Wednesday, 29 July 2009

In praise of paper Planes again

As regular readers of this blog will know I have been attending the monthly creative writing workshops run by Tony Slides and Steve Whaling under the name of Paper Planes ( These sessions are run in a room above Fuel Cafe (that's a place to visit in its own right!) in Withington in South Manchester. The next workshop is on August 8th starting 12 midday.

Each time we met we all write several pieces and I am usually happy enough with 1 or often 2 of them to put them, with some extra polishing, onto this blog. So immediately being at the workshop stimulates my creative writing - indeed I am often writing whilst having a pre workshop coffee downstairs in Fuel. That in itself would be enough. However the triggers that Steve and Andy use are mostly easy enough to take away and use and I have done this quite a bit recently and my Strange Days writings on this blog have been much helped by this.

But it goes further than this. We are always invited to read out what we have written and most of us do. I find it very empowering to reed my stuff out loud, I usually get a few laughs which feels good as the humour is usually there in the writing. But I genuinely like performing my work although I have yet to try out a poetic or writing audience beyond these workshops. We all make comments on each other's writing always positive not hatchet jobs. The encouragement and feedback is helpful and of course the things not said matter too.

It goes further than this we get advice about performing and publishing and we get to try out writing in ways we would never have thought about.

So over the months my creative writing has blossomed witness this blog. I have begun once again to submit the odd poem and short story for publication - scary but I am glad to be doing it again after 35 years. It has also had a big impact on my academic writing which I think has improved as a result although I have less tolerance for dry academic writing whether by myself or students. It has also helped me in turn to encourage my students to write with a more authentic voice.

The final bit of it is that I enjoy hanging out with Tony and Steve and the class members. Creative writing has led me to voice all kinds of strange aspects of my human condition some of which I wouldn't wish to meet on a dark night:) but I am as a result a fuller, richer person so going to these workshops means engaging with a fuller richer me. That is priceless.

Best to all,


Sunday, 26 July 2009

Capsizing or not

Two hours on a dingy on Sale Water park yesterday with some light wind, sun and clouds. My delight at being back on the water was punctured and punctuated by frequent cries from my bored daughter of 'let's capsize!'

Apparently the highlight of her recent sailing course at Sale was regular experiences of being capsized. My suggestion that I throw her overboard instead were not that well received!

Having capsized the dingy when I first stepped onto it on the Norfolk Broads last summer and in the process losing my non waterproof wrist watch, my Pet Shops Boys Fundamental Tour baseball hat and my dignity I felt no joy at the thought of deliberately seeking the water. My daughter's reckless throwing her body weight around to aid possible capsizing didn't help either...

Next time she can have her own one girl dingy and capsize it to her heart's content!

There is another issue here: the business of parents and (almost) teenage children. Although we love each other deeply we have different needs and it takes a lot of creativity, tact and a certain amount of withheld annoyance on all sides to get by reasonably well. But it is well well worth it.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Strange days: Europe's got space talent

(Creative writing)

Central government in Iona (countries formerly known as Britain, Northern Ireland and Eire) was now operating on a hand to mouth basis. People employed in public service were rarely paid and many took to moonlighting and even more were open to at least passive if not active fraud. For example tax inspectors would turn a blind eye to unrealistic accounts and lawyers were ever ready to vary a will in favour of a client.

Collection of income tax had all but collapsed following a government decision to treat all public employees as self employed as a way to avoid the crippling costs of providing public service pensions leaving only the occasionally paid out and means tested state pension.

The government had tried to plug the short fall in in its income stream of public finances by issuing Bonds at seemingly ever increasing rates of interest (ever increasing because they were tied to the Bank rate which itself continued to rise year on year). No-one now believed that these Bonds would ever be repaid and even the interest payments were soon beyond the reach of the Treasury despite repeated devaluations of the iEuro.

So it was no surprise that reality VidTV became a form of voluntary taxation with the money from voting via mobes, twwitts, emails, back and redberries being used to fund essential projects and services. At first ti was merely things like specialist hospital services often in competition with one another and of course breast cancer and children's services always won. So when the iEuro Space Station asked to appear on 'Europes got talent' no-one expected them to win or to attract over one million iEuros. And this was to feed them and keep them generally supplied for the next year otherwise the station would have fallen out of the sky!

Their appeal to the viewers, listeners and feelers (those with the very latest tactile servers) was so poignant and the quality of their space videos and graphics was nothing short of stunning. And of course the sheer hum- and tact-ability of their retro disco song 'I'm a spacebeing yes I am' loosely based on the 1970s Monty Python Song 'I';m a lumberjack and I'm OK' won the day for them.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Poem for Wayne

Poem for Wayne

You were my canary
In the toxic atmosphere of modern racist Britain

Listening to you
I heard your rage
And underneath felt a deep sorrow

You reminded me
Of my struggle to belong
In a world unable
To accept me as I was

I forever shaped myself
Around people’s expectations
Or rather
What I took these to be

Inside the real me
Hid away
So deep
I began to forget who I really was
If it wasn’t for spirituality
I would have lost myself


I met with a woman yesterday from a mixed race family and she spoke briefly about some of the challenges she faced including abuse from both communities. I felt a powerful sadness listening to her maybe in response to things unsaid.

That set off a chain of thoughts and feelings in me. That challenge of where do I belong which resonates so powerfully with me. Feeling like I didn't belong in my birth family and, as a child, fantasising that I was adopted. My sister seemed so much more at home than me. Learning to hide what I felt and what I was so having a secret inner world which I gradually lost touch with until the spiritual experiences started to happen when I was 21.

Never being able to comfortably locate myself as working or middle class, still not able to comfortably see myself as a Christian or not one, wondering if I am still a counsellor since when I do practice I don't feel it is kosher. I have accepted the label as 'academic' since I feel I do belong to that old tradition of eccentricity and bloody mindedness and I have been too successful to pretend to be not. Although my work remains edgy and my writing is getting less academic and hopefully more poetic!

I do feel that I learnt at an early age to shape around people's expectations of me or rather what I read those expectations to be. This shaping made it harder and harder to know what my shape is which is why spiritual experiences are so blissful for me. I feel I don't have to shape in the presence of the numinous. 'God' knows my shape there's no point in hiding. What a relief that is.

I have met people especially women who have shaped so much that they don't know who they are and what they want since they have had no practice at that.

Meanwhile I dodged the showers this morning and bits of a poem came to me on the bike which might 'shape up' later.

Best to all,

Bill on bike

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Poem: In praise of Charlie Chaplin

My own Church - Quakers is currently considering whether to extend its offering of civil partnerships for Gays and Lesbians to marriage. I am firmly committed to this form of equality which may rove to big a step for Quakers in Britain this month. Watch this space.

In praise of Charlie Chaplin*

How can I deny that I am Gay
When homophobic bullying is increasing in British schools
When the Anglican Communion world wide
Can’t accept Bishop Gene Robinson
As a holy man of God?

How can I deny that I am Gay
When Gays and Lesbians are still persecuted
And sometimes killed world wide
And can legally marry is so few states
God Bless Canada!

How can I deny that I am Gay
When I love so many Gay and Lesbian people?
And when many of the musicians and artists that inspire me
Are out - like Neil, Rufus, Stephen, Elton and Noel?

How can I deny that I am Gay
When I wept all the way through
The religious ceremony that celebrated
The civil partnership of Sean and Alistair

How can I deny that I am Gay
When misguided souls
In religion
And medicine
Still try and cure Gay people

How can I deny that I am Gay
When many of my close friends came out at university
And I couldn’t stop loving them

How can I deny that I am Gay
When my own church
Famous for its civil rights record
Still can’t yet offer
True equality to gays and Lesbians

I can’t deny that I am Gay
Until we stop treating people on the basis of their sexuality, race or colour
And instead treat them on the basis of their character.

* The comedian Charlie Chaplin was accused of being Jewish by the Nazis in the 1930s. His response was not to confirm or deny that he was Jewish so as not to ‘play directly into the hands of anti-Semites’

Friday, 17 July 2009

Biking again

Yesterday I yet again did my 54 mile training bike ride. I felt a bit sluggish or maybe the bike did but I still did the trip in 6.75 hours so only a few minutes more than my most recent trip. At 4pm it began to rain so my last 45 minutes we rather wet otherwise there was lots of cloud a bit of sun and little wind perfect conditions for me.

This exercise is great for me. These last 3 years of more biking has really changed me physically mentally and spiritually for the better. I have missed having my training runs for most of the last 6 months and vow never again, I will fit them in regularly from now on.

It empties my mind and clears my spirit. I turn all manner of stuff over in my mind (rather like turning soil over in the garden!) reach some useful insights and then things vanish from my mind. I become empty rather like being in a Quaker Meeting or doing meditation or relaxing after yoga. I cycle in beautiful and changing countryside that I know well and I can notice the changes due to the seasons and the growth and decay of nature.

I feel so well if a little bit tired today. Who knows what the future will bring so I am just so grateful for now.

Today was the final day for my daughter Grace at her primary school. Unexpectedly she won a prize from her form teacher for being the best in the class. This was prize not for academic achievement but for character. I was made up. And the prize itself was the Osbourne book of British history! Well, spot on given my daughter's love of history. It's in the genes after all on both sides!

Lots of tears among the parents there not just the children. And a prize for one of the parents which was really neat. A guy who had given so much helping train and develop the football teams in the school. A local postman too, ordinary people making a difference.

I have had a pride in what I have achieved at work but really it is the human stuff that has always mattered to me. You can select really bright people and they can achieve much academically but it is the relationships that matter to me, the human kindnesses that happen. I always say 'Hello' to Jackie and Shelley each morning and Jackie sometimes says 'Eh William, I dunno..' It's the way she says it. My old Geordie friend Steve Holland used to use the same phrase. It captures something about the human condition. It is a breathing out, a sigh, a sign of someone coping even though at times it is tough, hard work and tiring.

It is tough at times, I have been through my own struggles from time to time and still will in the future. Right now I am just thankful for what is and what I have right now. The best is a warm house, good food, good company and currently good health and music!

Best to all,

Bill on bike (well I would be if I wasn't so sore today!)

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Seeing the Pets last night

Yes! I was at the Pet Shop Boys concert last night. My daughter Grace who hoped to come ran out of puff - well it is her last week at primary school and she has had several late nights already. Maybe a very late night and car journey to and from Liverpool despite her being quite a Pet fan if not quite a Pethead she decided not to accompany your intrepid blogger on a further dive into the mysteries of a live PSB show or as they called it the Pandemonium tour. In this case set in the Echo Arena in the strange Albert Docks.

Now we Petheads are curious beasts. My music teacher Rebbecca refers to the 'dark secret' of being a PSB fan. As a hardcore PSB fan I embrace the epithet Pethead. Where was I? Yes you can't spot PSB fans/Petheads by what they wear, how old they are, their conversation. The audience could have been anyone quite a few old like me but plenty younger too and some family groups etc

We are everywhere! We are the people our children warn one another about - as in 'Dad that dancing is so embarrassing'. Mortified of Manchester!

So when I get there I have to wait while my seat is changed. I have a fantasy that Neil and Chris have recognised my true Pethead nature and that I am about to be taken into the VIP lounge and... well no actually they need the extra space for the show but I am given a much better seat.

Sartorially this audience is rather disappointing. Now I admit that I am not in my full Frankie outfit but I do sport a pale purple shirt (not just as any old shirt but an M and S shirt!), my linen/cotton mix light brown Blue Harbour casual suit and my orange-brown or is it brown-orange 'brothel creeper' suede shoes. My hair is also about at its best for these days which I am afraid is not saying much. (I dreamt last night that I lost even more hair from the front of my head and so I adopted Neil's very short trim!)

The show was stunning visually, musically and of course lyrically. There are plenty of PSB gigs to come in Manchester, London and elsewhere in the States etc. As ever you get an amazingly good sound system for a medium sized arena you also get a re-working reinterpretation of their classic songs - often a change in their drawn out intros but also one song can suddenly change into another. Then there are their usual but amazing dancers - their routine on Jealousy was stunning! Then there was the set which include a pile of large blocks. At times this was in a wall of 25 of them which video clips were projected onto. At one point the dancers burst out of some of the blocks after they had been knocked down after Neil sang about 'building a wall' and then straight after into 'Go West'. This had all of us who were seated (if only I had booked in time to be standing) on our feet for the first time. We were up again a couple more times before we just stayed on our feet. I had enough room to dance in my usual Saintancer way. Chris beat a metal sheet with a large hammer in various of the songs it had an amazing sound and it was a beat I danced to.

The songs had all the elements of the Pets - often poignant lyrics about the human condition - Neil is a true poet, great tunes and great dance music. Much of it uplifting, some of it rather sad in a wistful way. Suits me and has done for 20 years.

Best to all,

Bill on bike.

Strange Days: morning

[More creative writing stuff. I have decided to label it Strange Days - this might just be the title of my novel if I ever finish it and persuade a publisher to take it. So when the title is Strange Days it is creative writing so that you can avoid or embrace it as you see fit.]

In the morning before I get up the pain starts. It's like a clenching feeling in my guts and then my teeth start to ache - 'Oh fuck.'
'Fuck what?'
'Fuck I'm turning into an old fart!'
'Hold that thought loverboy.'
I smile, lifted out of my morning misery if only for a while.

Next I am downstairs with the kettle and my thoughts. The pain is easing for now. As long as I lose myself in the now the past and the future are gone. It's maybe not much but it will do, it will have to for now.

I am travelling lighter, the car's gone, so have the foreign holidays but she is with me and it's OK for now.

The best thing that happened to me was that I found a niche in the market, my niche. I never made my fortune out of it but for a while I had an audience and my words spoke to their condition and the royalties and the speaking gigs flowed in.

That all seems past now, I do get the odd nostalgic request to appear on a retrospective radio programme but the royalties have all but dried up. I've had my moment.

And now it's a pain in the guts that's worse first thing in the morning.

She sings and I weep just moved by the sound and how it sends a shiver through me.

Thursday, 9 July 2009


Quite a few people I speak to have this fantasy that they should not really be doing the job that they are currently doing and that they will be found out and booted out. I used to think this, then a few years ago I finally accepted that yes I belong here I am doing a good enough job getting the right kind of results otherwise why would they keep promoting me? OK I had to ask them each time which did take the shine off as I want people to know I am doing good work and respond(!) and twice have been knocked back when I asked to be promoted but clearly I was, and am, hitting enough targets.

But no the latest feeling this last month is of re arranging the decks chairs whilst the Titanic hits the iceberg. That whilst I am still going through the motions at work something bigger is going on just outside of my awareness - my death, the credit crunch, forced redundancy whatever that makes all that I do currently under the label 'work' irrelevant (Not its not an elephant! - old Marx Brothers joke).

Hey ho as Kurt Vonniegut would say.


Bill on bike enjoying the milder weather.

On writing

So whenever I think about the novel(s) I come up with what I think are great plots e.g. the man who disappears on his bike - you will have seen some drafts chapters and the odd poem about it posted on this blog previously. But when I do creative writings classes and exercises then a different novel(s) is writing itself through me and the plot comes out of the writing rather than vice versa. So recently I seem to be writing some kind of post modern apocalyptic piece involving disparate groups. It is great fun and much more darker than anything I would consciously choose to write.

But then when I reflect on the weird stuff I have written of late - which also comes out of a rather stressed end of term state I am currently in - it feels as if these fragments which I write are all parts of me. It is just that I have not consciously chosen to reside in that part and write rather that part has written itself through me. So for example some of the cruelty that comes through is not something I would wish consciously to express. When I get overly drunk I can be cruel, I don't like that me that emerges so I (mostly) restrict my drinking, I 'walk the line'. But to express that cruelty in print and give it a another name and character feels useful.

I still would like to write something heroic about a really good guy (probably a Pethead also!) who maybe is the best of me. Maybe it would be too boring or too Boys Own stuff.

When I write academically it is either a paper or book chapter where I have a few things I want to say and elaborate those statements with rhetoric and references or I persuade a canny publisher that I have a book to write and I offer a skeleton of ideas and they say yes but and I say OK but and then I write and it is not quite what I or they first thought about and so they say yes but and I write Yes but and they say nearly but and I write some more and finally we are all exhausted and say OK that'll do. It is a very weird process the first draft is mostly enjoyable or rather the first words captured on paper is the best and then it gets more and more tedious. In my latest and edited book I am having to go round this loop for the final and 4th time.

But its good to be in print and have my stuff read. I don't get mega academic sales, 2,000 is my best - first book 9 years on! I get the odd email from readers who have really benefited or so they say and that's a treat. I get the odd £50 cheque for royalties which is taxed! But I am still pulled towards novels and poems!

May the sun meet you on the road.

Bill on bike

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

More death stuff

Reflecting on the Boss and Q's dialogue from the last post(!) causes me to think about notions of the after life. I don't really hold the Christian Heaven and Hell notion i.e. that at death we go to Heaven or Hell according to our behaviour on earth and our reaction to it in terms of remorse, repentance etc. I am all for us recognising our mistakes - 'sins' if you like and doing something about it (That's a whole other post) but I feel very drawn to Carl Jung idea expressed in his autobiography 'Memories Dreams Reflections' that if there is an after life it is probably rather like this one. And if there isn't there is little we can do about it!

So I don't want to wait for a better life in the after life and I am not convinced that the quality of my afterlife if I have one will be enhanced by how I behave now. How I behave now affects me immediately. So the task becomes how to achieve something closer to heaven on earth right now and not wait for 'Pie in the sky' or the final stage of Communism or for everybody to complete their therapy :)!

I made a connection between this and ethics on the bike but I can't quite recall the link but lets pretend for now the link has been made! (Goodness that's very unphilosophical but still this is a blog not a treatise) I think it was about that it is not about the after life it's about now about living today as good as I can. So my ethical actions are not to store brownie points for the future after life but are for now. I aim to act good because that makes me feel good. Rather like Bertrand Russell talking about the value of 'enlightened self interest' which I guess could equate to pragmatism? (For example if we selfishly wreck the planet we all lose out, if we have huge inequalities then we end up with a broken society, with a high crime rate and none of us feeling safe etc.)

It is more than that for me. I like the US Constitution saying that all men are created equal and that this is a self evident truth. To me that is true even if I and we don't act on it sufficiently. To me it is a spiritual truth also a humanistic truth. So equality for all races, genders, sexual orientation. It's obvious and the better people in our world know this and act on it. So how can any truly spiritually or religiously developed people not agree? Why are not Christians Muslims, Buddhists supporting Gay rights, women and gay bishops etc? More importantly in some ways why isn't the religious leaderships showing such support?


Bill on bike

Friday, 3 July 2009

This death business

The Boss meets with Q his spiritual adviser:

'But Q I am still thinking about this death business.'
'I know Boss and I can see you are hurting.'
'You can?'
There was a pause in which the Boss looked at Q and Q looked at the Boss.
'When people die on me I miss them so much...(with a quieter voice) will I ever see them again?'
'Where are they now?'
'Good question Q... I don't know.'
'Can you feel them near you?'
'I can, sometimes.'
'So they are alive to you?'
'Of course.'
'So what is death?'
'I still don't know but in a way it does not matter as my dead family and friends are still with me.'
'And where they are you will join them one day.'
'Ans where they are I will join them one day.'

Q nodded his work with the Boss done for now.

Thursday, 2 July 2009


[More creative stuff]

I dunno when I first noticed it. Perhaps it was when I began attending the all nite rEtro raves and didn't take any drugs and found that I either got dog tired after half an hour of high NRG dancing or I just carried on and on (no not like Margaret Thatcher*) and felt like I could go on for ever - certainly I often did all nite.

Gradually I discovered that there were a few others like me - you could tell us by how rapt up we were in our own inner rhythms. These rhythms was some kind of weird counter point to the actual music - maybe simply twice as fast as the beat or more often half as fast or perhaps we emphasised the backbeat, the off beat or some complicated rhythm that four or fived the melody or bass line.

When we danced we danced from the inside out and at first it seemed uptight and almost spastic but gradually as we danced out our tensions it became more graceful, even ethereal, fluid and endless and effortless.

We sooner or later got noticed, invited back, given a free entrance, free drinks even offered free drugs. Finally we all got invited to join the Liverpool Pandemonia that was established after the legendary Rufus concert in i2019. What a scene that was 500 of us dancing on and on and on and on.

Us dancers soon got a nickname - Saintancers named after the Saint Vitus dancers in the Middle Ages which according to a smart arsed i-guardian journo friend of mine was the name for a Medieval plague cum mass hypnotic group linked to Saint Vitus the patron Saint of the dance.

* believed to be a reference to a pre post modern 'politician' who ruled England (now subsumed of course into Iona) in the pre i 1980s. To find out more about 'politicians' consult Cosmipedia.