RCS 933

The registration number of my family’s first car. They got it in the sixties. The number is forever engraved in my memory, and much to my astonishment the colour and make have already been mentioned in the small amount of writing that is on this blog to date.

I don’t know the registration of my present car, which I have been driving for nine years.

I remember sitting in the back, between my brother and my sister, on the way home from aunt
Nan’s house. She lived in a county that used strange pink tar macadam; the border was the only thing I remember (at this moment) about the way there. A vague picture of a dam holding black water.

Driving through the forest at night we played at counting the crossed brooms propped upright at regular intervals, as the headlights picked them out. They said the brooms were for fighting fires, but from the deep, eerie darkness between the trees we knew what they really were.

The journey was Catrine to Wigtown, in Dumfries and Galloway.

These pictures are by land artist Andy Goldsworthy, who lives in Dumfriesshire, and turns the rivers and woods of my childhood into art.


My Music

The directory name My music took on a whole new meaning today when I downloaded an mp3 file of myself singing my own words. The first line will be familiar to subscribers - "Just the other day, I was thinking".

This is the first recorded version, and it is very rough, but in keeping with a philosophy of 'warts and all' I had to stick it on here.

Thank you, Lone Kent, for making it all possible! and my fellow rock workshoppers at Music'Halle for the music that provided the inspiration for the lyrics.


The ties that bind

In Kawabata’s The Sound of the Mountain, the main protagonist has a ‘senior moment’. As an office worker, he has been tying his necktie every day for years. One day he suddenly can’t remember how to do the knot.

In Boris Vian’s L’écume des jours, there is a lengthy description of a pre-nuptial bow-tying difficulty which ends with the would-be knot maker being bitten by the tie.

In the film Hotel Rwanda the main protagonist, having witnessed some particularly barbaric sights, finds himself in a similar situation; he momentarily can’t tie his tie.

Fascinated by this image, I woke up this morning with a clear picture of myself with a knotted tie just under my chin. Nothing else, just my face and the knot. Although the tie in the dream was not the right colour, it reminded me that I used to wear a tie to school, so long ago that it feels like another life.



I assumed my blog would come out in a mixture of French and English, or English and French, with the words coming out in the language they chose, much like the way my French son and I communicate verbally. This is not the case and I seem to be sticking to English, with one French quote so far, and a summary of what it means in English appended.

The words “fence” and “defence” come to mind. It feels restful to be making do with just one language. Maybe this is because I need some respite from continually struggling with the two in my job. Assimilating what is sometimes complex French and transforming it into what I hope is fluent English. I also write prose in French and have always told myself that what I lose in grammatical automation I gain in beating the emotional censor. My childhood took place exclusively in Anglophone playgrounds, which I suppose were complicated enough given that I was living in Scotland and the language we used at home did not coincide exactly with the language required at school. A legitimate reason for seeking refuge first in the written word, then in a foreign language. Now I'm ready to devote myself exclusively, it seems, to my first love.


Brief glimpses of beauty

Just the other day I was thinking
about the idea of a soundtrack for the film of my life,
the songs that refuse to be forgotten, with which I was totally obsessed at a given time.
The earliest one is Roy Orbison's "It's Over", on a hot sunny day driving along the sandy road down to the beach at Croy Shore in the back of a dark blue Anglia listening to a blue and silver wireless.

About Jonas Mekas:

In 2001, he released a five-hour long diary film entitled "As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty", assembled by hand from an archive of fifty years worth of recordings of his life. "


Read all over

The customers came in and hung around, running their eyes along the titles on our spines, touching our covers with their hands, occasionally picking out a random volume and flicking through a couple of pages before putting it back.

The man who removed me from the shelf was not the first person to have flipped open my covers. But he seemed to linger longer over the contents. I could feel that the little hooks my author had put into the text, the little thorns of love, were catching on this reader. I was not mistaken. He eventually snapped me shut and headed for the cash desk to pay for me.

Once the transaction was validated, I was slipped into a paper bag and whisked out of the shop. In no time I was lying comfortably on my back on a shag pile rug in front of a gently glowing electric heater, between a mug of steaming coffee and a pristine ashtray. The curtains were closed. There were no sounds in the room to disturb my new owner’s communion with my contents and through me, with my author. I was the go-between who allowed two minds to meet. In fact, I thought, rather proudly, nowhere did one mind engage with another mind so completely and for such a substantial lapse of time than through one of my kind.

Gently my reader put his hands under my cover and tilted me to the angle most convenient to him. I could feel his excitement through his fingertips. How gently he stroked my pages, as he slowly turned them one by one, swallowing the code that had been carefully laid down on both sides, taking it in line by line, chapter and verse. The emotion I felt during this experience resembled strangely the emotion I felt as I was being written but it was, if anything, even stronger, for here my final, definitive, corrected version was being discovered by someone for the first time. The only work the reader had to do was read, and enjoy the words, whereas, prior to publication, everyone who read me had been asked to cast a critical eye and remove anything that could diminish that reader’s enjoyment.

Oh yes, this reader was the privileged one. As he progressed through my chapters, sometimes light and swift, sometimes slower, taking the trouble to read a sentence or a whole paragraph through twice, I wondered at this mysterious relationship between my author and this person. The two had never met, would probably never meet, and yet the relationship was startlingly profound. Ever more eagerly my pages were turned in succession. From time to time, the reader would place a finger on the line just read, and gaze dreamily into space. Eventually, the pace began to slow. As the number of pages still to be read dwindled, and the end neared, the reader seemed to slow down, as if he wanted to make the experience last as long as possible, without actually stopping the process.

The inevitable happened. A flick of a page and the end of the text was in sight. The reader continued to the last word, then turned the page over as if to make sure there was not something more on the other side. There was not. I had been read all over, cover to cover, every word, the whole story, and just as I had shared in the initial excitement of discovery, now I was forced to sympathise with a sense of loss. I felt as if I had been a real companion to him throughout the reading, and now his new found friend had simply got up and left. Would he start again at the beginning? Or pick another volume from some other shelves? For a long time he did neither. He simply stared into space.

Smother love

Tangled and fangled, wringing and singing, frizzed and tizzed,

That there, hair again gone to borrow.

You thought I was going to express sorrow

In the daily rut, glutting about strutting to tell tails to some avail

Every time finding no excuse, and no use for such despondent ab


‘She wasn’t what I wanted her to be’

someone didn’t turn out quite write,

the reason ignored

perhaps just board, stiff or white, like the interminable knights we slept through, me and you, you and me, together.

You didn’t kill me so I have to kill you,

I sup o’s

Why only one survives I cannot fathom, but separation there must be

Cut the chord and let me be

in harmony with what I see and feel and hear and am

Between my two loves I kick and scream, shove and push, try to find my place

Until my egg tooth grows and off I goes out out into the bright

They’ll find the skin and realise I was the snake

But if I stay they’ll burn me at the stake, or tie me to the shore and let the rising tide rid them of the whore

And all those who are not she, cannot, no...

Even those she has been won’t let go of the habit, the train, automatic closing to keep out a pain, a danger, a possibility that would have led away from the

Straight sharp right path that keeps the roof

over my head, body

(the safe, dark, warm spot, calm place to lie down in after the human race)

rush, sclamber and frush to do do do their bidding

A sickening anguish in the pit of the stomach

haven’t had enough sleep yet, haven’t had enough rest yet, haven’t had enough,


not ready to skip through the loops and hand over my poops for inspection (or possible rejection)

On, on, on it goes, throbbing toes, acrid nose, coffee at the Denfert Rochereau’s then swallowed by the sub-urbs

Some other time, in another place

Croy shore – the electric brae – in an Anglia

(I stared too long and too hard down a well, well, that’s what they say I

should have moved on

left behind

looked elsewhere, further up –

------------but I stared into space equally?

Then it was not the direction of your looking that was wrong but the intensity

You stared so hard that you prevented any awareness from penetrating

You wanted to understand so much that you only succeeded in grasping the fact that the brain can’t do it, can’t comprehend the universe at a glance and not take a chance on a false god

You were so far up your own r’s you didn’t see the farce going on all around you, and the superficial sideways glances that were winning smiles

By the time you were found, the trees were bare in that square

Oh my sponkyandulating pandelpopliminskiffslot

What if no-one cuts you down? For all I care

Link in a chain, I’ll say it again, explore mine until I find the seam

then dig dig dig until I’ve sucked it clean and you – oh my inaccessible Other – why wouldn’t you let me have a lover? -

The golden cow is here

And we valiant fatted calves must fight in the muck for the right to a suck

Methinks I should have had a tit of my own - toil and struggle, double hubble



Here we go again. The world is clean and clear and everything rosy, optimism and joie de vivre reign.

Then I light a cigarette and my well-being collapses.

I only get one chance every day. From the moment I light the first one, I know I will keep on smoking at regular intervals till bedtime.

I can feel a pain in my chest. My chest feels painful. It worries me. I worry about having a heart attack and being breathless. I would like to have more energy, more breath and feel better but I have not yet been able to stop smoking.

When I don’t smoke, the world is good, it smells nice, with bright colours, lovely sights, etc. As soon as I light a cigarette I feel a pain in my chest, it hurts me, the smoke, because it is damaging my lungs and I have been doing it for over 30 years. Roughly speaking, you could say that twenty times a day for the past 32 years I have done something to damage my lungs. The cumulative effect is appalling.

This is surely madness? Non-smokers think we smokers are mad, they cannot understand why we smoke. Most smokers don’t understand it either. It is a trap we fall into, and once we are ensnared, there is no way out.

Whether it is our bodies that crave nicotine or some part of our brains or emotional psyché that craves punishment or self-destruction, who knows. The end result is the same: we cause ourselves harm and pain.

Regularly, frequently, we breathe into our lungs a smoke that contains carcinogenic substances. Day after day, week after week, year after year. In periods of great stress we wake up in the middle of the night to do it again. Why do we do this? It is difficult to avoid the truth that in fact we do it to make money for the owners of the cigarette companies. The people who are entitled to a share in the profits of the tobacco companies are the only human beings on earth who stand to gain from me lighting my next cigarette. I certainly won’t gain, and nobody else I know will gain. In fact, it will harm each and every person I know and care about, including animals. It makes me shudder. I feel guilty at not being able to stop this destructive behaviour for the sake of other people. This is part of the most horrible sensation of all after the first one is lit, because I feel impotent, unable to stop myself, pathetic, then I go down a vertiginous spiral of self criticism which ends in self loathing which only reinforces the justification of go on yes, you may as well smoke because you don’t deserve to be healthy.

Personally, as a smoker I feel guilty about smoking because it is a filthy habit, and I feel guilty about not being able to stop, and I feel guiltily self- and over- indulgent every time I light one, and every day, when I give in and light that first one which is always the first of many, I loathe myself for giving in. My body is being damaged by the smoke and my mind is being damaged by the feeling of psychological helplessness nicotine addiction induces; it is drug dependence, and through some sort of monstrous misunderstanding I feel responsible for not being able to stop, I feel inadequate because I have not been able to stop, when in fact the responsibility lies with those who encouraged me to start in the first place, with those who packaged the cigarettes in bright, shiny packets and showed pictures of beautiful, interesting people becoming even more beautiful and more interesting because of a white short pencil-like object in their hands, and who wittingly altered the composition of the fumes they give off when lit to make it even harder for me to kick the habit.

Let’s go back to that first cigarette. The lucky few never light it, or never put it to their lips and inhale from it. They are a privileged elite. Many people don’t persevere past the first one, because the effect is so disgusting – nausea, mostly, a wrenching of the guts and tightness then light-headedness. It is probably the light-headedness of the first cigarettes that convince us it is an exciting thing to do, to smoke a cigarette, and it makes us want to keep going. Ironically, the effect doesn’t last, and we are left with the unpleasant consequences, tightness in the chest, the shock on the lungs, cold hands and feet, the bad breath, breathlessness, etc., to mention only the physiological inconveniences.

Yet we keep going, generation after generation.

My 14 year old son just got out of bed at midday, had his breakfast, and came into the office to ask me for a cigarette. I scream at him. I feel very guilty about him starting smoking, about not being able to stop to set an example. My attitude towards him swings wildly from resignation at him having been hooked, in which case I feel obliged to give him cigarettes, poor soul, its not his fault, and anger at his stupidity at starting – how on earth can you smoke when you don’t have a job and can’t pay for them? 5 euros a day = 35 euros a week = 1,820 a year = 72,800 from age 20 to 60. Incredibly, that means €72,800 each smoker pays to destroy his/her health.


I have already lit my first cigarette today, and taken a draw. It made me feel horrible. Panic. It makes me panic. Just before I lit it (2nd puff) I felt I could cope with life, but when the smoke and the nicotine hits me I instantly panic and a feeling that is the opposite of well-being takes over. It’s winter and cold and so I can’t open all the windows all the time and the house constantly reeks of old smoke. That’s disgusting. It is demeaning and horrible (3rd draw).

Even when I don’t smoke or haven’t smoked now I feel a pain in my chest. A constant, dull, unpleasant pain. It worries me. I have smoked for 30 years and this is when it takes its toll. I love fresh air and walking in the countryside (hot flush – the cigarette gives me the equivalent of a hot flush, my face tingles and burns. I feel hot and sweaty. Tightness is also an unpleasant symptom.)

So is this madness? It is certainly a kind of madness. Self-destructive behaviour. There seems to be no reason for it other than habit (dependence, addiction). When I don’t smoke I start to get really angry at everything… then I smoke and it calms me down somehow but at what price? At the price of my health and my peace of mind.

I am more and more afraid of the pain in my chest. I feel an increasing desire to stop smoking. I think psychoanalysis must be working because I am able to use the word desire. Still I don’t really contemplate it. I have a packet and a half somewhere. I know I’m going to smoke later on, even if it will feel like firing a gun at my chest. I feel the lancinante pain in the chest, the stabbing pain in my chest and it reminds me of the cold burning my throat and my chest being all inflamed when I was a child. Agony. The agony of icy air and snow and white knuckles, so cold, and the wind stabbing and knees burning, burning red, because you were wearing a skirt and not trousers, though thin trousers were not much protection either. All your tubes and respiratory system all clogged up and raw and painful and sensitive and coughing is really agony and the cold cold air with the ice and the pond and the sharp prick of holly (red berry, yellow berry) and mistletoe as white as the driven

- So this is where you’re living, now?

That’s all very well, and I fear I shall not be able to cope with Christmas this year, I fear I shall have a nervous breakdown with the emotional overwhelmingness of it as the questions reel in my head


Why what?

Why -

· do I know I will inevitably light a cigarette today

· will I smoke the first cigarette today

· do I smoke even though I can feel it is harming me

· do I keep on lighting up and hating myself for it

· do I hate myself for something I obviously can’t control?

Another morning. I feel good. I want to put some essential menthol oil on my nose to heighten my awareness of my breathing. Last night I felt a pain in the left side of my chest. Every now and then, I feel a pain between my shoulder blades, or in the middle of my chest.

I feel great. I go to make myself some grilled cheese on toast. When it is ready, I make some tea, and the taste and smell of the cheese is very present, and I pour the boiling water on the teabag (so far so good) and then I pour some milk into the cup and as I pour the milk into the cup I imagine myself lighting a cigarette. I haven’t even had my breakfast. I am annoyed at this occurrence. I feel like a prisoner. I can’t escape. “Cup of tea” is connected to “cigarette” in my memory/head/brain and breaking free of such an omnipresent monster seems well nigh impossible or at the very least slightly hopeless.

And yet I know I can do it. Other people have done it. My health is suffering, I am inflicting real pain on myself, plus the worry and anxiety of self-harm. I know I can give up this self-destructive habit, and live a more pleasant life. All I have to do is find a way to work through the irritation that’s set in – no, that doesn’t even last long, the irritation that sets in when you haven’t smoked for a while. I stopped for 2 years once. The problem is the absoluteness of it. Total abstinence. It only takes one cigarette and you are back on the slippery road to 20 a day.

Coughing up thick lumps of phlegm. Kidding myself that it’s a good thing because it shows that my lungs are healthy enough to clean themselves and throw out all the gunge that accumulates, as if I was saying to myself your body is so sturdy and strong it can cope, it can get rid of all the phlegm. But the phlegm is only the result of the paralysis of the cilia, and does not constitute the real damage to the bronchia. The phlegm means that you have smoked little enough to allow the elevator to work again, to catch up on the backlog, but as you are about to light up once more all that gunge will fall back down again and it will be back to square one, except that in addition to having your bronchial alveoli full of rotting phlegm, all the carcinogenic substances in the cigarette smoke, including the tar, will have hit your lungs again a further twenty times in every twenty four hour period.

I could succeed if only I could stop smoking.

I could be happy if only I could stop smoking.

I would feel so much better if only I could stop smoking.

I would feel better if I could stop smoking.

I would have more lung power and I would cough less; I would cough up less sticky phlegm like sperm.

My house would smell better if I could stop smoking.

My breath would smell better if I stop smoking.

I would wake up more easily if I stop smoking.

I will feel much better when I stop smoking.

In the meantime, here I am again in the magic of the “decisive” moment; I’ve just had lunch and am thinking about my first cigarette. I haven’t had it yet. All morning – in fact, since last night, late in the evening, as I was preparing to have my last cigarette before bed, I have been floating on the bouncy feeling that I can stop today. Today will be the day when I won’t hammer my bronchia with tar and acrid carcinogenic substances that make my head reel and my soul shudder. Why would anyone want to do themselves that much harm?

I think of the passage I read in Lacan last night that related to just this. Car qui ne sait, à la vérité, que la reconnaissance la plus parfaite des conditions du bien n’empêchera jamais quiconque de se ruer dans son contraire ?" Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, p 212 (Knowing what is good for you never stopped anyone from doing the exact opposite).

Hungry, lonely and afraid

I could see a pale glimmer of light in the distance. My life of darkness was coming to an end, it seemed. Soon, things started moving and I was painfully and inexorably expulsed from my hiding place. They let my mother see me. I don’t think she was very impressed. I cried a lot. Eventually, the nurse took me away, and locked me in the linen cupboard so that my mother could rest.

I cried and cried. I screamed till I was blue in the face. I was tied up tightly in a shawl and couldn’t wriggle and kick. I writhed, ranted and raved. I never gave up hope. I fell asleep, still expecting to be saved. When they let me out it was too late, my relationship to the world had been laid down once and for all. I would go through life thus, a strident, unanswered demand for my needs to be met by someone outside myself. Anger at the lack of response. Determination to elicit a response by screaming louder, longer, to reach ears ever further away. I was persuaded that the fact that nobody answered my cries meant that nobody had heard them and that if nobody had heard them it was because everybody was too far away and I wasn’t screaming loud enough. Thus my future behaviour was programmed as a quest to hit a further spot, to be heard and elicit an answer from someone or something that was out of my reach, out of earshot, off limits. It was only a question of time, I would break through the silence barrier and touch the other, be heard, be perceived, and it or them would come running to fulfil my every whim.

The fact that nobody ever answered the demand did not allow me to call into question the legitimacy of my attitude. Obviously the world was at fault in this, it couldn’t have been brand-new, pristine, unspoilt, undegraded, perfect me. How can the behaviour of a new-born baby be considered in any sense wrong? I was my song, and my song was me, and it was loud and painful. It was full of longing, a lament, a cry from the soul that nothing could soften, since it hadn’t been answered at the right time and now never could be.

So much for the baby in me. It is still unconsoled. But it is no longer alone and no longer free to scream as much as it likes. Its future states came into contact with the reality principle in a variety of different ways. Each time, I suppose, the thwarted élans regressed to the cradle rat whose cries went unheard and therefore unmodulated. All in all, it was a felicitous event, for the being that grew never doubted for a moment that the point was to get a message across, and, never having succeeded, the will remained undiminished.

Reaching puberty, it wrote poetry that it likened to “a pathetic cryptic message for the Martians” – as indeed, in a way, it was. They never responded, either.


Yesterday, I learnt a very nice word. Palimpsest.

"A palimpsest is a manuscript page, scroll or book that has been written on, scraped off, and used again." (Wikipedia)

Pâle, inceste... Palimpe; zest. Pal, imps, Est.


Hungry. It is 8:48 and I haven’t had breakfast. I haven’t had anything to eat, but I did have a cup of tea, with milk. My stomach is rumbling. I’m busy working, translating some advertising materials related to wines and spirits. The other day, I wrote “hungry, lonely and afraid” on the whiteboard stuck to my cupboard door. It seemed like a good position to start writing from. I felt I could learn a lot by starting from that phrase. And here I am, hungry. All this type of hunger means is ‘when shall I make my toast’? Right now, or in half an hour? It is not a life-threatening hunger. It is not development-arresting hunger. It is not even a hunger that prevents me from thinking. The society I live in is plagued by the ills of over-eating, and my overweight body can gaze through the window of the press at places where millions of people are starving, lack clean drinking water and sanitation, or live under a constant threat of violence.