Friday, January 26, 2007

On Hair and Trousers.

This is the current state of play of my hair. At least that is from last weekend when I was in London, drinking ale with fine friends in the 'Harp' pub nr Charing Cross.

One friend has observed that I look like an elf emerged from the woods.

This longer haired image is a departure for me. Now I know how it fees to have my ears perpetually stroked. Now I have something else to play with when I feel nervous or reflective. I can curl the hairs at the base of my neck around my fingers in the manner of an aspirant wizard. To that end, it might be wondered if I should grow a moustache and beard? To that the answer, at least for now, is no.

In the past, hair washing was a simple straightforward affair-over almost as soon as it began. Now when I wash my hair, it runs through my fingers properly and takes a serious amount of water to be rinsed. I love it when my long hair is wet, the way it becomes, Medusa-like, a sprawling conflagration of snakes and horns. When hair is short, as it usually has been, it might as well not be there, one might think. But now the relevance of my hair pokes its way into my mind on a regular basis, and must be having some real effect on my consciousness and self-relation, though what that might be I'm not sure. Perhaps its fluid and anarchic extravagance, its boisterous langourous hussiness, massages my thought and heart processes in a complementary fashion; or maybe not. The association of short hair with the straightjacketed brain-in-a-box dynamics of the military contrasts in popular imagination with the loose and flappy, or wild and angry, persona of the hippy or ardent rocker. Presumably, these stereotyped characterisations are both simplistic. But are they in any way revealing? Would one be as willing to bow down and kiss Caesar's ring, for example, if his hair flowed out like wine? Wouldn't there indeed be something oddly paradoxical about taking stern orders from such a head of hair? And what does the standard portrayal of Jesus with hanging locks portend? All the nice things I think, in my opinion. I have never seen the crucified and resurrected one - the man from history I most admire and love - as a stern and demanding taskmaster. Trying to manufacture such a Jesus out of the Gospels will require a generous dose of eisegetical nerve. Anyway, it would be nice to get to the bottom of cultural and male motivation for having a trim or not.

I wonder what my long haired readers out there..properly long haired readers, whose hair goes down past the shoulders, male and female, think about how their hair relates to them? In what kind of a crucial, defining way does the length of your hair make you feel about yourself? Upon cutting your hair, would you feel amputated? After having cut your hair, if you have cut it, how did you feel...liberated, bereaved, cleansed, exposed? I wonder if your neck screamed out loud hosannas of thanks? Samson-like, do you feel your strength residing in your hair, or some other essential soul-like quality. Or would you not care overmuch if it all disappeared tomorrow?

The longest I'd grown my hair before was in 1990, when I was 18. Then it never got as long as it has now. I stopped its progress because I was going to Africa and thought that in the heat it would attract irksome sweatiness. But also because it kept on growing outwards and upwards and not downwards in the manner one envisages, as a teen or young man, cool hair should be- thin and straight and vertical, comfortably clenchable by hairband for ponytail. Actually, talking of ponytails on men, in the early 90s, when they were fashionable, I was never that enamoured of them on men. On girls they can be sexy, very-but somehow I'm not taken by them on men that much. I wonder, is there a picture of Jim Morrison anywhere?

Now, I just don't care what happens to my hair. It's an experiment. My worries about being 'cool' or at least not looking 'too strange' have dissolved into the dusty indifference of early middle age. My thoughts about whether or not women will find it attractive founder on the rock of the realisation that throughout my life considerations about what I think women want have had no fertile results. My main objection to my hair is that it seems to want, without my permission- without even asking for my permission- to turn grey. This insolence on its part, reflecting the obnoxious, and one presumes, ever-to-expand development of the deconstructive ageing process, is making me wonder whether I might hide behind the artificial masks of dye. For some reason -or maybe this is particularly in conservative Slovakia- it is thought poor form for ageing men to dye their hair. There is also the point often made that grey hair makes men look 'distinguished'. Well, that may well be, but really what it does is make you look old; and while, of course, there is nothing wrong with either looking or being old (and certainly many real advantages in being old), there perhaps is something nice and good about looking young, especially if that makes you feel young...and especially, moreover, if one is looking, courtesy for example of rebellious hair, old in one's mid thirties.

It's curious but not surprising that nobody would object to a woman's right to dye her hair to combat the march of the grey. I don't even have to ask whether this is fair or not. Of course, women are also more encouraged to be playful colourwise, and from an early age. My dear friend Liz dyes her hair very regularly, various different colours, but nobody thinks this unusual (perhaps the fact that she avoids purples and greens is part of the explanation). Why is it that if I dyed my hair on a regular basis, and maybe even if I dyed my hair just to avoid greyness, society might want to think that I had done something effeminate or even, heaven forbid, gay?

Peculiar. It's the same with clothes. Why don't we think that women who wear trousers are transvestites, when that would be thought of me if I wore a dress? If I wore a dress to work or just out and about (I have no desire to do this as it happens) what would people think? Would they think me gay? Actually I don't see why they would. How many gay men do you know who wear dresses? I don't know any. Probably, they'd think me an aspirant transsexual, or even a fully accomplished one, such as to no longer be a 'man' at all. Or maybe they'd just think me 'very strange'. But my point is that if a woman wears trousers, or a man's shirt or jacket, nobody thinks like this: either that she is a lesbian or that she might want to become a man. Or that she is strange.

It may be thought that the prohibitions against cross-dressing go back to the Old Testament. I don't know about this. Certainly there are references here, I believe, to the inculcation of sartorial conventionality, but that such conventionality and demacation by gender was absent from surrounding non-Israelite cultures, I would highly doubt; so presumably it extends back to earlier than the time of the Mosaic codes.
A question for women: Given your close, intimate familiarity with the world of both trousers and the skirt/dress, what would you say are the relative advantages/disadvantages of both, in various contexts?

Basically, I am wondering if there is any concrete rationale for men to wear dresses and skirts, and what that might be? Maybe I should ask the Scots regarding the kilt. Of course, they might want to place a dagger at my throat for even suggesting that a kilt is a skirt. Actually, I know it is not, so they can back off. But we can at least agree that the kilt shares a very similar shape and form to the skirt?

Personally, I would like to wear a kilt, but have not yet done so. As for wearing a dress..this indeed I have done, but only twice. Once dressing up for 'the hell of it' with a friend called Joanna in Surrey, and at another time when I wore a long, flowing purple number at a burlesque style party in the noble cafe of Vennels, Durham city, in the distant past that is 1996.

I've just had a thought. Fewer and fewer women wear skirts and dresses. Why is this? Is this only because women want to make the symbolical statement of their emancipation from patriarchy, or might it just be because women don't like wearing skirts and dresses that much?

Yours awating enlightenment, and with love.


Monday, January 22, 2007

The Cancer of Fear.

I'm just recently back from a weekend in England. The place is turning gradually into a Police state, or that is what the warnings about not neglecting your bags and reporting anything suspicious leads me to feel. It’s certainly not yet, however, anything like the scenes depicted in the recent film, “Children of Men”, thank God. While I can accept any degree of paranoid surveillance would retrospectively be justified if it prevented mass murder, I really do wonder how such a tension could securely insulate us from such danger, especially in the light of the martyr’s willingness to sacrifice himself for his dark art. In the meantime, this paranoia, while not guaranteeing safety anyway, cancerously eats out the heart of the very freedom our powers-that-be aspire to protect.

One of the principal roles for the state, beyond administering justice to restrain our vigilante blood-lusts, is to defend us from fear. Not only, then, to defend us from those who wish to hurt us, but to defend us from the fear of being attacked or blown up at any minute by emotional retards. Isn’t this why we voluntarily (for voluntary is what tax is –unless we live in a dictatorship) give the Government money to run those things called the police and the military? Are we sure that booming out dread and suspiciousness of our neighbour is entirely called for? Isn’t it the responsibility of those we pay to protect us to worry about the forces of death and incivility? Or is it that we are expected to help out, and share in the burden? But wouldn't that mean we are entitled to a rebate on our tax? Doesn’t this mean we are doing the Government's job for free?

We know we cannot live in a perfectly secure world. We’ve known this since we first stubbed our toes and cut ourselves and found that mother’s power could neither always protect us from these inconveniences, nor effortlessly dispel the attendant pain. So what is new, then, about thinking we might be blown up at any minute? We lived like that during the War and then for 40 years during the Cold War, but levity and innocence nonetheless survived. The chances today of course are very much that the vast majority of us, if not all of us, will not be blown up, especially if the security services are doing their job as well as one hopes and presumes they are. So why should we live in fear? This itself constitutes not so much ‘defeat’ (I eschew this ridiculously Zoroastrian talk of a war on an abstract noun - Terror); what it constitutes is Cowardice, that old chestnut of a vice which in these stuporific days has gone the way of many of the other vices and all the noble virtues - into the rancid soup of post-modern victimhood - which we quaff greedily, whilst sucking, uncertainly, on the consoling nipple of the void.

An important question to raise is whether it is the Governments of the World’s intention to actually make us frightened; not to protect us from an external enemy, but to make us the more easily controllable. One might, but needn’t, believe that the CIA brought down the Twin Towers deliberately in order to suspect this. The Marxist critique that religion is the invention of the masters to keep the slaves opiated into docile subservience - does this belief live on in an age wherein, faced with God’s shyness, if not his definitive non-existence, the masters can no longer rely on theologies and the eloquence of their priests to keep knees on the floor conveniently? Now, in the spirit of Orwell’s 1984, is it that fear as an end in-itself is now to be paraded nakedly. Is fear itself to become our new God?

Actually, while not denying that it is probable that some degree of dark intentionality indeed stalks the corridors of power, I am loathe, and desire to be loathe, to accept that the Al-Qaeda threat is a mere mirage conjured by dark cabals who want us to remain bricks in their walls, insulating and preserving their dominance over us. Do I think this, I wonder, only because my Grandfather was a Bishop and my other Grandfather an MD and because my brother and Dad went to Eton - because therefore I originated to an extent in these very ruling classes that are supposed to be benefiting from this subservience? - even though I myself have no role in the Establishment at all and am as poor as an EFL teacher is liable to be. Is the wool pulled over my eyes because I want it to be? Well, I certainly hope not.

Maybe what conspiracy theorists fail to accept is that being a master is not so wonderful anyway. In order to keep your privilege you have to sacrifice your human freedom –and the riches of fearlessness- to protect your throne from those who covet it. The master is as much a slave as the slave –only differently. The whole system, let us be sure, is shot to hell and fuck and back again. The only answer, from within the system, is to recognize that there is no answer from within the system. Power lusts and the desire to get another’s dominance and defend your own, is not merely a central feature of the system, it is the system. Nietzsche was right. The Will to power is rampantly the Emperor of all. And the King…..well, the King, as usual, is crucified and waiting for his redemption, that he not be spurned by the land any more.

Thankfully, this imperious power lusting is not the final word. As it happens, the power lusting system that defines the public sphere, and much of the private, does not meet or fulfill our deeper needs. We know this in our art and in our love, and in our honest spirituality. We know it in our dreams and we know it when we cry and sometimes when we come. Actually what we want, with varying degrees of intensity and awareness, is what Withnail called an escape from ‘all this hideousness’. Actually, what we want is to become our true selves and to emerge from the shadow veils of Babylon, to wake up from the script of fear, of fight and flight, which encases us in our collective armour, the matrix of our own devising, our elaborate denials of the infinity and rapture that lies beneath far lost –the sleeping beauty within.

We live in two worlds. You might call them Babylon and the Kingdom of Heaven if you wish; or you might call them ignorance and gnorance (or gnosis as it has been called). Whatever you want to call them, we live in two worlds. But let us not, please, repeat the Cartesian error of opposing the physical with the spiritual, or even the bodily with the mental. The physical and the spiritual are two aspects of the same one essence of the universe, at different rates of velocity or refinement. The body and the mind are both inside the body and therefore both physical - and so are themselves both different from, though ultimately at one with, the spiritual. All indeed ultimately is one, as the lady we all know, who shines white light and wants to show, how everything still turns to Gold, keeps trying to remind us.

Golly gosh, do I come across as all dogmatic? Maybe I do. It’s true I feel a degree of conviction about these matters that inclines me not to be tentative. But words attract distortion, both in conception and interpretation, so I expect to be misunderstood. And the fact that “I don’t really care” if you agree with me, also, one hopes, keeps me undressed in the mantle of a lawmaker or dictator.

Actually, of course I do care if you disagree with me..but only in that everyday sense of frustration and because I wish to share a perception; not in a sense of anger, or gloom.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On Childhood

Sister Rachel, Susie and I. Susie and I both shared a birthday on September 11th.

Here's a questionnaire I wrote about childhood. I enjoy reminiscing about the past, as it reconnects me to my essence and that forcefield of emotional sincerity that so much of the world conspires to dispel. I cherish many golden memories from this time and try not to remember the bad times. Alot of the reference points, alas, may be lost on non-British people, not in their thirties. Many other questions could have been asked. I believe it is good for the soul to be nostalgic, and remember that time is a bit of an illusion, at least as we understand it.

I believe that when we die we re-experience a lot of what has happened to us in our life. Since I am an enemy of fear, however, I wouldn't want this to be taken as meaning we should be perilous of the great beyond. I believe the truth about the universe is far more loving then we can know. I could be wrong, but it's what I believe. I want, in part, as I can, to open up the records of my life, inscribed in memory, while I am still alive, as I find this has a very salubrious and radiant effect on consciousness, for me anyway. Obviously this should not become an obsession; but we can usefully recall T.S.Eliot's observation that sometimes 'the way up is the way down, the way forward, is the way back' (or words to that effect). I appreciate, of course, that my childhood was far happier and less troubled than some people's must have been, and I entirely understand and sympathise with anyone not wishing to go down this road themselves.

As a child were you an Asterix or a Tintin man? Confidently Tintin, though I did enjoy Asterix, especially scenes involving Obelix and Cacophonix.

Would you insist on Heinz Tomato Ketchup? I didn’t have to. I presume Mum knew quality when she tasted it and that no substitutes would do. At one time, Mum worried about a Tomato Ketchup addiction on my part.

Under the age of 13, did you read more, or watch Telly more?
I read very little, mainly just Tintin, Asterix, comic annuals (The Beano, The Dandy), and a wonderful rag called ‘Tiger’, featuring characters such as ‘Billy Boots’ and ‘Hotshot Hamish’. I did enjoy the nature novels of Willard Price, however.

Were you a bully? No, though I do feel a bit guilty at laughing occasionally when one boy, who seemed to ask for victimization, would be taunted amusingly. Maybe I laughed to ‘fit in’. But I would be friendly with him whenever we spoke.

Were you bullied? No, not physically, though when I was about seven I remember two elder boys threatening to put my neck in a paper slicing machine. I stared at them, and somehow they let me go. I was kicked in the street in town by strangers, presumably because I was wearing a uniform, but bullies need to know their victims don’t they? I was taunted at school when I was 15 for being a ‘communist bastard’ just because I’d gone on holiday to East Germany with my Dad before the Wall came down. I don’t think bullies should feel guilty for bullying by the way. I just think they should stop bullying, and stop being so weak.

Did you resent being forced to play violent sports, such as Rugby? Yes, but what could I do? Rugby was compulsory, and given my size I was destined for the second row and all that that entails in terms of grabbing props’ shirts through their legs. My main focus was to keep as far away from the ball as possible and not fall over in scrums. Regarding cricket, I liked being a good and successful bowler but batting, unless I hit sixes, could be a drag, especially in nets practice, especially when having to worry, sans helmet, about being smashed in the head by bouncers from Thompson or Finch. Swimming and Table Tennis were very gracious and civilized.

Did you object to playing sport in freezing weather in nothing but shorts and a shirt? Indeed I did. Odd that we didn’t wear tracksuit trousers in the freezing cold, amidst the snow. It used to snow more regularly in England in the 70s and early 80s than it does now.

How did you get to school every day? Almost entirely I would cycle. Less than 1 mile to my first school and about a mile and a half to my second school. Both in Cambridge, England.

Did you think Tucker Jenkins was the definition of boyish cool? Absolutely, and I was delighted when he returned for ‘Tuckers luck’. But it never quite had the same appeal. ‘Grange Hill’ was never as good after Tucker, although I enjoyed episodes involving Zammo and Jonah, the latter only being in the series briefly, alas.

Were you forced to go to Church? How did you feel about this? Both at school and by my mother out of school time, yes, I was compelled to go to Church (just as I was compelled to go to lessons). I didn’t mind much really, although sometimes the hymns and all the kneeling and recitation of formulas was a bit boring. Sometimes the sermons and the dramatic productions were fun. I was lucky to be exposed to jovial, kind and pleasant Ministers and not to be doctrinally straight-jacketed. My freethinking disposition and a worry that I might be ‘mentally institutionalised’, however, kept me from getting confirmed as a teenager, I think.

When and where did you first snog a member of your desired gender? When I was 18 in Suffolk in my bedroom. She was a friend of my sister, during my eighteenth birthday party. We were not alone. I was sitting on the legs of a crashed out rave musician who had collapsed on my bed. All very chaotic.

Did you love Christmas? Why, or why not? Yes, I loved Christmas; the Christmas time glimmer and glitter, and the focus on joy and light and feasting appealed to me. As did the TV schedules, which seemed much more abundant and thrilling than was typical for the rest of the year.

When and where did you lose your viginity? Were the circumstances agreeable?
I was 18 and it was in Banos, Equador. She was delightful and kind. Afterwards we went down and bathed in a hot spring.

Were you a member of a gang? If so, what was it called? Yes, at state primary school I was one of a member of four kids who called themselves the ‘goodie’ gang, in obvious reference to the 70s UK comedy series “the Goodies”, starring a very large cat amongst others. The natural leader of this gang moved with me to my next school, and I naturally joined his new troupe. We congregated by an area of greenery next to the tennis courts and engaged in interesting discussions and boyish adventures. I was also involved with another circle, so perhaps my loyalties were divided. I became much more solitary after the age of about 10, though my clannish past reasserted itself happily when I was 16, though by no means always.

Who was your favourite teacher..what subject? My History teacher Robert Hendersen for sure, between the ages of 9 and 12. His exilarating lessons were a tour de force and engaged my desires to impress and excel. Later, when 16, I adored the lessons of my English teacher, Dr Charles Moseley, who introduced me to Plato and to philosophy and helped me develop my love for the riches of transcendence.

Did you torment or tease any of your teachers? No. I thought about joining in with the bray in my French class when 13, just to ‘fit in’, but didn’t. Actually the teacher didn’t seem to mind his treatment especially, possibly because the pupils did actually respect him ultimately and were just having laugh. It was more of a carnival atmosphere than anything cruel; or so I hope, anyway.

Did you see Star Wars , Episode IV, when it premiered in 1977? Yes, and then kept a scrap book of star wars picture afterwards, and slept on a Star Wars pillow, and played with a few Star Wars figures, especially Chewbacca. I had no Millenium Falcon, unlike others, however.

Did it confuse, or upset, you that nobody ever died in the ‘A- team’? A bit yes. I remember one scene when a helicopter fell about 100 meters to the ground, and exploded. The men stumbled out, coughing from the smoke. That was absurd.

If you have kids, will you send them to any of the schools you went to. If you have kids, have you done this? Maybe to my first school. It will to a great degree be up to my child/children. I was within limits allowed to veto secondary schools (public schools in my privileged case), and though I took the Eton entrance exam I deliberately under-performed, with the desired result. Of course, it's looking most likely that I won’t have any kids. Whether I do is ‘up to the ladies’, as it were, since I am not much of a persuader, and not enthused by the somewhat artificial histrionics of courtship. The ‘ways of nature’ sure as hell can be tedious.

Do you wish you could reconnect with some school friends. Do you feel ‘friends reunited’ has not been all that it might have been? Yes, I would like to see many people I don’t know how to contact. Of course, they may not want to see me, which of course is reasonable and fair enough. It's not Friends Reunited’s fault, but yes, many many people whom I'd like to be registered to it are not. Also, people don’t reply which may or may not be because of me.

Dallas or Dynasty? Not Knots Landing, surely? Dallas. Couldn’t get into Dynasty, and only checked out Knots Landing because of the Gary connection. I adored Dallas, well until Bobby died and then didn’t die – which seemed a bit too wacky.

At school, were you ever uncertain about your sexual orientation? No, but I did love some of my male friends, sometimes very much. I didn’t really have any female friends at all..not until I was about 16.

Did you have enough friends at school? It was ok, except between the ages of 11-16, when I was lonely, sometimes very.

Do you miss anything about school, now that you are free of it? What is better, what worse about freedom? I liked the fact that money didn’t really exist in school for the pupils, so there was a kind of egalitarianism between us, so little buying and selling to worry about. I liked that I lived in a world that had a clear identity and was shared by others (even though I often felt alien from it); and I liked the Cameraderie and the often very funny and amusing characters and incidents that would arise. But it’s good to be an adult, and be less controlled by system, and be able to travel alone and do more things independently. Of course whether or not adults when they leave school exchange one kind of slavery for another, this time one rooted around financial and familial duties, is richly debatable.

How much of what you learnt at school did you consider to be utterly pointless? At the time, probably about 70% of it, especially the science subjects, which seemed to me so abstract and inhuman and irrelevant to my life. That’s not to say I wasn’t good at science, but I forced myself to study and learn, as I was proud enough or frightened enough not to want to fail.

Did school food thrill you? In any way? There was an exotic dish at my Public school, a chicken dish, which I enjoyed a lot. Generally the food was ok, but nothing to correspond about. Memories endure of a delightful chocolate milk shake from my early years. But I've always been a bit indifferent to, or at least unfussy about, food. Actually, I think I wouldn't mind not eating at all, if I didnt have to, and didn't get hungry.

Did you learn a musical instrument at school? The prep school I went to prided itself on its musical talents, which were deserved, and everyone had to learn an instrument, and typically sing in the school choir. I learnt the violin –poorly. My second violin teacher was very funny, and I mainly enjoyed my lessons because of her amusing personality.

Were you frightened of any of your teachers? Not really, not specifically, but I was frightened of failure and of being accused of things (since then, as now, I disliked conflict). But I wasn’t docile in spirit and of course thought many of the rules silly and deservedly broken.

Were you happier at school than you are now? Were they ‘the best years of your life’? I would say I was unhappy at school in my early teen years, but not otherwise especially, just a bit isolated, which wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not the best years of my life no, but certainly not the worst.

How much of an individual were you at school? Did you conform in behaviour and tastes in order to fit in and be accepted by other kids? I was often thought strange and called strange and weird. Probably I was strange. While I don’t think this was intentional on my part – to get attention –people sometimes thought it was. It's true that I found it hard to be ‘normal’, and while I did try, I did feel I had to be true to myself, which tended to send me off in different directions to others.

How often were you punished by your teachers? Were you a good boy? I was sent out of the class when I was 7. I forget why, and given drill when 13 for not taking a shower (because there were none available). Drill involved writing out the following amusing line many times over: “Nothing is more distressing to a well regulated mind than to see a boy who ought to know better disporting himself at improper moments”. Its remarkableness inclined it to be remembered. I saw no reason to be rebellious for its own sake. My distemper and anger with the world and life exercised itself on the mental and emotional plane.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cultural Reflection

The below is a rather intense post. Just to let you know. I seem to have been overshadowed by some kind of ardour.

This morning I was happy to be back in correspondence with a friend I’ve not seen recently. We got onto the topic of Uncle Sam and his controversial nature. Much reviled and loved by many, since 9/11 the relative virtue or evil of this large country has exercised quite a lot of energy that might otherwise have been spent combatting the enemy within the hearts of us all. Anyway, being as I am a man of opinion, I found myself articulating thoughts that make me wonder whether my readers will consider me anti-American.

Actually, I am no more anti-American than I am anti-Iranian, Anti-Israeli, anti-Palestinian, anti-Chinese or anti-Mozambiquan.

As it happens, cultural and religious, philosophical and artistic resonances between my background as an Englishman and a country that emerged out of England (principally East Anglia, so it seems) leads me, yes, to feel that I have more in common with America than I do with those other countries. But hey, my love of the stranger and the other, my fascination for the different and the alien (terrestrial or otherwise) strips me of any PC implanted guilt that I might otherwise feel for my feelings of sympathy for the Samuellian Eagle.

I abhor and have little time for the dualistic mental categories of either/or, which hosts of surrounding mental pressures conspire to box me into. Below I criticize a country that I love. One would have thought that criticism of what one loves is acceptable. Otherwise, was my Mother, who loved me, wrong to criticize me for not eating my spaghetti properly?

Much thought tends in an opposite direction: If you love a country, given the posited struggle of all against all, energy and opportunity should unremittingly defend it from those who hate it. Criticism, meanwhile, should be reserved only for ‘the others’, those not of ‘your tribe’, or ‘your people’. Otherwise, one is ‘disloyal’.

On the contrary, I believe it is primarily those you are closest to (especially oneself, then family, then friends, then community, then nation, then nation of a similar culture, in this case the US); those in other words whom one is most identified with and know the most about; those, in other words, that you feel you understand the best, that you should feel the most free to criticize. In these cases your criticism is not a fundamental, malicious attack, but an attempt to offer suggestions to something you are in fact responsible for, since it is something you yourself contribute to and, in concert with others, constitute.

Yet regarding strangers, different cultures and nations, those from whom you are more separated and different; is it not inappropriate, on account of your ignorance, but also simply rude, to criticize them, especially if this is done in the indelicate ways we see characterising so much of the purported present day ‘clash of civilizations’? And is it not also likely that your criticisms may in fact be an attack: rooted in the weaknesses of hate, the debility of fear, in decadent tribalism, in the desire for conquest? Rooted in the murder of life, the murder of hope, the murder of love, the murder of God?

More later, perhaps, on the murder of God- perhaps at Easter, when we commemorate this extraordinary event. The murder that, to my theological understanding,, God endlessly forgives us for, whether or not we deserve it.

Oh well, below is what I wrote. The style was gentler and more relaxed than the intensity displayed above, as is appropriate for a friendly email. My main point, in summary of what I circuitously express above, is that I am not an anti-American just because I criticize America.

“I guess the thing that disappoints me the most would be Americans' tendency to feel the need to remind people as much as they do about how strong and robust and virile they are. I consider this to be, when I see it, ungracious and unmagnanimous. The strong should wear their dominance with humility, especially if they are pretending to be Christians.

I guess this assertive streak is allied to their 'frontier spirit', which rests on the knowledge that their country is based on a serenity-shunning, questing, utopian adventurism. I also find peculiar their oftentimes impenetrable insistence on appearing happy and upbeat all the time, despite the fact they take more anti-depressants and see more therapists than most other peoples (or so I have been led to believe). Their lack of a homogenous culture, except one bound together by consumerism, and their insistence upon their individual rights to self-aggrandise and violently defend themselves against other people, is also striking. Whereas most countries are rooted in accidental history and simply time and custom, America seems to be based on a dream, a hope and an adventure. This can explain, perhaps, America’s sometimes fantastical detachment from what Europeans and others might call 'reality'.

Actually, I am not anti-American. Not at all. A great thing about the US is that it shows that extremely diverse people, by creed and ethnicity, can live together in a workable, albeit imperfect polity. And despite what I say about the emotional inauthenticity that can be found there, their optimism and lack of cynicism can be refreshing. British sardonic irony and satire can be excessively anti-life and anti-joy at times.

Then my friend said words critical of American foreign policy, and I responded like this:

‘America is a bit schizoid regarding its involvement with the world. Isolationism wrestles with imposition in a manner making one think of a bear that, while thinking its cave best, will from time to time rummage outside for food and check its defences. But its world is its own world and it doesn’t really understand how the other animals live. Often the bear will be nice and kind and give guidance to other animals, whether asked to or not, as it goes about its business outside its cave. It may also invite guests and even adopt and make bears of others, or else just show off its cave paintings. But sometimes the bear doesn’t know its own strength, or else does know it all too well, and, bull-in-a china-shop style, creates a degree of havoc. Ultimately, it means well, but finds it difficult to do this on terms other than its own. Perhaps its inner emotional insecurity rests on the memory that its tenure of the cave it inhabits is young and was forged in violence and genocide (though this can be said of many, or even most, newly emergent countries of course).

I think America's main crime in the eyes of the world, is just to be too strong and too wealthy. Morally, spiritually, it is no worse than other nations (and better than some surely?) but because of its power and unipolar world dominance, it projects its all-too-human moral mediocrity very impressively, and becomes an easy scapegoat, in the eyes of many, for a spiritual malaise and basic sinfulness which is everywhere.

Oh well, such is life. I am a quasi-gnostic, so I don’t expect much to be impressed with this world.”

Actually, as I read this now, I see that I said some nice things about Uncle Sam. I usually shy away from the word ‘sin’ because its meaning seems so lost and degraded in modern public discourse. But I used it in this case because I was writing to a Christian, so it seemed appropriate.

Less intensity, which I am better at controlling in my recent years, in my next post.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Three Morrises

Recently I’ve been thinking about the word Morris and my relationship to Morris and how it’s featured in my life.

It seems that there are three Morrises in my life, though I also went to school with one other along time ago.

The first Morris is this:

My Mother’s car..a Morris Minor 1000 estate. She bought it before I was born, and she sometimes reminds me that I am younger than it is. I remember lengthy periods of time spent sitting inside it, travelling between Suffolk and Cambridge, or travelling around the country on holidays (for example to the Lake District in 1979, which included dramatic trips through Rhinos pass). Sometimes Mum would take me shopping and I'd be left to sit in and guard the car and reflect upon the dashboard and its gadgetry. Other times, this gadgetry would be transformed imaginatively by my sister and I into the controls of a space rocket and we’d prepare for takeoff, or even, indeed, be lost, or not so lost, in space. Here she is driving it in the summer of 2005 in the charming village of Chelsworth.

Here’s another picture of it, sporting the jovial presence of my dearly departed Father.

The second Morris, in order of chronology (meaning when they entered my life, not their place in history), is this man.

Known to the world as ‘Jim’ (and as Jimmy to family and friends in his early years), he made it clear he wanted his poetry and writings (‘The Lords’ and ‘The New Creatures’, in addition to his more famous lyrics, some of which were set to music) published under his full name, James Douglas Morrison. I don’t know but I’m not sure this has happened yet. Still, I was gratified to note when I went to his final resting place, Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris in 2000, that his new tombstone (replacing the much graffitied original) is inscribed with his full name. The old tombstone, which had carried a bust (and which I’ve heard was stolen?), just said Jim Morrison. Actually, when I was there a cemetery official told me something that is perhaps not widely known by those who take an interest in this American poet and singer. Namely, that each year his father, who is now in his eighties comes from the US to his Son’s grave to pay his respects. I don’t know if he still does this, however, but I found this story very touching and view of the fact that Jim Morrison publicly and repeatedly distanced himself from his Father (an Admiral in the US navy), going so far as to tell the press that both his parents were dead. I was also moved when I read in Stephen Davis’s excellent biography that when they last met, in 1966, five years before Jim’s death, they were seen to express genuine affection for one another.

Jim’s influence on me, in terms of my character formation and early writings and poetry, was massive. When I was introduced to him by school friends when I was 17 he seemed like an angel trapped in darkness, speaking of higher realities that the rest of the world, even Christians, seemed to deny. Regarding Christ though, it should be said that he once called himself a ‘Mystery Christian’ – an expression I love- and indeed he even goes so far, on ‘When The Music’s Over’ to cry ‘Jesus save us’. Clearly, this could be construed as ironic and mocking, but who knows? In any case, the spiritual dimension of Jim’s mind is often neglected, although Ray Manzarek, a fellow Doors’ member, speaks eloquently about this aspect of him in interview.

The third Morris is still alive – a living legend no less, and is this much loved and hated man.

Although already having produced music and lyrics for over a decade, first with The Nosebleeds and then much more famously with The Smiths, I only came across Steven Patrick Morrissey properly in the summer of 1989, when the invigorating, sublime orgasm that is “The Boy With The Thorn in His Side” blew the roof off my mind and exposed me to the sound of angels. That may seem hyperbolic. I assure you, this was the effect. In my ignorance, no doubt, I had never come across such consoling emotional sympathy from any person, living or dead, in the flesh or by the word. I had not, to be frank, encountered such an unguarded, defenseless humanity before, except amongst young children when I myself was a child. Yet allied to this openness lay an astonishingly funny and perspicacious wit. So, as you might imagine, he really did ‘shake my world’ as the cliché would have it. Along with Jim, and Matt Johnson of The The, and courtesy of my trusty Walkman, he insulated me from anxiety and fear, as I travelled with strangers across South America in 1990, and added spice and rapture to my experiences working with Operation Raleigh in Botswana later that year. Indeed, in Botswana, surrounded by a majority of Smiths revilers, my defensive, idolatrous regard for him could at times be acute, and deeply wounded. Maybe if I hadn’t had an ‘eastern style’ spiritual experience later during that trip, whilst in the Okavango Delta, and then the following winter a very deep encounter with the sprit of Christ, to this day I would be a fully Mozzed up Mozzer, the devoted owner of endless albums and related merchandise, one of the indefatigable doters on his every word, who follow him from concert to concert.

I mentioned another Morris. This was a girl, whose name was Morris. I studied History with her at school as a teenager. For some reason she once looked at me and said ‘extraordinary’. I don’t know why she said this (though generally speaking I was considered pretty weird) but decided to take it as a compliment. She was really vivacious and bright and powerful, and you got the impression she would be going places. I wonder what she’s up to now.

There is no dictionary definition of the word ‘Morris’ other than that of a style of English folk dancing. Dancing like this.

For some reason, I think the English are a little coy about this folk tradition. I must say I have shared this feeling, though don’t really know why. Anyone want to shed any light? Actually, going from this video it looks rather festive. Perhaps I might have thought it a bit 'square' in my cool-conscious days. According to Wikipedia, it bears Moorish connections to Morrocco. Does this explain 'Morris' to any extent..?

Anyway, long live Morris, and long live my relationship with Morris. May there be more of Morris in the world.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Teaching English Literature

My work circumstances have changed since Christmas. I no longer, since my contract expired, work for SAP, the enormous, surprisingly unwell-known German computer software firm. Therefore, I’m more properly freelance in my operations, as opposed to being freelance ‘on the side’- alongside a meaty contract. There are advantages and disadvantages to my new circumstances (though it's possible I may work for SAP a bit, I’m still waiting to hear). The main disadvantage regards Mammon, the God of this World, who regards me now with somewhat less favour.. This is a little dull of him, if you ask me, but, hey, he and I have not always seen eye to eye. In response to his squeezing tactic, I am committed to ‘eating out’ less, something which, beyond increasing the washing up workload, has surprisingly found me happy to be spending more time in. So that’s an unexpected plus. And who knows, I might even learn to cook properly in consequence. Jessica is happy to be seeing more of me too.

Another advantage is that I now teach English literature at an International State school three times a week (5 x 45 minutes lessons in total). I’ve never done this before, and have had no formal academic involvement with this subject since I got my A grade at A level and Step paper pass when I was 17.

I remember, when I studied subjects at school, wishing I’d received more background insights, however brief, into the wider nature and context of the subjects we studied. What, for example IS English literature, as opposed to Biology, Law, History, Geography? This might seem an obvious question, but trying telling that to the post-modern theorists who consume trees dissecting this matter. I’ve little time for the subjectivity-crushing, cyborg, philistinism of so much literary theory but I do share a taste for getting a broader angle, which I guess in its jargonic way literay theory tries to do too.

Anyway for that reason, and for our first lesson last week, I devised the following quiz, which sought to cover the period of specifically British literature since Elizabethan times. The students are all pretty bright, aged between 17 and 18.

English Literature 16th Century to 20th Century: Quiz

Who is considered the most famous dramatist of the 16th century? Name three of his plays?

In which century did the novel become popular? Which early novel was about a man deserted on an island?

What famous Religious poem did John Milton write, and what was it about? When did he write it (approximately)?

Name me three famous female novelists (from the pre World War II era).

Was Alexander Pope a Romantic poet or was he more Classical? Name me three Romantic poets. What major international events were happening around the time that they were writing?

Which Queen reigned in Britain for most of the 19th century? Which major male novelist from this era wrote books about the social conditions of life in Britain. Name me two of his books.

What do you know about William Blake?

How would you describe the mood and spirit of Britain (and Europe) at the end of the 19th century?

What effect did the First World War have on British culture and identity?

Name some philosophers from the nineteenth century and pre World War I era who massively shaped the course of thought in the 20th century?

What famous British writer (originally from Poland) wrote a book which inspired Francis Ford Coppola to make the film called ‘Apocalypse Now’, starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando.

What does ‘stream of consciousness’ mean? What writers displayed this style of writing in their books?

Can you explain the difference between objective and subjective. Are 20th century novels, plays and poems more subjective or objective in their approach?

What was the last book you read in the English language?

What value does literature have? What value does art have? Wouldn’t our time be better spent studying science or economics?

Actually they did pretty well, given that some of those questions were fairly obscure, especially for non-natives. I don’t believe in patronizing students or pretending they won’t know things, as one can always be surprised, as I was. And of course I suppose they went away having learnt something. They certainly knew more than some other adult students I teach, whom I briefly showed it to.

Now I’m teaching them some Shakespeare. I find the text can come alive so much more if you help them with the vocab from the start, and give them the cultural background, and help them with context. And it's wonderful how a consideration of Shakespeare (Anthony and Cleopatra yesterday and Macbeth today) leads so effortlessly into a discussion of key themes in real life and real experience.

Monday, January 8, 2007


Michael James Lever Tillotson

Today is the first anniversary of my Father's death. My thoughts today turn naturally to him; as well as to my Mother, who luckily today will be kept company by my sister in Suffolk.

It is hard to know what I can say. I think I’ll just include what I said at his memorial service last May, in a small village church in deepest, greenest Suffolk, five months after the funeral. It is a little pompous and serious in its style, but I wanted to be formal, more formal than my sisters had wanted to be, since I wanted to communicate in all seriousness the sense in which his life had been a success, and a gift to those who knew him. In any case, if you can’t be serious about someone when you’re publically saying goodbye to them forever, when can you be?

"I think the earliest memory I have of my Dad is of lying on him as he was watching a TV programme about Stalin, the Russian dictator, a man who always fascinated him, and after whom, as some of you may recall, he named our first family dog, the large black and white spaniel, who lived with us at Barton Road until the late 1970s.

Being something of a shy man, I did not always find Dad the most communicative of men but nevertheless always felt that our affection for one another was clearly communicated, by tone of voice and eye contact, and that a certain shared intellectual and spiritual understanding forged a deep bond between us; particular topics of shared interest were classical music and history...I recall playing Mozart CD’s to him in his declining years in Suffolk, and hearing him speak emotionally about Music and feeling honored to be drawn into such a very special field of his enthusiasm. I recall also his slow, deliberate, majestically delivered speeches he’d on occasions make around the dinner table on topics of history and international politics, subjects very close to his heart… He could talk commandingly and with authority on many subjects but George III, Jack the Ripper and the Cuban missile crisis were three of his favorites I recall fondly.

I have extremely warm and grateful memories of trips I was lucky enough to take with Dad to Germany in 1986 and 1991 and then to Ireland in 1993. That earliest trip to Germany in particular struck a deep chord with me, intensifying my desire to learn about the history and philosophies of the world I live in.

And as we all will who knew him, I thank him for his generosity and again for his humour, but should also like to mention and thank him for his sensitivity and his kind taste for freedom and liberality, that sense in which Dad allowed his 4 children the space and freedom to develop as they wished, and to follow and take their own self-chosen trajectories, and to support them in whatever choices they made.

I feel certain my father is now very well and happy. If Dad can hear me now, as I’m sure he can, may he know that I loved him, as did we all, very much, and may he also know the depths of my gratitide for his life and for all that he gave me, and gave to all who knew him."

Indeed, it's no joke that our family dog when I grew up was called Stalin. Here he is with me, in the late 70s.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

On the Butcher from Tikrit

The other night on You Tube I had the opportunity to watch Saddam Hussein being hanged. I started watching one of the offered videos (I wonder if any are fake?) but stopped just as the noose was being fixed around his neck.

Like the Nazis at the Nuremburg trials who were striking in their ordinariness, so Saddam didn’t look like an embodiment of evil at all, but a tired, confused, disoriented old man who under his unpanicking, proud exterior was no doubt terrified.

I have never seen a dead body, except the outline of a burning one at a Hindu ghat in Nepal in 2005. I have seen lots of simulated, fake deaths on TV, and maybe some real ones too (not sure), but I’ve never seen on TV anyone die close up and for real. I thought I’d keep that track record afloat. Death, despite its stubborn, rude impositions into existence, is not something I am particularly favourable to…well, not at all, if the truth be told.

I also abhor capital punishment for these reasons:

1) It is cold blooded, conscious murder, inflicted after the calm deliberations of many reputedly sound minds, representing the State. Individual murders are often warm blooded, and even when cold, one mind cannot be as calmly deliberate as many.

2) The State represents the ultimate depository and focus of power and coercive authority in any nation (though the multinationals might like it otherwise). Those who choose to wield power should set an example, since the esteem they demand from those over whom they rule should lead them to expect to be imitated by those looking for an example. By killing people in cold blood, the state is sanctioning murder. It should not be surprised if the lesson it teaches is learned.

3) As statistics I believe show it rarely acts as a deterrent, principally because when people commit murder, presuming they don’t do it in a passionate frenzy and so don’t think at all, they are not actually expecting to be caught. A lot of murderers, I suspect, are also self-hating masochists who might tell themselves that they wouldn’t mind execution anyway. Maybe some murderers would also agree that they deserve the death penalty; but they hope, as I’ve said, to evade justice and believe, nevertheless, in the overriding righteousness of the cause of their murdering who they murder.

4) You might end up killing innocent people. Considering our ridiculous charade regarding the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, and others, this would look very lpossible.

As to what should be done with murderers, this is another topic, but if they have had the indignity and affront to insult human society by killing people, they injure us in one way. Why then allow them to injure us even further by providing us with an excuse to bring ourselves down to their level?

Though I reluctantly accept the need for imprisonment to protect the public, I oppose, as I have already written elsewhere, all ideologies of punishment since they augment self-righteousness and justify denials of the evil that lurks inside us all. None are clean enough to throw stones, so none should.

People like Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, people like Peter Sutcliffe and Charles Manson, do not arise ex nihilo (out of nothing). Like bad weeds in a garden, they are the result of something wrong with the gardening. They emerge embodying and expressing the darkness that surrounds them, like a mirror showing the world its own face.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

2006 in Retrospect (Part II)

When exactly does the new year end; when is it no longer appropriate to wish another person 'happy new year'? According to one of my slovak students as late as March is fine, if you havent seen someone until then, that is. So against that standard I know I'm in no danger of wallowing unduly in new yearness.

Most people do their year reflections before the close of the year. But maybe its better done in the dawn of the new, where clearer perspective can be found after the final expiration, as thought and focus adjusts slumberingly to the hung over sobriety that is January. Actually I wrote this just before xmas but never mind. It still stands.

Where did you ring in 2006? In Suffolk, on the banks of the River Brett, with Rachel, Nicola and Lee.

What was your status by Valentine's Day? Single. To Slovaks single often means just unmarried, which tells you little. To me single means single. Once again I decided not to go to a restaurant and sit in front of an enormous mirror.

Were you in school (anytime this year)? Studying, no, teaching, no, organizing teaching for next year, yes. To me, unlike Americans and Slovaks, school is strictly education for children and teenagers.

How did you earn your keep? Teaching English language.

Did you ever have to go to the hospital? Yes, to get my frenulum cut, because of a troubling phimosis problem which has since healed rather well.

Have you encountered the police? Yes. One of my best friends is a bored, underpaid Slovak policeman, weltering in the world of paper, but glad as well not to be on the streets, hanging in only to get a pension..

Where did you go on vacation? Biarritz (France), Bucharest, Japan, and Bosnia.

What did you purchase that was over $500? A plane ticket to Japan

Did you know anybody who got married? Yes, but I went to no weddings. I expect to be a best man in America next year (Minneapolis).

Did you know anybody who passed away? Yes, my Dad..Michael James Lever Tillotson (1933-2006) peacefully at home on Januray 9th. R.I.P.

Have you run into anybody you graduated high school with? An old friend contacted me through myspace recently, which was nice, and weird, as I’d only been thinking about him for the first time in years, a few days earlier.

Did you move anywhere? I moved about 100 metres up the road from a small, dingy, basement flat to a second floor much larger, much more charming place.

What sporting events did you go to? In July, I watched half a football match between two Slovak teams and drank a beer there too. Good that. But by half-time I was bored and then left. Then there was rioting.

What concerts did you go to? None. I considered going to Kings Lynn or Budapest to see Morrissey but didn’t.

Are you registered to vote? I don’t think so. The Tories always win in deepest Suffolk anyway. The voting system needs reform and I don’t believe in political parties too much in any case.

Describe your birthday? I got a day older. It began in the International bar in Fukuoka, Japan, where I drank many tequila’s with Shanti. The rest of the day I think I just ate and went to the cinema and wallowed in onsens.

What's the one thing you thought you would never do but did in 2006?
Grow my hair long, answer questionnaires like this one, and ‘publish’ them.

What is one thing you regretted this year? Maybe I should have climbed mount Fuji after all.

What's something you learned about yourself? That life is more interesting when I share my thoughts with strangers. That the relationship between meat and anti-depressant consumption, and my size, is fairly close.

Any new additions to your family? No, but I have a plant now.

What was your best month? April.

What from pop culture will you remember 2006 by?
Morrisseys new album, Casino Royale and Borat.

How would you rate this year with a scale from 1 to 10 (the best ever)? 9.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Shifting gears

As I sit here, observing my fingers moving over my key board (I am yet to master touchtyping) I am aware of the possibility for thought to transform worlds. Maybe not my thought, but thought generally.

Mr Science (first name undisclosed –he’s a rather formal chap), having left the subjectively perceiving human out of the equation of his analyses, only relates to the world as something dead, as something alien.

Still, when I can get him off topic, he can be rather funny I find. And he sure can do wizardly wonderful things with matter.

Here’s something I wrote about 11 months ago, which compasses satisfactorily, I find, some issues I have with the Christian religion. Readers may have noted that I have some kind of relationship with Christianity. This is true. But whether I am a ‘Christian’ or not is not for me to say, and anyway, it’s just a label. Remember, neither Jesus nor his disciples, nor Paul, called themselves Christians.

So, here is what I wrote:

“Expecting non-Christians to understand and accept what Christians talk about when they profess the Gospel is asking a lot, even if, as it rarely is, that Gospel were to be explained and set forth in a rational, logical, universally loving and embracing way.

Quite why this is, I think, is because of two related factors:

1) The intrinsically strange, unusual nature of what the Gospel says about life, humanity and existence.

2) These Christians, though they will have had experience of other Christians, may not have themselves experienced Christ directly. Hard as it is to understand Christ as a Christian, how much harder must it be for non-Christians to understand the Christian religion”

My own experiential relationship with the spirit of Christ I find it hard to talk about. I know that language is not an unsullied, frictionless portal into the minds of those I commune with. I cannot presume, even if I express myself perfectly as far as I am concerned, that for that reason I have been understood, even if my interlocutor (or interscriber –if that's a word) is more intelligent than I and a master decrypter of other's linguistic creations.

This is a major reason why I refuse to engage in mudslinging, or what I call argument, with anyone about Religion (actually I am averse to all argumentation really). Discussion is great and exploration even better but few, it seems, are ready not to take Religion so seriously that they are able to bracket out and suspend the impulse either to ‘defend the Lord’, as if he were their mother, or on the other hand, strike forcefully for the jugular of another's faith with all the rapacity of a viper.

Most of the time we misunderstand each other. We dance alone in each other’s company. It's rarely a gracious dance I find.

On a different notation, I am now back from the mountains where I saw in the new year in the Slovak village of Strba on a street surrounded by exploding fireworks exploding. Usually into the air though some boisterous fellows set off a few at random angles too.

Earlier I returned to Barcelona, a beautiful city reminded me a lot of Florence, because of its architecture and narrow, tall passageways. Because my mind was predominantly consumed with reading an excellent book by Pat Reid called “Morrissey” (which treats him with the seriousness he deserves), I inclined to cafes and bars to read more than to hunt round for everything Gaudiesque. I saw the famous, richly bizarre Cathedral, Sangrada Familia, however, and finally located the Picasso museum. Yet, because of my unenglish disdain for queuing and lack of time I declined to enter either. Also, I don’t approve of paying to enter religious buildings, though I would pay if I really had to I suppose.

My mind must now recoil and return to the vulgar world of work. Banished from Eden I cannot presume Mother Earth will tend to my needs simply because I grace her with my existence. This is an unfortunate fact, but a reality nonetheless.

Monday, January 1, 2007

2006 in Retrospect

Time at this end of the year to set down some reflections on 2006.

Overall, the year has been like two hills with a valley in between. After recovering from my Dad's death in January, my mood and experiences rose in quality to reach a summit of early July. Then, involuntarily, I ran rapidly down hill, as if in thirst for the draughts of sadness, to the lowlands of mid July through to mid September.

During this period of lowlife, incidentally, and perhaps unfortunately, I took my lovely trip to Japan. Perhaps I’d have sucked more out of the place, more enjoyably, if I'd been at a higher altitude while there. On the other hand, perhaps Japan is a good, therapeutic place to be sad. Going from 'Lost in Translation', maybe Bill Murray would agree.

Anyway, since mid September it's been back up with the clouds, generally speaking, though with a difference. In the first part of the year life was a long heady upward ascent, and the period of walking steadily on a plateau before the descent brief, if non-existent. But now I feel I've been steadily bumbling along on a plateau for the past 2 months or so.

The ascent up this other mountain has been quicker, I think, and less extensive. Now I may not be as high but I feel more securely high (and the air as well is not so thin). My guess is that this security is due to bloggery and the way self-expression has given an outlet for my repressed creative urges, which unmanifested may have left me unbalanced in the past. But that's just a theory, though I suspect it's at least a factor.

I hope I remain on an even plateau in 2007, and would be willing to sacrifice spectacular dramatic peaks to that end. It is in my interest that I don’t descend to too many lowlands, and in the interests of everyone I encounter as well since I'm no fun and selfish when I'm down. Without energy or enthusiasm to give much, a parader of gloom.

I thought I'd give a brief little overview of the year, month by month, in terms of the single highest, or most significant, points or developments of each month. I’d thought of including low points but I find it hard to recall some for some months. In this I seek not to boast about any 'happiness' but to express gratitude to life. In my own times of gloom I've sometimes found such a boasting about happiness in others to be distasteful; and I am aware that happiness can be precarious.

January Taking a trip in a hired car to Derby, UK, to see Rachel, an old university friend, and visiting Nicola and Lee in Northampton.

February Starting leaving appreciated comments at Tanya's website, my Canadian friend whom I met in India in 2005.

March Visiting Nick, my German friend, in Koln and Dusseldorf. Having our various jovial and intense discussions. Saying 'in my opinion' after everything, and finding that funny.

April Moving into my new flat and befriending Jessica, my landlady's plant.

May Visiting my sister and her family in Biarritz with my mother. Paddling in the Atlantic. Also, keeping stray dogs company in Bucharest.

June Entertaining Lee in Bratislava for a few days. Reconnecting with the deep, oceanic wellsprings of our remarkable friendship.

July Starting a blog on My Space and deciding to be less of a hider. Virtually, venturing further from concealment.

August Visiting Japan, appreciating its gentle and orderly culture. Reading Murakami on his home soil and discovering onsens.

September Meeting new Canadian and American friends in Bratislava.

October Discovering the darkage and other blogs. Contributing more regularly to my own. Connecting with people in the blogosphere.

Returning to Bosnia after three years, seeing the new Mostar bridge.

December Continuing to meet kind and interesting people in the blogosphere. Also, growing my hair longer than it's been since 1990. Returning once again to France for Xmas, and seeing Barcelona.