Death of a Salesman

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It seems strange that I should get so far into (and out of) a teaching career without having read this play.

To be fair, although I started off teaching A Level, a lot of what I have done since is the bread and butter stuff of secondary qualifications. The tall and the short of it was that I landed a role in a college of further education to teach A Level Literature. If had hadn’t been so worn down by recent events, I would have cheered. Life has had its way with me and turned the eternal optimist into a stoic.

To cap it all, the position was very last minute which meant that I had to either cut ties or burn bridges with the agencies of my enslavement. I chose to burn bridges.

I was taken with Willy Loman’s portrayal of the tragic hero; an ordinary man, with dreams that are too extraordinary, brought low by the weight of them.

I read about his downfall. I read about Miller’s thoughts on classical tragedy. I thought about my own role in this. More than that, I considered the fact that a tragic hero is one, regardless of status or rank, who has a dream and pursues it in spite of the impediments that stand in his way and unconcerned about the unsustainable nature of that dream.

The true tragic hero goes to his grave convinced of his right to have that dream.

I thought about me writing. I thought about my complete and utter disregard for authority (the type that  wishes to quell any thoughts of freedom). I thought about my career that had careered off course.

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And I was drawn to the possibility of some unseen hand writing my lines.   

 

Better Than Sex (Don’t Procrastinate).

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The little death is a translation from the French “la petite mort”, a popular reference for a sexual orgasm. The term has been broadly expanded to include specific instances of blacking out after orgasm and other supposed spiritual releases that come with orgasm.

Speculations to its origin include current connotations of the phrase, including:

* Greco-Roman belief that the oversecretion of bodily fluids would “dry out” one of the believed four humours, leading to death
*Islam’s reference to sleep
* Buddhist Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’s quote: “Life is nothing but a continuing dance of birth and death, a dance of change.” (Existence through many changes, “births and deaths”)

 

Before my father died, he asked me to buy him this book: 

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It’s about horse racing. My dad never knowingly rode a horse, perhaps he did in his dreams, but he never actually got astride one and let it canter down a field or furlong. The closest he ever came to this was when he would place a bet on others, professional jockeys, racing at the various meetings around the country.  Betting on horses was, for him, a release.

I have never been bitten by the betting bug. Okay, so I have but a few quid on a Grand National sweepstake but nothing else. My brother-in-law, who had lots of insider knowledge, once gave me the name of a ‘cert’ that had wonderfuly tempting odds and which would make me a fortune if I dared to back it. I didn’t and it lost.

My dad would occasionally win BIG. Nothing ridiculous, just a few hundred or maybe a thousand. He wasn’t ostentacious, never bragged, showed little emotion, and definitley wasn’t vainglorious, but he did win; he knew his stuff. If anybody were to be asked, however, who the big gambler in the family was, they would probably point to me.

I was the risk-taker, I gambled on life.

 

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Yup, you guessed it. That poor schmuck on the left is me.

Origin of schmuck

First recorded in 1890–95, schmuck is from the Yiddish word shmok (vulgar) literally, penis (of uncertain origin)
The Dice Man is seemingly an autobiography, narrated by a bored, clever New York psychiatrist, Luke Rhinehart. He is a nerd run mad. He decides that, in pursuit of ultimate freedom – or nihilism – he will make decisions using dice. He offers the dice options, and they choose for him. The dice tell him to rape his neighbour, but he fails because she wants him. The dice make him tell his patients what he thinks of them (my favourite dice decision).
Ultimately, the dice leads to downfall and death. But doesn’t everything?
I read this when I was in my late teens and it left an impression on me. I am only just coming to terms with the impact that my choice of reading had upon my embrionic id.
Anyway, the smart schmuck followed the dice. Some may argue that he only followed what his subconscience wished him to do. It was he, after all, who lay down the options for each of the dice numbers to follow. He devised the parameters of the game and he accepted the potential consequences.
After the novel’s publication there was a slow growth in its readership. Nevertheless, it is still in print today and has sold more than 2m copies.
Amongst those who have read it are Richard Branson (he of Virgin), who ‘diced’ as a way of breaking through a sort of capitalist conundrum. He did it for twenty-four hours because “it was too dangerous to carry on longer”. Others have used ‘dicing’ as a non-subjective, left-park way of acting. perhaps it liberates us from the fear of consequences because, if the dice rolls that way, we are certainly not to blame. It also adds a little zest to lives that may have become a little lacking in taste.

 

Schmuck is a Yiddish word for penis. Le petite mort is French for little death. Betting is claimed to be better than sex. the Greeks and Romans may have believed that too many orgasms dried you out. Whereas, Islam points to sleep.  Bhuddists take a more balanced view that tells us that in the great scheme of things (assuming there is a scheme), it doesn’t mean a thing. Life continues ragardless of what we do.

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George Cockcroft, the real Luke Rhinehart.

Dildos and Stockings To The Rescue!

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A ray of sunshine has fallen across our Saturday morning. Outside is dull and damp, but in doors there is a spot of hope.

Saturday morning started off as all Saturdays tend to do. Lucy, our cat, came gently meowing into our bedroom. The weather is grim out there, but that didn’t stop her from wanting, nay insisting, on going out. I crept out of bed, descended the stairs, opened the front door, and she was gone into the gloom. I went back to bed; it was five o’clock.

Later, we were awoken by the sound of our middle daughter moving around. We ignored this and feigned sleep. After about half an hour, my wife’s phone started to do the buzzing thing that has replaced the traditional ring. It could only be one person, our eldest daughter in France. I listened for a short time to the conversation and then went to make the mugs of tea that are so much a part of our awakenings.

Saturday mornings always follow their own traditions. Tea, talk, sample the news, and the porn; property-porn.

Property-porn has been part of our lives for over twenty years. In the early days it meant leafing through the Yorkshire Post property pages. Then it progressed to the internet where property porn is tailored for everyone’s predispositions and quirks. We originally went the French way as old houses and gardens were still the norm for most people’s tastes. After that, we went Spanish: new-builds, sea-views, and pools. Spanish properties are plentiful, although sometimes they tend to lack the aesthetic.

We can spend up to an hour luxuriating in this debauchery until the real world calls us back. The real world needs finances and I have managed to spend the main part of my life avoiding this hefty consideration. My pension-pot is puny as I thought that I would be a famous writer by now. I am not. And the wife is not overly impressed. Therefore the morning, that started off so well, the porn not the cat, started to slide downhill a little.

“Why can’t you write a bestseller?”

“I know. I wish I could.”

“But it would have to be something that people would want to read.”

“I know.”

It was still slipping downhill and towards a precipice when my wife suggested, sex.

“Sex sells.”

“Perhaps I could write some erotica?”

“I don’t really think it’s you.”

“Cheers.”

So, I am officially a sad old git who can’t get it up for a swift chase of chapters that would titivate the secretly saucy.

“Dildos and Stockings!”

The morning was starting to look up again.

“Why don’t I set up an internet shop and sell dildos and stockings? Buy a pair of stockings and get a dildo, of your choice, free.”

She had my attention.

” I think that you have something there.”

The idea had begun to harden in our minds.

Dildos and Stockings. It’s great name.It could just work.

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At last, things are looking up.

Property-porn, here we come.  

The Stand is an old friend.

I read it every five or six years. I go back to it in the same way one might go back to the place in which you grew up.

My affair with everything apocalyptical probably came from King; well some of it anyway. The landscape of my youth was clouded by the coming apocalypse. But it never came. There was the threat of nuclear war, Aids, over-population, and ISIS (so called), but it has never ended. Neither has my love of The Stand.

I picked up a copy of this book just before the weekend and started to read it once again. Some people never go back to books once they have read them. Some people never review a film once it has been watched. I do both. The mind-readers out there will tell you that it will be connected with my psychological hoarding, a need to never let go of the past. I believe this to be true, as this book testifies. For somebody who can launch into new experiences, whilst leaving behind old ones, I am a strange contradiction.  But there are artefacts that I treasure; books, books, books.

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The latest edition of The Stand has new chapters and some new characters. All of these are peripheral to the main events yet they work in a way to freshen up the novel for a new audience. Where King falls down a little is where there are obvious anachronisms that have been born out of temporal revision.

My favourite character, Larry Underwood, a musician about to make it big before Captain Trips seizes his stage. At that time Larry was mixing his tracks with Neil Diamond. Now, I am not one to put Neil Diamond down, but a new audience wouldn’t really know him. If they had heard of him, it would be in the same way that would have heard of somebody once called Noah. I have a student who goes by that name, but he hasn’t got an arc or a zoo. That to one side, the book gripped me once again and I spent huge swathes of the weekend lost in its many pages.

Once again, I was back to the time when I was eighteen, still wet behind the ears, hoping beyond reasonable hope that I would amount to something in life.  I was afflicted with that good old Jesus-Syndrome. Reading, The Stand is like reading me and about all that has happened during the time that I became what I am today.

 

My favourite characters in the book are Larry Underwood and Nick Andros. The latter is a youngish man who can’t speak nor hear. He is very special in the grand scheme of things. Larry, because he is a tragic figure who is haunted by his own doubtful character. He wants to be good but often does bad things. “You ain’t no good guy!” He hears from women, who would have been complete strangers if he hadn’t have slept with them. I like Larry because he is a little bit like I was when I was young, self-centred, hedonistic, and a dreamer. He wanted  to do the right thing in a world which was not right so, he just went along with it and carved out his own little stretch of land where he could hide from his troubles and the eyes of his critics.

 

Larry is an artist who has struggled to be heard properly. He hasn’t had the breaks and when one sashays his way it is blown away by a combination of genetic engineering and the end of days conducted by Randall Flag. Old Randy is the Devil in-definite-carnate. And poor old Larry, and the rest of the world, are swept away by this janitor from Hell. Larry is a guy who has always been good, at heart, but indifferent in actions. The last stand of good against evil is one in which he will play a major role, surprising himself and others with his bravery and selflessness. At the end of it all, Larry is a “good guy” but dies in the process. So, is this Jesus thing in my DNA or has it been placed there by the writers I worship?

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If I was a lawyer, I would possibly say that this particular case ought to go to litigation. Through their poetry and prose, these writers have led me all the way along a narrative that quite possibly would not have been written in the same the way that it has turned out. Or is it that I was always predisposed to this type of existence, and that I chose the literature that best reflected me?

 

Thanks goodness that I never liked Jane Austin – although with zombies it is a lovely treat.

 

King On God

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In the words of Stephen King:

“I’ve always believed in God. I also think that’s the sort of thing that either comes as part of the equipment, the capacity to believe, or at some point in your life, when you’re in a position where you actually need help from a power greater than yourself, you simply make an agreement. ‘I will believe in God because it will make my life easier and richer to believe than not to believe.’ So I choose to believe. … I can also say, ‘God, why did this have to happen to me when if I get another step back, you know, the guy misses me entirely?’ Then God says to me, in the voice that I hear in my head … basically tells me to ‘Get lost, I’m polishing my bowling trophies.’ ”

 

The Summer Of 76…

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FOR ENGLAND AND MY MEMORIES, THAT WAS THE HOTTEST SUMMER THAT I CAN REMEMBER. IT REMAINS TALL AS STANDPIPES GUSHING FOUNTAINS OF MEMORIES INTO BUCKETS AND BOWLS.

The whole of the street would meet every morning and evening to quench their needs. The clear stuff was rationed to an hour during each of these times, but the queue chatted as if there was nothing odd about their gathering. They were collecting aqua vitae while the time ticked by.

That summer gave us the last blaze of our younger youth. My mates and I had reached the giddy heights of fourteen-years old. We were hungry for the attentions of the opposite sex, but the opposite sex was aware of this and stayed well away. As the eternal sunshine had driven off all but he continual swarms of ladybirds (rumour had it that they had become carnivores and were attacking humans rather than plants), we took to cycling.

Eddy Merckx was the then all-conquering cyclist from Belgium and he was threatening to win the Tour de France to add to his five previous titles. Eddy, like us, suffered from getting too sore in the saddle, so he pulled out of the race that year. We were at the age when heroes were to be followed and we all became Merckx disciples. Our day-long rides would always end with a bunch-sprint of sorts and each of us would run the commentary of,

“And Merckx, the unbeatable Belgium, takes the lead. The French are not happy (appy), but there he goes…”

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Sometimes there would be a touch of wheels, a scream of metal, and the inevitable grunts of despair as bikes would collide and riders would be off-loaded. Tarmac rash was common for us, but in 1976 the heat had worked itself upon the roads and had delivered melted and more forgiving surfaces for us to scrape across. Blood came freely yet it was blood that was the mark of sportsmen (boys) and that was a badge worth wearing.

As the summer wore on and our encounters with females became at thing of ancient-myth, our rides started to take on a more serious aspect. We cycled further, climbed bigger hills, raced faster. There was a hierarchy emerging and as the weeks went by a few of our group began to fall off the pace whilst finding other distractions to relieve their interests. Family holidays were kicking in for a number of my friends and I secretly envied them for the luxury of being able to go to places that were so very different from our homes. One of our number went to France, another to Mallorca, and another to Cornwall. My family didn’t take holidays so I leant my time to the task of turning myself into a future Tour winner.

In the other world, Bjorn Borg won the Wimbledon Men’s for the first time whilst Chris Evert won the Women’s. I immediately took up the two-handed style that Borg had used so effectively and started to grow my hair a little. We all, to a man and boy, fancied Chris Evert which had a negative affect upon our rapidly declining self-esteem. Never, ever would Chris Evert fancy us, so we kept on cycling (those that were not on holiday).

My friendship group was a rather wondrous collection of almost-fits. We were what would have been Grammar-school boys if Grammars had not been phased out. Instead, we all attended the local comprehensive and managed to muddle our way through without serious consequences to our lives or our learning. Being bright boys, we thought that that was enough. O Levels would later remind us of the need to work hard at our studies, but that was still in the future.

The gang was:

Col: excellent sportsman and girl-magnate and marksman;

Spec: excellent mate and one that only wore spectacles for about three months when he was 6;

Haguey: an excellent teller of all-tales and developer of odd songs (chew a catty-chew, yeh);

Danny: an excellent bow-in who joined our band even though he went to a Catholic school;

Biggy: an excellent tall kid who had a dry comedian’s delivery;

Woody: an excellent sportsman and holder of an excellent head of ginger hair;

Picky: an excellent eccentric whose intelligence could not be ignored whilst some of his odd behaviour had to be;

Evansy: a younger me.

If Stephen King had known us back then, he would have modelled his various Losers’ Gangs on us. We were nice kids who were neither bullies nor victims, scruffs nor toffs, cool nor uncool. As such, we were material for the dark master to build his stories upon. Amongst the things that we didn’t do that summer was to find a body in the woods, but our treks into the countryside were of the same epic quality as one of those adventures.

I remember one particular incident with a dog in the nearby countryside when Danny, Haguey and Picky were on the ride. I was past the driveway of an isolated house first. I had descended at speed and was then on the upward run of the dip. From out of the pages of a horror tale came this vicious, snarling mutt whose intention was to chase, bite, an impede any passing cyclists. At that moment, I was Merckx leading the pack and I was unaware of the incident behind until I stopped at the sound of crashing bikes.

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Bikes were heavier in those days which helped them to hurt more when you fell off them and they fell onto and into you. Collisions were more serious as nobody wore helmets. It would seem that most young people’s heads were already thick enough to absorb any impact. On the subject of bikes, people mainly rode Raleighs with the posher ones riding Carltons. I had a Raleigh Nimrod, Danny had a BSA (short for Birmingham Small Arms- gun metal), Picky had a Dawes (I think) and Rob had a Carlton as his dad was a Town and Country Planner and his mum was our History teacher. So, when I heard this sudden volley of barking, snapshot swearing, and then metal on metal, skin on road, more snapshot swearing, I realised that something was not right.

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THE DOG CONTINUED TO BARK, EVEN AFTER SOME STRAIGHTFORWARD INSTRUCTIONS TO GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY, BUT THE REST OF THE WORLD WAS SILENT APART FROM THE RATHER CALMING SOUND OF FREELY-SPINNING WHEELS THAT WERE NOW NOT IN CONTACT WITH THE EARTH… 

 

Stephen King On Writing

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If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

When I was in the eighth grade, I happened upon a paperback novel by Murray Leinster, a science fiction pulp writer who did most of his work during the forties and fifties, when magazines like Amazing Stories paid a penny a word. I had read other books by Mr. Leinster, enough to know that the quality of his writing was uneven. This particular tale, which was about mining in the asteroid belt, was one of his less successful efforts. Only that’s too kind. It was terrible, actually, a story populated by paper-thin characters and driven by outlandish plot developments. Worst of all (or so it seemed to me at the time), Leinster had fallen in love with the word zestful.

Characters watched the approach of ore-bearing asteroids with zestful smiles.Characters sat down to supper aboard their mining ship with zestful anticipation.Near the end of the book, the hero swept the large-breasted, blonde heroine into a zestful embrace. For me, it was the literary equivalent of a smallpox vaccination: I have never, so far as I know, used the word zestful in a novel or a story. God willing, I never will.

Asteroid Miners (which wasn’t the title, but that’s close enough) was an important book in my life as a reader. Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this!

What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff? One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose — one novel like Asteroid Miners (or Valley of the Dolls, Flowers in the Attic, and The Bridges of Madison County, to name just a few) is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.

Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling. A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy — “I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand” — but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher. Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing — of being flattened, in fact — is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.