Saturday, 27 February 2010

Putting myself in the picture

Like many an interesting photo, by mistake.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


My cultural habits are so changed. I used to consume indiscriminately books from the heaviest and most serious to the lightest and most trashy and watch many, many films, inevitably of varying quality. No longer. Partly, I just don’t have the energy. After a day at work I’m mostly good for nothing that involves keeping my eyes open. But also, when I do read or watch something that turns out to be trivial or unoriginal, I react much more negatively than I used to. I’m not just bored or disappointed, but cross and upset.

This past week, for example, I opted semi-deliberately for a book and a film that I knew were not going to be more than light entertainment – and was not in the least lightened or entertained. The Winter House by Nicci Gerrard was the first sole-authored book I’d read by this author, who writes thrillers with her husband under the joint pen-name of Nicci French. The thrillers are compelling, but too lurid for my taste. I respect both Nicci Gerrard’s and Sean French’s work as journalists, though, so I was quite interested to see what else she was writing. This was a novel of sensitive and interesting themes: youth and aging, what forms character, what changes with time and what doesn’t, facing up to death. Well enough written too. But just too slight, and too slightly structured, to adequately hold such concerns. I found it deeply unsatisfying.

A few days later, I went to see The Last Station, based on Jay Parini’s novel about the last days of Tolstoy and featuring the never less than fabulous Helen Mirren and some other rather good actors. I gathered from reviews that this was not a very serious enterprise. Some were pretty derisive, actually. But I thought, well, interesting subject, nice rural landscapes and Helen Mirren. Hmm. Helen Mirren was the problem. She’s incapable of a less than strong and moving performance, and here it hung – her powerful evocation of an aging woman’s pain and anger and incomprehension – in the midst of something deeply silly. I came away very uncomfortable.

the difference a container makes

These were painful experiences, I think, precisely because both novel and film deal with difficult subjects and evoke troubling emotions… and leave them hanging. I don’t expect, or want, a tidy resolution. Still less a glib moral redemption. But I do look for something from an artistic production that I didn’t get from these. I look to the artefact, the story, to in some way address, or shape, or ‘contain’ the emotions it evokes, and thus to help me contain them.

I’ve been pondering this for a while. It’s going to mean continuing change in my artistic consumption. It merits careful, detailed analysis and is central, I think, to my new project. For now, I merely note that I have just unhappily chanced on two good examples; that I need to start taking some care not to turn, from long habit, to this kind of thing when seeking harmless relaxation. My aging self no longer seems to find it harmless.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Friday, 19 February 2010

Words on paper

Just arrived: a paperback with blue, shiny covers. So bluuuuue! So shiiiiiny! The first delight is childlike (I could almost eat it too). This is the academic journal whose articles I laboured for much of last year to translate from French. So, nowhere near the thrill of an authored book, of course, but still astonishingly satisfying to hold in my hands the tangible result of my work, the bound pile of pages covered with words I chose.

It’s a timely reminder that writing and images on the Web or on an electronic reader cannot replace the book as enduring physical repository of knowledge, speculation or imagination or as object of so-sweetly combined aesthetic, sensual and intellectual gratification to producer and consumer alike. As I handle the book, my thoughts, my skill - in a small but important sense, my self – assume reality and significance for me. I worked to produce something, and here it is. I think we’re hard-wired to need this. For a moment I feel purposeful and grounded in a manner troublingly withheld by the prevailing online, globalised, placeless, timeless experience of life, multifarious and alluring as it is.

What a complex object a book is - a totem, perhaps, as much as a receptacle and tool. Should they cease one day to be printed, I think we’d be doing away with much more than we might realise. Must remember next time I stand in a huge chain bookshop thinking, ‘ugh, too many, too similar, what for?!’ that, even now, a lot of those shiny, piled tomes hold part of someone’s soul.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Tasting apples

Hungry for your picture,
of a girlish, round-shouldered woman
with a wide, wild smile

pulling and fixing my memories
in death's numb after-shock - 

how can your sharp, sweet,
apple-tasting mind be nowhere?

the flesh of your remembered
wit so dry?

Where are my juicy tears?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


click on photos to enlarge

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Pondering, gestating

One good thing about being ill for a week was the time to ponder and, as I felt a little better, to spend sporadically some long, slow hours fiddling about with possible layouts for the new blog project. I'm not a designer. I know what looks good, but often not why.  So this has always to be trial and error. After many hours of repeatedly playing with one idea, dumping it and starting on another, I'm happy with what I have, but there's a lot more to do. I want to import the things worth keeping from this and previous blogs to 'pages' built around the new blog and then, finally, to dump the old ones. I've embarked on sorting my photos too, having never stored these accessibly by theme and style as more organised photographers do.  I shall finally reinstate my blogroll and set up links to other favourite web resources.  Much work, but I hope it will be worth it. I'm quite excited by the thought of finally having a loose theme, shape and direction for these online bits and pieces.

I'd just written the above when I read the very interesting and inspiring essay on the future of publishing that Beth of Cassandra Pages has posted on the website of her small press, Phoenicia Publishing. So much in her piece that fires me with realistic inspiration, and I plan to post my response there to some of the issues she raises. But just to focus on one, very personal level where her words resonate: this new venture I'm gestating is all about taking my 'online bits and pieces' more seriously, taking the very small scale as seriously as the whole big and often daunting picture of how the words of writers - from the already known to the rawest neophyte - may find an audience in the future.

Yes, my little bits and pieces are no more than that. But finding I could write and take photographs, and that a small audience enjoyed reading and looking, has been no small thing. It's something I would never have done before the Internet, and it has meant so much. So one aim of the new site will be to collect and preserve the best of that in a single on-line home. At the same time, since, as Beth also reminds us, the Internet is by its very nature as ephemeral as it is wondrous, I mean to keep a printed copy of everything, as I used to when I first started blogging, and to start making little chapbooks, printing some photos, for me to keep and, who knows, perhaps for a few others who'd like one. I want to find out if taking it all a bit more seriously will help me to write more and do better, and to be a tiny part of the multi-stranded counter-movement of creators, publishers and readers that will always be needed if something else is to survive and develop alongside the continuing whirlwind consolidation and homogenisation of mainstream publishing.  

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Through the bus-stop window, misted by the claggy afterbreath of giant, not quite settling snowflakes:
patient, freezing, melting, waiting women.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


(at the National Portrait Gallery)

Friday, 5 February 2010

(dis)comfort zones

Not unfitting, but very cheering, that as I languished in the very uncomfortable zone of my bed this week, sick with a quite horrendous virus (getting better, thanks - sheesh, what was that?), one of my November daily photos was republished in this latest issue of the online BluePrintReview, alongside an unsettling short story which I love, featuring coffee and London, but set in some other site of urban disquiet.

This small and perfectly formed publication is edited by Dorothee Lang, whose work and aesthetic as visual artist, writer and editor delight me. It's a pin-sharp patchwork of pieces from all over the place, put together in ways that are clever, allusive and full of strange and unexpected clarities. I'm so pleased to be part of it. Do have a look around the Review and her other work - I especially like her online visual art, some of which has also appeared on Qarrtsiluni.