight I noticed the dome, too, was lit up, or at least part of it: a circular window, from below, ringed in white light - an invitation in, as the pink light on the lighthouse is an invitation up.

That North is masculine and South is feminine is well recognised: the positioning of these edifices, at either end of the curved bay, suggest a provocative beach-long celebration of our whole, and wholly sexy, humanity.

A recent news report in the Journal suggested the dome might be abandoned. Why the dome, and not the Lighthouse? These two landmarks need equal weighting, or the cultural politics of Whitley will be left decidedly lop-sided. There's no place for that any more. Instead, seize the moment: sex our seaside properly for the 21st Century!

758 - Rockcliffe Tennis Courts

... For the sunlight on chain fencing, and an empty seat - always evocative...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

759 - Work Under Way At Whitley's Old Woolies!

Walking past the old Woolies tonight I saw shopfitters at work. I nipped home for the camera. One guy was having a fag outside, so I asked him if I could take a couple of shots through the open doorway.

He told me the new store's going to be a B&M Bargains, kind of like Wilkinsons, or what Woolies used to be.

We looked at the Whitley Bay Football Club fixtures posted on the shop hoarding over the road.

"At least you've got a better team than Middlesborough!" he said.
"First team from the North East to play in the New Wembley," said I.

Whitley FC winning the FA Vase in 2009 was a turning point for the town - an injection of "Let's stop waiting for someone else to change Whitley, and get on with it ourselves". They drove an open-topped bus through the town, with the vase held aloft.

A young guy, curate at St Pauls, I guessed, came over while I was taking photos, and asked the shopfitter what was going on. When I left he was behind me, so we joined up and chatted for a bit. I told him I was into church post-church, networks not institutions, that kind of thing. A happy meeting, I think.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

760 - Some More Found Objects


1. A free mince pie at the Wunderbar Festival Hub.
2. A house mouse scuttling by my feet over the decomposing leaves on Eslington Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne.
3. A blaze of wild mushrooms on a tree stump beside the Metro line; also Eslington Terrace.

Monday, 9 November 2009

761 - Flowerbed

These pansies are planted on Roxburgh Terrace, alongside another bed rather more abandoned in appearance. How do I feel about them? Tear-tugged by their scrawniness, cheered to a mini-nova by their aspirations.

I guess the Council gardeners could have planted them, but why then only one out of the two flowerbeds? So part of me wants to believe it's one of the shopkeepers.

Last I heard, the gardeners all get the shove the month before Christmas, before being taken back on every February. I understand the Council (Labour at the time) were using short term contracts as recently as two years ago to this effect, which doesn't sound very legal to me. But maybe that situation's changed.

I was a gardener briefly, sixteen years ago. Vested interest maybe. If I had my way the gardening teams would be tripled in size, and the beds they planted up similarly. They'd be full of perennials, edible at that - massive herb gardens. And the brownfield sites lying idle, they could become allotments, or pocket parks, or communal gardens.

Meantime, I salute the pansies, the weeds that grow between them, the shopkeepers, and the North Tyneside council gardeners. Thank you. Thank you.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

762 - Through A Letterbox

Stuck my camera through the letterbox of Rainbow Arcade and took this picture. Apparently it may become a martial arts studio.

There's a fern growing inside the arcade, halfway up the wall, where it has seeded itself. Only tiny, though. And not in this photograph...

This pic for a reader who grew up in the Arcade, overlooking the rollercoasters.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

763 - One Song To The Tune Of Another

There's an old guy with a Belfast twang who busks in the escalator well at Monument Metro Station. He raises money for the Red Cross.

Alongside hymns like 'Rock of Ages', and songs I imagine go down well at Working Mens Clubs - '(I don't wanna leave) Old Durham Town'; anything by Roy Orbison - occasionally he places a more modern song in the mix.

Today you've about got it if you can imagine Ian Paisley singing 'Blowing In The Wind' with a heavy nod to 'An English Country Garden'. I kind of think Bob Dylan would have been proud.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

764 - Halloween, Whitley Bahamas (2/2)

...Followed by a paddle in the sea at Tynemouth Long Sands.

765 - Halloween, Whitley Bahamas (1/2)

Ice cream from Delaval Ices...

Saturday, 31 October 2009

766 - Samhain Moonpath

Walking home between Cullercoats Harbour and Whitley Bay. This photo's for you.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Thursday, 22 October 2009

768 - Forty Two

Quick thought:

Relativity says that time is an aspect of space, and space an aspect of time, right?

So we've evolved to live a certain length in years, and occupy a certain space. In terms of the speed of light it's fair to say that the distance light can travel over our lifespan is magnificently huge compared to the amount of space we occupy (Seventy light years, rather than a metre, give or take, in any given direction).

Bear with me: through evolution we've achieved a certain complexity, and that complexity gives us awareness. Without the complexity, there'd be no life, no us. The complexity is the important thing.

So what I'm wondering is, what if the ratio of dimensions, time to space, is reversed? Over a huge space, but a fraction of time, similar levels of complexity exist to those that make up who we are. Given that particular complex states might exist for fractions of a second, located over billions upon billions of cubic metres of space, it would be challenging to perceive their existence, focused as we are lengthwise through time. But by what criteria could we argue that they were not alive? Aware? Even, acting in and upon the same universe as we are?

Hmm. Potentially freaked :)

Monday, 19 October 2009

769 - Wedding Pic

I'd totally forgotten drawing this...!

It was for a couple of friends I'd met at Whitley Bay Baptist Church, whose daughter was getting married. Each item of luggage references something about her or her husband-to-be.

Not a brilliant image: just a point-and-click camera, but you can pick out some of the details, including Sarah's favourite childhood game.

But man! That took more brainpower to recollect than I care to mention!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

770 - Happystone, Whitley Bay

Found a stone and gave it back to the sea. Then looked down and found this looking back up at me. Later, my good poet friend Ira Lightman pointed me to a poem by ee cummings:

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

771 - Middlemarch

After thirty eight years dodging the Nineteenth Century (although admittedly the first ten years or so of that I was more into Ant and Bee and Doctor Who), I've finally started Middlemarch.

What swung it was an acute essay by a psychoanalyst on George Eliot's observations of the interior life. But from the first page of the Preface to Middlemarch, I'm hooked.

She's so sharp about the state of women in relation to social convention, to men. Remember, this as a George: 'Some have felt that these [women's] blundering lives are due to the inconvenient indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of women: if there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as the ability to count three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude. Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains, and the limits of variation are really much wider than any one would imagine from the sameness of women's coiffure and the favourite love-stories in prose and verse.' How many layers of irony! How relevant today!

But scarily, relevant not just about women. Something about her use of the word 'indefiniteness'. Because in reality George Eliot believes that indefiniteness is a virtue. It is definiteness that crushes Dorothea Brooke over the course of the novel: were she free to pursue her ideals and desires untrammelled, she might be another Saint Therese - instead society crushes her under a million labelled inconsequentialities and pretends that it is she who is the problem.

Dorothea's indefiniteness sounds to me like the state of the label-rejecting Hunter Gatherer. Perhaps she has been forced into this position, because no useful societal role has been offered to her save that of decoration. But it is a potent state to be in. Nowadays, however, if I'm right, we are all placed in this state - the choices open to us, on the one hand, and our impotence on a political level, on the other, press us to it. But if we are all indefinite, we are also, like Dorothea, crushable. So Middlemarch is a prophetic cry, of universal relevance.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

772 - DIY

A lovely moment this morning when, ringing up for a quote from a Damp Proofing specialist, I overheard, at the call centre, a woman insist down her phoneline, "No, no, we are not the NHS."

And I wondered, do they do damp-proofing on the NHS? For what? And how?

Friday, 9 October 2009

773 - Glass Hearts

I spent a summer playing with the fragments of polished glass we pick up on the beach at Whitley. The shattering of something useful, and its transformation into something precious. This looks good on an OHP with its projection against a wall.

774 - That Game Of Scrabble

I've a couple of big pictures on the go, so a good chance to show you some earlier work.

This is the second of two pictures based around the eroticism (9 letter word - 13 points + 50 bonus) of Scrabble...

775 - Not Of General Public Importance

Gary McKinnon's appeal against extradition refused, because it's deemed by the High Court 'not of general public importance'.

So that's okay. Justice, except when it's not important enough.

For the text of the Home Office letter to me, clarifying their position re: the extradition, see here. That they bothered to write such a long letter to Joe Bloggs on the street argues that it is a little more important to them than the High Court seems to think.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

776 - All Those Spiders...

... Perhaps now's the perfect time for poetical reflection on the WWW?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

777 - The Brethren of the Free Spirit

I've come across these people before - Wikipedia is good here - but this quote from Black Mass, by John Gray, is pertinent:

...Whether the people they attracted were affected by war, plague or economic hardship, these movements [inspired by millenarian beliefs] thrived among groups who found themselves in a society they could no longer recognize or identify with. The most extraordinary was the Brethren of the Free Spirit, a network of adepts and disciples that extended across large areas of Europe for several centuries. The Free Spirit may not have been only a Christian heresy. The Beghards, or holy beggars, as followers of the Free Spirit were sometimes known, wore robes similar to those of Sufis, who preached similar heterodox beliefs in twelfth-century Spain and elsewhere, and the Free Spirit may also have imbibed inspiration from surviving Gnostic traditions, which were never only Christian. In any event, before they were anything else - Christian or Muslim - the Brethren of the Free Spirit were mystics who believed they had access to a type of experience beyond ordinary understanding. This illumination was not, as the Church believed, a rare episode in the life of the believer granted by God as an act of grace. Those who had known this state became incapable of sin and could no longer be distinguished - in their own eyes - from God. Released from the moral ties that restrain ordinary humanity they could do as they willed. This sense of being divinely privileged was expressed in a condemnation of all established institutions - not only the Chruch but also the family and private property - as fetters on spiritual liberty.

It might be thought that mystical beliefs of this sort could not have much practical impact. In fact, interacting with millenarian beliefs about a coming End-Time, they helped fuel peasant revolts in several parts of late medieval Europe. In the town of Munster in north-west Germany this volatile mix gave birth to an experiment in communism....
(pp. 12-13)

If I'm honest, I feel a lot of affinity with the Brethren, though I'd take issue with any suggestion of exclusivity (as Gray implies) in terms of the experiences that have brought me to this point. Much better in this regard is the approach of Hugh Brody, who has identified a fault line between cultures separating those oriented towards Hunter Gathering and those towards Agriculture - with farming dominant in the 'developed' world, and leading to town and city-dwelling, institutionalism and much of the drive behind politics and technological development. I would therefore situate mysticism not with Hunter Gatherering, but with the realisation that fundamentally different cultural paths are open to anyone, and that therefore, what it means to be human is revealed at a point 'before' such cultural allignments are made.

I reached this realisation after making a six-year adult commitment to Evangelical Christianity, and a subsequent eight-year deconstruction of that commitment. I see no reason why, in the process of growing up, everyone shouldn't pass through some variation of this journey. It need not include passage through an institutional religion. It is probably a natural human process. It might not be tied to a fixed age, though maturity is traditionally recognised as occurring around the thirties - the age at which grandparenting becomes possible, when one becomes less focused on parenting children, and more on parenting the parents they have become; on contributing to village debates; on achieving eldership; on shaping a community's culture, having grown up within it.

What is unusual about periods when groups like the Brethren become visible is that because of culture shifts, different cultural patterns exist in a highly visible way alongside one another. Moreover there may not be an obvious lead towards one pattern above the others. It is not, therefore, surprising to find people stripped of one culture and unalligned to the next. These people may well find themselves nomadic, naked, unaffiliated to institutions and traditional moral formations, and whilst some (but perhaps not all) utopian promises might offer temporary and appealing answers, one can also see that if premature formulations are held out against, maturity might develop, out of which these people can formulate and grow/build wholly new cultures.

We are probably in such a time - the death of old certainties, the reality of environmental degradation, multiculturalism, globalisation, the Nano-technical Information Age. Not surprising then that increasing numbers of us might look and behave like holy beggars, at least until our new cultures grow. I'm guessing this isn't the last we've heard of the Brethren of the Free Spirit.

Oh, and John Gray's from Tyneside.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

778 - Gregory Bateson and the Long Professional Game

From the 1999 foreword, by his daughter, Mary Catherine, to Gregory Bateson's 'Steps To An Ecology Of Mind' (Chicago University Press):

It was not clear, even to Gregory, that his disparate, elegantly crafted and argued essays, the "steps" of this title, were about a single subject. But by the time he began to assemble the articles for this book, he was able to characterize that subject, the destination of forty years of exploration, as "an ecology of mind". The remaining decade of his career was spent describing and refining his understanding of that destination and trying to pass it on....

Until the publication of Steps, Gregory must have given the impression, even to his strongest admirers, of taking up and then abandoning a series of different disciplines; sometimes, indeed, he must have felt he had failed in discipline after discipline. Lacking a clear professional identity, he lacked a comfortable professional base and a secure income. He had also become an outsider in other ways. Having been deeply committed to the necessity of defeating Germany and its allies at the beginning of World War II, he had become convinced of the dangers of good intentions. The efforts to oppose the pathologies of Nazism and fascism, which grew out of the distortions of Versailles, had in turn created new pathologies that were played out in the McCarty era and the Cold War, and continue into the twenty-first century. In his postwar work on psychiatry and interpersonal communication, too, he began to see that efforts to heal could themselves be pathogenic. His was , for many years, a lonely and discouraging journey, characterized by a distinctive way of thinking rather than a specific concrete subject matter. It is no accident that a group of the father-daughter conversations he called "metalogues"... stand at the beginning of this volume: Daughter is uncorrupted by academic labeling and becomes Father's excuse to approach profound issues outside of their boundaries...
(pp. viii-ix)

Gregory Bateson has been adopted by Neuro Linguistic Programmers as a key influence, because he tutored the co-founders of this controversial movement, but one can see from the content of his essays that his own interests extended far beyond the modelling of human minds which inspired NLP, into anthropology, politics, ecology, communications theory and cybernetics. What I get from the above synopsis of his working life is how it bore fruit only after forty years of groundwork, how it eschewed labels, and how it rings true even now. It's hopeful and inspiring.

Perhaps in twenty, thirty, forty years time, when Storying is recognised as a phenomenon - artform, expression of personal identity, whatever - there'll be room for a footnote about early slogging in Whitley Bay.

Anyway, you've got to admit that Bateson's battling against the odds, as told above, makes a good story...

Monday, 28 September 2009

779 - Wasting Space And Childcare

Someone asked me recently how I knew I wasn't being a total waste of space. I think his concern was that I'm not earning currency. If I'm not earning, how can I be contributing, to my marriage, and to the public good?

This seems to be at, or near, the heart of the recent ruling by Ofsted that two police officers, who have entered into an informal arrangement whereby each cares for the other's child when the other is engaged in shift work, are somehow doing something illegal.

The story is well covered by the BBC, and is also to do with registration and child protection, but I want to leave that to one side. About the financial aspects of the case, Ofsted says the following:

"Reward is not just a case of money changing hands. The supply of services or goods and, in some circumstances, reciprocal arrangements can also constitute reward. Generally, mothers who look after each other's children are not providing childminding for which registration is required, as exemptions apply to them, for example because the care is for less than two hours or it takes place on less than 14 days in a year. Where such arrangements are regular and for longer periods, then registration is usually required."

The general consensus by children's charities and government ministers is that this is a failed ruling. Their advice is to continue with childminding arrangements until the mess is sorted out. They are recognising that to a significant extent, the work that keeps Britain going - indeed, that in this instance allows two people to earn money - exists outside our formal economic structures.

In other words, it is an example of wild money.

Britain runs on wild money. Banking and business are formalised, and their money is tame - pegged internationally and bound into institutions. But surrounding the official economy is a much larger unofficial one. Eight hours a day a woman may work for cash, but that leaves sixteen hours in the company of others, many of whom are looking out for her. Some of that care she (or he) may pay for in cash, but much is rewarded in kind. This extends far beyond the immediate family, into friendship networks, village communities, groups with shared interests, nationally and even internationally. When the formal economy crashed last year, what sustained us while the pieces were picked up? The informal economy, in which the formal economy is couched.

It works small as well as large scale. That guy who picked up the scarf you dropped today? You'll never meet him again, much less reciprocate (though the smile was appreciated!). But it did cost him to stoop and pick the garment up. That was work. Also work was the vigilance with which he had been reading the street in advance, which enabled him to spot the dropped item, and link it to a retreating figure, and be prepared to bother to contemplate running after you with it.

More sustained (of course), more nearly formalised, is the childminding entered into by the police officers, the charitable work, the concerted engagement with a local community.

I am hearted by the response of the Government minister, who has asked for Ofsted's ruling to be reviewed. Though there is one niggle.

That's that the mistake was made in the first place. It suggests, like the question of my friend, that many people are getting muddled about what the worth of our official currency actually is. I don't mean worth in pounds and pence, I mean, what it is actually for.

Several movements are gaining huge ground in the UK which rely on money being wild. The Transition Towns project, for example, is reliant on local goodwill and the unpaid graft of, let's be honest, the kind of people (like me) who are not that concerned with shareholders or the bottom line. If Transition Towns create for the UK the kind of resilience which enables the country to withstand the vagaries of resource depletion, even without climate change on top, would it not be foolish to undervalue what they have achieved? Conversely, if legislation and institutional expectation limit such movements before they get the chance to achieve anything, would it not be foolish to describe such limitations as anything but valueless and destructive?

If we've learnt anything from the past two years, surely it is that it is time to set our monetary systems free?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

780 - Memory and Storytelling - Quotes

Two, from Jay Griffiths (Pip Pip: A Sideways Look At Time, 1999), then Frank Kermode (Palaces of Memory, 2001), linking the creation of stories and the recollection of events in complementary ways:

The Diana-story, like all great stories, was structured in time itself, to make a meaningful pattern out of casual time. Born in full summer, married in full summer, died in full summer.... At the day's noon, she was on top of the world, more alive than ever, and at its midnight she was dying, underground, in a tunnel.... Like all subjects of great myths and fables, Diana never chose her meaning; she was the silence at her own storytime.... George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, said of Diana that she 'combined the ordinary and the extraordinary'. And that was what happened to time, that week. The ordinary time of usual life met the extraordinary time of myth.... The mythic moment is where the profane present meets a sacred eternity.
(pp. 42-4)

As [Barrett J.] Mandel expresses it, the author [of an autobiography] is saying to the reader: 'My life was as this tale I am telling.' This is a satisfying formula, and it implies a claim that in this form... it will have power to indicate landmarks and confer meaning on what would otherwise be mnemonic trifles.
(p. 10)

What interests me is what these insights have to offer to the intentional storyer, the man or woman who sets out to introduce a story element into their life from here on in. Both are about what it takes to create a story out of life-events after they have happened. Griffiths and Kermode suggest that a winnowing is necessary: what is remembered is what it takes to convey a (probably pre-selected) narrative meaning to a life, 'making meaningful pattern out of casual time', 'indicating landmarks and conferring meaning on... trifles'. The rest is allowed to become background, through forgetting and the passing of time.

Griffiths also suggests that the application of meaning lifts an event out of ordinary and into mythic time. You could turn that into an equation: by the application of mythic time, an event might become meaningful. How then to reverse engineer the winnowing process? Storying must either be about pre-selecting the events one enters into, or achieving a sense of meaning that embraces everything that might randomly occur to one, so that no winnowing need occur, or some combination of the two.

781 - ...And You My Star

For E; the inscription reads:

A star for you
and you my star

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

782 - Winston Churchill

On Saturday, in Lacock with friends (Whitley to Newcastle, Newcastle to Bristol, up and left a bit), we met a man who claims to be the son of the illegitimate son of Winston Churchill.

He's a potter, David McDowell. I googled "Lacock" and "Pottery" and "Churchill" and found a holiday diary, the writers of which spent longer with him, and were given a fuller version of the story than we were.

The man is small and fiery, like a kiln on legs. He pinned E with his eyes all the while he was talking with us. The gist of it is that his father's mother was seduced by Churchill while the man was on a visit to Ireland. She was a household servant.

David has a book in which he gathers stories related to his own from the visitors to his pottery. I was able to tell him about Marie-Louise.

When we first came to Newcastle, we lived in Gosforth, across the way from an elderly Austrian woman. One day she told us a story about herself. She'd come to Britain to become the tutor of a young woman who wanted to learn her language. The woman had recently married a politician and was rattling around his stately home, so the appointment was as much about providing companionship as education. They were of similar age.

One night Marie-Louise couldn't sleep. She got up to visit the library, and on the balcony overlooking the entrance hall she paused. The home had been used as the location of some important political negotiation the day before. Downstairs, looking up at her, was Winston Churchill. He mounted the staircase, and, passing her, surveyed her deliberately from top to bottom and back again, before pointedly declaring (surely not in a leery voice), "You're a fine-looking girl."

Marie-Louise told us she felt like a horse the way he coldy assessed her. She didn't have a high opinion of the man after that, not at all.

Prime Ministers. Don't cha just love 'em?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

783 - Derren Brown; Multiplicity; Storying

I've just found a quote in Derren Brown's book which puts a slant on Rita Carter's ideas about identity formation, and helps me to begin to understand how controlled character formation might contribute to the art of Storying.

Here's the (longish) quote:

It takes little reflection to see that our self images are arbitrary, and far more likely to be born out of our insecurities than our strengths. And what exactly is a self-image? Far from being abstract, let's take it for what it is: the image you make in your head of yourself when you picture who you are. You might have an over-riding self-image you refer to most of the time, and plenty of other ways of seeing yourself that are specific to certain situations: at home, meeting people, at work and so on.... You've probably left [them] to create themselves, and a lot of unhelpful bits of information have got stuck in there. Should you bother to change what's in those pictures?

The fact is that spending a few minutes playing with the content and look of those pictures can lead to worthwhile and even dramatic changes in your life. The way you see yourself defines the limitations you place on your behaviour. It's rather straightforward. People who are able to give up smoking overnight, for example, are very likely to be the ones who decide to see themselves as a non-smoker, and then behave in that new and exciting way, not worrying if they occasionally slip up; rather than the people who merely 'try not to smoke' and set up a stressful challenge that presupposes eventual failure.

Decide on a self-image you would like. Picture a version of yourself that is realistic but exciting. It's pointless imagining a super-hero version of yourself which is completely unattainable, but be sure to make it something that really appeals. Now, in the same way that you can look at a person and tell them they ooze confidence, make sure that this image of you radiates the qualities you would like to have more of. Design this self-image, and make it detailed. See this new 'you' interacting in new ways that delight you.... Wallow in it....

Some thoughts:

1. This passage (part of a section on the uses of hypnosis and suggestibility) covers similar ground to Rita Carter, who approaches the same ideas from a neurological perspective. For example, Brown writes about an 'over-riding image... and plenty of others'; Carter speaks of major and minor personalities.

2. I'd first want to remove value judgements about helpful and unhelpful information, but think Brown's imaginative approach is accurate and useful. So is Carter's, but her focus is more systematic, using personality tests. The two approaches complement each other, and can be used to inform one another.

3. Brown makes links between image and action explicit: 'The way you see yourself defines the limitations you place on your behaviour'; 'See this new 'you' interacting in new ways that delight you...'. This is helpful in my own attempts to explore how, in the art of Storying, character and plot interact fluidly.

4. A reminder: Storying, as I define it, is an artform whereby one casts oneself, and others if they consent, in a realtime, real-life story of variable duration, just because one can. Whereas other forms of art require crossing a threshhold related to equipment, previous experience, validation by others, and a shared terminology, Storying, because it takes place entirely in the imagination, singulalry or shared, is freed from all these. This means it is political. It is perhaps particularly a challenge to people who require us to define our identities for the sake of the State, or simply our relations with others. In a nutshell, it is about being proactively and positively a Billy Liar.

5. Certain aspects of Brown's and Carter's work presume that any change is made for all time. In the case of Storying, this would certainly be true were the story to be of a lifetime's duration. But if the story is shorter - a five-minute event, even - image changes could still be made in the manner described by Brown. This might give more scope for freedom - there'd be less need to create a 'completely attainable' self image (though again, here we are in the realm of value judgements). Why not, when Storying, create a Superhero self-image? What makes a Super super is his or her embodiment of an ideal - courage, goodness, kindness, steel. Since Plato, at the very least, we've recognised the necessity of ideals. So I'd quibble about Brown's view that they are unattainable (whilst acknowledging that they are!).

This book's value is its practicality. A snotty and patronising review by Hilary Mantel (who is accurate, but misses the point) notwithstanding, it is certainly feeding my ideas. As does Hilary Mantel herself, in her brilliant novel Beyond Black, but that's another post, another day....

784 - How Do You Draw a Pink Wind?

This is another illustration drawn for our friend Marianne. She's pulling together a book of poems for children which she wants to publish on Lulu. The poem is called 'The Pink Wind From The Orb of Ore'.

E met Marianne at Pax Lodge, a Girlguiding 'World Centre' in London where Marianne was working as maintenance manager. We didn't know at the time that she had another life as a singer/poet, although I'm fairly sure there was a guitar in the corner of her basement den, alongside the broken whiteboards, only-for-cold-weather heaters, tools, Christmas decorations, and odd items Guiding History memorabilia.

Marianne sang as Marian Segal in folk clubs in the Sixties, and was lead singer/ songwriter of a critically acclaimed folk rock-trio, Jade, in 1970-71. She's enjoying renewed interest in the Noughties: reunion gigs and the release of old and fresh material - a Jade album after thirty years in 2007.

Monday, 14 September 2009

785 - Transition Towns Revisited

[The blog's heading for a year old, so I'm getting all Janus-headed. The 'J' is of course kind of important here.]

So 201 posts ago I was pondering about Transition Towns. Could Whitley Bay become one? They're communities (towns, villages, cities, even an island or two) who come together to start addressing our long-term addiction to oil. Norwich is one, Totnes another. In fact, Totnes is where it started. Their latest initiative is an 'Energy Descent Plan', by which they'll coordinate their drop in energy usage over the next twenty or so years, so that, for example, energy shortages and oil price spikes don't spring any nasty surprises on them.

As the joint-owner of a patch of concrete, I'm particularly inspired by land-share schemes, whereby people who are not cultivating their gardens allow others without garden space to tend it for them, and the produce from the land is split. There are as many ideas as there are people creatively involved. Lewes, in the South East, developed its own currency, to encourage people to keep their money local (Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade please take note!). And best of all, though individuals retain their political convictions, the movement itself is deliberately non-partisan.

Who's organising this? Although increasingly councils have been getting involved (Lewes, Norwich and the towns around North Norfolk, for example), the impetus has always been bottom-up. Individuals getting together. Last Wednesday the local Transition groups hosted a meeting at the Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle, where a documentary about the movement was shown. I learned there that North Tyneside is in the process of forming its own group.

If you are interested, you could join the Transition Towns WIKI, which is what I'm off to do right now.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

786 - Derren Brown Quote

I missed the show last night, where he correctly predicted the lottery numbers, and will miss tomorrow's, where he explains how he achieved his act. But I've been reading Derren Brown's 2006 book, Tricks of the Mind, where he makes clear his theory that the magic in a performance occurs after the performance itself, in our increasingly contorted attempts to reconstruct just exactly what happened.

So for my money, the performance is still continuing, and whatever explanation is given on Friday will, at least in part, take into account whatever everyone is saying about Wednesday's show here and now. Perhaps he has several explanations up his sleeve, and will choose to reveal the one, or ones, that have maximum impact on the day....

As he, like me, was a naive Christian at university, and as he, like me, still appreciates the 'still small voice of loveliness' (Tricks of the Mind, p. 8) at the heart of humanity, but is, like me, prepared to ditch absolutely everything that religion has to offer, I've got an awful lot of time for him. He'd probably agree that the way he has structured his performance this week bears more than passing resemblance to the Christian story, which has its people in a 'not yet' phase of believing, after the Christ event and before Judgement Day - in other words, at a point in time where the magic is still being elaborated in the mind of the witnessing community.

But I didn't come online in order to write that, just to record a quote from his book that I particularly like and will want to return to. It's this (pp. 116-7):

It is a shame that mnemonics are not taught in schools. The Renaissance replaced the love of the imaginary with a love of reason, and the art of memory, which had become associated too often with magic, began to die out. Later, during the Victorian period, science and information become paramount, and education became about rote learning and unimaginative repetition. As important as these shifts were towards embracing reason over superstition, they have meant we now have to rediscover memory techniques for ourselves. There is also a notion held by many teachers that education should be about understanding and reasoning rather than memorization, and that the latter is a poor substitute for the former. While that may be true when viewed from some angles, it does not take into account the fact that for a student the ability to memorize information is of essential importance, and the majority of students seem to value it at least as importantly as what might be seen as the 'higher' faculties. Especially in the case of younger children, learning such systems can clearly be an enormous confidence-booster and can make preparation for tests much more enjoyable.

I think this insight applies to storying as much as to memory skills. It's about the role of the imagination at the heart of what makes us tick, to which our current society plays lip-service, but not much more...

Hence the rarity of events like last night's on the telly. But maybe things are changing?

Sunday, 6 September 2009

787 - Giant Spider

In our back yard. For scale [!] the hole in the door at the foot of the photo fits a large ginger cat.

Shortly after this was taken, the spider was seen to leap nimbly onto the bolt, draw the lock back, swing the door open and, after hauling the wheelie bins round for a bit, open the garage door from the inside, step outside, and devour a parked 4X4...

Friday, 4 September 2009

788 - Gary McKinnon - Home Office Reply

I posted about Gary Mckinnon late in July. I also contacted the Home Office, and earlier this month received a very long and considered reply to my email. See what you make of it (I need to reflect on it before I comment):

Mr Steve Lancaster

Reference: T14011/9

27 August 2009

Dear Mr Lancaster,

Thank you for your e-mail of 31 July about a request from the USA for the extradition of Gary McKinnon.

It may be worth setting out first a brief summary of Mr McKinnon’s alleged offences. He stands accused in the United States of computer offences allegedly committed between February 2001 and March 2002. These involve the unauthorised access from his home computer in London - or “hacking” into some 97 US Army, Navy and NASA computers concerned with national defence, security and naval munitions supplies. Mr McKinnon is alleged to have deleted data, including vital operating system files – causing, amongst other things, the shutting down of the US Military District of Washington’s entire network of over 2000 computers and the rendering inoperable of certain computer systems at a critical period following 11 September 2001. The USA alleges that the conduct was both calculated and intentional; and it states the cost of necessary systems repairs as being $700,000. During interviews under caution, Mr McKinnon admitted responsibility for certain of his alleged actions (although not that he had actually caused damage). He stated that his targets were high level US Army, Navy and Air Force computers and that his ultimate goal was to gain access to the US military classified information network. He also admitted leaving a note on one army computer reading:
“US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days . . . It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year . . . I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels . . .”
The case has been, of course, the subject of much Parliamentary, press and public interest. Many have formed a sincerely held view that Mr McKinnon should not be extradited. We take careful heed, of course, of all the points which have been urged on his behalf. But it is also necessary to make a number of other points both about the case and more generally. First, that in the scheme of the 2003 Extradition Act, the Home Secretary has an important but limited decision-making role. Indeed, the ‘Act’ provides – and the courts have affirmed - that he must order extradition unless one of four conditions is met. (None of those conditions, I should say, arose when we first considered Mr McKinnon’s case in July 2006). Second, that the United Kingdom has important international obligations towards its many extradition partners. It takes those obligations seriously and, within what the law permits, regards it as its duty to render maximum assistance. We expect no less in return from the UK’s extradition partners. It is a very rare event for a UK request to the USA to be turned down and never at all in over five years. Third, that the US request for Mr McKinnon’s extradition had already been the subject of very rigorous judicial scrutiny before, last August, there was a supervening diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome – a matter currently before the courts.

Judicial scrutiny of the case to date can be summarised as follows. Mr McKinnon was arrested here for extradition purposes in June 2005. There followed a hearing at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court where, in an attempt to defeat the US request for his extradition, Mr McKinnon and those acting for him sought to raise certain statutory barriers to surrender. (Those are all set out in the Extradition Act 2003). In May 2006, however, the District Judge concluded that none of those safeguards applied and, in the ordinary way, he accordingly sent the case to us for a decision as to surrender.

At that stage, Mr McKinnon had an opportunity to make representations to Ministers directly against his surrender – but, as above, only on certain limited grounds set out in the ‘Act’. And where, as in this case, such representations are found not to be applicable or not to be made out, the law requires the Home Secretary to order surrender. That decision was reached in Mr McKinnon’s case in July 2006.

As was his right, Mr McKinnon then appealed to the High Court, both against the Judge’s decision of May 2006 and that of the Home Secretary in July 2006. The High Court dismissed those appeals in April 2007. Mr McKinnon then took his case to the House of Lords which, in July 2008, also dismissed his appeal. Mr McKinnon then made an application to the European Court of Human Rights which in August 2008 rejected the application.

In this way, you will see that the case had withstood the closest possible judicial scrutiny before a supervening diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome was brought to our attention. Notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s limited role in the process and the late stage in the case at which Asperger’s Syndrome was diagnosed, you will understand that extradition may not take place if to extradite would be incompatible with a person’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In these exceptional circumstances, it was therefore agreed to consider fresh representations, including on grounds of Mr McKinnon’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, as to whether the order for Mr McKinnon’s surrender to the USA should be upheld. Notwithstanding what has been reported in some quarters, that is not to say that we were able to approach the case with a broad, residual or general discretion: the correct legal consideration was whether to proceed with extradition was compatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights. If extradition is not compatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights extradition would have to be halted, but if extradition is compatible with the ECHR there is a legal duty to extradite and to act in any other way would be unlawful. The decision as to the effect extradition would have on Mr McKinnon’s human rights was not a decision to be taken lightly; but, after examining all of the material and evidence relied upon, we concluded in October 2008 that the material and evidence relied upon against Mr McKinnon’s extradition to the USA did not engage his rights under the ECHR. Accordingly, there was an obligation under the Extradition Act 2003 to give effect to the order for extradition.

As was their entitlement, however, those acting for Mr McKinnon then sought and obtained the permission of the High Court for a judicial review of that further decision.

During May, Mr McKinnon also lodged a further application for judicial review, this time against a CPS decision in February 2009 not to bring a prosecution against him in the UK.

Following hearings of both matters (which included a careful weighing of all the evidence as to Mr McKinnon’s Asperger’s Syndrome), the High Court delivered its judgment on 31 July. They found that extradition would not contravene his human rights and that accordingly there was a statutory duty to proceed with extradition. Contrary to misleading reporting in some quarters of the press, the High Court specifically rejected the suggestion that there was any discretion which could be exercised to halt extradition. In view of the High Court’s conclusions it would (subject of course to any successful challenge to their decision) be unlawful to seek to halt extradition.

In the other matter, the High Court refused Mr McKinnon permission to mount a judicial review challenge to the decision not to institute criminal proceedings in this country. The High Court considered that the US was the better place for prosecution. The Court also considered that the challenge to the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) not to institute proceedings in the UK was ‘unarguable’. They also expressed the view that the challenge to the DPP’s decision was really a collateral challenge to the extradition process and that this was a ‘wholly unacceptable state of affairs’.

Mr McKinnon’s lawyers have given notice of their intention to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court (as the House of Lords is soon to become). I do not therefore propose to say more at this stage about the facts of the particular case – other than to hope that this background may be of some assistance not only in clarifying the Home Secretary’s role in the extradition process but also in demonstrating that those acting for Mr McKinnon continue to avail themselves before the courts of every opportunity to contest extradition. In this way, it may clearly be seen that the final outcome of the case and the UK’s treaty obligations are being subjected to the closest attention and to the greatest possible procedural fairness.

If Mr McKinnon is extradited and is subsequently found guilty and receives a prison sentence in the United States, it would be open to him to apply to serve that sentence in the United Kingdom. The application would require the consent of both the American and British Governments. The British Consulate in the United States would explain to Mr McKinnon, at his request, how to apply for the transfer.

Yours sincerely,

Miss C Johnson

Thursday, 3 September 2009

789 - Liturgy (2): Psychogeography

On Cheltenham Racecourse I had a chance to put a question to Iain Sinclair. He's (tangentially, at least) a practitioner of psychogeography. In his books (Edge of the Orison; London Orbital; Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire) he explores the experience of walking through various landscapes, mythmaking with the architecture, people and histories he finds there.

He spoke about the devastation inflicted, unwittingly perhaps, on the poet John Clare, who, unable to acclimatise to London's literary life, sought to return to his labouring family home, only to find that enclosure of the commons had, in the name of progress, privatised the landscape he used to wander freely and which had given him belonging and a muse. Doubly disenfranchised, he spent the latter years of his life in an asylum.

Such enclosure currently finds its echo in the Millenium Dome (a space enclosed with nothing in it) and, now, in the site of the 2012 Olympic Village, where you are being photographed as you approach, but where you have no power to photograph back, on pain of the confiscation of your camera. The site is empty, and the architecture to be built on it modern and uniform, but the crushed stone and life-space confiscated from its previous residents was once rich and full.

Sinclair's talk was powerful, and I, and perhaps others after, asked him how, in the midst of cultural obliteration, one might make a proactive stand for cultural rejuvenation. He writes books. What else could one do?

He gave an interesting answer: "Keep moving. Keep finding new projects."

I cannot help but think that this is the way that Whitley Bay will grow: for its people, and those who come to it, to keep moving, keep on walking, keep dreaming, pushing, and pressing our projects to completion.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

790 - Liturgy

Back from a week in a tent on Cheltenham Racecourse.

Monday, 24 August 2009

791 - Fish Legs

One of five fish I've drawn for my friend Marianne, who is putting together a book of children's poetry on Lulu (or similar).

The poem this illustrates, about creepy fish running on land, has a pleasingly shivery Southern Gothic feel.

I drew the fish on holiday with my in-laws. My four-year-old nephew was amazed I took so long on something so small. He decided to draw a fish with legs too, and filled it up with dots, but as he explained to me, it was at least four times as big, and took much, much less time to complete!

792 - Cromer: Whitley Bay With Ladybirds (and Beach Huts)

Thursday, 6 August 2009

793 - Betty Boop at Maugham's

Maugham's in Whitley Bay has a shop window full of the wildest out-there ornaments you're likely to see. Here's Betty Boop(s), just left of the Pendelphin range, right from the Native Americans, up from the Chinese Dragons and in the window adjacent to the Elvises.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

794 - Whitley Through Fields of Gold

This is looking east from Briar Dene Farm. Sting's song reference intentional!

Monday, 3 August 2009

795 - Playhouse and Dome

Both the Playhouse and the Dome have dropped their scaffolding in the past few weeks. Here they are together...

Friday, 31 July 2009

796 - Gary McKinnon

Because we live in a country where a man with Asperger's Syndrome chasing alien conspiracies can be extradited to the USA without any evidence being produced, please stop believing all the big causes have been fought for and won.

At the very least our government has shown cowardice by not stepping in to press for his trial to be held in the UK. At worst it is cruel and dismissive of its citizens. It has got this badly wrong.

I believe in love, in people, in non-violence. But if my government no longer believes in the nation state, I don't see why I should.

Please persuade me otherwise.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

798 - All Right

There's an experience I've had, and it has convinced me that everything is all right.

And if everything was not all right, somehow, after all, I'd still go down fighting for the values that my experience of all-rightness has taught me.

That is, that is-ness is at the heart of things. That all things unfold from it. That it exists before the words I conceive of in order to explain it, to myself, to others. And that love is as good a word for the existence of everything as any other.

That's it, really. From my reading, of religious experience, of philosophy and psychology, I reckon I'm in good, and I'm sure, by the time we pop our clogs, universal company.

So I've been reading Hilary Mantel's novel, Beyond Black, which gives as fine a description of cold-reading as one could hope for (not finished the novel, so there may be twists and turns along the way, but I think I know where it is heading). I've Derren Brown in my bookshelf, and analyses of brainwashing and comparative religion, Michael Shermer, Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong's latest - a history of not knowing God.

A couple of rows-worth of evangelical Christian books have not been chucked, though the more embarrassing among them I've relegated to the bedroom, along with my collection of poetry.

Enough books about quantum physics, molecular biology and cultural studies line the dining room for me to be clear enough that most interpretations of most things are retrievable, if I browse with a little patience.

And as a librarian, I'm a pretty skilled browser (which is itself the art of cold-reading books).

What I'm wondering is, even if spiritual or psychic experiences were illusions, delusions or frauds, given my conviction that everything is all right, there has to be a way of understanding them that credits them with value, however they come about. And if they have value, that must be enough to justify their existence.


Wednesday, 15 July 2009

799 - Birmingham Moor Street, Late

Started Friday night near the end of a marathon train-ride to my sis, brother-in-law and neph.

Finished this morning.

Monday, 13 July 2009

800 - Skin| Flowers

Detail from a pen and ink drawing on display with pictures by other artists at Restaurant 7 Tapas Bar and Gallery, Whitley Bay, till September 30th.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

801 - What If...

Matter were an emergent property of energy;
Chemistry were an emergent property of matter;
Biology were an emergent property of Chemistry;
Psychology were an emergent property of Biology;
Culture were an emergent property of Psychology;
Love were an emergent property of Culture;
Energy were an emergent property of Love?

Full circle.

200 posts down, 800 to go...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

802 - Tortoises and Hares - The Rematch

Lovely sky over Ambleside [left a bit from Whitley Bay; down a bit] last week - like Studio Ghibli had gotten hold of it. In the top left corner looks like a hare has just leapt into the lead.

Monday, 6 July 2009

803 - Orange Hat

Windermere YHA, late evening, Saturday week. Completed in Starbucks today. E bought this hat at the start of the holiday. Fairtrade hemp and felt. She's written a poem about it which is rather good.

[See how I disguised E's right hand, the drawing of which I cocked up, by sticking a glass in front of it?]

Friday, 3 July 2009

804 - Grandaddery

A thought which has been loitering for a while:

If we become fertile mid-teens, for most of our species' history this is the time that we'll have started having children.

That means that by the time we are mid-thirties, for most of our species' history, our children will have begun raising their own kids, and we will be starting to fulfil the role of grandparents.

The most well-adjusted child would presumably be the one whose parents, and also whose grandparents, were committed to its welfare. A stable lineage would therefore be more likely to evolve than an unstable one.

The physiology and, as a consequence, psychology behind good grandparenting would over time evolve.

Just as we prepare to become parents as teenagers, we prepare to become grandparents in our thirties. This is also the time that boys in Africa become fully grown men, and people in the West undergo career changes and feel the pressures associated with a midlife crisis.

What if the mid-life crisis is about equipping us to become Grandparents, to the tribe, if not to individual children? A forced change in perspective, away from the direct learning of childhood and early adulthood, towards a frame of mind where what has been learnt is now to be shared with younger generations. If this role was fostered in society, a kind of informal eldership, from mid-thirties onwards, would the impact of middle-age be smoothed away?

If it's natural, my guess is it is happening anyway, and the evidence is probably there in pop culture and stories.

805 - Found Objects, Whitley Bay Beach

On Tuesday evening, along the tide-line, two deflated blue balloons.

In the sky above the beach, two paragliders, circling.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

806 - Topping Up Lake Windermere

A hundred miles west of Whitley Bay, and down a bit, just three hours, give or take, by train and bus, the weather has been so hot they're using firemen to top up Lake Windermere...

807 - Other People's Dreams

One, possibly the biggest, of the issues I've been wrestling with is the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity - the experiences I have externally (relationships, meals, physical contact in a built or natural environment), and those, like dreams, that are internal.

At point of dozing, hauling myself awake again, I've just caught myself imagining a tractor, straining through mud. The image came into my mind unbidden, but I was party to its creation, as in the process of inspecting it I evolved the mud against which the tractor wheels were set. At the same time I sensed bodily the strain the tractor would be undergoing. A second of clarity, then I was out of the dream state and back in the external world.

Reflecting on this, it seems to me that I used the image to relay within myself useful information about my state of being snappily and provocatively. The incentive was there to pull awake before a bog of sleep sucked the tractor down. Acting in such a way as to move the tractor, and thus myself, free of a catnap, necessitated a role change from observer to driver of the machine, in the process of which the internal state of mind in which I was able to stand separate from tractor me passed, to be replaced by one where I and tractor me, combined, re-engaged with the external world.

If in dreams I am encountering and watching the interactions between aspects of myself that is more or less what the poets, philosophers and psychologists I have read say happens. The difference is that reading about other people's experiences is no substitute for my own. I needed to catch myself in the act in order to know the truth of it. The biggest question is whether the internal world I experience in dreams is in any way connected to the internal world of everyone and everything else. Whether we can dream through each other's borders, perhaps not all of the time, but some of it.

The question then would be whether the tractor had some form of objective reality, one that I was borrowing, sharing for a while, perhaps share even now. Climbing mountains in the Lake District there were times when I set myself physically against the local stone. I reached the summits because in some sense I was identical to them (if we were a different state, I'd not be able to match foot against rock - there'd be no action:reaction). I concluded that in each of us there is a bit of mountain. That's true subjectively, and also objectively. Who's to say whether the words are a statement of science, or poetry, or both?

Monday, 29 June 2009

808 - Paganism and Positive Psychology

A couple of concepts side-by-side. I think they have something to say about each other.

Gus diZerega, in Beyond the Burning Times [paraphrase]: in pagan thought, the immanence of God has, of necessity, to mean a diverse and multifarious world, each immanent expression offering a unique perspective on God as transcendent being, without which the whole would not know itself completely.

Beatrice A. Wright and Shane J. Lopez, in Chapter 3, Handbook of Positive Psychology: 'labeling groups leads to a muting of perceived within-group differences and a highlighting of perceived between-group differences' (p.27)

The second concept implies that from the perspective of a single self-aware observer, everything else would appear different, but allows that if the observer defines him or herself as part of a whole, differences disappear, and self awareness becomes awareness of the whole group, and awareness of any part of the group becomes awareness of the self.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

809 - Small Showers In The Lake District

My tribute to Alfred Wainwright (on balance, the long arrows from the subtitle to the shower and my head labour the point.... CyberTypex needed.)

Friday, 19 June 2009

810 - Whitley Playhouse

The old playhouse saw Ken Dodd and Abba tributes, local am-dram and arthouse cinema. It was a must-play stop-off for big name bands in the seventies and eighties.

The new building (which houses the stage of the old, with the rest of the infrastructure re-built around it) opens in September.

This is taken across the meadow that has sprung from the former site of the Marine Park First School, an oasis of beauty in the town that, I reckon, would make a great nature reserve - the Coquet Avenue Pocket Park?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

811 - Woden's Day the name of this year's Tynemouth Pageant.

It dramatises life on the Northumbrian coast fifteen hundred years ago, as Northumbrian culture flowered, and ends with the stirring recitation of an Anglo-Saxon battle hymn. As a student of Anglo-Saxon poetry I can tell you you don't, you really don't, get that every day!

Three more performances in the grounds of Tynemouth Priory at 7.30 tonight, tomorrow and Saturday.

For a fascinating example of myth-making, with a good sense of community history (and a bit of Rick Wakeman), I heartily recommend it.

Woden chased the clouds away for the wednesday performance, so that, after a late-afternoon storm, the evening was dry and warm when we arrived. Pink-gold sun on the honeyed Priory stonework, and a rainbow rocket-roaring into the sky over South Shields, as we left.

812 - Hotpotz, Park View

E and I at Hotpotz last night. It's one of those places where you buy a plain piece of ceramics, paint it and have it fired for you. This time I sat with my pad, whilst E let herself loose on a heart-shaped wedding-present platter.

Great fun, and paint everywhere...

(Googling for the website, I also found the shopping directory for Park View, Whitley Bay. Worth taking a look.)

Saturday, 13 June 2009

813 - Whitley High Street After A Storm

Early Saturday evening, so everyone was party-togged, and the rain came from nowhere. Here's the aftermath.

814 - 3.00am Revisited

Ideas contained in the post I wrote at 3.00 the other morning have been steeping in my brain. Drawing a simple equivalence between body and mass, spirit and energy, works. It is fascinating to consider biblical texts about bodies impacted by spirit as observations of the effects of energy on mass. Here's a burning bush. Here's a stick enlivened till it becomes a snake. Here's a dead man walking, and a mass of people, hearts leaping, tongues waggling, spilling onto a street to declare the marriage of spirit and mankind.

Einstein's observation that energy and mass are equivalent replicates the insistence of the gospels that Jesus is a consummation of God and man, so that we can conclude that what the gospels say, science says. And vice versa. "It's okay: we're neither dead meat or unlicensed energy. We're both in interplay. That's the way it should be, and that's the way it is."

The way it is is a pretty good definition of the kind of universe I'd expect a loving god to create. But it is also no more or less than science expects to observe.

And in effect, the shift of perspective represented by the gospels away from God=Spirit, Humanity=Flesh, to God=Spirit and Flesh, Humanity=Spirit and Flesh, is identical to the shift science is itself undergoing away from Humanity=Observer, Cosmos=Observed, to Humanity=Observer and Observed, Cosmos=Observer and Observed. And just to make clear that what I am not saying is that all scientists are just unwitting Christians, this shift of perspective is surely present in all cultures, and marks the point in maturity where a person accepts that his or her life is neither the exercise of will on flesh, or flesh on will, alone, but both exercising on each other. In other words, it's a function of growing up.

Friday, 12 June 2009

815 - Pink Lane Poetry and Performance Night

Second time I've attended this: a good vibe in the Jazz Club in Newcastle's Pink Lane. I was on my own for the first hour, so I took along my drawing pad.

From now on I'm hoping to post a couple of drawings a week. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Oh and by the way, I've just been stung by a wasp for the very first time. Live the danger! (Ow.)

816 - Elephant Seen In Whitley Bay

This life-sized wooden elephant's head looks great on the refurbished curry house at the corner of Marine Avenue. Siam Bay Cuisine is going to sell Thai and Indian food: their website (still in progress) is here.

817 - Storm Over St Mary's Lighthouse

Yesterday morning, heading my way. Probably the reason the Canada geese were flying south.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

818 - Deliberate Life Footprint Calculator

My favourite Canadian sustainable living and home education blogger, Nic, has a thoughtful footprint calculator here.

She's tied in sustainable living with wellbeing, so that you give yourself points for proactively engaging in green activities, rather than a guilt-trip for not cutting back on a consumer lifestyle.

Make your own furniture? That's twenty points. Make your own clothes? That's ten. Actually wear them? Another five...

I really, really like this. In fact, I like her whole site. I love the idea that you can build your own culture from scratch, without anyone telling you not to. Niche construction at its finest and most free.

Do check it out.

819 - Have I Missed Something?

Seen today, out to sea, six Canada geese flying south in formation.

Oh, and Whitley Bay now has an elephant. Photo tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

820 - E=(...and the rest)

Posing this question to myself:

What would it do to my theology if I drew a simple equivalence between the religious concepts of Body and Spirit, and the scientific concepts of mass and energy?

Not so much to work out complicated equations, but to admit the descriptive commonalities between the pairs, in the light of contemporary science?

Body and mass are both about substance (thinking of the creation of a clay Earth, and humanity out of that clay, for example), whereas Spirit and energy are about movement and change (thinking of the dynamism of motivated dust, either blown by the spirit 'where it will', or, stepping up a level, descriptive of those attributes of humankind that, in the opinion of biblical writers, separate us from the animals).

The difference between scientific and biblical accounts being that we have now framed the concept of evolution, allowing us to see that the progression from dust to animals, and animals to humanity, is one of complexity, a result of the interaction between mass and energy over the lifetime of the universe, rather than one of fundamental ontology.

My problem with the comparison? I suspect its simplicity, and that, as like as not, is a result of my upbringing in a society where religion and science have been held separate, both by scientists and church people. My fear is, I think, one of category error - a muddying of the waters, the risk of foolishness. Studies of fundamentalism point to disgust as its defining emotion, which is thought to have evolved to enable us to avoid the kind of contamination that results from tainted water and food sources, and might put our survival at risk. It's hard, in this case, to shake the feeling that I'm slipping into an ill-thought-out pseudoscience, neither fishy coelecanth nor trickster coyote in a crow mask.

But the links I've drawn are observational, and in that sense, uncontroversial. They are not making a metaphysical case for an untestable substance (spirit in its popular, separate-from-natural sense, such that one might say there is mass, and energy, and spirit as well), neither discounting the existence of a motivating force behind, or even in the nature of it all (Love as I have understood it/her/him [must return to this!]). All they do is challenge (whilst affirming) a dualism, the way Einstein challenged and affirmed it in his famous equation.

[Written in the wee small hours. There's something to be said about what one experiences in altered states of consciousness - such as dreams - and how these relate to tangible reality. My inclination is to say that describing the 'journeys' one takes in these states as being through the spirit world - as I have sometimes thought - is not absolutely helpful.]