"If the doors of perception were cleansed
every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up,
till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."
William Blake (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)
ON 14 AUGUST 2008 I made my first entry on this Barking Mad Blog. It was my “Arrival” and “A Bit Late” but “Well-Dressed” and featured a picture of Cailean sleeping in his bed under my desk. He’d have been less than six months old. He has that same bed today, still under my desk. Yes, I do wash it every week or ten days. Cailean will be two years old in a few days’ time.
This is entry 100 on this Blog. Clearly I have produced more than one a week averaged over the last year-and-a-half. I’m surprised. Pleasantly, I think.
Forty-mumble years ago when I was at Warwick Academy, I guess I’d write a composition for my English Language classes (Frank “Buck” Rogers taught that class, and our subjects were taken from former GCE Examination papers) once a fortnight, perhaps less frequently. I only recall two subjects: “Lawnmowers” and “A Day in the Life of My Town”. Ugh! I wrote longer essays in History classes: “The Glorious Revolution” and “Lord North and the American War of Independence”. Ugh! Still longer essays in Biology: “A Field Trip in Paget Marsh” and “The Rise of Coelenterates”. Ugh!
We spent a good deal of time writing (using fountain pens, not Biros or pencils). We did not have multiple-choice questions in any GCE subject at any time. The only occasion requiring a choice and a box inked in was for a Scholastic Aptitude Test that was supposed to be interpreted by professionals at the Department of Education who would then tell us what careers we might be best suited for. They had me down as an architect. I had abysmal results on the Spatial Relations portion of the Test. Go figure. Ugh!
Our mathematics master, Eustace Pierce Roberts, a young, red-bearded Welshman from Denbigh with a blue MGB-GT sports car, divided punishments into two types. “Undone homework” resulted in Detention after school, during which time one would have to do the homework. “Misbehavior in Class” was rewarded by having an essay set, to be turned in the next day. “Iggy” Roberts, as we called him, would, I think, give an essay title on the spur of the moment. Usually very brief subjects like “Snow” or, after the entire class dropped rulers at a signal, “Falling Lumber”. We had wooden rulers, marked in inches, none of that metric nonsense.
I tended to do my homework, I was quite good at grammar school mathematics, and I was never put in Detention for having failed to turn in assignments. I rarely acted up in class with the others, and was pretty much a model student (my handwriting could have been neater). I believe I had to write on “Falling Lumber”. I was glad to. I enjoyed Iggy’s essay subjects and would, from time to time, write essays for my friends to hand in when they were being punished.
Once a term, for a few years as my grammar school career wound down, I would write a fair bit of the school newspaper, Quid Novi. I was its Editor. I was the anonymous poet (credited under my real name by “Anon”) and I would write up short articles, usually arising from quizzes the youngest children in the Junior School responded to. One could get a fair bit of mileage from questions like: “What does the Headmaster really do?” and “What is the worst school rule?” (We once determined that the school’s official rule book had over fifty listed, the Bible having only Ten Commandments.)
My school Leaving Certificate, which was posted to me in England because I went sailing (for the one and only time in my life) during our Graduation Ceremony, mentioned my efforts as Editor of the School Newspaper, and that I was Head Librarian, and that I was in the School Cadet Corps. Two out of three weren’t bad.
I had no essays to write at The Medway & Maidstone College of Technology, but I did attempt to learn something that might confirm my latent talent as an architect. I passed my advanced mathematics and physics courses, as well as Engineering Drawing. I hated it all.
Aside from business and personal correspondence, I wrote nothing original for over thirty years. Then I had this mad idea to write essays again, on subjects that came to mind. I tended to look back thirty years, to times before my pen had gone silent. When George Harrison died in late November 2001 I wrote something I called “What George Harrison Meant to me”. He’d been my favourite Beatle. I sent the essay to the newspaper and they published it. For several years I wrote, weekly, something that seemed interesting, and often the newspaper was interested. Not much money in it, but I enjoyed the writing experience. I moved on to reviewing art shows and theatre when the newspaper’s critic died. I certainly was no artist myself, or actor, but I’d painted at one time and had helped produce local theatrical efforts. I knew what I liked and could blather a bit about it.
Why do I write? I am a constant reader, in fact I usually have three or four books going, and pick up the one I’m most in the mood to read at any time. I can only think that all the reading feeds the writing. As I read, I make notes. I have scratch pads around the flat, and in my coat pocket, and things go down on the pages.
I tend to write for an hour-and-a-half, and that gives me about 1,000 words. Any longer and there is an effort required. Frankly, I find 1,000 words more than enough to read in one go, and when I’m finished I feel I need to read what I’ve written. Then it’s gone, I let go of it. There are 99 Barking Mad Blog entries, and now this one, that I shall probably never read again. Totting up the hours I must have spent writing these entries, it’s a month’s work stretched over a year-and-a-half. 100,000 words, a thin novel.
I’ve recently discovered Twitter, and I’m really enjoying writing in a box that permits 140 characters, or less. I do not use cute abbreviations, I insert appropriate punctuation, and I go with English, so usually longer, spelling.
Some five or six years ago I was hired on as a night school “teacher” for classes in Creative Writing. I’m not a teacher, of course, and it was more of a coaching position. We had very brief assignments to turn in the next week; most of the class time was spent in discussing writers and writing, and reading. I wanted to turn the people on, not off.
Using the correct faculties, one can “see” the world in a special way. Things at the far end of a telescope are brought within reach. There is light enough. One can hear the words being spoken. Then it’s just a case of scribbling them down on what is at hand. Keyboards fix the handwriting.
John Lennon: “There’s nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time. It’s easy.”
George Harrison: “See all without looking. Do all without doing.”
One hundred on the page. The ton-up. And now I’m going out into the light.