Friday, 28 September 2007

The definition of writer's block - when you'd rather fill in your tax return than work on your novel.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

What a wonderful town

September was a bad time to go to New York. Not in terms of the weather – Manhattan was bathed in glorious sunlight for almost the whole week we were there – but in terms of timing. We came home to the beginnings of autumnal gloom, along with all the hassles of the new school year, marginal progress on the building work (yet another missing ceiling), more financial problems, and a foot-and-mouth crisis that threatens to devastate my partner's business. What with the jetlag, and ensuing queasiness and marathon migraines, I have not been in the best of spirits.

Not that coming back from New York is ever easy. I have an inexhaustible passion for the place, having been swept off my feet on my first visit five years ago. It was truly a case of love at first sight. The moment I set foot on Manhattan tarmac I knew there was nowhere on earth I would rather be. I just love the energy and exuberance of the place, the diversity and chaos. The busy-ness of it all. I love the way the city fosters contrast and paradox, eccentricity and extremes. I know of nowhere else with such an abundance of life.

I thought maybe I’d get over it eventually, like you do most infatuations. But this trip proved that time doesn't always heal. The moment we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge I was bouncing off the walls with excitement, drinking in everything I’d missed - the constant blare of horns and sirens, the avenue-long vistas, the downtown dinginess, the ubiquitous smell of vanilla, the streaming yellow taxis, the iconic skyline. Oh, and the cheesecake.

Everything about New York makes my pulse race and my heart sing. It's the only thing on earth that ever made me wish I could live my life again and do things differently. Yet I know that even if I could go back and live out my life there, it wouldn’t be enough. Even a thousand lives wouldn’t really get you under the skin of the place.

As it is, I’m confined to all too infrequent weeks out there, and occasional meanderings around the wonderful New York craigslist ( - check out the 'Best of' section on the right when you need a few belly laughs). I know I don’t have much to complain about in life. I’ve been exceptionally lucky in the greater scheme of things. But still, it’s a hard thing when your heart belongs in one place, but your body is stuck in another.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

It's a dog's life

I am suffering from a bad case of dog envy. Basically, I want to be the dog. I don't care about the fleas or the endless diet of cardboard dog biscuits. I don't even care about the halitosis. I would still the be the dog in a heartbeat. Why? Let me count the ways...

1. The dog doesn't have a to-do list or a diary.
2. The dog never worries about whether it's putting on weight. Even if it is, it doesn't care.
3. The dog isn't concerned about finishing its novel or getting it published.
4. The dog never has to wander around Tesco wondering what the **** we're going to eat night.
5. The dog doesn't have to cook it either.
6. The dog doesn't get spots.
7. The dog never loses its car keys. Or its phone.
8. The dog only has two periods a year.
9. The dog never worries about keeping fit. It just is.
10. The dog doesn't feel guilty when it sees the growing pile of ironing in the utility room. It lies on it.
11. The dog isn't wondering how it will pay the latest request for a large amount of money from the builders.
12. The dog doesn't have to enter into protracted negotiations with the children over every single insignificant decision. It just looks bored and walks away.
13. As far as I can tell, the dog doesn't get three-day migraines.
14. The dog doesn't have to speak to someone in Delhi every time it has a query on its credit card.
15. The dog doesn't notice when its having a bad hair day.
16. The dog never, ever has to go to the dentist.
17. Nor will the dog ever have to consider Botox. The effect would be lost under all that hair.
18. The dog gets to lie around dozing all day, either in the sun or out, depending on its mood.
19. The dog thinks that a walk around the scraggy woods up the road is the nearest thing to bliss.
20. The dog seems to actually enjoy running until it pants.

Mind you, the dog isn't going to New York next week for a good dose of urban indulgence. Sucker.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

A little light relief

This is taken from a little plastic pinball game we bought in a French supermarket some years ago, for a few francs. The kind where you pull back a little springed piston and shoot little coloured balls into numbered baskets. The instructions were on the back: Chinese on the left, an English 'translation' on the right. I have reproduced the English version exactly as it appears, including spelling, spacing and punctuation. Enjoy.

Intelligent Marble and Color Wheel
Intelligent and Lucky

- Marble and Color Wheel is a kind of game that is very mordennow. It collects excitement,fascination.It's a very interesting game.It can not only train lover's skill and intelligence but also is a best way for lover's to make friend. It's an intelligent game for a family to be a happy field. Spring your miracle,competite your level.
-Play ways: 1 The two parties of intelligent competition must own themselves "Marble and Color Wheel".Within the fixed time if you shoot the five provided plastic teased pearl early or late,you'll get a grand tolal. If the last digit of the grand total has an "EIGHT",you'll get an "Auspicious seat".If the last digit of the grand total has a "FIVE",you'll get a "LUCKY SEAT".
2 Other, the two parties willjudge winning or losing,according to the highest grand total. The one who get the hightest grade is a big winnet. 3 Before a game begins,players may also engage to shoot the five provided platic teased pearl early or late,getting a grand total.We winner according to how manypoints it can reach.
-Where there is a will be your best ladder of success. it is your best training of will,intelligence,skill will be best ladder of success. It is your best training way of defeating everying.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Back in the USSR....

Just spent three days in Estonia, in the company of one of East Europe's new entrepreneurs. Aside from the fact that he talked incessantly - and I mean ceaselessly - and only had two topics of conversation - business, and himself - it was all a little depressing. Shocking to see how huge the gap had grown between the mega-rich and everyone else. And how unreservedly they had embraced consumerism. The relentless march of McDonalds and Coca-Cola, top brand cosmetics and Versace T-shirts.

I spent a month in Leningrad back when it was still Leningrad, nearly 25 years ago. I was learning Russian, and it was a fascinating time. I had mixed feelings about communism. I could see the problems, and like everyone I was relieved when its demise meant I didn't have to assume that every siren that went off was the four minute warning. But I also feel that its failure was a defeat for all of us. The Soviet Union, back then, at least offered an alternative to the rampant consumerism that has now spread across most of the globe. The Russians I met had real character and soul, and I can't help wondering how much of that was due to their not spending most of their existence planning their next trip to Bluewater Mall or when they'd purchase their new Wii.

And much as I concede that communism had some very undesirable outcomes, I still feel that democratic capitalism that now predominates across the Western world is fraught with problems. Two stand out for me. The first is that party politics means that no government can afford to make unpopular but necessary decisions, and short terms of office mean none can take a truly long term view. Unfortunately, we need governments which can do both. Our inexorable appetite for more of everything - food, luxury, lots and lots of things - has brought us to the brink of environmental catastrophe, and only some very unpalatable decisions will bring us back from it. Assuming it's not too late.

Secondly, the rise of the multinationals and immensely wealthy corporations means they can employ legions to bully, cajole, and derail any governments that dares to go against their interests. Oil companies, sugar manufacturers, tobacco peddlers - you name it, these companies are very adept at getting their own way, and rarely is their own way aimed at the greater good of individuals or mankind. Just their shareholders.

I can't help thinking of my new testament lessons at school. Jesus overturning the tables of the money-lenders in the temple. His warning that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. A wise bloke, the messiah. But who's listening now? We've got our new religion, and its name is shopping.