Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Eric Morcambe Eat Your Heart Out

Dreams are intriguing, aren't they? I always thought it would be interesting to keep a dream diary but, since I remembered them so rarely, keeping a notebook by the bed seemed to me to be tempting fate. Most likely, weeks and months would go by and nothing get written down. Then, recently, prompted by a particularly interesting dream, I looked into how sleep researchers try to increase the chances of people remembering them. There are all sorts of ideas out there. Drink a large glass of water before you go to bed was one. If your sleep is interrupted, you're more likely to remember what you were dreaming about. Creating a need to go to the bathroom three hours after you fall asleep is a sure-fire way to interrupt it. The simplest way though, and by far the most intriguing, is to say I'm going to remember my dreams three times to yourself just before you drop off. I've tried it. It seems to work or, at least, it does for me. I've probably remembered my dreams about two nights in three so far, instead of twice a year. As a result, I've started a dream diary.

I was going to say the results were interesting but something I quickly realised is that you only have to go back through a few of your dreams to see to see that they're probably only interesting to the person who dreamed them, or their analyst. Last night, however, I had one which amused me no end. It bears sharing:

Boris Johnson announced that he was going to play Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. People might have a low opinion of him at the moment but when they heard this, he said,  all that would change. 

I was working at a school. Originally it was announced that he was going to come to the school to perform it but there was such an outcry on account of this breaking the covid regulations (don't ask me which ones, it was a dream, after all) that this plan was dropped. Instead, it was decided, he would perform it at a different venue. Why this was better was not clear, as it still involved children trooping off at lunchtime to the venue to hear him. 

The sight of him slumped in front of a piano like a sack of potatoes while tickling the ivories is not a sight I'm every likely to forget. I didn't get to hear very much but from what little I did hear it was obvious that what his hands were doing on the keyboard bore no relation to the music. He was playing along to a recording on a fake piano.


Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Me and My Trousers

I have always thought of making a big deal about buying a new pair of trousers as being an old man thing. I guess I'm getting old. I've just bought a new pair of jeans and it feels like a major event. It could also be that I've been wearing the old ones since the first lockdown last year. The only times I didn't wear them (apart, of course, from when I was in bed) was when I did the garden and when we went to my son's wedding. I have an even older, more disreputable pair of trousers for doing the garden (and that's saying something) and I wore a suit for the said wedding - although I did threaten to wear my 'lockdown originals' as I'd come to call them in my own mind.

I've been wearing them for so long that taking them off for the last time was a bit of a wrench, almost like shedding a layer of skin. It probably was,  in fact, as they only got washed once or twice. We've been through so much together that I can't bring myself to throw them away. They have historical significance.  As I already have a pair for doing the garden, I've had to create an honorary position for them, as spare gardening trousers, a kind of clothing equivalent of being given a seat in the House of Lords.

I doubt they'll get used. The bottoms are frayed where they caught on my heels, the belt loops are coming off, the zip's gone (that was the last straw), there's a hole in the crotch and another in the waist. They'd be good for a scarecrow but I haven't the heart to demote them to such a lowly position.

Monday, 6 December 2021

One Day It'll All Be Different

I recently finished printing out the latest draft of the book I've written. It's the book that's kept me away from the blog. It's a novel-length collection of thirty-two short stories and I've given it the working title, One Day It'll All Be Different. It's the title of one of the stories in the collection and also a line from a visual poem I made a while ago and which I've used as a cover for the draft. Thanks are due to The Weaver of Grass for helping me with the proofreading.

A few of the stories were written earlier, but the vast majority have been written over the last eighteen months.They explore  time, memory, the way we create the worlds we live in and the unknowability of other people. Suitable themes, you might think, for a pandemic lockdown. I was about to say that, despite that, I wouldn't describe it as a work of 'lockdown fiction', but as soon as I began to type out this thought I began to question it. None of the stories feature the pandemic, the characters meet freely, travel the country and explore their environments. However, the very things they do are the very things lockdown leads one to think about and perhaps yearn for. Several of the stories, too, involve characters becoming immersed in the topography of their immediate surroundings. This, I think, has also been one of the less unpleasant themes of the pandemic for a lot of people. So, is it a work of lockdown fiction? Perhaps it's not for me to say. 

One of the great things about writing short stories is that, because they're short and self-contained, you can be bold. If you have an idea, explore it. Why not? In two or three thousand words' time you'll be doing something else. Short stories can be a liberation not only for the writer but also for the reader. Not enjoying the narrative? Don't worry, in a few pages you'll be embarking on a new one.Very occasionally (but, be reassured, if such things are not to your taste, not too often), it might lurch away from literary fiction into a hauntological world drawing on the tropes of fantasy or science fiction.

It's a good feeling, getting it printed out. I've obviously backed it up but, even so, it's reassuring to see the thing on paper and feel its weight in my hand. I did a word count (well, the computer did) and it weighs in at 56,789 words. What are the chances of that?

On a different note, I'm currently reading The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. You have to be wary of taking to heart the judgements of others. I'm thinking here of critics and how we read and, if we write it, write criticism. It's so easy when reading to take on board the opinions of the writer, particularly, I think, when the idea in question is presented as a casual aside. With The Voyage Out, it being her first novel. when critics write about it they seem to feel almost obliged to damn it with faint praise. One is left with a mental image of a rather stodgy, flawed first novel that's nothing like as good or as interesting as her later work. Added to which it's pretty thick. 

Being a Woolf fan and having read almost all her later novels, actually reading it for the first time is proving to be a pleasant surprise. A young impressionable woman (a bit like Woolf herself) goes on a sea voyage with members of her family. They find themselves joined, briefly, by a Tory MP, Richard Dalloway, and his wife Clarissa. Richard turns out to be an egocentric sexual predator. I found that episode quite disturbing and was left wondering what Woolf would've made of his modern counterparts.

It's not all dark, though. On the contrary, so far I'm finding it one of the most humorous of Woolf's books I've ever read. For example:

Mr. Pepper went on to describe the white, hairless, blind monsters lying curled on the ridges of sand at the bottom of the sea, which would explode if you brought them to the surface, their sides bursting asunder and scattering entrails to the winds when released from pressure, with considerable detail and with such show of knowledge, that Ridley was disgusted, and begged him to stop.

And, later, 

"It’s the philosophers, it’s the scholars,” [Richard Dalloway] continued, “they’re the people who pass the torch, who keep the light burning by which we live. Being a politician doesn’t necessarily blind one to that, Mrs. Ambrose.”

“No. Why should it?” said Helen. “But can you remember if your wife takes sugar?”

Outside The Central Café

The other day I found myself in a local town. I'd taken someone to the hospital there for an appointment and had four hours to kill. I&#...