Thursday, 17 July 2014


Srinagar was the summer capital of the Indian state of Kashmir. It is now the capital of that part of Kashmir below the Control Line which is ruled by India. I went there once.

It is supposed to be very beautiful and it is beautiful, with lakes, gardens and high Himalayan mountain scenery. Is it nicer than Northumberland? Well, it’s different. New Mexico is different again but they are all beautiful. I thought Dorset [see previous post] was beautiful.
What prompted this post was a report on BBC last week referring to the re-emergence of well-off Indian tourists in Srinagar. Couples walking arm in arm; families; galleries re-opening and artefacts being sold in markets. The point being, they must feel safe. Perhaps Pakistan and the Kashmir insurgents are finally accepting the status quo, after twenty years.
When I was there, we lived on a houseboat on the Dal Lake, with its own cook and houseboy trying to recreate how life must have been back in the British Raj, when the expats escaped from the summer heat of the Indian plains. I thought it was pretty awful. The food was the cheapest cuts of meat; lots of rice and hot curry ingredients to hide the taste of what was actually being served; antique beds and grubby linen. Real take the money and run stuff.
I caught Typhoid Fever there and almost died.  

Wednesday, 9 July 2014


The Poetics are a set of literary rules for Ancient Greek theatre originally set down I think by Aristotle, as guidance for writing a play. Some of the rules and precepts are still relevant. Some of the rules are relevant to all types of contemporary storytelling; novels, films, Coronation Street, plays of course and even documentaries and news stories where a narrative arc is needed to engage an audience. Plays in Aristotle’s time were tragedies; there was no other kind and they had to achieve a catharsis, an emotional purification or purgation, by the final curtain.

His view is that plot is the most important element, characters are there only to serve the plot, to advance the action and not vice-versa. There is invariably a hero-figure and he prefers his heroes to be flawed in some way, which he calls hamartia. The hero should overcome his flaw[s] in the course of the story but need not necessarily achieve power over a vanquished enemy. The object is for the hero to be wiser, rather than victorious, by the end. Heroes or ‘main characters’ must be realistic and they should have an appropriate moral purpose. They must be consistent both in behaviour and actions. A character can be inconsistent but should be written so that they are consistent in their internal inconsistency [I am thinking here of Keith in Train That Carried The Girl who misses Kiri’s wedding, offers her a job that never materialises, offers her a room in his home in Canada that never materialises, rents her apartment but never uses it, &c].

He likes reversal [peripeteia] and expects the writer to be fully aware of the uses of desis, or the weaving together all the knots of the plot , and lusis,  which is the unravelling  of all those knots.

To me, the tragedy of Train That Carried the Girl is that Mark loves Kiri despite her flaws.

This little essay was prompted by a recent review complaining that Kikarin wasn’t very nice. Tactless, arrogant and ‘not very likeable’ was the reviewer’s take on her. I thought I had got the ‘flawed heroine’ about right to be honest and in terms of hamartia,  felt that she was much misunderstood, although I accept that she doesn’t explain herself much to those she meets.

But maybe I have got it wrong. 
The wrong literary flaws, perhaps?

Sunday, 6 July 2014


My mobile number is 07**** 232116. I have had that number for years, at least since 2007 to judge by the names still in its phonebook. A few months ago, I had to confirm my bank pass-code and couldn’t find it anywhere. It wasn’t where it should have been and when that happens you might as well give up looking because it could be literally anywhere. So I had to send off for a new one which came in the post a few weeks ago. It’s a random six-figure number: 232116. What are the chances of that? Millions to one, I would have thought.
Coincidence has been a steady, recurrent theme in my life. Meeting long-forgotten business colleagues on trains; friends in Motorway Service Stations at ten o’clock at night [or on one occasion 6.30am in the morning]. One time, our next-door neighbours were sitting directly in front of us on a return flight from Rome. Of course these things happen to everyone and you just have to shake your head and remember the thousands of times when you didn’t  meet up with your sister-in-law, four-hundred miles from where she should have been.  
Here are a couple of others:
I was in south Ayrshire a couple of years ago, driving on country roads and pulled into a one-pump petrol station. I wasn’t watching what I was doing and stopped at the wrong side of the pump. I could fill up but couldn’t see the gauge and couldn’t tell how much I was putting in. Didn’t matter because I intended to fill the tank. As it was filling I looked about me and realised there was no Visa sign and I suddenly panicked that I would have to pay in cash. I thought quickly. I reckoned I had about £20 in cash on me but couldn’t tell at that point how much I had put in because I couldn’t see the gauge. I stopped, put the nozzle back in its holster stepped around to see what the gauge said and it read £20.00. Exactly. Not twenty pounds and a penny, not nineteen ninety-nine; twenty pounds exactly. 
When I took early retirement a few years ago, there was fairly long period of hand-over to my successors. In my last week I had to hand over some of my major London clients to Hilary, who was taking them over. In the event however I had so many things to do in that final week I could only spare her one day, a Wednesday. We had an eleven am appointment at a clients office in Holborn and standing at reception when we arrived was a man I had known well for over twenty years, a competitor in fact called Chris Taylor. We embraced, shook hands and all that but I just couldn’t get over the fact that he was there at the same time on the same day that I had chosen to travel down to London. An hour earlier, a day later . . .
About seven o’clock that evening I was walking through Putney to my hotel when a man ran up to me, out of breath. ‘Couldn’t believe my eyes’, he said. ‘couldn’t believe it was you!’ This was Dave Bradshaw, another old fiend [and a competitor] that I had known even longer than Chris Taylor. Possibly, probably the only two men in London I would have been happy to meet up with in my final week. All three of us running cutting-edge businesses in the same industry. All three of us knowing what it is like to travel to hell and back. If it weren’t for scalability, it could be called Clustering.
Is there a deeper order, an overarching purpose to the universe? Or are our lives completely random and events such as these just lucky accidents which have meaning only if we choose to give it to them?
Or am I simply being self-aggrandising . . . see how interesting/important I am?