Shopping

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“Born in Leicester in 1946, she says her generation was one of the last to truly be free. She would often play in abandoned buildings and pick fruit without the concern for today’s myriad dangers.”

Sue Townsend. Author of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾.

 

Born five years later than Sue Townsend, I did what I liked as a child: played football in the street, played on railway lines, walked through tunnels, played on private land, swam in private lakes, stole fruit and much, much more. Not one person that I knew was hurt seriously. Nobody had any money. We never noticed.

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What do today’s children do? They stare into screens on their phone, their tablet, their computer and their TV. What do these screens do? They sell them stuff. Do they play? No, they don’t.

 

Their parents are children too. They grew up with similar, less advanced, stuff, but they too are utterly brainwashed. What do they do? They shop…and shop and shop and shop. Must have the latest car, must have the new reg so everyone can see it and think what a successful person I am. I am skinting myself but that doesn’t matter – I have a new car. And it’s one of those BIG cars, four wheel drive, an SUV, one of those really expensive cars that are not really very safe, much less safe than smaller cars, and a nuisance to everybody else, but who cares? I have one and it’s new, for six whole months, then I shall have to get another new one. You see, a car is no longer a means of getting from A to B. It’s a status symbol for idiots.

 

The kids buy jeans with holes. You can’t make the holes yourself? We did, years ago. So the marketers steal the idea (as they always do) and sell it back to the kids. But they wouldn’t be so stupid as to pay £100 for jeans with holes would they? Oh yes they would. And fades too, we used to do that, it’s easy. No thanks say the morons, we’d rather pay £100 for them. It’s my stupid parents’ money anyway.

 

Just look at all those sofas. They’re the same as last week’s sofas and last month’s sofas. Got to have one. And there’s £200 off (of course there is) and it’s blue; the one we have is grey. And the sale ends tomorrow! (of course it does).

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Must have the latest phone. Why? Because all my friends will have it. Hmm. And it will sell me stuff quicker. What? It’s out of date already? Get me the latest. Must have the latest.

 

Must have the latest fashion. Can’t you be original, be different? Create something yourself from a charity shop or an independent shop? What’s independent? Oh dear.

 

What are you doing on Saturday? Sunday? Shopping, it’s cool.

 

I’ve just been on holiday. Where did you go. Africa. Whereabouts in Africa? Don’t know. Stayed by the pool.

 

What’s on TV? Adverts, increasingly moronic adverts. I like adverts. What were you watching? Celebrity Big Brother. Oh.

 

Big Brother is a term created by George Orwell. Did you know that? Who’s Grant Orwell?

 

Did you know the world is slowly being destroyed? That we are polluting it with waste? Much of it from over-shopping? Er…

 

Did you know the most beautiful animals in the world are becoming extinct? That we murder them for clothes, for ivory, for fur?  Er…

 

Did you know your clothes were made by children earning fifty pence a day? Er…

 

Did you know that 85 people in the world have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion? Er…

 

All because of shopping.

 

All because economies run on shopping. And massive overproduction. And persuading idiots to keep buying and buying and buying. New cars when they’re not needed. Sofas that are not needed. Clothes that are not needed. Computers that are not needed. Phones that are not needed.

 

And holes, Jesus, you pay money for holes. You literally spend money on nothing.

 

How can you be taken in by these stupid adverts? They’re utterly brainless. Surely you don’t believe them do you? How can you? Nobody could believe that stuff.

 

Can you think for yourself? Er…

 

Is your brain full of the stupid stuff that your phone vomits out? Er…

 

Do you have a brain?

 

Er…

 

“He tries to tell himself that all this…the warehouses, the shops and banks – is real, but it feels like an elaborate pantomime, a sham.”

 

Ian McGuire: The North Water.

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The Way We Live

This is, to most people an insignificant story. I first learned of it in on September 23rd 2015. It made me angry at the time. I then discovered that it kept making me angry, kept coming back to me, partly because everybody else was ignoring it. In the grand scheme of things it is of no consequence, but to me, in its unique, corrupt way, it somehow typifies what is wrong with this country and much of the world.

 

In 2010 two students, the Hilliard brothers, were accused of violent disorder by The Metropolitan Police at a demonstration against student fees in London. They were charged with dragging a policeman off of his horse and beating him. David Cameron, decided to assist the police and gain some publicity by suggesting the boys should “face the full force of the law.” The full force of the law here would have been a seven year prison sentence.

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Just pause here to ponder what a seven year sentence would mean to these boys: their lives ruined, four years or so among largely unsympathetic criminals, career prospects nil, disgrace for their family and a memory, a daily reminder, of the English justice system for the rest of their lives.

 

Now, what actually happened? The officer in question had not secured his saddle properly and while he was pulling Christopher Hilliard’s hair so hard he nearly left the floor – he fell off his horse. The Hilliard brothers were then set on by at least four policemen who battered them with truncheons and kicked them. For the crime of being assaulted they were charged with assaulting the officers, facing a long term in prison and a difficult life ahead.

They didn’t do anything, had committed no crime.

As The Guardian stated:

David Cameron himself risked influencing the outcome of the legal process when he publicly drew attention to the case, insisting that police had been “dragged off horses and beaten”. The reality is that young people have not only been denied access to education and jobs through the abolition of the education maintenance allowance and the rise in tuition fees, but they are also being injured, demonised and criminalised when they protest about it.

You see, the two students had spent two years amassing a vast amount of footage of the incident. You can imagine how hard they had to work to get it. The footage showed the officer pulling Hilliard’s hair, it showed his saddle slipping because he hadn’t secured it, it showed the police all around descending on the boys and viciously beating them. Jennifer Hilliard, the boys’ mother, who has tirelessly protested their innocence thought Cameron owed the family an apology, “I think there was an assumption of guilt” she said – incredibly mild in the circumstances.

Christopher Hilliard said:

“I used to have a very positive view, now it’s a very negative view. Through all these things that have happened I certainly don’t trust the police. We were told by our lawyers that the likelihood of us being found not guilty, due to the number of police witnesses, was extraordinarily low (8 police witnesses lied). It’s only due to the fact that we were able with our mum to put together a lot of data, a lot of video footage for the trial, that we were able to be found not guilty through a lot of hard work. But, yes, I frequently worried that I was going to go to prison, that I was going to be incarcerated for something that was not of our doing at all.”

The comments from the family are incredibly tolerant. They seem like a nice, normal, law-abiding family. But imagine if they hadn’t done all that work to clear themselves; imagine if they had just gone with system. The eight lying police officers would have been believed and what was meant to happen would have happened – seven years in prison. This was not an isolated case; there have been at least eleven acquittals by jury since the demos. A lot of police misbehaviour followed by lies.

Ah, but now you’re being filmed.

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The brothers were awarded £25,000 each in September 2015. David Cameron, of course, didn’t apologise. It’s a paltry sum, but what do ordinary people want with money? – money goes to people like David Cameron, and they keep it and grow it. Cameron will have forgotten all about it. The Met said:

“The Metropolitan police service has settled civil claims brought by Christopher Hilliard and Andrew Hilliard following their arrest during a protest on 9 December 2010. The claimants have also been given a written apology confirming that they should not have been arrested and expressing regret for the distress and injury suffered.”

 Hmm…

 

Cameron didn’t care if the story was true; he didn’t care that two young men’s lives would be ruined. He foolishly jumped on the bandwagon at the wrong time. It should have caused a scandal. People really should be protesting, demanding answers, but they don’t care – too busy shopping for rubbish and playing with their phones and gadgets.

The story, as far as I can discover, was reported nowhere of significance. I discovered it on Channel 4 news. Credit to them for covering it, but they did only give it two minutes, as though they were reluctant to report but thought they’d better, being a radical news programme and all. The BBC, ITV and Sky didn’t report it. Some minor educational papers reported it. The Guardian reported some of the later stuff. Some newspapers reported the compensation award (always interested in money). It does make one wonder about our media. Why the almost universal lack of reportage? They ALL reported the untrue inciting incident. Do you think they might be telling us what they want us to know, rather than what we ought to know?

 

And what of the Metropolitan Police? If they hadn’t been filmed and watched, several innocent people would be in prison. Now, I have nothing against the police. I have had dealings with them and always found them pretty decent. They have a job to do after all. But the police wheeled out at demonstrations are a different breed. They are the protectors of the system, the protectors of the money. They will do whatever they’re told. They are increasingly better armed; they are the military arm of the government. They are very violent people, itching to go out and hit someone. They have no conscience or finer feelings about lying and locking innocent people up for years. They probably enjoy it.

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I know it’s not so bad here as in other places. In Iraq, Iran, Russia, China and many other places it is much worse; they will kill you for standing in the wrong place, but do not believe that our police wouldn’t do the same thing if they were allowed to.

 

There have been no significant demonstrations since 2010. The police did their job. These people are merely defenders of the status quo. It is alarming how many people support them, defend them, even admire them – startlingly stupid people.

 

But for those of you with a functioning brain – wake up. It is getting worse and will be game-over before you know it. This was a comparatively minor incident, but it typifies a million more, a billion more. Even if you only send an email – do something.

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Somebody (Please) Say Something

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I wrote a blog in July 2014 suggesting that despite the plethora of news and print everywhere, nobody was really saying anything, at least nothing of interest, importance or even relating much to the truth. It was called Somebody Say Something, the title of an article written by John Lanchester ten years ago. He was pleading then for someone to say something (of some relevance). I recently listened to a recording of interviews with American Writers, a CD I’ve listened to perhaps fifty times. I never tire of it or anything to do with writers. They seem to me to be people who think about the world and have interesting things to say, not all of them of course, but any vaguely serious writers. Listening to American Writers I was struck by how relevant their opinions were and are. The CD reminded me of Lanchester’s article – if people weren’t saying much in 2004, they are saying much less now. There is plenty being said of course, but how much really addresses matters of substance?

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These interviews are from the 60, 70s and 80s and most of the writers are now dead. It doesn’t matter. Their words are as important today as they were then. Is anybody today saying anything of significance? Here is

 

William Burroughs in 1964:

Love plays little part in my mythology. I feel that what we call love is largely a fraud, a mixture of sentimentality and sex which has been systematically degraded and vulgarised by the virus power. The virus power manifests itself in many ways: in the construction of nuclear weapons, in the creation of political systems which are aimed at curtailing inner freedom. It manifests itself in the extreme drabness of everyday life in western society. It manifests itself in the ugliness and vulgarity that we see on every street.

Toni Morrison in 1982

That business about lazy. People doing four jobs are supposedly lazy. I remember working in houses for white people. It’s very difficult if you move in somebody’s dirt not to recognise that they are both lazy and dirty. I am the one who is assumed to be both those things. If a proper economic study is done of this country, it must include the fact that they had 200 years of free labour, which made them a successful country in one eighth of the time they would normally have to spend.

Henry Miller in 1979

Sex has no pull anymore. Everybody is immersed in it like a hot bath. Therefore there is no ecstasy, no surprise, no enjoyment. It’s as if they were doing exercises.

Saul Bellow in 1977

They are intellectual professionals in the study of literature. Their purpose is to convert novels, poems, plays into subject matter. This is where the damage comes; they make discourse of it. It wasn’t originally there to make discourse of. Modern novels weren’t taught in the universities of the 19th century. Anyone who has received a decent education should be able to pick up a novel by themselves and read it.

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Mary McCarthy in 1960

I think the world is pretty terrible and somebody has to speak up. I think there is a general conspiracy of silence about what goes on. All the stuff that’s piped in, including probably this programme with me on it, that daily cant that pours from the radio, the newspapers, advertising, education and everybody simply endures it. Somebody should get up and just shut it off.

Eudora Welty in 1985

Something has been troubling me a lot when I go round and talk to students. It is that very intelligent people don’t know the difference between fiction and non-fiction and they don’t assume there is any.

Arthur Miller in 1968

The reality was depression. The reality was the whole thing coming down in a heap of wood and cinders. What happens when everybody has a refrigerator? What happens when everybody has a car? It’s got to end.

Gore Vidal in 1978

With politics and religion, one is the mirror of the other and there is no answer in either case.


Except for Toni Morrison, these writers are now dead. None would be pleased with the way society has gone. If Mary McCarthy thought there was too much daily cant then, her head would explode now. Why must we be taught literature? We can teach ourselves and enjoy it ourselves. The virus power attempts more and more to curtail inner freedoms. To Eudora Welty I would point out that those students were certainly NOT ‘very intelligent people’. She was being far too polite. Arthur Miller knew in 1949 that it all has to end – we’re much closer now. Sex is merely an advertising scam.

This is just a small sample of what the writers had to say about their world. I can thoroughly recommend the CD to anyone interested (British Library: The Spoken Word archive). They also recorded a British Writers CD which is almost as good, including JB Priestly, William Golding and many others.

I shall continue to read biographies and listen to recordings of writers. They seem to me to be the only people recognising what is actually happening. Some care, some don’t. Some would like to change the world, others think it unchangeable or they would change a small part of it, usually their own tiny part of it. No matter, through the ages, from Homer to Dickens and beyond, they all have something to say. They lead interesting lives and find different ways of communicating their ideas, as did Hunter S Thompson in The Rum Diary: escaping from the Luce empire with its ‘slick drivers and jingo parrots’ spreading  ‘like a piss puddle’ to Puerto Rico where a tourist ship arrives ‘from somewhere in the middle of America, some flat little town’ with another ‘fearsomely alike’ group, consisting of ‘shapeless women in wool bathing suits and dull-eyed men with hairless legs who should never have been allowed to leave their local Elks Club.’

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Who says stuff like that anymore?

 

Who’s Your Muse?

the_MusesIn my last blog, Write or Type, I quoted John Steinbeck, who always wrote longhand, discussing his pencils, where, almost incidentally, he said that

“sometimes when I am writing I am very near to a kind of unconsciousness.”

That ‘kind of unconsciousness’ has mystified artists for thousands of years; even the Greeks, where muses originated, could not agree on what muses are. Many writers acknowledge a debt to muses, the mysterious source of inspiration; muses are an attractive idea (to men anyway), beautiful goddesses bestowing wisdom on mere mortals at their whim, possessing all the world’s secrets but giving only small snippets to those who wish to tell truthful stories of human existence.

Do you need inspiration to work, or at least produce work that satisfies you? Or do you believe that everything is about technique, planning and hard work, that the muses are just a pleasant fantasy, adding mystery to what is a job like any other, that can be learned and mastered?

Not all writers have faith in the muse. Flaubert distrusted them. William Golding thought the idea of inspiration ridiculous. On being asked about DH Lawrence’s statement

“Never trust the artist, trust the tale”

he replied

“Oh, that’s absolute nonsense. The man who tells the tale, if he has a tale worth telling will know exactly what he is about, and this business of the artist as a sort of starry-eyed, inspired creature, dancing along with his feet above the surface of the earth, not really knowing what sort of prints he’s leaving behind him, is nothing like the truth.”

While I agree with much of what Golding says – the successful ‘starry eyed’ artist is rare – he does ignore the fact that the man who knows ‘exactly what he is about’ can still receive help from a source he does not know ‘exactly’, help from the unconscious, from the muse. Was Golding a writer who used his intelligence and ability only, always aware of exactly what he was doing, planning meticulously and never changing direction due to flashes of inspiration? Are writers divided between those who believe that they are sole creators and those who admit to outside help?

Gerard Manley Hopkins thought inspiration

“a great, abnormal mental acuteness, either energetic or receptive.”

I haven’t found much on what women think about muses, if they think in those terms at all, although Anais Nin believed that

“this dangerous alchemy called creation, or fiction, has become as dangerous for me as the machine.”

I’ll try to discover what women think about this subject (I’m sure the information is available), but would also like to hear from women writers about their belief, or lack of it, in muses and inspiration.

I do believe that good writing is the result of hard work, but also that during that hard work, inspiration can take over, providing mysterious insight, its origins not fully understood. It can change the direction of stories, give characters a life of their own, produce tales that were not consciously planned. I do like to think of the muse as female (mostly) but my sources of inspiration can vary according to mood, a bit like belief in an unidentifiable God – something is always there, you have faith in it, but you don’t know what it is.

The nine Greek muses were female: Calliope (Epic Poetry), Clio (History), Erato (Love Poetry), Euterpe (Music), Melpomene (Tragedy), Polyhymnia (Hymns), Terpsichore (Dance) Thalia (Comedy), and Urania (Astronomy). calliopeThere was no muse for novelists at that time due to them not existing, so I suppose Calliope represented the muse that would most likely provide inspiration for writers today. Calliope was a superior muse. She kept the company of kings and princes in order to impose justice and serenity, was the protector of heroic poems and rhetoric art. According to myth, Homer asked Calliope to inspire him while writing The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Stephen King has both experience and success. He possesses a fantastic imagination, and the ability to translate it into wonderful stories that appeal to millions of readers.  Although he is not a starry-eyed dreamer, far from it, he nevertheless gives credit to outside assistance. While his muse may not have the allure of scantily clad Greek beauties or Calliope’s obvious brilliance, there is no doubting King’s belief in its existence

“If you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well. There is a muse. Traditionally, muses were women, but mine’s a guy. He’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labour, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist (what I get out of mine is mostly surly grunts, unless he’s on duty), but he’s got the inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”

King typically stresses the relationship between hard work and the support of his muse. The fact that hard work is essential is stressed repeatedly in King’s excellent On Writing. Another straight talker, Steven Pressman, also puts it succinctly

“Sometimes we baulk at embarking on an enterprise because we are afraid of being alone. We’re never alone. As soon as we step outside the campfire glow, our muse lights on our shoulder like a butterfly.”

Pressman quoted Somerset Maugham

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Maugham, said Pressman, recognised a deeper truth

“that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting his work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronised her watch with his.”

Pressman adds

“The muse favours working stiffs. She hates prima donnas.”

John Lennon, while not identifying his help, or recommending hard work, said

“So I’m lying around and this thing comes as a whole piece, you know, words and music, and I think well, you know, can I say I wrote it? I don’t know who the hell wrote it.”

The comedian John Cleese, on being asked where he got his ideas, said

“A little man in Swindon gives them to me, but I don’t know where he gets them from.”

Despite writers’ strange and diverse beliefs: Cleese’s little man in Swindon, King’s cigar smoking slob or Anais Nin’sdangerous’ alchemy – one thing is certain – whomever or whatever your muse is, they will not come and they won’t help until you have put in the work. They will sit idly by, holding back your secrets, your tales yet to be told, secure in their ability to pluck wisdom, genius or just a good story out of the air and, when you have worked and suffered and you’re close to giving up, they might, just might, if they like what you’re doing, give you a little help.

Who’s your muse?

 

 

Note:

If you choose only two books to help you to write, not only to write, but perhaps more importantly to develop a system of work that, providing you have sufficient talent, will give you a fair chance of success, then I recommend Steven King’s On Writing and Steven Pressman’s The War Of Art. Both books give brutally honest advice and I strongly recommend them to any aspiring writer.