The other night I was in the queue at the Co-op, buying some groceries. I was next to be served and was about to make my move to the counter when I glanced sideways- my eye had been caught by a couple of people having a conversation at the head of an aisle. It was a woman with her kid in tow, chatting to another person who had their back to me. The woman was forty-something and sort of vibrant-looking, smiley. I was briefly wondering at how different we were, this woman and me, when suddenly something about the situation was apprehended on a weirdly strong gut level- namely the ickiness of walking about as a creature of a specific sex, among other-sexed creatures. As I moved towards the counter this dizzy spell continued, but it took on a couple of new aspects in succession; first I had an impression of the history of the world as a cacophony, then it felt like I was just going through motions in this shop, a moving part in some careening dynamic which was absurdly clothed, at this point in time, as ‘the Co-op’.
‘It Takes a Killer’ on CBS Reality
It’s not Mad Men or Girls, but I really can watch episode after episode of this. Each instalment chronicles a real-life murder or series of murders and the police investigation around them. The show is very fast-paced and has an assured, modern style. The video-game Metal Gear Solid springs to mind. Stuff flashes by: photos, maps, text, talking heads, stock visuals and snatches of reconstruction. On paying a little closer attention I noticed that every move is accompanied by either a ‘whoosh’ or ‘blade unsheathing’ sound effect. The guy working the sound board must surely have developed arthritis. The voice-over is as you’d expect from the title- grave, heading towards devilish- but not dorky and overdone in this case. The experts are compelling characters in their own right: Weary LAPD guy, distant 30-something English woman and slim pork-pie hat dude. It’s quality stuff- there’s a lot of background material, footage and police evidence from each case, some of it jaw-dropping, and interesting wider perspectives are presented. I think much care has been taken. Two thumbs up.
I first heard the term ‘podcast’ back in 2009/10. To me it sounded like something both second-rate and troublesomely technical. I was aware that Ricky Gervais was doing one and I didn’t like the sound of it either- him and his mate laughing at a buffoonish third guy. That was it for me until 2014, when the podcast ‘Serial’ appeared and had HBO-like credibility. They’ve crept up in a big way since then and I have various ones on all the time now. Life is better for them- it’s ‘take what you’re given’ no longer culturally speaking (or even more-so now anyway), plus they make dull tasks tolerable.
There was a pile of recordable VHS tapes in my house growing up. They were stored in the cabinet below the TV at one stage, then later on they were relegated to the end cupboard in the little study room. My dad had an extra one stashed away at the top of his wardrobe I discovered. It was labelled ‘The hand that rocks the cradle’ and, as it happened, genuinely was ‘The hand that rocks the cradle’. I think there was a pattern to the stuff my dad recorded off the TV, because the only other full movies in the general pile were the ocean-set Dead Calm, Basic Instinct, and Someone to Watch Over Me, all of which are also about cheating, with maybe a ‘wicked woman’ to blame, and that being an exciting thing. In other news, I quite like this song:
I’ve started counting my daily calories. I’m using an app called ‘Diet Diary’. It’s as vanilla as they come, which I love. The icon is a cartoon cucumber and notepad, with the words ‘Simple Diet Diary’ in a comic sans-esque font. It’s the pure-hearted underdog of diet-tracking apps. It has only the few computational conveniences you want, and no more. I keep track of calories and protein. The app shows me my totals so far for the day, and I can copy and paste past entries. For the last seven days my average daily calories has been 2172 and my average protein 141 grams. The idea of recording calories for evermore isn’t such a wonderful prospect. It sounds a bit of a strangled existence. The thought of it gives me butterflies. But not counting them is also a headache. It may well be a thirty-days-to-build-the-habit kind of situation, by which point it will have stopped feeling uncomfortable. I’ll have to see.
Barbarian Days- William Finnegan
I’m currently reading this. It’s a surfing memoir written by a 63 year old guy- a lifelong surfer. When I bought it, for my kindle, I was vaguely hoping for ‘What it’s like to be cool: from the horse’s mouth’. The author isn’t the outlaw I expected though. He’s a deeply reflective chap- a journalist for the New Yorker magazine of thirty years standing. I hadn’t bothered to look him up or even read a review of the book before purchasing, so sold was I on the title and premise. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. There’s highlight-worthy lyricism and insight on his full-to-bursting, counter-culture skirting life every other page. It’s great.
The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli
A famous 16th century how-to, in short chapters, concerning holding onto power/influence once you have it. The main thrust: Where certain group dynamics are involved, life is such that you have to think and act like a bit of a bastard if you want to live constructively- it’s not possible to avoid it. When faced with social grappling I tend to just disengage and get by on a feeling of martyrdom instead. Above it. But I’ve had valuable things snatched from my grasp a number of times following that strategy. Perhaps I need to go over to the dark side and become a calculating kicker of asses. ‘Old Nick’, for the Devil, supposedly comes from ‘Niccolo’. I once saw a guy bench-pressing with this book opened face down next to him- man on a mission, clearly. I was meaning to read it since.
Submission- Michel Houellebecq
I’ve enjoyed this guy’s previous novels. He does modern-life disillusionment with hair-raising power- he really means it. So I was disappointed to realise this one wasn’t really working for me. It’s set in a 2017 where France is in the process of being remodeled around Islamic values, after the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has come to power democratically. It’s a higher-flown setting than in all his other novels- academics and politicians at the Sorbonne- where the permanently drunk yet revered narrator, Houellebecq, is a lecturer. I suppose that aspect pissed me off- those are perspectives I don’t share much with and probably resent a bit. And he compounds it by taking long chunks of each chapter to talk about the work of some obscure French writer, Huysmans, that seems unrelated to the other goings-on in the novel. Perhaps the point his was making with that went over my head, but it felt to me like he was playing a joke on the reader. He speaks eloquently through other characters’ voices, as the sozzled narrator listens on, about what will be the shape of the new Islam-centric society: Patriarchal family units as a force of social control and six wives for anyone with heft, like the narrator and his colleagues. You get the impression Houellebecq is pretty down with much of that, but it would be nice if the whole thing wasn’t such a frustrating guessing game.
In response to the daily post’s writing prompt An Odd Trio
I’ve considered the possibility of getting a cat. I’ve come to realise that I wouldn’t like to live with a dog. All a dog really wants to do, in its heart of hearts, is put on a gilet and go rowing. But I just want to slink around the house mostly, so it wouldn’t work. I’d spook the creature out. I’d feel like an abuser. A cat would be much better suited. Me and the cat, being wee resentful dicks together. Soup I’m not a fan of at all. It’s actually surprising how awful it is in every regard. There are so many reasons to dislike it: It’s very often the consistency of diarrhea, I scald my mouth every time I have it, this old man I know dribbles it down his chin onto his big gut and doesn’t notice, I’ve sickened myself once or twice on the gloopy tinned tomato version, the metal spoon feels unfriendly in my mouth when there’s only liquid soup on it, the grim, depressed-person spectacle of pressing down on the surface of the soup and watching it flood the spoon, when you get a bit of bread like sodden tissue paper on a spoonful, the fact that it’s associated with hospitals and old people’s homes. It’s just a nightmare foodstuff! It’s profoundly terrible. As far as beach towels go, I own one which I bought in Malta in 2007 when I went on a holiday there with my friends. It’s black with a depiction of a big yellow bus and the words ‘Malta Bus’. They had these rickety old ex-American school buses running around the dusty roads there, with the interiors covered in rosary beads and other Catholic jumble. I’ve had a good long run with that towel, very fond of it.
I was in France it seemed, making my way along a city block on foot. It was a faded, local part of the center, where crummy real lives were being lived up above my head. There was traffic passing and cars parked along the roadside, but no-one to be seen on foot at that moment. I had stopped to have a gawk at the only shop-front in the vicinity: A old green awning extending a little crookedly out over the pavement. There were a couple of foldaway tables set up beneath it, bearing nothing at all. The place looked like it had been cleaned out of goods. Even so their door was ajar- business welcome. Further down from this was a tiled entranceway into the block, presumably leading to a stairwell area. I was nervous about something so I ducked into the entranceway for a second.
Then suddenly it was bucketing rain and I had made the decision to go for a drive around the city-center. On a whim I turned down into an underground car park. I took a 360 degree spin round the mini-roundabout down there. This caused the attendant in his glowing booth to stand up and gesture for me to continue on to the next level down. I took the circling ramp down as directed and came off at the bottom into a claustrophobic little area- a cave of sorts- smooth concrete and lit up like a car- park, but too small to be useful for car parking, and tapering off into irregularity and shadow at the end furthest from me. I could have just continued my circling trajectory and aimed the car immediately back up the up-ramp. It was unusually steep however. Also my attention had been caught by something -there was a woman down there in the shadowy, tapering bit, standing facing away from me. I was intrigued so I stopped the car and shut off the engine, bringing total quiet and stillness to this subterranean space. You could have heard a pin drop. The woman was up to something- fixing herself in some way, facing the wall. She was tall and sturdy and blonde. She looked ungraceful: her long hair was frizzy and she was wearing drooping stonewashed jeans with heels. I could tell she was large-chested, even from behind.
As an excuse for remaining there I had begun smoking a cigarette with the window down. The smoke hung thickly in the air around the exterior of the car. Once the cigarette was done I needed a new excuse. There was a sink on the wall near to me, a simple public-toilet style mirror screwed into the concrete above it. I stepped out of the car and went over to wash my hands. When I looked up from my hands the woman was there in the mirror behind me, very close-up, horror-movie style. It gave me a shock. But then she began studying her chest in the reflection, with just that area filling the whole mirror somehow. She was tugging at and rearranging her bra under her thin pullover. This was a little arousing- it was a pretty intimate situation. I rotated on the spot a bit and with a knowing half-smile extended my hand out towards the fixtures, offering to make way for her. Then I straightened up and looked directly at her. She stared right back at me. There was something off about her- she was beastly in some way- her skin was caked in stuff and perhaps her eyebrows weren’t all there. She continued to look at me blankly, and I became very afraid of her. She turned herself then, tottering back to her original spot. Now I saw that her back was slit open in a few places and simply creasing apart like card, revealing that there was nothing within. She was making a show of this to me. She continued over to her spot by the back wall to begin doing again whatever it was she had been doing before. Shitting myself somewhat, I walked all casual towards my car, which was now parked on the very steep up-ramp. I got in and locked it, panicking, trying to get the key in the ignition. There was a thumping on the back window just then. I didn’t dare look round, but I craned round a little to see if she was still over by the back wall. She wasn’t. Just a moment later, while I was still panicking to get the car started, I felt a pair of arms reaching low from behind the driver’s seat and encircling my waist, which was when I woke up with a fright!
Edit, like about 2 years later: This is shite. The dream was a cool neat little package, but the writing is awful. Even I can’t visualise anything from this, and I’m the one had the dream. It’s all stiff and laboured as hell. I was so excited too when I first produced it. Jesus. Lesson: I’m not good at writing descriptively. In fact I’m bad at it. That’s demoralising. It’s fairly clear you either have it or you don’t. It’s not something you can learn. You either have soul or you don’t. Fuck. Some of my other opinion and criticism-type posts are still quite entertaining though, even reading back two years later. So, yeah. Fine.