Feeling My Age

Getting older has its drawbacks – but it's a lot better than the alternative.

Eeyore and Rabbit

“Nobody tells me,” said Eeyore. “Nobody keeps me Informed. I make it seventeen days come Friday since anybody spoke to me.”

“It certainly isn’t seventeen days-”

“Come Friday,” explained Eeyore.

“And to-day’s Saturday,” said Rabbit. “So that would make it eleven days. And I was here myself a week ago.”

“Not conversing,” said Eeyore. “Not first one and then the other. You said ‘Hallo’ and Flashed Past. I saw your tail a hundred yards up the hill as I was meditating my reply. I had thought of saying ‘What?’-but, of course, it was then too late.”

“Well, I was in a hurry.”

“No Give and Take,” Eeyore went on. “No Exchange of Thought. ‘Hallo-What’- I mean, it gets you nowhere, particularly if the other person’s tail is only just in sight for the second half of the conversation.”

“It’s your fault, Eeyore. You’ve never been to see any of us. You just stay here in this one corner of the Forest waiting for the others to come to you. Why don’t you go to them sometimes?”

Eeyore was silent for a little while, thinking. “There may be something in what you say, Rabbit,” he said at last. “I have been neglecting you. I must move about more. I must come and go.”

“That’s right, Eeyore. Drop in on any of us at any time, when you feel like it.”

“Thank-you, Rabbit. And if anybody says in a Loud Voice ‘Bother, it’s Eeyore,’ I can drop out again.”

Rabbit stood on one leg for a moment. “Well,” he said, “I must be going. I am rather busy this morning.”

“Good-bye,” said Eeyore.

From The House At Pooh Corner by AA Milne.
Read the whole chapter here

Eeyore Floating

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Michael Morpurgo

The text of Keeping On – an essay by Michael Morpurgo for A Point Of View, broadcast on Radio 4 on 27 September 2019. It can be heard or downloaded indefinitely at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0008r6m

Strange thing, getting old – because I never thought it would happen to me. Well, it has, and quite suddenly too. Life these days is punctuated with little reminders. A certain reluctance, that I never had when I was young, when it comes to looking in the mirror. Full body or face. Neither merits a second glance. Mirrors are in fact a perfect nuisance. In lifts with mirrors all round, sometimes you catch a glimpse of the back of a head that always lacks more hair than last time you looked, less than you had supposed or hoped.

And a casual glance at a shop window as you pass by catches you walking more bent. Two choices. One, play the part. Beethoven, hands behind his back, bent into the wind, hair flying, as he composes the Pastoral Symphony? Or you straighten up and walk younger, more youthfully, a sprightly step, just in case anyone else had noticed the elderly slouch. No-one has of course because no-one is looking. But I noticed. I do the Beethoven walk into the wind, humming the Pastoral. Good choice.

Beethoven

In truth of course, you hardly need mirrors to remind you that the years are marching on. There are plenty of other signs you can’t avoid noticing. You have to think before you bend down to pick anything up, or tie up a shoelace. There are baths too deep to get out of, so you have to turn turtle and push yourself up and out. But at least no-one is looking. Then there are far too many kind people these days offering you a seat on the bus or the underground. Your little grandson outruns you easily on a country walk, and no longer just because you are pretending to let him win. You can pretend you are pretending, if you like; but he’s not fooled, no-one is fooled. I’m not fooled.

And these days I’m finding there are far too many visits to doctors and nurses, wonderful though they are. I was used to tests when I was young – vocabulary tests, comprehension tests, spelling tests. It’s blood tests now.

Then there’s losing old friends, and neighbours, and family. Not sure you ever get used to being an orphan. That’s maybe the worst of being old, and getting older. There are more people you miss, and with every one that goes, you are more alone.

Old Trees

You find you are now among the last old trees in the park, wary of wild winds of fortune that might weaken you or uproot you. I’m sad sometimes that the world changes too fast around you and you feel you cannot belong, you cannot keep up. As a child I never liked feeling left behind. “But you are in second childhood, Michael,” I tell myself. “Get used to it. Mustn’t worry about sans eyes, sans teeth, sans everything. If it’s another childhood you are living through, just be thankful for it. It means there’s more ahead, more to look forward to, to live for.”

So am I downhearted? No.

What keeps me going are the young, and the very old, the remarkably old. The young are beacons that burn bright with new hope, new energy, with the beauty of fervour, the joy of discovery. To be with them, to work with them, is to be inspired, feel the enchantment and excitement of youth again, to share it, to live in its glow. With them, around them, playing, talking, working, the years peel away. Age no longer wearies. When they’ve gone I know they have tired me, but I sleep deep and wake contented, refreshed, younger in heart.

Michael Morpurgo reading to young people

Just as rejuvenating and energising to me are the examples of those who have lived long, and never aged, some of the generation before me, whose lives have been lived fully, who have stayed positive to the end, active, and who have contributed so much to all of us. They are my mentors. I will try to tread where they have trod, keep right on to the end of the road.

I think of Judith Kerr, author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and the Mog books, who passed away only recently, aged 96. She was at her desk, writing and painting, only a few weeks before she died. Well into her 90s she remained indefatigable, travelling widely, in this country and abroad, talking and drawing in schools, in libraries, at festivals, living life to the full. She walked four or five miles every day, ran up the stairs to her studio, loved to be with her friends, enjoyed good conversation, and a good whisky last thing at night.

Judith Kerr

She was a child refugee from Nazi Germany, had lived through family tragedy, through loss and grief, put up with living alone, worked through being alone. She had her memories, had her cat, her family and friends. She loved making her books, meeting families and children who loved them. And what a legacy of joy she has left! If she was ever downhearted, and I’m sure she was, she just went on dreaming her stories and characters up, went on writing, painting, walking, running up her stairs, kept right on. I walk sometimes where she walked along the Thames, from Hammersmith Bridge to Putney. Just to think of Judith puts a spring in my step.

We were in a restaurant in Oxford some years ago. A man came up to our table. He was old, but he walked tall. He explained he had just been to a talk I had given, told us how much he had enjoyed it, that his name was Roger Bannister. So I found myself speaking to one of my childhood heroes, the young doctor who had broken the four-minute mile, whose modesty was legendary. Having met him, and his wife Moyra, I discovered how, although running had brought him fame, it was primarily medicine, neurology, that was his life’s work.

Roger Bannister in 1954

In old age, more and more immobilised by Parkinson’s Disease, he continued his work, for his science, his athletics, his city, remaining active as long as he could, remaining an inspiration to us all. I recall well the determination on his face, as he willed himself through the tape that rainy evening in Oxford in 1954, when he became the first man in the world ever to run the mile in under four minutes, a determination that stayed with him all his life, that was with him in his wheelchair. The sight of him breasting that tape stays with me. The memory I have of him in his wheelchair the last time I saw him, still cheerful, still positive, reminds me that we have the power of the human spirit to keep us going, to keep right on.

Roger Bannister in later life

In the village where we live in Devon we are a small community, with an average age of over 75. Every Tuesday lunchtime the pub, The Duke of York, puts on a lunch for the older villagers. It costs £5 a head for a three-course meal. Twenty or 30 will turn up, a chance to meet, to talk of old times, to remember together. The village consists of a couple of dozen cottages, a village hall – once the old school, closed over 60 years ago now – the pub, the church, the chapel. It is a living community that has a strong tradition of looking after our old people. Families look after their own elderly as best they can, so elderly are looking after elderly more and more. It is a place where the old are valued, respected and cared for. And it is a place where I witness daily the courage and dignity of the old. They too are my mentors.

I will try to emulate them all, Judith Kerr, Sir Roger Bannister, the old folk of my village, as best I can. I’ll keep right on.

Michael Morpurgo
September 2019

The Duke of York, Iddesleigh,

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Switching Off…

July 2, 2019 Feeling My Age

Man blisfully asleep in bed

Love these two aphorisms from the  Showerthoughts SubReddit…

On Switching Off
Being told to “sleep on it“ or “sleep it off“ is the human equivalent of turning a machine off and then on again to fix an issue. We are essentially restarting ourselves

On Dreaming
Every night, we lose consciousness and quietly and harmlessly go temporarily insane. If we don’t do this, after a few days, we actually do go insane.
 

About Showerthoughts:
The human brain is a decidedly odd machine, often prone to glitches, malfunctions, and internal errors. However, within the confines of that chaos, something intriguing occasionally occurs: A seemingly mundane detail about the world will suddenly become more interesting, having been viewed from a slightly different perspective than usual. This sort of miniature epiphany is called a showerthought.

If you’ve ever realised that “Wet Paint” signs probably cause more stained fingertips than wet paint does on its own, you’ve had a showerthought. If you’ve ever noticed that human hair is technically a renewable resource, you’ve had a showerthought. These sorts of musings tend to arise while a person’s mind is engaged with a routine, uncomplicated activity (like commuting, mowing the lawn, or waiting for a customer service representative to answer your telephone call). And while the word “showerthought” may be a bit misleading – they don’t have to occur in the shower, after all – the concept is something which everyone has experienced.

More Showerthoughts at reddit.com/r/Showerthoughts

Showerthoughts

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Ewan MacColl

James Henry Miller (1915 – 1989), better known by his stage name Ewan MacColl, was an English folk singer, songwriter, communist, labour activist, actor, poet, playwright and record producer. A Guardian article to mark the centenary of MacColl’s birth contained warm tributes from his family and associates. But also these recollections from English folk singer Shirley Collins:

“Ewan had quite a pernicious influence on folk music, I think. People who went to the Critics Group [a study group for singers held at MacColl’s home] ended up being moulded by him, sounding the same. Folk music should be about reflecting music from the regions, the different voices, the roots of it. You couldn’t differentiate anything with his approach.

I first met him when I was 20 and my antenna went up straightaway. I genuinely don’t want to be unpleasant, but he was unpleasant to me, quite sexist, and pretentious and pompous – words that should never be applied to a folk singer. He said to me that I shouldn’t wear nail varnish. What a wretched thing to say to a young woman with an interest; what a way of putting someone down.

He was self-invented; there seemed nothing truthful about him, and that’s always concerned me greatly. He was an actor, really, even as a singer. The way he’d turn his chair, sit astride it, put his hand to his ear… my heart would sink. I know it’s not fair as he’s not here to defend himself, but I’ve had my opinion since I first met him, and I’ve not seen any reason to change it.

He was a talented man, yes – you can’t get away from that – who made some fine pieces of work, but he could never reach me like a traditional singer could, someone like George Maynard or Harry Cox. His influence now? Things have opened up. Nobody has to listen to what other people are saying. People are going their own way. That’s the way it should be.”

Shirley Collins
The Guardian 25 Jan 2015
Ewan MacColl: the godfather of folk who was adored – and feared

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From a post by Simon Napier Bell on Facebook:

Three of the Rolling Stones had been  staying at the Mamounia Hotel in Morocco, taking refuge from the British press while waiting for their drug trial. Staying there at the same time was the royal photographer and theatrical designer, Cecil Beaton, a mannered old dear with a plummy voice and crisp wrists.

Having watched them while he ate dinner on the other side of the dining-room, Beaton went across to the Stones and introduced himself. He took a great liking to Mick Jagger and afterwards wrote in his diary, “He is very gentle, and with perfect manners. He has much appreciation and his small, albino-fringed eyes notice everything. We sat next to each other as he drank a Vodka Collins and smoked with pointed finger held high. His skin is chicken-breast white and of a fine quality.”

The next day Beaton asked Mick to walk with him in the woods. “I took Mick through the trees to photograph him in the midday sun. I gave his face the shadows it needed. The lips were of a fantastic roundness, the body almost hairless, yet I made him look like Tarzan by Piero di Cosimo.”

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Page from QX magazine 2007

Happened across a back issue of QX magazine from 2007. Struck by the gap between the way an attractive gay man is portrayed in cartoon fantasy versus what one actually looks like in ordinary daily life.

Source: http://qxmagazine.com/pdf/qx.pdf

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William Burroughs 1962

A guide to essential life skills by William S. Burroughs that first appeared in his 1973 collection of short stories Exterminator! Photo of Burroughs in his Paris apartment was taken in 1962 by Bob Willoughby.

The Discipline of DE
Do Easy is a way of doing. It is a way of doing everything you do. DE simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest most relaxed way you can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE.

You can start right now tidying up your flat, moving furniture or books, washing dishes, making tea, sorting papers. Consider the weight of objects: exactly how much force is needed to get the object from here to there? Consider its shape and texture and function. Where exactly does it belong? Use just the amount of force necessary to get the object from here to there. Don’t fumble, jerk, grab an object. Drop cool possessive fingers onto it like a gentle old cop making a soft arrest. Guide the dustpan lightly to the floor as if you were landing a plane. When you touch an object weigh it with your fingers, feel your fingers on the object, the skin, blood, muscles, tendons of your hand and arm. Consider these extensions of yourself as precision instruments to perform every movement smoothly and well. Handle objects with consideration and they will show you all their little tricks. Don’t tug or pull at a zipper. Guide the little metal teeth smoothly along feeling the sinuous ripples of cloth and flexible metal. Replacing the cap on a tube of toothpaste… (and this should always be done at once. Few things are worse than and uncapped tube, maladroitly squeezed, twisting up out of the bathroom glass drooling paste, unless it be a tube with the cap barbarously forced on all askew against the threads). Replacing the cap let the very tips of your fingers protrude beyond the cap contacting the end of the tube guiding the cap into place. Using your fingertips as a landing gear will enable you to drop any light object silently and surely into its place.

Remember every object has its place. If you don’t find that place and put that thing there it will jump out at you and trip you or rap you painfully across the knuckles. It will nudge you and clutch at you and get in your way. Often such objects belong in the wastebasket, but often it’s just that they are out of place. Learn to place an object firmly and quietly in its place and do not let your fingers move that object as they leave it there. When you put down a cup separate your fingers cleanly from the cup. Do not let them catch in the handle, and if they do repeat the movement until fingers separate clean. If you don’t catch that nervous finger that won’t let go of that handle you may twitch hot tea across the Duchess. Never let a poorly executed sequence pass. If you throw a match at a wastebasket and miss, get right up and put that match in the wastebasket. If you have time repeat the cast that failed.

There is a always a reason for missing an easy toss. Repeat the toss and you will find it. If you rap your knuckles against a window jamb or door, if you brush your leg against a desk or a bed, if you catch your feet in the curled-up corner of a rug, or strike a toe against a desk or chair go back and repeat the sequence. You will be surprised to find how far off course you were to hit that window jamb, that door, that chair. Get back on course and do it again. How can you pilot a spacecraft if you can’t find your way around your own apartment? It’s just like retaking a movie shot until you get it right. And you will begin to feel yourself in a film moving with ease and speed. But don’t try for speed at first. Try for relaxed smoothness taking as much time as you need to perform an action. If you drop an object, break and object, spill anything, knock painfully against anything, galvanically clutch an object, pay particular attention to the retake. You may find out why and forestall a repeat performance. If the object is broken, sweep up the pieces and remove them from the room at once. If the object is intact or you have a duplicate object, repeat sequence. You may experience a strange feeling as if the objects are alive and hostile trying to twist out of your fingers, slam noisily down on a table, jump out at you and stub your toe or trip you. Repeat sequence until objects are brought to order.

Here is student at work. At two feet he tosses red plastic milk cap at the orange garbage bucket. The cap sails over the bucket like a flying saucer. He tries again. Same result. He examines the cap and finds that one edge is crushed down. He pries the edge back into place. Now the cap will drop obediently into the bucket. Every object you touch is alive with your life and your will.

Cigarette packet

The student tosses cigarette box at wastebasket and it bounces out from the cardboard cover from a metal coat hanger, which is resting diagonally across the wastebasket and never should be there at all. If an ashtray is emptied into that wastebasket the cardboard triangle will split the ashes and the butts scattering both on the floor. Student takes a box of matches from his coat pocket preparatory to lighting cigarette from new package on table. With the matches in one hand he makes another toss and misses of course his fingers are in future time lighting cigarette. He retrieves package puts the matches down and now stopping slightly legs bent hop skip over the washstand and into the wastebasket, miracle of the Zen master who hits a target in the dark.

These little miracles will occur more an more often as you advance in DE… the ball of paper tossed over the shoulder into the wastebasket, the blanket flipped and settled just into place that seems to fold itself under the brown satin fingers of an old Persian merchant. Objects move into place at your lightest touch. You slip into it like a film moving with such ease you hardly know you are doing it. You’d come into the kitchen expecting to find a sink full of dirty dishes and instead every dish is put away and the kitchen shines. The Little People have been there and done your work fingers light and cold as spring wind through the rooms.

The student considers heavy objects. Tape recorder on the desk taking up too much space and he doesn’t use it very often. So put it under the washstand. Weigh it with the hands. First attempt the cord and socket leaps across the desk like a frightened snake. He bumps his back on the washstand putting the recorder under it. Try again lift with legs not back. He hits the lamp. He looks at that lamp. It is a horrible disjointed object the joints tightened with cellophane tape disconnected when not in use the cord leaps out and wraps around his feet sometimes jerking the lamp off the desk. Remove that lamp from the room and buy a new one. Now try again lifting shifting pivoting dropping on the legs just so and right under the washstand.

You will discover clumsy things you’ve been doing for years until you think that is just the way things are. Here is an American student who for years has clawed at the red plastic cap on English milk bottle you see American caps have a little tab and he has been looking for that old tab all these years. Then one day in a friend’s kitchen he saw a cap depressed at the center. Next morning he tries it and the miracle occurs. Just the right pressure in the center and he lifts the cap off with deft fingers and replaces it. He does this several times in wonder and in awe and ell he might him a college professor and very technical too planarian worms learn quicker than that for years he has been putting on his socks after he puts on his pants so he has to roll up pants and pants and socks get clawed in together so why not put on the socks before the pants? He is learning the simple miracles …

Washstand glass

The Miracle of the Washstand Glass… we all know the glass there on a rusty razor blade streaked with pink tooth paste a decapitated tube writhing up out of it… quick fingers go to work and Glass sparkles like the Holy Grail in the morning sunlight. Now he does the wallet drill. For years he has carried his money in the left side pocket of his pants reaching down to fish out the naked money… bumping his fingers against the sharp edges of the notes. Often the notes were in two stacks and pulling out the one could drop the other on the floor. The left side pocket of the pants is most difficult to pick but worse things can happen than a picked pocket one can dine out on that for a season. Two manicured fingers sliding into the well-cut suit wafted into the waiting hand an engraved message from the Queen. Surely this is the easy way. Besides no student of DE would have his pocket picked applying DE in the street, picking his route through slower walkers, don’t get stuck behind that baby carriage, careful when you round a corner don’t bump into somebody coming round the other way.

He takes the wallet out in front a mirror, removes notes, counts notes, replaces notes. As rapidly as he can with no fumbling, catching note edges on wallet, or other errors. That is a basic principle which must be repeated. When speed is crucial to the operation you must find your speed the fastest you can perform the operation without error. Don’t try for speed at first it will come his fingers will rustle through the wallet with a touch light as dead leaves and crinkle discreetly the note that will bribe a South American customs official into overlooking a shrunken down head. The customs agent smiles a collector’s smile the smile of a connoisseur. Such a crinkle he has not heard since a French jewel thief with crudely forged papers made a crinkling sound over them with his hands and there is the note neatly folded into a false passport.

Now some one will say… But if I have to think about every move I make …You only have to think and break down movement into a series of still pictures to be studied and corrected because you have not found the easy way. Once you find the easy way you don’t have to think about it. It will almost do itself.

Operations performed on your person… brushing teeth, washing, etc. can lead you to correct a defect before it develops. Here is student with a light case of bleeding gums. His dentist has instructed him to massage gums by placing little splinters of wood called Inter Dens between the teeth and massaging gum with seesaw motion. He snatches at Inter Dens, opens his mouth in a stiff grimace and jabs at a gum with a shaking hand. Now he remembers his DE. Start over. Take out the little splinters of wood like small chopsticks joined at the base and separate them gently. Now find where the bleeding is. Relax face and move Inter Dens up and down gently firmly gums relaxed direct your attention to that spot. No, not getting better and better, just let the attention of your whole body and all the healing power of your body flow with it.

A soapy hand on your lower back feeling the muscles and vertebrae can catch a dislocation right there and save you a visit to the osteopath. Illness and disability is largely a matter of neglect. You ignore something because it is painful and it becomes more uncomfortable through neglect and you neglect it further. Everyday tasks become painful and boring because you think of them as WORK something solid and heavy to be fumbled and stumbled over. Overcome this block and you will find that DE can be applied to anything you do even to the final discipline of doing nothing. The easier you do it the less you have to do. He who has learned to do nothing with his whole mind and body will have everything done for him.

Let us now apply DE to a simple test: the old Western quick draw gunfight. Only one gun fighter ever really grasped the concept of DE, and that was Wyatt Earp. Nobody ever beat him. Wyatt Earp said: It’s not the first shot that counts. It’s the first shot that hits. Point is to draw aim and fire and deliver the slug an inch above the belt buckle.

That’s DE. How fast can you do it and get it done?

Teenage gunfighter

It is related that a young boy once incurred the wrath of Two Gun McGee. McGee has sworn to kill him and is even now preparing himself in a series of saloons. The boy has never been in a gunfight and Wyatt Earp advises him to leave town while McGee is still two saloons away. The boy refuses to leave. “All right,” Earp tells him “You can hit a circle four inches square at six feet can’t you? All right, take your time and hit it.” Wyatt flattens himself against a wall calling out once more “Take your time, kid.” (How fast can you take your time, kid?)

At this moment McGee bursts through the door a .45 in each hand spittin’ lead all over the town. A drummer from St. Louis is a bit slow hitting the floor and catches a slug in the forehead. A boy peacefully eating chop suey in the Chinese restaurant next door stops a slug with his thigh. Now the kid draws his gun steadies it in both hands aims and fires at six feet hitting Two Gun McGee squarely in the stomach. The heavy slug knocks him back against the wall. He manages to get off one last shot and bring down the chandelier. The boy fires again and sends a bullet ripping through McGee’s liver and another through his chest.

The beginner can think of DE as a game. You are running an obstacle course the obstacles set up by your opponent. As soon as you attempt to put DE into practice you will find that you have an opponent very clever and resourceful with detailed knowledge of your weaknesses, and above all expert in diverting your attention for the moment necessary to drop a plate on the kitchen floor. Who or what is this opponent that makes you spill drop and fumble slip and fall? Groddeck and Freud called it the IT, a built in self-destructive mechanism. Mr Hubbard calls it the Reactive Mind. You will disconnect IT as you advance in the discipline of DE. DE Brings you into direct conflict with the IT in present time where you can control your moves. You can beat the IT in present time.

Take the inverse skill of the IT back into your own hands. These skills belong to you. Make them yours. You know where the wastebasket is. You can land objects in that wastebasket over your shoulder. You know how to touch and move and pick up things. Regaining these physical skills is of course simply a prelude to regaining other skills and knowledge that you have and cannot make available for your use. You know your entire past history just what year month and hour everything happened. If you have heard a language for any length of time you know that language. You have a computer in your brain. DE will show you how to use it. But that is another chapter.

DE applies to ALL operations carried out inside the body … brain waves, digestion, blood pressure and rate of heart beats … and that is another chapter…

“And now I have stray cats to feed and my class at the Leprosarium.”
Lady Sutton-Smith raises a distant umbrella…
“I hope you find your way … The address in empty streets…”

 

William S. Burroughs
Extract from “Exterminator!” (1973)

William S Burroughs - Exterminator!
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Against The Day

September 1, 2017 Feeling My Age

Airship
Had never read Thomas Pynchon before hearing a chance reference to the brilliance of his prose – and boy, does this novel live up to that promise.

Against The Day is a vast sprawling wildly surreal epic that washed over me like a tidal wave. The immersive enjoyment of swimming through its language was reminiscent of Joyce’s Ulysses – insofar as it’s as much about the travelling as the destination – though in every other sense the two novels couldn’t be more different.

The tone is fiercely anti-capitalist, and ranges from gripping suspense through erudite humour to the lyrically evocative and the deviantly erotic. And yet the going isn’t as heavy as that all sounds. Though Pynchon is spitting feathers wherever he depicts the brutal exploitation of the have-nots by the haves, much of the time he is giving free rein to a life-affirming & exuberant sense of fun.

I bought and enjoyed this on audiobook first and listened to it over six weeks or so – the prose is so dense and resonant that it bears repeated listening – and would warmly recommend it as a way into this novel. Dick Hill‘s narration is masterful. However on the second time through, so much of the masterful detail was still slipping past me that I ended up buying the printed book as well.

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Alan John Percivale Taylor (1906-1990) was an English historian who specialised in 19th- and 20th-century European diplomacy. His book on the origins of WW1, War by Timetable argued that all the great powers believed the ability to mobilise their armed forces faster than the others, would serve as a sufficient deterrent to avoid war and allow them to achieve their foreign policy.

The great powers developed elaborate timetables to mobilise faster than any of their rivals. So in 1914, although none of the leaders of Europe wanted a world war, the logic of the mobilisation timetables – supposedly a deterrent to war – actually ended up causing one.

The actual trigger, according to Taylor was a weak and stupid Tsar overrriding his generals to make the snap decision to mobilise his army. The Germans were forced to respond by doing the same, and war in Western Europe became inevitable.

So mobilisation timetables were the nuclear deterrent of their day. All the major powers had ’em, and it would only need one weak and stupid leader to hit the button for everyone to be the loser.

Think on.

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Just in case your idea of fun is a reimagined and very camp POTUS rambling about Aliens. Donald Trump’s original words are revoiced by Peter Serafinowicz, one half of the Look Around You team (see earlier post on their Periodic Table).

For more of the same see Peter’s Sassy Trump playlist on YouTube.

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Photo of David Bowie at Montreux Jazz Festival 2002 ©Lionel Flusin
Photo of David Bowie at Montreux Jazz Festival 2002 ©Lionel Flusin.
Interview by Clark Collis for the now-defunct Blender magazine in August 2002, using questions supplied by readers. This interview has been copied with grateful acknowledgement from bowiewonderworld.com.

The Thin White Duke is happy to answer your questions about cocaine, Ziggy Stardust and Iman. He’d even be happy to talk about the mid-’70s – if only he could remember them.

“A little old lady once said to me, ‘Elton, could I have your autograph?’ ” recalls David Bowie, crying with laughter in a suite at New York’s Soho Grand Hotel, just down the road from the apartment he shares with his wife, the supermodel Iman, and their 1-year-old daughter. “I said, ‘You may have my autograph, but I’m not Elton John – I’m David Bowie.’ She said, ‘Good: I hate that bright red hair and all that makeup.’ So I was totally lost.”

Little old ladies aside, it’s difficult to imagine many people will confuse the man who brought us Ziggy Stardust, “Let’s Dance” and, ahem, Tin Machine with anyone else. Not only is Bowie releasing a new album – Heathen, which finds him reteaming with Heroes producer Tony Visconti – he’s also headlining Moby’s Area:2 tour. Before all that, though, he’s fielding your queries with minimal complaint and maximum chuckling.

“The biggest misconception about me is that I have no sense of humor,” he says. “I probably was a bit [serious] – but only because I ‘m very shy. That’s probably one of the reasons I got so heavily into drugs: When you’re doing coke, you talk enough for several people…. ”

Who was your first love?
ALLYCAP, SYCAMORE, ILLINOIS

I was absolutely head over heels in love with a girl when I was about 10. She was the first girl in the class to get tits. I went out with her years later, when we were about 18 – but I fucked it up. On our second date, she found out that I’d been with another girl. I could not keep it zipped. All through my youth I was just terrible.

Iman, David and Alexandria Bowie

What first attracted you to Iman when you met her?
SHADRACH, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

We had an incredible, warm, lovely, intimate and fun night together – at dinner. I just got along with her immediately. [Blender feels obliged to point out that she’s also extremely gorgeous.] Yeah, but there have been a few gorgeous women in my life – and none where I went, “Wow, this woman is wonderful.”

When Iggy Pop was in a psychiatric hospital in 1975, is it true that you brought him drugs to cheer him up?
TAFTROOT, KENT, OHIO

Yeah. [Laughs] Did it work? Of course! Ah, that was so stupid. If I remember right, it was me and Dennis Hopper. We trooped into the hospital with a load of drugs for him. This was very much a leave-your-drugs-at-the-door hospital. We were out of our minds, all of us. He wasn’t well; that’s all we knew. We thought we should bring him some drugs, because he probably hadn’t had any for days!

I’m looking forward to seeing you on the Area:2 tour. Will you play “Always Crashing in the Same Car”?

RAMMRODD, SEATTLE

We are learning that, actually. The reason is that for Meltdown [a British music festival Bowie is curating], I’m doing both Heathen and Low in their entirety, two albums back-to-back. We have to learn “Always Crashing,” because it’s on Low. If you send me a letter telling me which gig you’ll be at, I’ll make sure I identify you in the crowd and play you that song.

When you wrote “Turn and face the strange” for “Changes,” who were you talking to?
JANICEWK, CORTEZ, COLORADO

[Sings] Turn and face the strange… I don’t think it’s any more complicated than just a note to self – that the narrator should turn and face the strange. Or, as somebody once said, turn and face the strain. Which sounds like a bathroom exercise.

Let's Dance

Could you have imagined that “Let’s Dance” was going to become such a huge hit?
HUNEEEBEER, PORTLAND, MAINE

The truth is, I told [producer] Nile [Rodgers], “Why on earth you think that’s a single, I have no idea.” I had serious doubts – I wanted “China Girl” to be the first single. But he said to me, “No, you’re wrong. ‘Let’s Dance’ is the one.” And he was absolutely right.

What do people say when they see you on the street?
FLIEGAL, ORLANDO, FLORIDA

Here in New York, it’s “Yo, Bowie!” They’re quite civil. In London, it’s “Dave!” – always Dave. I want to smack ’em, because my name’s David. I hate being called Dave, and I think they know it. But that’s the beloved English for you.

How often do you check out Bowienet, your Web site and Internet Service Provider?
BACK2LIVE, BELOIT, KANSAS

I thought you were going to ask how often I check into the hospital! [Laughs] I do it every single morning. If I’d known how much work it was going to be to start that blessed thing… I’d still have done it. But I’ve cut down my online time, because I realized how much of my life it was taking up. In the mid-’90s, I was an obsessive – I’d surf all the time, just crazed. And apparently there’s a lot of porn on the Internet too.

It’s January 28, 1972. You’re at the Friars, Aylesbury venue in England, about to perform as Ziggy Stardust for the first time. What’s going on backstage?
PADDINGTON, TORONTO

[Spiders From Mars drummer] Woody Woodmansey was saying, “I’m not bloody wearing that!” [Laughs] There were certainly comments, a lot of nerves. Not about the music – I think the guys knew that we rocked. But they were worried about the look. That’s what I remember: how uncomfortable they felt in their stage clothes. But when they realized what it did for the birds… The girls were going crazy for them, because they looked like nobody else. So within a couple of days it was, “I’m going to wear the red ones tonight.”

The Spiders From Mars 1972

Is it true you’ve quit smoking?
JMA1973, SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA

Yeah, but it’s one day at a time. I’m not going to talk about how long it’s been, because I’m superstitious. At the end of this tour, I need to look down at my hands and see that there isn’t a cigarette in them.

How many houses do you own?
HANSWALK, MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

How many do people think I own? [Blender guesses seven.] No! Let’s just say I’ve got nowhere near that. I’m not a property person.

What did you think when you heard Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World?”
LEGROG, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

I liked it a lot. It was very painful – and I mean that in the kindest possible way. I didn’t actually get to see [Kurt Cobain] do that until he was dead. He stumbled a little bit on the guitar, and there was a plaintive quality in his voice that gave the song characteristics that had not been there before. He played it from a very personal point of view; mine was much more diffident. In fact, I had forgotten all about the song, and not long after that I started doing it occasionally onstage. It made me think, “You know, that really is a good song.”

You once said that saying you were bisexual was “the biggest mistake I ever made.” Do you still believe that?
WHOODAAMANN, SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA

Interesting. [Long pause] I don’t think it was a mistake in Europe, but it was a lot tougher in America. I had no problem with people knowing I was bisexual. But I had no inclination to hold any banners or be a representative of any group of people. I knew what I wanted to be, which was a songwriter and a performer, and I felt that [bisexuality] became my headline over here for so long. America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do.

Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, David Bowie

Do you ever hear yourself on the radio and think it’s someone else’s music?
ABOUTABOY, WINDHAM, NEW HAMPSHIRE

When I wish to, yeah. [Laughs] It’s funny: I never, ever recognize “The Laughing Gnome.”

What’s the secret to buying a really good suit?
FASTERCASTER, REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE

Always stick with people you can trust. There are only three people I like a lot. One’s Alexander McQueen, for when I’m feeling more flamboyant. Smithy [Paul Smith] I wear all the time. And Agnès B. – she does great casual suits. I’m not big on shopping, and Iman hates shopping even more than I do. I will want to window-shop, at least. She doesn’t want to spend time in stores. She hates buying clothes. Amazing.

Are you a fan of The Osbournes?
12GREATEST45S, EUGENE, OREGON

I’ve seen one episode. It’s… all right. I found it amusing, but I’m not sure it will become a staple of my viewing. Once you get the joke, you get the joke. I got over it really fast that he says fuck a lot and that he walks like my grandfather.

What’s your favorite David Bowie film?
JUNEBUG61, BOSTON

[Laughs] Is there an answer to that? Um, The Virgin Soldiers [an obscure 1969 British comedy]. I don’t even remember being in it, but apparently I am. I’ve yet to see it.

Do you follow any sports?
MARGEHOMER, OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI

I quite like boxing – but that’s only because I use it as a training method. Just recently I’ve started again. You look at yourself and think [pats stomach] that could go. And boxing’s not as boring as pumping bleedin’ metal all day, which bores the shit out of me.

Do you think you’ll be remembered in a thousand years?
GETRICHQUICK, SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

No. Absolutely not. A thousand years… My God, can you imagine? Of course, there’s talk of this huge comet explosion in something like 2090. It’s within the next hundred years, anyway. I suppose there’s a possibility that we might still be around in 3000. But think how much software will have been amassed – who would want to sit down and sift through it all?

When was the last time you lost your temper?
PILLOWFIGHT, MOBILE, ALABAMA

You know, I can’t remember. I’m not a temper person. Am I passive-aggressive? I don’t think so. Earlier in my life, there was more of the bipolar about me – I would vacillate quite aggressively between depressed and euphoric. I think I’m very even. Now I’ve been doing the pills a bit!

Is it true that you once appeared in an ice cream commercial that was made by Blade Runner director Ridley Scott back in the ’60s?
ZOWIBOWI, JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING

Apparently, yeah. It was called Love Lollies or something. I didn’t know it was Ridley, though. I found out only last year. I’m sure he’s as embarrassed about it as I am.

Is Mick Jagger a good kisser?
GADSMOCK, MINNEAPOLIS

[Laughs] You’d have to ask someone else, not me.

Did you really used to live next to Charlie Chaplin in Switzerland?
DAWSONSFEET, TOLEDO, OHIO

Yeah, he lived down the road. Well, his corpse lived down the road. It was in the garden, and then it was nicked. A couple of terrorists nicked his corpse and demanded money from the Chaplin family. It was awful. I knew the kids. Nice people.

Which of your albums from the 1970s do you least remember making?
CAMERON2, BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA

Without a doubt, Station to Station [1976]. I have only flashes of making it. I have serious problems about that year or two. I can’t remember how I felt; I have no emotional geography. It’s all so murky. It was a very, very awful time for me. Very bad. I’ve probably blanked quite a lot of it out, because I felt so weird and displaced most of the time.

What’s your fondest memory of Andy Warhol?
4TI5ED, VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA

I’m not sure that there’s such a thing as a fond memory of Andy Warhol. He was a strange fish. Even people who say they knew him well, I don’t think they did. I certainly didn’t know him well.

Bowie as Warhol in the movie Basquiat
David Bowie as Andy Warhol and Jeffery Wright as Jean-Michel Basquiat in the 1996 movie Basquiat

How would your career have been different without cocaine?
STEELAZ, ALLENTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

I simply have no idea. I was fairly drug-free right up to seventy… four. Ha! Which is not very long, is it? [Laughs] Strangely enough, all the techniques and the things I was trying to do, I got interested in before I started doing drugs. So it’s conceivable that I’d try a lot of the same techniques. What the outcome would have been, I don’t know. Maybe I would never have touched the darkest corners in quite the same way. Although I know that I can, and do, write fairly strange music without the aid of drugs.

Is it true that you originally wrote “Golden Years” for Elvis Presley?
ROUGHRIDA, CASPER, WYOMING

No. Apparently Elvis heard the demos, because we were both on RCA, and Colonel Tom [Parker, Presley’s manager] thought I should write Elvis some songs. There was talk between our offices that I should be introduced to Elvis and maybe start working with him in a production-writer capacity. But it never came to pass. I would have loved to have worked with him. God, I would have adored it. He did send me a note once. [Perfectly imitates Presley’s drawl] “All the best, and have a great tour.” I still have that note.

What’s the last good joke you heard?
BOYZDONTCRY, LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS

Dopey Dwarf says to the Pope, “Are there any dwarf nuns in Rome?” The Pope says, “No.” “Are there any dwarf nuns in Italy?” “No.” “Are there any dwarf nuns anywhere in the world?” The Pope says, “I’m sorry, my son – no, there aren’t.” The rest of the dwarves start singing: “Dopey fucked a penguin! Dopey fucked a penguin!”

Gnomes

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Christ resurrected

My wife recently dug out her copy of the 1662 Book Of Common Prayer to look up the answer to this question, and it turns out the answer is much simpler than you might imagine…

“THIS Table contains so much of the Calendar as is necessary for the determining of Easter; to find which, look for the Golden Number of the year in the first Column of the Table, against which stands the day of the Paschal Full Moon; then look in the third column for the Sunday Letter, next after the day of the Full Moon, and the day of the Month standing against that Sunday Letter is Easter Day. If the Full Moon happens upon a Sunday, then (according to the first rule) the next Sunday after is Easter Day.

To find the Golden Number, or Prime, add one to the Year of our Lord, and then divide by 19; the remainder, if any, is the Golden Number; but if nothing remaineth, then 19 is the Golden Number. To find the Dominical or Sunday Letter, according to the Calendar, until the year 2099 inclusive, add to the year of our Lord its fourth part, omitting fractions; and also the number 6:

Divide the sum by 7; and there is no remainder, then A is the Sunday Letter: But if any number remaineth, then the Letter standing against that number in the small annexed Table is the Sunday Letter. For the next following Century, that is, from the year 2100 to the year 2199 inclusive, add to the current year its fourth part, and also the number 5, and then divide by 7, and proceed as in the last Rule.

Note, that in all Bissextile or Leap Years, the Letter found as above will be the Sunday Letter, from the intercalated day exclusive to the end of the year.”

A Table To Find Easter Day

Actually, calculating the date of Easter is child’s play compared to explaining exactly how this method was arrived at – which takes more than 12,000 words on Wikipedia – while still leaving most of us none the wiser.

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Beatles crossing Abbey Road - from Giphy

Saw this on Twitter: the Beatles’ zebra crossing turned into a treadmill. The Lennon walk in particular – and the way Ringo’s jacket is way too big for him –  really made me laugh…

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Bob Dylan 2002

Bob Dylan at Brighton Centre
The Guardian,  May 6, 2002

The air is fraught with expectation, the crowd largely comprised of characters you never normally see at rock concerts: smart middle-aged couples, grim-faced fathers dragging children, a glut of paunchy, balding men, faces glistening with anticipation. They look more like people at a garden centre, albeit one where dippy women hawk homemade books called things like Voice of the Nightingale: A Poetic Interpretation of Dylan.

What draws them to an artist whose live reputation is so erratic? Aside from their memories, it is his mythic status. Dylan started talking gibberish in the early 1960s, then gave up talking entirely. This tour has been heralded not with the usual interview blitz, but with rock mags listing their favourite barmy Dylan tales. No extant star boasts such an impregnable aura of mystery.

The mystery remains intact tonight. Looking trim in a cowboy hat, Dylan never speaks. His singing voice bolsters the enigma. On record it has deteriorated into a terrifying croak; live it is literally beyond language. “Hesh a sheeshuuh unna shezz,” he rasps. “Unwah a shusheshah heeesh.” Legendary songs – Tangled Up In Blue, It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding – go on for minutes without a flicker of audience recognition.

The true Dylan nuts cover themselves by applauding the first few notes of everything, regardless. Subterranean Homesick Blues is at least identifiable, but Dylan forgets the words and fills in with noises: “. . . heeesh shuzzz unnnuuh, carry round a firehose . . .” The crowd love it.

Intermittently, you see their point. Some songs suit his ruined voice. Tweedle Dee is bleakly menacing. Masters of War, sung in a husking death rattle, sounds more foreboding than ever. His onstage attitude is legendarily wayward – solos are included, timings changed, tracks altered without warning – but it’s gripping stuff. Watching Dylan battle his back catalogue is infinitely more entertaining than seeing another super-annuated star glide slickly through their hits. At the very least, he is one legend from whom you can expect the unexpected.

Alexis Petridis

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Trumpocalypse Now

November 24, 2016 Feeling My Age

Trumpocalypse Now - click to expand image in new window

“What all have foreseen
From the outset,
And yet in the end it takes place,
Is idiocy,
The fire it’s too late to extinguish.
Called Fate.”

MAX FRISCH, The Fire Raisers (1958)
Translated by Michael Bullock.

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