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Kenneth More appearing in “Reach for the Sky” got me thinking

My late mum, Sheila Vernon and me as a ‘King’s Guard Special’ on the set of ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle.

In 1978, though suffering from Parkinson’s, Kenneth More was working on one of his last films ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle. Separated from his wife of 10 years he asked my mother out to dinner. My dear late mum, then 47 years old, had a ‘steady boyfriend’ and had dubious thoughts about what might be expected if she dined with the elderly Kenneth. I think they would have enjoyed each others company. Kenneth went back to his wife (or she had him back). He died a few years later.  I’m just reflecting. I was 16: it was not the start of any film career (though one assistant producer I became friends with did try to persuade me to run off to London to work on another film. I had A’ Levels and Oxbridge in my sights) Other aging actors on set included Ron Moody and John Le Mesurier.

I’m only dwelling on any of this because for the upteenth time (it would seem) I caught ‘Reach for the Sky’ on Channel 4 Films, or BBC Two, or Four, or somewhere, the other day. It’s dated, stilted and of its time. Badder has a closer relationship with his batman than his girlfriend. It is gosh and coy. Anyway, I like the few flying shots because it gives me an impression of what my grandfather must have experienced.

Flight Cadet John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM, RAF Crail December 1918

In 1918 my grandfather, then 22, was learning to fly with the RAF. He flew Avros and Bristol Fighters. My interest in Kenneth More’s film “Reach for the Sky” is that it features flying sequences using these planes (mostly from the Shuttleworth Collection), as well as planes of #WW2. So that’s what it was like? Just as I thought, a 2-stroke lawnmower with wings attached (and a Vicker’s machine gun).

So there you go. My daily drivel.


Women have ‘Woman’s Hour’ and ‘Loose Talk’, men have ‘Top Gear’?

Woman also have ‘Loose Women’, surely the female version of ‘Top Gear’. But do men have an equivalent of ‘Woman’s Hour’ or are we supposed to get that from GQ or Esquire magazines 😦

I don’t make a point of listening to Woman’s Hour, but as I’m at home and have done years on and off as househusband it becomes a regular feature of the day. The radio goes on in the kitchen and in the car. I need to be in one or the other.

Is ‘Woman’s Hour’ a party broadcast for the female gender or fascinating issues presented in a radio magazine that mix topicality, with feature and fiction?

Actually it was this late Friday morning I was running out in the car to walk the dog on the South Downs.

Friday 8th March is one you need to download before it comes off air in a few days time.

Fig. 1 Listing on BBC Website – you’ve got 4 days within which to download this.


Topics covered:

  • Women Coaches -(worth keeping)
  • Alice Walker – author of the Color Purple (very worthwhile)
  • Vicki Price and the law
  • Women in parliament – could they job share?

The one that had me stop what I was doing …

Loss of a mother

I’m the boy whose favourite place as an infant was on my Mum’s hip and as I gew up on the kitchen counter learning to cook, taking her tuition as an art teacher (MA in Fine Art from University of Durham). Our parents split up when I was eight and she only remarried in her 60th year. She died a few months ago.

Fig. 2 Women’s Hour, Friday 9th March 2013 A 43 minute programme.

On loss of Mothers – if you only have 12 minutes sping through to 00:30:00

What is the impact of losing a mother?
Alice Walker
What is happening here and why?

Paul Mcartney was 14 when his Mum died of a brain tumour. If he had a time machine he would go back and spend time with her.

A speaker Jane Tilly about her mother when she died when she was 17.

At significant transition moments, having no one to share it with.
A role model

The guests:

Maureen Fearon – Therapsit

Lucy Gannon (Playwright, television writer, plays, shortsand ‘Soldier, Soldeir’ and producer)

Lucy Gannon

  • Lucy’s Mum died when she was eight.
  • Know who you are, what diseases you’ve had, so you lose some of your identity.
  • Children need to know that they are at the centre of someone’s world so that they know they are
  • Your life is going on, try to get continuity.
  • You lose your place in the world – she was in care though.
  • Keep that child in the centre of the world they know.

Maureen Fearon

  • Her mum died when she was 29.
  • Look at the grandparents, look at the average, and she’s going to be at least that = 89/90.
  • Deeply tearful because of trigger music.
  • That overwhelming, ‘I want my Mum’.
  • Smells. Going through the tough times in life. Through challenging times that smell comes and floats away. When there is no smoke there. In our minds, or where it is.
  • Took 12 years of real pain, neurolinguistic exercise … did it once and fixed.

The mention of how the mind brings back smells is intriguing.

Maureen Fearon is a therapist, not a neuroscientist. There is a phenomenon where we see people we love who we have just lost, it might be the end of a close relationship or the death of someone close – our mind sees them in other people. I relate to this idea of lucid reconstruction of specific smells.

Fig. 3. From ‘Neuroscience for Dummies’ – not as stupid as it sounds!

I can, give me a moment, smell the mothballs in my late grandmother’s spare bedroom, and while she smoked them the Benson and Hedges cigarettes which surely made her knitting honk? Other smells I can call up include the silt and rotting fish heads of Beadnell Harbour in the 1960s … and a Christmas tree, and Christmas Pudding, marshmallows roasted on an open fire, melting butter on toast with Old English Marmalade … and our pet dog as a child, Morag the black labrador, wet and warm from being out in the rain …

Fig. 4. Sheila Vernon (nee Wilson) 1931-2012 with her son Jonathan c1973/1972 ?

My Mum’s parents where 83 and 96 when they died, so an average might have been 90?

She died a few months ago age 81. She had planned to beat the Queen Mum. We all thought she’d do so. But as my even later grandfather kept saying having reached 90, ‘I don’t mind when I go, I’ve had a good innings’. He was in his 97th year – we thought he’d make it to a hundred, but at trip to the Western Front to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Paschendaele where he had served as a machine gunner had left him ill (and heart broken).

Used marmalade – visiting a stroke victim

Visiting my Mum in hospital I read her chart out so that between us we could fathom its depths (the consultant had already walked passed and had shown no interested at all in giving his patient’s relatives a single word.

‘Used marmalade’ I called out, reassured that my mother was eating. She insists there hadn’t been any marmalade. I look a bit closer and figure out the handwriting.

‘At 16.03 used commode’ I announce.

Four days of hospital visits rather than going home should be fun.

Satisfying this ‘must’ called writing

I write when I want, about whatever moves me

But something must move me; I can’t just catalogue the routine of my hours, my journeys, my physical and mental joys and strains. I have to wait, in ambush, and capture a thought then run with it pell-mell as if it were running over heaps of books stacked in piles on the floor.

I want to write like Henry Miller

I’m reading like I’ve never read before. At last I’ve found a rich vein of literature that I enjoy:

  • Anais Nin
  • Henry Miller
  • Bill Bryson
  • Evelyn Waugh
  • and Clive James with nuggets from
  • Bruce Chatwin
  • Ken Russell
  • and Brian Keenan.

I want to write like Henry Miller

I  to describe sexual encounters with verve and honesty, to describe my life as if it were driven – had a purpose.

To copy Henry Miller’s style would be like learning to stand upright on a log as it spins, learning to control it and guide it on calm waters and through torrents,  over falls and through the sawmill ’til the wood-pulp has been turned into paper, the words written on the paper and the resulting novel is on display in the window of the book shop on Gosforth High Street.

Let it be so.

And so eighteen years on from writing the above, a  hundred sexual encounters relived or invented, look for readers and a home. (Not here, I think.)

Four books on the go

I somehow manage to have four books on the go at any one time.

Only this can satisfy my boredom threshold:

  • ‘Sexus’ Henry Miller
  • ‘Volume Five: Journals’ Anais Nin
  • ‘Neither Here Nor There,’ Bill Bryson
  • and ‘The Letters of Henry Miller and Anais Nin.’

Is that all?

In between I have to dip into old (and find new) enthusiasms:

  • Bernard Levin, ‘Enthusiasms,’
  • Clive James (autobiography
  • and Evelyn Waugh

(because his letters are being read on BBC Radio 4 each morning).

For the first time I want to quote from them, mark their books as I read them, read what they read, pursue my passion, stir harder the feelings they unsettle, then have a go myself, turn my own hand to these pages.

My problem is that a burst of enthusiasm gets me to 2,500 words.

Then I rethink it, rework it and like running into a tall fence of chicken-wire I can suddenly get no further, I become enmeshed by my own re-writing.

I must learn in one breath, not to need to go back over and plod about. Find your ‘Voice’ through writing honestly.

Again, on writing, on the experience, satisfaction and method of writing Henry Miller says, ‘It was revealed to me that I could say what I wanted to say if I thought of nothing else, if I concentrated upon that exclusively and if I were willing to bear the consequences which a pure act always involves.’

His search for ‘truth,’ for his ‘voice.’

Satisfying this ‘must’ called writing.

If only I had my Anais.

Life Drawing

When I drew Lucinda I drew the sex and warmth of a horny 19 year old, I drew the revealed lust and smell of her, I drew with my organ. I held it in my write hand and stroked it across a series of pages capturing what I saw and the way in which I saw it. I wouldn’t sleep with her because that would extinguish the passion I was playing with at my finger tips. I was letting my excitement add fluidity and texture to each mark on the page. I wasn’t just drawing from the shoulder, I was drawing with my entire body, with my whole being. Each time I tore off a page to start again it was like squeezing my balls to stop me coming, each time I got Lucinda to pose differently, to close her sex and turn her back on me I was reducing the volume, turning down the heat, keeping my dick at heel! If I’d slept with her I wouldn’t continue to have wet dreams about the moment, after such a heated game of ‘look and see’ I would have burst my body on first touching her.

She is a story I must write and rewrite, draw and redraw.

We lived in France too

On France Henry Miller says how his friend Ulric had gone to Europe and how this man’s experiences so differed from his own approach (and my own). ‘I had more in common with Ulric than with any of my other friends. For me he represented Europe, its softening, civilising influence. We would talk by the hour of this other world where art had some relation to life, where you could sit quietly in public watching the passing show and think your own thoughts. Would I ever get there? Would it be too late? How would I live? What language would I speak? When I thought about it realistically it seemed hopeless. Only hardy, adventurous spirits could realise such dreams. Ulric had done it for a year by dint of hard sacrifice. For ten years he had done the things he hated to do, in order to make his dream come true. Now the dream was over and he was back where he had started. Farther back than ever, really, because he would never again be able to adapt himself to the treadmill. For Ulric it had been a Sabbatical leave: a dream which turns to gall and wormwood as the years roll by. I could never do as Ulric had done. I could never make a sacrifice of that sort, nor could I be content with a mere vacation however long or short it might be. My policy has always been to burn my bridges behind me. My face is always set forward to the future. If I make a mistake it is fatal. When I am flung back I fall all the way back to the very bottom. My one safeguard is my resiliency. So far I have always bounced back. Sometimes the rebound has resembled a slow motion performance but in the eyes of God speed has no particular significance.’ (Sexus, Henry Miller)

Thrill seeker or career builder?

Have I fallen? Not so far. Have I been the adventurer seeking experiences about to write about?

Quitting JWT and tumbling from a flat in Whitehall Court to a bed in a Lewisham Terrace?

My trip to Gottingen, my run, safe run to Grenoble and the Alps?

My even safer return into Darlingest’s arms?

Have I been neither one thing nor the other? Neither reckless idiot on the streets of Paris, begging, nor the die-hard executive in the UK.

God don’t let me become Ulric.

Nor let me stumble so far into misery that I will be a pain to myself and my family. The time is right to write I have enough experiences to keep me writing for the rest of my life.

Like Henry Miller I make the idle boast about the number of words I have written.

These diaries alone (paper form and online come to 2.5 million words +. Then there are the screenplays (eight), TV adventure series (six), short films (thirty) and songs (seventeen).

Here in 2010 there may be a million more words in boxes, on floppy discs and zip drives, on CDs and memory sticks and boxed in one memory block to splat across cyberspace should she so please.

As Thoreau wrote, ‘How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.’

To an outsider it is like a revelation of a serious malady.

‘How could I do this to myself?’

My earnings to date?

£500 for the rights to a short film (That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendale) that never went into production.

I could see it at one of my mum’s coffee mornings, doing a Henry Miller, happy to join in as the scrounger of lives, picking their brains for snippets. I suddenly announce to the genteel Gosforth gathering:

“I’ve been xxxxxing since the age of 11. For the first 15 years I kept it up once, twice, sometimes four times a day. Nearly 5,500 times.”

They look at me in dismay, then look at Mum and sympathise. I hear them remarking how much better it is to have me at home than in an asylum.

And so I feel when I tell Dad I have diaries and stories of various half finished kinds making up another million. It’s not that tears fill his eyes, its not that his lip begins to quiver, but you know he is feeling despair.

‘Too many words,’ were his words of dismissal or encouragement for lyrics to a song. Lyrics.

Not that I’ve failed to climb the ladder of some multi-national, not that I’m so impoverished (and inclined) that I’m temporarily living at home, but because I have expended so much time and effort getting nowhere (flagellation in a corner for my own self satisfaction).

Must I prove anything to him (or anyone else?)

I’ve shown that I’m capable of writing for a living, but incapable of boxing my words into a neat publishable package, incapable of deriving any satisfaction except from my own way of doing (and saying) things.

My life in a box

Moving my life from place to place in boxes has become my way: from mother packed trunks and tuck boxes at school, to the castle and stately home covered Post Office cardboard ones I filled with my books and stationery in London, to the yellow French cardboard boxes filled with the scraps of Paris.

‘My Life in a Box,’ always (nearly always) on the move.

Where next? It’s something to be settling, but back to Paris first, then Prague or Milan? Anywhere to fill my words with experiences (or my experiences with words). The awfulness of television – a 1946 perspective Anais Nin wrote in 1946 about the awfulness of television. Fifty years later I feel we have gone (are going through) a new phase. So much of experience is television that fiction must go beyond the first reflection of reality and reflect the reflection.

Decades on my boxes are now ‘Really useful.’ Is this because we cannot afford the furniture or don’t want to purchase the furniture or because I want to be ready to move on?

Instead of holding a mirror up to reality, we must hold up a mirror to the reality already reflected in TV. Our fiction must be that much more extreme, more violent, more cookie, bigger, bolder, brasher, faster. I’ve gone this far. Crude. Violent. Pat Califia kind of stuff. Scary. Nightmarish.

Gulp it down – TV overload

Audiences (and readers) are used to gulping it all down in an over-spiced smorgasbord of channels. Can I deliver?

‘The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters, meetings, introductions which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a great amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch with a great amount of people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision.’ (Anais Nin, Vol 4, Journals, May 1946).

Inspired to be up and at it!

For the second night in a row Darlingest has been up typing a marketing essay into my Amstrad. This morning I came down at 5.00 a.m. and joined her. Two hours later I am still writing.

We are joined by Mum; she too wished she was ‘up and at it.’

I agree. She should be painting, not worrying about the time of day (or night), what the neighbours think or the would be purchasers of her house. We joke in the family that Mum likes to keep the house tidy and bare as if it is up for sale. I must get her to read Anais Nin’s Journals about a woman’s struggle to find her creative outlet. To write you have to read. If you want to read a ‘how to write book’ (or books), read Henry Miller and Anais Nin.

Between them, across everything they wrote, Henry Miller and Anais Nin have produced a library on how to write.

Ray Bradbury, with an abundance of gusto, does the same in one slim volume, ‘Zen in the Art of Creative Writing.’ Zen in the Art of Creative Writing. Whilst I don’t hold Ray Bradbury in the same esteem as Henry Miller or Anais Nin, but ‘Zen’ is worth reading.

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