Saturday, February 10, 2007

Feline Behaviour

'Cat silhouette' courtesy of plingan over at stock.xchng

Cat's presence changes everything. Human solitude is disturbed by the company of even another species. Sometimes I swear I can hear the plants breathing (like Plath's tulips).

His collar's bell tinkles lightly around the room like the magic on a pixie's shoe. He runs from one occupation to another, seemingly unburdened; the epitome of a zen life form. One moment is spent trying to force his chubby body under pillows he cannot force to yield, another in licking his leg for the smallest split of a second, another pacing up and down the bed, eyes roving. He smells everything, lives the world through his nose. I am less than surprised at his fascination with the duvet, even my clumsy olifactory ability notices it has the scent of a campfire.

Demanding, cats are (as Yoda once said). This one now becomes proactive in his new quest for attention - mine, as no one else is here, but if someone were, he would be less picky - moving next to me, shoving his face, without shame, against the side of my notebook as I write. Would that my pride would yield even a little to afford a fraction of his shamelessness; I would doubtlessly get laid more often as a result. Cat does not suffer with rejection. At my ignorance, my aversion to his affections, he moves away from me to the end of the bed, without concern, and begins to wash his face. Where I would crumble in the face of the horrifying No, he merely turns to grooming. There is no fuss. He jumps from the bed, to the floor.

Cat turns to washing and the sound of his slurping at his own fur and skin disturbs and disgusts me. Or perhaps I am angry that Cat is more spiritually advanced than I am, more able to adjust to the arbitrary agreements and disavowals of the world. He is self-contained. I am dependent. Damn him. He stands, walks a circle around one spot on the wooden floor and lies down, begins to wash his tail. I have been told that he is the most demanding cat in the house and for a moment I feel grateful that he has cut me some slack to allow me to write; even though all I can write of now is him. At the same time, there is a current of need in me for Cat to need my attention, too. He chooses.

He slurps at his front paw; the sound is overwhelming and immediate. I cannot stand it, so I reach across the bed, and stretch over to the floor. I place a big feather pillow on Cat so that I cannot hear his slurps and squelching tongue. So that he will see I am the most sentient (yes, I know I doesn't really work like that, but if it did, I would be the sentientist of the two of us), the more powerful. In someone else's hand, maybe, this pillow could be his death. Either he is not aware of that danger, or he doesn't care. How can I know what or Cat thinks, what or if he feels? He is either perfectly mindful-sure of his himself, or he is lucky. Maybe I could never begin to understand his experience of the world. Unless I were a cat.

When my cat, Bunty (yes, I know) died a few years ago, she held my eyes for a whole night when she fell sick and for the longest moment in which she died. I didn't know what she knew of death and I did not know if she was afraid of what was happening to her. I did not know how much pain she was in, I could not tell, even with our eyes locked together. I suppose it's the same with people, but the fact that we are capable of disturbing the long silence with so many words (that too often say nothing at all and never say enough) serves to distract from, just as much as it does to inform, what we know of each other's experience of the world, ourselves and each other.

Cat plays with the pillow - if he could I am certain he would laugh at it; Cat would take his own death with perfect poise, he is the Noel Coward of cats - kicking at it with his feet, rolling out from underneath and then back again, biting and stretching his neck. He toys for a while and then stands and walks across the room to investigate the corner. I put down my pen and think about getting up. We are finished with one another.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Il n'y a point do heros pour son valet de chambre. Madame Cornuel

Go on, Google it. It won't kill you. First one to post the meaning as a comment wins a Kinder Egg. Straight up.

Let No Man Scare You, by Mark Jenkins (2006)
He does some great street installations, which you should check out at his website. Now.

Casabianca by Elizabeth Bishop

Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite "The boy stood on
the burning deck." Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.

A rainy afternoon in an empty office can give rise to the best conversations.

Miss Sally and I passed an hour in the Ministry on Friday pinning down the nature of love, or trying to. Do we choose with whom we fall in love? Are we destined to repeat that first relationship (or the absence of it) that we learned from our parents, guardians or other places of early influence? And can we change who we love, over time, if we start to realize the choices we have made are harmful to us?

They are simplified questions, I suppose, in lots of ways, which is paradoxical, as perhaps love should never be separated from the peculiarity of its circumstance; becomes meaningless when you reduce (or elevate) it to an abstract. And of course, we came to no conclusions, though I think we both learnt a lot more about each other than we knew previously.

I know I will never tire, for instance, of hearing about Sally's mother, just as I never tire of hearing about Violet, my (it's a long story, but technically, great) grandmother. But then again, maybe the stories exchanged in an afternoon in the deserted Ministry - civil servants, it would seem, do not need the Pompey Chimes to know when it's four o'clock on a Friday - were all about the same thing. There is not a great leap from love to family in the end - whether it's the one you were born into, the one you choose, or, if you're damn lucky, even both.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Real love isn't ambivalent. Belize, Angels in America

Emma Thompson as the Angel of America

I know my relationship with alcohol has taken a new lease of life when I confess to being hungover in the office and the First response is “Again?” Damn my personal passion for wine. Damn my inability to know my limits and damn my commitment to ignoring them.

I paid the price for my hangover by only being fit to function for half the day (and I’m stretching the literal meaning of the word ‘fit’ even there). I had to go home and sleep for most of the day (I did a deal with the Chief via the wonderful Miss Sally that I would go home yesterday and work my off day on Friday instead – expensive things, hangovers), and having rebalanced myself, I settled myself in to watch ‘Angels in America.’

If you haven’t seen it – and I suspect you probably have, as most of the people I’ve spoken to acted slightly surprised that I didn’t know what it was – then this incredibly difficult to describe series is a must see. The plays were originally written by Tony Kushner, as two separate plays, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, and were refilmed together as a mini-series by HBO in 2003, which is the version I watched yesterday. It's incredibly moving, well-written, witty and political viewing (don't let that put you off though) and The Daily highly recommends.

Now, there's an event of great cultural importance appearing on the horizon next week. It's intricately connected to love and beauty and the appreciation of both. It's an event that all of us, deep down, feel a stirring about, and it's one that The Daily cannot ignore. In the words of philosopher Rolf Harris, can you guess what it is yet?

One more clue. It's happening on February 14th and it makes your heart beat faster just to think about it.

You guessed. It's the release day for Hot Fuzz!! Brilliant! I know, like me, fans of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, and those that worship the Pegg and Frost combination (that's pretty much me and Lou): you may not find it easy to wait that long, but it's ok! Here's the trailer for your delectation and delight. Ahhhhhh.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Humankind cannot stand very much reality. T. S. Eliot

I passed a hazy, hormonal day at the Ministry today. Although my mind was present and I completed all the duties I had been allotted for the day, my emotional self was out and running free through the labyrinthine corridors at the back of my mind. This makes me very scatty, unable to make decisions and highly emotional. I had to keep nipping out to the loos to cry, and ten minutes later, laughing hysterically. In an ideal world, days like this would be passed in bed while handsome men brought you chocolates and tangerines. Fact.

Lunch with the lovely Shonagh placed a pleasant centrepoint to my day and reminded me that whilst I am a long way from normal, that's exactly why the people close to me love me.

The NSN's have gone rather quiet. Actually, they've gone completely silent. This has started to worry me. Firstly because they might have completely exerted themselves the other night and have done themselves harm. Maybe they completely dehydrated themselves and their dried out husks are lying empty and undiscovered on the floor. More likely though, is my worry that I've been so loudly describing to everyone their noisy sex exploits that now they daren't even ask each other to pass the salt. They've probably taken up sign language. Either way, I can never, never see them again.

The talk of poetry in yesterday's comments made me want to post this unusual one, from the Poetry 180 website (for info, the poetry website Mark mentions, which will also send you a poem every day if you want to subscribe to their emailing list, is Poetry Chaikhana, here).

Did I Miss Anything?
Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

Monday, February 5, 2007

You musn't give your heart to a wild thing. Holly Golightly

I love books like these. I have some great postcards that are themed on these, which obviously means I spend far too much time in places like Passionfish.

I was just looking at Wikiquote, which is a spin off from Wikipedia, the democratic home of knowledge on the world wide Simon Webb. I happened upon , as one does, e. e. cummings and discovered some great nuggets, which fortunately, I do feel rather obliged to share with you.

Art is a mystery.
A mystery is something immeasurable.
In so far as every child and woman and man may be immeasurable, art is the mystery of every man and woman and child. In so far as a human being is an artist, skies and mountains and oceans and thunderbolts and butterflies are immeasurable; and art is every mystery of nature. Nothing measurable can be alive; nothing which is not alive can be art; nothing which cannot be art is true: and everything untrue doesn’t matter a very good God damn...

no sunbeam ever lies

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man

Love the last one best, but check out the site because there are loads more.

In the course of my works at the Ministry today, I found a great paper from Demos by John Holden - Demos is the heaven every researcher wants to find themselves in when they die - which answers many of my questions about the current funding crisis for culture that many local authorities currently find themselves in the centre of. I learnt some interesting facts:
  • Decreases in spending on culture have occurred more sharply in unitary authorities (like Portsmouth)
  • Some of the problems with funding are caused by the fact that culture contains many non-statutory services, so they are the first to face funding cuts. Arts have been particularly hit by this as people see it as a more 'highbrow' area and the services are usually smaller. Local authority-run arts services are being, and have been, closed all over the country.
  • The South East has been particularly hard hit as it is seen as economically stronger and - rightly - much funding has recently gone to rebalance pockets of poverty in the North, creating a North/South divide in funding settlements.
Holden makes an important point:

"What is obvious is that some local authorities are at their limits. Caught between the immovable objects of obligatory spending and limited resources, the inevitable result is that local authorities will make cuts in areas of discretionary expenditure. They have to do this, regardless of whether they want to, or whether their citizens want this to happen."

You can read his paper, download and/or print it, here. I can say this with copyright impunity as Demos (sound of angels singing) publish all their stuff under a Creative Commons license, which is why we love them. Ok, it's why I love them, but if you give them a chance, you may just come to love them too. Love your Demos. It's yours and it's free.

I was surfing the Simon at the weekend and was stunned and a little trepidatious to discover that someone has made a film of one of my favourite memoirs of all time (James Frey, you blew it for yourself there, and not in a kinky way, either): Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. In so doing, I also discovered that he has a great website, and even a blog that he seems to post to infrequently, and most important of all, he has a new book that I knew nothing about.

As his website will tell you, but I am more than happy to repeat here:

The #1 New York Times bestseller, Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor's bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year - round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull, an electroshock-therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing and bestselling account of an ordinary boy's survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.

The library has both Running with Scissors, and Dry, both of which I have read and can highly, highly recommend. Burroughs has a way of writing that is so intimate, charming and touching that I should be furious with envy. Instead, I have a slightly disturbing desire for him to be my best friend. I'm thrilled by the film and terrified that it will be terrible.

Talking of author memoirs, I'm also keen to see the 'other' Capote biopic (I'm sure the directors and stars are so pleased when people refer to it as that), Infamous, starring Toby Jones in the starring role. I saw Breakfast At Tiffanys on tv the other day and cried and cried and cried. I loved the Phillip Seymour Hoffman Capote, and as I'm a little bit dangerously stalkerish about Hoffman too, I'm worried in case I like the new one more.

I worry about all the wrong things.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Pornographic soundtracks and quiet sundays

I know, it seems strange, but read on and all will become clear.

On my quiet stroll along the Parade this afternoon, as I went to buy some groceries, I noticed an unusual amount of brightly coloured condoms shining in the setting sunlight. There were only three colours, red, white and blue, so there may have been some lucky Europeans on the streets last night.

And they weren't just on the streets, either, let me tell you. My crazy new neighbours had a porn soundtrack all of their very own. It beat the television, the stereo, and possibly even the sound barrier. I can honestly say that I have never heard anything like it - some of those sounds weren't even human, imho. In fact, I was laying (p.t.p.) bets in my mind that at one point they were using a ping pong bat, but I'm just guessing. I'll tell you something else, too, I don't think the girlfriend was being entirely authentic, either. So the Sound of Sex Emmy is definitely hers.

When I went out this afternoon, I heard the Crazy Sex Neighbours coming up the stairs (that was definitely real) and I had to run back up the stairs and hide in my flat until they had gone indoors. I cannot face them now. I have a terrible feeling that my face will obviously be saying: I heard you guys having unbelievable sex last night - and when I say unbelievable, I actually mean it literally - and now I feel awkward about it and I can't look at either of you without laughing, or pretending to play ping pong.

Actually, I'm not sure what that expression would look like, but any artists amongst you are welcome to try it. Email me with your entries (ptp) and I'll post the best of them.

You know what struck me as the most strange (you mean you haven't told us already Sarah?) about the whole 'God, yes! Oh yes! Oh God! Please! Yes!' saga of last night? It went on for bloody hours. In the end, I had my mp3 player on and was sat up chain-smoking and reading a short story collection by Dashiel Hammett - God that man was talented. Hammett, not the NSN Noisy Sex Neighbour, I mean. By 3 o'clock, I was convinced that the whole thing was some kind of scam to convince the household that they have this amazing sex life, and that actually they were both sat on opposite sides of the room, fully clothed and making these ridiculous noises whilst reading Chekhov (no, I'm not sure which particular work). It was that unconvincing.

But just imagine if they were both faking it? Wouldn't that take this superficial century to a whole new level?

Anyway, I'm sure you've heard enough about it (probably by the end of paragraph one actually), so let's make like Walrus (should that be Walri?) and talk of other things.

Any lovers of the postcard out there should check out a company called Polite Cards, who have recently introduced themselves to me on MySpace. Featuring the work of Vic Reeves and Stella Vine (who was recently featured in Saatchi's New Blood), to name but my favourite of their contributors (thanks also to them for putting me onto the fact that VR has his own MS site), these postcards are well worth treating yourself to, though you'll probably never want to send them.

Even better, the only stockist in Portsmouth of Polite products is the Aspex Gallery, so if you still haven't got down to this brilliant new venue in Gunwharf, go there now. Right now. Only if it's open though, or you'll feel reet foolish.