The Slackers Guide To Success

Owing to a natural lethargy this will be a short article, written in those small gaps between a mid-morning nap,  luncheon and the afternoon snooze. Still, in the brief time available, let me slip a couple of life-tips into the ether. The question is, how does an undirected unambitious man of moderate ability, that is most of us, make anything of himself in this complex and driven world?

I’ve no idea, of course, but lack of knowledge never stopped anyone giving advice so lets plunge in with  two ‘low-effort’ goodies’ which helped get me to the top of the Health and Safety Department at my county council. A pinnacle of achievement unhorsed, to mix my metaphors, when a rogue hair dryer  electrocuted a visiting dignitary and my head rolled in the customary manner, leaving me free to offer my advice and observations to the world. Needless to say the wife was delighted with the extra company.

Breezing past my own personal tragedy, my first tip is this. As a junior in a departmental meeting, when the head honcho finishes speaking, and regardless of the content, you look round at everyone in the meeting and say “I think that point is crucial.” Chuck in a bit of head nodding and direct eye contact to  add cutting edge gravitas.

Second tip: never walk  anywhere slowly. You are a driven man on the cusp of success. Walk at speed, and make sure you have a file under your arm, even if you are going to the toilet for a quick sip of  vodka. Only go for smoke breaks  when you notice some pretty heavy dude is also outside, and then praise him or her with out mercy or accuracy.

Finally, because a smart man always gives three tips for the price of two, do something for charity, and if you can’t be bothered, pretend to anyway. Act a bit tired a couple of days a week, revealing during the day that you were “Up pretty late, doing something you’d rather not expand on for the less fortunate then us.” On no account refer to the TV programme you were actually watching. Remember, the hard truth: even Slackers have to concentrate, on occasion.

That’s about all I’ve got time for now, as pillows need plumping and heads must settle down to a soft period of day-dreaming involving some beauty in a United Nations uniform asking me for the secrets of world peace.


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Isolation and the Social Voyager

The house that was meant to be my home became the space I lived in. Over a short period of time, it seemed to me, I had met people, made friends, been loved and loved others in return, although not in equal measure, and through accident, carelessness and weakness of character, I had lost it all again. So I found myself, in my mid-twenties, entirely alone and without support or reference points. The phone did not ring, and no one cared if I lived or died. It was a strange place to be for one so young. My food was delivered by van so there was no reason to leave the house, apart from my visits to the cinema which was my one escape. Watching lives moulding together on the screen filled me with a painful inexpressible emotion as I saw what others had and I did not. I watched people sitting near me, and sharing snacks and sometimes leaning in and kissing each other, or chiding children to be quiet. I saw them involved in the normalcies of life from which I was excluded.

I am a natural fitter- in, chameleon, a member of the crowd, but now I had no need to mingle any more. I could do what I liked and I would always eat but I had no function or need to interact apart from socially, and I had destroyed all that. I had grown up largely free of ambition or specific dreams: I did not wish to be a surgeon, or an architect or anything else you can imagine. I just wanted to be normal and loved, and yet I found myself as far from that place as a man can be. I did the basic cleaning in those rooms I inhabited, but largely I allowed the house to look after itself and, I noticed over time, that if I went for a walk along the landing, or peeked into rooms I had to enter, I would see a thickening carpet of dust settling over every surface. I wondered how, with all the windows closed, such volumes of dust could find their way to all this furniture. I filled my day with such idle thoughts, the answers to which I never found, and never cared enough to investigate. I drifted into stagnation, a depression if you like, when I had everything a man could want apart from interests, recognition and the love of others.

In case you are worried, this is a piece of fiction.

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Violence And A Sense of Belonging, from The Third Reich to the Islamic State.

There is a programme sometimes broadcast on the BBC fronted by a man called Michael Palin, which explores the world through his tolerant, engaged and curious eyes. He meets with every kind of man and women regardless of colour, orientation, creed and location and celebrates their unique way of articulating what it is to be human.  It is a beautiful, engaging and involving picture of mankind on the planet and he sees the world as I like to see it. It is not always so.

Adolf Hitler stands in that small group of people most consider without redeeming features. Somehow this wild and evocative orator gave a section of his society  a sense of vision and purpose, at a time when  his country was struggling in horrific social quicksand.  His sickening eloquence  gave enough people a sense of purpose and “Hope,” it seems, was more important than the details of his innate vulgarity and thuggish agenda.  The “civilised” looked on in mild confusion, unsure what polite people did under these circumstances. However diseased his premise, his vision mined a rich seam of alienation among social exiles and the newly minted destitute,   He harnessed their frustrations like no one else.How could that happen ?

As Tennyson wrote so lyrically

“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:

To a defeated nation, mired in depression and weighed down by the sanctions imposed on it by the victorious allies, his driven, purposeful voice seemed like a beacon of hope and purpose.  Those in power or the “Inner circle” thought they could harness and handle ” this vulgar corporal.” They were wrong.

You and I are far too sensible, individually and collectively, to repeat such mistakes are we not. Sadly that has always been true and always been false. Man repeats mistakes and rises from the ashes to repeat them once again like waves pounding on some indifferent shore we call our future.

In the Middle East, there are waves of violence and terror spreading across the region, the result, in part, of the complacent solutions placed on it by the Western World with that sanctimonious sense of knowing “the greater truth” that so many other regions find insufferable.  Once again, in horrific tones, fanatical zealots are preaching a mixture of hatred and religious and racial cleansing with an energy which is sucking disillusioned youths living marginal or questioned lives in Western cities, to leave their homes and families and join this new crusade to “cleanse the world of the unpurified” whatever that means to succeeding generations.: to harness their previously undiscovered anger and resentment to a “Holy War”

Once more, as “well-bought up people” wring their hands and try to find a “meaningful dialogue” with these uncouth being from another culture, the hatred and sense of vindication and release felt by these young men and women,  again horrifically expressed makes itself felt.

Now some young man from London, possessed by fearsome visions of a different religious and social order slits the throat of that brave and admirable journalist who risked everything to tell the truth and stayed to pay the cost. In Gaza and the Western Bank the rights of one peoples are thought to be secondary to another and where, “Not compromising and giving ground to these inhuman monsters” is the thought on both sides of the negotiating table. We wonder where and how it can all end.

It is only after the volcano has finished its eruption that we can move in and start to repair the damage. It is only after the violence stemming from deep frustrations, hatred and bigotry has exhausted itself, that quieter and more healing souls can move in and  exercise their compassion.

Some politicians have called for “calm with calm” but “Calm” will never be the long-term bedfellow of injustice. How I long for some figure like Ghandi to rise up out of the masses and, refusing to react to constant provocations, make the moral case for change and solution without  violence, but with increasing volume, until even the most inflamed and hate-filled soul is shamed into looking for a better more forgiving way . Without the presence of his kind, and selfless shaming vision he bought to bear on British India, we are in the grip of smaller strategic minds whose “final solutions” allow for nothing but the destruction of those who oppose them.

“All I have is a voice” said W. H, Auden on the eve of the Second World War, before adding sadly, “There is no such thing as the State and no one exists alone; Hunger allows no choice to the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die.”  Millions were to die before mankind remembered the message so many have once more forgotten.

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The Queue For Eternal Awareness

“What was your life like?” I said to the man one ahead of me in the queue of judgement . “I was like a man possessed,” he said as we waited . “How do you mean” said Mr Safe, namely me,  now mourned with clean piety by a wife, relatives and various friends, as we waited; me and this newly met soul, to discover the shape and texture of our individually constructed eternities. Your Heaven or Hell, it transpired, are tailor made to provide either exquisite pleasure or suffering to the individual. Judgement is a bespoke service from which there is no escape.

“I could not stop the words. ” he continued. I had morsels of praise but my diet was mainly indifference, sometimes mixed with embarrassment. I would talk to anyone, long after they wished I was gone, and eat at cafe’s pretending I was welcome and part of the community. Really, I was trying to express an idea: to get a concept on the page,” “What concept” I rashly asked, because even the newly dead, with eternity before them have finite patience, and mine was tested.

“The concept of natural and emotional wilderness” he replied. “That manners are what we wear to make ourselves bearable to each other and ourselves. That iconoclastic indifference lies at the heart of each culture, and the pretence that this isn’t so is the foundation of every building, built to glory the individual.”

I found myself smiling as he said this and said, “And you found you had some difficulty making money from this vision.” He snarled at me, as if he had somewhere left to stalk off to, but now there was nowhere else to go. Right or wrong, wise or foolish, we shuffled forward to learn our fate, and nothing we thought or did would alter that now.

It was a curiosity of the arrangement that we where allowed to chatter idly with others in the queue and even hear what the angels said about their lives, before receiving our own sentence and reward. Those in front would drift slowly towards their designated experience and they too, would learn what would become of you.

At last our bitter author stood before the angels, to hear their observations and they said, “You have been brave and fearless, and not ducked the cost of your observations and for eternity you will be bathed in the recognition and companionship you craved for your entire life. Proceed in peace and Love.”

I was slightly taken aback and still trying to make sense of what I had heard when the voices of angels began speaking in my head. “You have lived a mealy mouth life without engaging in any serious wrong-doing. Hiding behind a  fearful superiority, clinging to accepted opinions and ignoring anything which might disturb your peaceful existence. You lived among those you might have rescued but were not sufficiently moved to help.  You will now experience their life in eternity. You will experience what you chose to ignore.

As I fought to make sense of what I’d heard, and felt the first touches of that isolation which was to mark my designated experience I looked up and saw my colleague in the queue stare back at me. His fading figure seemed lit by hidden sunlight. He had heard the sentence, and I could see compassion flooding from his eyes. He, who had lived with isolation all his life, could not save me from a fate he knew too well.

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Coincidence or Ugly Fate. You decide

Frank Winner was waiting at platform ten, Euston station, for his ‘charge,’ as it were, to arrive from Nottingham. Tomorrow, Mike Bellow was giving a key note speech at the company annual conference on  “Cross-cultural implications . Trading with Eastern Europe and Beyond.”  The “beyond” bit had been chucked into the title to add a bit of spin, but really they were just talking about selling stuff to Hungary. Frank was not looking forward to the speech so its fair to say he was dreading the evening: he would far rather be at home relaxing with his wife. However, career was career,  and the mortgage must be paid, never mind his daughter’s university fees. He knew a ‘”favour,” for his boss  was really a command.

Both he and  ‘Honoured Guest’ were in their mid-fifties and it was important not to embarrass the firm: he was determined to rise to the challenge. At last a surprisingly fit gentleman, with a dash of grey above each ear, strode towards him, attracted by the sign he was holding, and introduced himself. “Where’s the party eh” he said indicating that a night of celebration was required. “There is a nice Greek restaurant near here said the nervous Winner, which has some quite interesting fish based dishes”. “Stuff that,”  said our learned consultant, “Lets go where the music plays. Lets have some fuuun ” . He stretched out the last word to show he was a guy who still liked to walk on the wild side.

Soon our two party-goers entered the vaults of the “Pavilion” nightclub and  seated themselves at a table before ordering some bland meal at prices set without reference to quality. “Tacky” was the word which came to Frank’s mind but Mike Bellow seemed strangely “At home” in these surroundings, and was soon leering at the young waitress who came to take their order.

Luck was on Frank’s side, it seemed, and Bellow, true to his name, appeared  happy to talk all night while Frank listened, which should not be too challanging. “Oh yes,” said Bellow, “I had the night of nights yesterday. I was at some club, trying to look at a girls tits, you know what its like, and she came up to me and said, “You a pervert or something”, and I said, “You bet your life I am. Hows about some champagne?”

I think the girl was already a bit pissed. ‘In your face,’ in the best way possible.  Know what I mean. Anyway she matched me glass for glass. The more pervy I became, the more she laughed. It was brilliant. I love drunk tarts”

Frank had been to Nottingham on more than one occasion, but knew little of the place. “Well, I can tell you this,” continued Bellow, “She was a goer. That girl could ‘ave taught Cleopatra a few tricks,” he said, taking a decent swallow and winking over his glass. “Oh yes sir, she ‘drained the bottle’ and then some if you follow me.”

“Sounds like fun”, said Frank, wishing the clock would get a move on, and allow him to escape this leery company. She had a trick or two, “Carline” her name was, beautiful girl, curvy and with soft brown hair you could stroke all night” A chill went through Frank as he heard the name, and before he could say anything, Bellow handed over his phone to show a photograph of the partly clothed Carline walking out of the bathroom. It was an unusual photograph of his daughter and showed a new side to her character.

“You sick bastard” said Frank, before leaning over and smacking his guest in the eye. The sacking the following morning was not unexpected, but the call from his daughter to her mother three weeks later was. Sitting in a bar near his home Frank reflected that “Life isn’t  always what you make it. Sometimes other people make it for you”



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Getting to the Heart Of A Subject. What Drives Emma Cattell to Paint?

Art has no manners, I always feel, great art that is, and while most creative people paint diffidently and politely to capture the shape and outline of a subject, few have the will or courage of the explorer: of someone who wants to dive in as deep as they can and discover what it is that fuels the question or statement behind a person’s eyes. The Picture below is of Peter O’Toole, and anyone who has seen the actor in in Lawrence of Arabia will recognise that burning fanatical look. It is this characteristic of her painting which draws me to the work of Emma Cattell.

A1 O'Toole


More recently she has started producing paintings of the seven deadly sins, and as an example, here is her picture of Envy. Once again the secret is in the eyes, but look at the angle of the head and the way Emma has captured that discrete deliciously unsettling manner which lies at the heart of a failing we might see in another although seldom in ourselves. The longer you look at the picture, the more disturbing it becomes, because Emma has been brave enough to confront the reality of this profoundly destructive emotion.


The impulse behind the painting was apparently founded in her struggle to ‘capture’ another subject. Failing to do that irritated the hell out of her, to the point where she literally began to beat the canvas with her paintbrush. Under such, circumstances, manners, caution and fear tend to exit the room leaving plenty of space for instinct, insight and aggression. The desire to just get the subject on canvas and to hell with the consequences.

“Manners maketh man” some wise man said but I always believe, in part, that manners protect us from ourselves and keep the raw, selfish destructive, tender lost part of our personality well out of harms way. By becoming annoyed with herself, Emma let some primal aspect of nature, normally hidden by inhibitions, loose on the canvas, and the longer you look at the second painting in particular, the more you will be struck by the talent and insight she has allowed to escape from her ‘inner being.’

Emma Cattell built her name and reputation as a  photographer, and to quote from the website linked below    ” She has shot divas in their dressing rooms, rock stars in their homes, women prisoners in Iraq and nurses in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan; she is still one of the few British female photographers to have visited a war zone. Her long career has seen her travelling from Belgrade to Iraq, from Antigua to Mombassa, from Bangkok to Croatia and many, many places in between. ” Revealing the unique in the individual is her passion, as it is mine. It shows in her impressive photography and now it is clear in her painting.

What that tells you is that Emma Cattell has been to places and in situations most of us can hardly imagine. The artist draws on her experience, and she has had more than most. To meet her in the everyday is to meet an unassuming women who presumes little about herself, but to meet her through her work is to be greeted by a fierce spirit who has survived experiences most of us would find overwhelming.

Go over to her website and learn all about her. She is, I believe, a talent to watch, and one I am proud to know



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Threadbare Jo

“Threadbare” Jo, who, to misquote the Bard, had a “Shirt for All Seasons,” and I don’t mean he had a shirt for every breeze and vista. No I mean he literally had one shirt, and he wore it regardless of the  seasons, also lived in an emotionally impoverished state. You will not be surprised to learn that men did not walk up to him in the street and say, “I wish I was you” or girls murmur “Oh to lie in your stinking and unwashed arms and watch the sun setting in some unblemished refuse tip.”

Things could have been worse, and how often is that true:  his morale was protected by his poor understanding of his situation, but even he knew he lived in an affection free zone. Thus it was that our Jo, more formally known as  Joseph Leek, walked into “The Shop of Love” to see, emotionally at least, if he could re-equip his circumstances and experience a moment of living in the promised land.

This was no sleazy joint where women leaving the gentle slopes of youth might squeeze one last ingénue pose out for the camera, or men with more desire than aura were old enough to cause unsettled comment when they entered a nightclub. No, this was a shop offering the ultimate in  emotional experience, if only for a while or possibly just a moment , captured in a corked bottle which could be opened and enjoyed within the privacy of your own home or space. Every hue and shade of feeling, from joy through to despair, ( a surprisingly good seller),  was on offer.

Samual Sackly, who liked to weep while other smiled,  and could be found walking inconsolably through the gardens of historic homes  crying, as he held a tender flower in his hand saying,  “They will die. You will die. All  of them will die” which was true, but not for several months given that it was early Spring, used to purchase a deliciously soul-bleaching bottle of melacholia to heighten the experience before he set off on his adventure.

The better informed among you might remember the signature tune he penned, the royalties from which still fund his undirected life-style.

“Just One More Kiss

Just One More Cigareeeetteee

Just One more CAsuAAl    SiiiIIIGH

May be the last one you’ll ever GeeEEET”


Just one more DesperAAAte   GLAAAAnce

Before we saaay our last GoodByeeeeee”

Just One more Kisssssss,

To TreAAsuuUUre Tilll the Day YOUUUU    DiiiEEEEE”

( I won’t hound your imaginations by repeating more lines )

Anyway, Joseph Leek just wanted “Love.” The nice old fashioned sort which we enjoyed before sensibility barged into the frame and made strong men weep just by looking at a cloud-tipped view while music soaked them with a sense of loss. “I’m after Love” said “Threadbare” and the attendant nodded sympathetically. He saw every kind of ill-fitting decision, or no decisi0ns at all, walk through the door. Here, as I said, they did not offer the physical experience of being loved, but just the essence of it, in every shade and strength of expression, so you could return home, make an egg sandwich and, quite literally, take the cork out of the bottle.

Now at last, as the yolk spilled down his cheek in the splendid isolation afforded by worn-out curtains and the lack of a phone, his emotion of choice flooded the room, bathing him in sweet recognition until, sated by the brief sense of acceptance and celebration, he  slumped down on his bed and recalled those days when people cared and loved without recourse to manuals or instructions. That lost era  before  works like,  “How To Live The Natural Way,”  were to be found in the homes of aesthetes everywhere.

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