Built for speed?

Back in the middle of 2019 I posted here about the possibility that the physicality of African Americans’ was due to slave ancestors being bred for certain qualities. That was a canard, and I apologise for perpetuating it.

I’ve just been listening to the serialisation of Dr. Adam Rutherford’s book How to Argue with a Racist on the BBC. If you can get BBC radio programmes where you are, then this link should be good. If not, I suggest you buy the book. Frankly, though, even if you do arm yourself with all the facts (such as the certainty that in the 1930s there was no one in Germany who didn’t have Jewish ancestry), I doubt if your friendly local racist will listen to you. He’ll probably think you’ve been listening to Jewish propaganda.

Anyhow, the main upshot is I was talking nonsense, genetics are a) simpler in many areas, and b) at the same time more complex in others. Also 3) you can’t tell a damn thing about where your ancestors come from further back than a couple of hundred years, and where they come from is all you can tell, not an iota about their supposed “racial purity.” At this point your friendly local racist probably has his fingers in his ears and is singing the Horst-Wessel-Lied. Loudly.

At the end of the day, there is only one race. We’re all in it. Up to our necks. Well, further, actually.

Adam Rutherford. ©BBC






Bye bye EU—Brexshit Day

What is really sad is the way the platform we use inserts adverts into this. The EU is pretty crap. Isolation and irrelevance is worse. Being a pissant little permanent Tory fiefdom is a fecking nightmare.

Daniel Paul Marshall

England has exited, mic drop & all that drama. Smirky Boris looked very pleased with himself in his speech, saying nothing of any value other than…well, fucking hot air & a wagging paw, like a weak handshake. Big Ben got a cheap digital ring, a gesture, cheaper at least. We had it holographically printed on Downing Street, yip jump. O dear.

The clientele I serve beers, in the magnanimous taproom down by the quay in Exeter, despondently purchased shots of whiskey or rum to down on the stroke of 11 & who can blame them. A few tables were really drinking heavily to compensate their disgruntlement, from the time they got off work, to last orders. The taproom had no quarreling which side are you on, in our taproom, we have a safe haven from Brexiteers, boasting their triumphs against the ill pairing of their jingoistic effluvia with the economic…

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Should I not have written this?

There is a current controversy surrounding a novel about Central-American migration to the USA. The controversy has to do with the fact that the novelist is not Central-American, therefore the book should be disregarded, and we should attend instead to the “authentic” voices or the migrant community. Indeed some people suggest that it is an affront that the book was even written or published.* Now, it is beyond doubt that we should attend to those authentic voices, to the voices of migrant experience, and give them due precedence. But should we therefore shackle the imagination of another author solely to what they have direct experience of? I am not a Kosovar Serb; the passage below comes from my first novel, Lupa – should I never have written it? Or is it part of the novelist’s skill set to be able to drill down beneath culture and context and to express the fundamental, essential, direct experience of being human?

One evening, when a friend was driving me through Srebrenice, over to a house where I would be safe, we passed down a street in which several of the lights had been knocked out. We realised our mistake, too late – there was a group of men in fatigues, with guns casually slung over their shoulders, half-way down the street, under one of the remaining lamps. I remember that my friend swore, hesitated a little, but then continued driving, muttering, “Not too fast. Not too fast.” Each time we passed a lamp, I could see sweat standing out on his forehead. As we drew nearer to the group, I saw that one or two of them had noticed us, and their unslung guns were now trained on our car. The rest were preoccupied. One of those knife fights was taking place – my friend had told me, “Don’t look!”, but saw out of the corner of my eye that the cocky knife-fighter in fatigues, switching a long blade from hand to hand with leisurely ease while a man in ordinary clothes cowered awkwardly, was slightly built, and despite the boyish, black hair, was obviously female.

They let us pass.

I have written from the point of view of a boy, a heterosexual, a Russian, a person of mixed ethnic heritage, and many others. I have written outside my own culture from my imagination – yes – but I have always done so by mining deep inside me for what it means to be human. Should I never have been allowed to do so? It’s a simple question. “That’s different!” isn’t an adequate answer.

Let me ask another question. Would I be content if someone from elsewhere in the world wrote about, say, the Highland Clearances? It’s a valid question. My answer would be that if they could find and show what is universally human about such an experience – of being torn from familiarity and sent into exile – then yes, yes indeed, I would be content. I would even tolerate mistakes of detail, so long as that universality was achieved. Wouldn’t you? And if not, why not?


* This isn’t about whether the book in question, which I’m not even going to name, is well-written. It may be.





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Another iconic photograph from the 20c

This! This!

Taxonomy Domine

Photograph by Don McPhee.

When I started this blog, I decided it would not be political in nature. But I couldn’t leave 2019 without looking back at what I call “the off-set 20th century,” the period from the Great War to this year. It is the century that saw the rise and fall of the working class. Even now I can hear the objections that I, as a lower-middle-class person, am bourgeoisplaining because I pretend to speak for the working class. As we look forward to 2020, I reply that someone bloody well has to, as they have just voted for their own extinction.

During the off-set 20c we have seen movements that were supposed to liberate the working class degenerate into oligarchies. Mikhail Bakunin said “If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself,”…

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Oh, I’ve been broken a few times, badly, more times than I care to remember. I’m still not sure that I’m what you could call in one piece. I do put myself in danger, though. Once, a long, long time ago, I walked the cliff-edge between sanity and madness with someone, then she betrayed me. It wasn’t simply a betrayal, it was the withholding of something to which I had a right, and the bestowal of it elsewhere. What could I do. I felt like murder or suicide were the two obvious options. So I wrote a poem.

I wrote a poem, using all the rollicking rhyme and meter at my disposal. I wrote it not about my betrayer, but about how the famous “dog wedding” between Cynic philosophers Crates and Hipparchia might have seemed to an outraged Athenian. She got the point.

It is doubtful that the event I referred to in the poem occurred in that way. The Cynic philosophers such as Crates were ascetic – Diogenes lived in a barrel! – and believed in seeing and behaving in tune with their natural instincts. Crates and his pupil-lover Hipparchia did not behave in the way Athenian society thought a man and a woman should behave, but treated each other as equals. Whilst their open-air marriage may well have included public copulation, what, they would have asked, was so shameful about that?

At the end of the poem I have Crates’ pupil Zeno of Citium turning away in disgust and, presumably, going off to start a separate school of philosophy – the Stoic. In fact, Stoicism, which stresses the need to live in the moment, free from the pursuit of pleasure or the fear of pain, owes a lot to Cynicism. Anyhow, here’s the old poem:



Come one, come all, and hear the call,
And to the Stoa run –
Old Crates rutting like a hog,
Hipparchia shags like a dog,
Just come and see the fun!

Come soldiers tall, come maidens small,
They’re hardly monk and nun.
Old Crates’ member’s like a log,
Hipparchia gulps like a frog,
Beneath the noonday sun!

Come magistrate, come potentate,
Attend and supervise.
Old Crates can’t believe his luck,
Hipparchia’s a nubile fuck,
Beneath the open skies!

Come reprobate and masturbate –
Vicarious surprise!
Old Crates quacking like a duck,
Hipparchia can really suck –
And Zeno hides his eyes!


I have to say that the person I wrote the poem to shame is a much changed woman. Gentle, honest, quiet, and contented, and good luck to her for her metanoia say I. I don’t claim I had anything to do with her change, I’m not that influential.

“And what about you, have you changed?” asks Consuela (my Tejana maid) who has done her usual trick of creeping up on my and reading over my shoulder. Grrr!

“Well, yes, I have. I live a life of seclusion, here in our little tepee in the Sidlaw Hills. I’m practically a recluse. No one comes up here.”

“Let me see,” says Consuela, thoughtfully. “Last week we had three Amazon deliveries, the regular postie with a couple of packets to be signed for, Domino pizzas twice, a couple of gadgies offering to coat the roof…”

“We don’t have a roof. This is a tepee.”

“Didn’t stop them. Then there were another couple of gadgies wanting to tarmac the drive, and yes, I know, we don’t have a drive either. Who else? Oh yes, Mormons, and about seventeen kids doing trick-or-treat. Some seclusion! Have I missed anyone?”

“I don’t know about ‘anyone’, but you’ve missed a cobweb, there, up in that corner.”

“Slave driver!”





A little bit butch

I’ve just woken up from a night’s broken sleep. The last dream I had involved my trying to get to the place I was staying, from the town where I had mysteriously landed. I had started down a road I thought I knew, but it soon became unfamiliar, and I panicked. I asked a passer-by if she could help, but I couldn’t remember which side of town the village or suburb was, what its name was, or the name of the person I was staying with. The passer-by seemed to have more of my own traits and responses than I did, as though she had absorbed something from me. I felt as though old age and dementia were catching up with me…

Well, age is. Let’s not be coy about that. I’m in my sixties, and despite what people tell you, sixty isn’t the new thirty. I woke up not quite sure where I was. Or who I was, for that matter. So I did a little thinking – instant thinking – and decided there was something I wanted to say about myself.

This isn’t me, but… y’know…

I like being female. I don’t hide my breasts (such as they are) nor do I feel self-conscious about my hips. I prefer my hair long-ish. So, female, whatever that actually means. I like the looks and behaviours I have that are masculine. I’m comfortable in boys’ cast-offs, I like a little bit of leather, though I’m probably too old for the biker jacket that hangs in my wardrobe. I like the way this affects the way other women relate to me, and I don’t just mean women who come on to me – a very rare occurrence anyway – I include women who want to sit and chat, pass the time of day, talk politics, do girl talk. There seems to be a distinctive way they like to be treated. So, masculine, whatever that actually means.

So, can one actually be ‘a little bit butch’?

The term ‘butch’ – I have to ask if it is not outmoded, if it does not belong to the nineteen-forties, fifties, and sixties really – is most often used in its stubbornly rigid sense, to indicate an uncompromising stance. To me it isn’t. It’s a room, a range. There’s room to wander in that range; one can range around the room. Personally, it can be part of me, but it can’t own me. Nothing can. Not in that way. I accept the definition, but I don’t wear it as if I were shackled.

Get me?

“Washing your knickers in public again?” asks Consuela (my Tejana maid), who is looking over my shoulder. Again. Sometimes I swear she teleports – I never hear her footfalls.

“Why change the habits of a lifetime?” I say.


While I have your attention, check out my literary site, in particularly this page, on which I am running a series of my old Gothic poetry from years back, in the run-up to Halloween.

Toni Morrison: flipping racial hierarchies in ‘Beloved’.

3534I once picked up ‘Beloved’, but didn’t have the patience to read it all the way through. An analysis like this makes me want to try again. I have also read the article by Prof. Gates, but again without much attention (*sigh). I do, however, mourn Toni Morrison…

Taxonomy Domine

The death of Toni Morrison, which robbed the world of a unique and invaluable voice, reminded me of some notes I made a couple of years ago, when reading her remarkable novel Beloved. Rather than try to arrange them into some kind of essay, I would like to post them here more-or-less as they stand, crude and unrefined. The first part of these notes were made from a reading of the text of the novel. The second part consists of further notes on the way we view, or have viewed, ‘race’ and literacy, and they rely on an important article, from 1985 by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. – one that I have referred to a few times before in these posts, and will do again – which I apply to Beloved.

I was looking specifically at racial hierarchies, or hierarchies where race is a component or a…

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