Saturday, March 31, 2007


I went to see the film ‘300’ with my friend Andy, who has recently moved to Cambridge from Bristol. After reading a few reviews, and seeing the trailer, I was eagerly expecting it to be camp, which it was, in all its full gory glory. It was also quite a good heroic romp, with a well-written script and, how can I put this, the best in over the top costume design. Spartans dressed in leather underpants, huge red cloaks resting on broad well oiled shoulders, each with a six pack to die for. I’m sure Xerxes was never, in reality, quite so heavily made up with fake tan and eye liner,or bedecked in so much ‘bling’ that he looked like a deranged curtain rail. But then historical fact and this film parted company a long long time ago. And,yes, its true, some of the Spartans were played by actors hand picked from the- In Your Face Brian Blessed School of Acting, but that did actually suit the style of the movie. Having seen ‘Sin City’ made by the same team, I’d also expected the film to be nauseatingly gory and without any moral compass. The film was, however, so stylised you hardly felt the pain as a spear made a awfully big tear in the pneumatic torso of yet another Spartan, or one more leg was casually lopped off a Persian minion in mid air.

Andy, quite rightly pointed out the moral hypocrisy of the Spartan’s position, supposedly fighting for a decent clean living, slave free, republican democracy. Lets just say they bypassed the United Nations and went to indiscriminate slaughter without saying please. It did not go unnoticed that this film did appear to become a historical justification for the current actions of the US and its cohorts in Iraq. One more manufactured international incident and they’ll actually be in Persia by Christmas.


Last weekend I went to the optician, the blood shot and sleep-deprived eyes needed a check up. In their fiftieth year they’re not doing too bad, so the optician said, ‘they’re holding up pretty well- considering your age’. But then that’s me all over ‘holding up pretty well – considering my age’. I’m not blind without my glasses, more slightly fuzzy around the edges, but they do help with reading. Since my teenage years it is my left eye which has been the weaker, ‘lazy eye’. Which is just shorthand for - you’ve got one eye that bloody well can’t keep up in the short race of life. I was quite shocked during the test how poor it actually was. There was one test where the optician alternated from one lens to another, whilst I’m looking at a circle composed of dots. She wanted to know which looked clearer, this one ,or this one. With my right eye the differences were distinct, ‘first one clearer’, ‘the second’. With my left eye it was ‘the same’ ‘hardly any difference’, ‘the same’, ‘the same’, ‘the same’…..

There has been some small incremental improvement in my shoulder pain, but then that hasn’t helped the sleeping. I’m still switching from the left side, to on my back, to the left side and barely staying a minute on my right side before twinging resumes and I’m awake. Lack of good quality sleep is finally made physically manifest in my tired old left eye, which has started weeping and flickering in my peripheral vision. It’s become a trifle annoying. Wearing my glasses helps, but otherwise there are no drops or ointment to ease its weary winking. So it joins the ever-growing ranks of minor irritants that I begrudgingly accommodate. I wont list them all, lest you think me a stereotypical gay man, completely self-obsessed with his own bodily frailty, and the special sensitivity of his physical aches and pains. How much is just the on going bodily deterioration of a human body, and how much I can do something about, is the subject of great internal debate at the moment. Though it seems to me most of these physical discomforts arise out of mental stress, which you would assume I could do something to alleviate. It’s just a question of what?

Work, with the lack of good sleep on top of the back, shoulder, arm pain, has been just about endurable. I’ve noticed that I’m not really springing out of bed, ready to meet the day in quite the way I used to. It feels like I’m dragging myself along behind me like a dead weight. There have been days, when if I heard yet another half hearted eulogy, encompassed within a misguided (though well meant) theology, spilling from the mouth of a Christian minister, I would gladly have screamed out ‘don’t believe a word of it, he doesn’t, he’s just mindlessly reciting it out of a book’, right in the middle of a service. There has got to be some change in the approach to my work soon, or I really must change my work. I can feel it, bit by bit, dragging my spirits down. But that always brings me back to what to do about it. At the moment I’m a bit at a loss what to do about it. Twas ever the same. I’m finding myself wondering whether leaving Buddhist Right Livelihood a year ago, was really the right decision.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

CD Review No 2 - Grinderman

The Birthday Party's - The Friend Catcher, began with a despairing wail of a lead guitar( courtesy of Roland Howard) , screaming angst, fear and horrific loathing. Into the musical sphere of the early eighties stepped one of Nick Cave's first lyrical monsters. Now, we have a new configuration Grinderman, a side project, so we are informed, the Bad Seeds still a force to be reckoned with, but resting. Cave's accomplices on this CD are the threesome he toured with last year; Martin P Casey, Jim Sclavunos and Warren Ellis. I mention the track 'The Friend Catcher' because with 'No Pussy Blues' on this CD, we have a lead guitar sound that would strip paintwork, this time coming from Mr Cave himself. This is, however, not just a return to form, he's never really lost it in my book, just grown in musical/lyrical strength and sophistication. So whilst his early work was primal,intense and overflowing with frustrated emotion, his recent work lyrically insinuates its way in, subtly unsettling our expectations. The focus on this CD seems to be sexual frustration - No Pussy Blues, Go tell the women and Depth Charge Ethel being fueled by foxed desires.

The new band flexes some quite substantial muscle here. Drawing on late Sixties R'n'B ( Cream anyone !) with a dose of The Stooges thrown in for added sexual thrust, best exemplified by 'Depth Charge Ethel'. On the opener 'Get it On' Cave improvises an opening intro, with strong echoes of his earlier deranged evangelical persona, the words evoking a strange feeling of being a perverted homage to Marc Bolan. The sound of Grinderman is at times painfully raw and impulsive, whilst poetically Cave provokes and teases. Sometimes, on 'Go tell the women' he treads on very un-PC territory - ' all we wanted was a little consensual rape in the afternoon, and a little more in the evening', but then Cave's lyric content has frequently been taken as being his personal opinion, when it really is just a character's stance, in this case describing the burnt out, redundant empire of contemporary manhood - 'Go tell the women that we're leaving' he says laconically. It's just one example of his dry, if not wry, sense of humour that permeates this album. It also contains classic Cave songs - ' Electric Alice' particularly burns slowly, a melancholic violin loop plays in the background, whilst he sings very simply and with characteristic regretful longing. It could easily join the company of his best work with the Bad Seeds. This album is a vital addition to a catalogue already rich in depth and breadth.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Another rough old week on the bodily discomfort front, though it appears to be gradually diminishing, but not yet gone. The last couple of nights I’ve taken a hot shower before retiring, this appears to ease it sufficiently so I sleep most of the night before my right shoulder and arm resume their muscular whingeing.

I’ve felt too mentally exhausted most of this week to creatively engage with writing. So, much vegetating, reading and feeling sorry for my lot has been indulged in. But seriously, this persistent pain and discomfort over the last two weeks has been the worst I remember, in a long time. The psycho / physical origins of these symptoms of bodily revolt, are pretty clear to me. As ever, what I can do to ease or resolve them continues to perplex me. Somehow my sub conscious has a message to communicate to me via the crudest of body language - ‘I don’t like this, stop doing this, I’m going to become increasingly a pain until you do something about this’ – all without it being in the least bit clear what ‘this’ is. I’ve changed my style of work quite a few times, had Body Therapy/Counselling, seen an Osteopath; I’m soon going to start sessions of Acupuncture. I’ve emptied my life out like the contents of a handbag, thrown out the crumbs, sweet wrappers and detritus, yet here I am with the same symptoms still intact, if not thriving and developing more quirky ways to nag and bear down on me physically, and eventually mentally fatigue me too.

I rented Tarkovsky’s ‘Nostalgia’ from the Mr Stacey’s Video Emporium, Cambridge’s independent DVD rental shop. I’d really wanted to see ‘The Stalker’ again, but that was out. All the same I had fond memories of ‘Nostalgia.’ On this showing it’s a rougher, and slightly less engaging poetic odyssey than I remember. Prolonged absence and the deceitful cheek of memory, painted a richer picture. It is still good none the less. Filmed in Italy, it is consumed by a sense of longing for something lost or abandoned. A Russian poet is exploring Italy with a stunning woman, who looks as though she’s just stepped out of a Renaissance painting. He discovers all around him echoes ( sepia tinged ) of a life he’s left behind. Quite what happened with his family back in Russia and why he has come here, is never explained. His female accomplice, is in love with him, but frustrated by his melancholic self-preoccupation and reluctance to take ‘their relationship’ further. She eventually leaves, unable to take being second fiddle any more. Not before they’ve met the local ‘madman’, who years before locked himself and his family up in a house for years, so they wouldn’t leave him. The poet finds a personal resonance, and, with the woman gone, spends quite some time with him. The madman also leaves, his parting request, is for the poet to complete a bizzare task for him; to walk across a Spa pool, fed by hot underground streams, holding a lit candle without letting it be blown out. The final minutes of the movie document, in real time, the three attempts he makes to do this task. The third succeeding, but the poet’s heart seizures as he reaches the other side and he dies. It is a brilliant visual metaphor for the futility of nostalgia, all that endless going over and over events, trying to regain or complete an unfinished task before one dies. Hmm, some pause for thought required.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


After a full week back at work I feel physically and mentally as if I’d never been away. Last weekend my back got worse, my shoulder stiffened and my right arm began to ache. The cold March winds have been blowing across the entrance to the East Chapel. My shoulders and arm have been at times in agony. As the week has progressed I’ve found myself getting less good quality sleep and more ragged and irritable mentally. Friday was a particularly taxing day, short staffed and too much booked in for the day. I have found myself with less equanimity and good humour than usual.

The nightmares returned the other night. It all started in a style of dream I used to have quite frequently; I’m trying to get back to somewhere in order to find or collect something. In this dream I was trying to locate an old great coat, like the one I inherited from my Grandad after he died. In my younger days I used to be fond of that style of coat, complete with trilby, bow tie and sleeveless jumper. But then, just as I’m nearing the place where I know I can find it, a disturbed man in his thirties, with black greasy unkempt hair, appears. I try to escape him by hiding in a small closet room. He dashes through the wall like a ghost would, stands before me and exits madly through another wall and re-enters behind me. At this point I’m screaming, and my lovely boyfriend David wakes me.

Not felt like doing much writing this week. Still reflecting on the ‘why the Self should be such a problem’ issue. I’ve come up with quite a good metaphor to use, but its not turning out on the page in a useful way yet. I’ve decided to read Sangharakshita and see if I can get clearer with a little help from the master. I’m reading ‘What is the Dharma’- always a favourite of mine, accessible, well written and avoids Sangharakshita’s tendency to use the extensive descriptive style of a Victorian Anthropologist. Though I haven’t got to it yet, I’m looking forward to reading about the Three Lakshanas in the next chapter. One does get the sense of his unshakeable faith and confidence in the Dharma, it fair leaps off the page at you. As far as a beginner goes, I am noticing that he takes something’s for granted, primarily that such a thing as Enlightenment exists and that we’d all therefore want a slice of it please.

Two Eno CD’s turned up this week, courtesy of Caimen USA, both are in his ambient style. One called ‘Thursday Afternoon’ from 1984 and ‘Neroli’ from 1993. The latter I think is his most daringly minimal , using very simple tones and chord progressions, yet it still has a very warm almost Arabic feel to it. Taken at a gentle pace, like being softly wafted by a huge feather fan in the sweltering midday heat. Like all of these types of pieces it is simultaneously interesting and undemanding, it depends on your mood. If you’re looking for a gross musical stimulant, well then these pieces will not be for you. They each take about an hour, so they aren’t your average three-minute pop song. Out on the radical fringes Eno is exploring the possibilities of music to create an atmosphere with the sparsest of elements, but also be functional and disposable too. Most popular music is both functional and disposable by accident, but rarely by design. With his ambient work, such as ‘Music for Airports’ and ‘Neroli’ Eno is extending not only how one makes music but also what it’s made for. Positioned as it is somewhere between the ethos of ‘lounge muzack’ and ‘New Age’ meditation music, it isn’t to everyone’s taste. David for one doesn’t like Eno.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


After a week and a half of being at home writing, I do feel that some progress has been made. The piece that I’m continuing to work on ‘Binding one’s Self without a rope’ has expanded from 3,500 to 10,500 words. I’ve not yet reached the end yet. It is by far the longest piece I’ve written, Dharmic or otherwise. I’ve taken a look at ‘binding’ and have explored some aspects of ‘the Self’ its pros and cons. Having just asked myself two questions – why should ‘the Self’ be considered a problem , particularly in Buddhism? & why binding or going beyond ‘the Self’ should be such a good thing? – I am now a little stumped how to progress in an approach to answering them. I suspect the former needs some form of answer before the latter can be tackled. Christian religions conceive ‘the Self’ as being in need of transcending in a rather oblique way – encouraging selfless altruistic actions or self-denial - surrounded as they are by concepts of sin and redemption. Eastern religions, and Buddhism specifically, appears to have a more highly developed critique and practices for transcending it; studying the causal root by examining the effect of its branches. My guess is that the way Buddhism considers ‘desire’ is the nub of the issue. Well I shall see where that leads me.

I’m enjoying re-engaging with Brian Eno’s music at the moment. As I write this I’m listening to ‘Nerve Net’, which is by turns jazzy, arty and funky. Sophisticated laid back music tracks often interrupted by blistering guitar, scatological explosions of sound, from long-time Eno collaborator Robert Fripp. It would appear to be Eno’s attempt to pick up on and explore in his own idiosyncratic manner, a few early nineties musical trends. Not necessarily an innovative album, but interesting none the less.

I’ve just begun reading Alan Bennett’s – Untold Stories, which I must say I am, so far, very impressed with. Part Autobiography and part Diary extracts, it is often profoundly moving and funny within the space of a sentence. Frank, without being gratuitous or blunt, he writes about himself and his parents honestly, with a touching sense of authenticity to the often difficult, turbulently mixed up responses we have towards both. He writes about his own irritation with his Mother’s behaviour, during her prolonged periods of depression. Doing so with all the emotions present, love, fondness, exasperation, guilt and that uncomfortable feeling of wanting to run away and hide, to put distance between you and your loved ones suffering. I understand he wrote some of it when still suffering from Cancer, not expecting it would be published till after his own demise. This does to some extent account for why it feels such a very real and curiously life enhancing book.

I met up with Nandaketu this week, who I was ordained with in 2000. We haven’t seen each other for a couple of years, during which time both of us have taken a wide orbit regarding our relationship with the Buddhist Order we joined. Though there has been a gap, it didn’t feel like there had been as regards our friendship. Picking up where we left off, and catching up on the details.

Returned to work on Thursday, drove my car for the first time in over a week. I don’t really enjoy or feel comfortable driving. I approach it as a necessity, that I’d much rather not have to accept. Work itself was fine but tiring. After only two days I was eager for the weekend to arrive. Today my back and shoulders are aching badly. I don’t have my first Acupuncture appointment until the 4th of April, so I’ll have to grin and bear it till then.