Friday, 31 May 2013

Drooling Facebook Idiocy

It's always been a great little community here in Lighter Piddle, folks helping each other out, aunts playfully squeezing the cheeks of well-meaning ruffians and so on, although of course no-one has forgotten that Dennis Johnson of Plover Close almost certainly saw a Sikh gentleman buying a packet of Toffos at the all-night garage on the Kimpton Road last June, although admittedly it was dark and the motorist in question may simply have been wearing a red hat rather than a turban, but then there are no racists here let me assure you and we don't let such petty matters trouble us, as I myself was saying to Peter Mayhew up at the Manor only the other day as we enjoyed his Bob Marley album.

Of course, it's all a very different oven of gefilte fish over in Higher Piddle where things have gone somewhat to pot of late. A close friend of mine knows a person who met someone who described what I can only call an incident which occurred in the Spar supermarket on the high street. The person who met the acquaintance of my close friend was politely and humbly stood in line with a bag of carrots which she had intended to purchase in order to feed some orphans and homeless kittens, when a Muslim woman dressed in three full length burkhas with only a snorkel protruding from the top rudely pushed in with her basket full of British sausages which she had planned to take home and disrespectfully sacrifice to Yahweh as a blatant insult to pork-loving Brits everywhere, even those living harmlessly and respectfully on the Costa del Crime in France.

'Infidel dog,' the lady foreigner exclaimed to the startled cashier who was just innocently minding her respectful English business, 'I demand also a disposable lighter with which I will set fire to that worthless Union Flag you love so dear, those infidel stripes that so closely resemble the Y-fronts of the devil George Bush.'

'That will be fifty pence,' said the cashier respectfully and democratically, because she loved free speech and knew there was no shame in being proud of your country because it's definitely not racist or anything.

'Under glorious Sharia Law which the most excellent and revered George Galloway and his fellow conspirators will soon be introducing to this island that is shaped like a toilet and which is filled with similar contents, I would not have to pay such a price for this inferior British lighter. But luckily a payment of fifty million pounds has just come through following my application for status as an illegal asylum seeker, and so I will grudgingly stump up your required fifty pence.'

At that point the person who met an acquaintance of my close friend couldn't help but notice that the impolite alien woman had dropped a bit of paper. Being English, before she even knew what she was doing she had politely picked up the piece of paper so as to return it to this person against whom she bore no resentment whatsoever, despite the influx of her kind stealing British jobs and the English Isles now comprising a population of 98% illegal immigrants and a mere 3% of honest and respectful white people, and she noticed that it was a picture of Del Boy and Robbie Williams from The 1977 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special beneath which were scribbled in blood red ink the words all infidel Eengleesh peegs must die, and the words English and pigs were actually spelled that way as though spoken by a foreigner.

At that point an elderly gentleman standing in the queue stepped forward and interrupted with a calm, respectful voice like that man on the Werther's Originals advert, saying unto the Muslim woman, 'excuse me, but millions of noble and respectful British Tommies, just like the young man this lady would have been had she undergone gender reassignment, have fought and sacrificed their lives so that people just like you can stand here on Britain, the land which gave the world Bob Marley and Cat Stevens so it isn't racist, and blatantly accuse an innocent fifty pence piece of sickening paedophilia when the very same Queen for whom I voted served respectfully in three world wars just so we may all enjoy and share the freedom to dress our fingers as innocently sexy youngsters, and yet you see fit to come in here with your vile accusations. It is my belief that if you were allowed to be so outspoken in France or wherever the hell it is you people come from, then our brave boys wouldn't be fighting there today. Gutless moral cowardice, I call it.'

My close friend was told by her acquaintance that the person she had met told her that the queue then cheered and respectfully applauded, which wasn't racist because Mrs. Baxter who was stood at the very back waiting to pay for a packet of custard creams once sat next to one in a doctor's waiting room, and anyway there's my own very close personal friend, Mr. Patel whom I met that one time when I went to that London. I recall asking him how much the fare would cost for Piccadilly Circus as though it were yesterday.

'One pound twenty,' he quipped without looking at me before dinging the bell thing and making the bus go, and anyway it's not even about race, it's about culture. Some of them just don't want to watch Strictly Come Dancing.

So anyway, this definitely really happened and any resemblance to a four year old boy telling you he's just seen a dinosaur or the sort of tripe spouted by imbeciles in the belief that a transparently fictitious account of an ethnic minoritarian getting up to the sort of dastardly moustache-twirling evil which readers of the usual newspapers genuinely seem to believe constitutes the national character of anyone with a bit of a tan, is purely coincidental.

Like if you agree.

Or just respond with here here or something.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Painting the Gods of Mexico

Artistically speaking, I've always been drawn to work which defines and is in turn described by its own unique semiotic language, art which seems to inhabit its own distinct interpretation of the universe running parallel to that occupied by the rest of us; paintings and images which in declaring a divergent view of consensus reality may sometimes appear quite extreme. Here I refer to a philosophical process which leads one to an alternate view of the world as much as to the associated imagery, regardless of whether the philosophy in question is compatible with one's own beliefs, because it's always good to step back and take a look from a different angle.

This is initially what drew me to the Italian Futurist painters, and particularly to Fortunato Depero - one of the lesser-known second wave members of an expanding group whose reputation - despite a recent resurgence of interest and reevaluation - remains somewhat tarnished through varying degrees of association with Italian fascism of the 1920s and 1930s. Depero, for what it may be worth, was at least not a fascist by our contemporary understanding of the term, and certainly not enough for such unfortunate brainfartery to taint his art or diminish its power:

Fortunato Depero - Il ciclista attraversa la città (1945)

I discovered the work of Depero in the early 1980s when my mother would take me to Warwick University - at which she was then a student - leaving me to wander around its library in search of obscure books by William Burroughs or pertaining to my developing interest in painting. The library had a copy of the notorious Depero Futurista, a facsimile of the 1927 edition bound with two huge metal bolts in the spine, which obviously proved irresistible; and the art of Depero came as a revelation to me - bright, funny, childish, brash, excitable, and yet somehow uncompromising. For whatever reason, I felt I had an immediate and intuitive understanding of what the artist - and in this instance quite an unconventional artist - had been trying to do, and this was what inspired me to take up painting in earnest, at least beyond the level of the customary pictures of skulls and space rockets I'd churned out at school. Happily I discovered that the skill of a Velasquez or a Titian were not essential for the production of my own Depero inspired efforts, and so I managed to scrape my way through art college without developing any conventional representational drawing ability, or skill as it is sometimes termed by fussy traditionalists.

Semi-Sex Act (1985)

Having always felt somewhat rootless in certain respects, as though I never really belonged to any one place, I believe that many of my artistic endeavours have represented attempts to define a personal psychological territory, to build myself a private universe or at least a set of references amounting to the same. Quite aside from anything else, this possibly relates to why I've moved around so much during the last thirty or so years, up and down the length of the British Isles before ending up here in Texas, somewhat like Alan Moore's Halo Jones pacing the galaxy, trying to get out I told myself during my more
pompous moments of introspection.

Event One (1986)

the 1980s drew to an end, my pseudo-Futurist style began to expand and evolve - at least within the limits of my admittedly narrow ability - incorporating aspects of Surrealism, Dada collage, and the iconography of ancient Egypt. I'd spent a few months reading up on the ancient Gods and Goddesses and found the mythology fascinating, it having been very much its own distinct version of the universe running parallel to that occupied by the rest of us, as I saw it. I had a vague notion of these symbols and hieroglyphs rendered as part of a living system, as opposed to mere copies of something that had died thousands of years before - an idea of the symbols as having some inherent quality beyond the subjective understanding of a viewer. Immersing myself in this work, I felt I was conducting something akin to a thought experiment, although I probably wouldn't have been able to express it as such at the time. In hope of articulating something that lacked coherent intellectual content, I was trying to understand a theological environment from the inside, roughly speaking, to see if this was possible without pulling the wool over my own eyes through effrontery to either common sense or the laws of physics. Having said that, I'm not sure why I was quite so picky considering all the other crap I used to fall for hook, line and sinker. But as the next decade rolled in and I slipped sideways into cartooning, my urge to paint burned itself out. All those mythologies mashed together had made for interesting pictures, but it hadn't really gone anywhere.

Some time in 1994,
intrigued by a title which sounded to me like that of an unreleased Nurse With Wound album, I picked up a book by Kate Orman called The Left-Handed Hummingbird. It was science-fiction, A Doctor Who novel set in pre-Hispanic Mexico which instilled in me an emergent fascination with Aztec culture. Within the week I had raided the local library in search of further material. It was the first time since the Futurists that something had taken such a profound hold on my imagination. It seemed like a lot of loose strands had all converged at once, and I had found something which at least resembled a sense of purpose - that for which I had apparently been searching without even realising it. I was no longer pacing the galaxy, trying to get out. My interest in ancient Egyptian lore had turned out to be only another passing indulgence, but - regardless of how much of a berk I will seem in making such an admission - Mesoamerica made perfect intuitive sense, and on some level it spoke to me. It was a language I could appreciate as language, even if the precise meanings were not always immediately clear, and it seemed by some definition alive.

I threw myself into reading up on the subject, for the first time in my life really getting into the details of a subject; and the more I read, the more my fascination grew, until I'd reached the point at which I was beginning to notice contradictions, and even to consider that I in my arrogance might have better interpretations for certain aspects of the mythology. I began to take notes, to set down thoughts and observations, encouraged when my own independently deduced interpretations of certain aspects of the mythology were borne out by further reading with surprising frequency. 

Ultimately of course I realised that there is only so much to be learned from the material available in your regular bookshop, particularly when you've either bought everything you can find and borrowed the rest from the local library. So, coming at the subject from a slightly different angle, I took up painting once more. I'd built up a goodly head of obsessive steam and needed to get it out. With hindsight I would consider this as being something along the lines of intuitive research, an effort to think in Mesoamerican terms and which you could probably justifiably call ritual if you felt so inclined.

Having failed to reincarnate as Fortunato Depero five or six years earlier, I'd tried and failed to make a living as an underground cartoonist in the vein of Robert Crumb or Bill Griffiths, which had at least taught me how much I had yet to learn about representational art. My figures were terrible, which probably wasn't too surprising as I'd steered clear of life drawing classes at art college, unable to imagine myself in the same room as a naked person without exploding with embarrassment. Nevertheless, I began to labour away at a few of these new Mesoamerican themed paintings depicting individual Gods and mythological figures, but soon realised I had fallen into the old trap of running before I could walk, aiming no higher than something which just looked kind of cool but lacked substance, and I had limited myself through avoiding the depiction of any visual element which might betray my obvious lack of skill; so aside from anything else, I also had to learn to actually paint.

I started again, stepping up the reading and writing to an exhaustive level, setting down page upon page of notes and observations before approaching my canvas. Through this process it became apparent that in order to remain true to the subject I would need to attempt to paint at least partially in the language of that subject - a perspective from the inside looking out rather than yet another predictable Western take on feathered Gods as either demons of pulp horror or new-age gurus. Not having been born in fifteenth century Tenochtitlan, I realised it might seem dishonest to pretend that I had, or that perspective was somehow beneath me; and with an aesthetic grounded in Futurism and cartoon strips it seemed I might be best to start off from what I knew whilst striving to elevate my art beyond these origins, to raise it towards something approaching the religious paintings of previous centuries. It seemed unlikely that I would ever rival the work of Delacroix, I told myself, but it didn't seem like there was any harm in trying; and aspiring towards the art of subject rather than the knowing postmodern object, it at least felt good to distance myself from any present day obsession with contemporaneity.

Ultimately, I began to conceive each piece as though it were a map, with each part of the painting carrying a specific potential according to the symbolic import of each of the five cardinal points of the Nahua universe - thus East (at the foot of the image) tends to refer to origination; North (the right) to death, cold, and inertia; West (the top) to fertility; and South (left) to penitence and sacrifice, with subtle variations upon these themes as the subject demands. The great majority of my Mexican paintings therefore adhere to an aesthetic built upon a roughly consistent framework of symbols and pictograms running through most of the various series, even if it is not always directly expressed. The entire Nahua-Mexica mythology is founded upon the metaphysics of balance and symmetry, and so I have striven to use this as a foundation upon which to build these images. I like images which oblige the viewer to work towards an understanding, paintings which reward those who make the effort to figure them out.

The Left-Handed Hummingbird (1997)

Accordant with this emphasis on symmetry, my first cycle of work comprised 104 paintings in total - 52 male Deities and 52 female Deities, both 52 and 104 being multiples of 13 and thus ritually significant in Nahua lore. This cycle was ostensibly produced for a mammoth volume of text comprising both paintings and pages of my notes turned into essays with most of the bum jokes taken out. At the time of writing, I'm still not too sure about how this will develop or whether I will ever complete the undertaking. A great number of newer versions of individual paintings were produced after I'd finishing the initial cycle, due to my realising that some of the earlier efforts looked shite or were otherwise rendered symbolically redundant by my improving artistic ability and increased understanding of the subject. So I have a feeling this may ultimately be one of those hopefully great works which, like the painting of the Forth Bridge, will never achieve completion, but I guess we'll see.

The process of producing these paintings has felt very much like a prolonged act of defining something, of calling something into existence, bringing it back to the world; and yes, I am aware of how that sounds. Nevertheless, I prefer science and physics to a world of wood goblins and spirit guides, but for reasons to which I will return I find little in Mesoamerican culture to contradict the empirically established foundations of our universe. Irrespective of whether or not I am depicting - or even calling back - something that is real, the ideas themselves are real and that for me is the crucial detail. Additionally, the process of painting was in itself at least as important as the result, simply as a point of focus. When working on a specific image for nine or ten hours, particularly one laden with symbols, you tend to get a lot of thinking done, and so each piece might even be deemed the result of a prolonged meditation - if you'll pardon the associations.

I will conclude by attempting to illustrate some of this cognitive process with a brief discussion incorporating some of the ideas developed during the course of painting, with specific reference to the Gods Xipe Totec and Itztapal Totec.

To clarify just who I'm talking about here, the term Aztec is obviously the most widely understood, and is thus generally used in discussion of a wide range of peoples encompassing the Mexica, Acolhua, Tecpanecs, Culhua and many others, all speaking variants of Nahuatl and sharing numerous cultural traits and beliefs; although it is also perhaps a little misleading. The Aztecs were the ancestral tribe who mythically left their island home somewhere in the north of Mexico some two hundred years prior to the founding of the city of Tenochtitlan. Shortly after embarking upon this great migration - delineated in Codex Boturini amongst other sources - the group adopted the name Mexica, reputedly after Mexi Chalchiuhtlatonac, a tribal leader - although other accounts give a different origin to the name. After many years of nomadic life, high spirited battles and generally enthusiastic acts of good natured violence, the Mexica settled in the Valley of Mexico and forged dynastic ties with the Culhua of Culhuacan on the western shore of the great lake, shortly afterwards founding Tenochtitlan upon the largest island of the lake. Therefore from at least 1325 onwards they would have referred to themselves either as the Tenochca after their city, Mexica, or Culhua-Mexica.

By 1325 the term Aztec was only used in an historical context, and in an historical context exclusive to the Mexica. A Tecpanec or an Acolhua person would therefore be no more an Aztec than I myself am Celtic. Aztec as a generic reference was first popularised in W.H. Prescott's mammoth two volume The Conquest of Mexico published in 1843. Prescott's book wasn't the first narrative end-to-end account of the conquest, although it was possibly the first to be read by a wide audience, and it employed the term Aztec in order to avoid the confusion of Mexica with Mexicans in the wider post-Conquest sense of nationality. As a general term, I prefer Nahua which at least refers to the language spoken by all of those concerned.

The Nahua held to a belief in matter as having inherent qualities which could be discerned in its behaviour and properties, qualities such as strength, weakness, warmth, cold, even a tendency to stick to other objects. In illustration of this last example, one passage of the
Codex Florentino records how the Nahua considered it unwise to eat a tortilla which had stuck to the hot stone during cooking for the reason that one might become infected by this sticky quality, and hence find oneself similarly stuck in some sense. A better known example might be the period of five Nemontemi days occurring at the end of the solar year. These five days fell outside of the regular festival calendar (12th through 16th March Julian time) and were distinguished by the suspension of activities for the duration. Each person strove to do as little as possible for fear of any activity which might allow for the occurrence of any mishap or accident. If one stumbled and fell during Nemontemi, it was believed that one had been infected with the character of the accident quality and would thus continue to stumble and fall throughout the coming year.

So keeping in mind that we have inherent forces, abstractions which influence the interaction of base substance, and as such seem reminiscent of certain ideas surrounding Plato's ideal forms - perfect spiritual templates which prescribe the form and properties of physical matter - for which I coined the term ixihtec in my novel Against Nature - let's move on.

Having studied the broader subject of Nahua-Mexica culture until it's coming out of my ears, it has struck me as likely that what we mean by God, and what the Nahua-Mexica meant by God may be two entirely different concepts. From a western perspective, the image of spear chucking types jumping up and down in front of an idol that would have made Picasso wince presents the lazy assumption of belief in something real by the same terms as belief in the reality of the chair on which I am presently sat, some strange superbeing perched upon a cloud with a frown and one ear cocked towards the prayers of the devoted. Whilst this assumption might not necessarily be untrue of every single individual living in a pre-technological society, the Mesoamerican example appears to contain numerous Deities who can be more properly compared to the inherent forces described above, inherent forces which have been historically described in anthropomorphic terms simply because this was the language by which such ideas were discussed rather than any literal statement of substance.

Nahua supernaturals tend to be portrayed as discreet self-contained individuals only depending upon the context of the account. Quetzalcoatl, for example, is a human ruler of the city of Tollan in one tale, although at the close of that particular legend he ascends into the heavens as Tlahuixcalpantecuhtli the God of the Morning Star. In another tale, the same Tlahuixcalpantecuhtli is pierced with arrows fired from the sun which effect his transformation into Itzlacoliuhqui, the Frost God. At this point of the theological arc we find something very curious, for in turn Itzlacoliuhqui is elsewhere identified as an aspect of Tezcatlipoca - the Fate God and thematic opposite of Quetzalcoatl - a transformation analogous to that of Christ into his own infernal counterpart. Surviving codices are similarly rife with Deities presented as having characteristics which more commonly identify other, often quite different supernatural figures, even to the extent of changes in gender. It therefore seems possible that in the instances described, Nahua Deities are used for the purpose of illustration, different concepts juxtaposed in order to forge some third meaning lacking in the individual components. Their fluidity is pronounced, sometimes with little to distinguish related Deities from one another, sometimes with different aspects of the same Deity each having qualities that seem incompatible with the other; none of which does much for the idea of this pantheon as a group of superbeings neatly lined up on a cloud like an archaic version of the Justice League of America.

The Flayed God (1996)

Xipe Totec (Our Lord, The Flayed One) presents a particularly vivid illustration of this conception of Gods as ideas personified as Deities. Xipe Totec is a maize God, one of a group comprising the Centeotl cluster, and as such he personifies the ripening corn just as others represent said corn at earlier stages of development. During the yearly Tlacaxipehualiztli festival, Xipe Totec's devotees would be sewn into the flayed skins of their sacrificial victims and go begging for alms. They would remain encased head to ankle within these grisly hides for twenty days - forty by some accounts - by which time the skins would have rotted away or else fallen apart through wear and tear, thus revealing the living and presumably somewhat aromatic person inside. This is in essence a symbolic re-enactment of the corn husk drying out and coming away to reveal the ripe cob within. Taking the allegory a stage further, it may also be viewed as a fairly explicit illustration of the cyclical nature of life and death, or even - if you'll pardon my flippancy - no pain, no gain.

The function of Xipe Totec therefore seems to be the summation of this idea, or perhaps it might be more accurate to suggest that Xipe Totec is the idea; and once we have the idea, do we really need to argue the reality of a disembodied supernatural intelligence working behind the scenes, or might that not be missing the entire point? One is not required to believe in ghosts in order to understand that Xipe Totec is real in so much as the idea of Xipe Totec - as a bundle of concepts regarding the cycle of life and death - is real. So if this assertion is valid, a God in Nahua-Mexica terms might just as well be viewed as an inherent force written large, even a law of the universe in terms of human experience.

A lesser known member of the pantheon is Itztapal Totec (Our Lord, The Stone Slab), generally regarded as an aspect of Xipe Totec, although arguably with enough distinct qualities to distinguish him as having at least a degree of autonomy. Xipe Totec, when mentioned in those short-on-detail Big Bird's Book of Mythology affairs usually gets one sentence amounting to Fertility God of Ripened Corn and patron Deity of Metallurgists. Given what I've written about Xipe, the metallurgy aspect may appear somewhat arbitrary as it initially did to me when I first came to consider this figure, and so I will attempt to elaborate.

Xipe Totec was alternately known as Yopi, and as such was honoured at dedicated temple in the main square of Tenochtitlan, the Yopico temple - meaning Place of Yopi - which was famously used as a repository for the captive idols of foreign Deities, in other words those of conquered peoples. The element of foreign Deities may be significant here for Xipe Totec himself appears to be an imported form of an earlier God of western Mexico, a Deity of the Tlappanecs whom the Mexica regarded as nomadic savages with little in the way of culture. Further to this, and returning to the subject of metallurgy, Tenochtitlan was a great importer of goods from neighbouring tribes and city-states, not only tools and precious objects, but also Gods, various crafts, and those who practiced them. Tenochtitlan itself was not renowned for its own metallurgical practice and seemed to prefer to bring in specialists from amongst its neighbours. There was, for example, a Mixtec ghetto in Tenochtitlan where migrants from coastal Oaxaca forged many of the more spectacular gold objects with which Hernán Cortés later supplemented his income. The Mixtecs innovated or were at least famed for the lost wax method of casting which produced small and beautifully intricate objects of the kind that would eventually help make Erich von Däniken rich. Other metalworking techniques found in the Mexica capitol bear comparison to those of western Mexico, beyond even the Tlappanec territories.

So we have an imported corn God and imported metalworking practices, both originated from the same general direction. There would seem to be an association there at least in terms of geography, but perhaps we can take this a stage further.

Our Lord, The Stone Slab (2001)

The name Itztapal Totec translates as Our Lord, the Stone Slab. Which stone slab, you might quite rightly ask. Given the the God's patronage of metalwork and the fact of not absolutely every aspect of Mesoamerican symbolism being about human sacrifice, I'm ruling out the stone slab as sacrificial altar for the sake of argument and looking to the stone upon which one might beat metal - copper or gold thinned to workable sheets, such as those from which much surviving Mesoamerican jewellery is formed.

At this point it seems relevant to return to the theme of inherent qualities of matter as dictated by incorporeal forces or essences, for the two Totecs may be viewed as essentially the same idea expressed in different media. Xipe embodies the corn husk, the template which is stripped away to reveals its
perfectly formed fruit. Itztapal Totec may therefore represent the husk analogue in the metallurgical counterpart, itself a similarly generative process and the culmination of work upon a substance likewise born from the soil.

So there, for what it may be worth, are some associative observations regarding two particular Deities who might initially seem to have little in common, and whose relationship had struck me as a bit of a non-sequitur prior to my focusing upon the issue during the research and execution of the painting. Furthermore, there are another hundred or so Deities to whom I have given similar consideration by similar means, and several fat binders full of the accompanying notes. It is my intention that one day I will have all of this work assembled in a more coherent form, but for the time being I am content to have gone through the process, and to have learned that the process turned out to be of significance at least as great as that of the destination.

This essay constitutes an extensive revision of material previously posted on the Ishtar's Gate message board back in February 2009.

Friday, 17 May 2013

My Angry Bird

'You were perfectly happy sitting on that wall,' Marian informed me, showcasing one of her stranger psychological quirks, namely the belief that reality would bend to her will if she insisted hard enough. She used to do the same thing in response to my general grousing about work at Royal Mail. I would return home after an eight hour day of carrying back-breakingly heavy weights in the pouring rain and grumble that I hated my job with what I felt was some justification.

'No,' Marian would inform me testily, 'you love your job.'

Her logic was that I loved my job because were it otherwise I would have packed it in to seek alternative employment, perhaps as a guru or working the line at a homeopathy plant. I'm still not sure if she genuinely believed that the world would change to accommodate her will if she just mantra-ed really, really hard, whether she was O'Brien in Orwell's 1984 showing four fingers whilst challenging me to deny the count of five, or whether she was simply a dangerous moron.

We were on holiday in the small coastal town of Looe in Cornwall. Marian had slipped into the local branch of Boots the chemist whilst I patiently loitered outside, sat upon a drystone wall for what ended up being forty minutes. It wasn't that she was waiting for a prescription to be filled or engaging some unfortunate member of staff in an argument, and it wasn't even a particularly capacious branch of Boots, but nevertheless she managed to spend forty minutes in the shop. I had gone in to find her after the first quarter of an hour but she had made it clear that she was not going to be pressured or rushed. At last emerging, she smiled a sardonic smile, seemingly daring me to offer comment. Marian's understanding of selfish behaviour pivoted upon the identification of those involved rather than any act in which any of their number may have been engaged. If she had for some reason broken into your house and laid a fresh bowel movement on your living room carpet, protestations would be battered down with terse rhetorical questions like oh, so I'm not allowed to break into your home and shit on the rug - is that how it works now? Whatever the situation, with Marian involved there would always be two sides to the story, the side of Marian, and the side of those being selfish and unreasonable; and so, knowing that whatever I said would be wrong, I said nothing, but even silence was no defence.

'And your problem is?'

Understanding that I had already lost, I sighed and explained that I hadn't enjoyed sitting on a wall outside Boots in Looe for forty minutes, and it would have been nice to have had some indication of how long she expected to be so that I might have at least taken a stroll down to the beach or something.

'How on Earth could I have known how long I was going to take?,' she asked, exasperated. 'I can't predict the future, Lawrence; and anyway, you were perfectly happy sitting on that wall.'

The logic of this defeated me, and I said no more.

We wandered down towards the harbour, watching seagulls, and pretending there was some purpose to our relationship; or at least I assume that's what Marian was doing. By that point I had begun to wonder what the remainder of 2008 held in store for me, and whether I could extricate myself from my girlfriend's regime and put as much distance between us as possible; but the problem was that I had foolishly moved into the spare room of her house six months before, optimistically hoping that the situation would improve, which it hadn't and I was now rapidly losing the will to live. I had got to the stage where the best I could do was to just get through each day as it came.

Deciding the morning could get no worse, I figured I may as well drop the bombshell, the thing I had been too scared to mention.

'I'm going to Coventry to stay with my mother at the weekend.'

She fell silent for a moment. I could see the storm cloud forming above her head like in a cartoon. 'And precisely when were you going to tell me this?'

'I've told you just now.' I found it peculiar that my hunch had been right. I had known this would make her furious without having any clear idea why. She was nothing if not consistent, like an old testament God with larger breasts.

'So you just spring this on me now whilst we're enjoying our holiday?'

'It's Wednesday, and I already told you I was probably going to visit my mother at the weekend.' I didn't bother to question the assertion that we had been enjoying our holiday, because I knew it would turn out that I'd enjoyed it at least as much as I'd enjoyed sitting on a wall outside a chemist for forty minutes.

'You said you were probably going to visit her. This is completely different, Lawrence!'

I gave no reply. There didn't seem to be much point. I had told her about the planned visit a week earlier, but apparently that had only been an informal notice and could therefore not be considered as official confirmation.

'So I'm not allowed to come with you?'

It seemed better to say nothing. Part of the reason I wanted to go and see my mother was that it was already difficult getting time off work without anything else, and I hadn't seen my mother in about a year, plus Marian had tagged along on my previous trip up to the Midlands and it hadn't gone well. I really needed to get away from her for just a few days.

My mother disliked Marian, although I'm not sure I was actually aware of this at the time. She later told me that her first sight of my girlfriend had been in the rear-view mirror of the car as she waited to collect us from Coventry railway station, and her loathing had been immediate and absolute based on that initial moment of horror. Unfortunately my mother's first impression turned out to be absolutely on the mark, cemented by complaints submitted concerning the sheets on the bed in my mother's spare room - clean and fresh yet somehow not up to Marian's exacting standards. My girlfriend expected, even as a guest in someone else's home, to be waited on because she was worth it.

They were both gardeners in a professional capacity to a greater or lesser degree, and I initially hoped this might provide some common ground, but Marian's attitude seemed typified when she asked my mother who she enlisted to perform manual tasks such as lifting up a heavy flower pot. Her concept of other people as pack animals was further emphasised when the three of us visited Stratford-upon-Avon for the day and Marian handed me the greetings cards she had purchased, explaining that they were heavy so I was to carry them. When we left, my mother took me aside and said, 'please don't bring her here ever again,' although I don't actually recall this, and found it amusing when later she reminded me of it. In recent times I have learned that none of my friends liked Marian, and it feels good to know that my measure of her personality during that final year had been on the money, give or take a few minor details.

Meanwhile, back in the holiday which I had just ruined, Marian appeared for a moment uncharacteristically vulnerable. 'Your mother doesn't like me, does she?'

At the time, I had somehow missed those small clues which would have either confirmed or denied this. Possibly I had blocked out any information I didn't want to hear, anything which might underscore the subconscious fear that I was in a relationship with Genghis Khan.

'I'm sure she does,' I said, somehow managing to believe it myself. 'I don't know what gives you that impression.'

We walked on in silence, heading inland along the side of the quay. After a moment I noticed I was alone. Marian had drawn to a halt a little way back and was now watching gulls in the water. This sudden unannounced cessation of forward motion was something she did often, and this time I decided to call her bluff. Instead of obediently going back or waiting, I carried on, enjoying the solitude, enjoying not having to account for every last thing.

I had arranged the holiday and called the bed & breakfast, because I always did; because just as soon as Marian made it clear that we were going to go away and have a good time even if it killed me, she would begin to wail about how she always had to do everything for herself and how just once it would be nice if I made some effort; and so I would end up having to do everything for fear of being judged as wanting, which I believe officially qualifies as Kafka-esque. I'd sat in silence for two hours as we came down to Cornwall on the train because Marian had refused to speak to me at some point for reasons I can no longer recall and may not even have understood at the time; and I think there on the quay was the point at which I stopped caring.

After ten minutes, she resumed mobility and we walked on, looking at lobster pots and boats - talking, but barely. I expect I apologised for thinking only of myself, for rushing her in Boots, for my continued efforts to ruin the holiday, for my informing her of my weekend plans with only three days official notification, for assassinating Martin Luther King, and for the terrible methods by which I had driven the white rhino to the verge of extinction. I expect I apologised because I always did, and it was the only language she really understood, and because I still had some hope of enjoying the rest of the holiday.

Five years later and at 5,000 glorious miles distance from Marian, I am able to look back and recall all that I genuinely enjoyed about that week in Cornwall - the cliffs and the sea, the sheer adventure of being in a new place, watching sea lions from a boat out in the bay, and the carrier bag of paperback gems I brought home from the wonderful Bosco Books in Shutta Road. I look back at what few photographs I managed to take before I sat on the brand new digital camera Royal Mail had given me for twenty years service, and I no longer understand the presence of that small, angry woman stood next to me in just two of those thirty-seven pictures, if ever I understood it in the first place. What endures is that I enjoyed that week in Cornwall in spite of Marian, and what didn't kill me made me very much stronger, or at least strong enough to begin work on my escape tunnel. It might be stretching a point to call it irony, but with hindsight I probably did enjoy sitting on that wall up to a point. There were better ways I could have spent the time, but for those forty minutes, the brief respite was enough.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Throbbing Gristle, The Invisibles, and All That

Grant Morrison, so far as I am able to tell, is one of the biggest names in comics today. This I gather from what I am told, having more or less given up on comics in the late 1990s due to the encroachment of other interests and a sudden decrease in the number of titles I could be arsed to read; plus one of the titles I was still following out of some spurious sense of loyalty was Grant Morrison's Invisibles, which had begun to irritate me more and more each issue. So I ducked out.

Grant Morrison began writing (and in the early days) drawing comics way back in the 1970s. His early, possibly even earliest strips appeared in a short lived magazine called Near Myths, also home to Bryan Talbot's deservedly celebrated Luther Arkwright. Three of Morrison's five Near Myths strips (unless there were others I never saw) were centred upon a character called Gideon Stargrave - one of those names thrown up by a Jerry Cornelius substitute name generator, see also Ziggy Stardust, Lazarus Churchyard, Jobriath Internet, Zebediah Monopole, and Reg Varney; except for Reg Varney who starred in On The Buses and whose life and work are examined in his autobiography, The Little Clown.

Gideon Stargrave looks and reads like the work of a talented school kid raised on Michael Moorcock and Adam Warlock comics. It takes itself very seriously, and tries just a little too hard. On the first page, a 1970s dolly-bird type enters Jason King's idea of a futuristic bachelor pad and asks are you Gideon Stargrave? Our man, then sporting one of those Beegees haircuts and a massive pair of flares replies as often as possible, but you know how it is these days. It's confident, slightly pleased with itself, and no doubt impressive for the work of one so young; but it's a long way off a masterpiece, or even an indication of formative genius. In fact, it's the older kid who goes to school accessorised with a Gentle Giant album in the hope that it will set him apart from the common herd with their Bay City Rollers and Barry Blue. Thank God Morrison grew out of it, or at least thank God it seemed like he'd grown out of it up until 1994.

I first became aware of Grant Morrison when he wrote Zenith for 2000AD comic. From the very first episode it was evident that here was a writer on a higher level. Whilst 2000AD had some serious talent in its stable (Alan Moore, Pat Mills, and Pete Milligan being but three names that come to mind), Morrison wrote with a wit and an eye for bizarre detail that seemed entirely new. Zenith was a comic masterpiece bringing H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos into the pages of 2000AD alongside Nazi supermen, washed out 1960s superheroes and Lion's Robot Archie as an acid house icon. I'm sure some may have regarded it as all a bit smart-arsed, but many quite rightly recognised it as something wonderful. Shortly after (unless my memory is compressing things, which it may well be), Morrison began working for DC comics. Initially he wrote Animal Man, a revival of a minor and somewhat generic 1960s superhero, which famously recast a thinly disguised Wile E. Coyote as a crucified Christ figure and ended its run with the author as a character in his own book explaining what he'd been trying to do over the previous twenty-five issues. Morrison's greatest work, in my estimation if no-one else's, came when he took over Doom Patrol. Doom Patrol were essentially a group of misfits, and misfits even by the standard of the usual generic superhero misfit teams whose outsider credentials usually amounted to being called names for wearing glasses. Paul Kupperberg's initial late 1980s Doom Patrol revival lost sight of this, pushing its wheelchair bound agenda as just another bunch of folks who fight bad guys whilst holding conversations. Morrison took over the title and added Dadaism and the paintings of Richard Dadd, amongst other things of equally bizarre complexion. Doom Patrol stories didn't make sense, and weren't supposed to make sense, at least not if you were still thinking of comics in terms of fights with bad guys. If, on the other hand, you could listen to a Nurse With Wound album and appreciate that the authors of that disjointed twanging sound were probably laughing like drains during the recording (as opposed to sucking their cheeks in and thinking about Charles Manson) then Doom Patrol didn't seem like quite such a foreign country.

If you haven't read an issue of Morrison's Doom Patrol, then a) you should, and b) this will work about as well as having an overenthusiastic friend describing this really cool bit from a film you haven't seen and which you suspect you would probably hate; but stand out elements were: The Painting That Ate Paris (that's both the title and what happens); Jane with the multiple personality disorder and a different power for each one; the Brotherhood of Dada; Flex Mentallo, fictional muscleman born from something drawn in green biro by a small boy, a man so infeasibly strong as to warp the fabric of reality when he flexes a bicep; Danny the Street, a sentient (not to mention homosexual) street which communicates through messages spelt out in pink bunting; the mysterious and censorious Sex Men and oh God... there was just no end to it.

Doom Patrol was about something in the same sense as Marcel Duchamp or a Nurse With Wound album are about something, and if that isn't a recommendation then it probably isn't for you. Anyway, my point is that, unless I'm imagining it, Doom Patrol, if not quite a Watchmen-style year zero for comics, remains pivotal in a way that is not easily defined (which is why I'm not going to bother). It seems that some of my favourite writers held similar affection for Morrison's run on this title. A fan letter written to Lawrence Miles some time ago asking, amongst other things, if he'd ever read Doom Patrol, garnered a response amounting to why do you think I write the way I do? Similarly I was more recently impressed at Simon Bucher-Jones lightning quick identification of three planet-headed assassins occupying no more than two pages of one issue as having been called Fear the Sky (they are defeated when their quarry traps them within an illustration in a 1903 edition of A Child's Garden of Verses). Okay, so that's maybe not quite where were you when you heard that Kennedy had been shot?, but the comic cast a long shadow, and I'm not convinced anything published since has come close to its deranged genius.

So what did Grant Morrison do next?

A few things, some pretty good (Sebastian O), some okay (Arkham Asylum), some underwhelming (How to Kill Your Boyfriend illustrated by Philip Bond, an artist whose cutesy sub-Hernandez brothers style always made my teeth hurt). The next really big thing, and the one which at least some regard as an absolute pinnacle of the man's writing, was The Invisibles, a regular series to which I'll return after a substantial digression.

Throbbing Gristle, authors of a wonderful unpredictable noise and a band who probably changed my life to some degree when I unearthed one of their weird lumps of plastic from a friend's big brother's record collection. I was still at school, and of the age when anything outside the mainstream had instant appeal by virtue of it not being fucking ELO, and Throbbing Gristle sounded like a factory whilst someone whined about serial killers and genetic engineering, so I fell for it big time. I still vividly recall the very first time I listened to their Second Annual Report album: it was like nothing I'd ever heard, and it scared the living daylights out of me. It made the Sex Pistols sound like music hall (which in a sense they were, although that's not a bad thing) and felt like real art, something stripped raw, something truly visceral that bore no relation to rock and roll, arguably no relation to entertainment in any conventional sense. Throbbing Gristle interviews revealed numerous fascinations and associations, most of which I followed up at one point or another: William Burroughs and Philip K. Dick were both writers I discovered through casual references made by members of TG.

I never quite got the counterculture, or at least not the version of it expressed by groups like The Clash. It always seemed like a somehow sanitised alternative to the mainstream: paying your money, shaking your fist a bit, then going home having got it out of your system. Not that I ever had pronounced revolutionary tendencies, but I always appreciated anything that had a bit of thought behind it, and anything that asked the right questions of the status quo. This, for me, was part of the appeal of William Burroughs (in addition to his dark humour). He was as critical of the counterculture as he was of the establishment, and framed his criticisms with wonderful wit and style whilst remaining faithful to an entirely intuitive and visionary means of expression. From Burroughs I learned my first lessons in magical thinking (for want of a less-wanky term), the significance of the number 23, conspiracy theories and whether or not I should take any of it seriously.

Music got pretty interesting in the wake of Throbbing Gristle, not just in terms of weird noises, but also with regard to content. Once again there were bands who would spend an interview discussing art, philosophy, life, or whatever rather than the old anecdotes about televisions thrown from hotel windows. As an aside, I still think this is what at least some music should do regardless of whether its heir to either the New York Dolls or Cabaret Voltaire. It should expand the listener's experience, open up new avenues of thought, and never be just about the music. Of course, other days, you just have to listen to The Ramones, and there's nothing wrong with that either.

So, in the wake of Throbbing Gristle, a multitude of bands, artists, and fanzines sprang up to pursue the spirit of keeping things interesting. This was the birth of what came to be known as industrial, regardless of Nigel Ayers' somewhat sublime Nocturnal Emissions being the only group who ever sounded truly industrial, and equally regardless of the fact that if you consider Nocturnal Emissions industrial, then you really need to listen a bit closer to what they were actually doing.

Throbbing Gristle's Genesis P. Orridge was a hugely influential figure at this time. Had he mentioned in passing a love of Val Doonican, within weeks there would be a whole new genre of bands combining sinister electronics with songs about Irish rovers, rocking chairs, wooly jumpers and the like. Whilst P. Orridge had plenty of interesting things to say as a member of Throbbing Gristle, by the time that band separated and he formed Psychic TV, he'd said most of it several times over. Off the top of my head, recurring themes were Charles Manson, Aliester Crowley, information and its interpretation, sex as a liberating act, and when you wish upon a star it makes no difference who you are because when you wish upon a star your dreams come true. P. Orridge has spent many years telling us that we are all individuals whilst taking the Life of Brian style herd response as some sort of affirmation, and sadly, he has only ever really been as interesting or entertaining as those with whom he collaborates. This is why Psychic TV's output has, for the most part, been a pretty miserable lot but for the involvement of Peter Christopherson, Alex Ferguson, or Fred Gianelli. Take away the talent and you're left with a man mumbling to himself about Aliester Crowley at a Huddersfield bus shelter on a wet day, and take away the Burroughs books and there's hardly enough left to fill up a page of Look-In. Let's break it down a little. P. Orridge, for all his good points, is the man who:

  • Said it's all about individuality then formed the Temple of Psychick Youth, one of the most rigidly conformist and po-faced youth cults since records began, cues taken from the satanic vicar chic sported by the band on the cover of their debut album.
  • Went into a hissy fit about intellectual copyright when the selfsame Temple of Psychic Youth began to distance itself from him and his mighty works. The problem was that some fool had accidentally initiated a few people with brains and a sense of humour who quite naturally began to find P. Orridge a little embarrassing. So it wasn't just about the individuality after all, it was also about being a fan club with delusions of grandeur.
  • Latched onto acid house with all the enthusiasm and understanding of an ageing public school prog band bassist deciding that this punker rock is really gear and he's changing his name to Barry Bollock in a show of solidarity. I'm sort of surprised that no-one yet seems to have noticed that the acid house of "Doktor Megatrip" (oh puhleeease) actually sounds more like extended Duran Duran megamix house.
  • Turned into a woman but with a winkle as part of an art project wherein he and his wife decided to become each other. Fair enough I suppose, but I kind of wonder if it would have happened without the novelty factor of that Throbbing Gristle guy now has tits (and not the nicest tits I've seen, it has to be said). Yes, Genesis, well done, thank you for challenging our preconceptions yet again and boldly going where only several thousand men have gone before, now please, put your shirt back on. We've seen enough.

I wouldn't mind, but it could be argued that P. Orridge's records taught me to think, and I suspect taught others to think. It is for this reason that it doesn't actually feel that great to lambast the poor fellow in such a way, and although I've no doubt he has plenty of admirable qualities, it somehow feels like his life's work can be reduced to look at me, I'm mysterious, which feels oddly like a betrayal.

Anyway, shifting towards the far side of the extended digression, whether from P. Orridge's influence or not, one fairly significant corner of late 1980s subculture was dominated by serial killers, conspiracy theory, magick spelt for some reason with a k, Crowley, Spare, Robert Anton Wilson, pranks, the fetishisation of poor old Bill Burroughs, assorted strains of occult waffle, situationism dressed up in post-punk rags, information war, idiots spelling the with two es, and stuff about the number 23. It got really dull after a while.

I was moderately active in the fanzine and tape scene of the time, and to be honest most it was getting pretty depressing. It was humourless (unless you regard yet another photocopied newspaper headline involving the number 23 as side-splitting), extraordinarily self-important (as is common to anything with a whiff of conspiracy theory), and had an unpleasant tang of elitism - revolution as defined by a prescribed set of hipster name checks because it's easier than actually doing something, and you can just take the moral high ground if anyone bothers to point that out. It was the appearance of philosophy and the development of intellect without having to bother reading a book that wasn't written by either William Burroughs or Robert Anton Wilson. It was mod for people who believed themselves too cool to listen to pop bands unless in some wearisomely ironic sense, akin to that briefly idiotic period when groups insisted that they were corporations rather than bands, because that would be just like the Bay City Rollers and the stuff that stupid people listen to.

And I still don't understand how it got that way, which probably indicates my having more faith in the youth culture of the time than was perhaps its due. Vague magazine, somewhat at the center of this sort of stuff, was pretty interesting for all that. Both John Eden (of the later incarnation of the Temple of Psychick Youth) and Stewart Home showed it was possible to venn diagram with at least some of the obsessions mentioned above whilst maintaining a sense of humour and not being an utter fucking generic 23 worshipping cock, so I've no idea why so many others were happy to just recycle the same old bollocks over and over.

Anyway, having found other stuff of far greater interest, I made my excuses and left, happy to know that I would never again have my letter box soiled by a fanzine with yet another sodding Coil interview and a picture of a bad lad on the front.

DC began publishing The Invisibles in 1994, to finally return to the point, the cover of its first issue quoting from an old issue of Vague, itself no doubt ripped off from some Situationist thing or other, or something along those lines. The first four issues were promising, barring the continued hints of an off-putting obsession with psychedelia (another P. Orridge bullet point) that's never really appealed to me. Then suddenly it was 1987 all over again, all the stuff from those shitty self-important fanzines turning up like a bad smell, and worse, Gideon fucking Stargrave as one of the main characters because he was just too damn good to leave languishing in obscurity; and if you don't like it, then you don't understand it. But actually that's the problem: I get the references only too well, and they were wank first time around. If the Doom Patrol was Grant Morrison's Throbbing Gristle, then The Invisibles is his Psychic TV. Six years of comics amounting to look at me, I'm mysterious.

I've no doubt that many will disagree quite strongly with the views expressed above, which is fine as it would be a dull world if we all liked the same thing, but seeing as in all this time I've yet to hear a bad word said about The Invisibles, I figured someone needed to write this, and it might as well be me. If something is of genuine worth, it will usually survive a backlash.

Throbbing Gristle had a sometimes abrasive sound, although listening close, and compared to many of their imitators, they're actually very listenable with plenty of stuff going on to draw the ear and keep you interested. Psychic TV, marking P. Orridge's switch to songs with regular instruments and a chorus, were instituted as a more obviously commercial concern by virtue of the idea that there's no shame in hankering after a wider audience, or in seeking to entertain people. It seems strange now how that one turned out, considering how bland Psychic TV ended up sounding. Doom Patrol, for all its weirdness, is a big colourful comic book with improbable characters and situations. Its not terribly deep because it doesn't really need to be. It presents enough of an angle on the mainstream (whilst remaining loosely attached to the same) to let its audience go off and find out for themselves. The Invisibles on the other hand, ticked a lot more boxes whilst drowning out divergent thoughts in a torrent of recycled countercultural diarrhoea.

Sometimes less is more.

The above was partially inspired by essays posted on Andrew Hickey's excellent Sci-Ence! Justice Leaks! blog and conversations with my old buddy from the days of wayback, Thomas Hamilton. It was originally posted on my Ce Acatl blog back in February, 2011 and somehow achieved 1832 page views, which is pretty good going for me.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Mr. Mojica's Weather Forecast

It's 1993. It is 6.30AM at Catford Sorting Office in south-east London. 'What do you reckon then, Ray,' I ask, 'is it going to rain?'

Ray Lester considers his answer in silence. At first it seems like he hasn't heard the question.

He's a little bloke, getting on in years, wrinkled like Sid James and, as Gilbert has noted on a few occasions, he bears a striking resemblance to Parker, Lady Penelope's bloodhound-faced butler in the children's puppet show Thunderbirds. Whenever Gilbert and Ray are arguing, a cruelly timed yus m'lady from the former tends to settle the matter in the same way that a chess match can be settled by kicking over the board and laughing in your opponent's face.

Ray often gives me a lift along Randlesdown Road to where I begin my walk. For the short duration of the car journey we share cigarettes and listen to his tapes of Frank Sinatra, amongst others. Once I asked the name of a particular singer whose songs had begun to grow on me.

'You know, Ray, I'm really getting to like this stuff,' I told him.

He said it was Matt Monro, adding 'he had a good voice on him.'

'So where was he from?'

'Used to work on the buses, he did.'

'I mean he's from London, then?'

'Yeah he was, but he died. He was a little bloke, he was: a midget. He had a great big head.'

It was one of those conversations I'll remember until the day I die, but back in the present, there's still the issue of the weather, and what it's going to do.

Ray doesn't seem to laugh much, but when something amuses him he wears a sly grin. 'Don't ask me. Lino's the expert.'

Lino Mojico - whose first name is pronounced Lee-noh - is another little bloke. He has a huge family back in the Philippines, and no-one quite knows how old he is, but then we've never thought to ask. Thirties, forties, fifties - no-one can be sure except perhaps Mr. Mojica himself. He is man of mystery in many respects.

'What's it going to do, Lino?,' Ray asks.

Mr. Mojica pauses from throwing letters into his frame, then smiles broadly. 'Ah - stay dry. I think it will stay dry.'

An ominous grey sky can be observed through the row of windows set high up in the wall behind us. As we leave the sorting office, we take our waterproof jackets. They're cumbersome and a pain to carry around, but walking about in the rain for an hour or more can get pretty miserable.

As it happens, the rain holds off.

'That's incredible, Lino. How do you do it?'

'Ah - I don't know. I just guess,' he laughs.

The next day, Mr. Mojica forecasts rain. The sky is brilliant blue. The day is warm, and yet nevertheless it rains. I am amazed.

'I swear I'll never doubt your weather forecast again, Mr. Mojica,' I tell him, genuinely impressed.

He laughs politely.

The third day, Ray asks, 'what is it going to do today, Lino?'

'Ah - no need for waterproof today. Today it will be dry.'

Ray grins as if to say bollocks.

As we leave the office, it is pissing down, a tropical storm almost. Three minutes later, the skies clear and the rain stops, exactly as Lino predicted.

'You're a fucking dark horse, Mr. Mojica,' Ray tells him, almost smiling. 'I tip my hat to you.'

'Ha ha! I just guess. Sometimes I am right.'