Thursday, 26 March 2009

News Feed!

Dear All,

Just to let all readers of this blog that you can follow our recent writing news stories here:

Thanks, Jonathan and Maria

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Ambiguity and writing

It's a fairly obvious thing to say, but no one is ever 100% in the right, any more than anyone else is every 100% in the wrong. It's a fairly obvious thing to say - but, like many obvious things, one which most people try to ignore. In arguments, as in wars, there has never been a moment in human relationships where right has been 100% with one side. Often, individual sides manage to undermine their own legitimacy or "high ground" without any input from the other side at all. (I wonder what I'm thinking of at the moment in global politics? - answers on a postcard, addressed to Guantanamo Bay ...).

It's in most people's interests - and particularly governments' - to ignore this uncomfortable ambiguity in human relations. Most nationalisms are founded on the culpability of "the other side": Greek and Turkish nationalisms, for example, couldn't survive in their current forms without their beliefs in the absolute guilt of the other side. And closer to home, there are even more obvious examples. Similarly, most playground arguments are based on "It was his fault," "No, it was his fault," "No, he started it," "No, he started it," "He did this to me," "But he did this first," "But he did this before that," and so on and so forth. In playground microcosm, we have the history of nationalisms.

One of the jobs of the writer, I think, is to recover the ambiguity behind human relations, and show that arguments are always more complicated than 100% right vs. 100% wrong. Novels in which feature a good side versus an evil side are rare, and generally not very good. And that includes the Bible, where right and wrong are often very ambivalent (cf. King David). Writers have to be alive to moral dubiousness, to everyday compromises, to moral ambiguity, to the sheer complexity of one person relating to one other person (let alone relations on a larger scale). On a moment to moment basis, relationships change in minor and major ways. Relationships are never simple, always infinitely complex mixtures of emotions, histories, conversations, interactions, body languages, power, politics, and so on. In our society, it's in very few people's interests to recognise this - but the job of the writer is to remind everyone that this is the case.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Writers versus politicians

'Men have lost faith in individual endeavour ... of any kind' (Thomas Carlyle, 'Signs of the Times').

Sorry we've been rather absent from this blog for a while ... life has been full of illnesses, babies, work, illnesses, babies, work, illnessnes, babies, work, and (now and then, when we fancy a change) work, babies and illnesses - so the time available for writing, let alone blogging, is approximately zero.

When one doesn't write, though, one thinks a lot about it, and what it means. What does it mean to write? What does it mean to be a writer? What is the point (for heaven's sake) of being a writer at this bizarre moment in that disaster we call human history? Well, I think I agree with Henry Miller, when he says 'the artist ... is the artist because he stands for individuality and creativeness.'

We live in a country and a historical moment ruled by so-called 'objective' and 'collective' forms of knowledge, such as statistics. Our whole lives are determined by the rule of statistics - public institutions like the N.H.S. decide whether we live or die based on statistics. The empirical basis of much modern science and medicine is, by definition, a statistical basis. Doctors talk about illnesses from an objective point of view, as a collection of symptoms, causes, effects. Newsreaders rate disasters by the numbers of dead involved. Politicians (and especially pseud0-Socialists) pretend to objectivity, spouting so-called objective truths, often in the form of statistics, about the people as a mass, as a collection of groups, cities, races, religions, economic classes, jobs.

Writers are the opposite of politicians, in this respect. Writers talk about individuality, about individuals, and about how individual human beings often differ from the groups to which they nominally belong. Politicians deal with types; writers deal with the exceptions to the types. Politicians deal with statistical generalisations; writers agree with Carlyle that "[statistical] tables are … like the sieve of the Danaides; beautifully reticulated, orderly to look upon, but which will hold no conclusion … [since] one circumstance left out may be the vital one on which all turned."

Writers, in short, reassert the importance of subjective experience in the face of a world dominated by scientific, statistical, political and so-called "objective" truths.

No doubt I think all this in part because I'm a memoirist - memoirists, by their nature, assert the importance of subjective experience. But I think this equally applies to fiction writers and poets. Fiction writers know, for example, that good characterisation is a matter of finding exceptions and contradictions and individuality within modern groups and types.

Of course, to assert that all writers "reassert the importance of subjective experience" is itself a questionable generalisation which fails to deal with individuality ....

Friday, 31 October 2008

The Mozart Effect

We've heard a lot in recent years about the so-called "Mozart effect," whereby - supposedly - children who are played Mozart (in the classroom or womb) are suddenly transformed into geniuses, able to polish off S.A.T.S. and spelling tests like ice cream. It's always Mozart who is singled out as somehow intellectually ameliorative, no doubt because he is popularly portrayed as the echt-child-genius-who-didn't-live-long-but-achieved-oh-so-much-in-his-romantically-doomed-lifetime. It's never Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, or, heaven forbid, Tchaikovsky. Perhaps the next thing we'll hear is the "Tchaikovsky effect," whereby children are transformed into sentimental, hypersensitive wrecks.

It's typical of this kind of pseudo-scientific tosh that the focus is on "what Mozart can do for your children" in terms of exams, S.A.T.S., literacy development. It's all about pushy mothers who want their children to do better at exams than other pushy mothers' children. What a sterile, ultra-utilitarian view of this wonderful music: classical music reduced to a New Labour literacy strategy ... classical music as a revision aid ... classical music as an instrument of S.A.T.S. and keystages and G.C.S.E.s and I.Q. tests and pseudo-psychology all the other statistical trash which currently drowns out real childhood. It's typical, too, of the grey, utilitarian way in which the arts are seen by our culturally-impoverished society that music as wonderful and varied as Mozart's is nothing more than an instrument of the State - something to socialise kids and their minds. Music is there for a reason - and that reason is to make kids better at exams and ultimately (therefore) to serve the State.

But, let's be frank here. Mozart would have blown a fart in the general direction of S.A.T.S. tests and I.Q. tests - and so would Mozart's music. Mozart's music escapes the Mozart Effect and undermines it and blows raspberries at it. Mozart's music is carnivalesque, ironic, idealistic, cynical, irreverent, blasphemous, heretical, anarchic, divine, spiritual, earthy, Olympian, utopian all at once - and this very mixture can't but subvert any political, psychological or pseudo-scientific programme which tries to appropriate it.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Terms of abuse

I've been lecturing this week on the basics of prose writing, and the importance of things like grammar, and so on. This has led me to think on the uses and abuses of certain words. At different times in history, words are abused in different ways, and some of these abuses (of course) get absorbed into common usage and eventually the dictionary. Some of the abuses, though, are quite pernicious - as both Orwell and, more recently, George Steiner have recognised, the lazy abuse of words and metaphors can be dangerous (politically, economically, socially, racially and so on). Flaubert also understood the casual misuse of words - see his "Dictionary of Received Ideas."

For what it's worth, here is my list of the top ten most abused words at the present time. I'd love to hear more suggestions too:

10. Globalisation - a strange, protean term which can be used by one person as a terrible criticism, by another as a term of endearment.
9. Devastated, devastation - how often do you hear a news broadcast which doesn't use one of these words?
8. Inclusion, inclusive, inclusiveness - often used by government bodies or arts organisations to describe activities, organisations or structures which exclude as many people as possible.
7. Racist - the core meaning - which is specific and powerful - has almost totally evaporated from the word, and it is now used as a catch-all pejorative by anyone looking for a catch-all pejorative (I have heard it used by far right-wingers, for goodness sake).
6. Terrorist - anyone whose opinions conflict with those in power, particularly if those in power have all the big guns.
5. Sex - again, a word which has been so over-used that no one's sure what it is any more.
4. Snob, elitist - nowadays, anyone who is more interested in art, music, literature than inclusivity for its own sake (i.e. anyone who is interested in art, music, literature which is "inclusive" because of quality rather than because of government diktat).
3. Forwards - everyone these days is always moving forwards, never sideways, in zig-zags, or complex fractals. God, it's boring.
2. Teams - always say in a job interview "I can work well as part of a team." No one's quite sure what working well as part of a team is. It can mean either something as uncommon as common courtesy, or, conversely, being willing to kill your colleagues whilst they're not looking - it all depends on your management style and definition of the word "team."
1. Evil - always no.1 abused term throughout history.

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Computer Says No

Much as I have mixed feelings about "Little Britain," as with all good comedies, it has some important things to say about attitudes, behaviours and stupidities. The rather overdone sketches around "The Computer Says No" character are a case in point.

The other day, my mother told me that she went into a shop in Stoke and received "The Computer Says No" treatment. Being my mother, she immediately bristled and retorted (in excellent received pronunciation): "We're in charge of the machines, you know, not the other way around." The shop assistant looked flabbergasted, and obviously didn't agree with her: if The Computer says no, that's that.

And actually, unfortunately, I agree with the shop assistant. Unfortunately, unfortunately, unfortunately, The Computer is in charge. Unfortunately, unfortunately, unfortunately, the machines are in charge of us, not the other way round. Despite all evidence to the contrary, despite the lessons of the twentieth century, we as a stupid race persist in over-trusting machines and raising them to positions of authority over us. So much of what we do is determined by machines, whether it's email telling us what to do, electronic timetables and diaries telling us where to be, electronic rulebooks telling us what is allowed, Word for Windows telling us what to write, etc. etc.

This is amazing, really, given the history of the twentieth century, which, if it taught us anything, should have taught us that machines, computers, technology are not good in themselves and should definitely not be raised above human beings in terms of power. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we as a race persist in believing that technology = progress - that technology is somehow a good in itself. We entrust the future of the world to computers; we entrust the apocalypse to machines (in the forms of bombs).

If this doesn't demonstrate the infinite stupidity of the human race, it demonstrates a couple of other things: firstly, the infinite ability we have for ignoring the lessons of history (gosh, if only we witnessed the Somme, surely we'd learn not to trust machines with our destiny); and secondly, and I think more importantly, our infinite insecurity. The human race has learned not to trust itself. We don't trust our own instincts, our own goodness, our own freewill, our own choices, and have, therefore, given our destinies over to machines. Isaiah Berlin once said that the twentieth century was the century of the inhuman; and I think that's because we've learnt not to trust the human, and put ourselves in the mechanical hands of computers, machines, technology.

In the end it's worth remembering that there is a difference between technology and human beings: however awful human beings can be, at least they can also be human once in a while. The more like machines they are (see "Little Britain"), the less human they are, the worse things turn out.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A few more photos

Here are a few more photos, 4 months in:
Miranda, looking thoughtful.

Miranda and Rosalind in their new vehicle.

Rosalind relating humorous anecdotes about when she was young.

Rosalind and Miranda entertaining on the lawn.

Rosalind, Miranda and Parental Units at the Monkey Park in Stoke.

Miranda looking benevolent.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Soap cliches

Gosh, still can't find much to do whilst actually feeding babies except sitting passively and listening to radio or (God forbid) watching daytime T.V. One hand to hold baby, one to hold bottle = captive T.V. audience. I can feel my brains dissolving in my head watching "Diagnosis Murder," "Neighbours," "Trash in the Attic," "Doctors," "Makeover your something-or-other" and so on and so forth.

I've been thinking, though, that someone ought to compile a catalogue of soap cliches for actors and writers. Then, using the catalogue, people could put their own soaps together with no trouble. Here are just a few obvious ones:

1. the suspicious embrace / cuddle, in which the camera focuses in on one of the cuddler's faces, because there's some hidden agenda going on.

2. the heavy dramatic irony scene, in which Character A has done something awful behind Character B's back - e.g. affair with best friend, Character C; Character B spends five minutes extolling the virtues and wonders of Character A, and even considers marriage, whilst Character C pulls lots of telling faces.

3. the half-overheard conversation, in which someone misunderstands what someone else is saying (e.g. by only overhearing a bit, and missing the "not" in the sentence, etc.) and gets hurt for at least half an episode, until the mistake is cleared up.

4. the comic sub-plot, in which someone leaves a cake on a car roof, a dog eats someone's dinner, or something of that nature, to complement the more serious doings of the main plot.

5. the hospital scene, in which someone is seriously ill in a nearby room, whilst his or her relatives and friends are waiting in the corridor for news. The doctor comes out and looks serious, and tells the relatives that it's late and they should go home and get some sleep. Relatives look concerned, and insist that they couldn't possibly go home (don't they have visiting hours in soap hospitals?).

... please add to the list ad infinitum...

Friday, 22 August 2008

Life goes between feeds

Fans of this blog may have realised that I, (Mrs Jonathan), have been strangely absent from this blog. There were some fairly reasonable excuses for this, such as pregnancy, illness, hospitals, twins and the like. For 3 months of my life I lived in a altogether foreign dimension. Yes I was part of the world but in a detached, distant way. But gradually things have assumed a sense of normality, my head doesn't feel as if it's a lie any more. I have got used to the strangest things such as night feeding, not much sleep and having to get everything done in between feeds. The babies need to be fed and changed every 4 hours and they sleep longer during the night. This means that life has to be lived 'in between feeds', in fact if I were to write my autobiography I think it would be called 'in between feeds' because that's when I have to do the normal stuff that usualy goes into an autobiography.

Having come out of this weird hibernation period I see not much has changed; the shops are still shops; summers still have rain and teenagers are still binge drinking etc. However, their are new things to add to 'normal' life which actually are very lovely such as babies' smiles, coos and gurgles and getting this rush of affection for the little dears. Just let me get enough sleep, ladies.

Classical music and boredom

Another thing Maria and I have been talking about of late is the issue of "boringness" (for want of a better word) when it comes to music. To simplify matters, Maria, of course, is into The Smiths, whilst I listen to Mahler (the twins have yet to throw their lot in with one or the other).

Anyway, one morning (probably a 4.15am feed), we were listening to Radio 2, and I said that I found a particular song boring. It was repetitive, the lyrics were uninspired ("you" rhyming with "too" and "through", and so on), and formulaic. You knew exactly what was going to happen from the first bar.

I pointed all of this out, saying it was sending me to sleep. And Maria made an interesting point. She said that most people (who are into pop music) think that fans of classical music complain about pop because it is (a) too loud, (b) too aggressive, (c) not relaxing enough, (d) too discordant, etc. etc. In short, pop fans think that classical fans don't like pop because it's not as soothing as classical music. And, of course, a lot of classical music is marketed (on radio and on C.D.) as "relaxing," "meditative," "therapeutic," blah blah blah.

But the things that get chosen and labelled and sold as "relaxing" are often really strange: I find nothing "relaxing" (in the soothing, soporific sense of the word) for example, about the Adagio from Khachaturian's Spartacus (gosh, it's anything but relaxing), Barber's Adagio (gosh, it's harrowing), the second movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique (gosh, it's the Pathetique, for goodness sake, the least relaxing piece of music one can think of).

No, none of these things are conventionally relaxing, except insofar as we're told they're relaxing by marketing executives and second-rate DJs. They might be relaxing in a different sense (a cathartic sense, for example). But the point is that the popular idea of classical music as inherently relaxing ("ahh, isn't it nice?", "ahh, what wonderful music for a dinner party") is not a view shared by many of the more dedicated listeners. There is nothing relaxing in the soporific sense about Mahler, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian, Beethoven, Mozart (how relaxing is the last movement of the Jupiter symphony, for goodness sake?), and so on.

So pop fans are often mistaken about why classical fans don't like certain kinds of pop songs. It's not that we find them too loud or too exciting for our feeble, sensitive dispositions. It's that we find them TOO "relaxing", boring, repetitive, dull, samey. There's no development, nothing unexpected, nothing beyond the well-established formulae, no key changes (apart from a crunching one towards the end), not enough dissonance or harmonic daring (as opposed to too much), no climaxes, no emotional intensity.

I'm only talking here, of course, about the lowest end of the pop spectrum - and there's plenty of boring classical music out there at the lower end of that spectrum. But I think Maria's right: the reasons why dedicated classical fans don't like certain kinds of pop are often mistaken and misrepresented.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Blog by friend

Here is a newish blog by an old friend (also available through links below):

Sunday, 17 August 2008

On snobbery and classical music

People (like me) who mainly listen to so-called "classical music" are often - both implicitly and explicitly - accused of snobbery. The assumption that dedicated classical music listeners are somehow elitist is everywhere, and has even been internalised in the classical music world itself: so often, concert promoters, radio stations, award panels, arts councils, local councils, funding councils and so on insist on a false inclusiveness, an avowedly "low-brow" approach which amounts to a patronising attempt to broaden audiences beyond the white middle-classes. The fact that classical music listeners and practitioners have never been exclusively white or middle-class is lost and ignored for political reasons. Look at Mahler, rising from the Jewish working classes in a Bohemian backwater to being declared the "most famous man on earth"; look at Goldmark, who rose from obscurity and starvation; look at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor ....

No: it's assumed that classical music is still an elitist, snobbish and exclusive club which needs taking down a peg or two. The irony is that I've met lots of "pop musos" in my time, whose pride in their own pop knowledge, and whose derision at kinds of pop music they perceive as overly populist and commercial is at least as elitist as any classical musician. But, because they're into pop music no one ever dreams of accusing them of snobbery.

This modern belief that classical music is somehow inherently snobbish, and that it's only of interest to an exclusive middle or upper-class clique has, I think, had the effect in education of actually reducing opportunities for lower-middle-class or lower-class students in music. Because it is assumed that classical music is of interest only to an elite; because it is assumed that no one would want to study it from other backgrounds; because of a false kind of inclusiveness which reduces classical music to the status of an expensive luxury which must always be leavened with pop and other kinds of music; because of all this, classical music in education has, through no fault of its own, been partly shut off from state education.

This is also partly, I think, because music itself is perceived to be useless (an old British failing), and state education is even more utilitarian and gradgrindish than it used to be - and a Gradgrind can't see any reason for working class people to dedicate themselves to music. Classical music in particular takes a lifetime of dedication and training, and the benefits it brings don't fit in with a National Curriculum devoted to utility and immediate money-making results.

Hence, peripetetic music lessons, GCSEs and A' Levels in Music, proper classical training are the first things to be cut in schools, and particularly academies built on the New Labour Gradgrind model, which seem designed (ironically for a Labour invention) to train and keep the urban working classes in so-called "practical" jobs. In this context, classical music is in danger of being forced into the position that it's actually never been in before, in terms of education: it's in danger of being made into the exclusive province of private school education.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

On realism

How "realistic" should a novel be? I've been wrestling this question, because some of the reactions I've had to early sections of the novel that I've been drafting have amounted to: "Yes, but is it realistic? How can I feel that these people really exist? How can I believe in these bizarre situations that you describe?"

I find some of this surprising, simply because a lot of the novel (so far) is based on real life - or, at least, my experience of it. I've always been accused (when recounting anecdotes in pubs) of exaggeration and hyperbole, and that's fair enough. But exaggeration only exaggerates - obviously - it doesn't invent, doesn't make up things out of nowhere. Exaggeration is a distilled form of realism.

But actually, a lot of the novel-so-far isn't exaggerated, or not much: I really have met people like I describe, and I really have come across the bizarre situations I recount. People in real life really really (really really really) do the most strange things, behave in the most strange ways. That's why I've always preferred Dickens to George Eliot or Trollope - the world I inhabit is more Dickensian than Eliotian; the people I meet everywhere (and I don't exempt myself from this) are often full of oddities, tics, neuroses, cartoonish gestures, catchphrases, and so on. They don't always behave with forethought; consciousness and rationalism don't always rule their actions. Dickens - as far as I'm concerned - is much more realistic than Eliot, or Trollope.

But none of this stops people accusing Dickens of caricature (as if it's a bad thing) and of being unrealistic. And I've realised that it's something one has to watch out for when writing a "fictional" novel. You have to persuade people that what you're saying is possible in the so-called real world. In a memoir, on the contrary, because it's assumed that you're talking truth - whether or not you are - you can be as outrageous as you like. You can talk about bizarre, outlandish, weird situations and people. You can describe the most unlikely scenarios. You can be as over-the-top as you like ... and all because memoirs are assumed to be "true," however out-of-the-ordinary the experiences you describe. It's all a question of genre.

And the novel genre demands something different. Ironically, our culture demands that a fictional work be MORE, not less, realistic than a true one. In writing a novel, you're supposed to be moderate, talk about situations which are immediately recognisable to everyone - just do not be too outrageous, or you won't be believed. Tone down the characters' oddities, tone down the strange things that happen to them, take real life and add water: this often seems to be the unwritten rule of fiction writing.

But I've not yet decided whether I'm going to accept it. I'm not yet sure I want to write a novel which doesn't, or doesn't quite, reflect the surreality and grotesqueness of everyday life in modern-day U.K. I think I might just carry on regardless, trying to describe a reality which, frankly, does a great job of exaggerating itself.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

New website

Do have a look at our new website, which is being designed:

... it'll be finished soon (as far as any website is ever finished).

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Historical novels

I've recently finished reading an historical novel - set in the early twentieth century - by a very well-known novelist, who will remain nameless for the sake of this little blog entry. It was a good read, and the product of a quite remarkable level of research, in the best sense of that word: here was someone who clearly knew the subject from the inside. The sheer command of details, facts, names, places, dates, geography and language was virtuosic, and took my breath away (I simply don't have the patience for that kind of research). In fact, at times, the level of detail was rather overwhelming for a reader.

So, in all sorts of ways, this was a brilliant piece of historical writing, where the history and the story intertwined in complex ways.

But something bothered me about it all the way through - something niggled about the whole novel. And gradually I realised what it was: the command of history, yes, was incredible, but it rather swamped the story and the characters. And now I think this is one of the dangers of the form: in a historical novel, the novel part (the characters, story, etc.) should still predominate over the history (the facts, details, etc.). It's all too easy to write a historical novel where the history is what is important - but in a novel, it's individuals which matter, not great historical movements, economic forces or mass hysterias.

The danger of the historical novel is that the novelist has an historical thesis first, and a story with characters second. In this case, the characters become merely subservient to the historical thesis, to the historical point the author wants to make. The characters become mere examples of wider historical movements. And then it is no longer a novel, but a historical treatise with fictionalised illustrations.

Novels (I think) are about individuals, and individuals not as examples, but as themselves. The amazing and still-scandalous idea behind the novel form is that individuals matter in the grand scheme of things - that individuals aren't just examples of the masses, but may stand against the masses; that, rather than being mere examples of historical movements, individuals might swim against the tides of history, might try and break out of their particular moments, might try and change their historical moments. Of course, in most novels (especially nineteenth-century novels), the individuals fail, or succeed only partly. But the point is still made: this individual was special, this individual mattered, this individual wasn't just a personification of the wider forces around him or her.

Otherwise, why bother writing novels? Why not just write historical textbooks?

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Twins Listening to Nielsen

Now, the other day, the twins and I were all listening to Carl Nielsen's Symphony no.4, The Inextinguishable. Judging by the lack of howling, the twins certainly seemed to rate Nielsen above nappy changing; given the lack of contented glugs-glug-glugs, Nielsen isn't as popular with one-month-olds as bottles of milk. So, Nielsen rates somewhere between nappy-changing and milk, which is fair enough.

This afternoon, I tried Valentin Silvestrov. He rated lower on the nappy scale: Rosalind didn't seem to mind him - like one doesn't mind a fly buzzing round one's head - but Miranda seemed positively annoyed. In fact, during one of the less discordant passages, she threw up. All I can say is, as a very amateur musician myself, I'd be pleased if someone threw up to my music. At least it's a reaction, and it's better than polite indifference. Music as emetic: you don't see that very often at the Proms.

Sibelius and Brahms weren't vomit-inducing, though I noticed that Miranda had one of her "bowel-movement" expressions during the great passcaglia at the end of Brahms's Fourth. But then, maybe that says something about the nature of that great finale. Maybe Miranda's going to be a great music critic in the future.

Monday, 9 June 2008


Some of these photos are a bit blurry, but, given sleep deprivation, "blurry" is how one experiences much of the world at the moment ....

Miranda Anna Taylor, looking like she's about to say something important

Jonathan's mother and Rosalind Marilla Taylor

Rosalind Marilla Taylor

Maria and Miranda Anna Taylor
Rosalind and Miranda in the intensive care unit
Jonathan and Miranda

Maria and Rosalind

Jonathan's mum and Rosalind on the great return home (aka The Great N.H.S. Escape)

Miranda in her new home

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Intensive care

Notwithstanding what I say about hospital horrors below, notwithstanding the institutionalised neglect I talk about in Take Me Home, and notwithstanding the frequent systemic stupidity of the institutions themselves, it's quite remarkable to me what casual, everyday heroics happen within these grim prison-houses. Take the neo-natal unit, where babies receive intensive care. I'm in speechless awe of the people who work here: day in, day out, they are saving tiny lives, changing parents' lives. Doctors appear within seconds if there's a problem; everything is explained clearly to parents; care is almost one-to-one .... If only the whole N.H.S. were like this.

The people who work in these environments are the real heroes of our society. As a society, we celebrate overpaid adolescents who kick pigs' bladders around fields, wives of overpaid adolescents who kick pigs' bladders around fields, stick insects who strut up and down catwalks wearing clothes (don't we all wear clothes?), stick insects who used to strut up and down catwalks wearing clothes but now spend all their time taking coke, has-been and never-been pop singers who didn't write their own songs in the first place ... and so on and so forth.

All of these people get paid up to one hundred times what the casual heroes of baby intensive care earn. As I read somewhere once, what kind of society is it where so-called actors who spend their lives playing doctors and nurses and midwives (on Casualty, E.R., Holby City, etc.) are paid over ten times more than real doctors, nurses, midwives? It's a society which values pretence over reality, fakeness over genuineness, illusion over truth, and more than anything pretend heroism over real heroism - the real, casual heroism of the everyday, of people who go into work in the morning (or night) knowing that two babies' lives depend on what they do that day.

Monday, 19 May 2008


Miranda Anna Taylor (5lbs) and Rosalind Marilla Taylor (2lbs and 9ozs) born on Thursday the 15 May 2008 ....

Above: Rosalind

Rosalind again


Rosalind shortly after birth

Miranda shortly after birth


Welcome to the National Horror Service, here to provide you with all your horror needs, from gothic to slasher, from psychological terror to gore-fest, from Kafka to Dante, from Poe to Lovecraft, from Ring to King. Specialities include:
  • undead staff, zombified by lack of sleep, paperwork, jobsworthery and regulations
  • limbo wards, where you can effectively be buried alive on a trolley for hours, even days if you're lucky
  • rampant viruses and infections, better than anything on 28 Days Later or Masque of the Red Death
  • unnecessary Dr. Moreau-ish pain, caused (for example) by moving you from hospital to hospital the day after a big operation
  • mismanagement and bureaucracy to make Franz Kafka weep
  • Cormanesque comedy-horror, where surgeons talk about Chinese food whilst slicing you in two
  • starvation, when someone forgets to feed you for hours and hours and hours
  • drug-induced trips, when drugs are mixed up or forgotten or given unnecessarily to medicate problems which just need care, love, attention
  • ghosts, otherwise known as ignored, starved, patronised and abandoned old people
  • the feeling that no-one ever listens to you, can't even hear you screaming
  • haunted houses (aka hospitals) full of cobwebs, ghost-like patients, dirt, stupidity, idiocy, malaise, regulations, mismanagement, neglect ....

The National Horror Service: why rent a horror movie when you can live one?