Category Archives: Writing

Posts about writing – or any experiences related to my efforts to learn the basics of creative writing.

Happy Duck – but the magic has gone

Exciting news – but poignant and sad – my Ménage à trois in the bathroom has been successfully brought to a conclusion – but sadly all of the magic – as well as the spider and much of the conversation – has gone.

This sounds a bit like a Burgessian introduction to a blog – so to explain.. I have always been bad in the bath. By which I mean I can’t stay in them for longer than a few minutes – which means my expensive organic muscle repairing whatnots are largely wasted. This is a shame, because my bath has jets and foam and all of those things. Plus music.

Recently – by which I mean months – the tedium – and hence the length of the bath – has been reduced/increased by the participation of a very large spider and a plastic duck, the former voluntary and the latter not so much.

I say voluntary – the truth is that the spider likes being in the hole where one of the jets is, so every time I have a bath I carefully wash him ( or her ) out, rescue it with tissue – and place the tired thing on a shelf to recover. This has been going on for weeks. For some unknown reason it will always slide back into the bath after a few hours ( I assume – I have never seen this happen ) and be ready to repeat the exhausting journey the next day.

The fascination for me has been that out of the corner of my eye I have increasingly been convinced that the duck is happy to be put in the waterit smiles – which of course is completely silly. I never really paid this much attention – just a peripheral vision trigger, sub conscious response kind of thing – but I have been gradually talking to it – like “Yay – there you go”… bob bob smile smile … “Too much foam? Jets on or off do you think?”

I did the other day have an extended conversation, asking it whether it was happy because it could see the spider and therefore felt less likely to be grabbed, although to the best of my knowledge spiders don’t hunt ducks and this spider I absolutely know is as even worse swimmer than I am..

So my point is that today I felt that this strange triangle of relationships needed resolving. The spider was easy – I carefully took it outside and installed it in a crevice in a garden wall. I will regularly check for updates. The duck, however required a more painstaking analysis.

And this is what I found.

The duck smiles when you put it in the water because it goes from eye level – on the shelf – to below eye level – in the water. And their beaks are cunningly designed so that when seen straight on they look a bit lost- but from slightly above they are quite obviously thrilled with life.

Here :

Bemused Duck
Happy Duck

 It’s the same duck [ Borges would love me ]

So what I desperately want to know is – did the toy companies plan all of this?

[Except the spider – obviously ]


That same feeling.. Nausea

Decades ago I read Sartre for mostly the wrong reasons, like people of my generation did when we wanted to look cool. But this evening I remembered so strongly one passage from Nausea. The moment when Antoine sees the horror of something for what it is, without cloaking it in names. It is a root – specifically the root of a chestnut tree.

It made me feel physically sick at the time. I don’t think I ever really got to grips with Sartre but this particular passage caused a very deep and intensely physical reaction in me – wholly appropriate given the title of the novel and the general malaise of the main protagonist.

“So I was in the park just now. The roots of the chestnut tree were sunk in the ground just under my bench. I couldn’t remember it was a root any more. The words had vanished and with them the significance of things, their methods of use, and the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, stooping forward, head bowed, alone in front of this black, knotty mass, entirely beastly, which frightened me”.

This evening I took this photo, simply inspired by the spring evening light in my garden. The Willow tree is light and reaches outwards, by contrast my own mental images of the half buried root were entirely black, and squirming down into the earth. Apart from the coincidence of trees there seems little connection.

But then I remembered this other darker tree on a recent walk.

When I look at these images I just see so many patterns, so much I cannot understand without hiding behind the shield of language, smug in my elevated safety. There is so much energy, such different timescales, but so little that I truly understand in any meaningful way.

It really disturbed me again this evening, 30 years later, that familiar sensation that if my mind allows me to see things for what they truly are, without names, then I am simply lost.

You or me

We wait. The distraction of our breath becomes ever more conscious and we will it into silence and ourselves into invisibility. No audience belongs here. Our presence is unseemly.

The metal reaches the end of its arc, and is momentarily stationary as it reaches an unimaginable equilibrium before turning back. The surface waits. Frozen, faultless, strong; it has endured for an eternity.

It is hauntingly beautiful, this frozen moment of unknowing. A perfect balance, with neither force prevailing. A precisely indivisible state of impossible and equal suspension.

Cold sunlight glints on both and bounces between them.

Possibilities are so human, so full of questions. But the arcing, spinning coin must in the end finally fall.



Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


windows are eyes
can’t blink
Captured in its imperfections
An echoing geometry
A rival set of shapes
the frozen moment
The first fracture
Hook the possibilities
Have I shapes

the frozen moment* Selected


Tango and Writing a novel – two Big Projects..

As well as in my working life, where the challenges of building an IT business have always been clear and considerable – I have been getting involved with some major projects  in my personal life – a couple of really big mountains to climb.

  • Firstly I am now about 30,000 words into my first novel. As a newbie 30,000 seems to me to be a great many words – even though its only a third of the way there. Once you get to that kind of size, if you stop for a couple of weeks you have to re-read pretty much the whole thing just to remember what on earth is going on.
  • Secondly I am learning Tango. Anyone who hasn’t tried would probably just think ‘So what – it’s a dance – just learn the steps.. ‘ or something similar. But in reality learning Tango as a beginner – especially for the guys, or “leaders” as we are somewhat ironically described as  – is mind bogglingly difficult.

These kind of big project undertakings need different skills – a different level of dedication. Persistence. The ability to keep going when it gets tough, when you lose your confidence. The  enthusiasm to keep finding the time, to keep practicing even when you don’t feel like it.

They also teach you about yourself – if you are writing or dancing Tango you are exploring your own character and thoughts – a humbling and fascinating process of self discovery. A process that is facilitated by the music, your partner, or by the creativity of the act itself.

Coincidentally I started them both at the same time – February – and so I am now celebrating 6 months of trying. 6 months of not giving up, of having faith, of trying to keep positive and enjoy all the learning experiences that these kinds of undertakings always confront you with.

The challenge now is to start the process of doing them at a higher level than simply awful – so with some basic level of skill. My problem is that I genuinely want to be good at such enormously difficult things, and rightly or wrongly a part of me absolutely believes that I can be. Yes it may be a fantasy – but what fun to really, truly make the effort, to discover more about myself and my limitations.

Whatever the outcome I am so glad that 6 months ago I started both of these ventures – they have given me so much – and even more thrilled that I am still hanging in there. The weirdest thing is that I have even more energy for them both than I did when I started – that seems to be a characteristic of these kind of complex subjects – they are open ended and you get out of them  as much as you put into them, you can never master them and for that reason they remain always fascinating and motivational.

They inspire you in a way that simpler, more achievable interests never can.






Thank you Charlie

For the first time in 14 years you are not here. I miss you so much. Your soft intelligent eyes, the gentle sound of you asleep, your enthusiastic welcome whenever I came home.

You were the most constant, loyal friend. To me you are still here, I see you everywhere and I always will.

You fill my heart. I am so proud of you and so very, very priveleged to have been the person you chose to love.

I love you.


My first Beltain – Impressions

Yesterday I was invited to a celebration of Beltain at Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire, right on the border with West Sussex. The site is a working ‘ancient farm’ where archaeologists can experiment to test their theories of now people lived in Iron Age Times.

Beltain itself is the Gaeilic May Day festival – held to celebrate the beginning of summer. As I now understand it Beltain – the beginning of summer – and Samhain – the begining of Winter – are the most important of 4 Gaelic festivals. Beltain seems to have the general positive theme of celebrating light and renewal of life – and is celebrated with bonfires.

In the case of the festival yesterday, the culmination was the burning of a giant Wicker Man, into which during the day everyone could place a small wish – there is something quite moving in seeing all of these hopes written on small pieces of paper, tied to twigs in the Wicker Man – and then to watch them burn and the embers flow into the night sky.

There was much that to me seemed so positive about the afternoon and evening. There was such a range of people, and the underlying themes of folk and Irish music, Jigs and dancing – although always layered with symbolism if you chose to be receptive to it – could just be accepted as a simple celebration of the dawning of summer. There were no priests, no nonsense – just wine food and beer, the making of  wreaths to wear for the evening from vines and plants, music and face painting.

Young and old mingled in this ancient farm, watching small displays, belly dancers or just sitting on the grass and talking with friends – and at the end all watched the burning of the Wicker Man in this ancient site, free to have their own thoughts and responses, and to keep them to themselves.

If this simple, unpretentious, yet quietly respectful celebration is something of the spirit of modern paganism then in my view there should be much more of it in the world.




A light for me to follow

The crowd, the anticipation, the opening is a growl of  powerful chords. The deep  sound rolls towards and over me, then silence in the backwash and finally a single melodic phrase on an overpowered guitar reaches out to me. Here it comes, it’s that song again carrying me forwards, that timeless time.

So much connection, I  tense with anticipation –  there’s a space I get taken to that is so full of possibilities – of what I might yet become. The rhythm and the energy are their own vocabulary and they reach into and lift me – effortlessly they carry me forwards.

“There’s hope in your eyes
I wanna love you but I get so blown away.”

The song is so open, leaving so much space for me. The gentle rocking embrace, I am clinging to something that keeps me afloat, cradling it. Chord after chord, and hanging in the air above all the details his so, so individual voice seems always to have been there –  a light for me to follow.

“I am just a dreamer,
But you are just a dream.”

“Once I thought I saw you in
In a crowded hazy bar
Dancing in the light from star to star.”

Where are you? I leave so much space for you. Please come into my life, engulf me.

“I wanna love you but I get so blown away.”


Full yet empty and cold

Walking into the garden at night I look up and there you are, waiting for me to become aware of you, full yet empty and cold.

You seem to come and go, to wax and wane but all of this is just an illusion, a coincidence of alignment, of light and shade. In reality your presence is a constant and it is my mind that comes to you for a few precious moments only to recoil again, dragged back into a world full of needless noise and clutter.

How can I accept that this is how it is. Your scales are immense, your silence absolute. You are impossibly near and yet impossibly far, held there by an absurd mathematical coincidence.

Patiently, silently, you show me another reality. Merciless and beautiful.

We have danced around each other for a long while now, I escape for shorter and shorter periods. Slowly I am dragged into orbit around you – myself, my sun, my planet and you collapse gradually into an intricate geometric dance of emotions, nights, months and years. As I age your cold silence tears away at my clutter and distractions and gathers me in.

You will be there for an impossibly long period after I have faded away, but even your power is not enough and you too will be defeated. I gaze at you against the darkness and swirling clouds and it seems to me that you know – that you are self aware and immensely alone in your silent darkness.


Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


Show me another reality
Things are other
It waits silently for us
Cold voiceless and waiting
Distance and details
A cold beauty
Full yet empty and cold
Voiceless and cold
Passive and silent
Silently waits
Bring it over

Full yet empty and cold * Selected



There is a heightened atmosphere when it starts. I always miss the build up – somehow my appearance seems part of the collective first breath out. I never hear the lights come on but an electrical discharge hangs in the air and collects in small pockets around the stage.

This evening the start is gentle, which helps me get into the flow. It’s hard without anything to go on. The dislocation from nothing to this is so demanding.

Your early moves are complex, fluid and full of grace – my instant replication is always simpler, two dimensional. I am warmed up now and I follow you effortlessly. I enlarge and contract, flow along the surfaces. I am thrown to the side and impossibly stretched along the wall, it is no effort for me, just a slightly annoying lack of definition at the edges.

I sense the audience over your shoulder, I enjoy their focus on us.

I wonder about myself. No volition, no apparent history. Yet there is a sense that I am your shadow again, just as I was before. For a short while our relationship is perfectly complimentary – we share the same body until the coming darkness separates us once again.


[Image is of David Hughes found on a Scottish Arts Council Archive]