J’avais vu ce grafitto philosophique gribouille  sur un mur en France mais sans quelqu’un  la c’etait un peu bizarre, ca manquait quelquechose – alors mon ami a pris ce photo avec moi dedans pour lui donner un corps de signification.
Le ‘moi'(ou le ‘je’) qui existe mantenant est totalement different alors le ‘je’ qui existait la n’existe plus.


First Impressions


I’m a shallow sort of guy and  generally go by first impressions. I  know whether I’m going to like/dislike someone within seconds of our first meeting, partly from what he/she says, partly from how he/she says it. Similarly the opening sentence of a novel/short story either grabs me or loses me, likewise the first minute of a film .
Here are some opening sentences that grabbed me:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. –James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)

I like the sound and the rhythm of the first 4 words, how ‘stately’ is deflated by  ‘plump’, the concise exactness of ‘bearing’, the cleverness of the mass parody, the intelligence and humour and control that layers the writing.

Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

Three words and I’m the wedding guest immediately under the spell of this ancient mariner

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice(1813)

What a wicked sense of humour this lovable lady had!

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

Time telescoped.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

All these ells – you can hear Humbert Humbert’s crazy love and lust for the 12-year-old in the rhythms and sounds.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

Now there’s a thought that sends men in white coats running across fields.

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)

English me that you Trinity scholar!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

When you read this, your voice goes up, your voice goes down, up, down, up,  down,  up,  down, up,  down…..and you are swept off  into Dicken’s schizoid tale of two cities

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. —Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925; trans. Breon Mitchell)

The vague, slanderous ‘someone’,  the partially anonymous ‘Joseph K’ , the vagueness of his ‘crime’, the suddenness of ‘one morning’ all create this uncertain world where bad stuff can happen,  unannounced,  to anyone.

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. —Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979; trans. William Weaver)

A bit like those Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls that fit into each other.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

There’s the authentic teenage voice of the 1950s when most things were crap and most people phonies.

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

The playfully distinctive voice of James Augustine Aloysius Joyce

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. —Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

Poor Mrs Dalloway, worried in case something would spoil her party, in case someone would let her down.

For a long time, I went to bed early. —Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (1913; trans. Lydia Davis)’

” Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure.”  Also translated as “For a long time I used to go to bed early.”
Is the abruptness of Lydia Davis’ translation  truer to Proust’s way with time?

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.  —L. P. Hartley,The Go-Between (1953)

Like standing up in the cinema at the end of a film to  God Save The Queen…..There’s a metaphor for you – it sounds very wise and convincing. Why didn’t Hartley write “they did things differently there”?

Me Tarzan, You Jane

We but teach bloody instructions/ which, being taught,  return to plague the inventor

Anwar Congo, a hero in Indonesia, personally responsible for the deaths of 1000 ‘communists’  cheerily tells on TV chat shows how he learned his morality and his ‘trade’   from watching  Hollywood Mafia films where the most efficient method of killing  an ‘enemy’ was to use a garotte.


Before my time, I said, counting the waves, a bit bored by the drift the conversation was taking.
You’ve never seen King Kong? Bob asked, sounding  as if such a thing was inconceivable.  You must have seen it. As a kid. On the box. The black and white version. The film that changed the world.
Who was in it? I asked.
Bob shrugged.  Spencer Tracy, he said.  Clark Gable. James Cagney. Someone like that. But that’s not the point. Can you imagine the impact it must have had on  bin  Laden? Think of it. Eleven years old. Eyes mind mouth wide open. Living every minute of it. That’s when the image must have lodged in his head, the planes and the skyscraper.  Of course  he identified with the gorilla. The great, big-hearted gorilla clinging with one giant hand to the top of the Empire State Building, gently holding Fay Whatshername in the other,  at the same time being attacked by those 4 Curtis biplanes.  That’s where 9/11 came from.  King Kong’s revenge.  King Kong Strikes Back.  That’s when it all started.
He picked up a chunk of rock and tossed it 50 metres or so into the sea.
You know what they say about every seventh wave being the big oneI asked but he wasn’t listening, too busy pumelling his chest with his fists and emitting a strange sort of yodelling yell which he later told me was the call Johnny Weismuller made  to summon elephants to do his bidding.


Of course we’re different

Last month, downtown  Takoradi,  I  got  talking to a writer guy from Mozambique  and he said:bright

”  Of course we’re different. The way we move our hands. The way we walk, run, sit. The way we smile. The lilt of our speech. The way we sing. The timbre of our voices. The way we dance,  greet each other, laugh. The way we sit together. The way we dress.  Our hair.  Our teeth. What we talk about… Of course we’re different – not better, not worse, just different “


 This morning, home again, on the morning bus to the town centre,  I thought about what he had said.



I automatically downgrade anyone who says ‘between you and I’ – for some reason that is a grammatical error up with which I am unable to put: and anyone who uses the word ‘posh’; and anyone in a restaurant/cafe/plane/bus who speaks  so loudly that you can’t escape his/her conversation to make your own; and bars/pubs which as soon as they open switch on muzak in the belief that human nature abhors a vacuum; and people who use a knife not to aid their eating but to make that scraping noise on the plate;  and passengers  who put their feet up on the seat opposite; and people who laugh loudly, especially in eating places (” the loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind “);  and people who laboriously tell you something boring then say  “but having said that” and go on  to give you at length the other side of the story;  and people who say ‘actually’ and ‘basically’;  and  obese people; and cyclists on pavements;  and people who say things like  ” being given a medal was literally the icing on the cake ” ; and presenters like Clarkson and Oliver and Robinson who with such limited talents are so ubiquitous; and

Things I Remember From School


Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.


….strange how stuff from school days sticks, resurfaces, acquires new meaning as you grow old(er)……
I find myself humming Schubert’s ‘The Trout’ taught us by Mr. Ronald Center, our inspiring music teacher. As well as ‘ Who is Sylvia?, and  Schumann’s ‘ To France and to freedom two grenadiers/from bondage in Russia were tramping/And bowed with shame and foreboding they came/Where lay Russian soldiers camping...’

And I can still recite  Longfellow’s Blacksmith poem which I still don’t like much but which our very uninspiring English teacher made us learn by heart (as well as  Shylock’s

Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances.
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,
And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine—
And all for use of that which is mine own. “
which I like more and more – but never got round to finding out what exactly was Shylock’s ‘gaberdine’.
And  she also made us learn Gray’s ‘  The ploughman homeward plods his weary way‘ which I admire now but  found impossibly dull then
and Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
and so on.
I can clearly remember the context in which I learned all these scraps – the teacher (Miss B, was that a wig she was wearing? Mr C with his long black hair which was okay because he was a musician), the classroom (cupboard on the right side, windows on the left) , the pupils ( Jimmy H who laughed at everything, Grace L who was so tall and so beautiful, Ralph M who couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ and whose father owned the local fish and chip shop), the feelings (anxiety, embarrassment, amusement, interest, boredom):
Jimmy now farms his father’s farm;  Grace went to Southampton; Ralph was killed in a car crash; the teachers…….I didn’t go to any reunions; I lost touch.
But over the years I have kept in touch with the poems and songs  –  the village blacksmith with his strong and sinewy hands, badly-done-by Signor Antonio, the two patriotic Grenadiers, the beautiful Sylvia, the constant ploughman  –  they have all stayed with me,  and in addition I have become aware of  and appreciate the hidden ideas and the skills which created and infused these poems and songs we learnt so reluctantly so long ago…….
And oft, when on my couch I lie/ In vacant or in pensive mood/ They flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude.
They comfort me.

Festival in the Rain


Edinburgh in the rain at  Festival time is okay. You just jump on (or into) a taxi or whatever and get yourself transported to a show – any show – there are thousands of them – in theatres, churches, streets,  telephone kiosks, castles, bus shelters, people’s dining rooms, bedrooms…..and if it’s still raining when you come out you go for a meal or a drink, you meet someone interesting, you don’t even mention the weather and before you can say Inakunyamvua, you’ve made a friend, or a lover, or a useful contact who lives in the south of France and would willingly swap houses/wives/life-styles with you for a couple of weeks next summer

Then, if it’s still raining when you come out, you can go to another show. And so on….. show – bar-show – bar – show – bar……There’s always something happening – rain or shine – outside or inside –  day or night…..in Edinburgh  at  Festival Time.

picasso 2



there is no art
to find the mind’s construction in the face


She didn’t even say good-bye nor aurevoir nor hasta la vista nor kwa heri nor totsiens nor abar dekha hobe  nor zai geen nor auf wiedersehen nor adeus nor sayonara nor slan leat……none of these ………just  half  turned,  one hand half raised (only four fingers showing),  gave me a look that said nothing,  head slightly tilted back, no smile, no expression…………………then I was gone….I did look back, over my shoulder, once  (remembering  Lot’s wife)………….

but so was she.