Saturday, October 18, 2014


I feel like there is a huge howling void in me because my mum, so vivid, so real, was here with us when I went home in June, and she was a bit coughy and a bit weak, but she was the same madcap, wonderful beast as ever, but her flame was just snuffed, just like that, and now I can't believe there will ever be any justice or right in the world because how can my beautiful mum have been just the same as ever one day and dead the next? I have suffered a bit in this life, I have been divorced, I have felt bitter bitter failure but I have never ever been hurt like this, never.


I have been feeling guilty recently because I have been, from time to time, hoping I will share in whatever money my mum left behind. (And I know it isn't much -- a small life insurance policy and some bits, whatever.) It feels like I am ready to loot the corpse.

It's not that I have money troubles particularly. I have a relatively small credit card debt and I'm a bit worried about paying for moving home, which I will have to do shortly, and I suppose I'd like to take my kids to the UK next year so they can spend time with my family there. But I live within my means more or less, and I can cope with what's upcoming.

And not even that I feel entitled. I don't. I want my dad to be able to enjoy his retirement. I hope he will sell his house and use the money maybe to buy somewhere smaller, maybe to do some of the things he had hoped to do with mum -- whatever brings him joy and comfort. Whatever his failings  -- and the apple has not fallen that far from the tree, they are no worse than my own -- he has always taken the responsibility to provide for the people he loves seriously, and it did not end when I (finally) left home. He has often supported me and bailed me out. I wish I was able to return the favour now he is older, although I don't think he needs it at all.

But I have never been particularly good at acquiring wealth. I am content with what I have. Like everyone, I have stuff. Way too much of it. I have not had a hungry day for many years. I have a drink when I want one, a pack of smokes from time to time, a pipe of weed. I know that we can always spend more if we have more but I do not yearn for more. I have always thought the things that are really worth something are not measured in money.

Yesterday was Zenella's birthday and Zenita was upset because she thought Zenella had had more than her. I said to her, But I took you and your friends to the cinema and to Max Brenner's for deluxe chocolate, you have forgotten. I said, What I bought you, just you, in Max Brenner's cost more than the little things I got for Zenella and we spent pretty much the same on your big present. I told her about my childhood, when I would have one thing for my birthday, just one, and I was never discontent with that. I had everything I needed.

I said to her, Stuff doesn't matter. I would give up all my stuff, everything, and every spare dollar I have for the next 20 years to have Granny for those years.

But I cannot. There is no god for me to bargain with. I could not do anything to give her even one more day. And nor could anyone else. A pulmonary embolism cannot be bargained with. That is how life, and death, is.


I could write a tribute to my mum. She was a beautiful woman: not just physically but spiritually too (and I don't mind using that word when I talk about her -- I don't mean that angel bollocks she indulged in; I mean that whatever we consist of, whether we are souls in corruptible bodies or machines that think we are something special, she exuded the human spirit). Only after having my own kids did I start to understand the patience and kindness that lay at her core, that I cannot begin to match, although I do try, I do.

But I won't. My tribute to my mum will be to try to become the man she thought I was. I know that my dad, if he reads this, will tell me how proud she was of me. I know she was. I know she loved me more than she loved anyone or anything else in this world. That is why it is so hard to live without her. You cannot lose that much love and shrug it off.

And I know I am doomed to fail. Because I have never been worthy of much love and I have never been much to be proud of. But I have to try. Because ultimately I do not want anything from Mum. She already gave me everything she had. She doesn't owe me anything now. But I owe her.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


How then is it possible to count from one to two, when between them lies an infinity of infinities? How can there be a road that does not end; but if it does not lead to God, where else could it lead?

When we find that space is served up in discrete chunks, the continuum is dead forever. The real numbers become another irreality and we will have to tell ourselves that we have once more proved bigger than the world we inhabit.

How then is it possible to step down a path of innumerable steps, that once we have begun we can never find an end? How many steps would we be willing to march before we are able to say that we were wrong -- sometimes even if you have the unshakeable conviction that you are right, it is better to accept wrongness and be content.

Do you ever feel that if you cannot know you would rather be dead? Is this why -- if you dove deep into whatever makes them -- young men are willing to die? Or do they simply fear that the endless procession of empty days may never end?

One, two... one, two... you can do it if you pretend the world is simple, that it has no hidden depths, that there are no secrets to be revealed; you can step over the countless count of the abyss.

When you are young, they tell you that pi is 22 divided by 7. Which almost makes sense and you can find comfort in such a sensible ratio. Then one day you learn that pi never ends, that if the universe existed for a trillion trillion years, pi would not have ended, that there could be a trillion trillion universes of a trillion trillion years, and still the countless count would march on.

But you can take pi and times it by the diameter of a circle and get the circumference. Somehow the unending digits of a number that cannot be contained in a trillion trillion universes of unimaginable age can be contained in the ring of the smallest circle.

Yet the circle too is uncountable. Each, regardless whether it measures an inch across or a lightyear, has the same number of points within it. Each portion cut from it, be it however small, the same number.


Perhaps a cruel god, knowing that his creation would wish to know itself, punished the vanity he himself created by making creation divisible into eternity, so that nothing was ever truly knowable, and we, driven always to know more, would become insane as our finite brains tried to contain an infinitude that even he, himself infinite, had been driven mad in trying to contain.

Friday, July 04, 2014

When you hit a queen

Winning is not everything but it sure beats losing.

Sometimes I think that is fundamental, like, it's true whether you like it or not, and you either accept it or deny it or try to hide it, but it happens all the same.

So four, five times in a row, I get the money in and meh, it doesn't work out. And I'm not saying I should have won, because I was probably behind all five times, but you know what, a 40/60 means that if you ran it a hundred times, you expect to win 40.

Expect to win.

So I'm the kind of person who when they play computer games, they play a level below what's possible so that they win. I accept the idea that I do that because I do not win in life (except for the whole you're a white man thing, which means, strictly relatively speaking you understand, I win just by being me) but you know, I've always thought it was just part of my psychology: I like to win. I don't care that it's meaningless, that I was destined to win if I played something easy. I mean, that holds you back if you're a poker player, because yes, poker is about managing risk but you have to take risks. And I've always preferred to just win at the level I'm safe at than to step up and take real risks. So I never get any better but I excel where I am.

Is it actually better to be king among bottom feeders than just getting by in the more rarefied air?


So I get it in the sixth time and he hits on the flop and I'm like let a queen come, and a queen comes, and you know, when you hit a queen in a spot like that you forget it's a $7 tourney and you want to yell.

I am winning.


Sometimes I feel the blood course in my veins -- not often but often enough -- and I feel like, I am alive, I am real, and even if I'm not real, I'm here.

There are so many ways to win and lose. And mostly, we get to decide for ourselves what the score was. That's the one good thing about being little people. We don't have to care about status. We don't have to care about money in the bank.

I figured out, my "net worth" is in the minus thousands. That's the sum of 47 years. A handful of friends. Some memories. A few aches. Yearning. Children who love me.

A soft kiss.

The smell of cut grass.

Laughter in the night.

A warm blanket.

The belief that tomorrow we will hit every queen and the sun will inexorably rise on another beautiful day

We must all one day lose everything. But not today. Not today.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

About yoking with commas

This is wrong but why?

No, the answer is not simply that it is another example of a pedant inventing reasons for pedantry that isn't based in anything real, although that's true. It's not even that the Oxford comma is an archaism that most writers in English no longer use (I'll have more to say about that later).

It's this. With one exemption, you may not yoke two items (or if there are more than two items yoked, the last two) in English with a comma. You must use "and".

Here are some examples of incorrect yoking:

"I like to eat fish, meat."

This is just not grammatical in English and you must write "I like to eat fish and meat.". It's more clearly seen in:

"I like to play football, rugby and watch television."

This is common but "and" is needed between "football" and "rugby" because otherwise you are saying that you like to "play watch television".

"I hit him, he fell over."

This is a runon sentence because you must yoke coordinate clauses with "and".

"I fucked her long, hard."

I think you're getting the idea by now.

In the example given, for the sentence without the Oxford comma to be wrong, we would have to be yoking "eggs" and "toast and orange juice". This is not allowed because this is a parallel to "I like to eat fish, meat".

To make the sentence grammatical you must write "I had eggs and toast and orange juice." In written English this can only mean that you had two items. Why? Because not only must you use "and" to yoke the last item in a list, you may only use it to do that. Unless you are five years old.

As for the Oxford comma, it is simply an archaism from a time when English used a comma before every conjunction. On the whole, Americans still do. They probably should use serial commas because they use a comma before "and" in a sentence such as "I kicked him, and he didn't like it." or "I went to the shops, but I didn't see him." where an English writer would not (should not, in case any English writers read this and do use it). There are occasions for an English writer to use a comma before a conjunction but when you're conjoining simple clauses isn't one of them.

But didn't I say there was an exception? Yes. You do not always yoke adverbs with "and". In lyrical writing of the kind that mostly bad writers indulge in, you can see things such as "it fell to the ground slowly, softly, relentlessly". Although a good writer eschews this sort of thing, it's not strictly incorrect. Triads are a common device in writing, which are useful but should be deployed with care. "He's mad, bad, dangerous to know" just doesn't read well even if you want to argue that it's not strictly incorrect. Indeed, this is an example I would certainly correct, although I wouldn't go to the mat for the correction.

How about "Men, and women too, dislike eating snails."? Here we are using a parenthesis. When we do this, we must close the parenthesis with a second comma. "Men, and women too dislike eating snails." is not grammatical. "Men and women too dislike eating snails." is grammatical but reads a little awkwardly. BTW, do not parenthesise or use a comma before "too". People do, I know, but they are wrong to.

Friday, February 28, 2014

About at about

One thing I enjoy when thinking about the English language is the unwillingness of pedants simply to say "I enjoy and apply arbitrary rules" and to insist on inventing justifications for rules that are of course arbitrary.

But Monkey, I hear you cry, are not all rules of grammar somewhat arbitrary. Well yes, possibly -- Chomskian minimal project aside. They are at least conventional. But of course they do generally obey the internal logic of the language.

So a rule we often see is that one may not write "at about 8pm" in sentences like "The car crashed into the wall at about 8pm". One must write "The car crashed into the wall about 8pm". This sentence reads awkwardly. I'm not going to go into a huge digression on why it does, but certainly English prefers adverbial phrases of time to be fronted, so "About 8pm, the car crashed into the wall" reads much more comfortably.

So the reason given for the rule is that "at" is specific and "about" is vague. When we say "at an hour" we mean "precisely at that hour". The first is simply incorrect. "At" is a preposition that indicates position exclusive of other positions. It doesn't have to be specific or accurate. Nothing about it suggests that. It's in the nature of most phrases it is used in that it seems binary: "at home" means at home and not "not at home". However, "at home" actually means at home and nowhere else; "at work" means at work and nowhere else. "At work" in particular is quite a vague sort of concept. We do not mean it to say "at my workplace". We mean it to say "at the doing of my work and not doing anything else".

So "at about 7pm" means "at about 7pm and at no other time". "At" is not specific; it is exclusive. Compare "you or some other person". This is perfectly acceptable in English.

You're not convinced, I know. So let's look at a perfectly acceptable English sentence: "I will come at sevenish." No one will argue this is ungrammatical, because it plainly is. Yet the time specified is not pinpoint, is it?

Let's try another: "he killed her at some time after 9pm". Again, the time is not pinpoint. Indeed, it's a much broader sweep of time than we generally mean by "about". It's "the entire time after 9pm until now". But we can still use "at" (although it's not obligatory, of course).

Here's the killer though. You're going to like this.

Let's say you bring a lamb to the Ekka and it's weighed. The weigh-in dude says to you "that lamb is roughly 9kg". All good, right? We use "roughly" in this instance as precisely a synonym for "about".

"That lamb weighed in at roughly 9kg." is perfectly grammatical. Wait, hell no! That's "at" with a nonpinpoint measure. That surely cannot be.

But it can. And it is. And yes, I did just begin three sentences with conjunctions. Dealwithit.jpg.

Indeed, you cannot say "*That lamb weighed in roughly 9kg".

Okay, it's at about this time that the most diehard pedant will be gnashing their (or his or her, whatever you prefer) teeth because you can't really use "roughly" in the sentence I began with, so "about" and "roughly" are not perfect substitutes. But really, they don't have to be. The pedant claims that "at" cannot be used with imprecise terms. I just showed it can. So now the pedant is left with "at" cannot be used with imprecise terms to do with time, except, erm, "sevenish" and the like. Or that whole "after 9pm" thing. And I just say bullshit, take my bow and adieu, dear friends.

Monkey at the movies

So we hear that PT Anderson is making Inherent Vice and of course I'm excited about that. Pynchon has never been filmed and if anyone is going to do it, Anderson's the man.

Of course Pynchon reads like he's unfilmable and you can imagine outcomes that will be close to unviewable. Anderson verges on close to unviewable at the best of times -- it's part of what makes him a great director. Isn't that an odd thing to say? No, because what I'm saying is he's uncomfortable, not that he tips over into unwatchable often.

I watched The Master again the other night and that has to be counted as Anderson's big failure. Truth to be told, this time I lasted I don't know, two hours?, before my attention drifted to other things. It's not a very compelling film. Anderson eschews narrative and instead lays out a luscious, directionless mess of a film.

Phoenix is brilliant, of course. He is the kind of actor that I watch films purely to see him, because he's simply wonderful in practically anything he's in. He's compelling and fascinating as Freddie Quell but he's left with so little to do because the character goes nowhere. You know him in the first five minutes and he doesn't change at all.

But the failure of the film is Philip Seymour Hoffman. I know, blah blah, he was brilliant, blah blah, but he's not brilliant in the The Master (or much else, if truth be told). The problem is he's supposed to be charismatic, but there's a reason he rarely starred in films but was a character actor. Whereas Phoenix compels you to watch him, inhabits a character and makes him real, PSH is actorly and unconvincing. I had to keep reminding myself he was supposed to be charismatic because he cannot, and did not, portray it. I'm not suggesting the role needed a huge side of ham like Day Lewis, but it needed someone who was a credible conman. PSH excelled at nuance in small, relatively flat characters. Ask him to become large, and he fell flat. Compare him with Bale in American Hustle. Bale is charisma on a stick, even though he is an ugly and laughable man. You see why people want to be conned by him.

Is he miscast or is the role badly written? I think you can argue either way. Certainly there are films where PSH just turns up for the paycheque (Moneyball, which he hung around like a bad smell, springs to mind, and there are plenty of other bit parts he should just have turned down), but others where he does good material credit (Capote foremost in my opinion). I think the whole film was ill conceived. The problem reviewers had was that it looked great and mostly was great in so many respects, but Anderson just didn't have a story to place the characters in.

Inherent Vice is a bit thin on plot if we're honest. I mean, Pynchon's never really about the plot. He's about the ideas. So it could be shit on a plate. I don't think Phoenix will let us down as Sportello and the rest of the cast does look very juicy, but I can't help but be scared that they will be stuck with a concept and script that don't match the premise.


Actors can surprise you though. Matthew McConaughey, for years a slightly dull if attractive presence in mostly entertaining but substanceless films, a poor man's Ryan Gosling if such a thing is possible, suddenly showed an ability he has rarely been called on to exhibit in True Detective. If you haven't been watching it, you need to start. It's as good as any television series; I personally rank it as highly as The Wire and Breaking Bad. It has flaws -- as any work of art in film or television is almost bound to have -- but what lifts it above them is the seamless collaboration of deep and compelling atmosphere, wonderful writing and exemplary acting. Woody Harrelson is characteristically excellent as Marty and the supporting cast able and beautifully directed, but McConaughey is something else. He inhabits Rust Cohle, creating in him a truly great character. He seems incapable of hitting a false note and is unremittingly credible. Seriously, if TV shows could win Oscars, he would be a shoo-in for best actor, he's that good.

It cannot just be that he finally has a role that fits the talent he's mostly been hiding. The talent must be real. I hope he is now given the opportunity to show it again in films that make the most of it. He may never find the perfect fit he has in Rust again, but even if he doesn't, he has created one of the great performances in TV. I'm going to say even better than Cranston in Breaking Bad or Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire. Yes, that good.


Talking of surprises, I was sceptical of Django Unchained before I watched it, because truly Tarantino is even more overrated than Hoffman. Tarantino writes some mean dialogue and has framed it in pieces that have been entertaining if not entirely convincing, but he's also made some dogs. Inglorious Basterds was bad and Kill Bill was silly. We all know that even if we pretend they were masterpieces. Jackie Brown was dull and even Jackson hamming it up for all he was worth didn't change that.

But Django is a hugely fun romp. As spaghetti western homage, it captured the sly humour of a Leone (without wasting too much time on trying to emulate Leone's visual style) and Foxx and Waltz wink and shimmy through material that lets them have a lot of fun, which I for one was willing to indulge in. Di Caprio was a bit meh in a role that didn't suit him and Kerry Washington conveyed nothing more than astonishment that anyone would cast her in a big-budget film given that she doesn't seem to have any acting chops at all, but neither detracted too much from a gleeful couple of hours.

It reminded me a lot of the kind of smirking bullshit that I enjoyed as a kid. The Three Musketeers or even The Man Who Would Be King come to mind. Biggish films that don't pretend to be anything but fun for everyone involved, in which the actors are almost asiding to us, "No, really..."

Cinema that doesn't take itself seriously can be really good. I don't mean cynical trash like Gladiator (or practically anything Ridley Scott makes -- I mean, when the French land in Robin Hood from medieval landing craft, you realise that the joke's very much on you); I mean lighthearted stuff that aims to entertain without insulting you. I thought Django was a lovely tilt at being that kind of film.