Tuesday, 31 May 2011

I have been pretty busy recently. 

I've found myself writing more than ever these last few days, and if I go online it's to send people stories to read so I can get some feedback on them.  I had a couple of things published (yey) and I'll be posting a link here next month for the story I had turned into a podcast!! Hopefully everyone will purchase it, I hope it's cheap.  Apart from that - I discovered HDR photography which you can see on my facebook public gallery.  I don't know how famous HDR is, and I don't know the tech behind it, but basically it's a cool way of lifting the lights, lowering the darks and intensifying the colour of pics so that any light or colour flaws are removed.  Just google HDR photography.  And the software was free, from Oloneo, but I don't know if it's really free or just pretending to be!  Count down to lots of fun stuff in June, I'm glad May finished, it seemed ridiculously long and tedious, at last my MA semester is over, and my summer break is beginning (I work at a university) and I can begin the projects I've been planning.

PS watched lots of good films recently - My Life as a Dog, Waking Life, Howls Moving Castle.  I don't know if I'd put 'Blitz' in that list, but I just saw it at the cinema, and well, it was energetic.  Lots of gore.
Check out my recent photos here!  Thanks.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Who remembers tarmac bubbles, bloody knees and dirty fingernails?

Mondays writing course included an exercise where the group leader Jim Hinks collected together suggestions for our most memorable childhood feeling, texture, smell, sound and general word.  Then he set us off writing about our childhood and frequently announced the provided words at random for us to incorporate. 

Funny how writing exercises can take you somewhere different.  I ended up describing horse riding escapades.  I remember going horse riding, back when the town I lived in was mainly fields and a half finished housing estate - not the sprawl of suburbia it is now – I was maybe seven or eight.  There was a farm, and for a few quid I used to join a convoy of sluggish ponies tramping around a waterlogged field.  I don’t remember asking to go, the whole situation was very foreign and for as long as I did it I never became confident enough to enjoy it.  The dusty smell like our airing cupboard, and the smell of urine remind me of the stables.  A fear of the huge animals and anxiety at their fusty breath and grasping gums.  The carpet-texture of their coats and word I didn’t understand which described either some kind of leather accessories or a travelling speed. 

I was allergic to horses, as with most things, as a child – but my mother didn’t realise for months, not even when my eyes swelled to raspberry coloured donuts, or even when I’d sneezed myself into a hot, suffocating nosebleed.

Strangely I hadn’t thought about any of this until the writing exercise.  It’s funny what you forget.  Whatever happened to popping tarmac bubbles, falling over, and dirty fingernails from upturning rocks and discovering insect communities?    And most of all – navigating the geography of the town slowly, step by step, paving stone by paving stone.  I knew points on my journeys better than I know anywhere now, because I sat on the pavement or dug in the sand.  I knew how things felt, smelt and sounded. Now everything is too quick, and I’m only ever outside because I’m between two places, or I’m running.  I guess the paradox is the world is getting smaller – with globalization, world travel and the internet – but we might know our own corner of it less and less.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

My Private World of Writing

Last Wednesday I went to the meeting of the Standish writers group, tomorrow I am at a writing course in Manchester at Madlab, then Wednesday the Bolton University end of year readings at the Octagon in Bolton (I am not reading, due to ridiculous practice sessions in the daytime on weekdays, and a breakdown in communication.)  Then I think the following Wednesday is another writers group this time in Manchester - phew – so I’m hopefully in line to meet some writerly (not a word) folks and learn some new stuff.  And it’s been a weekend of writing (yey!) with one of my old novels in for a controversial rewrite inspired by the flood in the Bible (yep the one with Noah) it’s a bit weird and it makes a very serious book suddenly rather bizarre.  Apart from that I have to prepare my MA piece for submission tomorrow.  I’m so sick of reading it I’ve gone a bit blind and my eyes just pass over the words, it’s time for it to be deposited in the submission box, like a parent watching his child go out into the world (a bad parent?) I just hope it's okay.  And then at the beginning of June we break up for summer!  Projects will hopefully begin to take shape in my mind, summer is a prolific time for me, fingers crossed.  Here is a poem:
As The Cage Fell

As the cage fell
Running water running parallel
And miners breathing on each other’s necks
He felt strong down there, I guess
As close to earning money as he could
Without the worries of the surface life
Hands rough with segs and knees ingrained blood
The disappearing worries of his children and his wife
As the cage fell.

As the cage fell
Pit bottom clunk of wood and stale air
Ventilated circular; hot here and cold there
Piss and shit and methane odour stirred
The lowest foot of air as foul as death
So that you could suffocate crouching for rest
A slow sleep creeps vision being blurred
The disappearing hope and choking breath
As the cage fell.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Marrakech Poem


The piss-stench of horses
Whose shoulders twitch with inaction
Tethered nose to tail with carriages
In the shadow of lanky palms.

Trees which drop small berries
Different each time, from blood-black to white
The tradesmen here keep their wares in trees
Stashed in orifices, adjoining aortas.

Time passes slowly in the parks
The desperation of the carriage drivers
So different to the jovial banter on the square
Come on, they say, I will take you anywhere, very cheap.

Comments welcome, I don't know what possessed me to post my earliest poem and one of my latest. 

Monday, 16 May 2011

My First Poem

Well not my first, but I deleted all the ones I wrote before it, I reckon this was written in about 1998, I've saved my poems to my hard drive ever since and have several hundred.  I can't remember what inspired this one, maybe walking down to Bolton University when I was studying history, there is a rough gravel car park near HSS Hire shop which I vaguely remember.


Car Park Attendant

Anonymous face slinking round the car park
On that space, the grave of a factory dismembered.
He doesn’t speak, but he waves, every morning at me -
Faces he knows or registrations remembered.

Then I see him at night sleeping in bus-stops
Not homeless, but waiting for his bus to stop.
Under streetlights gold stars, he’s weary of cars
The traffic mist clearing, petrol fumes thick.

Once when I sat window-down, killing time
Half-light and soft-rain he walked between vehicles,
Down the line, muttering conversations alone.
A prayer caught – about cancer, his daughter and miracles.

Click here to see my funny self portrait on my 365 project.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Dust of Life

What!! Osama's dead and someone is still instigating terrorist activity?  What! Who?
Come on, I hate the news sometimes, and try not to watch it at all - but saw a glimpse of Americans celebrating the recent passing of Bin Laden, when I got back from Morocco, and knew this would happen.  Terrorism will continue as long as the top past time in Israel is throwing stones at Arabs and building houses in their villages. Still I think people blame the average American too quickly, anyone who knows anything about American history knows it is one cover-up after another and I wonder if Americans know even half of what is really going on around the world.

Anyway I didn't intend on writing about politics, but about art-writing-photography and all that good stuff.  Picasso once said 'Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.'

This week I've done a couple of new postcard sized collages, and written quite a bit.  I signed the contract for my poem which was published last week (here) I get $5 and a copy of the book.  It isn't Little Brown, but I'm really pleased because it is a book about war, and American experience of war since 9/11 and I'm sure there will have been loads of American submissions, and that mine was picked shows, I hope, that it was half decent. I also signed up to a short story course which there might be more places on if anyone is in Manchester and likes writing stories, it's only £70 (that's $103 so if I sell another 19 poems I've broken even!).  I think I'm going to a couple of writing groups this week so it will be good to learn new things. 

Finally LubyLou was setting up an online book club which I signed up for, and when she realised all of her enthusiasts were Manchester based she decided to make it an actual book club and we're meeting in a week and reading Purple Hibiscus. Lubylou seems to consume books at an alarming rate so I feel like a bit of a novice but I'm definately looking forward to it, and it probably isn't a book I would have read under my own steam so it will be interesting.

This week I realised how badly I cook, and eat vicariously whenever anyone mentions food!  All it takes is for someone to say, 'I'm having bolognese tonight' and I begin a tirade about cooking it slowly, how Italians throw their garlic in whole with the skin on, how pork mince is nice and a dash of red wine vinegar.  I probably mither them for longer than the actual cooking will take!  My housemate is doing a come-dine-with-me compeition with his family and every time I speak to him I try and rework his menu and tweek his technique.  Then  what do I have for tea, almost every night?  yep, a club sandwich.  But who has time to make elaborate meals for themselves?  Please someone comfort me that I'm not the only person in the world who sabotages other peoples cooking and eating (either that or come to my house and give me someone to cook for!)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Thoughts about heritage

There’s a part of Bolton where I park when I don’t cycle in, it’s about fifteen minutes from the centre of town and the university where I work.  It is a series of streets of terraced housing, I don’t know how old, but late Victorian I guess.  There’s a mill, gasometers, a couple of other old bits and a few factories.  The area always reminds me of what the whole town must have looked like at one point and I can’t help thinking about the houses history.  This must all sound very boring, but the houses many of us live in have histories of their own, especially terrace streets.  Any one house might have seen brutal poverty at the end of the nineteenth century, family deaths during the First World War, and deaths in mining accidents in this area.  Deaths in the Second World War, unemployment during the depression, even bomb damage in the Second World War, and all manner of issues since then.  It just struck me that the framework we all live in predates us, and has existed around all kinds of lives, and whilst we think of it as ours, our house, our workplace, in another fifty years we might be forgotten about and very different lives be existing in ‘our’ places.

I was looking through some records of the Pretoria pit disaster - December 1910 - as some of my written work recently has been inspired by it, and I found that as I live in number thirteen on my street, a miner died whose home was number twelve and three miners died (possibly a father and two sons) at number fourteen.  This isn’t like standing in Durham Cathedral and thinking some Middle Ages carpenter worked on this or that, this is sitting in my own bedroom and trying to imagine the lives of someone sitting here a hundred years ago finding out about the death of four neighbours in one afternoon.  I wonder if that meant a husband did come home to this house? And sat dumbstruck in his chair, face still smeared with coal dust, hands bruised and chipped from hard work trying to work out what happened.  And maybe a mother had to hush her kids up in respect for the grieving through the walls.

We are stuffed full of information these days, internet, TV, film, novels, magazines, and I often wonder how before all of that when there was just the occasional newspaper and an oral tradition of stories and memories – what did people know that we’ve now forgotten?  I think they could tie themselves more to their own past, and to each other in a community.  I think they shared more experiences and that gave them unity and empathy.  I must admit I’m envious of lives lived with space and much less stimulus.  The focus of a hobby, the understanding of distance when many journeys had to be done on foot and the feeling of belonging to one place. 

So my question is; we’ve gained a lot, but have we lost anything to history?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Back to Work

First of all check out my recent pictures on 365 I'm trying to be more 'artistic', I'm sure there is a term when you take a photograph and make it more into art and less like a snap, but I don't know it.  All I'm doing is adding layers on photoshop and trying to develop pictures into collages.

Above pictures are a shot from the train near Oxford Road Station which I've worked on a bit.

So tomorrow is my first day back at work after the three weeks of Easter, and it feels like a decade, I've worked two different jobs and visted another continent.  That doesn't make it any easier though, it feels like I haven't done my normal job for so long I've forgotten how to tolerate it!

Marrakech left me with some enduring habits it seems, my salmonella scare (raw chicken kebabs) has turned me into a pseudo-vegitarian, and like other pseudo vegitarians I break it only for bacon, (I can't even look at chicken).  I can't seem to drink tea from a cup anymore, unless it has got there via a teapot (poured from a height with an Arabic flourish) and I seem to have become fearless when it comes to busy roads, I need to shake off the Moroccan tactic of crossing one lane at a time and only looking if the next lane is clear when your half way across, (press the crossing-button Dave!!)

So I'm Posting for the sake of posting, although I have made art today and written some stuff I don't really feel like I have anything interesting to share.  Although, I got back from Marrakech to several emails and one of them told me I'd had a poem published!  I would love to post the link to the publishers website but I can't find them, I won't post the poem either because I think they own it now or something, they're sending me a contract.  It's a baby step, and we all know that some babies grow up to be millionaire best selling writers!!  Fingers crossed.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Kittens and tat

The second part of my holiday at least saw better weather but the heat set in, and with it the flies and coupled with the noise and the crowds at times it was a bit stressful.  Marrakech is full of mewing kittens and stalls covered in tat, I mean colourful junk that only a magpie would be attracted to.  It was billed as some kind of shoppers paradise but really - leather slippers in every colour known to man?  The best item I saw was a T-shirt, on the only manikin outside a shop (therefore one of their best items?) and the slogan read 'Hello Munich!'

I found the McDonalds in Guerliz and drank a Fanta elated with relief that I knew what I was getting and how much it would cost, and wouldn't have to argue with the stated price for ten minutes.  It's a strange thing because i don't really drink but I've never craved a beer so much in my life, sure there must have been establishments around the city that sold beer but I didn't see any, and I wasn't going hunting for beer.  I'm not at that stage yet, but I'll be having one tonight.
The British Foreign Office had mentioned keeping an eye on Middle Eastern events because Morocco is very sensitive to what happens elsewhere, so when bin Laden was killed, well... But there seemed to be a few Israeli tourists around so I thought as long as they are smiling the situation is stable.  I kept finding myself back in the parks under the orange trees and the tall palms, where the turtles waddled around the paths and swallows darted just over your heads.  The Jardin Princess Laila Hasna is in my top three of peaceful places on the planet along with the Top of the Rock in New York and the central park in Arezzo, Italy.  It's a stunted list but they're my choices, the park has three security guards, you literally aren't allowed to do much other than sit quietly and enjoy the evening sun and the roses smelled amazing. 

Otherwise the food I ate was so bad that I began relying on dates and bottled water more and more, I think on the fourth and fifth day about 90% of my calories came from these, and the only other culinary success was the Patisserie des Princes near the square which did beautiful French pastries.  I salvaged two croissants for my final days trek across the city to the airport, sick of bartering and being harangued in French I'd decided to walk it and not stand arguing with a taxi driver for twenty minutes.  by the time I arrived I was drenched and had to get changed in the car park, it was really hot.  To give you an idea on the walk to the aiport I drank 4.5 litres of water!  I am realising I am a bit of a home bird, Manchester kind of has everything you need, and if you add Rivington to that you have beautiful countryside too.  And the food here is the best the world has to offer.  Is it a sign of getting old to love your home more and foreign adventures less?

Anyway, my next break comes in July, three days on the Isle of Man, should be much more relaxing!

Still In One Piece

Even glide is too choppy a verb for how Ryan air lets you pass through airports nowadays.  No one asked for my passport, did you pack this yourself, have you left it unattended, has anyone given you anything to carry!  Just a five foot policewoman with a huge machine gun, and I thought, surely a pistol or a rifle would be enough?  She might encounter a terrorist but would she really encounter several terrorists and be able to pump away like Rambo spraying bullets everywhere? 
My holiday mostly involved people watching, and being woken up by the call to prayer in the early hours of the morning. Marrakech is about as big as Bolton and entirely clad in concrete the colour of overcooked salmon.  It smells of wee, basically, (trying to give you a mental picture) wee and leather and two stroke oil and perhaps raw liver.  The laws we hold dear in this country of cars on the road - people on the pavement, are blurred there somewhat and vehicles and pedestrians seem to follow a predestined, synchronised course between each other, sometimes at high speed.

The Cafe Argana, which was bombed earlier in the week, is bang in the centre, on the main square.  Considering the schism in everyday life that 9/11, the Madrid bombings and June 7th bombings in London caused it was strange to see life had returned to normal within two days.  Was it insensitive that western tourists were cavorting around the site day and night?  What would Bush have said about thousands of Arab tourists swarming over ground zero with smiles and snapping cameras?  Anyway there were obvious tensions what with bin Laden’s demise and anti-government demonstrations in the square but the city rolled on as usual.

Arab society does seem peaceful and built around community, in the evenings I liked to sit in the park surrounded by couples and families who did very little other than chat, hold hands and watch their kids run in circles.  Maybe we don’t have the climate, but when it is nice we sit in our own personal gardens or go to the pub, it just seemed more sociable in Marrakech.  I never shifted the feeling of being an outsider though, even amongst tourists it seemed to be more of a couples and family destination rather than backpackers, adventurers and single people – and 95% of the tourists were French and very comfortable sauntering around – bronzed and heavy eyed.  I sat beneath the orange and the fig trees and drank spiced tea and read my book but it’s hard to overcome isolation, and when you’re completely new to a place and have four or five days to get to grips with it you have to make yourself comfortable in any way you can.