Sunday, April 27, 2008

The caravan bit the dust when my clutch threatened to set fire to Bernard Road, towing it off for a couple of days in Horam. A hill start's a tricky thing with that kind of weight, but trickier still for a novice. The AA man whose breakdown van forced me to stop on the hill directed me through the narrow gap waving away the fumes and laughing but I wasn't convinced I had the energy to become a scourge of the A303 and spent two nights on a deserted campsite with my daughter and her friend, sleeplessly trying to work out a route home that avoided driving uphill. As the sun set on the second night, rather gloriously red, the Downs seemed malevolent between the trees - enough to make me realise I have enough excuses to be anxious without imagining being pulled downhill by an unstoppable mobile home.

So the caravan is back with its original owner, which means it's in our road with a For Sale sign on. I think a trailer is more my scene and would at least make some use of the £200 I spent on having a tow bar fitted to my car. A trailer would take the bits that make camping more comfortable - a table and chairs, the barbeque, and the kids could fit in the car without knees round their necks because the rucksacks are where their feet should be.

I have just finished Martin Amis's Money and it's revived contemporary fiction for me. I wish I could write like that. It has the sweep of all great fiction, wisdom about society and is superbly obsessive, swings beautifully between the US and UK, grandness and grubbiness and should be required reading for anyone with a hankering for Hollywood. I particularly like the way Amis plays with rules - supporting characters are cartoonlike (and why not when the interest is in the self-obsession of the narrator) and pretty undisguised stereotypes, it's constantly self-referential (of course, given the name of the narrator), and it takes great pleasure in uncovering the tricks of storytelling. I'm so pleased I didn't read it before. It's a masculine novel and at one time, I'd have taken offence, I think, and misguidedly.....

It's distracted me, at least, from the nonsense of the pet charity bringing rabies into the country, pathetic do-gooders 'rescuing' dogs from Sri Lanka with all the incumbent costs etc. and nothing about the disgrace of kids without water - oh, all that we know about poverty and the rest of the world, but these dreadful people carry on with their sentimental, self-serving activities. And I am whooping and crowing about the prospective property crash. Let the rich and the speculators come down to our level. In fact, let them become the ice-cream van bouncer that Amis created for John Self when the Hollywood illusion went down in an alley.

Friday, April 11, 2008

When the black cat from up the road stretched into the fuschia outside my front window and started sniffing at a nest, I banged on the window and shouted. The resident blackbird, numerous starlings and blue tits have been almost as busy as me, flying around with straw and hair. The crows keep to their peaks and the great carnivorous seagulls to the rooftops where soon they'll be screaming and yelling all day long, when they're not dive bombing postmen and schoolkids. Yes, those are annual events and seem to mark the start of the silly season.

But spring's sense of promise is an odd one this year and I'm hard pressed to work out what kind of promise is on offer with this combination of snow, rain, cold sunshine and the odd balmy hint of summer. Just looking at bikinis and summer dresses lined up in the shops makes me shiver and unleashes a profound sense of dread and doubt.

I'm on the verge of handing over some cash for a second hand caravan. Yesterday I had a tow bar fitted to my car. So I'm going to become one of those annoying people trundling down the A303 with a queue behind. The major challenge is going to be learning how to reverse it. I have some tuition lined up and am impatient now to get out there and use it. It feels like a dollshouse - everything in its place and secured, everything in miniature. But last summer's rain stopped me camping as much as I wanted. I just can't cram enough into my car with kids and clothes to make camping comfortable when there are stair rods of it. A caravan and tents is ideal - there'll be a retreat and I won't have to break my back bending over the camping gas for fry ups because the caravan has a hob.

I'm hoping I'll be able to give it an outing at least once this holiday before the school summer term starts in earnest, my son enters GCSE season and my quiet time between 8am and 4 pm is invaded.....for some odd reason the schools set the kids free before the exams start, for 'revision' time at home. I can't think of anything more ridiculous and unlikely. I was virtually chained to my desk the summer of O levels. All that remains in my memory is lists of dates, ink stained hands and pages of geography that got me nowhere.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Research is an addiction. A relatively harmless one, unless you literally can't tear yourself away from the screen.

But all the dead ends, spoofs, pompous middle aged American men who set themselves up as chairmen of a one man band, who give themselves ridiculous titles and pose in front of a 1960s desk and pot plant, with expensive teeth and over-groomed hair, all those grimly disappointing places are worth it when you find a good poem.

A few years ago I was poet in residence at Lever Brothers, that became Lever Faberge, that became Unilever. One of my tasks during a relatively long association with the company was to send a weekly poem to people - to provoke thought or entertain.

One week I decided to send a found poem. To me, a found poem is a moment of delight, recognition, surprise that exists in a headline, an idea, a few lines, an overheard conversation, graffiti, a snapshot, a view or something you encounter unexpectedly.

This particular found poem emerged from research I was doing at the time into water. I'd been led to it by an Adbusters magazine (September/October 2001) report on inventions by the Intermediate Technology Design Group. I encountered Adbusters when I used to write about retail and was so desperate to find an alternative to regurgitating press releases about warehouses and distribution networks. Retail is unremittingly bland, despite the desperately glamorous advertising. But that advertising is led by brands, whose spending is obscene.

Adbusters is still virtually a lone voice challenging this criminal waste of cash and squewing of values. Somehow, though, in among the hilarious spoofs, I found a reference to a project in Nepal. The project I REMEMBER finding was called the Dew Line and it was the name given to a water collecting scheme.

Yesterday I found it again. It's even better. It's name's even better, certainly in my mind a few notches up.... this is Fog Collecting. Thick fog in the mountains of Nepal is harvested as clean water, drips from mesh screens into tanks for villagers who have no other fresh water.

It's brilliant. For its concept, for its execution....everything about it. That's what I call new thinking. Oh, and another wonderful example is Helen Storey's disappearing dresses, which have led to an innovation which could really change the world. Both websites are in my links.

There are a couple of other sites I've found too, that resonate steadily and both are collections - one the Rosetta project is a collection of languages and a campaign, too, to preserve what is disappearing as fast as Amazonian forest, the other a collection of traditional wisdom and knowledge mainly from India but with a worldwide remit, the Honey Bee project.

The Billboard liberationists remind me of a postcard of graffiti that I've had since I was a student. This is more than graffiti, this is seriously planned and project managed! Check out the link to Reverend Billy on their site. It all reminds me of those brilliant French anarchists who were around in the sixties and seventies (strings of nostalgia here).