Saturday, March 3, 2007

Hope and fear are inseparable. La Rochefoucald

Hope, by Olga Zoskin

In Celebration of Me (1909), Rainer Maria Rilke

I am so afraid of people's words.
They describe so distinctly everything:
And this they call dog and that they call house,
here the start and there the end.

I worry about their mockery with words,
they know everything, what will be, what was;

no mountain is still miraculous;
and their house and yard lead right up to God.

I want to warn and object: Let the things be!
I enjoy listening to the sound they are making.
But you always touch: and they hush and stand still.
That's how you kill.

The other night I was with friends, chatting. We were (ok I was) talking about politics and apathy and local government (they were staring glassy eyed at the space where I used to be entertaining). I was ranting bleakly about the terrible quagmire of financial chaos and the absence of observed due process, personal/political commitment, morality and values that is your average council.

"The problem is," I declared, waving my beer, "Is that the people who really care are just out there doing it. On the frontline, doing their job every day. The ones at the top can come and go, come and go. There's little responsibility, there's little accountability and it's hard not to feel incredibly, indelibly frustrated with it all."

There was a pause and my two compadres jolted upright again from their zombie slump.

"God! Yeah." There was a pause.

"It's like that everywhere though, Sare, worse in the private sector."

"And where do we go from that statement?" I asked.

It was unfair. I was looking for someone to vent some probably non-political anger on.

"Well, it doesn't matter anyway, does it? The planet's going bust anyway. We're all gonna fry,"
my brother declared.

The others laughed and the conversation went on.

I know that humanity has always lived in the face of one sort of (often self-imposed) threat or another: famine, natural disasters, superbugs, pollution, viruses, etc, but is there something different about accepting that we have - irrevocably, if my friend's jests are to be believed - as a species, ruined the entire planet? Would that mean that there was no point to anything, if it were true?

I've brought that conversation to mind several times since, un- or consciously. I wonder if this implicit sense of hopelessness has taken root somewhere in our collective or cultural psyches. The individualisation (yes, I'm a geek) or atomization of society seems writ large at the moment, wherever I go: we comfort ourselves with our individual dreams, of personal ambition, personal life choices, experiences we must/should have before we die; to a soundtrack of psychobabble in our daily vocabulary (Susan, I don't want to disempower you here, but you're shit); and the endless consumption of things, things - Good God Please Just One More, I must have that Thing - as a form of comfort reflex.

I know, I'm also going through a dark phase right now. Humour me. Do the good things in life: the smiles, the personal touch, the intimacy of a shared reference or joke, love, sex, kissing in the rain, crying in the rain with your best friends, crying at a Neighbours wedding (for different reasons than romance, admittedly: "God! I really thought she wouldn't go through with it!" *sob* and an explosion of laughter); do they become more or less meaningful in this world, now that our capacity for self-destruction seems set to implode?

For me, personally yes, and philosophically, I'm not sure. My biggest question, I suppose, to myself, as ever, is if we accept that we/the planet has no future, what becomes of hope?

Friday, March 2, 2007

Woman on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown

Why is it that getting ready for a holiday causes so much stress that you need another holiday to make up for it? I've tied up my loose ends at the Ministry, made sure the plants are fed and watered, library books renewed and everyone I love said goodbye to (in case I get swept up by a burly Muldonian and end up breeding like a scampi on the Isle for the rest of my life - actually, I don't know how scampi breed, but I like the sound of it and I haven't made up any catchphrases for a while.)

Kate and I are spending next week on the Isle fo Mull, but worry ye not, rat fans, because the fair G will be logging in to post a "Here's One I Prepared Earlier" blog entry each day. It has of course, taken a lot of work, but as the corporate sellout says, you're worth it.

The last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster ride in the belly of Hades and I need this holiday like a woman needs a best friend, which is to say, a lot. In fact, I think it's fair to say that without this holiday, I might have completely lost my mind by next week and started running around Portsmouth doing a fair impression of Michael Douglas in Falling Down. And who wants that, because I think fast food chain staff have it bad enough as it is. Actually, a couple of my friends have suggested that they think a Falling Down moment starring yours truly might be heartily amusing, but they wouldn't think so once they had to start raising the money for my bail.

I'm preparing myself for a week of reading, writing, sleeping, walking and a heck of a lot of drinking and chain-smoking. And if I bag a handsome islander, too, then so much the better....

Thursday, March 1, 2007

One night in Yates

Turtle volunteering.
Well the Turtle hasn't volunteered. That person has.
Bet you're glad I cleared that up.

My friend Shelley and I meet up for the first time in a year for a drink. She has spent five months working in Greece on a voluntary conservation project, tagging turtles and protecting their nests. We decide to go to Yates in the Guildhall Walk to catch up. Well, actually, at first we headed into Wetherspoons because it was closer and we always go there, but after waiting for six years (no exaggeration, I promise you) to be served at the bar we decide to go to Yates. Wetherspoons has one of the longest bars in the world (again, no exaggeration), and yet the management always seem to choose to staff it with one person. On crutches. Who has never worked in a bar before. No exaggeration.

I am obviously a little inebriated as I write this, so you may have to bear with me.

So, we go to Yates instead and we talk about love, life, turtles and culture and everything in between (there are quite a few things between turtles and culture as it turned out). Until we are interrupted by a small group of crazy nippers (is the Guildhall walk frequented by no one but sailors??), three lads and a young woman. This always happens to Shelley and I. We draw small groups of crazy people.

The last time it happened, Shelley and I were very drunk (in Wetherspoons - we had been served that time, the guy with the crutches had the night off) and this guy came over with his friends and kept quoting lines from his favourite movie, Anchorman; specifically:

"I have many leather bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogony. ..."

I kid you not. Anyway, it was very funny, but not for long. The guy had no other material. Just that one line. In the end, Shelley threatened him and his friends with physical violence, while I looked on, helpless with laughter. You would have to know that Shelley is one of the most amiable women in the world to understand how provoked she would have to be to threaten someone else. The fact that it was the repetition of "the smell of rich mahogony" that sent her over the edge makes me feel quite surreal just thinking about it. But, then again, this inebriated, so does the thought of going to work.

We have quite a laugh with our crazy group of kids in Yates, who succeed in winning us over by guessing our ages at 25 - love them! That is, until Danny attempts to win over the bar staff and tempt them to serve him free drinks and they refuse to serve him any more and he has to leave. However, by this point, it was not far off closing anyway, and Shelley finish our drinks, resume our conversation and bundle ourselves into a cab.

But not before she persuades me to go speed dating. Which will doubtless be another story.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Culture Never Sleeps

There will be noooooooo hurricane!

I can only apologize for my brief absence by saying that this has been an exceptionally culturally noteworthy week.

On Monday, I passed an evening of quiet and homely culture (as if) with one of my closest friends Heather, who I realised, is my natural Spaced buddy. It's not that H and I can't be serious - she has been one of the first people on the scene in almost every crisis in my life so far - it's that a lot of the time, we don't choose to be. She is the only one of my friends who would respond to me stirring an argument by using the metaphor of: "Guys you are both treading thinly on the line of the blame here" by miming the walking of a tightrope. Here at the Heights, H is officially one of our personal favourite people.

On Tuesday, I stepped out with the gorgeously dandy Glenn to, of all places, Ricky Gervais. The last couple of weeks have been a little Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass (mostly the bad bits - I'm being tortured by Tweedledum and TweedleDumber). I know it's sad to say this, but out of the two sets, I think I liked Robin Ince (a close friend of Ricky Gervais) just a little bit better. My mother would say that this is because I always support the underdog, but I just think Ince tries harder and his material was a wee bit funnier.

Much as I like Gervais (I've got both his Animals and his Politics tour), I was a bit worried by his fans. Yes I am saying that with a complete absence of self-awareness. I always liked Ricky Gervais because his comedy was often based on mocking stereotypes, urban myths and common prejudices. The problem with the level of irony with which that's done is that there seemed to be a lot of people around us who were laughing because they find the stereotypes and prejudices, in and of themselves, funny. Which explains why I've not felt that uncomfortable watching him at home. That and the fact that they wanted Gervais to Do The Dance, which is a bit too performing monkey (though he did a bit at the end!). By the end, I was more than a little uncomfortable with some of it. I did enjoy his more observational humour, though, a lot. Especially about the nature of celebrity.

Then, at the African Women's Forum Choir (for which I double booked myself so stupidly that I missed a colleague's leaving-do - bugger), we were filmed by Meridian. For the TV. Singing and everything. Next week, the choir are being recorded by the BBC, but without my voice, as I'm in Scotland. I'm hoping to be back for the filming of the video though. Oh, no, my mistake. That's my worst nightmare.

So all in all, a pretty cultural week! And to top it all, we've had an artist in residence at the Ministry this week, which has definitely made the stress levels easier. Our A in R is Jeannie Driver, who is doing an amazing project that you can read all about here. My favourite part of the project has definitely been her Atmosphere board, which has a variety of different weather symbols by which everyone in the office can describe their mood (or the boss'!!), forecast the mood for the day and their sense of pressure. Jeannie is hoping to sell these later on, so I for one will be returning to her website over and over until I can get one.

The Atmosphere board also prompted Miss Sally and I to look up Russ Abbott's single of the same name on Monday and dance about the office to it. How work is completed in the Ministry is sometimes a mystery to me.

Last of all, just got this from The Chief.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Let There Be Books

Image courtesy of FREADOM
"I stand against any library or any librarian anywhere in the world being imprisoned or punished in any way for the books they circulate. I plead with Castro and his government to immediately take their hands off the independent librarians and release all those librarians in prison and send them back into Cuban culture to inform the people."

Lou, it is great to hear from you, the office is missing you. And it is just as well you are married, because if we were two singles out on the prowl, we would always be fighting over the same men! Get well soon, lovely x

I subscribe to Library Link of the Day. They sent me an article about a project called FREADOM (I like it already), which is a reading project protesting against the burning and banning of books in Cuba. The article talks about the Cuban independent library movement and the penalties paid by independent librarians who attempt to supply banned works to the masses.

Later, I had an idea. Given the state of the public library service and the popularity of movements like bookswapping and freecycling - couldn't we start an independent library movement here?

There is already a (struggling) independent library sector in the UK - The Women's Library, The Feminist Library and the Working Class Movement Library, to name a handful of the best ones ever, objectively speaking - but couldn't we just redefine library provision as a collective of likeminded individuals (no Tories) lending books? We could invent a new cataloguing system and supply dissidence to the local masses We could also sell good coffee and chocolate cake. You know what I'm talkin' 'bout. We could hold cult members screenings of Shaun and the Dead, Spaced and Hot Fuzz. And some other stuff sometimes.

Just a thought. Either that, or anyone fancy a trip to Cuba?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

And another thing...

You should also watch this YouTube documentary on Kim Peek.

we give ourselves the chance of happiness

The beautiful and haunting Hajieelkhe by Enayla on

I spend some time today mindlessly surfing the internet. I am beginning to think that this is what Sundays are made for. It's strange what you can stumble across when drifting across the virtual waves. I visit Snopes and find in their picture gallery (I was listening to another Max Carrados story) an incredibly disturbing sculpture installation by Patricia Piccinini called We Are Family. I am so freaked out by this that I distract myself with a random link on the Grand Canyon.

Turns out it describes a new attraction at the Grand Canyon that allows you to walk on a glass bridge out across the canyon, like so:

Loving the eighties comic artwork.

I'll be honest. It scares the shit out of me just looking at a picture of it, but whatever floats your boat. For an idea of how high that skywalk is, look here. If you're headed over the stream sometime soon, it opens on March 28th.

Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

I then stumble across a series of documentaries about Daniel Tammett on YouTube (I am even slightly impressed that the user who uploaded them has a username of godtammet - excellent work). Daniel is a mathematical savant with Aspergers Syndrome. He became well known when he recited from memory the more than twenty thousand digits that go to make up Pi (more familiarly 3.14 to you and I and sumptin to do with circles, dude).

Daniel has also just written a book called Born on a Blue Day which Portsmouth Library service has two copies of - ripe for order, if, like me, you can't afford a sausage let alone a book concerning pi (forgive me). Back up though, I've already ordered my copy and the other one is on loan.

Get in the queue, mortal.

See the first part of the documentary below and double click on it to get to the original page that will direct you to the rest.