MEMORY LANE AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

I went to Cheltenham yesterday. The main idea was to let my son travel on a new (to Transport for Wales services) Class 170 train. This was achieved, missing the other rag bag collection of DMUs (Diesel Multiple Units) running on their routes, including Pacers – a Leyland bus on a rail chassis from the 1980s, definitely to be phased out in Summer December, honest, (2019)  but still currently trundling around for at least another six months – it’s Wales isn’t it?

I thought I’d also take the opportunity to have a look at Cheltenham, compare it with when I lived and worked in the area and bore him with ‘when I were a lad’ moments.

The latter objective was easily completed within seconds, you can bore a thirteen year old into a truculent rendition of ‘Daaad! Stop it’ with a simple point of the finger and ‘that used to be a loco shed’. He did get his own back almost immediately as we walked out of the station approach by beginning the second task somewhat earlier than I expected. I was gesticulating, offering a choice between the two routes I knew led to the centre of town, when he took us across the road down a short wooded slope and we joined the Honeybourne line. The council have turned this old railway line that used to run north into Warwickshire, into a cross town path and cycleway. I believe it goes all the way up to the leisure centre and Tommy Taylor’s lane near the racecourse but we just walked into town.

The centre of the town looked familiar, the Prom is much the same – I was aware of the Rabbit/Bull liaison on the bench (a sculpture of a large bull and rabbit cuddling – God knows why) but obviously shops had come and gone and moved about. Waterstones has crossed the road and moved up towards High Street a bit and a couple of other bookshops seem to have disappeared. We didn’t have much time in the end as we wanted to eat and catch a direct train back; stopping trains to where we had left the car are politely described as infrequent, so I didn’t stray very far from the centre. There are clearly major changes just off centre which we didn’t see: GCHQ has unified across town on the old Benhall site, called itself ‘The Doughnut’ and the old Oakley, Prior’s Road site is now a supermarket and housing estate.

Lower High street has had some money spent on it – demolishing large chunks of characterful (dilapidated) properties and substituting flash concrete and steel constructions – no doubt soon to be characterless and dilapidated.

Cheltenham obviously remains that very Middle England mixture of the affluent and the distressed underclass. The number of high end retail outlets – not the mass market chains but exclusive intimate sellers – remains large and the characters who produced the action for the first headline I saw on the newsstands, when local papers had paper display sheets outside newsagents to entice the punters, remain active in the town. That headline had read ‘Post Office armed robbers caught’. A shock to someone coming from the North to what he thought was a spa town for retired gentlefolk and Army majors and colonels. They were there, but so were the late twentieth century equivalent of the trio who walked into the fast food joint my son and I were having lunch in yesterday.

Two men and a woman entered, dived for a table tucked away out of sight of the serving counter and started arguing. After a voluble exchange of expletives, not good natured by the sound of them, one man started swigging from his own unmarked plastic bottle while the woman and the other guy rummaged furtively in a shopping bag. Small white packets of something were being flicked through. At no stage did any of them even pretend to buy any food or drink and when I went to the toilets upstairs I made sure my son came up with me whether he wanted to go or not. As we exited the place they were still rummaging and arguing and the counter staff were looking the other way.

So plus ca change, as they say. A microcosm of inequality: serious wealth, a pretentious middle ground – you can’t move for yoga and Pilates places – and a profoundly dysfunctional group of left behind working class. I moved to Gloucester pretty quickly in the 80s and I haven’t lived in England for twenty four years. It felt odd going back. A beautiful town set in gorgeous countryside on the edge of the Cotswolds, but I never really felt comfortable there. So much pretence, striving to be something that probably isn’t worth the candle and leaves so many harmed. I was glad to get back on the train to Wales.

NEW YEAR

Happy New Year and all that (belated).

Resolutions. Don’t do them. Especially New Year ones. They don’t mean anything and don’t achieve anything except perhaps guilt, remorse and a sense of failure when you break them. Or, perhaps even worse, a sense of smug satisfaction and unwarranted self belief when you achieve them because they were such weak, small spirited little things in the first place.

Of course that’s just my opinion, probably because I can’t stick to resolutions, and those who do use this bit of psychological trickery successfully would no doubt ague otherwise.

Whatever the wider arguments about self trickery/positive thinking, I am not going to resolve, promise or threaten myself with self flagellatory damnation in the breach, to write this blog more frequently. I want to write more in it of course, and back in the summer I felt on pretty much of a roll with contributing to the blog and had plans including restarting Pendragon, to make it more central to my writing life. Since then things took a turn which didn’t necessarily preclude further postings, but in the event just got in the way of my time available and induced a mental attitude not conducive to writing much at all, let alone this blog.

I’m not going to go through all the things that happened, but they have meant most of my mental and emotional energies have been focused elsewhere. Some were one off events and although the resonances go on, they are less immediate, the ongoing things have methods in place to cope with them now and I am determined to cut out some space to reengage with this blog and writing in general.

So not a resolution, because imagine returning in June having written nothing else – embarrassing! But a definite determination, well a wish, okay a faint hope, that I will do more, creatively, administratively and in marketing terms, about my writing.

WESTLEY WRITERS CHAPTER 2 PHOENIX

 

It seemed a bit harsh to leave the Westley Literary Group in limbo, so here is the second chapter in their rebirth as Westley Writers and their first attempted meeting under their new guise. (full chapter under ‘Writing, Westley Writers’ – link at end of post)

WESTLEY WRITERS

CHAPTER TWO

PHOENIX

‘So we’re free then. Taken back control. On our own. Sailing into a bright blue entrepreneurial sunrise of opportunity.’ Ashby said.

Stephanie raised a perfect, if nowadays little too highly set, eyebrow. Straker offered a thin smile,

‘We lost the readers section John. It’s not as if Lillian Dobson is Donald Tusk is it?’

‘Not as attractive.’

‘That’s sexist John.’ Stephanie chided without rancour.

‘Fair enough. Sorry love.’ Ashby said. He was of a generation and inclination which translated ‘PC’ into ‘Police Constable’ on a good day, but in reality that meant ‘policeman’ to him. The world of WPCs and Police Officers lay in a distant neverland of unimagined horror for John Ashby. Gender neutral language was on a list of works in progress that never seemed to get any shorter or accumulate ticks in any of the requisite boxes.

‘Besides,’ Straker said trying to divert Ashby from riding off on one of his many hobby horses. ‘We may have a few published authors, but we aren’t exactly brimming over with JK Rowlings or Paulo Coelhos are we?’

‘Who?’ Ashby said

‘I thought you’d have read all the Harry Potters John.’ Stephanie said.

‘Cheeky mare. You know I meant that Kwayloo bloke. It is a bloke is it Jules?’

‘Brazilian author. Wrote the Alchemist?’

‘Never heard of him.’

‘He speaks very highly of you.’

‘All right clever clogs why would we want him anyhow?’

Straker hesitated a moment, thinking of how best to explain Coelho’s work. The exploration of personal legend probably wasn’t going to sell anything to John, and the critical reviews of much of Coelho’s later works in particular would not be helpful. But of course there were the sales, the way to Ashby’s heart.

‘Because he’s made about four hundred million dollars.’

Ashby stared. ‘Bloody hell.’ he offered after a few seconds. ‘Bloody hell.’

‘Words into gold.’ Stephanie said.

Julian smiled. ‘Maybe we should write a joint effort called ‘The Philosophers Stone’ and see how much we can make.’

‘Back to Harry Potter.’ Ashby said

 

Continued here https://gfarrish.wordpress.com/writing/westley-writers/

Hemingway’s Block

There had been a time. There had been a time when he had known there would be time like there was now. But he had not known it would be like this. He had not felt it.

He had watched the sad old men down on La Playa del Mar and laughed at their sadness. How they tapped at a typewriter. And from their tapping came only letters on the page. Men scribbled on cigarette packets with biros long turned white with their emptiness. No words, not even letters for them. The memory of letters indented on wood pulp. Indented like the memory of words in his head.

But now was the time he had known would be his, but had not known that it would be like this. The time he had not felt before it arrived.

He looked up from the sand and watched the young men, the men with juice in them, with life in them, with words in them. Words they did not use, or used too much as the fancy took them because for them, now, there would always be words.

He should tell them, shout to them as they promenaded past him, laughing. He should shout, ‘Write. Write right now’. But they would laugh more, and go about their laughing with a joy, because that was what there was now, for them. Laughter at the endless flow of words. As he had once laughed.

He looked at the empty screen. He could write on the sand. It would be the same. It would be better.

Would he have laughed at writing in the sand when he walked where they now walked, laughing?

He would. He knew he would have laughed. Laughter was cheap when one had words.

They would laugh. Writing on sand. The wind and sea and feet would erase the words. Why write words to have them erased?

But the memory of the words was in the sand. Clearer than in the memories of men. Sand and sun, red in the Plaza de toros would sanctify the words. Each spilling and recasting of grains and blood recast the words anew.

He would write in the sand and die.

Other deaths would retell his tale.

And he would laugh again.

He took his laptop.

He could not write in sand with a laptop.

He would go and drink Sangria and think what one wrote with in sand.

Maybe he would ask one of the men and they would laugh together and watch the young girls laughing.

In the morning he would write.

Too Much Stuff

There’s been so much ‘stuff’ happening recently (and continues to happen that writing anything except essential material has been problematic to say the least. It isn’t that I haven’t had a desire to write exactly or a lack of ideas. Time has been the main issue. It takes me at least half an hour ‘reading in’ to a pre-existing work before I get going in the groove of taking it forward. That said, the continual intervention of other things to do has taken the edge of even thinking about writing. It has just been too frustrating.
However, I wondered how another dinosaur would solve the problem:

See ‘Hemingway’s Block’

I COULD DO THAT (PLEASE!)

On Sunday morning I was listening to the slot on Radio 4 at 0845 where someone talks in an extended secular version of thought for the day. Will Self had a few sessions a while back, Howard Jacobson had a slot a couple of weeks ago, and this coming Sunday it will be AL Kennedy. It isn’t always authors but they get a lot of the gigs.

The thought occurred to me that, whilst I like all these writers, both in terms of their work and listening to them talk about our society and the problems and joys of the world, (probably not so much the joys with those three! Although Jacobson can be good for an uplifting insight), I wonder why we should listen to authors so much.

Yes they sometimes have an insight into the human condition, but here we are giving them a slot on national radio to pontificate to us on matters about which frankly there are experts who should be able to speak more authoritatively.  Not necessarily the human condition of course; unless we are looking at psychiatrists, sociologists, anthropologists, behavioural scientists of all ilks, but in matters of security, policing, military, employment, cultural direction (writing is one little bit) and myriad other subjects. Why do authors get the nod on these?

Probably because they are seen as communicators. Increasingly part of the baggage of being an author is being an all round communicator. As publishers withdraw  to a greater or lesser extent from publicising their own products, and as agents want the cash but not the effort of pushing their clients, authors get jiffed with doing the spadework of marketing themselves. Fine, they should be positive about their own work, but if they were great PR people, or market savvy tech heads or schmoozers personified, why would they have chosen a profession that involves being shut up in a room on their own with their imagination for company? Authors generally don’t want the hassle of that other side of the business, that’s why there are publishers and why agents managed to horn in on the process. But it seems authors get wheeled out anyway, when one might think they were better employed, er …writing.

So there we are, with authors being paraded to smile, sign books, chat on radio, contribute to TV arts shows if un/lucky, give lectures at literary events, peddle advice to wannabes on the writing for everyman/woman circuit. And now because some of them can string a coherent sentence together about the mythic resonance of the washerwoman as a mother earth figure in their latest oeuvre, they are invited to blab about anything that takes their fancy in a regular repeat radio slot.

What privileges their opinion over anyone else’s? They have a facility for the medium but is the medium really the message? Are those who are easy with creating an imaginary world and filling it with their interpretation of how people should behave, always the best people to comment on the real world where the characters are different and reactions intractable?

Just a thought.

PS

And by the way BBC, I have many useful insights and I am available for recording whenever you want on any subject.

AF Weekend

Most (all?) of my scribblings on here have been about writing so far. The clue is in the name I guess: Guy Farrish Writes: About Writing and Stuff. The writing comes first and the stuff has come a long second.

I did have an experience over the weekend however, which although it is definitely stuff and not writing, does have a peripheral bearing on my writing and my life perspective on writing. 

I was running, not far, just a couple of miles, on Friday lunchtime, when I was suddenly very out of breath and felt very light headed. I had to stop and walk for a bit. I managed to jog in the last half mile and shower okay though, and as my 13 year old daughter was at home (teacher inset training day) I put the episode to one side.

When I later started walking to the village to do a bit of shopping however, the slightly spaced out feeling became acute again and I finally twigged.

My heart was pausing and racing and then bumping about like an old motorboat hitting a river full of logs. My atrial fibrillation was back. I first had it back in Jan 2012 (after running) and in May 2012 (after running). On both occasions my heart reset itself to normal rhythm after three days without intervention. I stopped running for a few months after the second instance and moved on to more weights, a little light circuit training and in the January, stair climb runs. No AF. Good.

I resumed serious road running in July and was okay. I say serious but really it was fast jogging and not too far – 4 miles max. Then out of the blue on Friday – bang; this happens.

I gave in this time and went to hospital straight away (prolonged irregular heart rate of 120+bpm not good for valves etc).  So they chemically reset the heart rhythm but the electrical pathway it has resettled into is slightly abnormal. The cardiologist prescribed beta blockers and I have to attend for an echo cardiogram some time soon.

I know it is precautionary and a ‘good thing’ but having a normal resting pulse of 54bpm and a blood pressure of 118/78 when I am away from the white coat hypertension merchants I am v t’eed off about taking medication.

But how does that affect writing and perspective? Well spending a couple of days in a Clinical Decisions Unit certainly puts day to day worries into perspective. It also caused me to reflect a bit on my own mortality. I also realised how much I missed my family when they weren’t around. I have always thought of myself as being self sufficient mentally and emotionally when push came to shove but this experience made me realise how much I wanted them near. When my seven year old son came to see me on Saturday tea time he was visibly upset and that was by far the worst part of the whole experience. Worry about heart rhythms, ECGs, blood samples, Venflon Cannulas etc just paled in comparison to his distress.

So, recognition of mortality, what counts in life and the relief (for the moment at any rate) of being discharged. Not the way I would have chosen to spend the weekend but it gave cosy normality a spin, which probably of itself isn’t a bad thing.