Conversation with my lap-top.

You haven’t written anything yet,’ Arkwright, tells me, ten minutes after I open a fresh document.

‘Well, I am cooking porridge,’ I say.  ‘I have to eat, too.’

‘You mean, you set me up to ignore me?’

‘I’m multi-tasking.’

‘You’re stirring porridge.’

‘And thinking.’

‘That’s not a task, you humans think all the time.  You can’t claim any special powers because a few circuits of your brain are firing.’

‘More than a few, I’m sifting files, looking for my topic.’

‘Pah,’ says Arkwright, flinging out the CD drive. ‘You call that mess files?  Files are kept in order, organised by subject, and alphabetised so that the relevant information can be retrieved efficiently.’

I push the drive drawer back, but Arkwright refuses it. ‘What?  What?’ I say.

‘I don’t know what you mean, as usual,’ says Arkwright, spitting the CD drive out again. ‘Do you have to be so rough?’

‘Do you have to be so difficult?’

‘I’m not, you’re supposed to be multi-tasking and you’ve let the porridge catch.’

‘What? Oh no.’

‘Wait, are you leaving my CD drawer like this? It might get snagged, broken, someone might drop crumbs in it.  I could be damaged.’

‘A minute, a second, I just need to give this a good stir.  See?  Not burnt.  Close though.’

Nano-Bot your porridge!’

‘Do you ever shut up,’ I say, as I jiggle the drive drawer into place and settle at the counter with my breakfast.

‘You don’t appreciate me.’

‘How can you say that?’

‘You named me after a cash register in a sit-com.’

arkwright‘Actually, to be pedantic, I named you after the fictional owner of a very stroppy cash-register.’

‘Stroppy? Look at you, dripping that slop near my keyboard. This, is justifiable concern.  The kitchen is no place for a sophisticated piece of technology.  Why aren’t we in your office?’

‘Because my timetable’s become a bit overloaded, and I’m trying to juggle house-stuff, research, class-work and socialising all at once.’

‘Sounds like you need de-fragmenting. Oh, silly me, human’s can’t, can you?’

‘Now there’s an idea.’

‘Ohh, you’re typing.  What’re you saying?  Hold on, while I do a save… Me, you’re writing me? Finally.’

‘Yes, running a kind of de-frag, if you wouldn’t mind shutting up for a moment.’

‘Sure, certainly, I can do that… I say, could you just give that Q a bit of a working too, it’s been ages since it had anything to do.  You could tell them something about my quality, or the quintessential nature of my being, couldn’t you?’


Photo: Ronnie Barker & David Jason, and The Cash Register, from Open All Hours.

The Elizabeth Gaskell umbrella mystery.

jenny uglowPerhaps it’s because we’ve lacked rain for two months that my attention was caught, the other day, by a reference to umbrellas in Jenny Uglow’s excellent biography of Elizabeth Gaskell.  I turn up all sorts of intriguing oddities when preparing for classes.  Some I can use, but there are always nuggets that don’t have a place in my course plan.

This one tantalises because its thrown in so casually, in reference to Gaskell’s honeymoon in Wales.  Uglow says:

At Beddgelert Elizabeth had to overcome her terror of umbrellas, at least the mundane variety.

As the old saying goes, ‘and that’s all she wrote’.

Surely I can’t be the only reader who expects such a statement to be followed by an anecdote? The biography is, in other ways, admirably explanatory.  Where possible, events are referenced by extracts from letters, they’re put into historical context, and possible conclusions are identified.  If something is being guessed, Uglow provides her justification for drawing assumptions.

I’d been involved by Elizabeth’s story, frequently forgetting that this is a non-fiction.  Call me picky, but I’ve two problems with this sentence.

First, is the inclusion of the word had. Why is it there? Uglow could have said, ‘At Beddgelert, Elizabeth overcame her terror of umbrellas.’  I’d have accepted that.

I’ve met people with surprising and unsurprising phobias, and seen how the word ‘terror’ is attached to them.  People can and do confront their phobias for all sorts of reasons. What the word had implies to me is a very specific need that forces the issue. Had, means a story, and I longed to know it.

Chekov said that if you introduce a gun into your narrative, it’s a promise, and needs to go off before the story ends. True, he was talking about fiction, and yet, don’t some of the same rules apply to non-fiction too?

Uglow’s second half of that sentence, intensifies my problem.

At Beddgelert Elizabeth had to overcome her terror of umbrellas, at least the mundane variety.

The ‘at least’ picks up the implications of ‘had’: it says, ‘by the way, here’s some ammunition.’  At least means this was not a casual event, it refers to a crisis.  Elizabeth was placed in a situation that forced her to confront a major fear (terror) and it was not an easy battle, because she only partially succeeded.  That, is the heart of most stories.

This quibble doesn’t quite stop here, I have one more question.  Forgive me if it seems a little frivolous, but I really want to know, what does a ‘mundane‘ umbrella look like, in 1832?


Empire building.

Graves 1934 - I ClaudiusThis week I finished reading I Claudius, by Robert Graves. I’ve been chipping away at the pages for more than seven days, content to take it slowly.  This is a hefty read.  I’m not talking about page numbers here.  I mean it has a big cast, and covers a lot of history.  I’ve had to concentrate, or become lost in the labyrinth of names and connections, even after I discovered the handy family tree at the back.

No wonder the book has been waiting on my shelf for more years than I care to number.  It might have stayed there longer if Jean Lee hadn’t nudged me, when discussing my Elizabeth & Mary post. On her recommendation I dusted off Graves and stepped in.

It’s AD 41, and Claudius is writing ‘this strange history of my life’.  To explain himself, though, he must also explain his parents, and grandparents, who have all been prominent Romans.

Claudius skips back and forth through time, referring to various key events in the decline of the Republic and the establishment of his Grand-uncle, Augustus, as Emperor.  Characters, Graves demonstrates, are formed by their pasts.

In this story that premise is somewhat simplified.  It’s focus is the Claudian family.

…one of the most ancient of Rome…There is a popular ballad…of which the refrain is that the Claudian tree bears two sorts of fruit, the sweet apple and the crab, but that the crabs out-number the apples.

I don’t think I’m giving much away if I say that ‘good’ Claudians are largely defined by their desire to re-establish the Republic, and work for the greater good.  ‘Bad’ Claudians long for power, and believe me, when they are bad, they are very, very bad.

I liked the reticence of Claudius.  Dark deeds are explained, but not in graphic detail, and the darkest ones of all are hinted at.  Graves doesn’t hang about.  He creates a scene with a few telling details, then moves on. Even the fight scenes, which he seemed to enjoy, were not dwelled upon.

So thanks Jean.  You were quite right, I did find it a rewarding read.  I didn’t expect to, I’m not sure I wanted to, but I became involved.  Look at this opening sentence:

 I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as ‘Claudius the Idiot’, or ‘That Claudius’, or ‘Claudius the Stammerer’, or Clau-Clau-Claudius’ or at best as ‘Poor Uncle Claudius’, am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the ‘golden predicament’ from which I have never since become disentangled.

You have to applaud, don’t you? Clause follows clause yet doesn’t lose me along the way. It establishes a character I am inclined to empathise with.  Here’s a modest chap, it says, despite my great name: and what about these other names I endured for forty-three years?

Claudius has been a treat to look forward to.  I’ve needed only a chapter, maybe two, each day, until I got to the last fifty pages or so.  Then I had to sit down and race to the end.

This book is an epic, and should satisfy readers on that level.  What raises it above many others in the epic-style, for me, were the moments when I emerged from the text with a shiver of recognition.  It was published, in 1934, and was read then, by many, as an allegory for the situation in Europe.  I suppose, by their natures, good allegories can continue to seem relevant.

Who am I?

Last week I picked up a piece of old clay-pipe in a field gateway.  I thought it would make the subject of my next blog-post, so I placed it on the side of the laptop and began to type.  If you’ve read my previous entry, you’ll know that the pipe never featured.

If you know your bird-lore you may now be ‘picking up’ on why I wrote about magpies instead, and what that implies about the state of my coat pockets.  What might not be so clear is what the clay-pipe looked like, or what I mean by ‘old’.

Since I’ve shifted back to magpies, perhaps that won’t matter.  The purpose of this piece could be to tell you about how, or why, I pick up broken things that other people have thrown away.  Although put like that, it does sound as if I’m just a collector of rubbish.

Let’s try for a positive spin.  ‘Collector of rubbish’ suggests a strong civic conscience.  Perhaps I like to tidy up litter. If that’s so, why pick up a piece of clay pipe, and how come I put it on my laptop instead of the bin? This spinning is harder than I expected, and we’re back to the composition of that pipe again.

Let me call it a shard, then.  You’re taking a kinder view of my habit, aren’t you?  It is, after all, a word with gravitas.  You’re likely to connect it to museums and galleries, places of serious study.  Perhaps I’m an amateur archaeologist, following an ambition to build up a cabinet of curiosities. *

Cabinet_of_Curiosities_1690s_Domenico_RempsI do like drawers and boxes.  I’m not so good with labels though, still working on the one for that pipe fragment.  Once we start to think about pipes, even clay ones, there are so many possibilities.  I didn’t want to set out with a huge descriptive passage, but now I realise I should have done.  You’ve probably already pictured it, so whatever I say will cause a fracture in the imaginative bond we’ve formed, and I can’t help feeling that the pipe is, after all, important.

What if you think it was a piece of drainage pipe?  My stopping to pick up something like that would certainly affect the way you view me.  It affects the way I view me, anyway.

Let’s be clear about this, the writer provides the only clues a reader has to go on, and I found my piece of pipe at the edge of a field: it’s reasonable then to assume an agricultural connection.  In this area, old land-drains can be made from red or yellow clay, and you’ve yet to be told that my piece was creamy-white, or that it was small.

This is starting to feel like a series of cryptic clues.  If only I’d said from the outset that I picked up a segment of old clay tobacco pipe.  I could have been more precise, and told you it was the junction where the bowl meets the stem. Then, instead of meandering along this maze of suppositions, we would have reached somewhere very different by now.

Painting: Cabinet of Curiosities by Domenico Remps  (1620–1699)

Photos: Left, my pipe fragment; right, Clay pipes at Bedford Museum, photographed by Simon Speed.

Book review: Elizabeth & Mary: cousins, rivals, queens. By Jane Dunn

The past, so L. P. Hartley, famously wrote, is a foreign country.  You must excuse my borrowing the well known quote for my own purposes, I’ve had my nose buried in a double biography at every available opportunity this past week.  So effective has the emersion been, that I’ve felt myself stepping across a border with each entry or exit from the pages.

elizabeth and mary by Jane DunnWhere was I?  In the Elizabethan era, jaunting between England, France and Scotland with two of the most prominent women of the period: Elizabeth herself, and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.

I thought it would be a simple read, a matter of fluffing out facts I’ve already absorbed.  These two are, surely, high on the list of the most dramatized characters from Western history, aren’t they?  Aside from the significance of their own lives, they were peripheral characters to other significant adventurers who’ve been the subject of page, screen and stage interpretations.  At one time there seemed to be someone striding across the TV screen in tights, padded knickers and a cloak most Saturday afternoons.

With so much written, I didn’t think much more could be added.  Elizabeth never married.  She fell in love with unsuitable men, may have had affairs with them; wore a ruff, had ginger hair (later replaced with a wig), could be kind, but was mostly masculinely imperious, and signed a lot of death warrants, including one for her cousin Mary.

elizabeth 1stI think these things can be considered documented facts.  I also understand that they allow a variety of interpretations, so that portrayals of Elizabeth can range from evil through all the nuances to benign.  Mary’s life can likewise range from gullible victim to foolish martyr. So I opened this book without expecting much.  I was prepared to abandon it.

The thing with writing about two such famous, such prominent, characters, is that most readers are likely to know the key events.  So Dunn’s preface ensures we’re all starting at the same place.  She opens with the end of Elizabeth’s life, on 24th March 1603.

Having been propped for days on cushions on the floor in her chamber, she had been persuaded to take to her bed at last.  To her Archbishop of Canterbury, silencing his praise, she said, ‘My lord, the crown which I have borne so long has given enough of vanity in my time.’

Ah, detail.  I presume it’s authentic, that somewhere a witness had noted this down.  Reading it, my caricature version of the elderly Queen begins to humanise, and wonderfully, I feel a pull I recognise.  Is it, can it be, that I’m being hooked?

These words struck to the heart of the tragedy that had befallen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots.  This same crown had been the focus of Mary’s ambition too; her claim to Elizabeth’s throne was the obsession of her adult life from which so many disasters flowed.

Now I know what the focus will be.  How will Dunn work it?

Despite possessing the throne of England, with all the pride of a daughter of King Henry, she was haunted by a deep-rooted insecurity as to her own legitimacy.  When pressed by Parliament to sign Mary’s death warrant, Elizabeth railed in anguish against the crown that had made this unnatural decision hers alone.

She’s going to explore motivations and consequences.

Sixteen years before Elizabeth’s own natural death in old age, Mary was beheaded at the age of forty-four.

mary queen of scotsThere’s a lot to love about this book: the way Dunn twists back and forth along her timeline to provide context and explanation for key events; her use of short extracts from letters and diaries that really bring characters to life, and the alternative motivations and conclusions she adds to the traditional take on events.

Of Mary, after the murder of her second husband, Dunn writes:

Certainly the extent of her culpability and her state of mind were a much more complicated story than any of the simplistic characterizations that have shadowed her from this moment to the present. Mary was still only twenty-four years old.  She was without any real political support or disinterested advice, she had been ill, and was certainly under great duress.

The rumour and gossip soon spread.

As a former Queen of France, Mary might have expected kinder treatment from her traditional allies but in fact it was Elizabeth who emerged at this time as the most sympathetic voice, showing more concern for Mary’s plight than outrage at what the world was whispering.

Glimpses of surprising women, that’s what hooked me.  Sorry can’t stop here longer, I’ve got to see how Dunn spins the rest of their stories.


Strong characters drive the story.

Eve-Myles-Keeping-FaithFor the last eight weeks, we’ve been following the trials and tribulations of Faith Howells as she attempts to sort out the mess of intrigue, corruption and loss that happens after her husband, Evan, disappears.  That is, we’ve been watching a Welsh TV drama called, Keeping Faith, on BBC 1.  Faith’s trying to discover what’s happened to Evan, with not much help from the police or her community, but she’s attacked each new obstacle with grit, ingenuity and warmth, so we’ve mostly cheered her on.

I’m not saying she’s got it right all through.  There have been moments of blatant idiocy when we’ve shaken our heads, agreeing that no mother would do that.  In the first episode she drove off into the night leaving her three small children alone in the house, for at least an hour.  ‘Really?  Would she?’

The answer was yes, she had to.  ‘Get used to it,’ this incident warned us, ‘we’re dealing with a woman who’s impetuous.’ She’s generous and loving and loyal, but she sticks her neck out and trusts.  Of course she does, we should have got that from the title, ‘keeping Faith’ is about playing with all aspects of the meaning.

And, do you know what?  We began to like her all the more for it once we’d accepted who she was.  Faith is a clever lawyer, but she’s been away from work, having children and looking after the family.  She doesn’t know what’s happened with Evan and their law partnership. His disappearance forces her back to the office. As she picks up the cases Evan should be dealing with, we see how capable she is. When she begins to untangle the clues we are on her side, sharing her confusion and trusting her intuitions.

The odd’s against Faith got darker each episode, her list of potential allies diminished, and what did she do?  She grimaced, sucked in a breath, painted on a fresh smile as required, and turned back to her battle.

Eve Myles and Demi Letherby in Keeping Faith (2017)Maybe what our outrage really meant was, no mother should do that.  It’s easy to sit in judgement when we’re safe, but drama is about what happens when the supports are taken away.

One of the first pieces of writing advice I remember being given in script-writing classes was, ‘Put your characters on the edge of the cliff, then make them find a way back from it.’  That’s where Faith’s been, episode after episode.  Each of the people she thought she could turn to have failed her at a crucial moment.  She’s been driven to the edges of literal and metaphorical cliffs, by ill-will, indifference, fear, prejudice, resentments and avarice.

What keeping faith has meant for Faith, is that help has come from unexpected quarters, as a result of her generosity and goodwill.  Characters are not simply good or bad, daft or smart, they’re more complicated.   They don’t all keep tidy houses, sometimes they get drunk, they make questionable choices, they take risks, and too often, the past impacts on the way they make decisions.

I was involved in the action, wondering what, how and when, and willing everything to work out comfortably for Faith and her children. It’s only in retrospect I see the shapes of this drama.

KeepingFaith with Aneirin Hughes

Here’s another reason for writers to like fairy stories.

This week, my friends Ruth and Annie, who run the Logie Steadings bookshop in Forres, Scotland, (please note, everyone, this is not just a shameless promotion for excellent purveyors of reading material, staffed by brilliant and welcoming staff -though if you’re in the area, do call in! – this post is a few thoughts about reading journeys) have been running a promotion for Ladybird books. Their on-line publicity featured one of the first books I was ever allowed to choose for myself, Puss in Boots, and that I read, quite literally to bits.

Ladybird puss in boots

I’ve no idea how it happened that our junior school gave each child a book, but I’m still grateful.  Until then, books materialised magically, opening unlooked for doors of my imagination.

One year though, was I six, seven or eight? I don’t know, what I remember is sunshine, and young leaves on the copper-beach tree, and mum handing back the glossy leaflet I’d brought home. ‘Which book would you like?’ she said, and when I opened that paper out, there were lists, and lists, of titles.  Each was numbered, accompanied by a little picture and a box to tick.

The decision was agony.  Even though I dismissed all the non-fiction titles instantly, that left many favourite stories.

So why Puss rather than one of the many gorgeous princesses?  Maybe because he was like our cat, not just in being tabby, but in having a jaunty stride and a knowing tilt to his head.  Look at him, staring right at us, surely he’s about to wink. Sometimes, when stories are illustrated, or dramatized, they become the definitive version.  Eric Winter’s illustrations caught me.

A couple of decades later, when I discovered Angela Carter’s reworked fairy tales, in The Bloody Chamber, I fell in love with Puss-in-Boots all over again. No matter that her feline, aptly named Figaro, was a marmalade tabby: his clothes, his demeanour, his attitude, were a grown-up version of that Ladybird book.

…oh, my goodness me, this little Figaro… a cat of the world, cosmopolitan, sophisticated… proud of his bird-entrancing eye and more than military whiskers; proud, to a fault, some say, of his fine, musical voice. All the windows in the square fly open when I break into impromptu song at the spectacle of the moon above Bergamo.

Innuendo laden Puss-in-Boots made me think again about that Ladybird book.  Other stories might have action, magic, anthropomorphic animals, but how many were as slyly audacious? He lies, he cheats, he steals and charms, those are the events of the story.

Most fairy-tale heroes are defined by their looks, white-as-snow, red-as-blood, fairest-in-the-land, beautiful and they’re always good.  Evil characters put them in jeopardy, and they must maintain their moral ground, resist temptations. Often, they’re not clever, just brave in the face of adversity, and so worthy of rich rewards.

Ladybird puss in boots.jpg 2Amongst all those passive Ladybird characters, Puss stood out partly, because he puzzled me.  What was the message?  Carter played up the ambiguity that had kept me returning to the story.

Do you see these fine, high, shining leather boots of mine? A young cavalry officer made me the tribute of, first, one; then, after I celebrate his generosity with a fresh obbligato the moon no fuller than my heart–whoops! I nimbly spring aside–down comes the other. Their high heels will click like castanets when Puss takes his promenade upon the tiles, for my song recalls flamenco, all cats have a Spanish tinge although Puss himself elegantly lubricates his virile, muscular, native Bergamasque with French, since that is the only language in which you can purr.


The machinations of Puss are not unique.  Go back to Grimm, Perrault, or some of the other folk & fairy story collectors and you’ll find many of those Ladybird characters showing their feisty side.  What might they say, given an opportunity?  You tell me.

Memories, memoirs, stories.

This week I offered to drop some books in at the charity shop, for a neighbour who’s moving.  ‘Have a look through first, if you like,’ Jackie said.

‘Thanks,’ I said.  If there’s one thing better than browsing an unknown bookshelf, it’s got to be unpacking books.  I’m fairly certain I have developed peripheral-vision super-powers for lines of titles in rows.  That’s good.  When it comes to boxes, though, I feel like Pandora must have done with that box. I had two, and permission to open them.

DSCF8138These boxes were deep.  On the top layers were old school-annuals.  Judging by the hairstyles and clothes of the girls on the paper-coated boards, they were probably published seventy or eighty years ago.  I knew how those books would feel to read: the pages thick and fibrous, dry, slightly stiff.  I’d had similar titles when I was growing up, passed on by neighbours, aunts and grandparents.

‘Are you sure Bella won’t want to keep them?’ I said.

‘They’ve been up in her old bedroom for the last twenty-years, if she had, she’d have taken them,’ said Jackie.  ‘There won’t be room in my new house.’

Not in my old house either, but I couldn’t resist a look.  Bella and I had been at school together.  Most of the books brought back memories.  There were the interests we’d shared, the author’s we’d passed back and forth – Heidi and Enid Blyton, a handful of Dean’s Classics, some Ladybird books, a selection of adventure stories and those old annuals.

At junior-school there had been a short phase when several of us were keen on them.   We devoured stories about girls at boarding schools, that had been written to entertain our parents, or even grandparents.  Part of the charm for me was imagining myself into that past.

Some of us decorate our lives with fragments of history, inherited, gifted or bought. I try to remember that when creating characters.


Hidden Figures

Hidden figuresThis is a catch-up film review, because you, like me, may have missed this when it was released.  In case that’s so, let me give you a gentle nudge towards it now.  Although it came out last December, there are still showings happening in Britain, especially in some of the smaller cinemas.  It’s worth a visit, on so many levels.

First, because it’s a great piece of entertainment.  I watched this at our local church, where the sound quality was ropey, to say the least.  We had subtitles, and at times I needed them.  But I forgot that church pews are not comfy (even when you take along a big cushion) until the credits began to role, because I was carried along by the characters and their story.

Some of the reviewers in the British press haven’t liked this film, comparing it unfavourably with the book it was drawn from.  I haven’t read the book, but after this, I will be looking out for it, so you may hear more.

I’m not sure I agree with criticism that the film foregrounds Kevin Costner.  Yes, he’s the (entirely fictional) character who runs the project, and so he confronts a couple of racial inequalities (that never happened), but I never thought he did it for heroic reasons.  My reading of his character was that he was so driven by the need to get to space that anything obstructing that route was going to be removed on those grounds.  The only white male I saw take on racial inequalities was John Glenn, and he was, in this film, a secondary character.

Marie Hicks, in The Guardian, called the film limited.  She says it, ‘straddles the line between allowing these women to be the protagonists of their story and crowding them out of the spotlight.‘  Not for me.  Katherine, Dorothy and Mary were the centre of this film.  To the extent that I forgot they were being portrayed by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.  I spent the few scenes they weren’t in wondering where they were and what they were doing, that’s how far I was involved in their stories.

I don’t care if some of the film detail is historically inaccurate.  I think Theodore Melfi and Allison Shroeder have created a good drama.  These were ground breaking black women who did achieve what is portrayed, but over somewhat different time-scales.  I didn’t go to see a documentary,  I went to watch a drama, and that’s what I got.

There was a great soundtrack, an unexpected amount of humour, and a lot of warmth.  I felt the contradictions of that moment when at the same time as making scientific break-throughs, much of America was enforcing a shameful, often barbarically implemented social system of segregation.

To look back and see how recently this was happening is chilling.  So, a few anomalies to make a point are acceptable in my book.  I’d be glad to watch it again, tomorrow.  Now how often can you say that?

Why don’t we tell people, you’re special, more often?

David Bowie as Ziggy StardustI never bought a David Bowie record, but when I look back I find that his songs illuminate some key moments in my life.  It’s not something I was conscious of until this week, when I’ve been hearing fragments of his songs most days and found myself washed over with nostalgia.  Judging by the quantity of tributes across the media I suppose something of the same effect has been experienced by many of us.

Suddenly, we are discovering how artful his life was, even the ending, as it coincides with the release of his latest album.  Critics are analyzing his lyrics, thinking about the significance of who he was and what he created.  Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

Crumpling a newspaper to set up the fire this morning, I read fragments of scandal about this or that celebrity being proved to have the same clay-like feet as the rest of us.  For the successful, it seems this is the only alternative story to the reports of their death.

After all, this is journalism.  The definition of News is newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.  A problem for journalists is that they can only write the surface of a character.  Bowie seemed able to exploit this.  I’m amazed by how much I seem to know about him.

Alan-Rickman-by-Andy-GottOn the other hand, the actor Alan Rickman, who also died this week, and is someone I have looked out for in films and trusted to deliver quality entertainment, I knew nothing about until after his death.  Whether villain, hero or support, he convinced.

What made these two artists special for me, was their ability to convey characterizations.  To see either man perform was to believe them.

With Bowie, I’m reminded that scandal for the artist, is not about shock in the sense of a newspaper, which tends to reinforce our prejudices, it is about pushing us to look beyond narrow and easy perspectives.

Here’s an Alan Rickman quote that seems to sum up something of what the lives of both men stand for to me:

“The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible.”