Sunday, June 29, 2008


Questions taken from Reluctant Blogger's website


I was living in Tooting Bec, London, with my school friend, Adam Lidster. I had recently split up with my girlfriend, a super market check out girl and mother of a two year old boy, who lived in a somewhat medieval looking village in Suffolk. I was working for a backstreet company making display cases for shopping malls. Most enchantingly, no joke, this could involve me pulling a gypsy wagon by hand from the Oval all the way to Covent Garden through, and in spite of, the morning traffic.


I don’t keep such lists, but I’ll not be a pedantic twit. To have lunch. To hang around the office, in which I have no work to do, surfing the internet, drinking coffee. To organise papers about sundry, official matters relating to next year. To go see a flat in a colourfully named place – Mahboula - in Southern Kuwait. To consider the question of dinner.


Consider at last that Justice had been done!

No, seriously. Provisionally, I would feel very happy, indeed! I would not immediately give up my job but certainly would, soon enough. I would not, I hope, tell anyone I’d miraculously become a billionaire for at least a few weeks, except for a financial advisor. I would not, I think, want to give away too much of the actual capital (though I might change my mind). Rather, so I could give away permanently, I would want, annually, to give away most of the interest earnt on the money. I would give money to people I admired and felt needed the money, to specific individuals in dire need and to humanitarian causes (as directly as possible. I distrust charities and the Governments to whom they sometimes have to give through). Possibly, I might want to found an unashamedly elitist University, open only to those who can score highly according not only to intellectual, but moral and spiritual, criteria. My own personal lifestyle wouldn’t change much, though presumably I wouldn’t have to worry any more about vulgar, boring things like ‘financial security’.


Cambridge. 69 Barton Road in Newnham, near Grantchester.
The majestic, ethereal city of Durham, Seat of the Prince Bishop’s. Place of congregation of noble, undecadent spirits. Before Elberry’s time, just.
London. Tooting Bec, Tooting Broadway. Islington
Slovakia. Bratislava, including the very famous and imposing Petrazalka.
Kuwait. Salmiya, above a bakery, a toyshop, many Indians and Bangladeshis, and a very busy road.


Not sure I’m qualified to say…how about –

Eating too much
Not having enough sex
Eating sardines direct from the tin; hating housework, generally


Wine waiter
Gypsy wagon puller
Telesalesman (less than a week)
Teacher of English


It is supposed, I believe, to be some kind of conceivably pretentious aspiration to live in the eyes of eternity.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Reading today on the Reluctant Blogger, I came across an affecting piece about suicide. Reluctant is right that suicide is taboo. Talking about it is not easy – well, except to suicidal people who on the whole rather like to talk about it, often too much, their burdened, less miserable audience might feel.

Society’s default position on suicide is that it is ‘selfish’. This fashionably modern defect is the vestige of a historical scorn for the deed that, regrettably, used to be far more severe. Failure to be buried on consecrated ground, you know. You can’t get more resounding an expression of contempt than that.

Setting aside the outstanding, logical difficulties presented by an act of self-destruction being understood as an act in service of the self, other objections can be mentioned. Reluctant invited feedback and perspectives on suicide. The comments are thoughtful, touching and insightful. I recommend them for anyone interested in the subject.

I added me ‘two cents’, as it is said. Where did that phrase come from?

'Suicide is a selfish act, but this, in my opinion, is because the suicidal state of mind that leads to it is so often that of a mind inaccessibly cut off from the capacity to feel its living, relational connections to other people.

When you are the only reality that you can feel, it is to be expected that you would behave in a selfish way.

So I'd say that while suicide is selfish (and depression itself a selfish emotional state), this doesn't mean I don't feel a deep, fully forgiving compassion towards those who wish to, or do, commit it.

The atomisation of human society into isolated individuals bereft of a sufficiently organic, shared sense of belonging to a community, is, I would say, the fundamental background reason for the possibility of suicide.

The wealth of reports from those who say they are glad that they didn't commit suicide after wanting to, together with psychiatrists belief that ambiguity and ambivalence of resolve very often characterise the suicidal mindset prior to the deed, tells me that suicide intervention is a justifiable policy, albeit, I accept, complicated in its implications.

Pathetic as it may sound, my suspicion is that suicidal people just aren't getting the right amount of the right type of love in their life. Medication and analysis is often incapable of providing such love, alas. This is not to blame their friends or families, however, for not loving them, as being loved and feeling that you are loved can be very different things. Besides, love should be more readily available and present in society in general.

Another interesting perspective is to think of suicide in terms of the age old tension and conflict between the 'ego' and the 'true self' - a dialectic usually, but not necessarily, conceived of in spiritual terms.

The ego, our superficial sense of self, our personality, built from our projections, ambitions, fears and attachments is, I would suggest, universally dysfunctional. Spirituality is the quest to transcend this and access the timeless, deeper, unconditioned self which is only love, only peace, only joy. I think many people try to access this purer, more authentic psychic ground through activities such as, for example, alcohol, drugs, the passionate love of art, political or religious fanaticism, extreme sports, orgasm and the rhapsodies of romantic love -things which unite them to something larger than themselves.

We are trying to escape ourselves in order to find ourselves, because something in us tells us that this - our humdrum everyday ego-bound, conflicted, consciousness- is not all that we are.

Understood in this context, I see that suicidal people, then, are not so very different. The difference is a question of the degree of the desire to escape, not a different kind of desire.

Since atomised societies tend to increase ego strengthening, narcissistic tendencies, this confirms, to me, my original thoughts about atomisation and suicide.

This is a really sympathetic, thoughtful post of yours. Tragically, yes, suicide is taboo."

Ok, more like two dollars, than two cents.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Alas, I didn’t get to see any bears in Yosemite. Or rather, I did but only ones climbing in an out of car windows on the promotional videos shown to alarm new guests at the Curry Village camping ground.

It felt almost military, assiduously obeying the finer details of how to keep these invisible bears at bay. Absolutely nothing to be left in your car; no food, no toiletries, no drinks, no trash. All food and odorous items to be stored overnight in lockers outside the tent door, only water to be taken inside. Most exciting. It felt hardy and noble to be camping, too. Even though I had to insist, for an extra 30 dollars, so I could get at least some sleep, that my tent - equipped like all the tents with bouncy mattress and bed - be a heated one.

Despite the bear disappointment, Yosemite was definitely worth the drive. All the sickly sweet, tourist guff you’re liable to encounter about the ‘Spirit of Yosemite’. It’s all true. That said, if you want to see the waterfalls - a major highlight – you need to go, as I did, before the summer, when the mountain snows haven’t finished melting. Best to go, too, during the week, unless you have a particular desire for human beings amidst your cliffs and redwoods.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Gay Misogynist?

I was nervous about going into one of the gay bars on Castro’s main street. It looked crowded and was pumping, raw and raucous. I could hardly see inside. Homophobic ghouls whispered fearsome scenarios in my ears.

Starbucks had no free seats, so before long I swallowed my fear and propped myself up at the red, brightly lit bar. The male staff’s attire conformed to the rippling, muscle-hugging stereotype I had expected to find.

I looked round and noticed the customers were young and predominantly, but not exclusively, male. Were the ladies lesbians, I wondered? This might fit the location. Or were they straight and keen to escape the otherwise inescapable gaze of desirous male eyes (such as my own, unluckily for them)? Or, less drastically, were they here because gay men are ‘nice’ and like to, or at least can, talk about shopping and makeup and men? Or maybe, if straight, the bar was just nearby, or they were visiting friends. In any case, unlike the men, they were not kissing each other – if that means anything.

A couple of young women, pretty indeed, sat next to me. On my account? - I wondered, in a wild moment. But they made no efforts to engage me, nor I them, as the intensity of their mutual involvement fenced me out - as it did not the barman, whom they would regularly embrace and call ‘darling’. A part of my brain had wondered if women in a gay bar might be more forthcoming than normally at initiating conversations with men...or with me at least.

I sat there drinking four pints of beer, remembering I was not in Kuwait, staring at people in an innocently vacant way, feeling pretty good about things, wondering occasionally if I should read my book.

A bar three doors up the road was very different. The crowd was older - middle aged- and exclusively male. Again I sat at the bar, this time next to an elderly, moustachioed gentleman, primed in the sixties I should think. Like Tiresias from the café, he lamented the passage of time and the decline of The Castro. I remarked that it was bizarre (for me) to be in a bar packed only with men, gay pornography aflame on overhead TVs. You should have seen it in the early days, in the 70s, he replied. Large screen performances of harder stuff than that, the audience sucking and fucking festively beneath; not timidly reconciled, as now, to the respectability and acceptability that the victory of gay rights has wrought.

Clearly, there is no pleasing some people.

He explained that the other bar I’d been in was for a younger, mixed crowd, that a generational gap within the gay community explained the differences in atmosphere. Whereas the men next door were younger, camper, more ‘feminine’ – closer it might be said to the stereotypical gay boy; here, men were still ‘men’ in everything other than their sexual preferences, being unashamedly masculine, if not butch.

This was confirmed by a man standing to my left. Though he added another observation I found very interesting.

Nowadays, San Francisco is ‘run by women’. These women, because of their newfound self-confidence and power, are in a position to demand from men certain characteristics and attributes. These, on the whole, are feminine, and the heterosexual male majority, keen as ever to do what it takes to seduce women, agree to do and be what it takes. In consequence, many straights are now more feminised even than the camp gays next door! Only amongst the men of this bar, he suggested, could true masculinity be found. Only amongst those who don’t have to, because they don’t need to, mould themselves to the designs of the new woman.

An interesting perspective. And where could I find a lesbian bar, I asked?

They are around, he answered. I would be welcome but I won’t find any men there, gay or straight. As for the gays, they don’t mix much with the lesbians. They work together on questions of rights and social issues, of course, but that’s about it.