A Beautiful Mind

 

 

A Beautiful Mind

It’s an oft repeated phrase, but with some people, you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news of their passing, especially those whose death comes out of the blue like a lightning bolt. A life lived so briefly, as all ours are, at least in the context of human and earthly history, that it can be reflected in a single stroke of a billion volts, illuminating all and sending a surging charge of life into all who were touched by them, a bolt that would never again strike in that exact same place and one that shakes Heaven and Earth like a trumpet call from God, as if someone had at that precise moment passed into another Kingdom, leaving us richer and yet poorer for their passing.

I felt that tingle of Universal electricity as I was lying in bed inside the dorm of St. Christopher’s Hostel, Paris; St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers; Paris, who shot his arrow into the only vulnerable part of Achilles, his heel. The claustrophobic temperature inside the room was the focus of a battle being fought by the whining and all too small air conditioning unit and the still humid fetid air, the machine stubbornly spreading its relief with at least some degree of success.

Around about 1 a.m. I was in that twilight zone between wake and sleep, when the Morpheus drug was interrupted by a bell and a buzz from my mobile phone; a text from my son in England. He’d forgotten Paris was one hour ahead and of course he had no idea of my tiredness and lack of sleep due to my wide-eyed wandering around the City of Light. Forgiving him, I squeezed the show button to read ‘Did you hear about Robin Williams?’

No’ I replied, after all when you are on holiday the news just seems to fade into the distance, World War Three could start and you would not know it.

Been found dead, apparent suicide’ came the terse reply.

My mind instantly saw Robin Williams face in front of me like Banquo’s ghost, hovering a foot above the bed with that thin-lipped grin, his twinkling eyes and that manic delivery like Einstein on acid.

Then the unbelievability factor kicked in. Robin Williams? Not that Robin Williams? No, not him. Dead? Well stuff happens. Dead I could perhaps believe. But suicide? Him? No, that’s not right. The funniest man in the world and surely the happiest man in the world too? His wasn’t an act was it? He just seemed to be on a high about life all the time. Yes drugs and stuff were there in his life, I’d read of his struggles. But to wantonly take his own life? The imbalance of that equation, the scales of life, happiness on one side, misery on the other, how could they have swung so far down and so heavily towards the act of taking his own life?

The struggling air-conditioning unit need not have worried any longer as my body shivered with coldness and I slumped off to sleep knowing the world would wake up tomorrow with its news reports and newspapers and commentaries filling their main headline with the news of his death, replacing even the worst stuff that this sometimes unhappy world all too often gives us.

It was true. The terrible truth was that Robin Williams had ended his own life by his own hands and it was impossible to know how he above all people would do that. A clown prince ends his own life. It’s just too Shakesperian, it’s a story, a film, but surely not real life?

We watch films and interviews and we think we know someone, we think perhaps that the world they inhabit is a heaven made on earth, full of dreams come true. Yes we also know that there is a dark side without perhaps fully realising that the dark side of the Moon that is always hidden from us is always there inside their mind. All we actually get is a snippet and no more, like an iceberg we only see one eighth, the rest is never seen or truly known. 

The tributes come and go, the funeral will too, the plaudits, the statue maybe somewhere in a pleasant park, the season of his films to be shown, the remembrance at the Oscars and the re-runs of his chat show appearances and we will sit and smile and laugh and cry and thank him for his life and his legacy. Meanwhile his family and friends will somehow have to live on with excruciatingly happy and sad memories and perhaps even the guilty feelings of ‘if only I could have been there’. And maybe that’s what most of us think too, if only.

So the dust clears, the newspapers go in the trash can, the world moves on, and we look for an answer. Why?

There have been many eloquent articles from friends, experts and those who knew him, all of them at least partially funny in a recollection of his zany comedy, some sad and frightening in their description of a man whose mind could never quite shut down, except to sink into his own nether world of doubt and darkness from where perhaps the well spring of his humour, which though at times could be as light and fluffy as a passing cloud, could actually be dark, cutting and menacing, slashing open much pomposity and revealing bullshit for what it was and whichever direction it came from.

Reports say that he did not leave a note. We may never know and in any case, what would it say? An explanation perhaps as to the state of his mind would be welcome to everyone, because if he can do that, what stops us? If someone that in touch with the human condition and all its eccentricities can fall on his sword, how do we come to terms with what he was facing should we too fall foul of the cruelties of slipping back into childhood, like  Benjamin Button, old losing our faculties, regressing into a state of mind that seems to abandon our consciousness until we slip back into Mother Earths dark womb, a full circle of birth, childhood, adulthood and returning to a helpless human once again.

It would have been welcome to us all because we are all scared, scared that maybe even into the apparent ordinariness of our own lives can come darkness, whether through our own physical and mental difficulties or that of our family and friends, the frailty and illness of old age and all its ramifications, the deterioration of the self and the dependency on the have or have not society or the slow decline into pipe and slippers with a life lead never quite achieving our dreams or ambitions and wondering where all the time went. An explanation from someone who appeared to have the answers would have been welcome. After all wasn’t it the clown or the jester who in the court of the king, with his barbed wit and humour, could reveal the truth to all, even if that truth was unwelcome?

In humour is often the truth of the matter and through his life Robin Williams revealed much truth to us all and maybe his final act was his final story, his final truth, his final stand up show that we watch like he is holding up a mirror and in it we see ourselves. And maybe he didn’t want to let us down, disappoint us, maybe he just knew when the curtain ought to come down on the final act in his life. Perhaps if it could or will, a court or a coroner may say his mind was deranged, distressed, out of synch, depressed, unbalanced or that it was a cry for help, help that could not come. But he had family, friends we say, how could he? How can you hurt those you leave behind in the full knowledge that you committed that most heinous of crimes, suicide.

After Vincent Van Gogh killed himself, the room he died in was locked up and left for all eternity, such was the disgrace in the act of suicide, successful suicide. Even today a stigma exists about it, that relative mentioned in hushed tones, not spoken about in front of the children, the one buried elsewhere, away from the family, the one with no photographs on the wall, as if they almost never existed or lived.

But Robin Williams lived. Boy did he live. He lived a thousand lives through a thousand voices and a thousand characters, all of them us. There’s that mirror again. That’s what heroes do, did you know that? They venture out there into the woods, into the unknown, into that dark forbidding forest and they rescue the fair maiden, bring back the Golden Fleece, the elixir of life and hand it over to the community from whence they came. They lose themselves to find out who they are, because we dare not and so they do it for us, on our behalf and then hold up that mirror that shows us in all our glory and our dishonour too. Here is our good side and here is our dark side and the two can be resolved as one and it’s OK to be human as long as we forgive ourselves and each other, then we can move on to a greater understanding.

Humour is a wonderful weapon, a weapon of mass destruction, that’s why the Dalai Lama laughs so much, life is funny, laugh more, laugh often. When something really shit happens to us, what do we find ourselves doing years or even months later? We laugh, we tell our friends and make ourselves look ridiculous at our own expense and the sooner we do that after it happens, maybe the sooner we are healed.

It’s said that the human brain contains something close to 500 trillion trillion atoms and that’s a helluva machine and if we were to build such a machine with that many parts we would not be at all surprised if it went a little nuts from time to time or even if it failed completely and just shut down and said enough is enough.

Maybe, and perhaps this is fanciful, stupid even, but maybe he wanted to spare himself and us too. He was the travelling angel, the gum-slinger who rode into town firing off his wisecracks and shooting down the bad guys, the men of misery, the depressive dudes for whom we do the oppressive pointless job, the privateer or politician who took our life and breath and used it for their own purpose instead of sharing it wisely, the miserable wretches with their dogmas and dirty talk and fundamentalist views whose word is supposed to go unchallenged. Hell, if I want a religion to believe in I’d rather believe in this angel of a man who taunted Lucifers wagging tongue and urged us not to believe what the cloven-hoofed devil says. I don’t need a God thanks.

Maybe with his diagnosis of the onset of Parkinson’s disease he saw his future and decided to call not a time out but an end game. Maybe that brilliant brilliant mind, genius no less, saw his possible future degeneration, slow painful and hideous and thought, no thanks, that’s not for me, that’s too much to bear for me, my family and the rest of the world. No one needs to see that. It would be like Picasso losing his fingers, like Babe Ruth losing an arm. Yes there are many greats who go on suffering like us all, struggling into old age in silence, in care. But to know the heights that you reached, that summit as high as the Heavens and to know your talents were preserved on the silver screen, on television, on DVD, in the minds of millions who were your audience, whether on a chat show, a stand up tour or amusing war torn soldiers or handicapped kids and making their lives better and forever more joyful. Maybe in his state of mind he thought, no, job done, how on earth can I be seen as a dribbling fool after all that, unable to even hold a spoon to my mouth, slowly slipping into becoming a truly tortured soul with nothing to say, an empty vessel sailing nowhere. Who could blame him? To have known such humble greatness and to go out at the top. Isn’t that what they say, don’t outstay your welcome, know when to exit, leave them wanting more?

Maybe he wanted to spare himself and us too. Remember me this way because you’re not getting the chance to see me fall apart in front of your eyes, you already know enough. Maybe it wouldn’t have gone that way, who knows, but who are we to say? It wasn’t our life to live or take away. If our ultimate gift is life then its soul-mate maybe is choice and though we’d all like to make a choice about our last day with a clear conscious and hopeful mind, sometimes it just can’t happen that way.

Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make a soul?’ – JOHN KEATS

As I left Paris I accidentally bumped into a man near a ticket machine at Gare du Nord railway station, he backed into me not seeing me at all. He apologised and said ‘Parlez vous Francais?’ He needed help of some sort, directions maybe.

Non’, I said, ‘Sorry’.

He started to walk away, I looked him square in the face and he was the spitting image of Robin Williams.

I said, ‘You look like Robin Williams’.

Pardon?’ he said.

You are the spitting image of Robin Williams’, I said with a smile on my face.

He smiled too, the likeness even more heightened now.

But he is dead’ he said, and we both smiled at each other and walked away.

No he’s not I thought, his body no longer breathes, his heart no longer beats, but Keats was right, in this world of pain and troubles his soul and intelligence now lies within us all and as John Nash says at the end of the film, ‘Perhaps it is good to have a beautiful mind, but an even greater gift is to discover a beautiful heart.’

 

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A wedding wish

A short time ago I went to a wedding. In New York. It was my late Aunty’s eldest sons son’s wedding and it was amazing. Yes the setting, the scenery, the people, it was truly a great occasion. In the weeks leading up to it, I wondered what if anything I would say should I be asked to speak. Of course I wasn’t expecting to be asked to speak nor would I ask, but I wrote my thoughts down in the form of a letter and presented it to the bride and groom on the day. This is the letter.

 

Dear Matt and Mansi,

If it truly is the case that you need too, I hope you will forgive me for this letter, but as time has been passing in the months leading up to your wedding, thoughts hopes and wishes have been going through my mind and I wanted to take the opportunity of expressing them to you both. I hope you will look kindly on them.

But first, I understand from scientific research that the attention span of a reader begins to deteriorate around about the seventeen minute mark, therefore I am sure you will be relieved to know that I have managed to pare this piece down to just under fifteen and a half. (Just kidding!)

Thank you for your invitation, it was an honour and a privilege to be asked to witness the celebration of your vows and it gave me the opportunity to be re-united with relatives near and far and the pleasure of meeting and making the acquaintance of your friends and family. Occasions like this only come around once in a lifetime and I would not have missed this opportunity for all the tea in China, or indeed, all the tea in Boston Harbour.

What a beautiful and enthralling ceremony it was and if I were to take some distinctly bad poetic licence, I would say that the Botanic Gardens shone like a diamond, held in place and surrounded by the band of gold that is Brooklyn and New York.

I could not possibly write this without mentioning absent friends. I am sure I was not alone in celebrating the occasion we were witness too but also in remembering and honouring the memories of loved ones who could not be there and without whom none of this would have been possible. Loved ones that is, wherever they may be.

I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking how easily we fool ourselves in believing we are always in control of our lives and indeed that is what we strive for in earnest, when in fact the reality is that for all our determined efforts there is sometimes a will and a force at work, mysterious and invisible, which brings into our lives certain people and certain moments which will change our own lives forever. As a certain gentleman who once lived in the great city of New York once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. A certain Mr. Lennon I believe.

To use a quote from a writer, Steven Pressfield, who on talking about writing and being touched by angels and muses, said, “They know stuff we don’t. They want to help us. They’re on the other side of a pane of glass, shouting to get our attention. But we can’t hear them. We’re sometimes just too distracted by our own nonsense”.

Well, I’m quite certain that the only nonsense you’ll read today is from my hand, but if any words sprang to mind on your wedding day and there were many to chose from, perhaps ‘Carpe Diem’ – ‘Seize the day’ would be as equally appropriate as any and that we are always striving as Abraham Lincoln said, to get in touch with ‘the better angels of our nature’. Striving, failing often and yet still we try.

Some people may think that being a man approaching a certain landmark age I would be able to write with authority, experience, wit and wisdom.

Which just goes to show how wrong some folks can be!

I have heard that it is often incumbent on invited guests to offer up a little wisdom to those getting married and taking this huge step in their lives, but I could not be so presumptuous as I am certain that on your special day, within the Botanic Gardens, all the wisdom that you will ever need resided there, not least, the wisdom which you both carry individually and as a couple within your relationship.

A relationship which undoubtedly counters the ancient Greek myth which told of a time when humans were originally created with 4 arms, 4 legs and a head with 2 faces. Fearing the power of humans, the mighty God Zeus split them into two separate parts, thereby condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.

It is quite obvious to me that your two halves are seamlessly joined and that today Zeus himself wears a frown.

Thinking of two halves joining makes me reflect on just how big a commitment it is to lay down your own self for that of another in search of that most elusive of creatures, a lifetimes relationship and to contemplate on just what infinitely complex creatures we are and given that our brains contain approximately 456 trillion trillion atoms, it beggars belief that we can begin to understand and communicate with each other at all, let alone live largely in peaceful co-existence.

This infinite complexity may also of course throw some light on explaining the incredibly slow machinations of Congress, politicians in general and the interminable wait at the food store checkout whilst the checkout girl re-lipsticks herself, adjusts her skirt appropriately coz of the gorgeous guy she has a crush on waiting behind you, finishes her conversation with her new ‘girlfriend’ and checks her new Miley Cyrus, slimline, 24 gigabite mobile phone for the latest gossip and whoever is ‘twerking’ on TV.

As for my own wisdom, well, I was married once. I was quite young and naïve and I was dragged kicking and screaming into marriage. My wife did the kicking…….

Coming up to date, whilst I was in New York I took the opportunity of strolling around Brooklyn and by sheer chance I bumped into a Priest. A wise man. Two more of these guys I thought and I’ve got a great story on my hands.

I said to the Priest, “Father, would you be willing to offer me some wisdom to pass on to a young couple getting married”.

He looked Heavenwards, stroked his chin, then grabbed me by the shoulder, looked me square in the eye and said,

Son, marriage is rather like a deck of playing cards”.

Really Father”, I said, “How so?”

Well in the beginning”, he said, “All it takes is two hearts and a diamond, but during the course of a long long marriage, almost certainly there will be times when either one of you wishes you had a club and a spade”.

With that, I quickly retired to the safety of the Internet.

I entered ‘self-help and marriage’ into Amazon and holy moly, a total of 491 796 items came up. When I entered ‘self-help’ books for women, it gave me 12 030 entries. Interestingly when I entered ‘self-help’ books for men, 5 677 came up. Make of that what you will.

When I entered books on the subject of marriage alone, 144 797 entries came up. Some of the less racy but nevertheless thought provoking titles being;

There’s more to life than cupcakes”.

Saving your marriage before it starts”.

How to re-model your man: Tips and techniques on accomplishing something you know is impossible but want to try anyway”. And that perennial sexist and stereotypical favourite;

Why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps”.

So as far as my search for wisdom went, I saw no solution in books, after all, which one to choose, who wrote it and what were their qualifications?

Soon after I was flicking through the TV channels and a film began, a ROM-COM. “Sleepless in Seattle” and from that film echoed the words of that great sage of wisdom, that shaman of the silver screen, that wise man of wisdom who truly had a nose for all things wide….sorry, wise, Mr. Jimmy ‘Schnozzle’ Durante, who sang in grizzly tones these immortal words.

It’s so important to make someone happy

Make just one someone happy

Make just one heart the heart you, sing to.

One smile that cheers you,

One face that lights when it nears you,

One girl you’re everything to.

Fame if you win it,

Comes and goes in a minute.

Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to?

Love is the answer.

Someone to love is the answer.

Once you’ve found her, build your world around her.

Make someone happy,

Make just one someone happy,

And you will be happy, too.”

Well it’s a wonderful film, a great song and it certainly contains wise words, but I would hate to be the person responsible for Mansi sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night, elbowing Matt sharply in the ribs and exclaiming in a gravelly Brooklyn accent, “Y’know Matt, it’s so important to make someone happy”.

So in my search for wisdom I realised I needed something a little more down to earth, which was when I found myself perusing the ‘self-help’ section of a book store and when a well-meaning assistant approached me.

Hello sir, I can see you look like a man who needs help”.

Well yes”, I said sheepishly, “You see, I have this FRIEND”.

Oh yes”, she said, winking suggestively, “and this FRIEND needs some help does he?”

Yes”, I said, “This FRIEND is looking for some wise words on the the subject of marriage”.

She pointed me in the direction of a particular book which had within its pages interesting advice about how men and women should react to a husband or wife returning home after a particularly difficult day at the office. It went like this;

When a woman comes home and starts to unfold her terrible day to her beloved partner, a man, being a ‘fixer’, tends to want to solve all her problems for her. So he starts to suggest how she should deal with all this stuff that’s got her down. But be warned! This is not the case.

What a woman wants is for someone to listen to her and if she wanted help, she would ask for it. If she wanted solutions, she would ask for them. If she wanted the answer as to whether or not she should change her job, change the way she does things, change the way her boss does things, change her boss, change the whole damn company or simply change her clothes; She will talk to her girlfriends!

No, what she wants is simply to be listened too, given a hug, told she is the most wonderful woman in the world and that you love her.”

So, that us guys told then!

Now for advice on what to do when a man comes home after a bad day at the office. This could run for a couple of chapters I thought.

Do nothing.”

Do nothing?

Yes. Do nothing. Nothing except get him a beer, let him sit down in front of his favourite TV programme and let him chill out for about half an hour.

And that’s it. You see deep down we are still prehistoric cavemen, cavemen coming home after the long unfruitful hunt and we need our cave to sit in and shut the world out. That’s how we deal with stuff. It’s that simple. And it’s that simple because…..well because……..men are pretty simple!”

Sound advice no doubt, but I wanted something in a word, a sentence at most and I couldn’t see it happening and so I gave up and of course what often happens in life when you stop looking for something is, you find it. Or rather, it finds you.

At the end of an internet broadcast by a mentor on the subject of mindfulness, the speaker used a word to close his address with.

Whether we have had the best day of our lives or the worst day of our lives, perhaps if we are able to simply look at each other and say, whisper under our breath or just meditate on this one word, then all of lifes woes, problems and pettiness will simply fall away and we will remember why we are here, why we are with this person we love and chose and everything falls back into place once again;

‘Namaste’; an ancient Sanskrit greeting which means “I bow to the God within you” or “The spirit within me salutes the spirit within you”, or even, “I see the true you and I let you see me”.

‘Namaste’; a knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness.

‘Namaste’; sometimes accompanied with both palms pressed together in prayer and swept down from the forehead to the heart.

And so Matt and Mansi, I say ‘Namaste’.

 

 

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Ghost Hunting

‘Ghost hunting’

I went back.

I went back to Merseyside, the City I had visited just four weeks previous. Then, I had met friends from home and abroad, America, and we had taken the Beatles Tours, visited the Beatles museums and soaked up some of Liverpool’s welcome, character and wit and all things Scouse.

Even though I was brought up with the sound of the ‘Fab Four’, I had no real appreciation of who they were as people, as boys and men, of their struggles, their pain and the hows and the whys and the wherefores of how they got from A to Beatles. All of that either got buried somewhere along the way in my own life and theirs and only came out years later when the myths are replaced by the sometimes awful truth. At the time all this pop music stuff was so new and nobody had ever really trod this path before, at least not under the glare of such publicity and fame and this was the era when the little box in the corner of the room suddenly took on enormous power and its value, if that is the correct term, was being realised by those in politics and entertainment. These were uncharted waters for everyone, ‘The Beatles’ included.

Even now on returning to Liverpool, I was still locked into my childhood memories of them, they were….well, they were ‘The Beatles’ weren’t they? Their persona as human beings and all they went through had never occurred to me until I watched the film “Nowhere Boy”, which covers the first 18 years of John Lennon’s life. They were a part of my life, though not having a record player at home until the early seventies, I missed out on the 1967 to 1970 period of their music, save what I heard on the radio or saw on the TV and as a shy Grammar school teenager with anxious angst and fears and a queasy feeling that somehow this ‘all you need is love’ stuff was being dismissed by the stiff upper lip of England, but yet somehow it was planting a seed in my mind. I had some catching up to do with The Beatles, but that came later. Soon after I was off into Led Zeppelin and ‘Yes-land’ and ‘Prog Rock’ and I only caught up with them in the eighties with repackaged re-releases and in fact the first CD I bought, when that format became available, was ‘Sgt. Pepper’.

Something died in me when John Lennon was shot. An innocence maybe and a confusion of thoughts that made me wonder how this world worked, what forces were at work, dark and mysterious. I think that the over-riding feeling was confusion. I do not wish to trivialise Lennon’s murder, but perhaps his death was somehow symbolic of the term that has become known as a ‘black swan’, a seemingly random act that we never account for, was not preventable within the realms of our own limited thought processes and one we try to rationalise afterwards, to no avail. Perhaps his death was symbolic of all the powerlessness we feel in our own lives and that ultimately we have very little control over them. John summed it up himself, ‘Life is what happen to you when you’re busy making other plans’.

So I went back looking for something, but I didn’t know what.

I went back because I forgot my manners, I knew that much. I forgot to say thank you. So, a little chastened, I went back on my own to retrace my steps.

I went back looking for ghosts too, ghosts past and present.

When I was there last, she, Liverpool, was good to me. She wasn’t at all shy, she opened up her streets and avenues and all the places of the past which to me were once secret, all the nooks and cranny’s, the hiding places, the gates and little green gardens and the old terraced houses now showing their age, their windows hanging heavy like sad eyes, the years of chimney smoke and soot and industrial sweat running like black eye-liner, streaking down the brickwork with the tears of laughter and sadness that were shed in lives lived long and short.

I drove down Penny Lane where people and cars now rush everywhere, though my eyes saw only sepia-coloured cars that like me were running not on petrol but on nostalgia and in slow motion too, except that is, the one that took her, Julia, John Lennon’s mother, when she was only 44 and he was just 17. Not here, but just down the road. They had only just re-connected after being separated during the course of long running family difficulties and according to Paul McCartney, Lennon went through hell during his childhood and teenage years. Perhaps you are like me and all you really know is their music and had little idea how death and sadness and particularly Julia’s death haunted John throughout his life and maybe when you begin to know someone a little better it helps you to better understand the man and his music. The same goes for Paul too, losing his mother before she saw him bloom somehow seemed to bind him to John and they could look at each other and without even speaking a word, acknowledge ‘Oh, you too’?

I look at the photographs of my last visit and I see friends there who have come and gone, not physically but as visitors, fleeting glimpses of moments captured by light and lens, our intimate actions caught up in the web of life, all of us just going with the swing of things, playing our own tunes but putting together a song that somehow played out with harmony. We somehow dovetailed our minds with each other without rehearsals, save those who travel together frequently and who know the ways of each other a perhaps a little.

Like Lennon and McCartney, who had different hearts, but inhabited the same soul, their seemingly opposing take on life could find a compromise. McCartney tells of writing a song ‘Its getting better’ for the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album and he’s singing the line ‘I have to admit it’s getting better, it’s getting better all the time’, a euphoric sound and Lennon just cut straight in with ‘It couldn’t get much worse’, no doubt with a wry smile on his face. But they kept it in and so it went on, song after song, playing their hearts and minds and sensitivities against each other. They had the ‘nouse’ to realise what they had not only in their similarities, but also in their differences and McCartney says that at one time they had a run where they wrote maybe 300 songs together and every time without exception when they sat down to write, they never dried, a song always came out and was finished. If that’s not a kind of love, I’d like to know what is. Well, we too on our brief visit brought our different instruments, guitar, bass, drums and our different souls and somehow we knitted together memories, and what are memories really but ghosts that come back to haunt us, please us, excite us, even worry and trouble us and they keep coming back to us like one of those songs that sticks in your head, the kind you wake up in the morning with and it stays with you all day. ‘Ear-worms’ they call them. They can be damned annoying, that is if it’s a song you hate, but maybe they are a clue to our moods and feelings and we should let they play out until they are ready to go. I’m not sure you can kill a ghost, only allow it to come in, inhabit you for a while and let it leave in its own good time.

It was as they say back then pre-Beatles, when they and I and some of you were kids, a different age. Television sets were the size and shape of a child’s toy with imitation brown wood and smelled of something strangely hot as the valves heated up and warmed the plastic until the screen finally flickered into life with foggy pictures. My parents cat used to sleep on top of their TV and fell off many times too. You could watch her as she slowly slid off and then wandered the room in a daze for a few seconds, though the falls never completely put her off, just leaving her mystified. The radio or wireless, had few stations to tune into that were in any way ‘rock and roll’, save Radio Luxembourg or Caroline and I sometimes tuned in under the bedclothes to listen before falling asleep. The BBC Light Programme would play nothing more racy than Doris Day and ‘Move over darling’ (although frankly that is a damn sexy song!). Life was between the times, in between the desolation of the war and the new age to come, the pace of life was slower than now, but the heartbeat of emotions that raced and pounded through the war-torn streets could be no less volatile and full of potential harm and destructiveness as well as urging those inflicted with desire to move on, get out, find a better way. The roles of nature and nurture played out their parts as they would, kindly or not and the counselling of the human spirit was not always in abundance. You just ‘got on’ with life and there were rules to be obeyed, but Lennon was compelled to follow another path; the one least trodden. Elvis saw to that.

 

Much was still in short supply in those austere nineteen fifties and sixties, but if the ground rules told you what you shouldn’t or couldn’t do, the sky was full of imagination, space and time in which to lose yourself. There was time to dream. When we were here last, taking the Magical Mystery Tour, we spent time chasing dreams and shadows and the shadows of those dreams, shadows of lives burnt and etched into the walls where they leant, smoked and chatted up girls, shadows where they lay on green grass, idling and dreaming the days away, shadows where once they sat playing and singing, laughing and crying, feeling at once vulnerable and yet invincible. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we spent all that afternoon chasing shadows and chasing ghosts, but there was still life in these ghosts, some ghosts just won’t go away, nor should they.

So she showed me her mind and her imagination and she showed me that even here in all the dust and the dirt and the grime that the sounds and seeds of life could thrive and grow and their blossom could spread far and wide. The little black notes that Lennon and McCartney conjured up floated out of the chimneys of their houses like musical dots of smoke, then drifted down the lanes and fields and were drawn up into the clouds, turning the mourning grey Liverpool skies into rising white mushroom summer clouds which grew heavy with sound and when they could no longer carry that weight, the notes fell down as rain, down onto the dirty old town and ran into the gutters and streams and then into her, ‘The Mersey’ and from there they bobbed across the oceans to distant shores where kids would drink them in and get drunk on this new conciousness, this new freedom of expression, this revolution in the head. It rained when I was there last, more rain than anyone could ever remember. It poured down with music too, their music reigned o’er us and now whenever it rains, I always hear them sing, the notes hitting pavements and sheds and roofs and cars and hats and brolly’s, each strike sounding a note to a familiar tune. I heard them on this day too as the sun rose on my way up to Liverpool and Georges sweet acoustic notes heralded the birth of a bright new day. Ghostly tunes play all around me, wafting in and out of my mind. Ghosts never laid to rest.

Today, there would be no rain, only Sun and O how she shone this day.

I retraced my steps in golden sunlight, George’s ‘Sun-song’ in my ear, when I was walloped by the clanging chords that struck like an unwelcome alarm clock after a hard days night, chords that shouted ‘Lennon!’, as I too weaved in and out of the Corinthian columns of St. Georges Town Hall perhaps like he did. I made my way down to Pier Head and joined the queue for the Ferry cross the Mersey, the Mersey that never forgets its history and looks after its own. Scousers and visitors queued and waited for the lumbering ferry as it manoeuvred alongside the quayside, the skipper high in his nest, edging her closer until the ropes secured her and she bellowed a blast of smoke in relief, like a drag on a cigarette after sex. We climbed aboard and she chugged and chopped across the river and I caught a reflection of the City in the murky Mersey waters, a reflection that seemed to mirror in minor her soul sister city, New York, to where thousands of hopeful scouse ‘sailors’ set forth and came to embrace Miss Liberty and the eternal words of succour and comfort, as they nestled safely into her harbour and her arms,

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”,

never knowing, how could they, that years later their ghosts would be followed by the living, breathing, singing foursome who would revive the descendants of those huddled masses with songs to live and die for, exporting back to them a bright new music for a brand new age and which years later the remembrance of surprises me, in that the connection has perhaps never been truly honoured given the history that is so bound up between New York and Liverpool, that being that these two cities of song have never become ‘twin cities’. Maybe someone ought to have a look at that.

Down and out we went, passing ancient monuments of the past, the Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse, still bigger than any brick-built warehouse in the world and still standing, but now defiantly empty and a literal echo of a by-gone age, as if you listened you could still hear the shouts and noises of the workers bellowing from inside. Here on the docks were ghosts of stevedore’s and longshoremen and of the long dead men and then down we churned towards the open sea, where the whirling arms of modern windmills seemed to generate and hasten down a tear-drop inducing wind as we all braced ourselves against the gale that blew in from the Emerald Isle across the Irish Sea, the same wind that years before blew in the Lennon’s and the McCartney’s.

We gasped into port on the other side, taking on the new, disgorging the old and whilst we waited the pre-recorded people with fog-horned voices gave us a history lesson over the ships half-muffled sound system. A history of how New Brighton at the tip of the Mersey was once home to smugglers and wreckers and then became a seaside resort of huge proportions serving Liverpool and Lancashire before declining after the Second World War, but which now is taking on a new face and presenting herself with a fresh look. Perhaps even a ghost could sometimes do with botox and a face lift.

Ghosts linger here in the architecture too, architecture that mixes the Victorian with the Art-Deco and then there’s the extraordinary looking monolith that is the air-inlet building near Seacombe, though it looked to me like some sort of ‘death-machine’ at first glance, a kind of huge crematorium, a futuristic temple where those near to passing are called to to be exhumed and puffed out into the air, a still silent re-circulator of people, when in fact its function is the opposite, to keep drivers alive in the tunnels that worm there way under the Mersey by gulping in huge globules of air and preventing drivers from suffocating. No matter its benign purpose, my child’s eye still said it was scary looking!

We turned back towards home, the sun blinding off the Mersey, the seagulls providing a food-seeking fly-past, swooping and swapping positions with dive-bomb ease, adjusting to each gust of wind with a invisible flick of a wing, making us leaden footed humans look drunken and clumsy in the gale on our two-legged stilts. The wind was now drowning out all noise, a high-pitched siren of sound that moaned across the Mersey like the mouths of a million ghosts that sailed these waters past.

Chugging back to Pier Head a ghost of a song passed over our heads, “Ferry cross the Mersey” by Gerry and the Pacemakers, allowing us to wallow for a few seconds in the sixties when this City began to groan and tug itself out of its war torn past and find another export that was shipped back to the USA perhaps as a thank you for what she gave to her. In the Second World War Liverpool and Merseyside lost approximately 4000 souls during Hitler’s blitz. The Nazi’s were aware of the city’s importance for its connection with America with its docks and shipping facilities and it was the second most bombed place in England after London. The government kept the damage quiet for propaganda reasons and so as not to cause alarm and Liverpool handled 90 percent of the incoming goods from abroad and without these brave scousers, who knows what may have happened. It’s a strange kind of compliment that Hitler paid to the City that he gave so much attention to it as to want to demolish it.

As we came full circle the Liver Birds hoved into view and as the story goes, the female is looking out to sea, watching for the seaman to return safely home, whilst the male bird looks towards the City, making sure the pubs were open.

Walking off the ferry I passed one of the modern buildings that have sprung up these past years, this one too housing ghosts, a museum come film show centre with all things memorable that are connected to The Beatles, Elvis and Monroe, perhaps the three biggest icons of this past fifty years, apart from Diana of course, but then I went ghost-hunting there too in July 1997 and laid that one to rest too.

Statues, monuments and sculptures lined the promenade, ghosts of the past gone before us, sailors, singers and those who saved lives, all honoured and never to be forgotten.

I wandered up through the town and now the City had woken up this Saturday morning and its streets were heaving with shoppers and drinkers and eaters, mingling their accents with the tongue’s of back-packers and the ‘Fab Four’ hunters of the world, come to see the shrine where it all began, come to worship what is actually a humble temple. There’s no golden statues here, no eternally smiling Buddha’s, but they left their mark here and let the world know of their home town spirit and how it beats still in the heart of its people with their wit and humour and welcome.

There was one particular photograph that I had been looking for here. A bus headed towards me at a junction and had to turn left, so it had to slow and I leant on a lamp-post and pressed the trigger to capture the destination blind that read ‘Liverpool ONE’, which will by the time the bus reaches its terminus, have vanished into ‘OUT OF SERVICE’, a ghostly invisible transformation that repeats and repeats, just like the music fans who arrive, haunt the City streets and then vanish into thin air.

At Lime Street Station I walk on up the hill and I wondered if The Royal Nelson Hotel where we stayed is chock-a-block today, well maybe tomorrow it will be, when the Merseyside football ‘Derby’ kicks-off and both teams try to live up to the ghosts of the past, the Shankly sides and the Dixie Dean days still haunting the terraces and dreams of the fans who never say die and who never will forget or be forgotten.

I walked back to the car and drove south of the city towards the suburbs, Woolton, where I have someone to find, one ghost to exorcise today. I have maps and I follow them, but I go round and around in circles, so I follow my instinct and I feel like I am close and then there on the opposite side of the dual-carriageway it is, Allerton Cemetery. I can’t cross over the grass verge down the middle and there’s no openings just here and as I drive on looking for a turning I stumble onto Woolton ‘village’. The streets are narrow here and as I am looking around I think, was that what I think I saw?….yes it was…on the right…”Quarry Bank Road”….maybe…it flashed by so quick, Quarry Bank Road, ‘The Quarrymen’, little streets, little lanes and names that eventually circled the world. Little lives that they mined which grew big, lives spent digging out gold and jewels for us to share and brighten our dull days.

I find a flower shop and buy three small bunches and head back down the road and then turn into Allerton Cemetery. It’s huge and there’s a road running through it, but really its a river running through it, a river of laughter, memories and tears. I circle a chapel half-way in and pull over. There’s a notice board that details the Cemetery in sections. The section I want is right down the bottom end as far away from the entrance as you can get. I drive there.

And here it is. The plot. It’s here, she’s here, somewhere.

This part of the cemetery has a kind of isolation about it, perhaps because its the last section and after that there’s nothing but grassland until 150 yards where there’s a road running across the edge, but the sound of traffic is barely audible, as if respectfully quiet. The plot feels like an island here, as if it’s cut off from the main part of this huge resting place, an oasis of emotions that’s been planted here to grow and bloom, somewhere fruitful for ghosts to wander around. There’s a mixture of life and death here in this nether-world as many of the graves are decorated with colour and momento’s of all types depending on their lives and loves. It’s as if those living are trying to keep their loved ones alive, as if offering some kind of resuscitation in the form of remembrance, trying to keep the air alive with their persona. They are gone, but not gone, not yet, they still have a little life left in them and their spirit and soul are hovering here, ghosts waiting for us to finally let them go and do whatever ghosts have to do.

I step out out the car, with flowers a card and a photograph of her grave and though its an old photograph and all she had then was a wooden cross, luckily the grave next to hers is there in the picture and I can see the shape and colour of it and the names too and so if I can find that one, I can find her. I don’t know why but I feel nervous about doing this. Is it pretentious? Am I intruding into private grief? Walking over the buried bones of peoples loved ones may seem odd to some people, strange, ghoulish even, but they are gone, aren’t they? Leave them be, there’s nothing you can do for them. Dead is dead after all, isn’t it? I wasn’t sure.

I decide to tip-toe over the grass, treading lightly so as not to disturb them.

I step onto the grass and there is a tree on the edge of the plot that’s decorated with ribbons that are bound and twisted into wreath-like shapes, memento’s for the dead and as I step onto the grass someone whispers hello. Hello in a shrill but gentle voice, a welcoming voice, as if its OK to be here, to do this and that I am not intruding. I feel lifted now and I know I will find her. There’s that sound again, ‘hello’ and the wind that whistled down the Mersey has followed me here, but now it has died down to a breeze and it’s this breeze which circles the tree, spinning the wind chimes left hanging there, tinkling and twinkling her greeting yet again.

Hello”.

The singing ringing tree.

I try a logical way of finding her, walking over to the far side of the plot and slowly trawling past each grave one row at a time, looking for her name, but looking for the grave next door as well. Five minutes pass and the Sun is still good today, still shining but slowly beginning to sink, making the breeze just a little more chill across the fading October sky.

And then.

The next door neighbour is here, I think. I double check with the old photograph and the names match, but to the right there is no wooden cross now, but an upright grey stone about 18 inches high with names etched on it, Mummy; John; Victoria; Julia; Jackie in descending order. I look at the photograph again and then look back at the one in front of me. I’ve found it, I’ve found them, found her.

In the photograph there is a stone cat by the grave and it’s still there, so I guess, I hope, this is the right one. Now I can do what I have come to do and I feel happy and relieved that I can say what needs to be said.

To say thank you. Thank you to Julia, John’s mother.

Why John? Well there were three others in the band, as you may have gathered and they all played their part, in fact there were many who played their parts, band members who came and went, managers, wives and girlfriends, engineers and arrangers, the list is a long and winding road. But in the beginning it was John’s band, Johns force of will and desire that drove him and them to reach the ‘toppermost of the poppermost’ and it was his mothers spirit and love of music and musical ability that he seems to have inherited and that she showed and passed to him during their short time together. So this journey was like a return to the source, the well spring from which The Beatles arose, a return to where it all began, the acorn that grew into the mighty oak.

I unwrapped one of the little bunch of flowers and I see that there is an empty stone or metal pot next to the grave and so that’s where they will go, but first I sit down a few yards away and lean against another grave, hoping whoever it is won’t mind and there I sit and I write inside the card I brought, the last line of lyrics from The Beatles song “The End”.

And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make”.

 

On the opposite side of the card I write the names of those who came from near and far to visit Liverpool this Autumn 2012 and then tuck the card into a plastic wallet so it may keep a while, protected a little from the weather. I place the card under the stone pot and put the flowers in the pot and stand back and take photos and then sit down on a bench underneath the whispering tree. I sit not really to think, not to think at all actually, just to be, just to let it be.

As I am sitting a car draws up, a young lady gets out, walks to a grave nearby, tends the flowers, stays for a few minutes then drives off. Another car draws up, three people get out and go to the grave about ten yards away that is festooned with colour and lights and football memorabilia. “Welcome to my garden”, says a little plaque on the grave. They each tidy things, maybe say a few words I cannot hear and then as each one walks away they kiss their fingertips and touch the wooden cross at the head of the grave.

I will never know whether it was the now chill wind or the emotions of that moment, but looking on Julia’s grave, a few tears came and I left them where they fell on the ground, helping the grass to grow. I take out the two remaining bunches of flowers and take one over to the highly decorated grave where the family just were and leave one bunch there and take the other to the grave where the young lady was. It seemed fitting.

I go back to my car, turn it around and leave this forever never-never land where souls all but sleep, knowing that even if some arrived here too soon, everyone who is here is at peace and as George said, “All things must pass”. And I think so too.

I came here looking for ghosts, but realised that although her bones may lie here, Julia does live on and it was her, who was born with the egg that became John, who sang the songs that he heard and then he too gave his songs to us and so the circle is complete as we too pass them on for our own children and we then become ghosts to be let go of one day too.

I came looking for ghosts, but I think now that there on that bright October day, with the Sun going down and casting shadows from the gravestones over the still lush green grass that will lie fallow until spring comes full circle and it rises once more, I think that perhaps I had a insight into something a little more clearly than I had it seen before.

There is a line in a song by Leonard Cohen that goes, “Everything has a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in”

So I suppose what I glimpsed through that crack of light that bright sunny October day was a flash of my own mortality and our own possibility of immortality.

A little boy once said to his dying Grandmother, “Grandma, is it true that I won’t see you again when you go away?”

Grandma said, “Death is like a ship sailing away towards the horizon. There’s a moment when it disappears. But just because you can’t see it any more doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Living in another world

Living in another World

by

James Jay

Curious after reading about the serendipitous moment for the author of a blog entry titled ‘I shall be released’, I searched for the meaning of the word ‘release’.

The author of the blog was reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ when the news came through that the Greenpeace protesters and the Pussy Riot demonstrators in Russia had been released as part of an amnesty.

One cannot make light of spending 27 years in gaol and being submitted to the oppressive powers that Mandela was subjected too, but which did not break him. One cannot imagine the physical and mental strain placed on the Greenpeace protesters spending time in a Russian prison for even a comparatively short time period and for the young women shut away for their demonstration against Putin , the State and the Church. Few of us will never suffer these types of constraints and even if we were to be arrested for some protest against our own government, our treatment would and is, I hope, far less harsh, though the use and abuse of the powers by the government in the enforcement of laws and powers which cut away our right to protest is a watchful issue for everyone.

The origins of the word lease from re-lease derives from Anglo-French words ‘lais’, meaning legs or to let go and from the Latin ‘laxare’, to loosen and thence from ‘laxus’, to slack, all of these originating circa 1350 – 1570. Hence ‘re – lease’ seems to indicate the giving of a second chance after an ‘aberration’ of some kind.

The aberration is a judgement made by those in a ‘superior’ position who deem the behaviour unacceptable in their eyes. But as with Mandela who moved from prisoner to Prince, so perhaps in time the Greenpeace protesters and Pussy Riot and those following in their paths, they may well come to be lauded as some of the first to take physical action to draw attention to the modes of thinking which years from now may look unworthy and not in accord with what may sustain us on this Planet.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. “ -Schopenhaeur.

Those who have established these positions of higher authority wallow in self-deceit, clinging on to belief systems in the form of a construct which is believed can be imposed on those weaker or is different to theirs, but which is silently countered by an invisible force as expressed by Victor Hugo,

An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.’

I then came across a further blog entry regarding Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Anthem’ and his explanation of the meaning behind ‘There’s a crack in everything’ (that’s how the light gets in).

Over the past 12 months I have indulged myself and taken to studying, if that is the correct term, screen-writing. Amongst the finest books I have read on this subject is John Yorke’s ‘Into the Woods’, which goes to the heart of the origins and form of plays and screenplays and reveals the inner workings of how and why they work and why sometimes apparently they do not. Yorke himself states that he cannot be absolutely certain (there’s a crack) about the information he is imparting, which confounded his publishers, who of course were somewhat perplexed about producing a book which expressed uncertain and indefinite ideas, perhaps assuming that storytelling is a totally scientific and almost mathematical construct.

Although when it goes well, as with Shakespeare and many others, he points out that there is a symmetry about the form. For instance the 1st Act will often mirror the 3rd or 5th. ‘The Godfather’ is a prime example of a script that you could almost bend down the middle and one half would mirror the other, (though the actions taken are opposites, marriage v orgy of death, innocence v denial and lies) the first half following Michael Corleones journey from war hero to Godfather, an unlikely journey on the face of it that perhaps is matched recently by the wimpy schoolteachers journey in ‘Breaking Bad’. At the heart of this is the confrontation of opposing forces.

One of the prime ‘rules'(though in reality there are none!) of screen-writing is that the protagonist has to have a flaw and an idea is posited in the first act, argued in the second and resolved in the third. The flaw(s) are tested to destruction, evoking a crisis and a conclusion which completes and heals the protagonist one way or the other. (though not always!!) The protagonist along the way encounters obstacles necessary for healthy restoration of the inner soul and to accept his flaws and his ability to overcome them and pass on his wisdom (the elixir) for the benefit of the community at large. The Hero’s journey.

William Goldman, writer of ‘Butch Cassidy’, said that Butch and Sundance were two halves of the same person. (he also wisely said that in screen-writing/film-making ‘nobody knows anything’) The ‘Joker’ in Batman says ‘You complete me’. Dorothy in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ is accompanied by three flawed characters, but in fact they are three elements of her own psyche that she needs to test and heal and when she does so, she simply clicks her heels and returns home. The answer, in other words, was inside her all the time.

It is, simply put, a healing process. A healing process that Mandela went through and which by his force of will, apartheid had to bend too. Perhaps so to with Pussy Riot and Greenpeace activists. As I say one would not want to diminish the physical harm that those who oppose systems suffer and of course physical harm must and does test the will of anyone in this position so severely that perhaps only a few have the constitution to survive. But for those that do, well, then there is the flaw, the crack in everything in their opposers system, the imperfection that the light comes through. The flaw is then tested, argued and a resolution found.

In an interview with the actress Ellen Burstyn, Hubert Selby Jnr, the author of the book ‘Requiem for a Dream'(who suffered considerably himself over the course of his life) postulated this,

I think the function—if I understand your word properly—the function of suffering is to let me know that my perception is skewed. What I am doing is judging natural events in such a way that I am creating suffering within myself. For instance, you have pain over certain conditions, certain situations that occur, and if you just say, “Okay, here I am. I’m going to experience the pain,” you don’t suffer. The resistance and the degree of the resistance to the natural phenomenon of life causes tremendous suffering.”

 

Our perception of the world, of reality, is constantly bombarded by others who through our competitive or cooperative society, wish us good and wish us if not harm, then a desire to inflict their own particular point of view on us. Selby again, this time referring to the windows of the soul, our eyes,

We really do, I believe, create the world that we live in. If I remember correctly, the word “eye”—the physical eye—the Sanskrit root and the Hebrew root, I believe, is “ayin,” meaning “fountain.” In other words, this is not an organ that’s receiving vibrations from what’s out there and going through them and interpreting; it’s a projector. We project it. So the world that I live in, I’m projecting.”

These days many people are aware of the complexity of our brains and the make up of all matter with atoms and the quantum world beyond that. But recently Brian Cox put this into context when he held a small tumbler of water up and said that there were more atoms in that glass of water than there are glasses of water in all the oceans in all the world. Back to Dorothy and Selby and Mandela and the like I guess for holding the world they believe it should be in their heads and projecting it onto us. At a screenwriters conference this year, a noted script editor said that ‘Storytelling is the most important job in the world….bar none’. It sounds fanciful perhaps, but maybe it is at the heart of who we are.

I imagine that what Mandela (and those he studied and followed in the wake of Thoreau, Gandhi, King) and the Greenpeace protesters and Pussy Riot all in their own way experienced was a new vision or a reinforcement of their ideals whilst in gaol. In wishing to punish them, their oppressors simply spurred them on to retort to their captors, look again at the world, you are not dealing with reality and if you yourselves will not go on the necessary journey, we will take it and will return with the elixir, the truth, and as Obama said at Mandela s dedication service, when Nelson was released, so to were his captors, for they too were held captive by ideals not in accord with what would sustain them.

A change of consciousness took place, not unlike Dorothy, Shakespeare and thousands of others of protagonists in film, stories and storytelling.

One wonders about the veracity of the claim of one of the Greenpeace protesters that our planet will be dead in 1500 years, but one wonders too whether the evidence now accumulating in the form of the change in our weather patterns and the slow decimation of ‘life’ other than our species is not the first signs of this possibility. It wasn’t too long ago we were told a storm which happens once every 100 years, disconcertingly now seems to occur every 10 years.

But perhaps a hero is at hand who will see our flaws, see the light and test it. Or more correctly, A heroine.

In South Africa there is a plant which has ‘developed’ an adaptation in its survival technique.

“A pink gentian grows in southern Africa, which is pollinated by handsome furry carpenter bees. The flowers of the gentian spread their petals wide, revealing to all a curving white style and three large stamens. Each stamen ends in a long thick anther that seems to be covered in yellow pollen, an obvious temptation to any passing pollen-feeding insect. But that is something of an illusion. The yellow anther is hollow and the pollen is held inside. The only way it can escape is through a tiny hole right at the top of the anther and there is only one way of extracting it. The bee knows how.

“It arrives at the flower making a high-pitched buzzing noise with its wings as most bees do. As it alights on an anther, it continues beating its wings but lowers the frequency so that the note of its buzz suddenly falls to approximately middle C. This causes the anther to vibrate at just the right frequency needed to release the pollen and the grains spout out of the hole at the top in a yellow fountain.” (Attenborough 1995:100)

At some stage during its evolution, this action did not occur, but the plant changed and evolved to bring about a better way to ensure its own and the bee’s preservation. Somewhere along the line of history Mother Nature decided that this bee and this plant were required to function with each other in a co-operative manner, so that both may benefit. They were meant to be, so to speak.

There have been numerous changes, physical and meta-physical within the human brain over the ages and one wonders whether we are due, if nature is listening, to another one soon. One of the most startling changes being a claim in a book by Julian Jaynes which proposes that only a few thousand years ago, our ancestors possessed a ‘bi-cameral’ mind, giving cause that the right hand side of the brain ‘spoke’ and the left hand side received it, interpreting the voices as The Gods and acted accordingly to these demands. His evidence is way beyond my comprehension but Richard Dawkins says its either utter rubbish or complete genius. But there is support from some quarters in the psychological /scientific community with recent research showing that nature by design largely closed up this pattern of thinking (leaving a dormant area) and we are left with remnants in the form of religion, hypnosis, schizophrenia. It was a necessary stage in our evolution and for the survival of the species. As R. D. Lawrence said, ‘Nature is careless about the individual but careful of the species’.

I suppose the summation of these thoughts are that, for our sins, we are born of such complexity that is is inevitable that we will always have opposing forces at work in the world, but that the flaws that exist can be posited, tested and a resolution found, though whether we have time and the nous to see it through and leave this world standing is to be tested.

If you wanted to hear the reality and hope of ‘opposites’ healing and the coming together of seemingly disparate persons and the unworthiness of completely throwing away the key for those committing ‘thought’ and very real crimes (How ‘1984’ were the gaoling of Mandela, Greenpeace and Pussy Riot for their thoughts?) you could do no better than listen to Hardeep Singh Kohli’s 30 minute programme broadcast on 29/12/2013 called ‘Jackie and Graeme’ in the short series called ‘Hardeeps Sunday Lunch’. Available on the BBCiPlayer. Its quite wonderful.

Perhaps these words written and spoken by Carl Sagan should be read out and pinned everywhere, on flyers, in schools, workplaces, wherever we go, as a constant reminder of who and where we are. They are both sobering and yet uplifting, they serve as a warning and yet are a celebration. ‘The pale blue dot’ that we live on.

That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbour life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

In the meantime perhaps we should stop and listen to hear what Carl and Nature is whispering to us. Perhaps we should feel small and act small and perhaps once again, ‘Listen with Mother’.


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‘Home’

“Home”

by James Jay

I’ll be home for Christmas. Come in and make yourself at home. There’s no place like home. The longest way round is the shortest way home.

Home.

We are all familiar with the word, we use it countless times in our lives. In fact I imagine that hardly a week or even a day goes by without using the word home in one context or another. It’s origin goes back to an old English Word ‘ham’, referring to a village where many ‘souls’ are gathered. One dictionary implies that home is “the abiding place of the affections”, which does not suggest bricks and mortar or a room of some kind, more a place where love dwells rather than something solid and owned, rented or sadly sometimes lost or a place we are retired to and/or eventually have to leave.

But the home which we perhaps lose sight of, the one that slips from our minds, if it ever occurs to us in the first place, is the one that is hidden from view, the one which resides between the ears in a place which is frankly undetectable, untraceable and yet is as real and as solid as the walls of your actual ‘home’.

We are born, we live, we die and if we are fortunate we will find what we are looking for in our lives. You may say it’s wealth of some amount, though wealth is of course, relative. You may say it’s an education which will develop us and enable us to forge a path into a career that gives us success, fulfilment, perhaps even a legacy and the greatest legacy some or most would say is our children, for those of us fortunate enough to have them. We may look for and find happiness, love and the life you always wanted. It will come at a price. There is always a price to pay and if you are willing to pay it, you may get what you dreamed of.

But I think that the ‘home’ we may be looking for is the one we see, hear and experience often, but perhaps we do not associate it consciously with our own lives. It’s the home we watch on film, read about in a book, hear it talked of in a story on the radio or we are told sadly, happily or poignantly by a friend or is whispered softly to a child falling asleep or relived time and again to gales of laughter with the assistance of large quantities of alcoholic liquids. It can arise from many sources.

Take the home in the classic film “The Wizard of Oz”. It’s the home that Dorothy loved, but then left and eventually returned to. But it’s the stuff that happened in between the leaving and returning that gives meaning to the word ‘home’.

Depending on your point of view, and here your opinion may differ, but when Dorothy goes on her journey via the ‘Twister’ that carries her ‘home’ away, she is engaged and accompanied by three characters, each with their own ‘flaw’.

The ‘Tin Woodman’ is the helpless romantic who needed a heart to love, the ‘Cowardly Lion’ who needed to find bravery and the Scarecrow who yearned for a brain for intelligence and each in their turn acquired what they needed. Then Dorothy, her journey almost complete, finds her way home by clicking her heels.

You see those three characters, the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman were all really a part of Dorothy, a part of her own character that needed to grow and develop so that she could be a complete person and live a fulfilled life and when she was done, she clicked her heels and she went where? Home. In other words, the answer was inside her all the time, she just needed to go on a journey to find herself before realising that her place was at home, which in her case was the home she originated from. But of course, you can make a home anywhere, if you so desire it. In fact your home then, goes with you wherever you may roam.

And I venture that if we are fortunate enough, rather like our film hero’s and heroines, who take their flaws, run with them, test them and go into the woods, emerging bruised, battered and usually whole, they then return to whence they came, home.

But the real journey was the one inside their heads, where their wants turned into needs, where their ego shrank, to be replaced by far gentler insights and actions, where they found a new fulfilment and where they held the respect of the people they love most and where they returned with a secret, an elixir or maybe a new self that was able to live and love more fully than before.

This, I humbly suggest is where home truly lies.

Home is where the heart is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New born screen-writers

Dr. Strangelove-film or how I learned to stop worrying and love screen-writing

9 comfort blankets for new born struggling screenwriters.

As a newborn screenwriter, I would like to try and lend a helping hand for those, like me, who get stuck and frustrated when stumbling ahead with either both eyes shut or with one squinty eye open against the blinding snowstorm that is life, which drives us back 2 steps for every 1 we advance, as we try to learn the craft of screen-writing.

No doubt it must be a much more slippery road the further up you try to scramble on the screenwriters path, an unmarked path that may not have signs to clearly direct you. It seems more a maze of infinite 3D proportions, where there are any number of entrances, each guarded by burly bouncers who confront your ambitions with those fateful words, ‘Not tonight son'(or darlin’) and you stand confounded whilst a geeky looking guy hustles ahead of you and gets the nod, accompanied by, ‘Nice to see you again, go straight in Mr Sorkin’.

So here are nine suggestions for those of us in need of succour and a nice warm blanket to snuggle up to.

1 William Goldman said, “No one knows anything” and who am I to argue? But perhaps I can turn it around a little, “Everybody knows something”. Out of the plethora of stuff available there’s an even chance that you can find a sign to help you along the way. But YOU have to find it, so take a chance, buy that book, listen to that podcast, go to that festival (Chris Jones will love you for it!). The path you are looking for is not made for you, you make it yourself.

2 If your struggling with stuff sinking in and applying it to your craft, see if you recognise yourself somewhere on this path, perhaps when you were learning to drive a car or play golf.

The four stages of learning…..

1 Unconscious incompetence – This is the stage of blissful ignorance before learning begins.

2 Conscious incompetence – The most difficult stage where learning begins and where most judgements against the self are formed. This is the stage that most people give up.

3 Conscious competence – This stage of learning is much easier than the second stage but is still uncomfortable and self-conscious.

4 Unconscious competence – The final stage of learning a skill is when it has become a natural part of us; we don’t have to think about it.

3 There are no Gods or Goddesses. 10 years ago I bought Mr McKee’s ‘Story’, read it and thought, ‘I must learn all of this?’ Then I realised that like that famous Chevy, it comes ‘one piece at a time’ Saddo that I was, I did walk around with it as if I had discovered the fountain of all screenplay knowledge, when in fact I’d only read the first paragraph. But I got over it. So no Gods, just lots of little smiling Buddha.

4 Find psychological help. There has been a billion words written about screenplay structure and other stuff, but sometimes you may need the how to apply yourself stuff too. A kind of practical blueprint you can follow until your first Oscar appears. Try this link, http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2013/11/part-1-if-you-are-a-beginning-screenwriter.html its not a guarantee of success, just a nod and a wink to a burly bouncer, who may let you slip in unnoticed. Grab a copy of a creative writing book. One recommended to me by Jay Griffith, author of ‘Wild’ was the ‘Cambridge book Creative Writing’ by David Morley, its a fascinating beautifully written book on the unconscious stuff that goes on in a writers head. Any other books? Hundreds, but this one covers a lot of ground and with many references from Keats to King (Stephen).

5 Watch films, read scripts, watch more films read more scripts, any and all, the duff ones, the classics and if someone wants to buy you a gift get them to buy the DVDs/screenplay books with directors/writers commentaries, they are enlightening fascinating and incredibly helpful in helping to de-mystify the process a little. Although I do now find it more difficult to just watch a film without my head looking for inciting incidents etc., its a small price to pay and in fact I appreciate films more so now. Go to the pictures. Obvious I know, but maybe go alone once a week, get the cheap days. I have a privately funded and built cinema just opened a 20 minute cycle ride away that shows films for £5 before 5 pm. I go on my week day off or midday on weekends. Its quiet, its got a big screen and its got a great café too.

6 Watch ‘Finding Joe’. Yes its about Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey (the sound of a thousand feet running for the hills!!) but its neither a film designed to indoctrinate you or a dialectic on how every film should follow his path and not veer away from it. Akiva Goldsman, Rashida Jones, Mick Fleetwood and skateboarder extrodinaire Tony Hawks are just some of the people who enlighten and entertain you with their own stories which are moving, honest and inspirational and relate our heroes on film and in literature with our own selves and psyche.

7 OK so you don’t want to read every book in the universe about film structure, well read this one, John Yorke’s ‘Into the Woods.’ Why? Because John Yorke has read every book in the Universe. It’s not a how to, a you must, a guarantee of success, but its a brilliantly insightful, modest, witty overview of the fundamentals of film/ theatre structure and why we do it, tell stories that is and how the likes of Shakespeare and those after do follow certain principles in their storytelling. For me if Kirsty off Desert Island Disc’s wanted my luxury item, this would be it. (apart from her of course!)

 

7 ‘Story Maps’ by Dan Calvisi– OK so we’re back to the dreaded story structure. This guy was a script-reader in Hollywood for years and he recognises that within great films there is a pattern of form and whilst you should not follow it religiously, you may want to have a template of some sort when things get tough. Also the only thing you can control is your script, forget about everything else. Yes I know there’s the pitch and stuff. But as Akiva Goldsman says in ‘Finding Joe’, no ones gonna come to you with an offer for a script you haven’t written yet.

 

8 Don’t be afraid to be a little obsessive about the art or the consequences of learning it. You may be changing as a person, you will become strange to your friends, relatives, work colleagues. You may go through dodgy moments, moments of doubt, even slight depressions and frustrations. You may have no time, mucho tiredness or feel great isolation from the world. You may even reach some dark places within yourself and that’s OK too, just remember to come back. Have a day off, experience life, exercise, have sex with someone and remember the three hardest things in life to say are ‘I love you, sorry and please help me’, so be kind to yourself and those around you.

 

9 I came across these words whilst watching the extras on the ‘Requiem for a Dream’ (Aronofsky) DVD. An interview by the actress Ellen Burstyn with the author of the adapted book Hubert Selby Jnr. Its on ‘You Tube’ if you want to view it and a transcript is available on the Net. For me this guy talks a strange kind of sense and nails a lot of stuff about life and stories and who we are and our difficulties (he had his own to say the least). Here is a short excerpt.

We really do, I believe, create the world that we live in. If I remember correctly, the word “eye”—the physical eye—the Sanskrit root and the Hebrew root, I believe, is “ayin,” meaning “fountain.” In other words, this is not an organ that’s receiving vibrations from what’s out there and going through them and interpreting; it’s a projector. We project it. So the world that I live in, I’m projecting.”

Finally, number 10. Yes I know I said 9, but it’s Christmas!

Brevity is all (in scripts anyway) or as the Pope, that’s Alexander, said,

Words are like leaves and where they most abound much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found”

And,

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.”

Sleep tight and no suckin’ your thumb!

 

 

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Pictures at an Exhibition

I went to a museum.

It was not a museum with a permanent display on show, it was temporary and would move on.

The museum was hosting a display of work, an exhibition of artefacts both personal and professional of that great man Albert Einstein.

I wandered slowly around the exhibition and then came to an archway the size of a door and walked through.

On the other side of the archway was a room, bare, except that running down the length of one side was a row of simple but beautifully framed sheets of A4 sized pieces of paper, all spaced equal distance from each other and hung at a height made easy for reading.

There were 15 of them.

I stopped at the first frame and read the sheet of paper beneath.

I found it to be unintelligible. It was full of mathematical and scientific workings the like of which I could not understand.

I moved to the second one.

This too was just as baffling, but the workings seemed to my feeble mind somehow to follow on from the first frame that I could not decipher.

I moved to the third frame. More equations apparently following the last one.

The fourth and the fifth, the same.

The sixth, seventh and eighth were no different, each one full of the most complex symbols and arrangements that for all intents and purposes could have been a language spoken by an alien race.

The ninth, tenth and eleventh showed no mercy.

The twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth reached no conclusions.

I moved to the fifteenth, bewitched, bothered and bewildered.

I stopped at the fifteenth. I stopped and stared. I stopped and stared and something happened to me that I have no real explanation for, something that occurs perhaps when for a moment one seems to grasp the greatness of a power beyond oneself, a glimpse into something so fundamental and so awe-inspiring as to make you feel so small and yet so illuminated. Maybe it was with a realisation that a man had grasped by his own heart and mind a principle power that belonged to a greater whole, something that is a cog in a huge universal wheel that turns unceasingly and unflinchingly and with effortless grace.

On the fifteenth sheet of paper there were no hefty calculations. There were only two lines written.

The first line simply read, “Therefore”.

The second line stated humbly, succinctly and with great clarity,

E = mc2.

I wept.

 

 

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