Saturday, October 27, 2012


There are enough barriers around this city at the moment without worrying about those we construct for ourselves.  We writers do it all the time – we see monumental boulders in the road, impenetrable thickets of tangled undergrowth ahead, deep trenches at our feet. We bang our foreheads, we can't go on, there's no way forward, everything is a hopeless rubble. And yes (sigh) we make mountains out of molehills as well.

Painting: Garden Wall (detail)

I still encounter those, when I'm stuck and can't see my way through the thicket of trash.  And it's absurd, because if you don't make mistakes, you don't make anything.  Everyone makes mistakes. That's how we learn.  I know now, with experience, that if I stick at it, I can do it. Doesn't make it easy, but I know I can do it, with fingers crossed, bullocking my way through the obstacles, preferably as fast as possible and remembering to disengage the critical faculties first.

A barrier is useful – in its place.  However it should never be set at the beginning of a project, to discourage and warn and wag its finger. A barrier there makes me stumble, doubt my sense of direction, question my reasoning, and obscures my destination. I need to be free to bash onwards without worrying about those little problems. They come later.

The barrier should be placed at the end, when the job is done - to stop a piece being released to public view before every last comma has been scrutinised. The barrier is a Berlin wall that says stop or I'll shoot, and the only way through is Checkpoint Charlie manned by beady-eyed scrutineers who see all the idiocies and blunders and jerks and wanderings that have been missed. It's easy enough to fix those when there is actually something to fix.

This side of the barrier anything goes. On the other side of the barrier all is perfection.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


" 'Is there anybody there?' said the traveller, knocking on the moonlit door." Walter de la Mare's plaintive line has lingered in my mind for umpteen years, since perhaps third form (year 9 in today's money).

The traveller is in need of a warm welcome, but he knocks in vain. No one looks out of a window. No one turns the key to open the door. Frustrated, the traveller shouts into the silent night, "Tell them I came, and no one answered" and rides away through the darkness.
Painting: Reflections

Sometimes that's how it feels when bloggers blog doggedly on (how about that for alliteration) and no one answers or remarks or even complains. It's a shame that people rarely comment on posts now – but it's not surprising. I've tried leaving comments on other people's blogs in a spirit of fellow-feeling but give up in frustration. Since the spammers latched onto the possibilities of spraying their misspelt, garbled messages wherever they can find space, bloggers have had to guard the ramparts. Now if someone leaves a message (thank you, it's deeply appreciated) it doesn't get published unless I say so. And that's only if the someone makes a heroic effort to negotiate the first lines of defence, like the diabolical word recognition test which, by the way, I can't always read but the spammers obviously can.

This spurt of dummy-spitting has arisen because I've spent the last few days helping to keep another website clear of a sudden surge of spammy messages. It involved visiting the site a couple of times a day and deleting the offending posts, a bit like hovering over a mouse/rat hole with a mallet at the ready. Occasionally I saw a suspicious character on-line, twirled my moustache saying ha-ha! and sure enough, another piece of garbage appeared. Whack! My best time was two and a half minutes between post and delete.

What do the bleepwits get out of it?  The messages are unreadable. They contaminate the sites.  They deter legitimate users. No one with half a brain cell would follow the links. Bloggers sigh. The moonlit door remains shut.

"Tell them I came, and no one answered" indeed. It's getting lonely out here.


Sunday, October 14, 2012


Location, sense of, missing: a condition affecting those who are normal in most respects but are lacking the personal GPS that tells them where they are and where they are supposed to be going. People simply don't understand how other people can set off to go somewhere and get lost.  That is, get lost between one street and the next, even round the corner from home. Or become disorientated after a visit to a department store just by walking out of a different door from the one they came in by.

Painting: Lost

We – yes, I am one – are honorary members of the Fukawi tribe of darkest Africa, discovered by some explorers who were camped in a clearing. They were startled when a group of natives staggered into the clearing and cried: "We're the Fukawi!"  For the friends and family of the afflicted one it can be either very funny or profoundly irritating, and nearly always baffling. They roll their eyes when they read a text that says "Am by brdge, trffic lghts, chch on corner – where am I?"  They give directions in baby-steps and never use the words north, south, east and west which are meaningless to us.

We of the Fukawi never venture out without a phone and a map. If driving we check out the route carefully first. But a lifetime of more or less successfully working around this endearing little disability has been no match for the forces of nature.  More than 12,400 earthquakes in Christchurch, and the heroic measures to repair the damage, have reconfigured the landscape to such an extent that even those with a properly functioning sense of location are sometimes challenged.

For the Fukawi it can be a nightmare, because they keep moving the roads around and a "DETOUR" sign causes instant confusion.  Intersections have been realigned and many of the buildings have disappeared. We can find ourselves in streets we've never heard of, and only by luck and the beneficence of the Supreme and Gracious God of Fukawi can we find our way home again.

That's us - we're the Fukawi and we say so – often.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Everybody does it. Writers, however, are champions at it. If it were an Olympic event we would win gold every time. It is procrastination, the thief of time.
Painting: Moody Blues

We put off what we know we should be doing, what we want to be doing – writing.  Sometimes we put it off  until the next day, or the next. It might be our livelihood, or a hobby, or still just a dream, but for some reason writers are so reluctant to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair that there have been volumes written about the problem. It's called writer's block but that, I'm afraid, is a cop-out. It's putting a name to the condition, thereby giving it credibility. It's like having the doctor diagnosing 'flu, which makes it OK to stay in bed and suffer nobly.  We say "I can't write, I have writer's block".

For writers, not-writing isn't laziness. If it were laziness we would just sit about reading or contemplating, blobbing out, but we don't. We spend time looking urgently for something else do, like mowing the lawn, hacking at the shrubbery, cleaning the car. If we can justify the non-writing, all the better – if there are more important things to do, it's OK.  This is a little how it goes:

Get up in morning. Shower. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Make bed. Make coffee. Eat banana. Feed cats. Sip coffee while staring out of window. Turn on computer. Check emails. Check favourite websites. Sneak into Facebook – why oh why? feel guilty. Play Spider Solitaire – twice. Feel ashamed and guilty. Um, let's see, what next. Um, need groceries, make list. Not much on list, leave till another day. Um, carpet needs vacuuming, dead flies on windowsills – flick round with duster. Laundry! Yes, good day for drying, find stuff to launder. Hang out wet clothes, see weeds, yank out handfuls, hands now filthy, can't type like that, might as well wash windows, wash hands at same time ...

The late Michael King was being interviewed on radio a few years ago and a man rang for his advice on how to overcome the difficulties of getting started. It was so hard, he said. How do you get motivated, he asked. King had little patience with this wimpish attitude. He said bluntly, if you don't want to write, do something else.

No use kidding ourselves – writing can only be done by doing it. We just have to get on with it.