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Wild kid of Hastings: PROFILE

....(more biographical detail in 'dialogues')

(Click image - July '17 - for weird mirror shots & more on self-portraits)

I was born in 1949 at a prosaic little town called Huntingdon in the UK. It's located just a few miles south-west of the east-anglian fens, about halfway between Cambridge and Peterborough.

After escaping day-prison at age 15 - following almost a year of glorious truanting - my first enslavement was as dogsbody electrician at a local rubber factory (see 'The Button'); I still have the goggles and flippers to prove it.

After three years there, I sold (for an equal pittance) my next six to a Scientific Instrument Company in Cambridge - the last four in a lab developing industrial chromatographs.

Then I leapt into four years of what was to be my first recognisable experience of full-time formal education: three years on electronics, and a year peering into the mystery of education itself - in an ivory tower on a hill outside Bath.

For the next year - imagine an arch-criminal taking a job as a cop - I took a job as a maths teacher. Preposterous? I broke most unwritten rules, and they took revenge by forcing me to apply for a local authority 'special dispensation' because I resigned just three days into the summer term - after receiving a job offer I could hardly refuse.

And so began ten years - the eighties - with dear old Auntie 'propaganda' Beeb. Based at TV Centre, first as an engineer then operator, the decade slipped by like a long weekend on a Hollywood back-lot. The chief redeeming feature (among many) being my acquaintance with Rod.

After that, something I'd dreamt of since the age of around 5: the big F - yep, FREEDOM (well, kind-of). Of which more elsewhere...

 

BUT:

Why the Website? Why the pictures? Why this Profile?

Then again: Why not?

I used to make things: electronic gadgets, tables, bookcases, etc, but these days the effort of writing seems far less than those more physical pursuits.

So this site is a kind of experiment, an attempt at creativity… innovation in art. Whether anything remotely passable emerges - anything even distantly pertaining to art - is entirely beside the point, since it is the attempt that counts; and in the case of an idler - who me? - to attempt is to achieve. (If your expectations are high… don’t, as they say, hold your breath!)

If I were to unearth a site by someone I once knew, I’d take time to read what they had to say - hoping it wasn't too boring. Maybe I’d compare their past and present with mine. I'm not sure what good that might do me. But as for me, my identity can be checked from the photos - see how I’ve aged! My brain, though, so it seems, has hardly changed; I feel almost .the same as when I was 20, and definitely the same guy inside. Can that be correct? 

I can’t deny that vanity plays a part in my agreeing to write this site: who isn't open to invitations for self-indulgence? Yet to someone who hasn't known me it can only be a source of 'weird and different' stuff to read.

The question of names and identities is another issue. For instance, when I read names on film credits or books, I think: so what’s in a name? Because even if it’s consistent for a particular individual – and that can’t be guaranteed these days – then, unless it’s someone I know, the name itself is meaningless.

Before starting to write for the original site 3½ years ago, Rod almost convinced me (almost, because I remain unpersuaded) that I could write well enough to interest people other than him. Even so, I went ahead - and kept at it. And soon I learned how the big effort of attempting to write clear, compelling prose, of revising over and over, adjusting and perfecting and so on, could actually be a pleasure; this would once have baffled me. Not any more - even though I’m never contented with what I've written... I say that as one who shies from perfectionism; which is just not in my nature.

Life, I passionately believe, is about compromise and improvisation. Any other approach would simply be to deny reality, and to ultimately go bonkers. As for everything, though, there are exceptions – maybe Michelangelo took a perfectionist approach? Maybe most masterpieces are the result of an innate obsession for perfection? Or are they simply the result of an artist’s informed recognition of his/her ability, and successfully meeting it?

The chief pleasure of creating any art is, I contend, down to both the act of creating and of articulating to oneself what would otherwise be unlikely to enter consciousness – or if it did then it would enter only at a superficial level. That includes scupture, music... anything.

This is my provisional explanation for the pleasure I gain from writing. But although it allows one to evoke thoughts and ideas that might otherwise never surface, it is at the same time impossible to relate in words more than a veneer of what floods through the mind while struggling to articulate oneself - hopefully with supreme clarity, and maybe a level of eloquence too.

From my own experience of reading, it is precisely through this veneer, assuming it's reasonably well-woven, that the reader’s mind effortlessly (even unwittingly and unnoticed) constructs depth, meaning and empathy. The vast tapestry so formed from these monochrome hieroglyphics is dredged-up solely (where else?) from the reader’s own unique reservoir of experience. And it is through this consciously effortless, yet intensely creative, mental activity on the part of the reader that the real enchantment is found – one is, in a sense, creating what one reads. (It's a bit like this computer receiving a few meagre codes from which it generates all the rich textures and colours I see on the screen - according to software already present without which the codes would mean nothing).

Or imagine an absorbing game in which every moment is original yet curiously familiar (like waves on the sea), and which - unconscious of the slightest exertion - you play not only with keen anticipation, but with an absorbing passion too. I’m talking about the most gripping and realistic literature here, texts which one can closely relate to; whereas the content of most books these days, I reckon, is light and shallow and can be dropped or placed aside at any point with little or no sense of loss. A lot is virtually impossible to get involved with in the first place; it is so banal, trivial and badly or boringly written - that's my subjective view, and you may well disagree.

 

 

 
 
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Some while ago I heard on a radio programme (whose subject was racism) that there existed a website for testing a range of prejudices – the test was called the ‘Implicit Association Test’: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/uk/index.jsp

Although I don’t trust tests, out of curiosity I tried it for racism. It gave the result I’d have expected:

"You have completed the Black People-White People IAT.

The line immediately below summarizes the results of your task performance.

Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Black People and White People."

You can take the test yourself. It is designed to examine your prejudices at below conscious level – which means it’s difficult to cheat by deliberately overriding the truth of what’s in your heart, so to speak. The site covers several common prejudices – though not the prejudices I have. It covers racism, sexism, homophobia, and others. These prejudices are to me as weird and irrational as a big-nose phobia, or to be prejudiced against people with blond hair.

My prejudices concern people in authority, those with power, sometimes even the wealthy (depending on how their wealth was acquired). It is irrelevant whether these people are black, white, male, female, gay or straight, tall or short, disabled or fit, attractive or ugly. Anyone with an expression of arrogance and wearing a suit – or by metaphor whose position implies this - rouses my suspicion. I have no direct fear of these people, and am quite happy to meet them. I don’t even sense uneasiness - no more than when in proximity of any known villain. Perhaps it’s like facing a tiger through the bars of a cage, and at the same time not being sure whether it’s you or the tiger who’s imprisoned. It’s only later when you reflect that you shudder – because you know it is you who is at their mercy. The fact that I’ve escaped their clutches now for many years is all very fine. Even they are unperturbed. But if several million others followed my example – then I’d be in for it. They’d come down on us like a barrage of steam-hammers. We’d be rounded up, in some form or other, and herded back to work – to resume the slavery to which we’re already well accustomed. (End of Soap-Box).

 

Old Friends (from 2003)

Talking (writing!) about myself is a strange habit, more addictive than roll-ups…

When someone mentioned on the radio about 3-years ago what I took to be the name of some weird new football team: Frenzy United, I didn’t pay much attention. It was one of those tedious magazine programmes I usually try to avoid, and sport has always bored me out of my head – unless I’m playing. So it wasn’t till the presenter repeated the name at the end of the programme that I first learned of the existence of ‘friendsreunited’.

Curiously, only a few weeks later I received an email through them from a kid who I hadn’t seen since around 1962. He sent only a brief ‘Hi, are you there’ email, to which I replied in a bit more detail. Then he wrote back telling me what he’d been doing over the years and what he was doing now (that is, approx 3-years ago) – which included that he was a part-time auxiliary at Brize Norton, loading big transport planes with guns and suchlike. So I responded likewise, observing at the end of my email that while I had once worked for the ‘propaganda machine’, he was now working for the ‘killing machine’ – so between us maybe we had something to answer for.

I think it was a couple of weeks later when I’d heard nothing more that I wrote again – just briefly. A reply came almost straight away, equally brief, stating that he was due to fly out to Afghanistan and wouldn’t be in a position to correspond for at least 6 months. But the whole tone and style of this reply was entirely out of key with the earlier communiqués. Then I noticed that the email address was xxxx@cs.com, which Rod promptly informed me when I consulted him was the Civil Service. So the dolt was sending private emails through his ‘security paranoid’ employer’s email system. The emails were obviously being monitored and censored, and it wasn’t Alan who was receiving my emails any more – not after referring to the outfit he worked for as a ‘killing machine’ – but some security bignut mind-slave who was under instruction to protect employees, considered vulnerable to de-programming, from alien forces like yours truly.

Just to confirm, I replied again in about two lines, finishing: ‘Is that still you? Remember our Saturday afternoon board-game?’ And the next day came a reply that said simply goodbye and that this would be the last email for at least 6 months. No mention of the game.

After that I flipped through the pages and years on friendsreunited for several so-called places of learning I’d attended. I noticed several names of people I remembered and thought might be interesting to correspond with - if only to discover how they’d fared over the years. So I sent in a fiver and joined-up. Of the few (maybe 6 or 7) emails I sent over a couple of months or so, I received only three replies – one of which in particular, by some weird fluke, has been extremely useful and positive, and worth rather more than the fiver I invested (though, of course, such things cannot be valued in monetary terms). In addition, I received another spontaneous email from someone who once lived in the same street. Otherwise that’s my total gain from friendsreunited.

I have to say that except in the phenomenally unlikely event of being inundated (what a thought!), I would always reply - if only for the sake of politeness - to anyone who considered me worth the trouble of contacting. But I ask, quite honestly, who would want to contact me? (Well, five - as it turned out). I was never especially popular as a kid, nor since – though nor was I ever unpopular either. When some of those I emailed didn’t reply, I emailed friendsreunited and asked if they’d thought about making a survey of subscribers’ failure or success in getting replies. They said: no (and seemed quite indifferent about it). I did wonder, though, why I didn’t get a reply from one or two people; after all, isn’t that the whole point of shoving your name there - or is everyone just hoping and praying for that amazing magical love letter from some long-lost childhood sex-idol (now all wrinkled and haggard, no doubt, beyond recognition)? The dreaded clock, we realise, cannot be reversed – alas! Or why do people stick their names on the site? I’d really like to know.

A final word here about that fascinating site. I’m not sure what proportion of people who put their name on the site also leave a message in the little envelope – nor how many of those messages include an email address (I haven’t seen any other than mine via this site) – but apart from an occasional extraordinary note, I’m fairly astonished at the infinite blandness of what most people write there; ie, usually it’s like:

‘Happily married to Mavis 20 years; three kids, Jake, Ben and one girl Tara. Working for BT in Wolverhampton – after four years with Philips in Eindhoven.’

(I made that up.) But that’s it! I suppose for some it’s what life’s all about: work and family. A bit dull? Very predictable… like programmed? No?

 

 
     
 

 

Lousy Writing (2003)

If someone can write, it doesn’t matter a bean what they write about, it just has a good and natural tone and is very readable. But my ability to write is deteriorating. These days, physically, I feel amazingly well and fit – and have just returned from a fabulous bracing walk down to the Old Town ‘n back. Mentally I feel extremely good too, except when I think about how bad my writing's getting. Maybe I always did write badly - apart from one or two things that Rod said he thought were excellent; though maybe he’s just being kind - who can tell?

Something peculiar I’ve noticed lately is that people seem to have begun treating me with an unusual level of respect. It can’t be age alone - though I think that makes a slight difference. So I reckon it’s the long hair (unless there’s something else obvious about me that’s recently changed and of which I’m unaware). So now I’m wondering whether to cut it off (my hair, Silly!) and see what happens - or leave it and enjoy the apparent benefits. It could be that people are inclined to think someone who takes the amount of trouble with their appearance that I do is likely to be a bit loopy and they feel safer being respectful. I imagine that maybe they take one look at me and say to themselves: ‘Hello, here’s a right scruff, better play it safe and be nice’.

For most of my life, especially when a kid, virtually no-one seemed to treat me with any respect, or not much anyway (so I really notice it these days when they do – and I confess I find it a little unsettling). In the past, this never used to bother me – not even slightly, probably because I grew up with it and got used to it. It was always me who had to stand if there weren’t enough chairs, or who had to do this or that chore, or had to go without if there wasn’t enough of something. As I say, I never cared, but it was glaringly obvious. The issues were always essentially trivial and usually I was glad to be left out of something – it often gave a welcome escape from some duff obligation or situation (which most people would have relished, but not me). I frequently felt that the advantages, overall, outweighed the disadvantages. So I didn’t complain. Some people get attention and others don’t – simple fact of life. (I remember an amazingly attractive kid who joined our class at tech college and he got away with anything: he was always late, lazed about, swung on his chair, groaned etc, and yet if any of the rest of us even hinted of committing such offences there’d be big trouble. And it made no difference who was in charge.)

But why am I going on like this? I feel like getting out again – and will shortly. There’s never a bad moment to fit in a bit more slacking…so… Cheers...

Phil Clarke

 

 
     
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