Friday, April 13, 2007

Complicated Shadow

Image taken from The Town That Was
Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland

I am not feeling like a writer today, my good plans to work on several projects today abandoned in favour of a little light melancholy that I could not, or did not want to, quite pin down. No matter, this too will pass.

Instead of writing, I pass the day in a little beach-wandering and a lot of reading, interspersed with some soulful horizon gazing. All I need is the costume and I am the French Lieutenant's Woman.

At an ideal time for a little poetic intrigue, I stumble in my internet wanderings across Centralia, Pennsylvania, a mining town abandoned in 1962 after a devastating mine fire. The website for a film called The Town That Was outlines the story:

In 1962, a trash fire ignited a seam of anthracite coal beneath Centralia, Pennsylvania, a once thriving mining town of over 1600 people. By the mid 1980’s, giant plumes of smoke and deadly carbon monoxide gases billowed from fissures in the ground, the local highway cracked and collapsed, trees were bleached white and petrified, as the fire continued to rage unchecked. It wasn’t until a young boy nearly died after falling into a smoldering mine subsidence that the government was pressed into action. After estimating the cost of extinguishing the fire at over a half a billion dollars, the government opted to raze the town and relocate its residents.

Today, 11 die-hards remain.

The Town That Was traces the story of one of the remaining 'die-hards', in fact the youngest of them, and his refusal to accept the death and declining memory of something he loves. Surely we can all relate, or am I cursed with tragedy this evening?

I am away over the next two days and not returning until Sunday. I am spending the weekend in Hull touring some of the exhibitions there on Wilberforce, the abolition campaign and the slave trade. Apart from our very own Chasing Freedom (now open at the Naval Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and showing until January 2008), and the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, these will be the first major stop on my bicentenary tour this year. I'll post here on Sunday and tell you all about it.

I keep thinking about journeys. The peace and relief of a train or a plane to an unknown destination and experience. G has recently been inspiring me with her own thoughts of taking some short breaks around the UK on her own and I am inspired to follow suit. It seems as if the long confusion of the past few months that has affected so many people I know and love is beginning to work itself into something new. I see many of those closest to me taking chances with their future, making risky decisions in the pursuit of their dreams. I am minded to follow suit, and should I not find a pot of gold at the end of the travelling rainbow, I may yet find some respite from the memories the Heights has lingering in its darker shadows.

Just in case you were worried I was losing my sense of humour.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes

I arrived at work yesterday and fired up my pc, rolling into Google as I usually do, only to see a small headline from the BBC announcing the death of Kurt Vonnegut Jr, the writer, aged 84. The word 'Oh!' jumped from my mouth as I read the story on the BBC.

Kurt Vonnegut's novels were introduced to me by the Bean, who has raved about Slaughterhouse Five for as long as I can remember. I recently re-read it along with Joseph Heller's Catch 22 for a fix of anti-war literature in these crazy times. I loved Kurt Vonnegut from the first sentence I read of his - the first novel I read of his was Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday. From Vonnegut I learnt the importance of finding and honouring my own voice, above all else. A writer's job is to tell their truth and trust that others - probably just some others - will understand. One of my favourite pieces of advice for writers was from him: Pity the Readers.

Because Vonnegut had a unique and entirely authentic voice, he occupied each novel he wrote as much as he created it. This may be one of the central reasons I am so saddened by his death, because he cannot be replaced.

If you've never read a Vonnegut novel, sort it out - Portsmouth library service has loads and there's no excuse for it. You probably won't be able to get hold of any now. I certainly intend to spend the next few months reading every thing he ever wrote, including shopping lists if I can find them on ebay.

The rest of today's blog is dedicated to just some of the fine words of Kurt Vonnegut.

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.

Belief is nearly the whole of the Universe, whether based on truth or not.

How embarrassing to be human.

If there is a god, he sure hates people. That’s all I can say.

We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.

Many people need desperately to receive this message: "I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone."

As in my other works of fiction: All persons living and dead are purely coincidental, and should not be construed. No names have been changed in order to protect the innocent. Angels protect the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.

My last words? "Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse."

Goodbye Blue Monday

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Any view of the Universe that is not strange is false. The Sandman

I see that Hendricks gin is making quite a topic on the comments. Kate and I tried it after we had earned ourselves a drink for singing at the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Guildhall Square a few weeks ago. Hendricks is infused with spices and lots of good things and tastes very different from Gordons or Bombay Sapphire. I may even have to enter the bourgois realm of Waitrose to find it, like Jason seeking the Golden Fleece.

There were some great profiles in the Guardian today about public sector blogs, i.e. public sector workers blog about their jobs. A fantastic one by a nurse in hospital for the elderly, specializing in dementia, who refers to the hospital as the Faerie Realm, ambiguously titled Mental Nurse.

It made me think that maybe I should write a public sector blog, gathered more firmly around the Ministry. I've been thinking lately that I should focus the blog more, that it's too woolly, too ethereal. Let me know. Apparently most public sector bloggers are anonymous (the article profiles a police blogger who cannot reveal his identity for fear of the establishment firing him for his blog), so that part of my plan is a bit scuppered. The article mentions that some job contracts have 'gagging orders' built in, which prevent employees from writing about their jobs, but part of me can't help but think this would be a glamorous way to be fired anyhow. Maybe I'll try it.

Lou in the office enthused about the Portsmouth Star idea today, and it is certainly one that keeps reappearing from the shadows in the darker corners of my mind before scuttling back again. She also sent me the coolest website which made me want to learn to skateboard - maybe because skater girls have some of the best fashion looks, personal preferentially speaking. Except it's different from a skateboard, and you can get one that you can snow board on. It's called a snowboard. I'm not very good at describing these things, so check out the picture above and then go to the site and have a nose for yourself at Tasty Adventures.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The smallest things

Window ledge and city skyline from Coit Tower.
National Geographic Photo Camp picture by Julian Aguas
(special to the San Francisco Chronicle)

Today's picture comes from a great National Geographic project in the US of A, called Photo Camp, which encourages young people to photograph their communities and explores young people's 'views' of the world through displaying these pictures in various exhibitions. I like this photo blogging perspective on the world and look forward to seeing more projects like this run locally. I would love to know what young people see when they look around this city. A thousand portraits of faces staring at them with thinly veiled aggressive suspicion, I'd wager....

Find out more about this project here. And here. And read a thoroughly thought-provoking article on democracy and children and young people from PLAYLINK, here.

I stayed up last night until a ridiculous time having a Torchwood DVD festival at G's house. I don't like Torchwood as much as I like the good Doctor, and I have no desire to work for Torchwood as I do to be the Doctor's next assistant (especially as David Tennant, I would love to assist David Tennant), but I still could not stop watching the damn thing. Darn that alien technology.

Yesterday, my stars in the Independent on Sunday revealed that:

Physical ill-being is beyond the reach of allopathic professionals, but view alternative treatments with suspicion. The smallest things have the largest effects. Your desire to change should start with the time you get up in the morning.

And who said that reading your stars reflected the 'dumbing down' of contemporary culture?

My stars revealed three things to me:

Firstly, that Indie on Sunday readers are not stupid people. I actually had to look up 'allopathic' in the dictionary. Just think about that for a moment. I had to use a dictionary to understand my stars. Of course, I'm not going to leave you out in the cold, and I'm going to make an assumption that will also make me feel better about not knowing: allopathic means 'of conventional medicine' and is often used as a derisive term by our homeopathic friends. So, confirmation that I'm a hypochondriac?

Secondly, I was impressed with the phrase,"the smallest things have the largest effects" and I'm sure male readers are nodding vigorously right now.

Lastly, I was struck by the advice to 'start with the time I get up in the morning.' By chance on Sunday, I got up at 6.40 am, read for an hour with a pot of coffee (I drank the coffee, it was not to my knowledge, reading anything), dozed till 9 and then got up.

Would that every day would start so well. So, I've decided to get up earlier every day. I'm going to aim for pre-7am.

God help my colleagues at the Ministry - I am not known by close associates as 'a morning person.'

Sunday, April 8, 2007

All wings and no halo

Paul Giamatti, I love him, and not just because he has wine

I am thrilled to log in and see a comment not only from one of our own Daily Street Irregulars, Kit Kat, (loving Lou's quote, btw! and hope you're both having a fantabulous Easter break), but also from none other than Taylor Mac's manager. And, of course, I will immediately join Taylor's UK mailing list, it'll give me something to read while I work out when and how I can get to go and see him on tour on my poor civil service wage - well, technically, I will make these calculations after an interval of about 8 hours when I'm back on my own broadband connection and not beholden to the Bean and the G's dial-up modem connection, no offence meant, Sandy Pointers.

So, I came over to the joys of Mingy and Sandy Point for Easter Sunday, where G cooked the loveliest dinner and even gave me ice cream and apple pie after. Perfect. As if these wonders could not be topped, we then sat and watched a movie after dinner, 'Stranger than Fiction.'

I loved this movie, which kept reminding me of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, another one of my favourite films of all time ever (and one guaranteed to make me cry - not one to watch after you have just broken up with your ex-boyfriend, particularly not if you have even the sneakiest suspicion that this may be a relatinship that haunts you for the rest of your Earth-walking days, but don't feel obliged to take my word for it, break up with your partner then watch it, we'll start a readers' poll). It was funny, sharp and really tender, and there isn't a bad actor in it: Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah.

It also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is not just fascinating because she's uber-cool and someone you would like to be your best friend in case her innate insouciant sexuality rubbed off on you even a little, making you a man-magnet in your own right and someone that a man would fork his own eyeballs for a date with (it's true, this can actually happen. I saw it happen once in a backstreet pub in Cambridge, and then the woman turned him down anyway- gutted), but also she's Jake's sister, which would mean the coolest family dinners ever, once Jake and I are established as artiste amours.

This is the first time screenplay for Zach Helm, the film's creator, and I will definitely be watching his work in the future. I loved the idea for this film, that someone wakes up to find they have become a fictional character in someone else's novel and can hear their own life being narrated as they live it. The fact that it's also about writing is an interesting one, too.

Before I went to bed, I decided to watch M Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water. I am a sometime fan of his, having really loved Sixth Sense, and the less popular The Village, as well as signs. This movie was interesting to me because I knew that Shyamalan was playing one of the side-central characters and because it stars Paul Giamatti, who is one of my big time crushes and has been since I saw him in Sideways. He has the most beautiful eyes and is one of those actors who seems marked in equal measure by the spirit of comedy and tragedy. Sideways is also one of my favourite films and I would like to partner him for ever, each time I see it.

I liked Lady in the Water, but oddly, I kept thinking I would have liked it a whole lot more as a graphic novel. Maybe this is because of my current Sandman obsession, maybe it's because Shyamalan has his own interest in the genre (I'm thinking of Unbreakable). In fact, if I'm honest, if Paul Giamatti wasn't in this movie, I probably wouldn't have lasted til the end. It asks too much of the viewer with too little consistency, and for some reason, I just didn't believe in these characters as strongly as I've invested in some of the others in his movies.

So the Easter break is almost over, and tomorrow, I'll be heading back to the Heights to prepare myself for my return to work. I've decided to devote myself to an evening of magic and ritual (don't worry, I'm not actually going to invoke anything - obviously, the last time that happened the small of sulphur lasted for weeks) so I'm planning to pull some cards, light some candles and I found this really interesting spell for unleashing your writing creativity in my almanac.

So much to do, so few places that sell eye of newt....Happy Easter!