CSE Grade1

I am getting a novella ready for publishing through Amazon, it is called The Report, it is an ‘alternative history’ genre story, taking ideas from Philip K Dick’s The Man In The High Castle, and supplanting them to Britain more than 50 years later. It was enjoyable to write even with such a grim environment, and I hope can be seen as not too dissimilar to present political situations. I have designed a cover not so easy now I don’t have Photoshop or InDesign, but I am reasonably pleased with it.

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I am doing a bit of final rewriting, splitting or joining sentences, and making sure the full-stops are inside the quotation marks and words are spelt correctly. English was not a high point of my education, I liked reading and writing stories and essays, but the grammar, oh dear! I ended up with a CSE Grade 1, equivalent to a bare pass in ‘O’ level. It was a very practical exam I remember, we had to write a description for the police of an accident illustrated on the exam paper; an essay, I chose My Pet, and wrote about Herbert our pet rook; then there was a comprehension test and there must have been some other fairly easy grammar bits as I got a grade 1!

Exams are an odd thing. I almost certainly wouldn’t have done as well in the current system because so much is marked on projects and coursework, the way the world actually works. I am far too lazy for that. Going into an exam is easy, I never did any swotting, but it had all gone in or most of it anyway, and could spew it out over two or three hours. My brother was the opposite and swotted like mad and became so tense he couldn’t sleep or eat properly during the run-up period.

The Report is not keeping me awake, well not in that way anyway. I could probably keep going back to it and changing things, rewriting, adding another character or viewpoint. I did that with Underpainting which took 15 years from start to finish (with a few lengthy breaks) and having read a bit the other day can see some changes I could make! It could get like the painting in Zola’s The Masterpiece which never gets finished and continually repaints it, until the artist dies of hunger and madness, the usual Zola plot!

Today’s photographs are of a wall and gate in the backs nearby at 12.30. It is chilly, overcast.

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A pain in the arse…

Today I went to the hospital for yet another biopsy. It didn’t take place. I had rung a nurse a couple of weeks ago and I think she felt I was being a bit of a wimp! When I had my last biopsy I had to have a full anaesthetic, after the specialist was unable to send the camera up my anal passage because of severe inflammation (if you are wriggling around I don’t blame you), this follows an operation removing the bowel nearly 10 years ago. I had been a couple of years ago and the specialist had to send me home to return for fully anaesthetised ‘inspection’.

Anyway, I phoned before Christmas to ensure that I would have the anaesthetic and the nurse said she didn’t know what I was worried about, I told her what had happened and she said that I should come in and try. As soon as the specialist saw me today he asked why I wasn’t having a full anaesthetic, told the staff it was impossible to do anything and began the rebooking process.

The thing I miss about being under anaesthetic is you don’t see the camera working its way around on the screen, I find it fascinating. There are an odd few moments when they snip the sample which you see and then a second or so later you feel the sharp nip! So I have seen up me; down me; round the corners of me; and well where you don’t want cameras to venture! I quite expected to see Raquel Welch swimming around in skin tight white swim suit (The Fantastic Voyage).

So I’ve got to go back.

The bus journey takes in at least two buses and around an hour and a quarter.

On the second leg today there was a man around 70 wearing a smart dark suit and tie and an ex-serviceman’s badge on his lapel. He had that look and odour when it seems alcohol has become an integral part of the skin and he is only two drinks away from oblivion. He stood up and started filming people up and down the bus, most turned away, but I asked him why he was doing it, so, while filming me, he sat and told me he carries this camera everywhere and just shoots bits of his life as he wanders the city. He has hundreds of tapes he told me, as he’d been doing this for about 5 years. I asked him where he had served, in Malaya he told me. He was ready for a long chat like all of us who are a bit lonely want, but my stop arrived. As I was getting off I heard the driver telling him to sit and he didn’t want any trouble from him.

Good luck to him and I hope someone takes notice of what he is filming. I didn’t ask him why but maybe there was no need, perhaps it was just the need to prove that he was alive. He waved to me as the bus pulled away, I hope I meet him again.

Today’s photographs are of the Hospital at about 3.30pm, raining and dull outside, quiet inside.

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The Oskars

Sometimes when you write you come up with a really great sentence, which sums up what maybe you’ve written in the last five chapters and stuns you by its simplicity, elegance and quality. At the last Renegades Writers meeting I was so pleased when Misha pointed one out of mine (I had hoped someone would notice as I thought it rather good!). At the moment it is placed about a quarter way through the book, but it is so fine (self-praise is not appreciated Tim!) that it may end up the final line in the book. It is simple but sort of sums up the whole story in ten words.

A whole book of great sentences would be almost unreadable, such things need to stand out. It would be like eating the finest steak and drinking best champagne and port every day, you’d be aching for a sausage sandwich and a pint of dark after a while.

Where on earth do these lines come from? Well I suppose our virtuosity that makes us writers or artists or whatever. In the early 1970’s I read Evelyn Waugh’s books. He was a brilliant writer of English. His subjects and stories are of course a sharp critique of the upper classes, his sympathies were certainly not mine. But he was a great story teller, and I would urge you to read his books if for nothing else to appreciate and learn from his style. It is so simple that it must have taken many edits and revisions!

In last Saturday’s blog I had thought up a phrase/line as I walked up Bond Street (two streets away), which is peppered with empty houses, many boarded up. Some look like no-one could possibly live in them, then at night you can see the lights on and people do. It is some of the most deprived housing in the city. The picture I put on the blog was actually a house which a woman lived in until recently; opposite to her was another woman whose window was always boarded up. I thought they were empty so did not deliver stuff there. Then I was told that they had a feud going on and as soon as one had new windows the other would smash them again; the feud was of course over a man, who had left the women a few years ago, but they carried on regardless.

A story I am sure Waugh would have handled beautifully, though the wrong class of people. Barry from Renegades said he may use the phrase  – ‘a street with more empty houses than diamonds’ – alluding of course to Bond Street in London, the home of some of the most exclusive jewellers in the World, in one of his pieces, that would please me greatly. That quite nice little line just came to me as I was in the environment. The ‘genius’ of the writer? I don’t know, but the more we use words and read words and work with words, the more these sort of things just pop up in the brain.

Today’s photograph taken at 10.30am is of my dog Oskar, named after Oskar Mazareth, the character in The Tin Drum who through drumming remains at the age of 3, and tells the history of Danzig and his family just before and during the Second World War, through the eyes of a rather anarchic child even though by the end he is well into his teens. When his father dies he chooses to lose his power, and grows hideously. The story is told by Oskar while living in some sort of institution. It was the first book of Gunter Grass that I read and I have read most of his since then. Gunter Grass and Evelyn Waugh, two writers who have so little in common, except they both explore the history of the Twentieth Century through their characters and both are brilliant at using words.

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Blackbird

Dawn is breaking over Tunstall and as I was pouring the water into my second pot of tea of the day a blackbird began singing just a few feet from the kitchen window. It was so loud it felt like it was in the kitchen itself. I opened the door and it didn’t fly away just continued a complex series of sounds, not quite within touching distance. It then realised my proximity and flew to the top of the gable of the house next door to continue its song. I threw a handful of porridge oats in the ‘garden’ to try and attract it back, but by now Oskar had run outside wondering what the fuss was about and was eating the oats, are they good for dogs?

Today’s photograph was taken in the nearby park at 10.15am, foggy and mild.

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More empty houses than diamonds

After I had read a couple of pages of “Traitor to the Cause” at Renegades Writers, a fake autobiography of a character called Vincent, where he attends a party at John Lennon’s house in 1965 and plays the piano for him, there was a most useful discussion about what I had written and after certain amusement replaced Maria Callas singing with Princess Margaret, it felt ‘smoother’! I had written that Vincent was given a pre-release copy of Revolver which I had mistakenly thought came out in ’65 and luckily was corrected, so he will be given a copy of Rubber Soul.

This led to a discussion about whether people liked The Beatles. Around half of us were knocking round when these albums came out. I was 10 when Beatlemania was at its height in ’63. My older brother liked them a lot, I thought them OK and preferred The Beach Boys. It wasn’t until 1979 when visiting San Francisco that I really began to like them. I visited someone I’d met at a party in Chicago a few weeks earlier at Christmas (and annoyed to find she had a boyfriend!), I travelled there by train via New Orleans (which I hated) and Los Angeles (which I loved). She invited a load of friends for a meal of Mexican food and huge joints (not meat) in a room in her apartment which looked over the Bay (I had to swear on a Bible in a shop that I was over 21 to get the beer!). In my ‘honour’ they put on Beatles albums, and in that heady mix I got to like them, or was it the memory of the close attentions of a friend of hers?

In our discussions at Renegades it was obvious that the majority had little liking for them, some preferring the Stones or covers. It got me wondering why they have still such an impact, you only have to listen to Tame Impala’s album which has come so high in the best albums lists for 2012 (to me it sounds like bad outtakes from George Harrison). To my ears the Stones hardly have developed, they began as a covers band of blues music, developed their own sound along those lines, and then (rather like Oasis) continued on the same tack. Fine and I like many of their songs and albums, and they were great live when I saw them in 1973, but other than their ‘style’ have they really had any influence?

After the initial Beatlemania when they were mixing covers with their own stuff, The Beatles had the most remarkable period of experimentation and development, it only lasted 6 years, but where they ended up is a million miles from where they started, that is their strength. This was of course because two people worked off each other, loved then hated each other (sounds a bit like Renegades!), experimented, were fearless and had reached a level of sales for EMI that they could do anything they wanted, a position almost no one else has had. Then when they went solo I cannot find any quality in their music, and like the Stones just ambled along with the odd better than average track. George Harrison was the one who truly developed having been held back by The Beatles experience.

Ah well, I am sure many have written much better and knowledgably about them, but I still quite regularly listen to their albums and find new experiences every time even though I can sing along to most. If nothing else wonderful happens today then I may write about albums that live with me and get replayed often.

I have continued with the photograph a day for a year. Below is a house in Bond Street, Tunstall, where there are more empty houses than diamonds. It was taken today 5th January 2013 on a very mild sunny morning at 11am.

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Never Again

Yesterday there was a posting on Facebook by an old friend of mine Carol White. It was about the death of Con Shiels aged 96, the last survivor of the Jarrow Hunger March.

Jarrow Marchers

It is remarkable how hard those people were, they marched in all weathers, down the whole of England to highlight their plight, to show the establishment that they were human beings not numbers on an account sheet. Marches also came from Scotland, Wales, Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Belfast and most industrial areas. The government mobilised police and troops to stop them forcefully if necessary. They were given help by groups of workers and supporters on their journey, many with little more than the marchers.

These were people we should be proud of and celebrated, they are the heroes, their message helped create the magnificent programmes of the 1945 Labour Government, policies this Conservative Government is eroding and trying to do away with.

Let’s hope we do not have to march again.

When I was working for the FWWCP I put together an anthology of writing for its 30th Anniversary. I specially wanted to include Education by Kay Ekevall, which I was privileged to hear stridently read by her. Kay was a remarkable woman who as well as being a fine writer and activist, was once secretary to George Orwell with who she disagreed about nearly everything!

Education

At school I knew history:
Kings and Emperors
Battles and heroes
There was something called
The White Man’s burden
We seemed to do well under it,
But the black man didn’t.

I didn’t know about
Miners and dockers:
Their work and their battles,
I did hear about Peterloo
But those Chartists were bloodthirsty rebels,
They had to be put down!

My education began when I met
The hunger marchers from Aberdeen and Dundee
On their way to London
Kay Ekevall

Today’s photograph is of St.Aiden’s Street, Tunstall at 10.30am. On the far right of the photograph and below that is what remains of the Doulton factory, knocked down about 20 years ago.

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