Monday, 12 December 2016

McArbre

Who spotted the eerie Christmas advert this year hiding behind the schmaltzy music and twinkly glitter?

Here it is, for your enjoyment, with the tinsel torn away... (hoping McDonalds don't sue me).

Happy Christmas.

Think eerie thoughts.




Monday, 31 October 2016

The Notebook and the Devil



The Notebook and the Devil

Please picture a room in a mansion located behind a secure, ornate gate. It is the kind of place where the rich go to let their lives marinate, knowing that they have many fine years ahead of them to eat, drink and create a fortress of their homes. Where the recording angels (if there are such things) have no jurisdiction to document the words that are spoken.


There are some who say that houses are like bodies and their occupants are like souls. If that is the case, then the body, at least, is thriving here.
And the conscience of the guest burns, like a blush, for the deeds he is about to do.

In this particular property picture a dining room with a roaring fire in an inglenook fireplace. It is dusk and the fire is like a third occupant within the room. If the flames could speak they would say, ‘We are here to live, dance and die, that is our purpose’. But flames cannot speak and houses are not bodies.

There is a long marble-topped table covered by a white tablecloth. One wall is a window which is now obscured by the eyelid of a closed velvet curtain. The dominant colours within the room are white and red, like the colours of a coral snake. Colours which say ‘Danger’. Colours which say ‘Keep away’. The only noise in the room comes from the crackle of the fire. Strangely, the room smells fusty, like some forgotten church.

Picture the host, the owner of the mansion, his hair as white as this room’s walls, but for a slight yellowy tinge. His fingers are stained with tobacco. He sits at one end of the table and seems relaxed.

A young guest sits at the far end of the table. The room itself seems to sing to them, a sweet lullaby which comforts them as much as the bottle of expensive cognac they are sharing.

The host lights up a cigar and leans back into his chair.

“It so happened,” says the host, “That your father began to take an interest in the occult…”

The young guest seems agitated, afraid even, like a man waiting in line for judgment day. “Let me stop you right there Sir, my father was not a man who believed in anything supernatural.”

“Ah, I beg to differ. Your father held a secret fascination for all things occult. Your father’s true fascination was power and the occult was said to be a means to an end.”

The host pauses to blow out a long stream of smoke. “As a young man it seemed to your father that life trundled on as it always did. There was no likelihood of any great change in the future. It seemed to him that this world and this life were all that existed and that a person should adapt and change and enjoy the life he had. But it also seemed to him that there was a way of doing so much better.”
The young guest shakes his head and looks into the dancing flames, so deeply red – he wonders how flames could ever be so red.

The host sighs and continues, “Your father was a great reader and he liked to read his esoteric literature. If you don’t believe me, find access to his kindle reading list, if examined by anyone now it would raise many eyebrows in the department. As a young man your father was interested in occult knowledge, Aleister Crowley, Theosophy, channelling, psychic predictions - all kinds of things like this. And his interest, over the years, grew darker and darker. He was consistently drawn to the more obscure texts and the stranger ideas when it came to esoteric writing. He found his way through esoteric apocrypha the likes of which would make an ordinary man or woman weep. The strangest stories. The strangest writings. This is what your father grew to love and was the other hobby alongside his politics. Because both were a hobby and not work. Your father, from his reading grew to be convinced that he could attain power through making a Faustian pact with the devil.”

The rich young guest splutters mid-sip at this. “That’s ridiculous,” he says. “That is not my father.”

“We all fall into cliché in the end, the only irony is that so many of us avoid it in our words and live it in our lives. Now it so happened that your father also knew that the devil gets a somewhat strange press. The devil, obviously controls the press, but we will leave that for another talk. Your father knew a lot about the devil. Not only did he know all about the traditional scriptural references to the devil, the Book of Job and the passages of Isaiah said to refer to this character, but he also knew the Islamic scriptures and texts concerning the devil. The two versions differed slightly, one devil had a withered arm and a blind eye, the other had vast power but was trumped by God in the same way that a game of top trumps would have one card which beat another card. So your father knew, from this traditional literature that the devil was not to be trusted when it came to making deals. Some have it that the devil is a liar too and that all of his temptations and promises amount to nothing. Your father also researched the devil in folklore and here he found a different devil to the devil of the scriptures – he found a devil who could be outwitted, who could be used to progress in life. He found a devil who could be used to get what he wanted and tricked into not receiving his soul at the end of the whole process. It was this devil in which your father began to believe… began to worship…”

“Hold on, I’m sorry, I have to stop you right there, my father simply wouldn’t believe in the devil. He was his own man.”

“He worked in Government, of course he believed in the devil… and no man is their own, however they may feel. Your father’s devil differed from the devil in the Bible in that he was a far less powerful principality. The devil of folklore which he came to believe in was merely a misunderstood character who could grant wishes. Kind of like a genie. Your father also researched the devil of urban myth and pop culture. It seemed to him that this devil, the one featured in horror films and horror stories was, like the scriptural devil, a caricature of the being he believed in. Once again this devil held huge power, the kind of power which was almost equal to that of God. It seemed to him that this urban myth devil was as fake as the devil of the bible. As I say, your father believed in a folklore devil…. at least at first.”

The guest drinks from his glass of port, at a loss for words. The host gives a wry smile. “It seemed to your father that the devil did have a kind of army of fallen angels at his disposal though. He felt sure that although the devil himself knew nothing of your father that there was a kind of hierarchy in the kingdom of darkness. There were more powerful demons who understood irony and satire, there were less powerful demons who only understood how to provoke violence and who lived in strange dark places like motorway underpasses. These demons, he came to understand had simple agendas. Your father’s reading caused him to understand that both the devil and his army had the agenda of getting humans to either hurt each other or hurt themselves. They provoked fights and incited all kinds of prejudice and violence. They actively caused people to do evil things. But not only did they cause suffering, they also tempted. And your father, through occult reading understood that the language used by the devil was indeed the language of the lie, but that behind all this, behind all the angel in disguise beauty of evil there was also an element of truth. As a candidate for election he understood that the best lies had an element of truth. It wasn’t the devil who had taught him this, it was the MPs. So he discovered that the devils did hold treasures and power of a kind and that they were able to grant wishes. So he decided that he wished for power so that he could progress in his career and gain election. He also wished for money. So, obviously your father needed some kind of summoning power. The trouble is that for anyone who wants to do a deal with the devil they find themselves somewhat stuck at some point – usually at the point of asking for the thing that they want. Some say that the devil cannot read thoughts but that he can have a good guess at what humans are thinking as he has been muddling around them for a few thousand years. So your father, because he believed in a folklore devil, decided that he would summon up Lucifer himself. To cut a long, infernal, story short, your father read a lot of the strangest, most esoteric, most occult, most obscure literature he could find and he compiled his findings into this notebook.”

Suddenly the host holds, as if by some conjuring trick, an old red notebook in his hand. On the front of the notebook, written in faded gold are the words ‘Nobiscum Deus’. The host places it on the table.

“His findings, written in this notebook would enable him to summon the devil to do his bidding in exchange for something he had. So he performed the necessary rituals in his home, he drew the usual pentagrams and protected himself from the evil eye of the devil through eye-shaped charms. He protected himself with all kinds of black magic and he went through the summoning procedure. I will not go into the ingredients of such a ritual as I do not want to give you any ideas and some of the ingredients were gory. Blood, skin, bones, various liquids, an innocent, you know the kind of thing. It’s all in the notebook. So the ritualistic words were said and then your father waited, hoping for an appearance from the devil.

But nothing happened.

No devil appeared and, depressed, your father went to bed. This was all 50 years ago, before his success began, apart from the scandal and the events that followed. And he fell asleep and the devil appeared to your father in a dream. Dreams are supposed to be the royal road to the unconscious and generations past believed that they often came from outside of ourselves too. That this unconscious could be by-passed by angel or demon or God or devil and that messages could be passed which by-passed the machinations of this society in which we live. And although a dream is like life insomuch as a person can take little from it when he or she awakes, the dream could involve agreements and relationships in the same way that a life can contain relationships and agreements even if nothing else can be taken beyond death. So it was with your father. When the devil approached your father in the dream he knew immediately that it was the devil. He appeared to him as the folklore devil he was expecting, cloven hooves, a man of the world, eyes which danced with a strange red fire within them. It is said that the devil is mad because he cannot hope to overcome God but still believes that he can do so. That he is like some kind of feral animal in his hunger to survive. That this is the madness shared by all devils, so they can hope to overcome the very God who created them. A delusion they are subject to like the delusions they create. And this is true enough because when your father looked into the eyes of the devil he knew he was looking into the eyes of a psychopath. He wrote this of the discourse…”

At this point the host picks up the notebook and begins to read.

‘Greetings’ said the devil to me, whistling to himself in the dream.
‘Hello Sir’ I replied full of a deferential respect I would not give to any man.
‘And what can I do for you today? I believe you called me?’
I was irritated that the devil was English but had no more than thought this thought when he spoke again, ‘I appear in whatever necessary form I need to appear. I assure you that I spend a lot of time in England.’

 ‘I wondered if you would do me a favour kind Sir and give me power and money?’
‘Quid pro quo good fellow, quid pro quo, what will you do for me in return?’
‘What do you want?’
‘What do I want? What do I want? I have never told a mortal what I want. When someone knows what you want they have power over you. Do you expect me to break the habit of a lifetime? Ask instead, what do I need?’
‘What do you need?’ asked your father.
‘I am so sorry to fall into fiction and stereotype like this, goodness knows they demonise me enough already but I’m afraid I will require your eternal soul.’
‘Is this so you can torture me forever in hell’?
‘Not at all, if we go to hell we will both be in unendurable torture (oh how that makes me so angry), what can I possibly do with your soul in hell? I am afraid I will require your soul in this lifetime, after that you can have it back. There are certain things which I would like you to accomplish on this earth. And you must not listen to all those who say that my only agenda is to destroy and for you to harm others and yourself. And you must not listen to those who say I can only speak the lie and that the lie is the only language that I know. Because we all know that every lie contains a kernel of truth in it or else it would not be a successful lie. And if I said that I know a lot about lies would I be telling the truth anyway? There are all kinds of narratives there really are dear friend. Dear, dear, precious man, there is so much that I could tell you and yet I really don’t think that your beautiful mind could comprehend all that I know. ’
It was most disturbing.
‘And if I let you have my soul in my lifetime you will give me power and money?’
‘Yes. Or no. Maybe.’
‘How can I be sure you won’t lie to me?’
‘If I build you a bridge then I require something in return. It may not be so much about lying as whose story you believe. Don’t believe the rumours about me,’ replied the devil.

The host places the notebook back on the table.

“Now anyone with any kind of sense would realize that the devil’s word is probably not going to be something which has a very great commitment to it. Anyone who is anyone realizes that the devil is going to lie whatever he says and that in many ways your father was not going to come out of this whole survival situation which we call life very well. However, there was no accounting for your father’s folly when it came to be blinded by riches and power. He wanted those things so badly that he was prepared to believe that he would receive them because the devil had given his word. Besides which, he had done his reading and realized that the devil could probably be tricked in some way by sending a dog over a metaphorical bridge or something like that at some point. So your father agreed and in the moment of his agreeing in thought he woke up in bed to find blood on the sheets. And that was how the deal was made. It’s all in the notebook.

You know most of the rest. I can tell you that your father did attain power. It was strange to him as he had only believed in a relatively powerless folk devil - that the devil should have such influence in Government. That MP’s and Lords, even the Prime Minister should suddenly look on him with new eyes and seem to offer him such deferential treatment and such opportunities for progression that within a year he was at the top of his game and, through a portfolio of new shares, earning more than he had ever earned. So the devil was true to his side of his bargain, your father became both powerful and rich. He was also a little worried about what the devil would ask of him, knowing how these kind of things tend to go in the popular mind, among the hoi-polloi. So he began to plan. As he planned he discovered that his folk-lore devil was inaccurate. He realized that a lot of the literature about the devil was incorrect. He began to realize that there were likely going to be only two ways to trick this devil since he discovered that the true devil was closer to the urban myth devil of vast power. These were his two options:

One. He could escape the devil’s clutches by submitting to a higher power. The trouble with praying to God, which he found was the required action, was that he would probably be called to give up his power and position, something which was a bit of a deal-breaker for your father. So he ruled that one out.

But there was one other option. Through careful reading of the Book of Job and further reading of folklore stories he discovered one element which was common in defeating the devil. Endurance.
Sure there were stories of people outwitting the devil by giving some animal in exchange for their own soul, sure there were stories of the devil being outwitted by a clever scheme, but your father, through careful study of Job realized that Job only outwitted the devil through endurance. Job resisted the devil and this was the way in which he escaped. So your father determined to do the same.
When the devil appeared to him again once more in a dream he demanded that your father begin to serve him as a slave. He demanded that your father begin to harm other people, to bring about those laws which would cause the most suffering. Because this is what the devil does.

So your father summoned up all his resistance and said:

‘No. I’m not going to do it.’
‘What did you say?’ asked the tyrant the devil.
‘I said no. I utterly resist you like Job did.’
‘Ahhh. The one time I was defeated by a mortal, or am I lying? But you will understand what the allegorical Job had to go through a lot before he tricked me?’

And so it was that when your father woke up he was covered in sores. The sores were so painful and suddenly there was a phone call from the Prime Minister to say that the great scandal you know about had occurred and that he must fall on his sword and resign. And suddenly family and friends began to die. And suddenly his house burned down, as you know, and his portfolio of risky shares became almost worthless. Even his bank claimed he had never had an account with them in the first place. His reputation was lost. And suddenly your father had nothing apart from his diseases. He was like Job except he was homeless.
And the devil appeared to him during his torture in another dream when your father was sleeping homeless on the streets of London.

‘Changed your mind yet?’
‘Yes sir’ said your father.

And that was how your father got better. That was how he regained his wealth and power and how he got a new home. He regained his riches, his portfolio of shares and a whole new family. He was more blessed than he had been before his downfall. He went back to serving the devil and he was a good servant and nothing else went wrong for him in his life, before he died the natural death last week, full of years and the happiness of a life lived in the service of Government.”

The young guest seems to be thinking about all this. “Do you believe in the devil?” he asks finally.

“Doesn’t life experience say it is intellectually insulting to do otherwise?” replies the host.

“But that is deeply disturbing,”

“There are more angels than demons.”

“You’re not the devil are you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, you know I’m simply an old friend of your late father. The devil is not flesh and blood. I am merely telling you the true story of your father’s success, a fine man, a great man. I hear that they will be building a statue of him. But tell me, how long is it until the by-election vote again?”

The guest sighs as if remembering his anguish. “Two days, but I’m unlikely to win. The other candidate can’t seem to put a foot wrong. I don’t know what to do to win it.”


Then the host sips the last of his glass of cognac, stands and leaves the room. The young guest is alone. There is only the sound of the dancing fire which seems to say ‘Take up and read, take up and read’, the feverish lullaby of a hall and a marble table with an old red notebook on it emblazoned with the words ‘Nobiscum Deus’.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Trailer

This is the trailer for my new short story to be published on 31st October on this blog.



I feel a slight concern that I am neglecting my enigmatic readers, so I will attempt to address this in the coming days. Interestingly, if, for some reason, halloween destroys us all in some kind of strange ghostly Brexit or Donald Trump induced apocalypse, this short story will still be published by the power of the interweb (and scheduled blog posts). It probably won't help much in an end of the world scenario, but, neither will a self-confessional post. So stay alive and try to think happy thoughts.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Notebook and the Devil - Coming soon

The annual halloween short story is written and will be published on this blog on October 31st.

It has become a kind of tradition (or, at least, I'm making it so). It has gained some kind of cult following among my handful of elite, discerning and enigmatic readers.


And after all, it is free and what else is there to do on halloween (apart from cast spells (if you are into that sort of thing) or turn down parties)?






Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Poetry

I don't think I've written poetry for a long time. I have about 80 poems which vary in quality. I read a lot of good poetry and I've come to the conclusion that most of my poems need work and I would need to learn a lot more to improve significantly. I am not in the league of poets like Plath.

My first book was a poetry anthology titled 'Compliance is Futile'. These poems were largely written to express things which could not be expressed in any other way at the time - to express experiences which were either mountaintop or valley experiences (where even the valley has a crevasse). Or, if you prefer, they were written after metaphorical storms had taken place.

I may return to poetry (when the storms or valleys come (and they will, for most of us)), but for now my focus is on fiction and non-fiction.

At the moment I am working on a non-fiction book and have reached the third draft. I find myself unable to talk about work while I'm engaged with it. All I can say, for now, is that it is original and I hope it will be available by the end of this year.

I also have another novel-length piece of fiction but that is only at first draft. Beyond that I have one novella length non-fiction account or essay and one other ongoing novel-length project.

Basically I do have a lot of work in reserve and I have more ideas than I could shake a spoon at.

I have changed the cover to Compliance is Futile. The original cover showed an altered picture of a statue of Joan of Arc from The Louvre, but I have learned Photoshop since then and the cover badly needed updating.

Here then, is the new cover...




And here is the link to the poetry anthology for those interested.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Here be Dragons

sea monster


Is it safe to emerge from my ship cabin yet?

Obviously I have supplies for another ten years or so here, so I’m only asking out of curiosity.
From my luxury cabin I observed Captain Cameron’s resignation speech. It turned out that all this time he really did love the country. He said as much. He finally revealed that despite his austerity agenda and nasty policies he was really rather misunderstood. The truth will out and all that.

But I don’t know. Sometimes I think there is a discrepancy between the things people say and the things people do.

I too love this country – and if I love it from my multi-million pound survival cabin on the good ship Britain, is that so hypocritical?

Sometimes I think this country is resembling William Goldings ‘Lord of the Flies’. And it is always the wrong people who have the conch shell which gives them the right to speak. Surrounded, always, by the sea and the threat of monsters.

It was interesting to see the metaphors David Cameron used in his recent speech. He talked about being the captain of a ship. It seems we are now all heading for unchartered waters. Here be dragons. Here be huge sea monsters with writhing tentacles which are threatening to steal away the vulnerable and minority groups. To whom I would say – don’t fear the suckers.

I will, no doubt, hear more screams from my luxury cabin, but it will be a simple thing to stop listening and block up all the portholes. Sometimes I think listening is such a bad idea – it leads to all kinds of problems.

Not that I need to care for anyone down here in the belly of what remains of the good ship Britain. I have everything I need after all. I don’t so much have needs as preferences. And yet I can’t help wondering if we are not so much on a ship as on a shipwreck. After all, everyone seems to be affected one way or the other.

People with the conch shell keep telling me that I should reconcile elements of this fractured country. That I should somehow set about working to assuage the vitriol that is filling social media. That I should promote unity and be positive.

But how can someone who has no inner unity promote unity outside himself? How can anyone come up with positive solutions when in survival mode?

So here’s my advice to all you brave people on deck, fighting off the monsters:
Stay alive. Try not to hurt anyone (including yourselves). And if you are seasick – then wait as best you can for this godawful storm to blow over.

Think happy thoughts.





Saturday, 9 April 2016

Thoughts on the Referendum and Faith



Politics and nationalism are a powerful concoction. They have driven ordinary people to insanity. So if you sprinkle a bit of religion into the cauldron, you can be making a potent and sometimes poisonous brew.

I’m going to try to avoid doing that in this blog entry (although the insanity is a given). But I wanted to write about Brexit and the spiritual aspect of the referendum.

The politically enlightened know that politics influences everything. The spiritually enlightened know that even politics is influenced by the spiritual.

To put things into context, Britannia has been a little under the weather recently. Her helmet has slipped and her shield has rusted in the salty sea wind. And as for her trident – well, it’s pointless and expensive. Some people think she needs to get up out of that throne and make a stand (idle shirker that she is). In fact, to all appearances, Britannia has seemed a little sickly of late.

And with a referendum coming up, the theory is that Britannia now has to decide which side she wants to be on – or to be misled in the process.

No fear tactics there then. ‘No-one’s misleading no-one’. ‘Don’t personify a country which does not even have the luxury to claim a soul’. ‘Speak sense man’.

To add some context to Brexit and the way in which it relates to Christianity, you may need to look into a Christian conspiracy theory or two. Namely, the idea that the EU is the revived Roman Empire which, in the future will be led by evil personified. This particular conspiracy theory draws from classic books such as Hal Lindsey’s ‘The Late, Great Planet Earth’ and originates from the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. You can probably see the whole theory elsewhere if you are minded to do so. It is eschatology, the study of the end times, and it is all up for debate anyway. Better still, if you haven’t already, read Revelation (but don’t read it at night as it has the same contrast of beauty and ugliness as Macbeth).

Now, throw into our concoction a few drops of freedom and you have a heady mix which smells as sweet as Britannia’s new makeover from the Royal Mint. Because freedom is what Brexit is all about for some eurosceptics – it is not necessarily about there being too many people here, or national sovereignty or immigration. For some of us it is not about immigration at all. Immigrants suffer enough and have been one of the few things which have kept Christianity going in the UK. I would rather Farage had the courage to acknowledge the good that immigrants do. It is not Christian to be racist or prejudiced.

There are other issues. Sometimes it is just about freedom. Not necessarily the freedom to retain sovereignty and make our own laws, but about feeling free. How can any side promise freedom? The concoction starts to smell bad again and maybe there is death in this particular national pot. The last refuge of the scoundrel.

I’d like to suggest that this feeling of a lack of freedom which fuels so much in life is being projected outwards. We can easily blame all our ills on another country, people or system - or terrorist group (why do the Government’s enemies have to be my enemies?). And why does it all come down to one vote (which too many are excluded from anyway)? Will the exercising of that vote bring freedom? Will it bring the hope which seems so scarce to so many?

But I’m over-spiritualising.

Christ seemed to over-spiritualise the occupation of Israel during his time on earth. Many of his people wanted to be free of the Roman Empire – but Christ would say frustratingly little about politics. He focused people’s attention on the things that enslaved them from within. Things like sin (which Christ, very liberally, called a ‘sickness’). As it happened, the Jewish uprising against the Roman occupying force came after Christ had been murdered, but it was violent and bloody too. The Roman Empire eventually declined and seemed to die and maybe it really did rise again in the EU. At least it is imaginative to theorise in that way. But Caesar, or any head of the EU is always going to be an outsider to all kinds of miracles.

The disciples were made up of patriots and those who were considered traitors, those who supported and thrived under the Roman Empire’s rules and those who longed for national freedom. They had to muddle along together under a cause which wasn’t about freedom from occupation or the maintenance of the status quo. Their cause became Christ. And this was (and still is) the cause of causes. The cause for which many live and die.

Today's disciples are also made up of eurosceptics and europhiles. Churches don’t usually take a party line on Brexit simply because they will alienate half of their audience (which I believe I may have the monopoly on). It is left as a matter of conscience.

But Christ was in a country far away and long ago and such stories and histories are either believed or dismissed. Or else we put our fingers in our ears saying we are free and we will ‘never, never, never’ be slaves. Of course, there are those who say that being a Christian somehow makes you less British. That believing in the only legitimate creator and protector of nations makes you somehow less loyal to your own country. Go figure.

Most of us still think freedoms matter, both the internal and external kind (because they relate to each other). Freedom from pain. Freedom from suffering. Freedom of expression and thought and conscience which are (perhaps ironically for some) enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Freedom to write obscure blog entries which don’t make sense. The freedom to be as eccentric in our beliefs as Britannia herself (as she sits stroking her pet lion ‘Tiberius’ (‘Tibby’ for short)).

So stir all this up in our cauldron and what do we get? Apart from mixing metaphors and personifications? We still have Britannia, sick and needing the freedom to heal and grow, with her rusty helmet and pointless trident. Still wondering who is misleading her.

Because when it all comes down to it – only Christ, who is more revived than any Roman Empire ever will be, can give any of us the freedoms we so long for. And unlike the Government or the EU, he will actually listen to anyone. Including the soul of Britannia.


Think happy thoughts.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Life - A review

Okay irony lovers. Here we are. Hope you like this satirical piece: it is a written caricature, hence the archaic rambling. It may be an acquired taste as it was written during a spell of ennui.



Life – A Review
(by Pastor L. J. Darkside)

When I first heard that Life was coming out I was as excited as any critic and Christian leader of my calibre. We all know that the seminal and now iconic release of Love was the most inimitable, original and popular of all. As an unabashed fan of the Author, I was expecting great things in this new work, which I have been studying for some time now.

I am happy to say I was not disappointed in the slightest. I have to say, that from my first reading of Life, I was a ready convert. Having heard some complaint from other critics on other publications, I didn’t know quite what to expect. The other critics had stated that Life was not compelling enough, that it lacked all consistency and was quite arbitrary in its dealings with readers. These other critics, whose reputations are as dubious as their opinions, stated that after studying Life for some time readers would often go on to worship the text - as if it were some kind of god.

What an insult to the intelligence of the reader. What a sad and pitiful view of the human condition, itself covered within the text of this unparalleled work. Did those reviewers not realise that Life encompasses both this dour outlook and their entire worldview? What Philistines those critics are to state that Life is in any way less than the masterpiece that it clearly is. And as for readers ending up worshipping Life – well, my point is that a reader will only worship that which is wonderful, original, exciting and popular.

As for the hoi-polloi who even go so far as to crudely describe Life as a ‘bitch’ – what a miserable conclusion to reach. Do they honestly expect the intelligent men, the academics, the scribes, the scholars, to share their deranged, base and vulgar opinion?

They even go on to describe Life as some kind of horror story. What rubbish! Life is clearly a love story of the best kind. Or an adventure story. There are those who see no elements of story within the text, no beginning, middle or end. And that is the genius of this work, that it is an adventure, not a battle, that the story-arc progresses to what can only be a wonderful end. What a journey. But they sometimes describe it as a prison or as a courtroom complete with witnesses, judges, and testimonies. Waiting around for Life to happen to them. Refusing to engage with the text to any great degree. Of course Life treats them badly! Not so with this critic I can assure you.

And even if Life is contrary and arbitrary, as they insinuate – even if Life is as fickle as they and their demagogues opine, have they not entirely misunderstood the true nature of this work? Have they not heard the calls of the intelligent, of the wise? That Life is good, that Life is sweet, that Life is fair and that Life is wonderful? What? They site chapters of grief as evidence for Life’s fickle character. Do they not know that Life encompasses even death? That the very depths of the valleys and the heights of the mountaintops are the content of this beautiful work? It is an irony which bypasses them in their crude, base speculation, their personal bitterness towards both the text and to the Author. What a tired and jaded viewpoint they have.

But they are right in one thing when they do describe Life as a ‘bitch’. In that she is clearly female. The Greeks got it right when they called their goddess 'life'. For she is such a wonderful, wild siren that even the most jaded critic must appreciate her many faces, her differing aspects. She is like a diamond which all men fail to praise at their peril. And perhaps it is this lack of compliment which causes Life to reject such readers who do not pay her credence, who do not show her the respect she deserves. What an irony that is. What a tragic irony – that the critics of this marvellous work should be treated as they are by Life herself. It is, in effect, their own fault.

They go on to say that suffering somehow negates the positive attributes of Life, that it makes it so much more difficult to love Life. And do you know what I say? Poppycock! I know many people who suffer on a frequent basis and their love of Life is not diminished. It simply goes to prove that whether Life deals her readers with kisses and blessings or with thorns and suffering, we should all love her. And as one who has been very, very blessed, is it any wonder than I am among Life’s greatest fans? And even if I were to suffer, I would still praise her.

I even heard one deranged man say: “Life would be intolerable if it were not tempered by Love.”
What folly. Didn’t he realise that Life is the strongest work? Didn’t Maya Angelou herself tell the story of how her own mother would not hear a word said against Life because Christ had said ‘I am the way, the truth and the Life’? What a nurturing, faultless mother she must have been to teach the young Maya so well.

But for those of us less ignorant, those of us who appreciate true skill and true beauty, we know that Life is magical and that she rewards those who give her the praises that she is so worthily deserving of.

The other critics call us mealy-mouthed. They say that our reviews of Life are like the archaic ramblings of mad, old men and women. That we somehow sound old-fashioned as we whistle our merry tunes. How sad. How very sad. That they cannot see past our instinctive praises, the perspicacity with which we express our admiration of the benevolence of Life in all her abundance.
It is quite clear that the critics don’t understand Life at all. The vast array of content, the sheer exultation that is involved in this work has no contemporary equal. They say that Death is Life and that Life is Death. What fools. What loons.

As I have attempted to make clear throughout this review, defensive of Life as it is (and Life, like her Author, needs her protectors), there is no greater work on this planet. That those who criticise Life prefer Love is a further irony. They should not despise one and cling to the other. Love is encompassed within the pages of Life. And they say that Life is within Love. How they misunderstand. What wretches they are. Fools.

And so, it only leaves this reviewer, this eminent critic to say his last words about this text. Life has no equal. It is the greatest work I have ever read and has treated me kindly, like a mirror. What a paradox – the ugly see ugliness, the beautiful see beauty. And how beautiful she is. How lovely in every chapter. How I long to sample her most intimate delights.

The unworthy illiterate masses can call her a ‘bitch’ as much they want. But Life will find no greater fan than I.


Life holds pride of place among my book collection. I believe I may have a signed first edition and obviously I have locked this work in my cabinet, to be handled, studied and caressed when I am in a vacant or pensive mood.



Saturday, 30 January 2016

Is the pen mightier than the electricity?



I've started my first petition ever. I've signed a lot a petitions (usually the 'black and white' rather than 'grey area' ones), but the reason for this one is simply because I think it deserves to be in the news agenda. A lot of agenda-setting is fairly arbitrary and based on whatever news editors think is relevant. When I've spoken to editors they always say: "You just get a feel for the news." It really is arbitrary.


And that is always it. Our popular news tends to be down to the instincts and hunches of a few people who decide what the news should be. If I ruled the world, the news agenda would not be the way it is - but I don't and that is probably just as well.


So, I wanted to sign a petition against ECT - Popularly known as electro-shock therapy. The reasons for this were not because I have experienced ECT myself, but I have encountered people who have and from what they have said, it has largely been a very negative experience. They have described it as invasive and life-changing (in a bad way).


I couldn't find many petitions against it, so I've made my own. I've resisted doing so before now because I'm not a leader. But someone has to do it.


As Sondheim says in his lyrics: 'If you have no expectations, you will never have a disappointment'. And I'm not really expected any great results from this. Call it an experiment - in the same way as ECT is simply an experiment - because no-one knows what it does. And it really is barbaric and shouldn't happen.

The only other time I've gone all-out on a petition was when I took a petition against the Iraq war (just before it started) around.

Please don't send me to 'chokey' just for hoping that the pen is mightier than the electricity.


Here's the text of the petition and the link:


'Ban ECT - electroconvulsive / electroshock therapy in the UK


Electroconvulsive therapy remains highly controversial. It is also largely ineffective - it damages the human brain. It doesn't work. Those who experience ECT often talk about how it feels like a kind of torture or punishment. Many people with mental health problems feel compelled to undergo ECT as a last resort and yet they often come away from the experience feeling worse than they were before. They can also experience significant brain damage.


It is like playing Russian roulette with the human brain and is even used as a threat in some instances and contexts. It is a barbaric and ineffective treatment for mental health problems.

Academic studies which defend ECT are often influenced by those with a vested interest in the treatment. But it is the vulnerable who suffer as a result. Government is complicit in this procedure and there are many other less invasive options for those who suffer mental health problems.

Basically, it stinks.'

https://www.change.org/p/jeremy-hunt-mp-rt-hon-david-cameron-mp-david-cameron-mp-jeremy-corbyn-mp-ban-ect-electroconvulsive-electroshock-therapy-in-the-uk?recruiter=9284199&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

Monday, 4 January 2016

Review of Destiny and Dynasty



destiny and dynasty cover


I am very proud of this review of Destiny and Dynasty kindly given by the academic, playwright and writer Dr Gëzim Alpion.



__________________________________________________________________

Destiny and Dynasty

By Nick White

Amazon.co.uk, Ltd., Marston Gate, UK, 2015, pb, 179 pp

ISBN: 978-1-5023-31271-6

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Reviewed by Gëzim Alpion

Birmingham, 31st December 2015


Destiny and Dynasty is Nick White’s first novel. There are a couple of books by established authors which I must confess I have not had the patience to read through to the end. White’s debut is a literary gem any serious writer would dream of starting their career with.

A good book tells an interesting story; a great book makes you feel the story is written for you. I initially came across the latter type of storytelling some thirty years ago when as a student in Cairo I discovered D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, James Baldwin and Joyce Cary. What I admired most about their first literary attempts as novelists was their courage and talent to turn some of their own life experiences into art. I was equally impressed by the attention they paid to their early formative years thus showing that there is method in the Wordsworthian maxim ‘The Child is the father of the Man’.

This is not to say that White’s novel is semi/auto-biographical. Nor is the book’s main character Michael Sumner a doppelganger of sorts for some of the early heroes – Paul Morel, Stephen Dedalus, John Grimes or Evelyn Corner – penned by the above-mentioned writers. Rather, he has a life and originality of his own which explains why he is such an unusual and yet entirely believable character.

Michael emerges from the start as someone who stands out, even as a child. He has more than his fair share of misfortunes since he is twelve. This is not what makes him unusual or special, though. Misfortunes do not make those who are at the receiving end interesting figures per se. In life, as in fiction, many suffer but few overcome the harsh trials and tribulations of capricious fate that often defies logic.

Although often vulnerable, Michael is fundamentally a survivor. And he chooses to survive not by following the easy options in life. On the contrary, he takes risks even when it is almost certain that he will be hurt, at times seriously.

The intriguing thing about Michael is that he can easily lead the people he associates with and cares about as much as the reader to believe that he is an easily manipulated character. White never makes a statement that his main hero is on a quest. The reader is expected, and rightly so, to realise this for himself. What makes this realisation rather difficult at times as well as an entertaining challenge is the fact that Michael himself does not seem to have a clearly stated goal in mind. He is haunted constantly by something although we do not know what exactly from. He wants to go somewhere but we are none the wiser at any stage in the novel about his ultimate destiny. He does not want to run a church like his love interest Naomi; nor is he tempted to run away from civilisation and be a hermit like Ian. On the contrary, ne never wants to be in control and is eager to remain in touch with people even when it is clear that this more often than not will bring him trouble and sorrow rather than satisfaction and happiness.

It is clear that Michael tries hard to make sense of the senseless waste of life, which he experiences first hand with the sudden loss of his family. Nothing could have prepared him for this; not even the fateful meeting with Madame Indigo, the fortune teller, whose words, in hindsight, take a complete new and sinister meaning for this indigo child.

What makes Michael an intriguing psychological character is that he speaks through his silence. White spares us tedious psychological monologues that a less scrupulous stylist could have been tempted to employ at the detriment of the inferred aesthetic reticence.

After the family tragedy, Michael is haunted by the nightmare of falling. His challenge from then onwards is to clutch at something, anything, in the hope that his life would assume some semblance of normalcy. This never happens, but he tries constantly nevertheless.

What is intriguing about Michael, a sensitive soul as he is, is that although he creates the impression that he is impressionable and can be easily manipulated, he is always his own enigmatic self. This is apparent at various stages in the novel, even when he leaves the impression that he is under someone else’s thumb. One such case is when, against his Aunt’s expressive advice, he follows Elizabeth Ravenscroft’s counsel to get rid of his mother’s diary and his brother’s teddy bear. This more than anything else indicates that he will not be held hostage by the memory of the departed loved ones, at least not to the extent to prevent himself from enjoying life or at least keep trying. Even his infatuation with Naomi makes more sense if it is seen in this light. Rather than apparently being besotted with Naomi, Michael is in love with the idea of being in love.

While Michael obviously craves to connect, the tragedy is that he can find no trustworthy people or institutions worthy of connecting with. His manager is a heartless creature and he is not the only cruel employer in the novel. Even a religious institution like the Triumphant Life Church (TLC) is void of true feelings and solidarity. The church lacks soul. Rather than a place of worship, the TLC is in essence a business venture that was started by a crook and inherited by a knave, and which most likely will end up in the hands of an equally unscrupulous fake shepherdess. The vivid depiction of the state the TLC is in, how it operates, and how it manipulates its flock, is a heartfelt condemnation not so much of religion per se as a courageous effort to highlight the failure of institutions to fulfil their responsibility, bring people together, and forge social cohesion at a time when we continue to leave an increasingly fragmented existence.

James Ravenscroft, the head of the TLC, is a religious hypocrite and a misogynist. He is the reason why his daughter has turned into such a troubled soul, almost a Heathcliff-like creature.

Michael appears to understand from the first encounter with Naomi that something is fundamentally wrong with her. The fact that he is drawn to her to the end, however, as mentioned earlier, does not mean that he is an emotional dupe. Likewise, partly because of his own observations and partly because of the nature of the three tasks Naomi asks him to perform for her in exchange of wining his affection, it is clear that Michael is under no illusion as to what kind of church the TLC is. The fact that he falls in love with and follows doggedly a girl he knows is incapable of loving him back, and starts attending a church that is anything but a pious spiritual centre makes him sound at times like someone who does not know what he is after.

The choices Michael makes, however, odd as some of them obviously they are, are indicative of something crucial about him, something that is beyond corruptibility. He may have not found for the time being a girl who can reciprocate his love or a church where he can find solace for his troubled soul, but he will never apparently turn into a manipulative and killing misanthrope of the James and Naomi type. Nor will he apparently end up being a runner like Ian whose failure as a spouse and a father as well as the disappointment he experiences with James turn him into a quitter who escapes into the Welsh wilderness only to return back to the fold of civilisation to confront evil unsuccessfully and die an anonymous death.

Notwithstanding Michael’s importance as the main protagonist, the novel is a gallery of several memorable charters. This is mainly as a result of the original way the novelist employs the narrative which is economical and rich in its suggestiveness. The author is an astute observer of humans, nature and their interaction. This is a literary work as much as a sophisticated study on how complex, vile and lofty human beings can be. The narrative is often peppered with witty observations and humorous asides which make the novel enjoyable to read even when describing awkward moments in the characters’ lives.

Nick White has not made it easy on himself by writing such a delightful first novel.