It is with great regret that I concede defeat and admit to myself that I don’t have the time to edit a quarterly magazine. Despite valiant efforts and wonderful contributions, the Mind’s Construction (Quarterly) is no longer a going concern.
Others have offered to keep the TMC torch alight whilst I go off and do other things, but in each case they themselves have busy lives and it deserves, I think, full dedication.
This site will remain as a permanent (or as permanent as you can get on the internet) record of all the great pieces we were honoured to publish.
Living where we did – on the cusp of the wilds of Morden Hall Park, recipients of an almost Wagnerian dawn chorus – it was unsurprising that a mouse found its way into our house. Unsuprising retrospectively, at any rate.
When I try to think back to the point when we first saw it, I am instead reminded of the uncanny (yet ignored) movements just outside my field of vision. It probably happened two or three times, that murine movement, but each time I assured myself that it was merely a trick of the light. Amazingly, we also deluded ourselves into thinking that the tennis ball sized hole in our loaf of bread was caused by the bakers use of yeast! It took a lot to shake me out of my complacency. So little did I trust my senses that it was only when the mouse innocently brushed against my naked toes on its search for crumbs that I finally acknowledged it as a Real Presence.
By that time, the mouse was either very ingenuous or had been made tame by my indulgence. Either way, it was in for a shock when I started stamping and shrieking.
An aversion to mice is, perhaps, genetically ingrained, with those who pandered to them in the evolutionary past falling foul to one of the diseases they carry. Or perhaps they gain their power by virtue of their size: being too small for oafish humans to control. Indeed, the etymology of Mouse is from muscle, as though they were a fugitive part of oneself.
That night, I slept badly. My senses – touch and hearing in particular – became hypersensitive. Barely daring to breathe, I waited for the mouse to come into my room and start chewing on my flesh. My mental image of small mammals has been formed by culture, specifically, the stories of Richard Gere’s hamster, the end of Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, Freud’s The Rat Man, and all those children’s films where the mice evades nasty adults. No, I did not sleep like a log that night.
The next day, I went to B&Q and scoured the pest control section. As a vegetarian, I felt obliged to take the humane option. This, in the modern era, means plug-in ultrasonic bleepers which are inaudible for humans and intolerable for mice. I got a four pack on special offer for Â£14.99 and put one in the kitchen, one in the living room and two in the bedroom.
Did they work? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I didn’t see any mice for a while and No, because these things only work in relatively open spaces (the soundwaves reflecting off the walls), meaning that the mouse could quite happily scurry behind walls or down the side of the cooker (a feast for a mouse) without even noticing them.
Bleepers only defer and exacerbate the problem. By the time the mouse singular had overcome his mild dislike of ultrasonic frequencies, there were mice plural. How many? I don’t know: 4? 5? 6? With a keen eye and a brutalised attitude, I set about conducting a Jihad (or rather a Crusade) against all mice within my borders. I felt like George W. Bush after 9/11. The mouse situation had gotten out of hand. With research (the best bait is peanut butter and chocolate) and a blanket approach to military technology (traditional traps, two different poisons – I couldn’t find glue traps, sadly), I set about destroying the mouse threat once and for all. I even cleaned the house properly rather than merely tidying it as I was accustomed.
Cleaning is crucial. Unless the supply of food is stopped, there will be no incentive for mice to risk themselves on new sources of food laid out by the Emperor (me) of their lands (the house). No sympathy. No Geneva Convention.
Within an hour of laying the first trap I heard a sickening crack. I didn’t dare go downstairs. What if it was still alive, squirming and writhing on its springloaded crucifix? So I waited for half an hour and went down. My nemesis, dead. My pitiful enemy, as evil as Hussein and Bin Laden combined, undone by its greed for peanut butter and chocolate. I was still afraid, my heart beating almost as fast as that of a mouse (though not this mouse) as I used a couple of plastic bags to open the trap and dispose of it. A moral victory had been achieved. I realised that unlike the poison (which will eventually produce a race of uber-mice), mousetraps are impossible to overcome in evolutionary terms. I reset the traps for the next offensive.
Flipron’s debut, Fancy Blues & Rustique Noveties, bore all the hallmarks of an album rescued from the wilderness. There was a kind of relieved joy, a gleeful weariness in songs like ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On The Dead’ and ‘Hanging Round The Lean-To With Grandad’. Years of record company rebuffs and playing tiny venues must surely have introduced doubts about whether they would ever release a record; and so, when they were rescued by a Tiny Dog, they made sure everything was polished and new. Their songs – so whimsical, affecting and unique – gelled together like a proper album and all was well.
Well, almost. The problem was that Flipron’s oeuvre had expanded over the years, with potential hits becoming old standards (albeit in the form of demos and mp3s), and so, in order to keep things fresh, they decided againts putting some of them on the album. The fans – or, at least, me – were mildly piqued not to hear our favourites immortalised.
I needn’t have worried, for on the new record, Flipron have been liberated from such anxieties and have “merely” slung together a collection of great songs past and present. The highlight of the old songs remains Youth Shall Never Beat Old Age In A Race, a miniature tragedy about the ageing process. What is so remarkable is how the urgent jogging of the rhythm section and the benighted lyrics – come together joyously, with are as one.
Other notable songs include Cerberus is as Cerberus Does which, with its deliciously creamy hammond organ and crisp guitar riff, is an anthem about the misunderstood Hadean hound; forthcoming single, The End of Summer, a song both plangent and uplifting; and, Flat-Pack Bride of Possibilities, another great oldie which comes across like a world weary Ivor Cutler collaborating with an irreverent Nick Cave. But everything they do is worth listening to. It isn’t necessarily easy listening, but it is certainly very easy to listen to.
Musically, Flipron are free from constraints, instruments appear unexpectedly yet only when needed. Lyrically, there are few other bands profound as Flipron and none who can write about mortality so lightly and without false consciousness. Buy it!
Dandyism is often misconstrued as a kind of fustian, 19th Century affectedness. It is associated with precocious am-dram students who happen to have got a part in the school production of The Importance of Being Earnest. I don’t understand how this misconstruction took hold, when there is nothing less dandiacal than being covered in dust. As I understand it, pace Brummell and Baudelaire, dandyism is about reducing inner entropy and cultivating oneself. It is not an act.
Unfortunately, I don’t have enough leisure time at present to really cultivate the tangled garden of my inner self or my outer appearance. However, if I did, I know that there is one thing that I wouldn’t change: my Casio F-91W.
The Casio F-91W is the perfect watch.* It has every feature that I need – light, stopwatch, alarm, 24-hour time, date, water resitstance – in an elegant, simple design. It is reliable, cheap, and comfortable. Any further refinement would be to gild (and geld) its lily. Dandyism, while not antique, isn’t progressive for the sake of progress either. Some may claim that it is utilitarian and dull — ha! — merely vulgar common sense.
In researching this squib I discovered that people have actually been detained merely because they have worn it. What greater indictment could there be of the Bush regime than this idiotic criminalisation of the world’s best watch.
* According to Wikipedia, the watch was released as late as 1997, which begs the question what was its pre-97 equivalent. I’m sure that a similar watch existed.
There are 24 hours in day, 168 hours in a week and 8736 hours in a year. In 1953, Larkin wrote that “days are where we live”. In 2006, our collective attention deficit disorder means that we now live in hours. No doubt people will soon start living in minutes, but that’s their problem.
If you allow that a third of those hours are consumed in sleep (an activity that it is very unwise to avoid) that still leaves 112 hours a week at your disposal. Well, almost. Eating, drinking and cooking takes up around 2 hours a day, leaving 98 hours a week. Another hour every day for hygiene (showers, shaving, toilet) gives us 91 hours a week or just 13 hours a day to play with. Then, of course, you have to do the shopping, tidy the house, run errands and perform other miscellaneous tasks, meaning you only have about 12 hours a day, or 84 a week, to create, work and live. The question is: what can one do in 12 hours?
Fortunately, I am lucky enough to work freelance and, thank god, don’t have to commute anywhere (if I was working in central London and still living in Colliers Wood this would have meant about 3 hours a day walking, waiting and tubing). Unfortunately, I am an expert at procrastination and never seem to achieve anything. Days are consumed without a single notable event or accomplishment. I looked back at an old diary and found myself noticing a frequent single word entry: Nothing. Surely I must have done something. But what?
And so, at 4.30pm on the 8 May 2006 and with a sense of expectation in my heart, I activated the hour chime on my Casio F91-W, determined to put my days under the harsh scrutiny of empirical analysis, accounting for each hour as it was lived.
8 May 2006
1600 || So far – after 30 minutes – I have been feeling a kind of disengaged self-consciousness, like that of a group of children happily playing suddenly aware that they are being closely watched by a teacher. What have I done then? Apart from write this, I mean. Well, I’ve read Momus’s blog entry which ends with him proudly noting that he has been called ‘Cunt of the Week’ by some idiot whose idea of satire is to create a website called ITV is Shit. I’ve checked my emails. Downloaded photos. And nothing.
As well as wondering what I am doing with myself, perhaps it would be useful to think about what I ought to be doing. I have spent the day reading, Nobody’s Perfect by Anthony Lane and Time Out of Joint, a superb Philip K. Dick novel about a man who realises that his reality is carefully constructed by the government. Incredibly modern, even though it was written in 59. Very Zizekian as well. Anyhow, I think I’ve probably done enough reading for one day. And, anyway, all my bones ache after getting a big shopping by foot.
Listened to a little bit of Little Atoms. Sorry …
1700 || … all of Little Atoms. Reading political blogs and comments on the internet is a bizarre waste of time. If it weren’t so fantastical it wouldn’t seem real. Feel guilty about not doing Suzi Livingstone. What am I doing? Must. Do. Something. But what. I suppose I could do a weekly review. That might help. Instead, I waste time on the internet, idly clicking around, faintly fascinated by Theo Walcott’s call up to the England squad. I also read 15 ways to live longer which told me to be optimistic, eat kidney beans and get a pet. Oh, and sleep less. 7 hours a night.
1800 || What now? I ring Laura. She says she’ll be home in 15 mins. I make dinner. She isn’t back. I eat alone whilst watching the news.
1900 || Absolutely nothing. Importing songs into iTunes.
2000 || More songs. Songs to upload. Difficult to do anything else because itunes uses up so much memory. Laura’s business card grinds everything to a halt. My photos are awful. Laura shows me photos taken by her Dad. I look asymmetrical and nostrilly.
2100 || Watched Wife Swap. It concerned a family who lived in the Highlands (Isle of Lewes) and a family who lived in urban Burnley. The contrast between the vulgar authenticity of the former and the vulgar reality of the latter was interesting to behold.
2200 || Weekly review … or not. Watched HIGNFY. Started reading Emotional Intelligence.
2300 || To bed … or not. I ended up talking to Laura about how I am obsessed with meta-linguistics, a self-contained loop of meaning that needs to be broken out of if anything is going to be done. She offered a good interpretation of Martin Creed’s The World + The Work = The World by saying that it refers to the fact that in the vast macrocosm, man’s addition is small, but in the microcosm it is big. The Girlfriend + The Boyfriend = The Couple. She says I should think less and do more and I agree.
0000 || After she went to sleep I planned my visit to Loch Lomond. It only takes 30 mins to get there and you can cycle to Ben Lomond in an hour. I want to climb mountains.
9 May 2006
0830 || Supposed to get up at 0600 but my alarm clock didn’t go off (or failed to rouse me). Listened to radio, made breakfast.
0900 || Reading Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and writing this.
1000 || Meditating. Reading Seven Habits, thinking about how I need spirtuality in my life, how everyone does.
1100 || As a book it has some precious insights, but it conflicts with much of what I know already. It talks of the gap between stimulus and response, but the unconscious plays a far greater role than Covey seems to realise. People fill their lives with negativity and are shocked to find that it is bad. I have to shake off this amazing lethargy somehow and don’t see why it shouldn’t help. I need to be more sociable, involved with people. I need principles. I need to regularly remind myself of those principles. Writing down material from book, listening to Jackson 5.
1200 || Typing up notes from Seven Habits. A couple of more insights. The importance of principle centredness being one that I have most difficulty with, simply because I don’t see myself as being able to keep to principles. I look at this Anatomy and I see that I am looking for answers and values. What are my values? I believe in harmony with reality. I had a quick look at Lao-Tzu today and it was startling.
I had lunch and watched the news. A couple of Tasmanian miners were trapped for two weeks in a cage. They emerged joyously. I can only imagine what it was like for them down there, so intimate. They survived for days on a cereal bar. Australian values of good humour and common sense are far more attractive to me these days.
After them, they turned to David Blaine in his fishbowl for two weeks, attempting to break the record for being underwater. He managed 7 minutes. I wonder why he had chains and cuffs, probably to distract him from the pain and urge to emerge? Cretins with camera phones whooped and shouted, which must have been distracting. He cried. I admire him though. I wonder what motivation he had for doing it.
1300 || Typing up Seven Habits. Asserting myself in my mission statement. Showering, shaving, etc.
1400 || Awaiting the estate agent gentleman. Collating my Sulking Ape notes. Feeling more confident about the efficacy of my Reminders.
1500 || Writing up Sulking Ape Syndrome.
1600 || To work.
2100 || Got back early after a dull time and had an argument with Laura. Watched a bit of TV about Gretna FC.
2200 || Emailed Stephen. Wasted time online. Transferred system back to Entourage.
2300 || Got all my next actions more or less up to date.
2400 || To bed to read Gladwell’s Blink.
10 May 2006
0730 || Woke up early. Neat trick of leaving the curtains open. Worked almost straight away on the Suzi site.
0800 || Breakfast. More work.
0900 || Was rather rude to Laura. Gladwell says that contempt is the sure sign that something is wrong. No, really?! Got quickly ready (though not enough to print maps) and went to Queen St. to catch the train to Balloch to see Loch Lomond.
1400 || Back early, after an exhausting and slightly frustrating experience. V. healthy, idyllic, beautiful, good exercise, but I couldn’t find the mountain. Really need maps next time.
1500 || Feeling achy, I have a long bath reading Blink.
1600 || Sleep and reading. Mainly reading.
1700 || Reading and sleeping. Mainly sleeping.
1800 || Finish book. Listen to news, tidy up, then David Baddiel’s Heresy programme.
1900 || Awaiting Laura’s call. Blink is an interesting book that utilises his unique narrative voice to collect lots of disparate information. It is great journalism, but familiar to people who know something about the unconscious (see Tallis and Goleman). I love the idea of thin slicing, of taking from instinctive judgements from things you know about, I was fascinated by the autism that takes hold of people when their adrenalin is pumping. It all ties in with my current interest in Lao-Tzu and the idea that you should think much less self-consciously. The story of the military simulation where lots of information tends to distract your focus is recognisable in my own working habits.
13 May 2006
1531 || A break from The Hours as I do … nothing. Well, apart from indulge in the basest of soft addictions. I really am a slave sometimes. Have been reading Emotional Intelligence and am fascinated by its insights into growing up and how one is affected by one’s parents emotional reactions.
1600 || Morality and Design notes.
2100 || Another hiatus. Dinner, football, television, hair cut. Christ, when will I ever get anything done? Even watched something on telly about the Da Vinci code (and M:i:III this morning), dearie me. Anyhow. A new routine based on being someone who can become absorbed in his work without becoming self-conscious. Thus, mindful and flowing. To do this, I need to be very disciplined and have the ability to know what I can do and when: in what frame of mind (speaking of which, my hayfever tablets have really got me down). Listening to Chris Morris whilst editing VoodooPads. What a waste of time all this crap writing is.
2200 || Eh?
14 May 2006 – Experiment Aborted.
As we all should know by now, the experimenter cannot help but influence and become involved in the experiment and soon enough (after two days) I found myself living an hourly existence. That is, if I was watching television, I would watch it until the hour was up. If I was reading a book, the same. Life was being distorted. I was becoming hyperaware of the hours of my life, possibly interfering with my potential flow experience as a result. The lulls before the hour ended failed to be transformed into a boost when the new hour began.
Retrospectively, though, it is fascinating and I would recommend undertaking it for that very reason. So much minutiae disappears without a trace that it is haunting to see some of it return.
The quality of my photography has, I fear, declined to such an extent this past year that I am faintly embarrassed to snap even the most photogenic of subjects. It doesn’t help that the world of amateur photography is mindbogglingly overcrowded. Don Delillo’s White Noise features “the most photographed barn in the world”, a place noteworthy solely for being noteworthy, an absurd situation that is replicated in every place where tourists swarm.
Anyhow, as I was saying, my recent photos are disappointing. Partly this is due to the poverty of good light in Glasgow, partly to focussing on other things, but mainly because one icy morn I slipped on my bike and cracked the LCD screen. As such, when I try to frame my picture I am met with half the screen obscured by a purplish blob.
It is a pain. Nevertheless, like a dog trained to salivate at the sound of a bell, I snap away when confronted with something that stimulates my ganglions.
Of all my holiday reading, the book that impressed the most was Counting Sheep by Paul Martin, which convincingly argues that we should all get more sleep. The statistics Martin details show how tiredness can be just as bad for your mental and physical well-being as drunkeness. He waxes lyrically about lucid dreaming, REM erections and the different phases.
One sleep phenomena he completely ignores is Polyphasic sleep, a practice whereby masochists attempt to live on 6 half hour naps a day, regularly spaced out. The history of polyphasic sleep is littered with unsubstantiated claims, with Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin falsely enlisted. Buckminster Fuller and Steve Fossett are perhaps the most famous practitioners, the first using it in order to get more done and the second because if he didn’t then his balloon might crash. As you can imagine, polyphasic sleep has got a reputation as uberman sleep and self-help obsessives like Steve Pavlina have tried it out. This week, BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnball has been undergoing a polyphasic sleep experiment, with very limited results. The problem has been that he hasn’t got anything he particularly wants to do with the time and even if he had, would it be worth running against human nature?
For behind all such experiments is a behaviouristic belief that man can overcome his biological nature. That circadian rhythms can be altered without any damage. How on earth does this belief still linger? People who work nightshifts have higher obesity, smoking, cardiovascular problem rates. More details of that here.
Talking of sleep, in the library this afternoon a skinhead with penetrating steely blue eyes took the book out. I told him how much I had enjoyed the book and its recommendation of getting enough sleep. With a mechanical voice he replied:
“I haven’t slept in four days. I’ve started nodding off in the car. And when I try to sleep there’s always something at the back of my mind where, as soon as I think I’m about to get to sleep, I suddenly wake.”
“Maybe you should tell yourself to wake yourself up and then, by reverse psychology, you won’t.”
“Psychology?” He said bitterly. “Don’t talk to me about psychology. I studied it and look at me now. I wish I’d never read a word of psychology.”
Waterstones, for all their shortcomings, should be congratulated for giving their staff a measure of freedom in putting together thematic displays. In the Sauchiehall St. branch today, I was pleasantly surprised to find a collection of books devoted to psychogeography and other reactions to the anomie of urban life.
Having a few minutes to kill, I read a chapter of Merlin Coverley’s book Psychogeography. Witless and boring, I got the feeling that any such bourgeois historical approach would be impelled to be dull in order to cope with the tedium of situationist pranks. Just as I was going put it back on the little display (with its Marc Auge and Iain Sinclair), a hearty old man with neat white hair came up to me, staring at the title. Raising his eyes to mine, he said:
“Psychogeography? You don’t want to bother with books for any of that stuff. Stick to drugs and alcohol, mate, not books.”
Taken aback, I smiled distantly. He repeated:
“Drugs and alcohol will get you there. Not books.”
In this he was echoing the life of Guy Debord, who drank himself to death after being the world’s most famous psychogeographer. Why bother with pseudo-intellectual posturing when you can derange the senses so easily? Why indeed.
Modernism died early in Russia. After leading the world in art – “advancing” rapidly from symbolism to cubo-futurism to suprematism and constructivism – the state sponsored Socialist Realism imposed a wretched sentimental aesthetic that celebrated ruddy peasants, muscular youths and great Russian achievements. It is, with some exceptions, kitsch of the sickliest kind. And yet, interestingly, was much more popular among the spectators at the Guggenheim Bilbaos big summer show than the more worthy modernist works. Indeed, the crowd that gathered around Malevichs 1933 socialist realist female worker was five times bigger than the cooly modern female torso from 1928.
The trouble with modernism is that it needs to be situated within its own clear narrative to make (common) sense. All those isms were their way of showing that they were “advacing” along the lines of history, but advancing only with regard to what came before. In Russia, which went from a backwards pre-industrial country to an industrial leader in a few years, modernism could no longer progress because history could no longer progress, not once it became entrenched in dogma.
In the West, modernism embraced the neat categorizations of Abstract Expressionism, Conceptual Art, Minimalism, and Pop Art – all of which fit within the narrative of the twentieth century. Even now, when the bustle of post-modernism supposedly means an end to the idea of progress, narratives may be discerned once the dust settles.
This blockbuster exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao offered a strange view of the history of Russian art, rich in generality but lacking in detail. The enormous lacuna of the exhibition was the absence of graphic design and photography. Surely, if you can display jewelled robes and bibles in the medieval section, you can stretch to a few El Lissitzsky posters. In this regard, the exhbition was quite retrograde, especially considering that the Guggenheim bookshop is chockfull of design books.
There is a point in one’s holiday when the spectre of everyday reality begins to haunt your enjoyment of the present. The temporal balance has been tipped and there are more days behind than in front of you. It is like life in microcosm. How uneasy does the man in his seventh decade feel as he watches the sands of time gravitate into a big pile. That which you had planned to do is now impossible – so like the man with his mid life crisis buying a porsche, we try to cram pleasure into as small a space as possible, leading to excess.