Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ireland to vote again and again!


Above, T-shirt Brian Coward. Below, Jose Manuel Barbarossa

Irish T-shirt Brian Coward announced that Ireland will vote again on ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. As predicted exclusively in these columns after the No vote.

EU President Jose Manuel Barbarossa said, 'If they want to vote again, who are we to prevent them? If they have to hold 99 referenda before they get the right democratic verdict of Yes, that's okay! This is a great day for democracy and for the EU. Those two indomitable advocates of a united Europe, Napoleon and Hitler, would be proud.'

Saturday, December 13, 2008

R.I.P. Bettie Page




The pin-up queen of the 1950s, Bettie Page, has died, aged 85. Her secret was that she looked innocent and wholesome even when naked or in lingerie. Or even in bondage pictures. And that's because she was innocent, fresh and wholesome. Her face has a perennial sweetness, and her legs were sensational.




How sad that we've become so jaded that only hardcore porn will serve. Give me Bettie any day, though, to be honest, she was a little too thin for my taste.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thora still outstanding


The Hall for Cornwall theatre, in Truro, is currently staging the world premiere of Samuel Becket's first play (written when he was twelve), Tape's Last Crap. The plot shows a severely constipated Irishman, Tape, played in this production by Peter O'Toole, trying to defecate while gazing at the corpse of his mother (played by Thora Hird). Hird's performance is outstanding, and reviews have been ecstatic, e.g. 'Thora still outshines all other females on the British stage' (The Guardian)'; 'A rivetting depiction of the dead mother, from start to finish' (Daily Mail); 'Hird, already a consummate actress at her death, is still adding brilliant refinements to her craft' (Financial Times), and 'I have rarely seen a better portrayal of a corpse than Thora Hird's' (Daily Telegraph). O'Toole also has been highly praised. The production ends on Feb 15, 2009.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

sick as a dog

There is at least one emotional constant in my life: the ability to feel 'over the moon' or 'sick as a dog' depending on the result of a rugby match. At eleven, just after the war, I started watching 'the Reds' --Redruth-- our local team. I quickly became as passionate about it as my father, who would sometimes run up the touchline in his effort to will the Reds to score a try. When we emigrated to Australia, I followed Carlton, the Blues, playing Aussie Rules, with the same passion. Returning to England, I resumed my first loyalty. When I lived away, in Hereford, the passion faded somewhat, though I was still glad when I read that the Reds had won.

Now I live in middle-class Truro, but still go to every home game at Redruth. I sit more or less in the same place in the stand as I did with my dad, 63 years ago. We've been doing exceptionally well this season, winning all eleven games in a row. Yesterday, against Cambridge, we were leading for almost the whole game, then in the last three minutes the Cambridge fly-half struck an enormous, inhuman, brutal drop goal, from all of 60 yards (I refuse ever to say 'metres'), taking them a point in the lead. Back came Redruth, amazingly, with a run by our speedy fullback the whole length of the field; he almost scored, but instead the ref gave us a penalty, in a comfortable position. The kick would have taken us into the lead again - but it failed. The whistle blew for the end of the game. I felt 'sick as a dog' and still do, a day later.

Yet it's 'only a game'! I know that. But as an old manager of Liverpool FC once said, 'Football isn't life or death, it's more important than that.' I can feel enormous hatred for visiting supporters. Even if there are only a few of them, as yesterday, there's invariably one man who has the loudest, most booming, most irritating voice in Christendom, able to outshout the massed home supporters. Yesterday he sat two or three seats in front. A fat neck, shaven head. I loathed him.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tamsin

Ross, with Tamsin
Our Cairn terrier, Tamsin, had to be put down a few weeks ago. She was almost eighteen. The home has lost a dear presence. Here's a poem I wrote about her a year or two ago...


After Christopher Smart

For I will consider my dog Tamsin,
For she appearath round the corner of the house
When we are drinking wine outside, then stops,
Forgetting why she appeareth there;
For she is 108 years old in human terms,
For she is almost blind and almost deaf,
Yet suddenly she trotteth down the garden,
For then her tail wags upon prink, in joy of living,
So that I have started to call her Baron von Trott;
For then she will slow up and plod around the house
Four or five times, defending it from marauders,
For she is small in size but mighty in spirit,
For when she stumbleth over a root, or her back legs
Won’t work, she still goeth bravely forward;
For when we put some tasty fish in her dish,
She will slowly stir from her basket
And plod to her dish; but then she pauseth
For a long time, saying her prayers to the Lord,
Calling down blessing on the food,
Before suddenly stooping her head and
Snatching the fish hungrily.
For she kicketh out her legs in her dreams,
For she loveth to run on a beach,
And dreams of it later, many times,
Though she feareth the water.
For she is a happy little dog,
And teacheth how to grow old gracefully;
For she is the handmaid of the Lord,
And hath been loved by a Master and three Mistresses.

For she knoweth no other life but with us.

well it's been ages

Well, it's been ages since I wrote anything here. I've received angry, hungry emails and phone calls from all over the world wanting their fix. Those untold thousands of my blog readers whom I've been neglecting. They want to know why.

Why, is because I suddenly plunged into writing a novel, which I didn't think I'd ever do any more. Admittedly a short novel. I'd call it a novella, in fact, except that readers and editors feel cheated by the word novella. Hell, they're paying good money for a real novel, so it better be at least 100,000 words long. Mine's just 45,000, first draft.

But that's 45,000 words in seven weeks, which ain't bad. And I do love the feel of being in a novel, creating (and living in) its own small world, with its own rules. I raced to finish that first draft, as if my life depended on it; but now, while I wait to see what needs doing to it, I feel bereft. But I can now read other writers' fiction, as I don't allow myself to do while I'm writing, and I have a very good book to indulge myself in: Three Balconies, by the American writer Bruce Jay Friedman, a collection of short stories and a novella. The short stories are real, funny, wry, observant and written with grace. It will sustain me in this sad interim.

Monday, October 6, 2008

meet my folks

For publication in 'The Guardian' (see previous post)

I belong to the tribe of the Cornish, though many consider us a separate country, if not nation. My native village, Carnkie, nestles under the stark boulder-scattered acres of Carn Brea, which shows evidence of once being the home of a stone-age tribe. My folks, though comparatively uneducated, knew more than most current graduates. My father, who was totally without racial prejudice or political correctness, tipped his cigarette-ash into an ashtray held by a little wooden black servant wearing a red frock-coat and breeches. Since there were no takeaways, the only Asians we saw were inscrutable, mostly sinister Chinese in the movies.

My father's cousin Bertie was deaf-and-dumb. My mother, in a scatty moment, once whispered that to friends, behind his back so that he wouldn't hear her. My Auntie Nellie, robbed of marriage by her fiance's WW1 death, was a career woman, running a sweet shop; she also fancied herself as a bit of an actress, performing monologues in a posh voice at socials. My father's cousin Jack was very theatrical. No one bothered when, quite late in life, he walked through the village hand in hand with a leather-clad youth. I don't know if he was a practising homosexual; he was just Jack, 'a good old boy'. My Auntie Susan-Jane stripped naked in front of the Methodist chapel, and was taken 'up Bodmin' for a mental health diagnosis. Both my mum and Auntie Nellie became disabled through severe arthritis, and my aunt had to be in a wheelchair.

I may have a bit of Italian blood, from an immigrant painter who became involved with a Thomas girl in the 19th century. Though now, as I'm elderly, I think I increasingly resemble my mother, a Moyle. I was a pretty dumb father, early on, and I've become a pretty dumb grandparent, though I love my children and grandchildren very much. None of them has become a terrorist.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

sweet land of liberty

According to today's 'Sunday Times', government ministers have agreed in principle to a plan to spy on us all. Every email we send, every phonecall or text, every website we browse, will be monitored and stored. That's the plan.

Read that paragraph again. No, it's not a mistake. That's what they plan to do. The database will cost 'up to' (i.e. much more than) £12 billion.

You may feel a tad uneasy at the thought of everything you write on email, or say on the phone, being spied on and preserved.

But officials say 'live monitoring is necessary to fight terrorism and crime.'

So that's alright then.

We shall, of course, look to the press to defend our liberties and send such a disgusting, unbelievable plan packing. Such as, notably, the 'Guardian'. I assume the title means that it guards are rights and liberties.

Except that its 'house-style' rules for 'Guardian' writers, exposed today also in the S.T., in an article by Minette Marrin, forbids them to use the following words or phrases: uneducated, acre, Third World, elderly, grandparent, tribe, stone-age tribe, committed suicide, practising homosexual, actress, dumb, disabled, career woman, politically correct (!), blacks, Asians, and in a wheel chair. In addition, the words 'terrorist' should be used with great caution, 'as the concept is subjective'. Similarly the words nation, country and immigrant. 'Mental illness' also should be avoided, in favour of 'mental health'. As in 'mental health diagnosis'.

Oh, it's great to live in a free country.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mr tony blair, an apology


My apologies to Tony Blair, for erroneously posting his photo in my last piece, Ballad of Dr.Shipman. This is the correct photo of Dr Shipman, seen here with a grateful patient..

ballad of dr shipman

Dr Harold Shipman, famous mass murderer
(Shurly some mistake --Ed.)


‘Hello, this is Shipman, your mam’s G.P.;
I dropped in on her, had a cup of tea.’

Hello, Dr Shipman, how terribly kind!
Taking such care of her!’
‘Oh, I don’t mind,

I always think of my dear old mum,
Always so relieved when the doctor had come.

I dropped by to see her daffodils
And check how she’s coped with the winter chills.’

How does she seem to you?’ ‘She looks great,
You’d never believe she was seventy eight.’

You wouldn’t! She’s started a course in Greek!’
‘I doubt she’ll be learning much this week;
And the Saga trip –she’d better forget it.’

Oh dear!… Well, I warned mum she might regret it,
With her knees so bad… You think she shouldn’t go?

‘It’s not what I think, it’s what I know.’

But you just told me—‘ Oh, she’s looking fine,
But I doubt if she’ll make it to seventy nine.
My mum had no luxury coach to Rome,
Just waited for me, her schoolboy son,
Her face at the window, in pain and alone.’

Please, tell me what’s wrong!’ ‘You haven’t a clue!
You thought she was fit. If only you knew!
She’s had a heart condition,
Pulmonary inhibition,
Terrible angina,
A growth in her vagina
Has spread into her womb,
There’s that sickly sweet aroma
I know so well; your mum
Just slipped into a coma,
I think you ought to come.’

Oh God, Dr Shipman, is she going to die?
‘No no… And it’s too late to cry.’

I’m sorry… you’ve sent for an ambulance?
‘What’s the point of it? You can tell at a glance

As she sits here sweetly in her chair
With her pale-blue dress and her silvery hair,

The nice ruby broach she’s promised to me,
Her hands in her lap as calm as can be,

She’s not going to die –she’s not going to do
Anything any more… If I were you,

I’d have her cremated.’ ‘You mean, she’s DEAD?
‘That’s a word I wish you hadn’t said.’
----------

Britain’s most prolific serial killer, with around 186 victims, Dr. Harold Shipman had a delphic way of breaking bad news.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Extracts from BLEAK HOTEL, published early Nov.

Mr Jarndyce waiting for judgement in The White Hotel legal case


In 1981 I published a novel, The White Hotel, which unexpectedly aroused in readers a passionate admiration or equally passionate distaste. Within a few months of its publication, I received an offer to option the film rights.

My novel’s heroine, Lisa, born in Odessa in 1890, walks a tightrope between Eros and Thanatos. She has a great gift for happiness and pleasure, but is tortured by the suffering of others and the intuition that great suffering will come to her. She is right, for in 1941 she becomes caught up in the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar in Kiev. The ‘white hotel’ of her sexual fantasy, written for her analyst Sigmund Freud, encompasses the extremes of pleasure and pain, joy and grief. The novel is complex in structure, moving from Lisa’s sexual fantasy in verse to a prose expansion of it, then to Freud’s ‘intellectual’ fantasy, to the nightmarish ‘real’ fantasy of Babi Yar, and finally to a spiritual fantasy. Each section is stylistically different. The novel therefore poses serious challenges for a film maker.

The present book traces, from the author’s limited perspective, the story of 26 years of the non-making of the film, 1981-2007. It is not important whether a novel becomes a film; often the result is unsatisfactory anyway. And long delays are not infrequent. Nevertheless, the history of this particular non-making is an extraordinary one; it involves years of passion, obsession, alleged financial skullduggery, hatred and vengeance. At one point, the film rights were sold for one dollar, though for the next seven years I was kept in ignorance of this; at another, the film looked set fair to be made, but an improbable war stopped it. I was sued for millions of dollars, and feared to lose my home. One of the main protagonists fell dead of a heart attack, in mid-life, when apparently in perfect health. His partner ascribed his death to a venomous legal battle over the rights. His legal opponent queried in a New York law court whether in fact he had really died –implying that he might have faked his own death to escape justice.

Inevitably the story of the non-movie blends into my own life-story and that of the people closest to me. One of the main though half-unconscious inspirations for my novel was my mistress, then wife, and always Muse, Denise. She died of cancer, aged 53, in 1998; but just as the dead and the living are mixed up in Lisa’s fantasy, so my relationship with her did not end with her death. ‘For nothing in the white hotel but love / Is offered at a price we can afford’. I was caught up, as collateral damage, in the brutal legal conflict which has been going on for almost a decade; it was costly to me, both financially and, even more, emotionally and creatively, draining my energies. But those lines of Lisa’s about love remain the enduring truth.

..................................................................





SUPREME COURT OF HEAVEN

Briarpatch Limited, L.P. and
Gerard F.Rubin Esq.
Plaintiffs Index No. 8502847613

--against—
Robert M.Geisler et al
D. M.Thomas, D.M.Thomas Ltd..
Defendants.
BEFORE
The Honorable Holy Sophia,
Justice


THE COURT: All right, let’s make a start. In the courtroom is---
MR URIEL: Archangel Uriel. I am counsel for the plaintiffs Briarpatch Limited, LP, and its limited and sole winding-up partner, Gerard F.Rubin.
THE COURT: And who is speaking for Mr Thomas?
MR SHEMUEL: I am, your Honor.
THE COURT: I have here a fax from him… Did you receive a fax?
MR SHEMUEL: I’m not sure, your Honor, I’ve been working from home.
THE COURT: Well, that’s your problem. Well, the fax says… Just a minute, I don’t seem to have the papers…
MR URIEL: He was never apprised by Mr Shemuel of any stay of application.
THE COURT: And was Lady Dedlock apprised?
MR URIEL: I believe so, your Honor.
MR GABRIEL: The issue today, I thought, was the TRO portion of the request of the Order to Show Cause. I am also concerned that referee Ishmael is pressing Mr Geisler in the primary action to proceed forward with this accounting situation. I am also concerned that nearly immediately after we left the court at the last appearance, where your Honor made it clear that you were going to try not to take any action in these cases until my counsel’s motion to dismiss the action against me were determined, we received default motions from Mr Uriel as against Mr Geisler and Night Hawk.
THE COURT: Is Night Hawk present? I’m sorry, I don’t seem to have my papers, I must have left them upstairs.
MR SHEMUEL: Night Hawk is not an entity, your Honor.
MR URIEL: Night Hawk has no existence.
MR GABRIEL: Night Hawk stands on its own with respect that motion for default. However, as to Mr Geisler in this action, what we call the D.M.Thomas action and the White Hotel action, again, I am in the same position both with respect to the accounting in the first action and the default now sought in this action. I just need some clarity whether I have an actual conflict of interest, which will be determined when your Honor determines whether I remain a party in this litigation or I am dismissed.
THE COURT: I wish I had my papers. There are two orders to show cause, am I right?
MR URIEL: Correct, your Honor. 603820 of ’99 and 603364 of ’01.
THE COURT: Since notice was not given to everyone in the lawsuit in the ’01 action –and I can’t remember the parties, actually, in the ’99 action.
MR GABRIEL: That would be Geisler, the reincarnated John Roberdeau—
MR URIEL: Purportedly reincarnated. We don’t know where he is.
MR GABRIEL: --Briarpatch Film Corporation, Samuel Myers, and his daughter, Claudia Myers.
THE COURT: Briarpatch is bringing this action, am I correct? So why did you say Briarpatch is the defendant? –Oh yes, I see. Since not everyone got notice in the ’01 action, which is D.M.Thomas and D.M.Thomas Limited –
Mr GABRIEL: Well, I assume he is pro se at this point and I’m sure we can take care of that notice issue.
THE COURT: Fine. So every opposition should be in everybody’s hands by Armaggedon, and I’ll hear the motion next day.
MR GABRIEL: And what time will that be, your Honor?
THE COURT: Third millennium.
Mr GABRIEL: Thank you, your Honor.
THE COURT: I am concerned to move this action forward. It was already old when Mr Jarndyce was alive. It’s been in process now for –how long is it?
MR SHEMUEL: Six trillion years, your Honor.
THE COURT: Six trillion years. Well, that’s a long time. So I want any opposition to the motion to show cause to be in my hands by the Day of Judgement at latest.
MR GABRIEL: Understood. If we can find Mr Geisler. It is very difficult to find Mr Geisler.

Monday, September 8, 2008

badger

I haven’t written creatively for a long time.

I’ve spent five minutes looking at that short sentence, while sucking a Rennie and absently gazing out of my study window at the tops of trees and the sky –which surprisingly in this dreadful summer is showing a pale wash of blue amidst the storm clouds. There, that’s a much longer sentence.

I haven’t written creatively for a long time. Repetition can be effective, though it isn’t here. I’ve been wrestling with anxiety Apart from that, I have nothing to write. Nothing that needs saying.

But that leaves me extremely bored. Therefore I’ve made up my mind I’m going to write, to write this –journal, let’s call it—for an hour each day, and just see if anything comes. And I’ll put some of it on my blog, so that other writers who read it can be tremendously encouraged by the display of my helpless sterility.

It’s late afternoon; I’ve just stubbed out my twentieth cigarette of the day; the sun outside, past my computer, is actually visible, shedding light on wet leaves. God, that’s almost a poetic phrase! I really ought to go out and –oh no, it’s behind a cloud again. Too late. I tell writing students when there’s nothing in their heads, just write. Like this. Something will come. Sooner or later, something will come.

Yesterday I came across a dead badger at the bottom of our long, sloping garden. I don’t often walk down there. At first I thought it was a large sleeping grey cat; then, that it was a large, dead cat. I saw its snout, and flies landing on its pelt, and realised it was a badger. A young badger. Sad.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Forthcoming publication

BLEAK HOTEL

D.M. Thomas
Quartet Books
Publication Date: October 2008
Price: £18.00
ISBN: 978 0 7043 7145 3
Format: HB
Extent: 212pp
Size: 225 x 140mm
Category: Literary Memoir

The story goes that it was Barbra Streisand who started it off ... Someone remarked to her at a party that she ought to look for an intelligent, demanding role, and suggested The White Hotel ... Bernardo Bertolucci told me, years later, Streisand had invited him to her Hollywood mansion to discuss the film over dinner. Gold dinner service – butler – the works. She said, ‘Bernardo, there’s just one thing bothering me: how are we going to deal with all the sex?’ ‘Well, Barbra, I have this idea for glass fibre optics to enter the woman’s vagina.’ A moment’s silence, then: ‘Let me show you the house.’ And she never spoke of The White Hotel to him again.

THE BOOK
Chronicling the futile and relentless attempt to translate his iconic novel, The White Hotel (1981) into a Hollywood movie, Bleak Hotel is a gripping story of frustration, hope and, ultimately, of indifference to both the machinations of the film industry, and the legal maelstrom that surrounds it. More big names have been attached to the making of this non-movie than any glittering, cameo-littered outing in Hollywood’s history, from its greatest producers and directors to Hollywood’s brightest stars and starlets and still the film remains in the imagination. His account is interwoven with colourful and moving tales of his personal life, involving tangled love relationships and the pain of bereavement.

Bleak Hotel will be heralded as a seminal account of how the highest literary intentions can be bruised and battered by the ramifications of Show Biz and will ensure its author’s travails will rank alongside the Hollywood writings of Nathanael West, Walker Percy and F Scott Fitzgerald.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

a tribute

Having had a few problems lately, I've had good cause to appreciate the blessing of my first marriage, to Maureen, and the remarkable children we managed to produce, Caitlin and Sean. Caitlin, in her late forties, is wonderfully vivacious, independent, intelligent and caring. I don't think I've ever seen a mother who so successfully treats her teenage children, Sorcha and Angus, as her 'close friends', able to discuss problems completely freely. Caitlin has had to deal with great pain in her life, including the loss of her first son, Alex; she has had to battle enormously hard to become the woman she is, radiating life rather than misery, and I admire her deeply for it. She is --when I'm troubled-- a patient, unfailing support to me.

Sean too has had his own arduous battles to fight, and has come through to be a highly successful journalist, novelist, memoirist and --next spring-- under the name Tom Knox-- thriller writer! He has a beautiful little girl, Lucy. He travels the world most of the time, but his family still means a lot to him.

They have achieved all this with --in their early years --a largely 'absent father'. Not physically absent, but with his mind largely elsewhere, on poetry, novels, teaching --or worse. Their childhood was mostly in the hands of their mother, Maureen. She is a remarkable woman, one of quiet strength. With her I had my first unforgettable experience of passion. When we married, it was entirely my fault that problems arose. But she was always for me a source of strength and stability. I wept when, after living together for over 25 years, we parted. I'm glad it led to a very happy second marriage for her. She was --is-- a warm, utterly trustworthy, drily funny Cornishwoman. Salt of the earth. I recall when Hereford College was closed, and I had the choice of taking another post elsewhere at the same decent salary, or strike out as a full-time writer, on the strength of just one novel and a very small redundancy payment. I told her I'd like to take the risk. She said, 'Then do it. I'm with you.'

And now a poem about them, when the children were young. It's a kind of 'domestic' love poem, of the kind I rarely write.

Floods

I liked it when the river around our corner,
once every year or two, would start
to flood. Sandbags were laid at the doors,
we’d carry thermoses and food upstairs,
and wait to see if the Wye would come inside.
Nervous, excited, we all made jokes.

The nights were utterly silent, eerily still.
My wife and children slept, I’d stay awake
and every so often, at our bedroom window,
check how far the waters had reached
up our suburban avenue.

I’d see reflections of streetlights
stretching across the road to our front fence,
taut as violin strings; and feel the tug
of love, its mystery, confined for once
to what alone seemed real, my family.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

d' you know what I mean?

We have a charming Canadian guest, a close friend of Angela's. Taking a postgrad degree in Voice Production, she has an amazing facility for imitating regional accents. Unfortunately she has picked up from Londoners that awful phrase 'D'you know what I mean?' Which can mean only one of two things: that the speaker is aware he hasn't expressed himself intelligibly, or he's implying that you're stupid --d'you know what I mean? . Since our friend loves Shakespeare, I've been trying to root it out of her speech by giving her some modernised Shakespearean examples...

Hamlet:
'To be or not to be, that is the question--
D'you know what I mean?...'

Macbeth:
'O full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife--
D'you know what I mean?...'

Othello:
'Put out the light, and then put out the light--
D'you know what I mean?...'

Lear:
'For I am bound upon a wheel of fire,
That mine own tears do scald like molten lea--d.
D'you know what I mean?...'

I'm sure the phrase will soon vanish from her lips.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Women (1)

I thought I would write triolets for the women in my life - one triolet per year. Here are the first ones. The second triolet refers to my first flash of memory, either at six months or eighteen months. I had whooping cough, and the cough 'woke' me. I was being held, presumably by my mother, and saw what must have been my favourite aunt, Cecie, gazing anxiously at me. With a blur of window light to my right, our kitchen window.

The fifth owes more to Freud than my memory. Do I remember or only imagine I remember my mummy with a smile warning me not to touch my 'dingledum'?
Sixth: towards the end of a kidney infection, I 'urged' up milk like this, into her lap. Since too much calcium is bad for the kidneys (I developed kidney stones in adulthood) my body was being wise for me.
Seventh. First day at infants school. The rainy, sniffling hall. There was a pretty girl with short straight blond hair; I felt an attraction. My first (apart from mum). Don't remember seeing her after that. I was often away sick.


women


Leaving the safety of the cave,
I took the Silk Road, the vagina;
Nobody told me I was brave,
Leaving the safety of the cave;
The thrilling passage made me crave
Repeated journeys like a miner--
Even if I never found the cave
I’d take the Silk Road, the vagina.

Two women, bound up with the ‘I’
I found when coughing almost killed me.
A vague light, later known as sky;
Two women, bound up with my ‘I’,
That’s now my earliest memory.
One longed to hold me and one held me.
Two women, bound up with the ‘I’
I found when coughing almost killed me.

I never saw my mother’s breasts;
I had to choose a different songline.
She never suckled me to rest;
I never saw my mother’s breasts
More bare than through a frock, a vest,
A slip or brassiere, ample, longline.
I never saw my mother’s breasts,
I had to choose a different songline.

There was a between her thighs
As she crouched, dress up, on the toilet;
I gazed at it with goggle eyes,
That puzzling between her thighs;
And still I feel confusion rise,
Wanting to worship and despoil it.
There was a between her thighs
As she crouched, dress up, on the toilet.

And did I stroke my dingledum?
And did she wave her scissors, smiling?
For otherwise… I wasn’t dumb,
Yet couldn’t stroke my dingledum
All through my teenage years, nor come.
The dubious memory is beguiling.
Yet did I stroke my dingledum,
And did she wave her scissors, smiling?

I gagged on milk and urged it up,
Spatters of white on mummy’s clothing;
She’d held against my lips a cup
When I lay sick; I urged it up,
Gagging, into her tender lap,
And ever since have felt a loathing;
I gagged on milk and urged it up,
Spatters of white on mummy’s clothing.

She left me; she let go my hand!
Infant school smells, and rainsoaked faces.
One girl I fell for, sweet and blonde;
But mum had left, let go my hand;
Still crying, I was made to stand
In shame –I could not tie my laces.
She’d left me, she’d let go my hand!
Infant school smells, and rainsoaked faces.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

alexandr solzhenitsyn


Some may have read the piece on Solzhenitsyn I wrote for the Times on Tuesday. Here is another piece I wrote for the Russians (in Novosti)...

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

The death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn marks also the symbolic end of the Russian twentieth century. And since Russia has been a principal player in world history, and since Solzhenitsyn deeply affected political thought in the West, his passing is a solemn moment for us all. His life spanned every major event in Russian history since the October Revolution: indeed, he was conceived only a few months after that cataclysm, one of ‘October’s children’. His family lived in silent fear, night after night, as the civil war raged. Little Sanya, with his sensitivity, must have ‘heard’ that anxious silence. And maybe this sowed the seeds of his later ‘on guard’ personality.

Growing up in Rostov, he believed in Stalin, like others blissfully unaware of the great famine out in the countryside, killing millions. He studied hard, joined the Komsomol, and graduated in physics and mathematics. He even found time to marry: a perfect young homo sovieticus. But as an artillery captain after the Nazi invasion, he began to have doubts. How could the mighty USSR, under its Great Leader, collapse so totally against the onslaught? The sense of order and prosperity he sensed beneath the rubble of East Germany shocked him further: this was so different from his poverty-stricken homeland. He voiced one or two mild criticisms in letters, and found himself under arrest, then sentenced to eight years in a labour camp. The scowl on his face in his official prison photo shows that the new, the real, Solzhenitsyn has been born.

I love Alexandr Tvardovsky’s account of how he first read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. An assistant at the Novy Mir offices had gulled him into taking the manuscript home with him, in December 1962, by saying it was about a peasant. Tvardovsky, of peasant background, couldn’t resist that. He started reading it in bed, but almost at once got up, dressed, and went down to his study. He said from the first page he knew this writer was a genius, and he would not dishonour him by reading his work in his pyjamas. His reaction does honour to Tvardovsky too, and indeed to the great Russian tradition that literature is of paramount moral and artistic value.

When Denisovich was published in the West, we could not appreciate the literary subtleties of the original Russian, but were overwhelmed by the knowledge that the work represented the conscience of a suffering nation. Soft western authors could hardly compete. With every succeeding book –First Circle, Cancer Ward, The Gulag Archipelago—his reputation soared every higher in the West, and (circulated in samizdat) his own country. There were other dissidents, but he stood out by his almost flamboyant challenge to the Politburo. If they punished or tried to silence him, he found a way to counter-attack, with amazing bravado. One such riposte came when he and his second wife, Natalya Svetlova, proclaimed that not even threats to harm their children would move them to compromise their beliefs. He never lost the aggression and strategic sense he must have learned on the battlefield.

Not even the hosts of left-leaning intellectuals in the West, for so long blind to the evils of Stalinism, could prevent having their eyes forced half-open. He was responsible for a great conversion. As Akhmatova bore witness to ‘Russia’s terrible years’ in cameo, through Requiem, Solzhenitsyn did so with massive force in the Gulag. For this stupendous work was not dry history, but written with a true artist’s verve. There is no greater opening than his quietly savage account of the small academic readership of Nature, learning that men had found frozen specimens of prehistoric salamanders on the Kolyma River; had broken open the encasing ice, ‘and devoured them with relish on the spot’. Who, he asks, would devour such fossils with relish? Only the tribe of the zeks.

His great quality, illustrated there, is his energy and vitality, which fills the reader with exhilaration, even when the most dreadful events are being related. One feels, he’s taking on Communism single-handed, and he’s going to win! And he won.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

sigmund turns in his grave

DMT with Freud, at 19 Berggasse, Vienna
Britain becomes ever more unbelievable. This government can't keep its grubby fingers out of anything. The latest is a plan, dreamt up by a Mental Health quango, to institute rules for psychoanalysts. Among the 450 rules will be one requiring them to 'evaluate' a patient's silences; a requirement that the analyst shall not leave his own comments till the session is almost over; and that he/she must 'evaluate' the patient's response to an interpretation.


SCENE: FREUD'S CONSULTING ROOM, HAMPSTEAD, ENGLAND.

Freud: Normally I wouldn't offer an interpretation of what you've just told me. It's important that you work it out for yourself, with my guidance. I'm like a mountain guide, not a chair-lift. But the rules require me to find out your reaction to my interpretation, so I'm compelled to offer one. I think you want to sleep with your mother.

(Patient is silent.)

Freud: Excuse me while I write. I have also to evaluate your silence.... Alright, so what's your response to my interpretation?

Patient: It's fucking shit!

Freud: Excuse me again... 'Mr X unhappy with my interpretation'.

Patient (leaping up): I've had enough. I'm off!

Freud: Please don't go yet. If you do I'll have broken another rule and will be disbarred. Lie down again and just talk to me for a while.

Patient: Well... okay. (Lies down again.) I'm only doing this because you're an old man and I know you've had to leave your cunt, uh, your country... But that shit about my m-m-m-mother. If you must know, I loathe my m-m-m-mummy... All through my childhood, whenever I was naughty, she'd make me lie on the floor, she'd pull up her skirt and sit on my face. Till I was almost asphyxiated. Ass-fixiated --hah! I suppose you're going to read something into that!... Is it any wonder I suffer from breastlessness --breathlessness? How could I possibly want to sleep with her after such nightmare experiences? You're crazy, do you know that?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

hark the glad sound!

Centenary Thanksgiving for Thomas Merritt

Order of Service: Please stand as the Dean conducts the Deputy Lieutenant… to her seat at the front of the nave…’ (Truro Cathedral, June 2008).


'Stand up –for they! I’d have turned in my grave
If I’d been in it; when they wafted up the nave
It was like they was puttin’ we simple souls in our place,
Tampin’ down the mood and the spirit, in case
Hark the glad sound!” sparked off an explosion
Of full-voiced, rapturous, Cornish emotion.

Like Billy Bray, I never stood up for anyone;
And do’ee know why? – because I was a King’s son!
Worship, for we, was like the blasting of rocks
In the bal, not that row of pasty-faced men in frocks
Who kept us flat, like wet fog hiding Carn Brea,
By jumpin’ up and bleating in turn, with nothin’ to say.

They’d ‘a’ been throwed from the pulpit home Redruth
--Or more likely, chucked off the cliff at Hell’s Mouth.
And where was the thunder of triumphant Calvary
In the Bible readings? Wisht as a gnat's wee,
It hurt me to listen! Somebody must have sieved
All the glory out, like they wanted to say He never lived –

The Infant Stranger, Jesse’s tender rod! I tell ‘ee, boy,
It smelt like a museum; with less joy
Than there was in my hovel with sand on the floor
When I called for a pen to write down one more
Heavenly tune before I went. –one more Hosanna!
And I’ve heard my curls from Moonta to Montana

Sung with ecstasy by crowds of Cousin Jacks,
Deep underground, or in chapels no more’n shacks,
But as to that gilded prison there, I thirst
For the hour when “the gates of brass before Him burst!"... '
Rising from the bench, he said, ' Well, see ‘ee ‘gain,
My ‘andsome,’ and shuffled off down St.Mary’s Lane,

A scarecrow figure, singing in croaky baritone,
The glorious Lord, the glorious Lord, of Life comes down,
Of Life comes down!”
… this crazy tramp who grieved
For majestic words, and preachers who believed,
And thought he was Tom Merritt, down a mine at eleven,
His body clamped by pain, his head in heaven.



Notes: Thomas Merritt (1863-1908), self-taught musician and composer of famous Christmas carols, despite constant ill health. Billy Bray (1794-1868), miner and inspirational preacher. ‘Bal’ –mine; ‘wisht’ –weak; ‘curls’ –carols.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

cottage pie

We had Tesco's 'Best' cottage pie the other evening, and both afterwards declared it tasteless and disgusting. We then watched an episode of the German TV drama Heimat, in which a socially ambitious lady is thrilled because some Nazi leaders are coming to visit. She lays on a lavish lunch spread, but the important guests rush off to re-occupy the Rhineland leaving the luncheon uneaten. After that, just before bed, we watched an episode of The Royle Family.

Angela dreamed that night that she was entertaining the Queen, a Prince, and about ten other royals. She served them the remains of our cottage pie. Angela never wastes any food.

And the Dream-self never wastes any chance to unify disparate material.

I completely believe in Freud's theory that the unconscious selects certain recent events in order to create a psychic drama which is meaningful and goes deep into our past. But in this case I think it could well have just been having fun. Sort of 'Okay, you don't know what to do with the half-eaten awful cottage pie; you don't like throwing it out, but it isn't really worth putting it in the deepfreeze; you've been watching a drama about VIP's coming to lunch... So serve it to them!'

It was, in fact, making a joke. And a great one. We fell about laughing when she related it. I could visualise the tableful of royalty, and Angela putting the container of heated-up yuk in the centre. But she did sprinkle some chives on it.

Her dream didn't end there. Angela, who always, to my great pleasure, dresses femininely in company, even if the company is just me, of an evening, was in jeans at the royal lunch. She thought she should put on something more becoming, and rushed upstairs to change into a dress or skirt, stockings, etc.. But the royal party left early (perhaps displeased with the cottage pie), and Angela had to say goodbye to the Queen with nothing on above the waist. The Queen, arching an eyebrow, said, 'Ah, I can see you're a single lady!' (meaning, pretty wild.) She replied, 'Well, no, actually I'm married' --pointing to a blond, foppish man in a beige suit, called Shane.

Of course if anyone can think of a deeper meaning for this dream, please let us know on a postcard.

Friday, June 20, 2008

poem for my sister

Me, my nephew Lloyd, and my sister Lois, on holiday with us in Cornwall in 2006. They both live in Glasgow.


Sis

(rondeau redoublé)

My sister’s busy breaking in new shoes,
Teetering round her tiny flat all day.
She loves small treats, would hate a luxury cruise.
Search for her inner child keeps age at bay,

And the shy flirt G.I.’s fought for till D-Day
Is still here: for the shortest walk she’ll choose
A scarf to match her lipstick. But today
My sister’s busy breaking in new shoes.

A Sunday with her son cures any blues;
They’re soul-mates, tender, talkative and gay.
She thinks of him, and far-off Cornish views,
Teetering round her tiny flat. All day

She will anticipate the one Milk Tray
She’ll have while watching John Snow read the News;
Later, with Paxman, milky Nescafé;
She loves small treats, would hate a luxury cruise.

She’ll watch and re-watch DVD’s for clues
To Hugh Grant’s spiritual growth. She’ll say,
‘He’s sensitive, like me: we easily bruise.’
Search for her inner child keeps age at bay.

Deep into ‘Metaphysics’, she’ll enthuse
Over blue blinds, pink towels, red pantsuit –grey
Is not allowed near her. The caller who’s
In black can’t get an answer, limps away:
My sister’s busy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who gives a XXXX about a X?

German chancellor Angela Murkel said today: 'Hitler shed too much blood for us to give up our superstate just because of an X on a ballot paper. '
(Shurly shome mistake --ed.')
Ah yes, sorry, it was Mugabe. And 'we' instead of 'Hitler'.

Monday, June 16, 2008

abject apology



I know I've been 'going on' quite a lot in the last couple of days about the Irish referendum. Now I feel that I was quite mistaken in believing the EU should accept the people's will. I've been persuaded by the arguments of Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxemburg (which is somewhere near Holland or Belgium, I think), to the effect that the European Project cannot be turned aside by the mere vote of a small country. One has to listen to such a distinguished statesman --widely tipped to become either the EU President or EU Foreign Minister if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

two great EU chefs


German cook Angela Murky, here shown in Brussels with French cook Nic Sucpusi, ready to serve their fudge and sour grapes to an EU heads of state meeting discussing Ireland. Angela is an expert in fudge, having been an obscure sous-chef in the loyalist 'church in socialism' movement in the GDR. She says, 'I learned it's important not to stir until the right moment, when the pot is already boiling and bubbling. There's no point burning your fingers. .. My recipes are much too complicated for ordinary people to follow, but you can trust me.'

well-deserved



Congratulatons to Joan Bakewell, the 'thinking man's crumpet' (see photo), who has been made a dame for, um, being a TV journalist, a right-on feminist, fearlessly writing about her affair with Harold Pinter, supporting Labour, and being generally a good egg. A seat in the House of Lords would not go amiss.

Friday, June 13, 2008

defeated churchill declares victory!

June 13 1946, London. Winston Churchill who, despite losing last year's British General Election, continued to lead the Tory government, today lost a second battle in the changed version named the Westminster Election. He commented to BBC News: 'The Tories have not lost, there is all to play for; it is vitally important that we continue to govern the country and that is what we shall do. We must find out exactly why the British people voted No to us and Yes to Labour, and somehow find a way through. Maybe we can do something to make it alright for them. This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning. I doubt if many of those who voted No even read our manifesto. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in Brussels, we shall fight in Strasburg, and in Luxemburg, we shall fight in the expensive restaurants and in the air, we shall fight in the Accounts departments, and on Eurostar; we shall never surrender. Our programme will bring greater democracy; so therefore, to the people of Britain, I say Fuck you, you ignorant peasants, why won't you fucking agree that we know best? Maybe Napoleon and Hitler knew the only way: a United Europe through conquest, and--
(He is carried screaming and ranting from the studio.)

'dodo not dead'

Jose Barroso, pictured today in Brussels

Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Commission President, declared today, 'The dodo is not dead, it is very much alive.'

god bless the oirish, begorra!


What a wonderful day for democracy! What a lousy day for the political elite! Ireland says No to an EU Constitution, re-hashed as the Lisbon Treaty. It's the only EU country where the elites couldn't ignore the people.

The first sour grapes reaction I heard, from the pro- side, was on the lines of 'The people have spoken, and the people must be punished'.

Rather, given a little time, they will be bribed into a second referendum and voting Yes. Because the political elite never takes No for an answer. 'Vote often till you get the result you want, then stop.' Just like Zimbabwe.

But this result will cause our masters enormous difficulty, and attempts to get around it will make them appear even more corrupt and disreputable. Imagine a Treaty being brought in when the ONLY citizenry allowed a direct vote said NO to it! But that's what will happen, one way or other. Really they're shameless. Aux armes, citoyens!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

cloudburst

Week by week we have seen the sky unchanging,
Blueness everywhere, save perhaps for wisps of
Cirrus, distant, no more than flecks of egg-white:
That won’t threaten us, low on the horizon.

Wine and talk in the evenings; almost too much
Summer, so that I almost wish those wisps would
Rise and challenge the blueness. In an instant,
Clouds have covered the sun, our eyes distracted,
Grey at first, but then blackly massed all over,

What has been so serene has shrouded. Tropic
Rain is drumming in sheets, I doubt our house will
Stand much longer; you’re crying. Total chaos.

Then, by miracle, all the rain, the black Mass,
Passes, blue is restored; you risk a smile, it’s
Clear some well that had dried has been replenished.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

a sort of cricket poem


W.G.Grace (top) and Don Bradman, making a pull.


cricket lover
(rondeau redouble)

He feels it still, the stroke that brought his ton;
No matter if he’s reached his final score.
Though starting worse than almost anyone,
He must have had some talent at the core

As, round the time of Making Love not War,
Thinking, the light won’t last; good men have gone…,
He risked a pull that worked; then many more.
He feels it still, the stroke that brought his ton:

A rippling leg glide like a nylon’s run!
Some called his batting selfish and cocksure,
But he has entertained, like Pietersen.
No matter if he’s reached his final score,

Which is around, he thinks, 124.
His flashing blade that once outscored the Don
Now blocks. And yet, from Kingston to Lahore,
Though starting worse than almost anyone,

He charmed at every crease, and it was fun--
His old eyes twinkle at the metaphor;
But where’s the magic gift to stir and stun
He must have had? Some talent at the core

Glimmers, but like the sex life of a nun.
And is it true, that piece of cricket lore
Which says Grace touched him once? He nods: in sun-
Blessed Trinidad. A magic-spinning whore.
He feels it still.
--------------
The rondeau redouble (sorry I can't put the accent in) is a devilishly difficult form to write in. Only two rhymes, and the four lines of stanza 1 have to recur as the end lines of the next four stanzas. The final stanza concludes with a half-line from the start of the rondeau. Wendy Cope has written a brilliant rondeau redouble, beginning 'There are so many kinds of awful men - One can't avoid them all...' Here's one of them.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

smooching with princess margaret


It's almost sixty years since I was in love with Princess Margaret. At fourteen, in Melbourne, I wrote my first piece of erotic fiction: an account of smooching with the Princess in the back row of a cinema, kissing her, feeling up under her skirt, etc.. very masturbatory - even though I didn't know how to masturbate, and wouldn't for another five years. But that's another story.


My married sister found my bit of teenage porn, and charmingly read it out to her husband and my parents over a Sunday lunch. I fled to my bedroom in redfaced shame. She came some minutes later, brandishing a book called 'My English Garden', by Beverly Nichols. 'This is the kind of thing you should be writing, Donald,' she advised. Well, I never did.


During last weekend's Workshop here, I dreamed very vividly. In one of them, lo and behold, my old cinema-companion re-appeared. She was young, beautiful, dazzling with jewels, elegantly dressed, and with long lustrous curly black hair. I fell for her all over again. We were at some posh ball or banquet. She received some bad news, someone's death or illness, and she came to me and sort of cuddled herself into me, leaning her beautiful head against my shoulder, seeking comfort. Running my hand over her dress, I could feel the bump of a suspender. Ah yes, memories... I thought, she really is a nice woman, whatever people say about her. (I once heard a rumour that she liked my poetry: almost certainly a confusion with Dylan, but I'm disposed to think well of her.) In my dream I sort of accidentally put my hand up her skirt a few inches. She moved away, and I at once apologised; she smiled as if to say 'no harm done', rather sweetly. Nice lady!


It's curious, the way the fantasy of youth and the dream of age intersected. Margaret became, as we know, a raddled old lady. How did she step, young, beautiful and sensitive, into my dream? Perhaps my unconscious felt that I deserved to experience my long-ago fantasy in real life: or as close to it as a dream can be. It was so vivid, my dream, that I had a feeling of disappointment when I woke and found it hadn't happened. But I remember it now as if it really did happen. I remember the feel of her thigh under my hand. How embarrassing. But she dealt with it sensitively, lightly. Unlike my sister. Great gal, Margaret.

talking verse at 7.30 a.m.

Been reading an interview with the actress Andrea Riseborough in the 'Sunday Times'. She says she adores Peter Hall, because you can wake him up at 7.30 a.m. and he will talk verse. I spoke before of my 'secret companions' with whom I can quote poetry. It's great if you also can find living people to do that with.

I found one or two on our Workshop last weekend. I'd quote Shakespeare, say, and they could carry it on. And if they weren't sure, they'd instantly google the quote on their laptop. Quoting verse to one another is a rare experience these days, because so few people, even if they're readers, have learned poetry by heart. When you find someone who has done so --out of love for poetry-- it's a very heartwarming, intimate experience.

'Talking verse' also means knowing something about form and metre - which is rare too. It's fine gushing about a poem's 'feeling' or 'emotion' or 'symbolism'; quite another to be able to distinguish between an iambic pentameter and a trochaic tetrameter.

Though I'm a zombie at 7.30 a.m., I would talk verse with someone who could quote back at me. In my normal life I'm virtually a mute until about eleven, after mid-morning coffee. The only subjects I would talk about over breakfast are sex, verse, cricket, rugby and, er, sex.

So you've been warned if you ever sit down to breakfast with me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

invisible companions

When I'm sitting with others and the conversation doesn't engage my interest, I have invisible companions. Like this morning, having coffee outside in the (brief) sun. Angela said, pointing to the garden, how beautiful the lilac was. Sandra, our cleaning lady: 'Yes, lovely.' Me, silently, 'When lilacs last in the door yard bloomed...' Then Angela described how our old blind dog had fallen into a patch of rosemary, but picked herself up, wagging her tail. Me: 'There's rosemary, that's for remembrance...' Their conversation moved to how our old house was beginning to show its age; Angela said, 'Things fall apart.' Me: 'Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; / More anarchy is loosed upon the world...' I'm just smiling distantly, sipping my coffee; and the others don't know I've had momentary contact with Whitman, Shakespeare and Yeats.

I don't know if other people do this; but I'm grateful I remember so much poetry. It's an endless anthology of beauty in one's head, just like my memory of classical music or Broadway musical songs. It's an 'ever-present stay against troubles'. --NowI'll have to google that. Isn't it the Cranmer marriage service? I think so.

I've googled it, and it seems I'm wrong; there the psalm's 'An ever-present help in trouble.' Must have been thinking of that. Ah well...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

government - mixed success

The Labour government has made no difference to youth crime, despite enormous efforts; on the other hand it's been very successful in establishing that fathers aren't important to children.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

apologies

My website, dmthomasonline.com, has been 'out of order' for over a week. Server problem, which apparently is taking time to cure. Should be up again soon; I'll let you know when it is. I'm busy preparing a 4-day workshop at the weekend, so have had less time for this blog. Apologies for that too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

questions for authors

I read some of The Devil and the Floral Dance to 120 kids at Helston library on May 7. All sitting crowded and crosslegged on the floor; consumed with excitement - not because of me, of course, but because of next day's holiday and Flora Day celebrations and fun fair. I'd asked the librarian if a CD of the Helston Town Band playing the Flora tune could be put on at low volume as I read verses describing the children's dance. He said unfortunately he couldn't, because the library didn't have a music licence: so they couldn't play a CD or even sing...
I got the kids to hum, saying there was no law against humming. They did so, boisterously. And girlsterously.
One could understand the librarian's concerns, though; the muted sounds of a band might have annoyed patients under the drill in next door's dental clinic, or the customers at Somerfields supermarket on the other side.
Some great questions from the (literally) floor. One boy asked me what time I finished writing the story (which was first written almost 30 years ago). I was puzzled, but at last managed to understand him: what time of the day or night did I finish it? I then 'remembered' I'd been writing all through the night, almost delirious with inspiration, and finished it just as dawn was breaking and the sun came up. A great question though; so much better than the usual 'Are you writing anything at the moment?' which Pushkin rightly said was the most irritating of all questions.
We wasted about 15 minutes before I could start the reading. A photographer for the Helston Packet wanted a photo of me with some of the kids. He had to ask teachers from two different schools, who had to ask the kids if they minded, and then had to check if their parents had given permission... You know what it's like these pc days. 'Happy the nations of the moral north,' as Byron wrote in Don Juan. Angela said I looked very stiff in posing with them, and asked why I hadn't put my arm round the two next to me. Not on your life! No way!

Monday, May 5, 2008

latin class (a triolet)

I fell in love with Sara's nape
Between her short black hair and collar;
Tonguetied and ugly as an ape
I fell in love with Sara's nape,
Its coolness, whiteness, slender shape;
She never knew I was its scholar.
I fell in love with Sara's nape
Between her short black hair and collar.

Friday, May 2, 2008

the tide turning?

The local election results seem to indicate that the tide is at last turning against Labour. People are very ungrateful; what has the Blair/Brown government done wrong, except for some minor flaws like waging an aggressive war on Iraq; unleashing unlimited immigration; abolishing habeas corpus; undermining the jury system; slaughtering and burning millions of cattle rather than inoculating them; 'spinning' endlessly, even on 9/11 ('a good day to bury bad news'); the crazy, puerile Dome; losing millions of people's personal details; undermining parliament by announcing initiatives on the media first; ignoring its manifesto promise to hold a referendum on the EU constitution; giving us 'banana state' elections through postal voting (vote early and vote often); waging vindictive class war in banning hunting; punishing the working-class by cutting out the 10% tax rate and banning smoking from the corner pub (and everywhere else); spending profligately, to little effect, on the NHS and schools; destroying proper standards in 'A' levels etc; encouraging destructive multiculturalism; setting up unelected regional quangos which bear no relationship to people's natural loyalties (e.g. the 'South-West Region', from Swindon to Penzance); planning to build another 20 million houses on England's green and pleasant land; creating an insufferable system in which Scottish M.P's can create laws for the English, whereas English M.P.'s can't legislate for Scotland; continuing to subsidize the Scots massively; nationalising losses and privatising gains (Northern Rock); and stifling us with political correctness and EU bureaucracy. These apart, what (I repeat) has it done wrong? Just remember the towering statesmen and women, like Stephen Byers, Peter Mandelson, Alistair Darling, Harriet Harman, Geoff Hoon. Not to mention that wonderful First Lady, Cherie 'freebies' Blair. I reckon we've been in a golden age.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

the devil and the floral dance


This is a sample from a Cornish story I wrote, based on the age-old May celebrations in Helston on the Lizard. I much enjoyed writing it, as I could pour all my love of Cornwall and Cornish characters into it. I hoped it would be a story that everyone from 8 to 80 could enjoy; and indeed my most treasured fan letter is one from an 8 year old girl who told me she loved it (and drew for me many of the characters, to prove it).

Legend has it that the Flora began with a conflict between St.Michael and the Devil. The book is available from http://www.falpublications.co.uk, and on May 7 I shall be reading and talking about it at Helston Library (see entry for April 18, 'Forthcoming Events').


They met early the next afternoon in Helston's main street. Both blinked in surprise. They had not met for thousands of years.

‘What are you doing here?’ said St Michael.

‘I'm on my holidays,’ said the Devil.

'Summer holidays?’

‘No. Winter break.’

The Devil was muffled up in a heavy black coat and Wellington boots, while St Michael wore sandals, blue jeans, and a white tee‑shirt. It was a typical spring day: one moment the sun drenched the grey, granite houses in bright light, the next, clouds plunged them in gloom. There were crowds of peo­ple out shopping, buying groceries for the next day, May 8th, Flora Day. Shopkeepers were busy hanging out flags and bunting. St Michael was holding the step‑ladder for the white‑coated chemist to fasten a Union Jack and the Cornish flag over his window filled with cough mixtures and hot water bottles. The chemist thanked him politely.

‘What were you buying?’ said St Michael to the Devil, nodding at the chemist's shop.

‘Beechams Powders,’ said the Devil.

‘Stomach trouble?’

‘Jet lag,’ said the Devil, and his face did look a little green. He shivered inside his coat. ‘Bitter weather,’ he complained. ‘I'm not used to the cold.’

‘Goin' have drop rain, are us?’ asked the chemist cheerfully, stepping down to the pavement and glancing up. St Michael knew that when a Cornishman asks you if there is going to be a drop of rain, it's ready to pelt down. Sure enough, huge drops started to fall, and got thicker by the moment. Shoppers vanished into the doorways. It was more like sleet than rain. ‘Come and have a cup of tea,’ St Michael invited, and took the Devil's arm to lead him at a trot to the nearest cafe.

Now, you may be rather surprised by all this, for two reasons. Angels don't have bodies ‑ at least not like ours ‑ and the Devil, after all, is a fallen angel. And why should St Michael and the Devil, who are deadly enemies, be chatting to each other in such a friendly way?

Well, the answers to both questions are quite simple. If you go on a foreign holiday, you like to live like the natives for a while, it's a part of the fun. You don't walk around in a raincoat eating fish and chips from a newspaper ‑ or at least you shouldn't! Both the Archangel and the Devil were on a sort of foreign holiday, and so they enjoyed putting on flesh and blood for a day or two. The Demon was quite enjoying himself really, in spite of feeling a bit sick and dizzy after his long flight; and cold, even in his thermal underwear, after the fires of Hell.

And they were friendly because ‑ well, they had once been close friends, before the Devil fell from Heaven in disgrace. In the shock of meeting again, after such a long time, the old feelings of friendliness had come to the fore...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

bliss was it in that dawn

In May 1997, on the day after a vast Labour Headquarters rentacrowd, cheering and waving Union Jacks, had 'spontaneously' gathered outside 10 Downing Street to greet the Blairs, we now know (thanks to Lord Levy's memoirs) what our Tony did. On his way to play tennis with Levy, he first glanced around to check no one was watching, then jumped up and down laughing and shrieking like a schoolboy: 'I've done it! I'm Prime Minister! I'm Prime Minister! I'm Prime Minister!' On the same day, almost certainly, John Prescott stuck his fingers down his throat to bring up a gargantuan meal so he could eat another one.

What a shower. And what idiots the people who voted for them.

'Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!'
(Wordsworth)

spot the sow


Which is the sow in the above photos?
One is Ahmed Sow, Energy Minister in Mali, and former director of the EU aid section. He arranged a loan of £3 million to a company in which he owned a 20% share. The British official who blew the gaff on him has been sacked --of course-- by the EU.
The other is John Prescott, formerly Deputy Prime Minister of Great Britain, and as such only a dicky heartbeat away from having his pudgy finger on the nuclear button. Every evening he would vomit up his Big Macs and fries from sheer revulsion and shame at the fight-everyone, ban-everything policies of his government. He is also the only male in the UK exempt from the sexual harassment laws he helped to bring in.
So which is the sow? Answers to me on a postcard.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

mad men


Have been watching Mad Men, the glossy American series about corporate life in New York in 1960. The men wear suits, the women elegant dresses which look as if they have been sprayed over their girdles and bullet-bras that barely contain their voluptuous unanorexic figures. Both sexes spend a lot of time smoking and flirting in the office or out at bars. The women obviously don't have a political thought in their beautifully coiffeured heads.


It is, of course, a vision of absolute hell, and I can barely stand to watch it every Sunday evening.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

apology

I apologise for my error of yesterday, when I printed a photo purporting to be of Sweden's new cabinet. The photo shows, of course, Germany's new mostly-female cabinet, under prime minister Angela Merkel (centre front row), and I have now corrected the error.

triolet

I fell in love with Sara’s nape,
Between her short black hair and collar.
Tonguetied and ugly as an ape,
I fell in love with Sara’s nape,
Its coolness, whiteness, slender shape;
She never knew I was its scholar.
I fell in love with Sara’s nape,
Between her short black hair and collar.

(For a few weeks when I was 15 I was in a coed class, for
the only time in my education. Sara sat in front of me.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

germany's new cabinet mostly female

Germany's new mostly-female cabinet

Germany's prime minister, Angela Merkel, (centre front), today appointed a mostly-female cabinet. In his inner cabinet, shown here, are, middle row, far left, Birgit Nilsen; third from left, Helga Krull; next to her, women's rights minister Ursula Seyss-Inquart; third from right, finance minister Eva Braun; far right, Wanda Andersen; front row, left, foreign minister Ilsa Quisling; right, Gudrum Fleyhart.

forthcoming events



Wednesday 7th May 2008
The Devil and the Floral Dance - a reading by DM Thomas in Helston
1.30pm
Helston Library, Trengrouse Way Helston TR13 8AG
Internationally acclaimed Cornish writer, DM Thomas will be reading from his children's book which celebrates the Helston Flora. Come and find out more about this great Cornwall tradition, enjoy the story and poetry and, who knows, join in a rendition of the famous song.
Copies of the book will be on sale at a discount - or order, post free, here, quoting 'Floral Dance Reading'.
Free - open to all
Email: helston.library@cornwall.gov.uk. Telephone: 01872 322005

St Ives Literature Festival - A Pride of Publishers
Wednesday 14th May 2008
Fal Poets
A reading at St Ives Arts Club
8pm
DM Thomas, Victoria Field and Jane Tozer
Three of the fal poets will be reading from their various collections. DM Thomas' Dear Shadows celebrates a lost era of village life in Cornwall and won the Holyer an Gof Award for outstanding literary merit. His revised, The Devil and the Floral Dance, set at the Helston Flora combines poetry and prose. Victoria Field's first collection Olga's Dreams received warm reviews ('delicious' Poetry London) and her second Many Waters is based on a writing residency at Truro Cathedral. Jane Tozer's Knights of Love is a new translation of the 'lais' of Marie de France, the earliest named woman poet in the French language. Her lais are rollicking song stories in the tradition of the Canterbury Tales. The Times described them as 'faithful to the world of Marie, representing her tone of wistful admiration and earthy humour... intense, obsessive, sad, fey and movingly sexy.'.
fal books will be on sale at a discount
St Ives Arts Club, Westcott's quay St.Ives Cornwall TR26 2DY
For more information and booking, telephone Bob Devereux on 01736 795003


Thursday, April 17, 2008

'A' levels again

I was in a literature class. We were all about 16 or 17. Our teacher introduced the topic of First World War poetry, leading into W.B.Yeats. I'd been absent for a few days, and I realised the others had worked very hard in the meantime, as one by one they popped up from their desks to talk brilliantly about Yeats. I tried to get in, lifting my hand from my desk as a signal to the teacher, but always someone else got in first. The teacher was even looking at me, almost inviting me to contribute; but I would hesitate a split second and it was too late --some young genius would speak. I love Yeats and know quite a lot about him, but I was becoming intimidated. I thought, I seemed bright in my elementary school, because it had a working-cass intake, but these boys and girls have been to prep schools, and they're at least as bright as I.

Then I woke up properly, having half-woken an hour earlier and turned the radio on, and realised I was listening to Melvyn Bragg's wonderfully erudite Radio Four programme 'In Our Time', and this morning four scholars were discussing Yeats... They --overheard subconsciously-- were my alarmingly knowledgeable and articulate fellow students.

As I wrote a while back, it's very unfair to be dreaming of the anxieties of youth as well as those of age.

A memory from University High School, Melbourne, when I was 15. We were being introduced to serious Shakespeare --Macbeth. Our teacher asked for a volunteer to be Macbeth, and I wanted to do it. But I hesitated for a split second, and another boy put his hand up. I had to settle for Banquo. Fuck Banquo. If you want something badly, never hesitate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

my aussie clone

Don Thomas researching for his book
'Boomerangs and Balmaidens'
I am haunted by certain key choices in one's life, often depending on some chance event, which sends that life in a crucially different direction. In a parallel universe there is a Don Thomas who decided not to return to Britain with his parents in 1953, but stayed in Melbourne, living with his sister's in-laws. Here is a brief biography...


He studied English at Melbourne University, then taught at a high school. Married Sara Goldberg in 1960, and had two children, Jacob and Petroc. Published a slim book of verse in 1966, Cousin Jack (Dingo Press, Ballarat). Divorced in the same year, he later married Sheila Trencrom, of Cornish descent. They had one daughter, Demelza. In 1980 Thomas published a novel, The Blue Motel , which achieved considerable success in Australia. His second wife divorced him in 1983. The following year he moved in with fashion designer Audrey Goolagong. Thomas has always retained a keen interest in the Celtic countries. His scholarly study of the relationship between Celtic and Aborigine myths and culture, Boomerangs and Balmaidens (also published by Dingo Press) was well-received. He retired from his post as Deputy Head of Geelong Grammar School in 2000. Later that year he and his wife spent a six month vacation in Cornwall. They now live in Launceston, Tasmania. Thomas says, 'Living in a city with a Cornish name somehow keeps me spirituallly in touch with my place of birth. I often wonder how my life would have differed had I returned to Britain in '53. I have a clone in some parallel universe who did just that. I wish I could say to him, Goodonya, mate!'

Thursday, April 10, 2008

coach house workshop


We have one place left on my 'coach house workshop', May 23-26. Anyone interested in being helped to write creatively, in the inspiring atmosphere of Cornwall, email us for a brochure at dmthomas@btconnect.com

coming home to roost

Woke up from a dream this morning about eight; thought, 'I guess that meant my hens are coming home to roost...' Sleepily turned on the radio, to hear a man saying 'Our hens are coming home to roost.' He was talking about the economic situation.

In my dream two hens had come fluttering around my head, in bed. Not threateningly, but I felt the bedroom was not the right place for them. We (I and my then wife) used to have four hens. They were beautiful, proud, though messy, creatures. One was taken by a fox, others would fly into neighbouring gardens, or get completely lost. We were actually happy if they came home to roost at night. The old saying, meaning roughly 'what you sow, you reap', has a bad sense, perhaps because farmers are innately pessimistic. But our hens can come home to roost in both good and bad ways.

My dreams so often incorporate past epochs, past marriages, past jobs, past derelictions of duty. I'm constantly getting lost. I guess everyone does. I'm still worrying about whether I'll pass my 'A' levels --alongside anxiety about ageing, which seems very unfair. In this dream I was in Toronto, leading a writing workshop, but a student had to help me up a high step. Martin Amis,was there too, and he was interested in my memories of John Bayley, my old Oxford tutor, whose biography he was writing. I'd never met Amis, suspected I wouldn't like him or he me, but we got on quite well in my dream.

Memo to myself: must re-read Alice in Wonderland.

Since I'm positive he reads my blog: Hi, Martin! Nice meeting you!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

a night at the opera

Went to the opera tonight. Anna Bolena by Donizetti. Opera doesn't often come to Truro, but it was the ETO and they're good.

Now, I'm not familiar with Anna Bolena, and I deliberately chose not to look it up before hand, preferring to come to it freshly, as I did last year with the ETO's magnificant Jenufa. I'd drunk a bottle of red very quickly before the opera, so was in a pleasantly fuddled, drowsy state. The Italian lingo passed me by, and the English mini-translations flashed up were a distraction. Anyway, in opera it's all love, grief, remorse, despair, whoever is singing. The stage was dominated, in a physical sense, by a stout, plain, double-chinned lady, warbling on about love, grief, remorse, despair --and religion and salvation. I felt it was a pity they'd chosen such a stereotypical plain, matronly, religiose, lachrymose Catherine of Aragon. I waited for Anne Boleyn to appear; I believed she was the sultry, sexy, gypsyish young woman who haunted the wings and looked baleful. I kept wanting bloody Catherine to get off the stage. Donizetti was twisting history by giving her ex-lovers who appeared at regular intervals, but opera composers do that. I thought it was daring of Donizetti to hold Anne back for so long --an hour by this time. Foolishly daring, perhaps. Anne's first notes would have to be sensational. I waited for the stunning, hanging-back brunette to make her move, to be greeted by thunderous audience applause. I began to have slight doubts just before the interval. And at the interval Angela confirmed my growing suspicion that the stout, doublechinned lady was in reality Anna Bolena.

I've nothing against fat ladies, in fact I love them; I think they're usually a lot sexier than thin ladies. But this particular one was just bovine, it seemed to me --surrounded by beautiful girls in the superb ensemble. I'm sure Anne Boleyn wasn't bovine.

Anyway, my mistake gave us a good laugh. At the end, when the fat lady sang on and on, before getting her head removed, I still couldn't see her as Anne Boleyne. Catherine of Aragon. She was Catherine of Aragon. By the way, isn't it odd that they had those complicated names-- Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves, Mary Queen of Scots... I don't introduce myself as 'Don of Truro'.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

increasing cultural diversity

In the interest of diversity, cultural organisations seeking Arts Council grants are now to be required to state whether their employees are gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual or 'not known'. This is much-needed, as I have hardly ever seen a heterosexual actor, dancer or musician.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

'sexual harassment' arrests in Cornwall

Employee of Fung Yu Restaurant, Truro, being arrested today
for allegedly calling customer 'my sweetheart'.
In consequence of the new law making it a possible offence to call someone 'love' in the work place, police have made 84 arrests in the County of Cornwall. The arrested persons are accused of regularly addressing staff and customers by such terms as 'my sweetheart', 'my love', 'my handsome', and even 'my lover'. 'We have acted', said a spokesperson for the police, 'in response to massive complaints from the public. Such so-called endearments are unacceptably sexist, ageist, racist or homophobic, and cannot be tolerated in today's climate, when we are rightly concerned about sexual harassment. For a shopkeeper to call a complete stranger "my lover'' beggars belief, yet this happens all over Cornwall all the time.'

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

no problem with genetic research, says Minister

Rt.Hon.Eric Honegger, MP
Labour Health Minister Eric Honegger, launching the new Bill in the Commons today, declared there was no problem in mixing human and animal genes.

an easter mystery



Denise Thomas (1945 - 1998)
Peter Redgrove, poet (1932 - 2003)


Following on from the last piece, I did have a haunting experience on Easter Day, around 3 a.m. This poem describes it...




The Reading


We went at Easter to hear my old friend Peter Redgrove
read at a college. He was already in full flow,
that strong bald head, that resonant, calm voice.
The hall was almost full, the students attentive,
I felt quite jealous. Then it emptied out a lot
and Peter said, I’ll just read one more poem.

I found him afterwards outside, standing apart,
smoking. I said I was sorry
we’d arrived late, but we’d not expected him to start
so promptly. He said, well, they’re Buddhists, you see,
(with a characteristic dry chuckle
I’d forgotten over the years)
and you have to get on with it!

I said, scanning the crowd sitting on steps
around us, Denise is here somewhere,
looking for you, have you seen her?
Then realised
Denise is dead. And the pain of that woke me
before I could tell him my mistake, then
I realised Peter is dead, so I didn’t need to tell him.

I padded along to my study to record
the dream in the stillness of the night,
and a few lines ago something fell
or was thrown, and I heard it bounce.
When I looked it was a lightbulb, unbroken.

easter and religion

I didn't go to church this Easter. I don't go to church. I was brought up a Methodist, and I still love and sing (anywhere) the great Methodist hymns. But I don't like the word --Method-ist--just as I don't like -isms in general, and --well, one can't step into the same river twice. The Church of England has never appealed to me; it's too genteel, too unemotional; I hate boys' choirs, those little white frocks they wear; equally the adult males, in their big white frocks, warbling away. Above all, they have tragically thrown away that magnificent treasury for the spirit and the heart, the King James' Bible and Cranmer's prayer book. I can't forgive them that. I don't want Christianity in civil service English. I also don't want happy-clappy.

I would like Petersburg's Mariinsky Cathedral, the 'Marine Cathedral', transferred to Truro. Magnificent mixed choir, thunderous blackbearded priests. Some billionaire should buy it, as they do football clubs, and bring it here. Failing that, I'd probably enjoy some mostly black, Hot Gospel church. All that exuberance, and marvellous harmonised singing.

I do have a religious sense. Wittgenstein: 'Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystery.' We may as well call that mysterious mystery, that unknown unknown, God. For us, for our western culture and time, Christianity became our preferred symbol for the source of existence. So I believe in Christianity just as I believe in a rose as a symbol of beauty, or the moon as a symbol of woman.

Elsewhere, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. have their own preferred symbols for the mystery. Atheists don't have symbols for it, except perhaps some mathematical formula. Of course atheists can be good men and women, but somehow the people who have moved me most, because they seem to have a deeper grounding, have been religious --e.g. Akhmatova, Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, T.S.Eliot, Yeats, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn. Also my mother, whose simple Christian sayings come through to me often, and rarely fail to 'restore my soul'. And my father, who said, days before his unexpected death after an operation, 'Amy, I want you to know, if anything happens to me, my way is clear'. Incidentally, it would have been my mother's 105th birtday on Easter day.

Religious words that move me deeply:
Dame Juliana of Norwich: 'Sin is behovely; and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'
Dante, the last line of the Divine Comedy: 'The Love that moves the sun and the other stars'.

Eliot, in Four Quartets:
'Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.'

If anyone can find me a phrase or sentence in Dawkins that I will want to cherish, let me know.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

titles

I'm searching for a title for a new poetry collection. When the title seems to fit perfectly, suggesting the nature of the work, one feels much more confident it's finished. I had the title for The White Hotel before I'd written a word; it seemed the necessary image for what I wanted the novel to include. The Flute-Player title only came to me on the novel's last page - when I suddenly decided my heroine would, as a Muse figure, learn to play the flute. I knew it was the perfect title.

Occasionally I've had to write out a hundred or more possible titles. That happened with my fictional memoir of Freud. In the end I plucked a title which seemed to have no connection with the novel, in desperation: Eating Pavlova. To my surprise, it seems to work very well. I slipped in a reference in the text to the creamy dessert after I'd chosen the title. I guess it works because one can read it in two ways: eating the dessert or enjoying cunnilingus with Anna Pavlova the dancer --very Freudian. The same exhaustive search occurred with my poetry collection Dear Shadows. A quotation from a poem by Yeats, it perfectly reflects the work's themes, and I wonder why I didn't think of it straightaway; but in fact it came to me only after I'd tried and rejected scores of bad titles. Sometimes a title comes when I don't know what it's going to be a title of. (That's a pretty awful sentence.) I loved the poem-title The Marriage of John Keats and Emily Dickinson in Paradise, and then had laboriously to construct a poem to fit.

So, anyway, I've got to scribble more names down for the new collection...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

sunday morning on madeira

The dogs are singing; it’s their own chorale
suddenly starts up from all around
our hotel balcony,
tenors and basses, and one lone falsetto,
it mounts to a crescendo, it’s like Bartok
and a steel band, savage and beautiful
celebrating life and their Creator
even in their own cramped, squalid ghetto.
The sea is listening to this joyous sound;
and when it stops as suddenly as it started,
out of the stunned silence a cock,
alone and apart,
chanticleers proudly, ‘Now this is art’.