Monday, 31 December 2007
Monday, 17 December 2007
a good excuse to revisit the lovely Jean-Baptiste Maunier, with his superb voice (which he doesn't have any more) and his petit air de James Dean (which he'll have for a few years yet, make the most of it JB):
No? Too virtuous for you? All right then:
Saturday, 8 December 2007
Just read it.
In the spirit of feeding the hunger, I've decided that from time to time I'll put a space on the site for book recommendations. Not just to say 'my favourite book is', or to review the latest books out, there are lots of other places to do that, but to draw attention to a book other people might have missed, and which you think is really worth reading.
I'm going to start off by recommending THE FARM by Richard Benson. I vaguely heard about this when it came out a couple of years ago, but only just got round to reading it, and I think it's really good. Benson is a journalist, and he uses a plain unaffected style to describe the events around the sale of his family's farm and the end of a way of life for his parents and brother. It is about the current state of farming in this country, but it's more about being a son (and a Yorkshireman). It's moving and funny, and - because of the indomitable characters - not quite as heartbreaking as you're afraid it's going to be, which can only be a good thing.
More recommendations please...?
Friday, 7 December 2007
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
Go to http://www.cafepress.com/pseudstuff and you can buy a mug, notebook or mousemat as a souvenir of your thrilling OtherStuff experiences of 2007.
..an i-ku by File featuring a particularly memorable haiku by Offside.
The website is based in the USA - it was the only one I could find which would 'host' the designs and allow you to buy direct from them - so if you're in the UK, you need to allow at least two weeks for the items to arrive, but they seem to ship them pretty quickly. (If you're in Tahiti, well, time means nothing anyway, huh?)
Saturday, 17 November 2007
The mark had been chosen with care, as always, and the weeks spent making the choice had, as always, led into lonely months of immensely complicated preparation. He’d done this hundreds of times before and his obsession with perfectionism smacked of lessons learned from painful mishap in the past and not just the love of his art for its own sake, though that too was true; he loved his art.
His black shoes, white socks, black pants, white shirt, loose black jacket, white flecked black hair and black hat with a broad brim at once set him out and blended him in. If anybody had looked at him they might have noticed the easy way he had of walking, for an old man, how his path seemed to clear before him and how he kept his head down thinking. If anyone at all had noticed him they would have, perhaps, wondered where he was going in this leafy suburb on this late Sunday afternoon.
Nobody noticed him though and it was no accident, it gave him time to think.
His mark had been chosen with care and as always they’d thought it had been their own idea to seek out his services … but there was definitely a funny feeling about this one…
He walked up the drive and was ushered through a side gate into the back garden of a big private residence. He was led around back to the terrace where he immediately caught his foot under a small dog. He flew into a child carrying a dish of strawberry jam, which, in turn, flew onto the bosom of a lady in a yellow cotton summer dress.
He hadn’t tripped over accidentally for more than five hundred years…
It was the best party ever! Molly was in seventh heaven and as seven as a girl could be, the weeks of silvery excitement were crystallizing all around her.
Half-way up an apple tree she was watching all the others with a little smile on her fresh face, her scuffed knees were pressed against the bark.
Mum was bustling around the buffet table and Dad was here too, talking to the other Dads by the barbecue.
Molly was following some errant shiny blue wrapping paper with her eyes as it drifted in the gentle dusk airs and the wafts of charcoal smoke that whispered all around the garden and their guests, picking up and passing round the perfumes of fruit salad, post-party-game glow and a resurgent hum of excitable glee.
Molly took a deep breath and thought about the pink bicycle with tassels, the nurses’ uniform, the painting set, the tiara, the bright striped-sugar candy, the pencils and the rest, she heard some of the children laughing with abandon and thought to herself that this was going to be a birthday party she would never forget.
The song was still ringing in her ears, her friends, all thirty six of them, some of whom she knew and their parents and her own, had all sung “Happy Birthday” to her. Swaying bodies to the rhythm leading to a long last ‘…yooooouuuuu!’ and then applause, streamers, horns and cheers burst into the world around her and she had beamed.
Magic! And she hadn’t seen the magic yet. She knew she was going to get a real show later too, it was all sooo good!
She snapped back to the present with a start.
“Molly!” her Mum was shouting “What are you doing up there? I was looking all over for you, come on, careful now, it’s nearly time.”
‘Thank you Mummy’ she said when she’d got down and taken some juice with careful, sticky, grubby hands.
‘No problem sweetie’ her Mum smiled ‘now go and drink it with your friends dear, the magic man will start in a minute.’
‘Ok Mummy,’ but she stopped ‘can I watch him with you?’
‘No dear, I have to take care of all of the Mummies and Daddies, sit with whats-her-name there?’
‘I don’t know her.’
‘Oh, what about her?’ she pointed ‘Do you know her?’
‘That’s Wendy Mum, she lives next door’ said Molly with a ‘Tut’, Mum really should remember her lines.
‘Yes, Wendy, go on now darling sit with Wendy and wait for the show.’
She walked on over and sat next to the quiet, fat, unhappy girl. Molly smiled and started to talk to her but the suddenly raised voices and an ‘Oh!’ distracted her. She turned to see an old man with black and white hair and a black suit standing in the centre of the group of parents trying hurriedly to dab strawberry jam off Mums’ primrose summer dress with an unmanageably long line of flapping coloured scarves.
In all the commotion he somehow found a moment to meet Molly’s open gaze, instantly she was caught in the deep amber eyes. He smiled a sunny smile and was going into a hint of a deep and graceful bow when he realized he had one hand resting on her mothers breast and that the iron fire of ire of lioness was pointed directly at him.
A manic bout of nervous apologies, dabbing and fending off ensued. A dizzy exaltation seemed to wash over Molly.
The magician was here.
It took him only a frenzied few minutes to get in front of the gathering kids, trip over his scarves this time, stand up and start greeting them with big soap bubbles streaming out of his ears. Innocently asking ‘What, what?’ at their shouts.
‘My name is Bubba’ he said in dramatic baritone, bubbles coming out of his mouth too now ‘Not bubble!’ He tried to blow them away with yet more bubbles, his mouth a clear and sparkling bubble spring. Batting them with his hands they dispersed and floated all around and amongst the kids and himself in a growing bubble cloud.
Someone had once told him that if a man was both hero and clown then only the clown would be remembered. He’d taken it literally as an insight into human nature and as a strategy for his uncommon life.
He stopped still.
Wide eyed, he raised his head and arms back, open mouthed to the sky for an instant of sheer anticipation as he let in an ‘Aaaaahhhhhh….’ Then he suddenly snapped forward and shouted ‘Choooooo!’ and a power spray of glistening bubbles burst from his mouth and nose and rushed all around in a quick stream. The little kids squealed, delighted and tried to clap as many as they could.
He shook his head like a slobbering St. Bernard and knelt down.
‘What’s your name?’ he asked Wendy.
‘Wendy’ she said, laughing and slapping his outstretched palm for five, as she did so a shower of pink-heart shaped bubbles splashed up from their hands and spread around her, she gawped in happy awe.
‘Now’ he said ‘that’s a beautiful name’ and somehow she never doubted her own beauty again.
He went over to sit on the white garden chair and mistimed his descent, landing heavily with a very loud and ringing Fart and a shrill jet stream of bubbles squeezed out from under him.
The kids roared with laughter, fathers frowned, Mums raised elegant fingers to their noses and Bubba stuttered and apologized fanning his hands behind his bottom as if to dispel the pungent gases. He turned around and with a circular Woosh he collected the purple and green odours into one big balloon. It lollopped and bobbled over to the noisiest boys where it popped above their heads and sent them into fits of nose holding, coughing and lying on their backs with their tongues out and their legs twitching in the air.
Then with an ‘A-hah!’ he pulled and threw out streams of daisies and rose petals from his breast pocket sending them flying and sailing over the girls. He couldn’t pull them out fast enough and they overflowed and floated with the bubbles. He followed it with a ‘Ho Ho!’ as he pulled open his sleeve to release hundreds of blue and green paper airplanes which shot out and circled around the boys. And a ‘Da Da!’ as he clicked his fingers and before their very eyes the flowers turned into fluttering butterflies and the paper airplanes into incandescent dragonflies buzzing among the kids.
The magician snapped them back to attention tapping a top hat with his black wand, empty on the inside and solid on the out, see?
He twirled around quickly, lost his balance and fell crashing to the ground with a crack, got up looking at his broken wand and coughed. He tapped the hat with the flopping wand, looking at the kids with a proud smile, which changed to a concerned frown as he realized nothing was happening. He tried again, tap, tap, tap (flop) and presented the hat to the kids with a flourish. Nothing, then the kids started shouting and pointing and he looked around only to see a contented white rabbit sitting on his shoulder.
He started and jumped, startled, flipping the rabbit into the air with his hat and wand which he immediately juggled dangerously, at first, then with cocky overconfidence. Circus music sprung up from somewhere and he tossed the uncomplaining rabbit, hat and wand higher and higher until he suddenly pulled open his jacket and caught the objects inside as they fell.
There was a hearty round of applause as he performed a showy bow but he seemed to have a problem standing up again. He was wrestling with his jacket or something inside it, turning and pulling, twisting and straining until he pulled his whole white silk lined jacket over his head. Right over until it was completely reversed and a very big and real white rabbit was sitting there in front of them where the magician had been.
The rabbit blinked, the crowd blinked.
‘Anyone got a carrot?’ it said and started to rummage around between its feet pulling out Fedoras, Bowlers, Trilbies and Panama hats and flinging them with abandon. Eventually it found a bright orange carrot with a flourish and showed it around the kids who were sitting there in open-mouthed paralysis.
It started to eat the carrot but it turned into a stick of dynamite with a fast burning fuse before their very eyes. The children shouted and shouted but the bunny seemed not to hear them as he continued nibbling away.
There was a really loud ‘POP’ and a puff of smoke and as it cleared it revealed the magician running around in tight circles, manically trying to collect hundreds of overexcited baby white rabbits all making good their escape, darting between the kids and burrowing under party dresses. They got on the buffet table and young Fraser’s head; they ran slaloms through parent’s legs and started tugging at trouser legs and the tablecloth with their teeth. The kids were running to their Mums and Dads who were hastily moving away from the teetering laden table. The garden was now a running riot of rabbits and bubbles, flowers, paper airplanes, butterflies and dragonflies, much squealing and the occasional rugby tackle.
‘Well at least its not frogs!’ said the magician in a clear voice and at that moment the darting white fur stopped and there was a lull while the penny dropped. The previously soft and fluffy elements of the anarchy were now slimy, wriggling and hopping like the ground was hot. It was at this point that the squealing really started.
Later, after two of the three disappeared children had been reappeared and the third had been spotted through a hole into next doors garden. After the last of the screeching jack-in-the-box jesters had stopped springing randomly from the lawn and after the snow-elephant had started to melt. After all that and even more, Bubba tink, tink, tin-shattered a glass and cleared his throat.
‘Ladens and Gentlemean, Girdles and Boils, the time has come’ he said ‘to talk of other things. Polly? Er…Dolly? Er…Spike? Oh dear, whose birthday is it today?’
And all the kids screamed ‘MOLLY!’ and some of them pointed too, there could be no doubt.
‘Molly!’ said Bubba ‘come, come’ and he shepherded her out to the front ‘don’t be scared.’
‘Well, a very Happy Birthday to you Molly!’ he beamed ‘have you had a nice day?’
‘Yes’ she said.
‘How old are you today?’
‘Seventy Eight’ said the little girl and there was a titter of laughter amongst the assembled.
‘Really? Seventy eight huh?’ laughed Bubba playing along ‘You’re looking pretty good for seventy eight you know.’
‘Thank you’ said Molly ‘and how old are you … today?’
‘Er…’ said Bubba a bit phased by that. ‘Anyway that’s it from me everybody, thank you very much. One last Happy Birthday for Molly now, everyone…Haaappy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you….
After they had all sung it one more time and bits of cake were being wrapped up to take home, Bubba found Molly in a quiet spot.
‘Hey Molly’ he said in a soft voice ‘I’ve got another little present for you’ and he sat down next to her.
It had been a lonely performance for Bubba. He’d married, once, long ago and he’d watched his family flower, wilt and die while he lived on and got stronger and he’d never been able to do it again, not in all that time. Friends too, came and went and didn’t come again.
He’d looked in the light and in the shadows, heard all the stories, and never found anyone like himself so he’d thrown himself into his art.
Working out that the best place to hide was somewhere that had already been searched he chose the theatre. Everyone knew it was all a trick of the light and smoke and mirrors in there and if all of his tricks went wrong and he was obviously not entirely in control, well, he would be and he would be invisible in plain sight too.
The decades had turned into centuries in solitude and an inner sense of his own mortality had eventually kicked in. He was growing gracefully old at last and found himself happiest giving and in the company of children these days.
Real magic is not so far removed from real life and most of Bubba’s qualities were not so strange; awareness, empathy, imagination, perseverance, good health to name a few. Astute awareness of life’s details on top of the length and depth of his experiences over more than five centuries had evolved in him an ability to see forwards in time as well as backwards and his empathy was so attuned as to describe telepathy. He’d traveled the inside and outside worlds to exhaustion, ever growing, ever mastering his art and these days his control over hypnotic states, suggestions, triggers and anchors, for instance, was so fine that most of what Molly and her friends had just experienced had never existed and yet would remain with them forever.
When he first became aware of a child who could do with a break he learnt everything about them. He looked inside them and ahead, followed the dominos as they fell and traced the butterfly fractals unfolding, until he knew for sure what would help.
He made invisible friends, a balm that calms, eternal music boxes and a giggle that sits on your shoulder and laughs at all of your jokes. Understanding glasses, everfilling flower vases, thought strings and attention yokes. At his last party he’d made a Memory Movie Player (MMP) that allowed his boy to actually remember the beautiful memory movies in the player as he watched them. Chris had been 11 that day and he’d been sorely in need of them.
For Molly, he knew her as a great girl with lots she could offer the world, but no spark. It had taken nearly nine weeks to perfect a twinkle for her eye.
‘Do you like it?’ he asked.
‘I love it’ she said ‘what is it?’
‘It’s a twinkle Molly, a little spark of life. It will put fire in your belly and hair on your chest’ said Bubba. ‘Well, no hair but a bit of energy for you and …’ he leaned closer ‘if you use this well other people will always help’ and he smiled.
‘It’s beautiful’ she said, though her eyes were clearly shining already. ‘I thought you would do something like this.’
‘Er…you thought it was my birthday too didn’t you?’
‘Well it is, isn’t it? That’s why I made a party for you.’
Bubba paused, trying to divine. ‘A party for me …you really are seventy eight aren’t you?’
‘Yes, I had to hide my light from you too that’s why you thought…’
‘That you needed one’ he finished for her and became silent.
‘I’ve been looking over your shoulder for some time now Bubba. I thought it might be nice if someone gave a party for you for a change.’
Perhaps for the first time in his long life he had nothing to say.
‘Bubba? How would you hide a tree?’ she asked him.
He smiled cannily ‘Why, in a forest of course!’
‘And that’s why you’ve been showing the Magic on stage isn’t it?’
‘Well, yes, it is!’ nodding, chuckling.
She put her little palms up in front of them in a prayer.
‘The fibres of your secret tree have become a book Bubba, of wonder and fantasy and intrigue’ she opened her hands like the leaves of a book and splashes and sparkles and showers and shoots of colour drifted out of them into the dusk ‘You’ve lit up the lives of so many children now, you know?’
His old face was loose now, hanging real, five hundred and fifty five years of secrecy is a mighty heavy coat to check in.
‘It’s ok Bubba’ she said gently ‘a book is a great way to hide a tree too but we wondered…’ she found his amber eyes again ‘if you wouldn’t want to spend a bit of time, sometimes, in our library?’
And she led his eyes back into the evening shade and all the smiling faces there, waiting for his answer …
[Illustration by Kozyndan - more of their work at http://www.kozyndan.com]
Monday, 12 November 2007
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Saturday, 3 November 2007
What does this picture inspire you to? a poem? a silly joke? a random philosophical thought? No prize for the best one, but of course you will know how clever you are...
Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Friday, 26 October 2007
Breakfast swallowed, I'm fighting hard with the literary difficulties (...) of the Software Help system I am so unbearably lucky to be translating. Maybe if I work hard enough I have my chances for the Goncourt.
Around 11am, the phone rings (rare enough around here to point it out). Because of the time difference, I already know it's not work related, which is a good enough reason to answer.
It's Laurent from the Diving Center. "No dives planned today", he says, "let's take the boat out and look for the whales".
I've caught a glimpse of them twice going diving, but never got a chance to see them close, so the help system does not weigh much in the balance.
We come out of the lagoon and head into the big blue, towards Temae, the north-east point of Moorea. During the first half-hour, not even the shadow of a humpback… but Moorea from the sea is pure enchantment, so eyes wide open, I just soak up the view.
Suddently, a big turmoil. A small boat has stopped a hundred meters from us and some typical spouts catch our attention. Gotcha! We have to move slowly if we don't want to scare them away. I am surprised to see people in the water and I do not understand why they have unfolded, underwater, what looks like a big white tarpaulin. I will need a few seconds to realise that what I see is in fact the white belly of a baby whale showing off, all happy to have company. Mum is watching from a few meters away.
I totally freak out. So do the whales, who swim away.
We will have to follow them for a good while because they don't seem inclined to stop for us. They swim fast, go deep down in the blue, but have to come back quite quickly because the baby whale cannot stay as long as Mum without breathing.
I eventually put on my mask and snorkel and immerse myself, without making too much noise nor movement, to have a closer look.
I leave the boat behind, and start kicking. They are roughly 50 meters away from me. I can see them perfectly if I keep my head over the water, but not underwater. I'm scared they'll go away now that I am closer than I have ever been. My heart is going crazy, the effort mixed with the adrenaline, it must be doing at least 120 p/m. I can hear my heart beat, and it's going fast... I kick, kick... I keep my head in the water.
Funny, I don't even realise that I am in the big blue, 4 000 meters of water below me, without diving suit nor air tank, in the middle of the Pacific, home of numerous species of sharks...
Blue, blue, and blue, that's all I see.
I kick harder.
And suddenly I see them, 10 meters away from me. The baby starts veering to the left to turn around his mother, white belly offered...
My heart jumps up to 200 p/m, a little more effort and I'm dead.
I feel small and ridiculous, insignificant and negligible compared to this huge and powerful mass, so graceful it leaves you breathless.
The mother moves in the "torpedo" position, head down, belly facing me. She goes down and disappears into the blue in a few seconds. I expect the baby to follow and keep staring at him, thinking he will shortly disappear too.
Not at all.
He finishes his 360° bend, turns himself into a high speed train and rushes at... me.
I suppose he perfectly saw me, but in doubt, I start kicking backwards, trying to move away in an instinctive, totally useless reflex of survival. He swims a million times faster than I do.
He passes by, less than a meter from me, shaking his fins, offering his white belly for a rub I cannot provide as I am totally petrified. I swear I felt my heart stop.
He is like an excited puppy, and obviously wants to play as he goes for another spin, faster than ever. Again, he passes by, less than a meter from me. Calming down my panic attack, I take the time to examine him, he must be 6 to 7 meters long, all grey and white.
It all happened in a blink, but I think I remember a glint of amusement in his left eye (big as a saucer) or maybe I just dreamt it.
I come out of my state of shock and stretch my arm trying to touch him. It’s already too late...
He turned around and went back to his mother, who had just reemerged from the depths. With just a few swishes of the tail, they are out of range.
Everything lasted a 3 minute eternity.
I climbed back up in the boat, all particles of my body in great agitation.
And like a typical girl...
I burst into tears.
Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Maybe this is a good moment to point out that our friend File has done a hefty amount of design work on these i-kus. Guitougoal, Paddleman, and Mrs Offside have all done their own very impressive artwork, but otherwise File has put together the images, working alone in his far-off rainy i-workshop, sometimes using material suggested by the authors and sometimes delving into his own interesting brain.
If you have any more i-ku ideas floating around in your own interesting brain, please submit them for consideration soon, as I shall probably end the i-kufest shortly and move on to Other Stuff (hoho).
Monday, 22 October 2007
Friday, 19 October 2007
Thursday, 18 October 2007
Wednesday, 17 October 2007
Here's a reminder of the rules:
Your i-ku must have:
17 syllables arranged 5,7,5
it must be in the present tense
and it must include the word 'I'
i = identity, information, insight
it's a snapshot, a mirror, a cameo, a self-portrait, a glimpse ... of the real you
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Monday, 15 October 2007
We invite you to write an i-ku!
It must have:
17 syllables arranged 5,7,5
it must be in the present tense
it must include the word 'I'
the finished i-ku will be set in an i - like this one by File:
i = identity, information, insight
it's a snapshot, a mirror, a cameo, a self-portrait, a glimpse ... of the real you
It's one answer to the question "Who are you?" "I ... ku!"
Send in the text of your i-ku and your chosen colours for the i and background to Other Stuff and it will be assembled in our special i-workshop. You can choose your favourite font too.
All pseuds, friends, neighbours, pets, relatives, spouses welcome to join in.
Friday, 12 October 2007
The book which was to have such a profound effect on my life was given to me by a school friend. It was You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming. In fact I read the whole series of the James Bond saga and remember little or nothing. My hidden message had absolutely nothing to do with the plot, forming as it did merely a part of the ‘background colour’ which authors use to display their well-traveledness or to fill in the gaps between one piece of thrilling action and another. What I found was the Haiku. I have no memory of the actual haikus I read in the book, only the form they took. Perhaps Bond encountered something like:
‘The butterfly appears in its own time.
As it dies.’
Thirteen syllables. Count them. Of course, the number of syllables is not the only criterion. It is, after all, a poem and should express some emotion or perceived truth, in layers of meaning. I suppose this aspect must have escaped me at the time, to judge by the only attempt after my first discovery:
‘I can’t fucking stand that fat maths teacher.
He’s a cunt.’
As is often the way with seeds, this one, once planted, lay dormant for many years. In fact I think it disappeared completely from my consciousness. The shoot appeared one day in an English Lit. seminar during my first year at an East London polytechnic. Structuralism had yet to reach us there and it was still common to discuss writers and their worlds as having only a vague connection to each other. This gave rise to essay titles such as “How much did the period in which Shakespeare lived influence his writing? Discuss.” My own opinion (well, one I’d read) was that while the form of a piece of writing may be influenced by individual talent, the content had everything to do with the historical moment. It was my turn to lead the seminar and, having recently become aware of the ‘Who Really Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays?’ debate, I opened with my punchy title: ‘Was it Shakespeare or Francis Bacon: Does it Matter?’ I paused, just as I had planned to; waiting for the confused reactions of my fellow students, the better to astound them with the brilliance of my argument. However the pause lengthened. Everyone else was waiting, but something poked at me from my subconscious. I tried to force myself to speak, but the poking continued, growing stronger and more insistent until at last I realised what I was doing. I was counting the syllables of my introduction. I ran it through my mind again, trying various rhythms and counting on my fingers. Thirteen. Having set the thought free, I was ready to continue, yet suddenly it seemed pointless to do so. I began to feel that, in those nine words, I had said all there was to say on the subject.
The tutor did not share this sentiment. A woman of some fifty years and a devoted slave to the writing of Shakespeare, she’d dealt with many would-be iconoclasts in her time. “Might we expect a few more words on the subject?’ she asked. I said nothing. The arguments I had so painstakingly prepared now seemed meaningless. Joan Butler stepped towards me and took my essay from my unresisting hands. I couldn’t hear the words as she read them and was only vaguely aware of the sarcasm dribbling from each one. When she began her harangue, I returned to the classroom. My classmates, scenting blood, joined the assault and I tasted briefly those feelings of humiliation and frustration peculiar to young people who have tried to be clever and lost. Yet, as I left the seminar, pointedly not speaking to anyone, some words echoed through my mind. A mission spoken boldly over a new rhythm:
‘I have infinity to write:
where’s my fucking pen?’
Anyone who has been to university or college will know that one of the most disagreeable aspects of daily life is the legion of poets waving their latest work under your nose and insisting that you read it and give your honest opinion. The content is usually along the lines of ‘I’m so sensitive and nobody understands me, God I wish I were dead’. There were, of course, exceptions, for example the ‘I love him/her but he/she treats me disgustingly. It’s not fair and I wish I were dead’ school or the ‘look what you rotten old bastards have done to the world with your wars and your prejudices: it’s about time we organised things for a change’ movement. The form tended to be stream of consciousness punctuated only by the occasional dotted line, in some cases dragged unwillingly along to a mawkish conclusion by rudimentary stabs at rhyme and metre.
The most persistent of these pests was Roger Moscrop. Roger was ‘an Aquarius’. I only knew this about him because of his habit of telling everybody he met. Having said that, he did seem to flow rather than walk. His long fair hair flowed as did his clothes; in fact the verb ‘flow’ would have done very nicely for just about all of his actions except for his poetry writing, which seemed to drip, gurgle and splatter. He flowed up to me one day when I was sitting in the refectory, alone as usual. After a term of having my lunch ruined by having to pore over endless pages of poems, offering the authors criticism wrapped in forced, false praise, I was keen to encourage brevity if nothing else. Particularly where Roger, a tireless champion of vers libre was concerned. So, having watched a metaphor stagger drunkenly between the Union Carbide accident and the spread of AIDS and stumbling occasionally over the expulsion from the garden of Eden while my shepherd’s pie grew cold, I scribbled quickly on a cigarette paper and handed it to the poet without a word:
“The Tiger kills, then eats and sleeps:
Nature cleans his plate”
He received this in the same silence.
Before long, I was writing haikus in my every spare moment. I bought a small notebook so that I could dedicate a page to each without wasting too much paper or marooning the poems in too much white space. My handwriting improved as I began to pay attention to the appearance of my work. The strategy of handing a page to people without a word of apology or explanation and then walking away without waiting for reactions created an aura of mystery around me and I did my best to encourage this by dressing in black. I became, if you’ll excuse the immodesty, interesting to those around me. I no longer sat alone in the refectory, a lonely flower victim for the poet drones.
Perhaps the most surprising friend I made during this time was Joan Butler. Though I would never have dared show her my haikus, her reverence for the sonnet made me feel that we had something in common. For Roger, any formal poetic structure was a prison which kept the light of creativity from its inmates. I think Joan was even more surprised than I was to hear me say that creativity could only be reached within the discipline of such structures. Shortly after I described Roger’s poems as ‘taxonomies of second-hand opinions and desires’, my essays began to receive B+ rather than the C I’d begin to feel was inevitable.
As my reputation grew among my fellow students, I decided it was time to face the rigours of official literary criticism, so I signed up for the creative writing society. Our writer in residence, Sally Greentree, was making a name for herself as a writer of feminist science fiction. She was popular among the students because of the interest she showed in just about any subject and any form of writing. While she was ruthless in her criticism of even the best work she reviewed, her frank smile and encouraging summings up made hers the only fully attended non-curricular activity in the college. I don’t know quite what I expected from the society. After all, there’s not a great deal of advice to be offered about the writing of a thirteen-syllable poem beyond “actually, you have fourteen syllables in this one; perhaps if you changed ‘glowing’ to ‘bright’?” I suppose I was seeking some kind of ratification as a writer.
When Sally first took over the society, her idea was that the members should bring to each meeting completed pieces or works in progress. She finished her first meeting by saying:
“so, if you all bring something along next week, we can develop our own way of working.”
Though not long out of university herself, she had already forgotten the rather distant relationship between the British educational system and creative thought. Until someone at the back of the room raised their hand.
“What shall we write about?”
“Oh. I don’t know... um… how about ‘What I did on my ho1idays’?”
This piece of irony escaped all but a few of the group and in the next meeting, after listening to a short story about incest, the first act of an opera, eight descriptions of Eurorail trips and a rather spirited complaint about being patronised by such a childish task, Sally was forced to take on the issue in a more direct manner. It was eventually agreed that the students themselves would decide upon a loose subject for the next meeting and they could use or ignore it as they wished. The week before my first participation, they’d been listening to music, looking for an inspiring title. There were lots of votes for The Smiths and Billy Bragg but finally they chose ‘I Pity the Poor Immigrant’ from Bob Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding’ album.
While I knew I was going to do a haiku, I had some doubts about how I was going to present it. I’d become used to handing out my work on individual sheets and I couldn’t help feeling that photocopies would somehow compromise my artistic integrity. Then it came to me.
I don’t remember much of that session, other than how it ended: I suppose I was a little nervous and was thinking about my coming performance. It wasn’t until I looked at my watch and realised there was only half an hour to go that I paid much attention. I had tuned in in the middle of an argument. Pamela Clutterbuck was demanding to be allowed to dance her version of the song while Sally insisted on the written word.
“You let Derek sing and play the guitar”.
“Yes, but we have the lyrics”.
“What if I write the choreography on the board?”
“Well, perhaps next week…”
“It’s not fair, you fascist!”
This last was punctuated by the slamming of the door and now there were only 20 minutes.
Sally’s smile was accompanied by a shrug. She looked at her watch.
“Well, we have time for one more piece today. How about you, Roger?”
I sat down again with an inward groan.
A smirking Roger began to hand round photocopies. Jesus Christ, there were two whole pages. He started reading and I was shocked to realise that he’d been unfaithful to his vers libre muse. Almost…
“I try to look you in the eye:
I see your history.
I think of how, I think of why
you live in misery.....”
He continued in similar vein for nearly 10 minutes, finishing, at last, to a few encouraging comments but largely to confused silence. It was Sally who solved the problem:
“Well, that’s given us a lot to think about there, hasn’t it? Why don’t we all look at it over the weekend and discuss it at the next session?”
Roger looked as if he might protest. Then he was visibly struck by the possibility of having a whole session to analyse his work.
“Yes, that’s probably best. Does anyone need an extra copy?”
Eight minutes. Sally looked at her watch again, her desperation to escape seeping through the seals around her smile. I stood up quickly.
“Actually, I’ve got a very short piece that won’t even need photocopies.”
“Yeah, come on Tony, let’s hear it.”
Other voices joined in and Sally sighed then shrugged for a second time.
“Ok, then. You’re sure it’s short?”
My answer was to walk to the front of the classroom, announce grandly:
“Haiku: the dilemma”
and throw off my denim jacket.
It was a brand-new, brilliant white t-shirt and I’d carefully written the words in the blackest of ink with the Japanese calligraphy set I’d shoplifted from Harrods:
Your life is shit,
That’s not my fault::
I realise now that nobody else present had shared the long process that had led to this concentrated form of my deliberations on the drama of immigration, racism and British Liberalism. I thought of this form of writing as a kind of literary dried soup in which a complicated recipe, reduced to a small sachet, would be added to water and would gradually release its subtle flavours to the delighted consumer. As it was, my audience saw only the packaging. Comments ranged from ‘stupid and insensitive’ to ‘stupid and arrogant’. This was bad enough, but when I looked to Sally for support, she wasn’t paying any attention and seemed to be concentrating intensely on something else entirely. Finally she spoke:
“Actually, I think you’ll find a haiku has 17 syl1ables.”
‘I think you’ll find’. Don’t be fooled by that fork-tongued phrase. It may hide behind soft fabrics of doubt, but its intentions are as cold and hard as iron: ‘I know this for a fact. How is it that you do not?’
The meaning of her words spread slowly around the room and gasps of surprise turned into giggles then guffaws. Then Sally began to laugh too and my humiliation was complete. Well, not quite; Roger had that honour:
“Perhaps you’d better start calling them ‘MYkus’!”
I walked towards the door.
“Yes, that’s right, this is yourKU to leave”.
I ran out of the classroom and straight to the library.
Of seventeen syllables
I ran out of the library and through the gate as news of my political and formulaic errors bounded after me and snapped at my ankles.
I ran to the bus stop, unsure of where I could go yet certain of one thing: my calligraphy set and ‘Mykus’ were going straight into the bin, and I would never write another as long as I lived.
Of course, for a twenty-year-old, a bus journey can be a lifetime; especially on a number 23 at rush hour.
I was hugging myself as the bus passed the Boleyn, partly because I didn’t want anyone to see my t-shirt and partly because it was November (I’d been too embarrassed to go back for my jacket). The bus conductor asked to see my pass and I stood up to take it out of my back pocket. As I sat down I heard a voice:
“Oi! Is your t-shirt talking to me?”
Across the aisle I saw two enormous brown eyes framed by jet black wavy hair. I looked around to make sure no-one else was talking to me. Then she spoke again:
“Yeah, it was me. You look surprised.”
“Well, that cockney accent…”
“From a Paki?” she offered.
“Actually, I’m Goan.”
I recovered slightly:
“What, already? Can I come with you?”
She smiled more than laughed but it would do for a start. Especially when the smile came with this:
“Well, we’ll see. Tell me about the t-shirt.”
So that was how I met Maria Cristina Aramita de Freitas. I decided to come clean. The only way to deal with public humiliation is to accept it: confess it to as many people as possible as often as you can so that you, and they, will become bored with the tale. This will soon exorcise it from your dreams and you will also greatly increase your store of dinner party anecdotes, since confession tends to be reciprocated.
As I finished with Roger’s ‘Myku’ joke, I looked up to see we’d passed The Londoner, but I didn’t want to go home in any case: I’d already decided that her stop was near enough for me. We were nearing the end of the Commercial Road when she said she had 15 minutes before her first class and did I want a cup of coffee? Which I did, very much. We had the coffee and then I walked her to the London College of Fashion. She also invited me to her flat to see her designs when her morning classes had finished.
I had always fantasized about meeting a beautiful stranger on the bus and ending up in her bed a few hours later. I still do. The afternoon really was about Maria’s designs and not mine. She was looking for ideas for her final project and especially wanted to attract as much attention to her show as she could. Apart from the degree itself, there was an added incentive: if she received a First and some interest from the fashion industry, her father would invest in whatever business she cared to try.
I would probably have accepted her proposal under any conditions so it was as well that she was an extremely honourable woman. Her idea was to produce Myku bearing t-shirts in order to provoke curiosity. We started with this:
IF YOU CAN'T SAY IT
IN THIRTEEN SYLLABLES
on a hundred t-shirts which we distributed among friends.
Later we changed it to:
THE NUMBER OF TRUTH AND BEAUTY
(You’ll have noticed that Maria had changed the spelling to make it more ‘oriental’). Finally, a week before the show, we changed the message to a simple advertisement:
LONDON COLLEGE OF FASHION
This morning I took a taxi to the airport. I’m flying to Japan to a meeting which will formally recognize the Maiku as a kind of little brother to the Haiku. It’s a big relief after six months of negotiation, especially when I think of the death threats I received from a militant arm of the American Haiku Society. We’d just stopped at a traffic light when I saw Roger coming out of Liverpool Street station. He was wearing a Maiku tie with the distinctive M™.
His long hair had disappeared and I could see his scalp under one of those heavily gelled crests: the slaphead of the noughties. I didn’t speak to him, but couldn’t help wondering if he knew how much I owe him.