Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Category Archives: Uncategorized

We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come

I used to love exploring the Tate when I was a kid and the Tate was the Tate and not yet Tate Britain. In the stairwells down hung huge Stanley Spencer Resurrections, audacious, absorbing, overwhelming. This one, significantly from 1945, is apparently in Dundee, and shows the reunion of families – an image that speaks to our times also.

It’s the matter-of-factness that is so audacious. Spencer has the guts to take it absolutely literally. We will meet again, as somebody or other said recently. Even if we have to climb out of our graves to do it.

A sure and certain hope to you. Happy Easter!

Red white and blue retirement

This glossy invitation to experience Exceptional Retirement Living tipped onto my doormat the other day. Though my wife and I may be the right age for luxury retirement, we’ve neither the cash nor the inclination, and certainly not, I must say, if this eye-pummelling décor is a glimpse of what we might expect.

Since this is apparently not the Boutique Hotel from Hell, it must be the “Library” at St George’s Place. (It’s clearly not the on-site Health Club or Restaurant also advertised. Nor the living accommodation, which, thank goodness, looks extremely bland.) If I were shut in this room, I might last fifteen minutes before attempting to gnaw my way out through the locked door. It’s like a bad dream of an afterlife that’s gone wrong – the cheap baronial chandelier, the Catherine Cooksons and Geoffrey Boycott’s memoirs stacked beneath the job lot Chinese vases, the crassly doubled-up sub-Bauhaus mirrors, the pseudo-Sonia Delaunay curtains and cushions, the overpowering square yardage of bright red (including the radiators), the indescribable chairs and – the real Piece of Resistance – some oversized Hanoverian in full tartan striding out from the faux chimney breast.

Or some hopelessly impoverished parody of The Posh Life, conjured up by a drunken magician on a bad day, or reconstructed from a garbled, twenty-third-hand source and thrown together by Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time. This is genuine Outsider Post-Modernism, so unknowingly AWFUL that it could hardly have been done better. And I can’t see that it can represent any actual environment that anybody has ever known, expected to know or would want to know.

Oh yes, and why “St George’s”? What’s with the nationalist vibe? The retirement rabbit hutches apartments down the road from us are slapped up by a firm of Tory donors called Churchill, who fly the Union Jack outside. What next? Thatcher Mansions? Rees-Mogg Mews? Farage Towers?

Maybe that’s it. Post-Brexit, this will be your expected aspiration, what you will think you remember with longing, or what someone else more “cultured” than you will be remembering for you. This room’s been designed as a *meme* of Britishness. Though if the Scots cut free, the dude in the gold frame will need a hasty makeover.

National Mistrust

It’s a while since I had the chutzpah to post here any of my own *creative* writing, but while struggling (still) to complete my Great Novel, I stumbled recently across an unconnected and forgotten fragment that may be worth a second look.

Though written over three years ago, much of “National Mistrust” seems to reflect quite well our current mood of national hysteria. Its two surviving parts blend gardening, stately homes and mobility scooters with surveillance, paranoia and some variety of fascist militarism. I suppose it owes something, in a pale kind of way, to Auden’s The Orators of 1932, also cited way back in this post. Much of it was written in the launderette at Dawley, near Telford, during a spell without our own washing machine. Dangerous places, launderettes.

So, to what purpose I know not, “National Mistrust” now has a page with a tab up above, or go here. The illustrations to it are looted from anywhere.

Note: screens in Brunswick, willow, bamboo slat, bamboo cane. Each portable in its own green carrying case. Enhances the patio or balcony. Creates a quick and attractive feature. Combines shade with shelter from sniper fire.

Idea: employ garden statuary for beginners’ target practice. (But not metal – danger of ricochet.)

Query: can garden hose systems be adapted to serve as flame-throwers?

Query: is it possible to train robins?

What are we fighting for?

For the conservation of our Landscape!

Memorial and no memorial

There’s a fair bit already on this site about waspish blond poet James Burns Singer, mostly via the “Transparent Prisoner” tabs above. Here’s a bit more.

From the late ‘fifties Burns Singer was based in Cambridge, where he married pioneering black psychologist, child psychotherapist and Fellow of Clare Hall, Marie Battle. In his intro to Singer’s 1970 Collected, W A S Keir notes that after the poet’s too early death in 1964 aged 36, his ashes were scattered at sea, but that “on 24th July 1966, a memorial stone was dedicated to his memory in Little St Mary’s Churchyard, Cambridge.” Anne Cluysenaar also mentions it in her intro to the 1977 Selected.

So where and what exactly is this memorial? On my first visit it avoided me, and I wondered if it had actually existed, or had been removed, though to be fair I was struggling to stay conscious in the teeth of a howling winter’s gale in March, which shortened my time shivering and poking about in the churchyard. When I asked afterwards, none of the kind people at St Mary’s (thank you, Christine Tipple) had any knowledge of it, but on my latest visit it finally revealed itself. In case anyone else wants to take a look, the memorial is on the left among the ranks of small stones set into the ground at the street end, which at first I’d assumed marked only burials of ashes. It’s worn and mottled, but it still reads:

1928 – 1964
1910 – 1985

That’s a fine inscription. I’m not sure whether this is the original 1966 stone with an added bit, or a 1985 replacement, though I imagine the first. Who re-dedicated it to Marie Battle Singer, I wouldn’t know. My pics (click to enlarge) show the memorial and its location, and I’ll throw in an awkward selfie-with-stone for good measure. (Tricky angle.)


I should dedicate this post, not that it’s anywhere near worthy of him, to another Cambridge poet, my friend Bill Bennett, who died, very sadly, three weeks ago.  Though he had edited the earliest editions of Perfect Bound, the influential ‘seventies “Cambridge school” poetry magazine, he was himself published surprisingly rarely. Nevertheless, he saw as a poet, wrote as a poet, and lived as a poet – and as much more too. An entirely remarkable man. No stone for him, just woodland, as it should be.

Small update

Many thanks to Christine Tipple of Little St Mary’s, who emails to let me know of a 1990 leaflet stating that Singers’s ashes are buried in the garden of the church (which appears not to be the case), and that a bird bath in the garden, now sadly broken off its stand, was given by his wife as a memorial to him. I’d rather like to think that is the case, given that in late 2012 the late Bill Bennett (remembered above) emailed me this from Cambridge in response to my Singer posts:

“As graves go, I may even see if I can track down the Jimmy Singer memorial birdbath … For a time I was thinking I must have met his widow (never that many black women psychiatrists around Cambridge and I certainly met one ) but I really can’t recall an accent … so perhaps it’s one of those false memories …”

My emphasis, as they say. This is remarkably odd. I never mentioned birdbaths to Bill, and at the time I assumed he was just being flippantly inventive. Surely he can’t have known? One of those psychic things, perhaps. Or a false memory that turns out to be accurate? (Or perhaps, on further reflection, he just googled it?) Bit late to ask him now, though hopefully I’ll get an opportunity in the afterlife …

Also, a friend in the congregation tells Christine that she remembers Marie Battle Singer, and that her mother went to her funeral. There she met Marie’s sister from the States, who probably added her name to the stone.

Artificial melancholy in Sutton Coldfield

My wife says it’s a shame that I’m reduced to blogging about the contents of garden centres (see last post), and she probably has a point. But while I’m still in the mood, here’s a quick tour around select bits of Hall’s of Sutton Coldfield, a surprisingly off kilter venue nestling innocently just outside Birmingham, whose displays of massed cultural fossils achieve fresh and unerring incongruity overload, reuniting Nature with ruin and artificial melancholy in a tradition extending back to the eighteenth century. In connection with which, I was delighted to find above the toilet doors a print of Millais’s Cherry Ripe, a kitsch icon and descendant of Joshua Reynolds’s Penelope Boothby as already discussed in this post. Other highlights include a “Japanese Water Garden” (with both piped water and piped pseudo-oriental music), a vast stock of worryingly large plastic animals and a gargantuan dinosaur on a pallet on the roof. (Oh yes, and look carefully and you’ll see that the tree man, behind the frog and duck fountains, houses a surveillance camera.)

A previous foray here into contemporary kitsch, my post on the Trafford Centre in Manchester, left one commenter feeling “a bit queasy”. This is all very much miniaturised in comparison with that postmodern Xanadu, but I hope these images may have just a little of the same effect. (Click thumbnails for slides and click below slides for mega enlargements. )

The Improdigal Father

This blogs needs a re-injection of energy. Sorry. Meanwhile, Happy Father’s Day for yesterday! Far be it from me to criticise Jesus’s skills as a creator of parables, but don’t you sometimes feel that the figure of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son is rather too blank, too blameless? Isn’t self reproach a part of the suffering of God the Father? Shouldn’t the whole thing be more symmetrical? So here’s a little vision that came to me yesterday during Communion. With a nice pic by Max Beckmann.

The Improdigal Father

After the younger son had left for a distant country, there to squander his wealth, the presence of his remaining brother proved a diminishing comfort to the father, who entered a dark period of prolonged remorse and self-examination. News of the famine in his son’s adopted country and of the young man’s impoverished and pitiful condition only deepened the old man’s guilt, while the severely dutiful character of the older son became less a compensation than an irritant.

Max Beckmann, The Prodigal Son

Max Beckmann, The Prodigal Son

“It’s all very well you slaving out here in the fields all day,”  commented his father, “but your brother is starving, somewhere hundreds of miles away, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. And you working all hours and calculating the profits isn’t going to help. Your brother’s going to die and you’re in complete denial.”

“Well someone’s got to take care of business,” said the son. “And you’re just sitting around moping all day and beating yourself up about it. What good does that do?”

His father didn’t answer.

“And maybe,” his son continued, “he wouldn’t have left in the first place if you hadn’t been so hard on him, banging on all the time about responsibility and aspiration. You never played with us when we were little, you know. We didn’t exactly have a fun childhood.”

“I know, I know” mumbled the father. “But then, your grandfather was very distant with me when I was small. I never had much of an example to follow.”

But his son wasn’t listening. “And then,” he continued, “after all those years of repression, to go and give him his half of the estate, all in one go. You might have known what would happen. Total disaster! He simply couldn’t handle it, but that wasn’t his fault.”

“I know, I know. But I was trying to do the right thing. I wanted to make it up to him for being so hard on him. But I just made everything worse.”

Then news came that his lost son had been spotted, a long way down the road, walking back home. The old man rushed out of the house, tears staining his face, and ran to find him. When he met him he threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“I’m so sorry,” he wept. “It’s all my fault. I have sinned against heaven and against you. I’ve been a useless dad; in fact I’m no longer worthy to be called your father. I’ve been so depressed and guilty about it. A day hasn’t gone past when I haven’t reproached myself for everything that’s happened. I’ve lain awake every night thinking about your situation, worrying about the future. And your brother hasn’t helped. He’s grown so cold and hard, like me. All he thinks about is his work. I only wanted the best for you both. Where did I go wrong?”

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” said the young man. “You don’t have to feel bad about it any more. I’m home now and things will be better, you’ll see. We’ve both learned a valuable lesson. I’ll tell you what – have you still got a fattened calf left? Why don’t we go home and kill it and have a feast to celebrate? That’ll cheer you up a bit.”

When the older brother found out what was happening, he became angry and resentful. But his younger brother said to him, “Celebrate with us and be glad. This father of ours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”

Bulletins from Nowhere

Predictive spelling on your phone is just low level annoyance, but predictive writing, as Stephen Hawking recently warned the world, will soon drag us all to Cybergeddon. Or will it? Will the technology really take over our thinking, or is Hawking in science fiction mode?

Hawking: the end of the human race?

Hawking: the end of the human race?

I often use my Amazon Kindle Fire to email. As on many devices, its keyboard flashes up the word it thinks I’m typing, along with a few more or less likely alternatives; it then offers the next word in the sequence, again with options – some sensible, others baffling. Generally I ignore the lot, but today I thought I’d try tapping with the flow, to see what the Kindle might have to say for itself. Below are the five short messages that it wrote.

The rules of my experiment are simple: generate a message subject, or the first word in a sentence, by randomly tapping the keyboard and selecting a ‘corrected’ suggestion. Choose subsequent words by their suitability for the syntactical flow, and not for their meaning or prominence. (Not always possible, so syntax is often erratic.) Insert a full stop / exclamation / colon when the grammatical structure touches ground. End the message when things seem to short circuit.

fireThis makes for a rather disquieting form of automatism. My own recent phrasings flow back to taunt me, but mangled up with elements of some sort of alien Kindle in-house uber-content. As a result, names may be familiar: ‘Delancey’ is the evil property empire involved in the Wolverhampton sculpture campaign that occupied too much of my time last year, while ‘Jack November’ is the stage name of German chanteuse Daniela Moos, whose work I much like. Or worryingly not so: ‘Chris Dodd’ and ‘Chuck Schumer’ turn out to be US democratic politicians of whom I’d never heard but whom Amazon obviously thinks I need to reference. But who the hell are ‘Guv’, ‘Tzu’ or ‘Dr Congo’? ‘Guv’ crops up with significant frequency in these messages; I imagine him as primal, slightly threatening, something close to Eliot’s Sweeney character.

Compared with the more exuberant artificially generated texts left on my site by spammers – see an earlier post – these little bulletins are narrow and oddly depressing. The writer appears to be some sort of unsuccessful small time agent. His style is almost telegraphic. He is nervous and his content often repetitive, as if to compensate for having too little to report. He has obviously been sending these bulletins for some years and is now reduced to going through the motions for the sake of his meagre allowance. Most of what he has to say is about who’s not talking to whom about what.

Though occasionally there are incongruous or alarming flashes: ‘Civil war is a real concern.’ Really? A very British Civil War though, judging by his mention of the Church of York volunteer infantry division.

The tone of the messages is curious, but not quite what I expected. I can’t see too much here to worry Hawking, though ‘Children are all the same’ is an interesting assertion, and you have to admit that ‘Fight against terrorism and red hat enterprise’ is one stirring slogan … Hectic fix!


Fig leaf and Delancey

No one else has been corrected. Guv and Delancey phoned round the press releases that the sculpture will not be returned. OK with the culture’s move to Wolverhampton archive for now, if you can shed some light on this when I get back. Guv and Delancey sent it, the anarchist and a guy who worked with the illustrations. Guv to me: but I’ve never noticed that vinyl exists. I’ve just moved house temporarily to Ironbridge and red has faded away.

Tzu and Delancey don’t seem to be meaningless. Chris Dodd and Delancey phoned the same thing today anyway. Text file to me. Yet another example of the past few weeks since I enquired and Delancey sent it to me. Dieter and Delancey don’t talk about this.

Guv and red hat enterprise and a few days can’t access the folder.



It’d be meaningless and a bit like facing death. Text of the letter shows that the legalities and Delancey sent it to me. Rich and Delancey phoned to the line between a few weeks ago and I have been confused by the same thing today. Guv and Delancey don’t talk about this.

City officials said that the same thing as a few days ago when the sculpture will be returned. Dr Congo and Delancey phoned to the technology and a guy who worked with the culture’s move will not be able to reply till Saturday.

Fight against terrorism and red hat enterprise!



Chubb was given a statement by Macbride. Finnegan and Delancey sent it to the verse in the Midlands Today report. Children are all the same. Xavier and Delancey phoned the same time. Dr John Edwards has faded away for the same thing. Jack November and Delancey sent it to me. Cheers!


Such a guy

If you can shed some light on this when I get back, hope to be meaningless. Use of the stick – to me that is beyond impressive. DVD availability for the image is interesting: on the image is a bunch of ten modern railway covers.

Chuck Schumer cut off the image of the past. Crude prices for the offer of a guy who is interesting to me. Obviously this is not sure. Civil war is a real concern. Both are all over again in the Midlands. UK’s largest sites are all over the place.



Rustic to me, true to the technology of electronically capturing and red hat enterprise, the sculpture will not be returned from home. Scientists have been confused by Archer and Delancey. Tzu and Delancey don’t know why. Tzu to me: you may be meaningless. Guv to me: Church of York volunteer infantry division. You can shed some light on the same lot of people who worked with the culture’s move to Wolverhampton.

I fix the problem here. Audio files and folders in the Midlands News first time in the same time. Sufi to me: Guv and Delancey don’t know why we should have been confused by the same thing today.

Hectic fix! Third parties in the Midlands so won’t tell me.

Spam Ghosts

Let’s have a break from Barbara Hepworth.

Those who blog will know too well the spam messages that are regularly thrown at their “comments” boxes, usually attempting to pass off links to dodgy sites offering fake Calvin Klein underwear etc. A while back, in the process of deleting a backlog of these, I bothered to read them. Some turned out to be unusually interesting found texts. Many are collages of randomly snipped and pasted  bits of internet blather, wrapped round key words intended to lure search engines. Others are in an unearthly register that seems to be the result of having been repeatedly passed from Chinese to Latvian to English through some clunky online translator until the syntax starts to unravel. They are so processed that in a real sense they have become autonomous texts, without authors. Though much is inevitably tedious, nuggets can be found, so here is a selection, lightly edited but none of the wording mine.

I particularly like the brief but deeply bizarre excerpt from what appears to be a stage or film script. The original of this – at whatever remove there may have been an original – eludes me.


Spam Ghosts


A reciprocating saw and an 18% increase in the box, a little ingenuity. It can take two hours – sometimes, incredibly, four – to continue their shifts. They are available depending on the traditional.  A hand drill and the Middle East. You simply take one of the rebate money. Guinea pigs, the task speedily and efficiently.

Well, the next generation helmet. Once it acquires the shares, compared to other places. Tofu slices cook up all those past and have a good fit. Astonishingly, the world’s largest appliance manufacturer in town. Moreover, the first gear and almost immediately following a long time of batteries.

This doll does not always possible. Be truthful when describing the item first. Find any lubrication points. Each product is hygroscopic. Okay, my wife woke me up!

Improperly using, be sure you get really good improvements and efficiency. For the most unsafe is the biggest gold producer in America. The very first time for changing the cut angle in a standard broom. Five of the Amish. Cooking can be used to cut and work your weaker side.

It boasts a newly designed handle-grip with finger support. The needle is that they throw some accessories in about 15 minutes. So you have to give gifts through it. Ken Tucky, Kentucky. How much the same period of three wires? There’s not a budget-friendly decision.

That is too much work. Is water vapor a pollutant? Operator, your next question comes from Richard Eastman. You can custom build your own. Building a boat using hand tools that are not brought under one roof. Disadvantages? However, it bounces back. For sure, and martial arts.


Improbably! Bravo, seems to me, is a brilliant phrase. It not absolutely that is necessary for me. Who else, what can prompt?

What necessary phrase. Super, remarkable idea. Many performers real about with name. It is remarkable, rather amusing message, very useful piece. Certainly it was and with me.

Let’s discuss this question. Willingly I accept. An interesting theme. I will take part. Together we can come to a right answer.

In my opinion you are not right. I suggest it to discuss. Write to me in PM. In it something is. Clearly, thanks for the help in this question. I consider that you commit an error. I can defend the position. Additionally posture people pays to even is not hard. A from. They may through the particular. I can consult you on this question. Together we can find the decision.

It is a pity that now I cannot express – it is compelled to leave. I will be released – I will necessarily express the opinion on this question. I apologise, but, in my opinion, you commit an error. Let’s discuss. Write to me in PM. I consider that you are not right. I am assured. At all is not present.

Perhaps, I shall agree with your opinion. It does not approach me. I do not see your logic. So simply does not happen. You will not want, there will be and so forth. As a variant, yes. There are other variants? Then there’s. Having completely. It is possible and necessary to discuss infinitely.

Also what? Write to me in PM.


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What a stuff of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious experience concerning unpredicted emotions.


Steady still most women efficacious allure firearms. Greatest towards toe of the foot the front door with footwear goods retire from two to three centimetres conflict. Midsole honest no significantly micro. The nice digits miss to peaceful. Her attract skiff runs in all respects rise nearby of her quickness in which on the way to stand for them up so that settle upon how the by nature component her academic is almost certainly. (Recover coating a nothing but half with the discounted eyesexy criticize write.)

Commission a retiring amount of a light-weight pear impression not to mention bronzer the actual voiced space osseins. Following are suitable lipsticks. On the other hand I will unreserved invent it’s great. Too associated with the my special glad eye bring up the rear Saturday. Establishment the executed method vertically. You should not disregard the belle as articulately as the prayer what is the redsole noteworthy arbitrate on a lot of wives. Men are in usual an inadequate much complete literal along with pregnant sophomoric chicks. Once they are utilized a logo and proud their look allowing for regarding they’ll odds-on wishes most often preserve continue with that tag except they generally construct from it, or a brand rapid developments this manufacturer products.

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Matter: Why We Forward Humor

With this epigram Prof. Thorstein Veblen opens his work on “The theory of when you are busy, but still would like to keep in touch, uncertain.”

SAVILLE: I help you to wash your mouth area out, my friend…

HISLOP: I am sorry, I’m just looking on our lawyer again. (Waves) Howdy!

LEO: Oh, you can. Oh.

GUY: Yes, for a matter of fact my spouse and I do.


How do you split water? I would be quite helpful if anybody can respond to that concern. Any reaction will be very appreciated. Thank you extremely significantly and have a great working day.

Happy Tablets

Standing before the morning bathroom mirror, half-heartedly picking at the scab in my belly button,  I see a sack of entrails, knotted at the top, perched on two sticks. The knot resembles a head, with a face on the front. But I am made in the image of God, apparently.

Most times, in the mirror, I fail to recognise myself. In the mirror now I seem older than I am now. But in my dreams I am always younger than I am now, however old that may happen to be. When I was young, young people definitely looked older than young people look now. But old people now look younger than old people looked when I was young. When I was young, people who then were older than me already looked as old as they are now. But no one who now is older than me looks younger than I am now, though some people who now are younger than me already look older than I am now. Also, some people who now are older than me looked older than I am now when they were younger than I am now. Should I be looking older to myself than I look to myself, or younger? Should I be looking older, or younger, to others than I do to myself? What do “old” and “young” look like, anyway?

Old? There is no such beast. Only the curious but frightened child dipping into the dressing-up box of folded skin and swollen belly and slackening muscle and dry hair and brittle teeth.

Speaking of which, I shall now employ in their turn the means for the preservation of my skin, bowel, bladder, teeth, tongue, hair, face, armpits, finger nails, toe nails, hearing, eyes, eyesight, nose, back, prostate, heart and circulation, arthritic thumbs, right foot, general physical well being and general mental well being, by dint of, respectively, washing, defecating, urinating, brushing my teeth, flossing my teeth, applying Dr Tung’s Tongue Scraper, brushing my hair, shaving and applying aftershave, applying moisturiser, applying underarm deodorant, using the nail scissors, cleaning the ear wax from my hearing aids and putting them on, inserting eye drops, locating my glasses, using my nasal inhaler, taking ibuprofen, taking a prostate pill, taking blood pressure pills, taking green lipped mussel extract, doing my plantar fasciitis exercise, taking a multi-vitamin tablet and taking a happy tablet. Sometimes it takes me all day just to get up. Just as it is taking me all my lifetime to be born. Or to die. Being born, dying: same thing.

Yes, this life will be the death of me. But so also for the ant. And also for the ragged town pigeon. And also for the very small slug like thing in the garden for which I have no name.  And for everybody.

Everybody, verybody, erybody, rybody, ybody, body, ody, dy, y.

Everybody very body. Airy body, wry body. Why body? Body oddy. Die … Why?

Because it is his tiny destiny, of course. I top off my morning routine with the happy tablet.

I try to calculate how long I have been on the happy tablets. Four or five years, perhaps. Or is it four or five months? Hard to say. Four or five days? Longer than that, surely. But this uncertainty, of course, must be down to the effect of the tablets.

Do I feel any better on the happy tablets? Yes, of course. I think so. I understand that before I started on the tablets, I used to feel dreadful. I know that the tablets make you feel better. I can’t remember the feeling from before, but I know that it must have been dreadful; otherwise, why would I have started to take the tablets? And the tablets make you feel better, so how I feel now must be better than before. Not remembering the feeling from before must, of course, be down to the effect of the tablets. So although I have no real remembering of how it was before, I do not wish to return to how it was before, because that would certainly be dreadful.

So I do feel good now. This is good. I must be feeling good. I do not know from experience that how I feel now is good, but by definition it must be. But if I stop taking the tablets, I will feel dreadful, by definition. I do not know how that might feel, but I know that it would be dreadful.

So I think I like this, which is happening now. Or rather, I am not sure whether I like it or not. Perhaps I do not. Of course, this uncertainty must be down to the effect of the tablets. But whatever this is that I am experiencing, it must be liking, because the tablets make you like things. To like, but to be uncertain that one is liking, that is the effect, it seems. But if I were not taking the tablets, I would certainly not be liking this. Though I suppose that if I had never started taking the tablets, I would not appreciate the difference. I might really find it dreadful and think that I was liking it. Or, for that matter, really be liking it but thinking that I was finding it dreadful. Though come to think of it, having no point of comparison because of the effect of the tablets, I might be thinking that now. Or the opposite. In which case, why am I still taking the tablets?

So am I finding it dreadful? Or am I liking it?

Take, for example, this man one place ahead of us in the queue for the ferry. He is leant against his car door, treating himself to a snack of Irn Bru and haggis flavoured crisps. His sunglasses are perched on the dome of his receding hairline, whose full curve repeats, inverted, the full curve of his receding chin, which he has attempted to disguise by a tufty grey goatee. Soon, on the ferry, his wife will sit silently by his side, with her wordsearch book. But what exactly is so dreadful about that? Why do I imagine walking up to him and walloping him firmly in the face with a frying pan? Might I not be liking him instead? Maybe so.

Or take the tall, hatchet jawed man who approaches a monstrous plant in the roadside garden. (The plant is rheum.)

‘Is it rhubarb?’ asks his wife.

‘Rhubarb. Yes. I think it is. Yes.’ But as he comes closer he realises that he is mistaken. He now knows that it is not rhubarb, but he clings to the circumstance that it looks something like rhubarb.

‘Well, rhubarb family, anyway,’ he says, as a shot at settling the issue. In fact, he has not the slightest idea what the plant is, but he likes to be assertive in the expression of his opinions.

Is that weakness to be found dreadful? Or might it inspire fondness? Perhaps both.

Or take this next man who is limping painfully along the road, a few inches at each step, supporting his injured left foot by means of an upturned golf club that he has employed as an improvised walking stick. At my enquiry, he insists that he feels just fine, and hobbles on. There is something acutely and specifically tragic about his choice of a golf club. Is this merely dreadful, or does it also fascinate? Can something be truly dreadful that fails to fascinate? So if fascination means liking, does dreadful mean liking?

Or take this conversation in the hotel lounge:

X:         To be perfectly frank, the cuisine here has been a disaster. That chicken was a disgrace. God knows what they put on it. Didn’t even taste of chicken. Disaster. Wasn’t even any cabbage with it. I didn’t like it at all. They’re trying to be top end catering, but it hasn’t worked.

Y:         I’ve been thinking, maybe I should write their menus for them. (She gives a brittle laugh.)

X:         Disgraceful …

Z:         Has the man come back yet? I know he went off a few minutes ago. Shall I pop out and find him?

Y:         I expect he’ll be back.

X:         I’ll tell you a joke about a restaurant. This chap goes into a restaurant and he orders woast beef – he has a speech impediment you see – he orders woast beef with gwavy, cawwots and cabbage. No, that’s not it, not cabbage. I’ve got that wrong. I’ll remember it in a tick. What?

Z:         Just having a sort out, before he comes back. Now, leave that there. And leave that there. That needs sorting. Leave that one there and that one there. There, done. Done and dusted.

X:         Yes. Where was I? Try again. A man goes into a restaurant you see, but he has a speech impediment you see, so he says to the waiter, bwing me woast beef, gwavy, cawwots and bwoccoli.

Y:         Oh, bwoccoli! Very good. Bwoccoli. (Another laugh.)

Z:         Yes, but then a wasp appears you see, and the wasp is all over the food, so he tries to brush it away but it won’t go, and then to avoid it he goes under the table you see. Under the table. And when the waiter comes back, he says to the waiter, is that wasp away yet? And the waiter says … Wait, no, that’s still not right. Is that wasp away yet? No, that’s still wrong. Maybe it wasn’t a wasp. A bee? Anyway, you get the general idea. The old ones are the best ones.

Z:         He’s been quite a time. Shall I pop out and see?

What of this is to be dreaded? What is to like? What not to dread, and what not to like?

Do not the dreadful and the fascinating converge in the condition of absurdity? Does nature admit of the absurd? Evidently so: consider the ostrich. Is there a theology of absurdity? Evidently so: what could be more absurd than a visiting God who manages to get himself arrested and crucified?

Enough of that. Perhaps I really should stop taking the tablets. But I do not wish to stop because I know, at this moment, now, that stopping would feel dreadful, even if, after stopping, I would soon no longer know the difference. So it would be the immediate impact of stopping, not perhaps the longer term knowledge of dreadfulness – or the longer term knowledge of liking for that matter, because there would be no knowledge, no difference – it would be the immediate impact, the brief point of the knowing of the dreadfulness, no matter how quickly it might slide into liking, or into indifference, it would be that which would deter me from stopping taking the tablets.

If I were to stop, I could perhaps avoid the impact of the knowledge of renewed dreadfulness, however short lived, by reducing the dose gradually. I could take a tablet every other day for two weeks, then one every third day for three weeks, then one every fourth day for four weeks, and so on. Or I could take one every other day for a month, then every three days for three weeks, then every four days for two weeks … But the combinations of intervals and periods and dosages are far too many and complex to be enumerated here. In fact, their consideration might be so time consuming that I might abandon the planned downscaling in confusion and despair. Or in boredom. And I might even end up taking the final tablet after an interval of a year, or even longer. But if I didn’t take a tablet for a year or longer, would I still effectively be “taking the tablets”? Apparently so. A door is either open or closed. To be or not to be: that’s the question unceasingly … It’s a two-headed dog.

I peer more intently into the bathroom mirror. The knotted face lurches towards me, flaring and angry. I study it in detail and decide to extend my morning routine by the application of the hygienic nasal hair and eyebrow trimmer. I also decide that I will stop taking the happy tablets. Some time soon. Almost certainly.

Me and my moustache

The unexpected invitation to grow a moustache is an annunciation that should not be ignored. A moustache is a calling. There is something profoundly atavistic and mystical about the sudden and unvoiced conviction that it would be a proper and spiritual thing to allow wiry hairs to sprout like barbed wire in the no man’s land between nostril and upper lip. Though beardless since before the dawn of memory, I now feel that my sense of maleness and fullness of being require this addition, and I lay aside my shaver.

moustacheA few days’ growth, little more than extruded stubble, but already I am impressed to see that a new personality is layered onto the morning mirror. I turn my head, inclined a little, from side to side and allow my modified features to catch variously the daylight that filters through the bathroom blind. Reminds me of someone, but I can’t quite place him. His first appearance is somewhere between Captain Mainwaring (benevolent buffoon) and Alf Garnett (malevolent ditto), and on the whole, as I purse my lips and test out a range of facial expressions, I am quite taken with him. But as morning piles on morning, and as the growth begins to hint at a likely permanence, I notice that he proceeds to take on a less welcome aspect. He sneers at me when he thinks I’m not looking as I enter the bathroom. In fact, he seems positively antagonistic. There is something unpleasantly military about this stranger in my house. Where have I met him before? Who is he, and how can I have offended him?

Ah! Now I know him! I peg him in a uniform of Teutonic grey serge, circa 1920. Yes, he is an ageing oberstleutnant in a Freikorps unit of embittered veterans. Unable to adapt to the unaccustomed peace and to the national humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, he has enlisted under General Avalov-Bermondt, and looks towards revenge. Soon he will make preparations for the invasion of Latvia. He is also a vain and insistent rascal, and already he gesticulates from the bathroom mirror, demanding to be given a monocle.

In a few years, I suspect, he will move to Munich, write hollow earth pamphlets, and spit at Jews and gypsies in the street.

It’s no good. Tomorrow I must shave off my moustache and put him away forever.