Section 1:

(click here for superb musical New Orleans video lament - youtube)

In the preceding Capote item I should have included pictures from the US 'deep South', from places like New Orleans and Pensacola, or States like Louisiana and Alabama - locations associated with Capote - places where I've been too, and have shots of. And a few minutes of research might reveal more on those 'first' novels I spoke of - the few I'm familiar with anyway. Well, here's a few pictures from 1989 at least:


The French Quarter



Mardi Gras



Modern New Orleans


gulf coast

.Along the Gulf Coast



.New Orleans Steamboat



High shot






.A Louisiana Causeway




I doubt that 'The Eagle Has Landed' was a first but it was early, and very finely honed. It made such a sensation that the author (Harry Patterson as 'Jack Higgins') soon followed it with a welter of rather less polished thrillers for - how long? Must be at least 40-years so far? Then there's Colin Wilson's 'The Outsider'. That was a first non-fiction; a masterful work for readability and content. And I say that regardless of the critics: on first sight they praised it to the hilt, then mysteriously recanted, and for half a century now have mostly refused to take Wilson's work seriously. There's a substantial body of it too, more than 100 volumes. But the critics are, or were then, of and for the Establishment. To them, anyone who renders 'highbrow intellectual matter' palatable to the masses is anathema - especially if the author is self educated and working-class. And when a work contains, like little hidden daggers, occasional subversive innuendo that could just enlighten the less astute, then the sold-out critics do what they're paid to do and wield their staves. Strange though for an author who, correctly in my view, regards himself as apolitical. But how refreshing!



In august 1999 when I travelled to Cornwall for the solar eclipse, I wandered around Wilson's haunts: St Austell, for example, and Gorren Haven - where he's lived now for about 50-years (not sure if he still does?). It was hardly out of my way, but there's something strange, almost perverse, in the desire to survey the environs of someone whose work you admire. Yet it's common enough - in the case of Hesse, long deceased now (1877 - 1962), I made a purposeful trip.

Hesse's literary debut 'Peter Camenzind' was quite outstanding. He wrote it just after the turn of the 20th C. He was 25, and working at a bookshop in Tübingen, Germany. This book to me is unforgettable. The first chapter launches with immense vigour into a kind of profound youthful genesis… only possible for an author so young, so well-intentioned, so naïve, so skilled… what daring, I thought, to begin like that! It ends, in essence, similar to his more famous 'Siddhartha' (written 20-years later). These illustrate one of Hesse's principal ideals for living: that of serving. To clarify: serving in this context has no connection with hierarchical servitude, or servitude to a paymaster, or any kind of serving that is other than entirely spontaneous and freely given.

Section 2:.................. . . . . . . . ..............................

More than two years has passed since  I drove to Tübingen. (If you find travel notes mind-numbing please skip to Section 3). My aim was to take a comprehensive tour of locations associated with Hesse. I'd been curious about these 'romantic' places for a couple of decades, so the journey was well overdue. My first relevant stop was Maulbronn, about 30km north of Stuttgart, site of an impressive old monastery where Hesse was sent when he was 12. Deterred by the strict regime there, he soon ran off through the fields and away. For several days he wandered the countryside alone. The impact of this event, I believe, made a lasting impression on his outlook on life, and on much of his later work. While I was there I strolled past terraced orchards up the hill behind the monastery, and gazed for a while in contemplation across fields to a nearby forest and eastward beyond rolling hills to more distance forests. This must have been the route he took in 1889. What courage! (I'd probably have done the same, though.)

From Maulbronn I continued south-west and soon entered a narrow river valley overshadowed by steep wooded sides and trees. After driving for about 30-minutes this opened onto Hesse's boyhood home, a little town called Calw (pronounced Kalph) about 20km west of Stuttgart. A couple of days there gave me time to climb the steep by-road and paths through woods up into virgin forest - mostly firs, solid with tangled thicket and decaying logs - the very same, I suppose, that the juvenile Hesse must have been intimately familiar with more than 100-years ago. The ancient buildings flanking the shallow fast-flowing river, the little chapel on a bridge, the railway, the Hesse museum and bookshop… and the big, solid-looking houses in the centre constructed traditionally from immense wooden beams, their upper floors protruding, their great high roofs and gables dotted with little windows… all these I observed attentively, striving to soak in what only years of familiarity can actually infuse.

From there a short drive to Tübingen. The main town was very old, unspoiled, a lattice of little streets and alleys, of unique ornate buildings, authentic, huge, functional - but no reference to Hesse. I enquired at the shop beside the one he'd worked at - which had become, I think, a land agent's. This stood opposite the cathedral, and only a short distance from the river and quiet walks - and from where, rising higher towards the west, is the buttressed façade above which climb precariously a terrace of elegant old buildings that comprise the town's south perimeter.

My next stop was way further south. Descending from high, down an open winding road, the view over the Boddensee and across Lake Constance was striking enough. Before long, in the soft heat of early autumn, I stopped at the lakeside. The late afternoon sun gave a lazy, tranquil feel - perfect for a meander along this lush semi-wild shoreline.

The next day, at the nearby hamlet of Gaienhofen, another big Hesse museum and his first cottage - which he rented from the neighbour - now open to the public. What a location for a writer! Of course, there was much more as I wandered around for another couple of days in the sweltering heat there. Then into Switzerland, to Baden, and back via Basel, then a dawdling return through France to the UK. Regretfully, I never made it to what became Hesse's home for most of his life: Montagnola near Lugano in Switzerland, maybe 40km north of Milan. I'll savour that for another time.

(Reading through what I've just written tells me how right I've been not to attempt to record my fabulous trip in the US - 16,000 miles I clocked too. An account would surely turn out excruciatingly dull, dull, dull! Though the experience itself was anything but. The same for Aussie and New Zealand - except I've made a little exception below for Tasmania on account of the literary connection, as you'll see.)

Section 3:

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And perhaps I'll be off again soon? And it's with Tasmania in mind when sometimes I think… right now, to be entirely alone - just with a stack of books, a little hut and the sea for company - for a minimum of, let's say, two (or ten even) whole massive years… that would be my idea of perfection. My new favourite word is 'solitude'; my ambition - my first and only, in fact - to be a hermit (I remember yearning this on several occasions when my age was still in single digits - because, as I reasoned then, other people are generally primitive, destructive, conformist, judgmental, interfering and dominating and…. and otherwise problematic. Was it Sartre who said: 'Hell is other people'?). But against this ambition there exists the notion that even so much as a week void of contact with another (probably human, though not necessarily) might induce disorientation and a need for radical psychological adjustment. I don't think this applies to me - not any more, at any rate.

Section 4:

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When I was looking after my poor old mum up in Huntingdon, a relative (or relatives) of mine would now and then come to give me break. They'd stay a few days, a weekend usually, so I could return home to Hastings (and reassure my 'lodger' that I'm still alive and in the world!). In that short time these relatives completely (and more!) filled the dustbin (I'm hard-pressed to half-fill a carrier bag in a week), use several bog rolls (which would last me more than a year), and discard every J-cloth, flannel, you-name-it, they could find: wipes, sponges, etc, etc, empty every bottle of bleach, washing-liquid, soda, and so on, and on, and the rest, that existed… Worst of all, this exemplar of consumption-mania, which seems to have gripped the contemporary world like some insidious psychosis (relentlessly bolstered and goaded by corporate advertisers) is actually in this instance a fairly moderate one; more typical (so I'm told) is at least double this level of waste.

Rod says - and take my word: Rod is an accomplished authority here - Rod says that in his experience the average female, as a fact, is inclined to demolish an entire bog-roll in a single afternoon! And Rod is absolutely no misogynist, quite the opposite - "…and anyway," you might ask, "what's a measly bog-roll between friends?" But the oblivious devouring of vast amounts of Bog Paper is just one detail among thousands which if multiplied up would astound the most fanciful in our midst. You might laugh (I did); but I've already multiplied the exhaust pipes, which burn 80-million barrels of oil a day, into one colossal chimney visible from space… The world is being senselessly destroyed by these manic consumers - increasingly goaded and encouraged as they are by corporate power whose greed is insatiable (and no government can stop them because, effectively, they are the government). The world is being worn out irreplaceably; and it's being worn out at about a thousand - or should that be A Million? - times the rate it needs to be. A stampede of marauding dinosaurs couldn't compete!

So much for education and corporate enterprise…

If I left the bedroom window open at night at Huntingdon, then I would be woken early by a roar of traffic from the A14 bypass. I would close the window and resume sleep, picturing all those belching fumes, all those banknotes flowing into the oil companies' accounts then out to their shareholders - all those banknotes too flowing for the owners of those vehicles that carry merchandise. And I picture the endless stream of adverts for cars in the weekend magazines and on TV - yes, I know the roar from the bypass is chiefly lorries, most of them taking 'coals to Newcastle' so that some business or other can feed its already bloated profit - but this blue oasis we call Earth will soon become, if it isn't already, beyond repair.

Perhaps in less than a century from now humankind will recognise that its future is no more, that all history is coming to a final conclusion, that all human endeavours, all creations and aspirations, all art, science, love, everything… is indisputably, like any mortal entity, about to die - and forever cease to exist. Perhaps we are on the very cusp right now of this? But we don't give a rap. We don't even think about it, because our own lives will be over before things get really serious. So we do nothing - except to continue to accelerate this headlong pursuit of annihilation. And however well we believe it, still we don't bother to change anything; we don't even try to communicate our fears to the corporate stooges who represent us in parliament and are responsible for the madness - the mass pell-mell rush like lemmings to suicide - and all we need do is elect 'anti-business'/'pro-world' independent candidates! That's all, nothing more. But we don't, and probably never will - because as soon as we elected them, should they ever exist, they'd immediately be threatened or bribed by business to toe their line. How irresponsible, how corrupt, how despicable, how treacherous, can politicians (business) be? And how gullible, how blind, how oblivious, how stupid can the rest of us get? We have two choices: either nobody vote, thereby annulling the system, or mass revolt: revolution!

Section 5: :

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A few lines into 'Section 3' I wrote 'a little hut and the sea' and immediately, as I mentioned, a vision sprang into my head - of Tasmania. (Well, I did warn you!) What I remember of that little island is from way back in 1991 - almost long enough ago now to evoke a touch of mawkish nostalgia. About halfway between Swansea and St Helens on the east coast, is a little place called Bicheno. On a sandy tree-sprinkled beach there, and just a few metres from high-tide, is a hostel that resembles several garden sheds. You can spend day after day on that beach lounging in a deckchair; and from the half-shade of the trees look across to a little islet where a colony of penguins live - and to where you can walk at low tide, or otherwise swim through sparkling clear sea. The sun beams hot most days; it is isolated, quiet and truly idyllic.

When I arrived there, I found only one occupant: a young American guy in white boxer shorts, sprawled on a big towel just outside the dormitory 'shed'. He bore a curious likeness to that flattering picture of Gore Vidal taken around the time of his first 'daring' and (I reckon) highly skilled novel 'The City and the Pillar' - which was a big success when originally published back in 1948 (the same year, curiously, as Capote's 'Other Voices, Other Rooms'). So there's another first novel that probably outshines everything following - of which there's far too much for me to properly examine.

Because the space in my diary for each day was about the size of an oblong postage stamp, I failed to record any details of this guy (or any other) encounter - though I can write small, I can't write THAT small. Anyhow, I have an aversion to diaries, which is due, I guess, to a subconscious determination to evade yet another demand on my time. So his name is gone, as too is the quaint title of that islet paradise with it's penguin burrows and its remarkable outcrops of vivid-orange and purple encrusted rocks - some kind of lichen, I believe. But everything else remains in my head as if I had been there only yesterday. And a little research would retrieve both these missing fragments: since a decent map would reveal the latter while probably a web-surf and a couple of emails the former - as will be seen:

You see, this guy was from a little town called Montauk, a beautiful desolate place on the eastern tip of Long Island, USA. I was there myself in 1983, and despite the hot sun, the ocean along that wide endless windswept beach looked dark and foreboding. Not another soul could be seen when I was there, nothing for miles - just low dunes, sand, sea and high-swooping gulls.

And Montauk was where resided, for the last years of his life, John Steinbeck - whose 'The Grapes of Wrath' cornered him the 1962 Nobel Prize for literature. Being of a somewhat irascible temperament, Steinbeck soon gained a reputation for brawling: he was inclined, I suppose, to swallow a beer too many at the local pub, but at any event he would get into an argument there, from which a punch-up would ensue. This resulted in repeated summonses to appear at Montauk district courthouse. The Judge, so I had read, would take pity on the old author; so, with his tough sensitivity and glittering literary record - especially of alerting Roosevelt (and the world) to the plight of the migrant farm workers of the thirties - he was invariably let off with a warning.

Now returning to this guy who stretched out lithely on Bicheno beach like some Greek scholar: slowly, tiredly, as our conversation developed, and moved from the splendour of the location to books and somehow eventually to Steinbeck, he revealed that this very Judge was his dad - who had so admired Steinbeck's work that he could not bring himself to treat the great man harshly, and so enabled the author to go home each time with his pride intact.

How is it that so many people one stumbles into on the other side of the world just happen to have either some notable quality or else a distinguished connection or other? Needless to say, the Judge's son was fairly loaded. He'd already been idling in these 'beach-sheds' for several months, most of the time alone. The 'sheds' were, after all, a little unusual, and not to everyone's taste. And he'd come to regard the place almost as his own - though not in a possessive way. But living on a beach for a few days in primitive huts like that with an indolent, capricious, classically educated, intellectual youth who seemed more to have sprung from the nobility of ancient Greece than late 20thC Long Island, was truly surreal and extraordinary. The encounter represents to me, like several on that trip, one of those unique shining moments that make life so astonishing, vivid and incalculably worthwhile.

A glance back at my minimalist 'Woolworths' diary tells me that a few days before this I'd stayed at Bellerive hostel. Bellerive is a picturesque little village across the estuary from Hobart and from where there's a spectacular view of - is it Mount Wellington? My map is missing! (More truthfully, it's a big effort to search around and dig it out). Sitting at a long wooden bench-table in the hostel common room, facing the proprietor with whom I was conversing, I suddenly spotted a fawn-coloured spider on the wall behind him. Now this spider was to me no ordinary type; it was a little bigger than one of my hands - and my hands aren't small: I can easily stretch beyond an octave on a piano. Before I'd done more than quietly announce the customary expletive, my host had turned to see what had alarmed me. "A common wolf spider," he sighed, turning nonchalantly back, "nothing to worry about. Don't touch it though; it can give a nasty sting."

Unfortunately, I'm not at present able to display pictures from Tasmania - I have 750 photos from the US, and about two-thirds that from Aussie, New Zealand & Oahu (Honolulu). These take precious time to load into the computer, and so far I've managed about 100 of the US - a few of which have already appeared on the site - last month, incongruously, were two from Arizona.

But I imagine I've bored everyone solid! So enough on travel.



I began wondering the other day about why it was that people in hospitals are always so cheerful and friendly. Have you ever wondered about that? Last year I had to take my mum to Adenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge once a week - for five weeks of radiation treatment. Those people who calculate the precise dose and frequency of radiation are certainly a skilled bunch. At least, they were so far as my mum is concerned.

While she was receiving treatment I sat and read a terrific little paperback which I'd bought over the net on abe-books. It's called: 'Oscar-winning Screenwriters on Screenwriting' interviewed by Joel Engel (2002). There are 11 screenwriters, a chapter each. They explain how they got into the business, how they developed their craft, and how they eventually made their 'splash'. There are the conformist types, but most are renegades, and as was true for Dostoyevsky, the dip and weave of their lives is more gripping than anything they ever worked on. I wonder if they realise this?

Anyhow, I sat glued to this supremely articulate medley of autobiography, while somehow noticing around me at all times a great sense of harmony and contentment. This struck me not only as extraordinary - illness with contentment? - but quite genuine too. There seemed no strained pretence, no forced effort. It wasn't just in obvious overt ways, but in the manner people naturally moved, how they looked, private expressions, their whole demeanour… everything. I'm talking primarily of staff here and include sweepers, tea-bar attendants, appointment-desk operatives, as well as medical staff - but everyone seemed to take it as their personal responsibility to see that everything was in order, was to other people's liking and convenience, as if they belonged to a family called 'Hospital staff: Doctors, nurses, sweepers… et al'. Now I know some of these are paid abysmally and I wonder how they manage to survive in the world, but nevertheless I couldn't fail to notice how, without exception, they all demonstrated, even when apparently alone, an impressive level of cheerfulness.

Maybe they are hand picked, like rangers in the US, or bus drivers in Aussie? But I reckon it's not this at all. When you're surrounded by people on all sides who are suffering from some ailment or other, often distressing, sometimes life-threatening; when you have this all around you, how can you fail to notice your own good fortune? Against the illnesses and associated miseries, how can you fail to appreciate the benefits of good health? What could be better than to be constantly reminded of how good it is to be well, and all the time to sense the exuberance that accompanies a general feeling of well-being that anyone in good heath naturally has - or should have?

Can that be why people so love the caring professions? True, some people loathe the work, some care-home staff are so intolerant they even sometimes abuse their clients. Probably they'd be like that whatever they did. Probably their clients 'wind them up' - whereas in a hospital the patients are usually full of appreciation and gratitude for what the staff do. Either way, there's no escaping the fact that there is a certain curious pleasure to be gained from increasing the contentment of those with whom one associates - especially if they are disadvantaged. An appreciative response is a bonus.


And the same is true, I believe, of other spheres. For instance, if I kid myself that by writing for this site I'm giving someone pleasure - even if it's merely to gawp and chuckle at my ineptitude - then that should warm me too. It's a win-win situation. The problem is that I just find it so damned difficult to stir myself into action and do some decent work here - even though I enjoy it when I can get myself going. I know well that too often I fail to check carefully what I've written, so when I look at it again after a few days or weeks, I frequently cringe at the errors and plain bad writing. Sometimes I change a thing or two; but usually I let it go, and tell myself I'll take more care next time. But when something turns out well, and reads OK a week or two later, well then I'm slightly amazed, and pleasantly warmed. That's part of the reward of creating I suppose. But imagine…

On the 'Capote' page I mentioned that all-time masterpiece 'Lolita' which for all I can make out may have actually been Nabokov's 'first' novel. Who's to know that it wasn't originally very short, hardly more than a sketch? Who's to know that over twenty or more years, while Nabokov was doing what most people do making a living and so on, that he didn't regularly add to it, expand here and there, correct this and that, polish and generally build it up, brick by brick, as it were, until finally, at the grand age of 59 - yep, 59 (the age Dostoyevsky was when he died) - out comes this magnificent work of art like nothing else before. Maybe he conceived it when at the age Lolita was in the novel? Maybe he himself was thwarted or jilted at that tender age and concocted this masterful fantasy as a kind of psychological consolation, an escape, an adventure even - who knows? (I've been too lazy to so much as open his autobiographical 'Speak, Memory' which sits here on my shelf calling vainly to me like so many other worthy tomes that bid for my attention - my all-precious, invaluable time.)

The point is, though, that he - like others I could cite - took this enormous amount of trouble. He actually made the effort, a very big effort, almost (I believe) a lifelong effort. But why? It wasn't for the money - how could it have been? Because by then…. well, he was 59! But he must have reasoned, even if he died the day after its completion - cf, Proust's magnum opus 'In Search of Lost Time' completed shortly before his death - he must have reasoned on how he was gaining so much pleasure, insight, vicarious delight (perhaps even rapture in this - Lolita's - instance) from the indulgence, the sheer persistent honing and polishing into that glowing, scintillating example of literary perfection which 'Lolita' ultimately became. What a tremendous sense of satisfaction he must have felt when it was finally published. He would have written that book for nothing - as a gift to the world, like Proust with his. Quite a few others have done this too, though in rather less time and to somewhat less perfection - in most cases also as a means to make a living, just as the hospital staff need to; but even in these instances the money, though essential, is surely secondary.

The fact is, I've found that laziness doesn't pay - at least, not always. (Not that this discovery is in any way new - or that it makes any difference to how I conduct my life, any more than discovering that smoking is harmful might persuade me to stop! - though in fact I did stop some while ago). I have only to observe how I feel after a period of intellectual lethargy, or alternatively after a period of doing something useful or creative, like writing for instance - which, whether fine or not, I find I'm actually well pleased with. It's the same for doing someone a favour - which may be a damn nuisance, but you could feel better for it, especially if you refrain from a sense of grudging in your acceptance and completion of the task. And the better the favour is done, the more contented you later feel… OK, not always, perhaps, and probably never at the time. But aren't these issues worth examining, contemplating? After all, what we seek - I suppose we do, anyway - is maximum contentment, joy, bliss!

And now another little contribution in the pursuit of bliss - THE MASTER GAME: