Monthly Archives: March 2012

I mean, really

Bruno came home yesterday from school with this as his reading homework: ‘Captain Underpants and the Big Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy’.

I mean, really. I mean, really, I mean, really.

For those visiting hordes of strangers, Bruno is 6 years old and trying to learn how to pronounce things like ‘and’ and ‘but’ without making them sound weird.

Now it seems the National Curriculum thinks it’s a super idea to send him home with cartoon fart books.

I came over all Mary Whitehouse (any excuse), pursed my lips and scribbled an indecipherable note to his teacher:

‘Miss Wotsit, hello, it’s Bruno’s Mum. Please could Bruno bring home a traditional reading book? He has fun with these things in the holidays but they are full of made-up words and cartoons etc. Thank you.’

Today he brought back a replacement book with a rubbish illustration on the front about some adorable child whose only wish in the whole wide world is to have a puppy as a pet.

So now I have a different set of problems- similar to the ones I had when he brought back the birthday surprise kitten story or the school guinea pig spending its Summer holiday with the luckiest boy in the class.*

Anyway, I was no longer ‘Appalled from Acton’ until I heard him on the phone to a grandparent, explaining the reason he prefers English to Maths:

‘It’s a bit more easier and you know the understanding of it.’

Tomorrow I start street-walking to get him a private education.

*Bru lives in a pet desert


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The Quick and the Dead

John (Room at the Top) Braine’s Writing a Novel was written in the 70’s, which dates some of his references.

But he finishes by identifying as definitive the following D.H.Lawrence passage on the nature and function of the novel, and it’s still a good’un:

You can fool pretty nearly every other medium. You can make a poem pietistic , and still it will be a poem. You can write Hamlet in drama: if you wrote him in a novel, he’d be half comic, or a trifle suspicious: a suspicious character, like Dostoyevsky’s Idiot. Somehow, you sweep the ground a bit too clear in the poem or the drama, and you let the human Word fly a bit too freely. Now in a novel there’s always a tom-cat, a black tom-cat that pounces on the white dove of the Word, if the dove doesn’t watch it; and there is a banana-skin to trip on; and you know there is a water-closet on the premises. All these things help to keep the balance…

We have to choose between the quick and the dead. The quick is God-flame, in everything. And the dead is dead. In the room where I write, there is a little table that is dead: it doesn’t even weakly exist. And there is a ridiculous little iron stove, which for some unknown reason is quick. And there is an iron wardrobe trunk, which for some still more mysterious reason is quick. And there are several books, whose mere corpus is dead, utterly dead and  non-existent. And there is a sleeping cat, very quick. And a glass lamp, alas, is dead.

What makes the difference? Quien sabe! But difference there is. And I know it.

And the sum and source of all quickness, we will call God. And the sum and total of all deadness we may call human.

And if one tries to find out wherein the quickness of the quick lies, it is in a certain weird relationship between that which is quick and- I don’t know; perhaps all of the rest of the things. It seems to consist in an odd sort of fluid, changing, grotesque or beautiful relatedness. That silly iron stove somehow belongs. Whereas this thin-shanked table doesn’t belong. It is a mere disconnected lump, like a cut-off finger.

And now we see the great, great merits of the novel. It can’t exist without being ‘quick’. The ordinary unquick novel, even if it be a best-seller, disappears into absolute nothingness, the dead burying their dead with surprising speed. For even the dead like to be tickled. But the next minute, they’ve forgotten both the tickling and the tickler.

Secondly, the novel contains no didactic absolute. All that is quick, and all that is said and done by the quick, is in some way godly. So that Vronsky’s taking Anna Karenina we must count godly, since it is quick. And that Prince in Resurrection, following the convict girl, we must count dead. The convict train is quick and alive. But that would-be-epatiory Prince is as dead a lumber.

The novel itself lays down these laws for us, and we spend our time evading them. The man in the novel must be ‘quick’. And this means one thing, among a host of unknown meaning: it means he must have a quick relatedness to all the other things in the novel: snow, bed-bugs, sunshine, the phallus, trains, silk-hats, cats, sorrow, people, food, diphtheria, fuchsias, stars, ideas, God, toothpaste, lightning, and toilet-paper. He must be in relation to all these things. What he says and does must be relative to them all.  (A Selection from Phoenix, 1968)

This vivid relatedness applies, I think, to life; we are all that character in our own stories.

The difference is we self-realise, we reach others, before we have the opportunity to edit. We don’t get to cherry-pick the plot highlights.

So our challenge is not just to find the God-flame in the quick (hard enough!) but also to find it in the dead.

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Brian felt sick. The sort that wouldn’t go away with a lie down or retching. The sort that would dissolve his head before his guts.

Had he left himself wide open for this? He’d done nothing at all.

But perhaps all it takes for evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing; he remembered that from one of his mother’s stitched wall hangings- more permanent fixtures in the house than she ever was.

He had to think practically. That was important at a time like this.

He needed to be anywhere but here. Crucial that he have a reason to be somewhere else.

Only he didn’t. He had to go to work.

Thank God he was home alone now. He still had a night to think of a strategy.

He loosened his tie, opened a window and took a deep breath.

Is this what it felt like to be in prison? Not knowing why you wanted your freedom but every bone in your body crying out to not not have it.

There, that was what it was: a double negative. An intangible you didn’t want taken away from you. The loss of an idea. The idea of loss.

He made himself a ham sandwich and a cup of tea. Would these sorts of things even be possible soon? Simple pleasures that didn’t fatten with mutual relevance: Why didn’t you make me a sandwich?

‘Because I don’t feel your hunger,’ he said out loud, slumping on the sofa.

Yes, avoidance was the only answer. If he couldn’t remove himself physically then he’d have to do it some other way.

That thing you were supposed to do with formidable adversaries- turn their power against them- that was what he’d have to do. Really, he was surprised how much he’d learnt from Kung Fu Panda.

He’d have to take the energy and deflect it. Make its very power the reason for his deflection. It was overwhelming, too incredible to accept.

It wasn’t something he didn’t want- God, no!- it was something he wanted so much he was afraid of it.

Too hot to handle. That wasn’t one of his mother’s wall hangings.

But what about the fall-out? Christ, it would be like fucking Chernobyl. If he felt sick now, imagine what it would be like next week.

He’d be walking around under a cloud, like a cartoon.

Maybe prison was an option after all. You can take my freedom but you can’t take my soul. Who was that? Mel Gibson?

It was getting late. Sue would be home soon and he needed to be in bed, pretend snoring.

He took himself upstairs, undressed and brushed his teeth with his toothbrush. His toothbrush, he smiled to himself. Always gonna have that, at least.

Diminished by fear, Brian fell asleep straight away so that there was no strategy, no plan and the next thing he knew he was right there in the middle of it.

It happened slowly, like the part of a dream he wasn’t having.

First a bingo wing resting gently on his back. Then a warm breath on his neck. Finally, a rhasp:

‘Wakey, wakey, Bri. It’s 29th February.’


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