Truly, madly, obsessively

Listening to the wireless today I heard filmaker Abdel Kechiche (La graine et le mulet) talking about writing. He said he didn't know when he started but if there was a way of investigating they would probably find that he had written on the inside of his mother's womb.

Have a very merry christmas and a magical feeling of renewed possibility at midnight on the last day of the year.

"A nightingale who happened to have no home of his own decided that he would try to settle in a certain forest. The birds who were already there, however, had their own ideas about the matter, and soon drove him out.

One day, sitting disconsolately by the dusty road nearby, he was spied by another nightingale, who stopped to ask why he looked so forlorn.

"I tried," said the first bird, "to make my home among the other birds, but they pecked, and they mobbed me, and they flapped at me until I had to leave yonder forest."

"Perhaps you were boastful," said the other nightingale. "When in a similar situation, I sought a tree of my own, all the birds first collected and asked me what I was doing, why I was singing."

"Yes, those birds did the same with me," said the first nightingale.

"And what did you say?"

"I said: 'I am singing because I simply cannot help it.'"

"And then?"

"And then they attacked me, as I have described."

"Ah," said the other bird, "that was your mistake. They thought you had no self-control, that you might be mad and that you might try to make them behave in a similar manner. When I was asked the same question, I said: 'I am trying to please you with my song.' That was an aim which they could understand.""

as collected by Idries Shah


No kidding

I was driving my son and his friend somewhere in the car the other day when he said to his pal: de toute façon, c’est simple ; ma mère va se tuer si elle continue à fumer, et si elle arrête, c’est moi qu’elle va tuer”. (“my mother is going to kill herself if she keeps on smoking and if she stops, it’s me she’ll kill”.). The word nutshell comes to mind. Realising that there were in fact murderous pulsions at work, progress indeed, I decided I don't want to kill myself or my son or my analyst or any other significant Other. So the thought crosses my mind that I need an anonymous victim or scapegoat. Bouc émissaire in French.
The Chinese birth sign for my year is usually called the goat but the animal is more like a male sheep. They obviously have trouble
separating the sheep from the goats. Ram, in English, belier in French. She-goat would be Chèvre or Billy goat, Bouc (which sounds awfully like book). Last week, my friend Joëlle Sambi was presenting her novel called "Le monde est gueule de chèvre"

And imagine my surprise when I read Patricia’s blog post in which she relates that Dakar is being invaded by sheep!

I'm feeling sheepish, as well be hanged for a goat as a ram. A goat by any other name would smell … like a bouc-A of roses…



Left Marie-Claude’s party at 3 a.m. I had had a few glasses of wine at the party, and they gave out books of French drinking songs. Different tables picked different songs and to begin with there was more shouting of “what page number is it?!!!” than actual singing; then we all decided just to go for it and ended up vying with each other to be heard above the din. The evening finally disintegrated into a whirling round crossed arms jig-like dance till I got dizzy and had to stop. I was pleasantly disorientated till my car came into sight and I thought “oh no, not again”. I walked calmly towards the deer-related bump in the middle of the bonnet, not knowing which door to get in; I couldn’t remember which side of the car the steering wheel was on. I tried to imagine myself inside the car, turning to speak to the passenger to work out what side they would be on and reverse it but before I could come up with an answer the steering wheel came into sight. This is all Napoleon’s fault. I daresay I am not the only soul stranded in left-right ambivalence. I am glad I was not in Stockholm on Dagen H.

Lying in the bath I glanced at the steamed-up mirror and saw a face with spectacles. I’ve always been fascinated by anthropomorphism - "common examples of this tendency include naming cars or begging machines to work" - mainly by the seeing of faces or human shapes in everything from cloud formations to steam on a mirror.
As I looked at the face, which changed shape as I watched it, I felt frustrated at not being able to draw it. Maybe the fact that I can’t draw is what draws me to abstract art. I do occasionally play with lines that suggest human shapes but I often seem to take the standpoint of deliberately excluding any suggestion of representation.

As a student I worked in the laboratory of a cheese factory and I collected the used blotting paper below a piece of equipment because I was fascinated by the multicoloured blotches created by the chemicals. Rorschach.

By the way, the photos in the previous post were taken on the moors on the road to Muirkirk in Ayrshire. I have always felt the scenery was particularly desolate, and, again, it seems I am not alone in this: "With environs bleaker perhaps than those of any other town in
Scotland, Leadhills and Wanlockhead alone excepted”.


And its one, two three, what are we writing for?

Today’s headlines - "Another Eight killed and five wounded in US mall massacre" – "The woman described the killer's behaviour as bizarre, including his shooting the stuffing out of a teddy bear". – I wonder if it was the bear called Mohammed.

Connections. Last night I read a magical passage in a book by Nancy Huston, Le Journal de Création, which Françoise lent me. It was about being in the middle of writing a novel and on a kind of semantic plateau where everything makes sense, where every detail is highly significant. I immediately felt pangs of nostalgia for that feeling. I don’t have much time to write at the moment. Fascinated by the prose of an Anglophone woman who writes in French, I started to look for information and found an article about one of her books:

“focusing on language, especially bilingualism (broadly understood as the capacity to communicate in two languages) as a site where trauma is expressed and mediated.”

In a recent personal crisis I felt supported by my mother’s words which came to me in French. Apart from a few songs she learnt from the Free French soldiers stationed in her village during the war and the ability to order a café au lait and a croissant on her frequent trips to visit me in France, she does not actually speak French. Why, then, were the words that provided me with comfort in a foreign language?

“Ta force c’est dans ta capacité de travail”.

I remember the day she said this to me, in English of course. I do not remember the exact words. I mentioned this to my analyst and mentally pinned it on the wall inside my cave to take a closer look at sometime. It seems to me that it is a sign of something not being straightforward in my use of language or affect or emotion… my immediate impression was of a crossed wire or a snag in a circuit.

Also, when she said it, I was hurt. I did not want to be told I was a good pack horse, I wanted to be praised for my wit, intelligence, beauty or something else exceptionally meritorious. The same thing happened near the beginning of analysis when BM congratulated me on being a good translator and I felt crestfallen. What possible good could it be to anyone to be good at their job? I thought at the time. Feels like a million years ago…

Semantic-Pragmatic Disorder (SPD) is a developmental disorder that many experts believe is closely related to autism and Asperger's Syndrome. The name refers to the fact that people with SPD have special challenges with the semantic aspect of language (the meaning of what is being said) and the pragmatics of language (using language appropriately in social situations).


More fibs

I was recently presented with a lovely gift from a friend in Algeria. It is a plate. When I asked what the design represented, I was told in French it is a “fibule”, a brooch for holding Algerian women’s robes in place. What a delightful word! It has some luscious connotations, connected to making up stories, like a teensy weensy little mini white lie, the way a nodule must be a tiny nod, and a stream is a tribula of a river - “Look at all my trials and tribule-ations” – (jc superstar). The first wrinkle on a French woman’s face, which must, at all costs, be hidden/filled in (whereas on a man's face it either doesn't make any difference or au contraire adds character) – is called a ridule, and I am not going to give you the satisfaction of adding the IC.
In my mind, the word is a hybrid composed of the English root “fib” (from fibble-fable), a teensy untruth that has no bad consequences, and the French diminutive suffix –ule. Not all French words ending in ule are diminutives – there’s crédule, (although maybe that means a little bit créd?) opercule, libellulethis is one of my all-time favourites. I can actually see phosphorescent blue and diaphanous, iridescent wings when I speak or read it. When I was an infant my parents called me looby-lou – I never understood why, but when I heard the French word for dragonfly for the first time I was hooked, I thought I had found my original family. Let’s face it; we are all descended from swamp dwellers.
Please take a moment to enjoy all the pleasant associations that come to mind in relation to fibule and its English sister, fibula, which also has fabulously free phonetic foibles.
Nebula, nibble, scribble, dabble, fabulate, febrile, etc.
Because the associations don’t stay fun and frivolous for very long. Feeble. Fistule
The Encyclopaedia Britannica
Fibula: outer of two bones of the lower leg or hind limb, probably so named because the inner bone, the tibia, and the fibula together resemble an ancient brooch, or pin.
[Latin īnfībulāre, īnfībulāt-, to clasp with a brooch, see fibula.]
To close off or obstruct the genitals of, especially by sewing together the labia majora in females or fastening the prepuce in males, so as to prevent sexual intercourse.
The design on my gift is yet another reminder of the influence of the Roman Empire.


The well-heeled soul

They’re all running around worrying

About the next minute the next mile

Hardly breathing hardly daring who and what they are or where

Totally immersed in the struggle of daily grinding, teeth to be cleaned, trains to be caught

Colds to be treated and lots and lots of

Hunger, anguish, thirst, despondency and despair in the air.

Smoked glass panes and bicycle lanes and everywhere the main idea of a rhyme we cannot fathom

How often do they stop and look
Beyond the frame beyond the shame
Driven and pulled, pushing and lulled into a sense of being without end
Sending messages of hopelessness and senselessness and of an ever-turning wheel that steals the minutes and the half-digested memories

Sitting on the settee, trousers clinging to the knee, I tie my laces, to call a truce

Forsooth they never told me it would be like this

I was one of them am one of them will be one of them and yet not
quite the same, seeing, fearing, sensing farther on the outside the emptiness surrounding our too-filled bubbles of trouble

How to get to there from here

How to think and be sincere

I would live in the moment only I don’t have time

Rushing from dime to crime to sign,

symbols clashing in my mind

Eye, I, aye, ail

Who will have mercy on my whole?


Running commentary

“[…] the Greek Rheumatos means "flowing"”

… so rumours and the French head cold (rhume) come from the same root. Incredible. Obviously comes from the fact that to catch and spread a rumour you had to hang about outside under the eaves…


Michael Lonsdale

I have just posted the first instalment of “Topologie d’une rencontre au lieu de la solitude” in Vita Text – yes, without the e, because it is in English, this first instalment. And I haven’t a clue how to translate the title. Maybe I will come up with a satisfactory English title later. I wrote this text in the eighties for bilingual actor Michael Lonsdale, and it switches into French, so I will probably post the next instalment in Vita texte.
I was very much enamoured with Michael Lonsdale in
Paris in the eighties. I first encountered him in esoteric French plays and poetry readings. I plucked up the courage to speak to him at the Théatre du Rond Point when he and Madeleine Renaud were playing in L’amant anglaise de Marguerite Duras. Afterwards, he was sitting in the foyer/cafeteria with Madeleine Renaud and Jean Louis Barraux (who actually touched my bum as I was making for the bar… the only stranger I can remember doing that in a public place…). Anyway I went up to their table and told Michael Lonsdale I thought he was fabulous (maybe not the actual word I used) and that I had recently adored his acting in a play in rue de Lapp, and he said “Ah bon, vous aimez ce genre de theatre ?” I was struck dumb. I had prepared my statement. I wasn’t expecting my idol to speak back to me!
Michael Lonsdale is bilingual and in English he often plays the baddy in big budget films. I adored the chasm between the two personae. I just basically had a crush on him and so I filled a book with an enfevered pseudo-dialogue. One of those beautiful, cloth-backed blank books you could buy in that street with the two beautiful stationer’s shops, round behind the Hôtel de Ville. I believe it was beige, the book I filled for him. I took it with me to a poetry reading at Les Halles. He was reading Walt Whitman, but I am pretty sure he read in French. Forgive me for not remembering a word of what he said, I was so enraptured by the sound of his voice, and afterwards, I thrust the hot object into his hand, told him I admired his work very much and had written this book for him. My name and address were inside the book on a business card that identified me as a "consultant en communciation technique". Did I also write my contact details on the inside cover? Probably not, because at that stage, I felt the book was more his than mine.
I never heard from him. I was very disappointed that he did not even say something anodin like “thank you for having written for me”. I tried to contact him through his agent once, to ask if he could please return the book, but I didn’t get an answer, and then I changed my mind and decided I didn’t want the book back anyway, because I had written it for him, filled it lovingly with words for him, and if he didn’t want it I didn’t really want it either, it would have stared at me from my bookshelves as a reminder that he had rejected my attempt to write at him.


More ways...

... than one.

The drive to my analyst’s spot is through pleasant scenery. Occasionally, when the air is clear, there is a good view of the Pyrenees. I always feel the drive there is part of the process. A pleasant interlude in a life of mental strife. One day I was putting petrol in the car and it came to the same amount I pay for a session. I found myself thinking “I wonder how far a session gets me?”


Ways of becoming.

In March, I posted two photos of L’amour en cage in it’s lacy skeleton stage, one with the orange berry inside. I put other photos in the slide show, with the lanterns fully covered. It’s amazing that the original colour of the lanterns is the same as the berries. Like a magic trick, the orange is outside then suddenly it disappears and reappears, locked up on the inside of the delicate cage.

The other day, I caught sight of a withering branch outside, and was intrigued. I suppose I had assumed that the orange faded, and one of these is fading… but the other one is losing the cover with the colour intact. Now, there were silvery trails around, so it is possible that my assumption was right, and the colour fades first and then disintegrates, and the other one is being eaten by snails. It would be nice to be able to film the process and see what’s really happening.

Only goes to show, not only is life not a straight choice between black and white, or orange and colourless, but there are different ways of getting from one to the other.

How did the Body Shop
get their bath cream from clover – which suggests abundance and comfort – to clou de girofle, which screeches toothache? Depends on the hand you've been dealt.
I googled 'clover' and found a French film
- Crooks in clover
les Tontons Flingueurs. The review says: “What was originally envisaged as a serious gangster thriller ended up as a classy comedy thriller”. Which reminded me of my recent experience with Margaret Atwood. I just finished reading The Robber Bride. Although not as mind-bogglingly grave as the Handmaid’s tale – which I saw as a film - I found the book food for serious thought. Imagine my surprise when I looked for some reviews and found – “the TV movie version of Margaret Atwood's
comic novel.” I do sometimes tend to take things too seriously. Have been looking for a Beckett quote I love – can’t find it – something like “I was born too grave and seriously worked hard to become less grave”. Years ago I put all my seriousness into writing a play in French, called Cinq Lui Même, which the first reader laughed at. I was hurt at the time, but I’m becoming less susceptible, in some ways.


Synchronicity, etc.

I was in the habit of drinking my morning coffee from a very attractive René (Rennie?) Mackintosh rose-style china mug, (9th one down, Blue Kintyre) which, like so much in my kitchen, was a present from my sister. The word "Evasé" comes to mind, curving outwards to be wider at the top, giving a larger surface for the hot liquid to cool, reminiscent of the way champagne glasses used to be before it was discovered that the bubbles burst faster.
I needed clothes pegs. I went to the local ironmongers, which is the biggest store in the village. Outside urban centres people need to be able to fix things and do things themselves, I suppose. They only had plastic ones. As I head for the exit, I catch sight of an attractive china mug with roses on it. I pick it up and stand in line to pay for it, a voice in my head saying “clothes pegs. You need clothes pegs. You do not even remotely need another china mug. What are you doing?" But the instinct won and I paid for it and took it home.

The next morning I poured my hot drink into my trusty mackintosh bone china mug and it cracked open and fell apart. I had its replacement right there, waiting to be put to use.

I was totally awestruck. If only, thought I. If only life could be like that more often…

The Double bind
On Christmas day, a son receives a gift from his mother of two neckties; one red, one green. Invited to his mother's house for boxing day dinner, he wears the red tie. She greets him with “what’s wrong with the green tie I gave you, don’t you like it?”.
The only way he could have avoided this particular reaction would have been to wear both ties at once, making himself look effectively crazy.

Laing’s most famous patient was Mary Barnes, who painted this (detail):


Denizens II

Art for the heart’s sake

Arabic calligraphy I find very attractive. It fits into a wholly pleasing aesthetic slot in my sensitivity. I don’t know what the words mean and I don’t feel the need to find out. This is restful, like sitting at a street café in a German-speaking country, enjoying guttural, familiar-sounding, but totally unintelligible speech. On Capri, visiting the blue grotto, our Scottish accents got us a seat on the boat with the German tourist guide.

Arabic music makes me feel that I am not at home. Maybe I only really encountered it for the first time when I spent the winter in Morocco as a teenager. My first trip outside my home country. The labyrinth of the Medina at night.

So I’m thinking about the idea of being foreign, which, strangely enough, for an Anglophone living in France, is sparked off by Arabic music. I should add that I once lived in Paris with a Moroccan lover who committed suicide. Could be that the feeling of foreignness is more a reluctance to acknowledge or return to that period of emotional devastation, the aftermath of the suicide, than anything to do with a geographic country.

One thing that saved me was Dubuffet’s Jardin d’Hiver in the Modern Art Museum at the Pompidou Centre. I would crawl into it of a Sunday afternoon, and I felt safe there. There are many pictures of it online, but I haven’t found one that captures the magic of the pale winter light that comes in the “skylight” in the ceiling of the grotto – I always assumed it to be the natural light of a pale winter sky, but, come to think of it, there must be a light bulb, since the source is concealed, and that wouldn’t work here, the way the sunshine manages to shine upwards from under the water in the blue grotto of Capri.

I loved the Pompidou Centre, which we always called Beaubourg; a free place to keep warm, especially on a wet Sunday afternoon, when entrance to the museum was free, too. It is probably what I miss most about Paris.

From today’s Guardian:
“The Pompidou Centre's marvellous L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti is a retrospective featuring not only Giacometti's sculptures, paintings and drawings, but also the studio itself - what went on there, and what was removed after the artist's death, including sections of the walls on which he drew and painted. These were not so much murals as a palimpsest of stains, scribbles and scratches, among which loom faces, walking men and standing women: Giacometti's perennial subjects.”

I added the bold. I felt that was really creepy. Visions of vultures and the word cannibalistic come to mind.


Denizens I

The local library (“médiathèque”) invited two craftsmen publishers to show their wares and speak about their craft. Gérard Truilhé (éditions les Trames) and Aurelio Diaz-Ronda for Le grand os. Their websites give a tiny idea of what they are doing, but it is so much more exciting in reality. I was mesmerised by their entire production and, indeed, existence. I asked if I could touch the books and Aurelio was insistent that books had to be touched, otherwise what was the point in making them – he is keen on the desacralisation of the book object. I try, I try, but I have to admit my shortcomings. I’m not afraid to touch them. But I don’t see how I could not hold them in awe.

Mr Truilhé earns his living as a guitar teacher, and so is free to produce or not produce whatever books he wants. He insisted on the musicality of the hands-on experience of paper and ink. He explains that each book is the result of a meeting with the author of the text and/or the artist who illustrates. He writes himself. He said he was not happy with the appellation “éditeur” – (publisher) and considered himself rather a “faiseur de livres”. I smiled at the thought of “book maker”, ridiculously far removed from what he does, and flicked it back to French as “teneur de paris” - which seemed to click. Each individual book they make is a wager against oblivion.

Gérard also said he was working against the execution of books, when books are placed on bookshop shelves for a very short space of time and if not sold then sent to be pulped… His books, whether read or not, whether bought or not, will never be pulped.

I visited the main Médiathèque in Toulouse. The building is an imposing arch, and I was almost too intimidated to go in. But I had heard there was a panoramic view to be had from the third floor. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. All along the glass wall of the townward side of the third floor are CD players and headphones and comfortable chairs. It was too cloudy to see very far but it was nice to be perched above the traffic and the trains. The headphones seemed to be good quality but I couldn’t find a volume switch. All or nothing music – you either hear it or you don’t. The person behind me must have found a switch because his music seemed very loud. I didn’t choose music to listen to, decided to take what was offered by the people who had occupied my seat before me. The first CD was Arabic and felt foreign. Then I picked up Bach and thought “now what language is Bach in?”.

In the evening I went to the Mandala to listen to music improvised on two drumkits, a computer, a saw and a saxophone, and a crystal organ.


1. An inhabitant; a resident: denizens of Monte Carlo.
2. One that frequents a particular place: a bar and its denizens.
3. Ecology An animal or a plant naturalized in a region.
4. Chiefly British A foreigner who is granted rights of residence and sometimes of citizenship.
tr.v. den·i·zened, den·i·zen·ing, den·i·zens Chiefly British
To make a denizen of; grant rights of residence to.


If the shoe fits

A few years ago, there was a door in Glasgow airport arrivals corridor with a sign on it saying: “this door is alarmed”. It always made me feel sorry for the poor door. Now I wonder if I am alarmed or if the news is actually more worrying than usual. Britain is claiming a chunk of Alaska - we need more frozen assets? A new planet has been discovered - not alarming in itself but given the current prevalent mentality on this one I can’t imagine it being shared out equitably. Rivalry, mainly unconscious, seems to be insurmountable for most of us siblings.

Whatever the case, it won’t do any harm to sign a petition against
France’s introduction of DNA testing for family reunification.

I watched a video in the Guardian the other day of the police following Jean Charles De Menezes into Stockwell tube station, and then of his dead body on the floor of the carriage. The CCTV footage in between, i.e. the actual killing, mysteriously went missing. We see the back of Jean Charles as he goes down the escalator to the platform. We know he picked up a newspaper before he got on the escalator. He looks like any other commuter. The escalator is swallowed up by the tunnel. Then, singly and in groups, the armed pursuers go down the escalator after him. The result is horrific. Suffocating. No way out. You can feel the unstoppable heavy machinery of human error grinding into action. Seven bullets to the head while restrained.


I have added a link to Laura Gonzales, who is lucky enough to be living in Glescka. Funnily enough, when I went to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (her home town) I did in fact come back with several pairs of shoes... The Spaniards certainly know what they're doing when there's art afoot.


Captain ad hoc

Talking about her small daughter’s drawings, a friend said “Ruby’s people have now got fingers and eyebrows – wonder what they’ll grow next week...”. Her words immediately reminded me of two lines from Sylvia Plath's Love Letter,

"I started to bud like a March twig:
An arm and a leg, an arm, a leg."

When I was looking for an online version of the poem to link to, the first six I opened all had the same two mistakes: “mice-scaled” (!!) for “mica-scaled” and “An arm and a leg, and arm, a leg”. (vaguely reminiscent of Gertrude Stein’s “as a wife has a cow, a love story”).

I also remember quoting those words early on in analysis, (the Plath, not the Stein) when I felt that parts of me were coming alive, coming back to life or coming into being. I was overly optimistic at the time, believing naively that progress would somehow be sort of linear.

Not according to the brilliant article by Todd McGowan in the latest edition of The International Journal of Žižek Studies; “Violence of Creation in "The Prestige"”. (see left sidebar). Coincidentally, I watched the film recently, failed to recognise David Bowie, and at the end was convinced I had missed at least some of the points. I was not mistaken.

As I also failed to grasp how to put categories on this blog, or to put the blog posts into categories, I created two parallel-universe blogs for my own writing, one in English (Vita Text) and one in French (Vita Texte). I will be adding things on an ad hoc basis, as and when they are brought to mind through an association of some kind.

I am also adding a link to a bilingual blog hosted by a French translator who lives in England, naked translations. I have not been following it closely but intend to do so because it is very interesting.

Talking about translation is a minefield I am scared to wander into, because I am bound by confidentiality agreements. I don’t always trust myself to know where to draw the line, restraint not being one of my strong points.

After a period of heavy rain I was watering the plants around the house that are deprived of rainwater by the eaves, and I thought of the expression “eavesdropping”. (Etymology: Anglo-Saxon yfæsdrypæ a person who stands under the eaves to listen to conversations.) . I suppose that is part of the phantasmagoria of the blog, that some mysterious other is lurking on the edges, either deliberately to steal information for dastardly purposes or simply because the rain started when they were passing and they stopped to keep dry.


Another high window

A shimmer of hope

in the pool with the ghoul

and I danced to disturb the fashionable mother.

Some greater other croaked

And a long-lost brother soaked

In the irony of a perpetual inkling.

This, then, is the drift, when the goalposts shift, make sure you know that

Love is being with the right person at the right time and realising it.



Po, it tree.

Roots in soot, shoots leaving for the sky

Knotted boughs branching out elegantly from the

Great trunk of human experience.

The years laid down in eccentric circles,

Budburst too early and your apples will be pipped by the frost, lost

- timing is everything.


Blue earth

Autumn has always been my favourite season, although this year, for the first time, I got such a kick out of spring I almost changed favourites. One of the things I love about the autumn is the colour orange. Photographs are frustratingly dull compared to the splendour of the countryside, but they do convey something of the excitement of the hue.

I gave this picture to a friend.

This is an attempt to paint the aftermath of sungazing.

La terre est bleue comme une orange


In the dark

Illustration to go with last post (vaguely).

A friend of mine once confessed to flashing a camera into his eyes for the pleasure of it. As we head towards shorter days I find myself trying to get as much sunshine into my eyes as possible. I love squinting through almost shut eyes and seeing rainbows sparkling on my eyelashes.

Goethe asking for mehr licht! on his deathbed comes to mind. Light as consciousness. A torch shining on a blackboard. Is it coincidence that PJ Harvey’s latest album is called White Chalk?

We only shine the torch when we feel like it because “human kind cannot bear very much reality”.

I was translating a speech containing the French equivalent of "Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto", or "I am human, nothing that is human is alien to me" from Publius Terentius Afer (now there’s a name!).

The French source read “as the philosopher said” and I felt this was inadequate so I looked up the precise source. But the idea of letting the grass grow in order to be able to write (paint, sing…) I attributed to Walt Whitman without being able to give the source. I was 'sure' it was he but couldn’t pinpoint it – no wonder, I probably “pinched” it from one of the sites of our friendly commentor adfero affero (“bearer of news”).

Thinking about light reminded me of dialogue 8. I decided to put it online. While I was working on that, a small book fell on my head out of a cupboard – it was not a place I keep books normally. Beckett. Soubresauts (Stirrings still).

The inside cover says Paris Dec 4th 1989 in my writing. I don’t remember anything about it. I flick it open and read the first page.

“Car éteinte sa lumière à lui il ne restait pas pour autant dans le noir. Il lui venait alors de l’unique haute fenêtre un semblant de lumière”.

“semblant de lumière” is “kind of light” in the English version. Laura Cerrato suggests that when he translated his own text from one language to the other he was actually getting closer to the original.


Les Granges

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.

- William Blake

Rather than move the blog to another platform to implement categories, I have decided to use a method devised by another blogger (thanks will go here later) to put my writing online; separate blogs, one in English, one in French, which are shown as links in the left-hand column (Vita text). Eventually I will remove “stories” that have been posted as blog entries and generally tidy up.

Here is a tiny picture of a house I lived in when I was an English assistant in France in 1978 - don't know the date of the picture, found it on the internet. It is in a small village near Limoges, in La Creuse, called St Junien la Brégère. The lady who ran the local grocer's shop was in her eighties and assured me she had never been outside the village. In the attic of the house I found a trunk full of letters...


Holy shit

Yesterday I found a coffee widget and put it on my blog. It reminded me of the coffee machine on an island I used to work on. It would be easier to state the nationalities missing from that place than those represented. Some of my best friends today are people I met working in that multi-cultural atmosphere. As in all offices, there was back-stabbing and bad feeling, but it was easy to love the world during the coffee break. There is talk of a reunion… which would be quite incredible if we can bring it off.

I was excited about the new widget, which I think is a fun idea, but while I was chuckling to myself part of me felt ill at ease because here I was introducing money to a place I considered a haven in a heartless (capitalist) world. A bit like a Trojan horse.

It also felt like a necessary step into the real world; inviting money in on my own terms seems preferable to passively suffering continuous bombarding from the enemy I’m trying to keep out.

Whatever the ins and outs, psychoanalysis is a tool to escape the helpless bondage to repeated anguish that assails me.

Where there’s muck, there’s brass, so I rolled my sleeves up and typed ‘money and excrement’ in Google, which led me to the Tate Gallery and Piero Manzoni!

I then found an article about the acquisition in the Telegraph, which spoke of irony,
and the same article reproduced in Australia with the word irony changed to symbolism.

As an American translator-musician friend once put it, "We all want to do our own shit".


Ah, is this not happiness?

Here are my favourite three of Chin Shengt'an's Thirty-Three Happy Moments

20. To find accidentally a handwritten letter of some old friend in a trunk. Ah, is this not happiness?

24. A traveller returns home after a long journey, and he sees the old city gate and hears the women and children on both banks of the river talking his own dialect. Ah, is this not happiness?

27. To watch someone writing big characters a foot high. Ah, is this not happiness?

And here is a quote from the Guardian that spoke to me:

“the best music is often made by fantastically damaged people who can often barely tie their own shoelaces. Even the most impressionable pre-teen would surely realise that they are not "role models", but talented borderline lunatics whose proximity to the existential abyss defines at least some of their magic.”


Saturday morning

Saturday morning. I’m writing on the computer in my dressing gown. The bell rings; it’s a friend who wants to invite me to a 50th birthday party in a few months. I am suddenly more aware of the nagging unease that the garden is messy with weeds, the house messy with dust and dirty dishes and I feel slightly ashamed. After he leaves, I remind myself that when JK Rowlings was asked how she managed to write the first Harry Potter book while she was bringing up a young baby on her own she replied “I didn’t do any housework for three years”. Walt Whitman said to be a writer you have to be able to let the grass grow. It is not easy.

You don’t just decide to write one day and stick to the decision for life, as you would change your name by deed poll or convert to a religion. You have to claim the privilege every day, sometimes several times a day. It’s one thing saying “I’d like to write” or even, when your cupboard and hard disk are full of your unpublished production or you have won a few competitions “I’m a writer”. It’s quite another actually engaging in the activity.

In Arabic the word “art” means “act of life”. When someones writes (or paints or sings) there are a million other things they are not doing, pressing demands they are ignoring at their peril. I suppose I’m trying to say that writing is ‘dangerous’, it’s an intense struggle against the tendency to do nothing. At times everything seems to try to concur to prevent you from doing it.


Scotland the brave

I don't normally watch football but last night's France Scotland match was quite gripping. I was just back from Scotland and so I was feeling very Scottish, and we weren't exactly favourites.

Ryan Air cancelled our flights from Carcassonne to Stansted, and we had to go to Girona. The weather was superb when we took off and we had a wonderful view of the Pyrenees. Mountains are magical, both from above and from within.


I wish you love

At a party last night talking about music, Irla, who is German, mentioned the song “I wish you love”. She started to sing it and it seemed familiar, though I couldn’t place it. Then I realised the melody was familiar to me as “Que reste-t-il de nos amours?”. Irla told me she loved the song in English, finding it so positive, full of the wish for nice things, whereas in French she found Charles Trenet’s version terribly depressing, nostalgic and sad. Today I looked for the lyrics and the words don’t seem to bear this out. They start out with “this is where our story ends”. You can’t get much sadder than that. Irla had obviously picked out certain words – bluebirds, lemonade, etc., and decided the song was a happy song.

For years I hummed “Knights in white satin” until I saw it in writing and realised there was no “K”.

Music in English is successful more or less everywhere. For the average Anglophone I believe there is a bond between lyric and melody that is broken when you listen without understanding the words. But does the sentiment depend on the words, or the music, or a combination of both? If Irla experiences “I wish you love” as a happy song then it is a happy song for her.

Then I then sang My Funny Valentine and Irla said oh no, I hate that song, it is so bloody sad, and I said no it isn’t, it’s a beautiful song, and I told her what the words meant – each day is Valentine’s day said I – yes but only if I beg you to stay said Irla, who had already decided she didn’t like it because the sound of the minor chords made her feel sad.

I love minor chords. I love major chords. I love the “strange (…) change from major to minor”.

Sad music makes me think of emotional scales. I have seen my mother breaking down into tears and not being able to complete a song her mother used to sing. I think it is important to sing on through the tears.


Misty mornings

Searching for the right word. What do we call the stores that sell books and magazines in airports and train stations, points de presse in French? Stationers? I Google it and come up with Newsagent (bravo!) and the following snippet: (…) Travel Retail is responsible for the operation of stores at railway stations, airports and hospitals. Yikes! I never thought of hospitals as transit areas before, but there you go… literally. I seem to spend a lot of time searching for the right word these days.

I once spotted a title in the window of a point de presse: “Je voudrais que quelqu'un m'attende quelque part”. (Official translation I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere, personal colloquialism I wish there was somebody waiting for me somewhere). What a masterstroke I said to myself, the emotional pull of the title, especially in a train station or at an airport, was tremendous. I didn’t read the book straight away - I tend to resist such punches to the gut. It is a collection of short stories. In one of them, a couple meet on Boulevard St Germain and he spoils everything by glancing surreptitiously at his mobile phone to see if he has any messages as they leave the restaurant. The image hit the mark, and reminded me of a drink in a country pub, once. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime.

Meanwhile I still have the urge to start an anonymous blog to post the notes I jot down occasionally after a session of psychoanalysis. Coming to terms with repetition. The idea here is not of rubbing out and starting again (palimpsest) but of producing variations on a theme.

I stumbled on a photographer who likes Gascony morning mist, too.


An innocent form of murder

Analysand’s diary 21/01/05

I apologised for wanting to pretend she wasn’t there. She said you can do anything you like with me. And I said isn’t it a sad state of affairs if that is the case that all I want to do is pretend you’re not there. An innocent form of murder she said.



While I was looking for information about Dylan Thomas'

Do not go gentle into that good night
[…]Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I found And death shall have no dominion
. As uplifiting as Dianne Reeves, in its own way.


Egg tooth

I was thinking the other day I don’t post often enough or spontaneously enough. The blog is not lively enough. That reminded me of a Sylvia Plath poem that starts “These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.” The poem is called Stillborn.

The lines I remembered were:

“They are not pigs, they are not even fish,

Though they have a piggy and a fishy air – ”

Egg-tooth. Some creatures develop an egg tooth to crack the egg they are in and hatch themselves. Once they have cracked the egg, the tooth falls out and doesn’t grow back.

My father's garden is across the road from his house. It is world-famous; a beauty spot, part of the national heritage, or should be. My father’s garden is a magical place. Here are some pictures of it, one with the man himself.

Another one is of a corner with a solar-powered fountain. I had to wait a long time to get the picture of it working, clouds kept coming over and blocking the sun.


Small world

Browsing at random, I came across this wonderful story about the Glasgow coat of arms, which includes:

the tree that never grew,
the bird that never flew,
the fish that never swam,
the bell that never rang.

The fish that never swam

“The coat of arms always shows the fish with a ring held in its mouth. This is because a King of Strathclyde had given his wife a ring as a present. But the Queen gave it to a knight who promptly lost it. Some versions of the story say that the King took the ring while the knight was asleep and threw it in the river. The King then demanded to see the ring - threatening death to the Queen if she could not produce it. The knight confessed to St Mungo who sent a monk to catch a fish in the river Clyde. When this was brought back St Mungo cut open the fish and found the ring. When the Bishop of Glasgow was designing his own seal around 1271, he used the illustration of a salmon with a ring in its mouth and this has come down to us in today's coat of arms.”

It's a small world. I wrote about a variation of this story on March 11th.


The spirit of Marciac

I set off for Marciac at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I swithered about taking the roof off the car because it was very hot, and I was wary of arriving with sunstroke, but I decided that the bright sunlight through fields of sunflowers would be good for my soul.

The plan was to contact Françoise by SMS when I arrived, because it was easier to get a text message through the jammed networks than a call.

Heat. Crowds. Champagne. Mobile phone madness. A brief moment of respite in an art gallery. At 9:20 Françoise and her friends turned up at the marquee with the invitations. When I pointed out to the others that we had missed half of the concert they shrugged it off saying “it’s only Madeleine Peyroux” as if we were only really there to hear Dianne Reeves. This was a problem for me because I had decided beforehand that I didn’t like Dianne Reeves and that Madeleine Peyroux was my new Messiah. Eventually we were in and she sang Tom Waits’ Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night. MP did an encore which was pretty decent of the audience considering …

Dianne Reeves came on with a sparkling smile and started to sing and the way she grabbed the high ground reminded me of John Zorn a couple of years earlier. Her singing was impressive and imposing but I kept saying to myself “but”. Her technique is marvellous but who wants technique. Her singing was very, very beautiful. But. I wanted something else. The way she attacked the notes was so full of certitude and confidence. I wanted doubt and misery. There’s not enough sadness I said to myself. Then I wondered why I needed sadness at all costs. I resisted. She was charismatic, magnetic, wonderfully in control, a gentle flick of the hand to get the technicians to turn her mike down a shade, one of the guitars down a shade… I don’t want control I said to myself I want confusion and desperation.

Then she sang You’ve got a Friend and before the final chorus she started singing about how she was working trying to find her voice and trying to make the right decisions in her life and a friend took her to the Town Hall to hear some sisters sing and she felt her soul standing up to the music. I was almost hooked. But still waiting for something. Then she got the audience to sing. She sang a phrase and we repeated it, and there we were, learning a tiny bit of her technique. She invited us into the song. My resistance wore out, I caved in, and I stood up and clapped furiously, screaming “Dianne”!!!!

If music is a religion, she is indeed a high priestess.


Another penny drops

In Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, the sphinx is a chimerical imagistic figure who poses a riddle to whomever chances upon her at the crossroads to Thebes. If her riddle is answered (by a correct interpretation), she dies, her death signaling the termination of an imprisoning unconscious phantasy, one that was presented as if by pantomime or even charades so as to induce a correct (verbal) interpretation to end the siege of omnipotent preverbal images who all the while are hoping that we have the answer that can free them from the parts they were forced to play. In other words, the unconscious contains a numinous dramaturge who directs different phantoms to play different roles in pantomime until someone "gets it."(James S. Grotstein)

For many years I lived with the feeling of being “on the threshold”. For many other years (or were they the same ones?) my catch phrase was “I suddenly realised”. Practically everything I felt compelled to write down in my electronic or paper notebooks and diaries started with “ISR”, until the repetition felt comical. At the moment I am in a phase where I keep getting the feeling that I’m somehow “getting it”, getting glimpses of what I’m ‘really’ like, of my particular brand of excentricity.

Concrete example: I was trying to translate the French verb “troubler” into English, and rememberered the title of Musil’s novel Torless in French is “les désarrois de l’élève Torless” and thought aha, désarroi in English is what I need, “troubler” means “to cause “désarroi” - I’ll just google the book and find the English title – Young Torless – no, that’s the film, here it is – the Confusions of Young Torless.

Now, that book is a milestone in my mental landscape because it said something I found essential. Torless plucks up the courage to confront his maths teacher, to ask the burning question, what is it all about, what is there “behind” maths, and the maths teacher admits that he does not know and does not care. That’s what I remember about the book. That vital moment when the pupil asks the teacher what it’s all about and the teacher says don’t waste my time just do what you’re told. Imagine my surprise – nay, astonishment - as I read the google results and learn that the book is about sadism, homoeroticism… all lost on me. I read every word and the only thing I remembered was that abstract intellectualism is the atheist’s equivalent to blind faith.

I think my epistomephilic drive must have gone somehow haywire at a young age to protect me from emotional chaos. I am ready to admit now that I have great difficulty coping with emotions.


The flowers of passion

I lived in Paris for fifteen years. One day I was going home from work on the metro, and a lady with a bunch of lilac sat opposite me for a few stations. I was shocked. I think I had forgotten there was a life outside the concrete jungle and that it involved seasons with ephemeral blooms.

When I moved to the south-west of France in 1998 there was a creeper growing on my balcony. One day it flowered and I couldn’t believe how strange the flower was. It looked to me as if it must have fallen to earth from another planet. It has a decidedly extra-terrestrial look.

The fruit of this passiflora plant looks a bit like apricots.


Rain check

Looking for Melanie Klein and castration on the internet, I came across the following gem from Hannah Segal:

“[…]. One was an extremely gifted professional violinist whom I interviewed on the ward. When I asked him why he stopped playing the violin he responded “do you expect me to masturbate in public?”

My world is relatively silent, I can’t stand much reality. I was unaware that I was enjoying so much peace and quiet, when I started looking for music to add here and suddenly there is so much of it, so many songs and albums that fall into the exceptionally important category. Like paving stones for skipping back and forwards over my life. My favourite songs at such and such a time. Albums I listened to over and over then forgot about. All I need to do is listen to a song to find myself projected back to that particular time, with its hopes and fears and loves and hates and atmosphere. Like Proust’s Madeleine, the reality of a city street on a rainy night surges forth from a chord change, a note, a word, a musical atmosphere.

I already mentioned Roy Orbison’s “It’s over” – that was my first heart ache. I don’t know who it is about, but I can remember sitting in the car with my family, the sun sparkling on the sea and thinking about not being loved by a boy at school. Not my first musical memory - I don’t know if they could ever be placed in chronological order – but my first memory of heartache in connection to boys.

In some cases, I don’t even have to hear the song again, today. I only have to remember it, remember the moment, as if the feeling was encrypted into the music and together they fly like a kite in my inner sky. The soundtrack to my sorest ever heartache, when I was dumped by my best friend - blonde pigtails, blue eyes and red cardigan - with no warning and no explanation, is Freddy and the Pacemakers singing “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the night. At the end of the storm there’s a golden sky and a keepsake forget-me-not”. I have a vision of myself walking across the play park at the bottom of my street in the dark, in the pouring rain, trying to clutch at those words, choking on them, crying my eyes out. My distress was safely hidden by the weather, the heavy rain (“Was it tears that fell or was it rain?” – my father’s favourite song) and the cold that stings your face and makes it red anyway, so no one will know that you want to die inside. That is not a good memory, and to this day I don’t like that song.



Music is…

Making it.

I am learning “Dock of the Bay” on the piano. I love the lyrics. The chords are all major chords. The first four are G, B, C, A. The change from B to C drives me wild. I remember years ago spending hours playing E minor and B minor on the guitar. The pleasure of the difference between the two chords seemed endless. A glimpse into the chasm - of the transcendence of mechanical repetition, obsession, hysteria? Is that what people call mental masturbation? The excitement is vaguely sexual. The only limits were sore fingers and having to stop to do something else.

Trying to get the hang of the chords, I hit a wrong note and it was jarring. It seemed to be my right hand that was wrong. I looked at the keyboard and surprise, it was the left hand that was not right, but it made the right hand, which was right, sound wrong. Reminded me of Françoise telling me that when the musicians play a wrong note, it sounds as if the singer is at fault. This is not to say the singer is never at fault! Years ago, I recorded Sunday morning coming down

(Kris Kristofferson) for my sister, who was still speaking to me at the time. As usual, I went over the top with the backing vocals, and my guitar playing is crap.

I don’t do it because I believe I’m good at it. I do it because I love doing it, I feel compelled to do it, I am unable to passively absorb uplifting experiences without producing some kind of humble response - to all the musicians, artists and writers who have given me a thrill, incredible sunsets or breathtaking landscapes. A belief in the need to propagate the spiritual value of art with a small “a”.

Listening to it.

At the moment, a song that never fails to make me quiver with emotion is Damien Rice singing The Blower’s Daughter.
Glory Box by Portishead is another track I feel reverence towards. My favourite singers include Chet Baker and Diana Krall. The Buena Vista album affects me so deeply I believe I must have been Spanish in a previous life. And I don’t have words to describe John Martyn and what Solid Air added to my student days. Tom Waits’ Saturday night still holds a thrill, stopping on the red, going on the green… A marvellous evocation of those rare moments when everything seems to be going absolutely right.