Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Fish Dreaming

I don't know if this happens to other people, but I often dream about old toys. Not about old toys as a class of objects, but rather my own old toys. To be more specific, I dream about the toys that I have completely forgotten - or rather, in light of the recollection the dreams bring, the toys that I think I have completely forgotten (although in fact I don't think I have forgotten them  - that is, I'm not conscious of having forgotten them; it is simply that I no longer remember them - until they come to me in dreams).

Usually, the things that come back to me are ornaments - china animals mainly, (for some reason, for a while when I was young I liked to have a little china dog or rabbit about my person; it was oddly comforting to put a hand into a pocket and feel the smooth contours of a tiny creature lurking in its depths). Sometimes though something else appears from the recesses of my memory. The other night for instance I dreamt about a game.

The game was, I think, called the Fishing Game. It used to be one of my favourite possessions. It came in a box that was decorated with a watercolour picture of fish and waterweed. Inside the box were the various bits and pieces that went to make up the game.

The largest component was a cardboard folding enclosure, its exterior painted, like the box, to look a bit like a pond. You unfolded this enclosure and set it on the table and then you dropped small cardboard fish with magnets on their faces into the middle of it. Once you'd done this you picked up the tiny fishing lines that were the final items in the box. On the end of these lines there were also magnets so that, when you dangled them into the enclosure, you were able to 'catch' the fish within.

Curiously when I woke up from dreaming that I'd been playing the Fishing Game and turned on the radio, the first thing I heard was a man from Cambridge explaining that 'scientists' - (that shadowy group of beings we are always being told about; I imagine them faceless and silent, a stream of cybermen flooding across Westminster Bridge) - have discovered that salmon have tiny iron crystals in their noses that help to orient them when they migrate. Leaving aside the fact that I didn't even know salmon - or fish in general - actually had noses, (isn't that what gills are for?), this information struck me as truly extraordinary.

The man from Cambridge then went on to tell us that in the Czech Republic in all the markets at Christmas time they have tubs full of carp, which people buy, either to eat or to throw into the rivers - (this latter option raises many questions, but I'll resist asking them here) - and the cybermen, (sorry, I meant 'scientists'), have studied these carp in their tubs and discovered that, utterly mysteriously, they all - every single one of them - no matter how crowded their tubs are, turn themselves round so that they are oriented north to south.

Isn't this wonderfully strange? And what if it's not only fish? What if we too are at the mercy of overpowering impulses that we're not even aware of? What if, believing ourselves rational and in control of our destinies, we are really being tugged this way and that in some huge and complicated game? 

Monday, 28 January 2013

If Only

If only Adam Buxton had been around when I was little, I would not have had to endure this misery. At least he's here now though, intervening on behalf of the younger generation:

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Oh I Give Up

Someone has just sent me the Sydney Morning Herald's suggestion for something to do on Australia Day. Why am I surprised?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

This Enveloping Passion of Australians

It is Australia Day - cue newspaper columns overflowing with maunderings on the never-often-enough-asked, (hem hem), question, 'What does it mean to be Australian?'

In this context, I would like to draw the world's attention - or at least such of the world as wanders by this blog - to a poem by the incomparable Les Murray. It highlights the one passion that, I think, unites almost all Australians:


From the metal poppy
this good blast of trance
arriving as shock, private cloudburst blazing down,
worst in a boarding-house greased tub, or a barrack with                            competitions,
best in a stall, this enveloping passion of Australians:
tropics that sweat for you, torrent that braces with its heat,
inflames you with its chill, action sauna, inverse bidet,
sleek vertical coruscating ghost of your inner river,
reminding all your fluids, streaming off your points, awakening
the tacky soap to blossom and ripe autumn, releasing the                            squeezed gardens,
smoky valet smoothing your impalpable overnight pyjamas off,
pillar you can step through, force-field absolving love's efforts,
nicest yard of the jogging track, speeding aeroplane minutely
steered with two controls, or trimmed with a knurled wheel.
Some people like to still this energy and lie in it,
stirring circles with their pleasure in it - but my delight's that toga
worn on either or both shoulders, fluted drapery, silk whispering            to the tiles
with its spiralling frothy hem continuous round the gurgle-hole;
this ecstatic partner, dreamy to dance in slow embrace with
after factory-floor rock, or even to meet as Lot's abstracted
merciful wife on a rusty ship in dog latitudes,
sweetest dressing of the day in the dusty bush, this persistent
time-capsule of unwinding, this nimble straight well-wisher.
Only in England is its name an unkind word;
only in Europe is it enjoyed by telephone.

I wonder if showers are included on the list; I must go and look. (I have to admit, I don't understand the last line - any explanations very gratefully received [oh I am a dimwit - I've just realised, of course: he's referring to those awful showers on cords that a) never stay in the brackets you're supposed to hook them onto and b) look less like something in the bathroom than a speaker on some odd kind of telephone.])

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Tiny Pleasures

Although the dishwasher is not my favourite object, there is still something very pleasing about going into the kitchen and seeing a whole lot of washing-up that needs doing and thinking that you will either a) have to wash it up by hand or b) unload the dishwasher of the last load before putting this lot into it, and then opening the dishwasher and finding that it hasn't been set off and therefore, if you stuff it absolutely to the runnels - or should that be gunnels? (and, whichever it is, what are they exactly?) - you will be able to avoid both tasks.

Of course, some hours later you may find yourself facing a dishwasher full of things that haven't washed properly because you shoved too many of them into it, but who cares about that. This is now. That is in the future. Here in the present, you've managed to avoid doing something really, really dull*.

(*I have to admit that this article almost persuaded me that washing up by hand is not really, really dull - but it is, if it is a twice or thrice daily unavoidable task, to be fitted in among other more pressing activities, rather than a discretionary semi-hobby, as it almost appears to be for the writer. It's a great article though.)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Next Big Thing

In response to my oldest daughter's generous tag in 'The Next Big Thing' series, I have answered the following questions about the first novel I have completed (see sidebar) and the things I am working on now.

The writers recommended at the end of this blog post will, I hope, (I don't know any of them well - or at all in most cases - although I admire the work of all of them) then let the virtual world know what they are creating, and so on and so on, until we all know the ins and outs of each other's dreams. Got it? Good. Right.......

Where did the idea come from for the book you've written?

Originally, I wanted to write a short story about friendship and how someone you are absolutely intensely good friends with when you are young is not always the person you feel the same way about later - and how, while you fall into friendships with no aforethought, it is actually far more difficult to extricate yourself from a friendship morally, if that is the word, than to get a divorce. As it turned out it wasn't a short story, but a novel - partly about friendship but much more about other things.

What genre does your work fall under?

 Middle list fiction, apparently, according to publishers - a genre that is extremely unpopular and impossible to sell just now, so they tell me.

What actors would you choose to play the part of the characters in your first book in a movie rendition?

They are still a bit young but it takes a long time to get finance so they probably won't be by the time anything gets off the ground - and they are all tremendously good actresses as well as being friends of my youngest daughter:
1) Jo Starte as Sheila - she is just starting at NIDA and I'm sure will take the world by storm.
2) Hannah Murray as Helen - she has been in Game of Thrones and other, more interesting, if less prominent, things.
3) Ellie Kendrick as Kate - she played Juliet beautifully in a Globe production of Romeo and Juliet some years ago and has gone on to do many other things since then.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your work?

Three women muddle along.

How long does it take you to create a finished page?

 Ridiculously long - endless afternoons, changing 'pretty' to 'attractive' to 'beautiful' to 'easy on the eye' to 'lovely to look at' and then back to the original 'pretty' - all with a pen or pencil and a nice clean page started after each change.

Who or what inspires you?

Helen Garner, Jane Gardam, Margery Allingham, Martin Boyd, Beryl Bainbridge, Penelope Fitzgerald, Alice Thomas Ellis, Muriel Spark, John Updike, Tove Jansson, Geoffrey Willans, Clive James, Henry James, WH Auden, Philip Larkin, Edward Eager, John Verney, PL Travers, Auberon Waugh, Evelyn Waugh. I'd better stop now.

What else about your work might pique the viewer’s interest?

I hope that people will feel moments of identification with my characters, that at times they might say, 'Ah yes, so it isn't only me.' Also, for the kind of reader who likes to notch up lots of volumes, having set themselves the challenge to read a certain number of books a week, it's quite easy to read very quickly.

Will your work be self-published or represented by an agency?

 I had an agent but sadly we fell out. I would like it to be published by someone other than myself.

The writers I am tagging are:

David Free, whose work I discovered one rainy afternoon. I couldn't believe that his novel hadn't been published as it is so funny and extraordinarily well observed.

Elberry, who is very clever and entertaining.

Josephine Rowe, who I have only just discovered and whose responses I would be intrigued to read .

Decca Muldowney, who has been a bit quiet lately but who has produced some lovely poems in the past.

Micawber White - (not I think his real name; I suspect he is a friend of Mark Griffith) - who has just started serialising a novel that appears to combine Wodehouse and Dickens and has me intrigued.

Wilf Merttens, who is a clever Devon boy.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Closely Watched

I mentioned a while ago that you're never alone in Budapest. Wherever you go, there are unknown faces keeping an eye on you. In large parts of Sydney, there is nothing similar, but in the central business district you will find one or two kindly figures gazing down from above:

These last few have all been from the same building, the magnificent central post office, now alas little more than a facade, enclosing investment bankers plus fancypants sushi places and brand name jewellers et cetera. Many of the faces on its exterior are supposed to represent countries of the world or states of Australia. If you click on the pictures and look closely you can make out letters around the necks of many of them, which are abbreviations of whatever it is they are representing:

It would be stating the obvious to say, 'they don't make them like that any more', so I won't say it.