Paper Boats in a River

25 January 2015 marked six months of unemployment. It also marks the point at which I had assumed my time in Salisbury, such that I had, would be up. It wasn’t perhaps a fair benchmark to place for myself but it seemed rational. Six months and I would gather up my things and get gone. Obviously, it would prove that I did not have even that much. All my ‘what ifs’ are small, fragile things; paper boats thrown into a raging river. What if I had stayed in Nottingham? What if I had got the job in Basingstoke? I would much prefer to ask what if it was me bitten by a radioactive spider and granted great power and by extension great responsibility. As I have reflected before, being poor excludes you from a lot of society; there’s even an article about it in the graun so unfortunately it lends a certain paucity to what I can write about. Reflecting on the past is an automatic reaction, but it feels a bit like spinning wheels in muck. Impulse gives me momentum, but lack of access robs traction. So this update is going to be a little bitty, looking at things I’ve done the past few weeks in less depth than I normally would. Quantity has a quality all its own, as no-one’s friend Joseph Stalin would say.

Over Christmas I was loaned a copy of Robert Rankin’s Necrophenia. It’s a sort of shaggy dog story about a young man who almost saves the world. It came highly praised, which is always a bit dangerous. Nothing can live up to the hype, and Necrophenia was no exception. It was pretty dull. The bit I did like was the bit I was expected to like, that being the switch in tone between narrators (Tyler and Lazlo) which was achieved with a comedic flourish. I think a major impediment to my enjoyment was the particular stylistic repetition. It slowed the pace of the book to a crawl.

I watched Luc Besson’s 2013 film ‘Lucy.’ While the premise (10% of your brains!) is daft and counter-scientific, I was willing to give it a shot because I like some of Besson’s other work, I think Scarlett Johansson is a pretty good actor, and I like superheroes and science fiction. Sadly, the film doesn’t really deliver, my comment as the film rolled was that its reach exceeded its grasp. It’s a shame, as I think Johansson put in a good performance, showing an interesting progression as her emotional range reduced, even if that was something that annoyed me, reproducing an intellectual hierarchy with STEM at the top. A shame.

If you have the opportunity, take a look at BBC4’s two-part series on the Inca. It is telling me a lot of things I did not know and I really enjoy it. I do wonder at naming your child Jago when you are British, but that rather deplorable observation aside, it is an interesting looking at a system of empire unfamiliar to a Eurocentric point of view. I thought that the first episode’s decision to focus on the Inca’s foundation in roads, in food and in their predecessors was very good. Obviously, it roots the Inca in their location, but it also nicely introduces a history other than the one we might be familiar with. It could be too easy to talk about the Inca in isolation; this way we encouraged to remember that the Incas were exceptional in their time but not unique in their place. I liked that the program took the time to focus on the fact that this history is very much alive in the people of Peru etc., in practical ways such as the rope bridge as well as the magnificent like Machu Picchu. While watching Incas, I was minded of a time when a young man from South America told me that the Spanish had not engaged in Empire like the other European powers. It’s odd but people from all over, in all walks of life forget empire; forget that it was a thing that while enriching some, hurt many, many more.

Presently I am reading Moby Dick as part of research for another project; not the one I am working on, but in preparation for the future. Moby Dick is really excellently written; my previous experience of it is as something of an artefact among fellow literature studying types, a ponderous tome that many crack open only to be thwarted half-way through. I hunt the white whale as avidly as Ishmael and Ahab, revelling in the beautiful prose that you would perhaps not be able to find today; the language is luxurious even as it dwells on harpoons and rope, whale blubber and the chaotic vicissitudes of the sea. At this stage, one third through a difficult book it would be easy to declare intent to pursue to the bitter end this book but also foolish; Moby Dick’s greatest feat is perhaps to become itself what it is telling you of, a terrible thing that demands you exhaust yourself to its end. I would be remiss, having mentioned in the previous paragraph that these things often go forgotten, that Moby Dick is a book of its time, and the racism is at times breath-taking. It also has a musical section that runs for 4 chapters; no doubt the inspiration that led to some inspired soul setting the whole thing to music.

The waters of life rise up again, lifting my ship and carrying me along to sight of something on the horizon. I briefly stayed over in Nottingham for a job interview but they weren’t impressed, my heart was not in it. Put everything else aside, and I had wanted to leave the city for some time; I stayed longer than I wanted and I don’t have the heart in me to go back. I got to spend time with my brother and his wife, playing a game called Cards Against Humanity. Seeing them was splendid; CAH was, on reflection, a bit uneven. I think it suffers for having no clearly demarked end-point and relying on humour overmuch. For comedians comedy is a premeditated act but for the rest of us it emerges in context. CAH relies on a funny two hours and, as my sister-in-law observed, it is very much a game for middle-class white people to scandalise their own sense of propriety. Monday saw me boarding a train to a city I have never been to. I’m excited at the possibility of something new dawning, perhaps safe harbourage to my lost ship. Alas, I don’t think it was to be. During the interview I was starkly confronted with how much my self-confidence has waned as I floundered in the face of questioning. I still write and hope; 45,000 words buoying me up.


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