In Search of Henry Part Two

The following post contains *spoilers* regarding ‘Existence Is Futile’

Last week I confessed that I had never visited Oxford when I wrote ‘Existence Is Futile’.  This week I promised to explain a little more and share my experiences of my search for Henry at the end of December.

When writing a novel nowadays locations are somewhat easier to write about.  Thanks to the advent of the internet, in particular google and google earth it is relatively easy to get a sense of how anywhere on earth looks aesthetically.  The difficult part of crafting together a coherent account is the specific details.  I recall that when I was writing about the Psychiatrist’s office I had a great problem decided where precisely in Oxford it should be located, so much so that I actually started looking at random buildings on google images before I eventually settled on this one.

henry finale

I found this on google photos with a description of its precise location so I was able to pinpoint it on the map.  In the book it is first mentioned like this:

He broke into a jog as he passed two archways with locked gates, before finally catching a glimpse of her entering a doorway into a two-storey monstrosity with a jutting roof.

This building is integral to the story and thus, I was desperate to actually find it and take a photograph there.  Unfortunately it no longer exists.  I have stood on that street.  I have searched the surrounding area and it isn’t there.  I suspect that it has been ‘modernised’ and it is now unrecognisable.

I did get some things right.  The Morris Garage is somewhat iconic.  The Harris Manchester College really does look out-of-place.  Although it was closed when we visited, I was able to poke my head over the fence and confirm that at least half of the buildings look like they belong in a Hollywood film.

Probably the boldest passage that I wrote about Oxford was the following:

How he had fallen instantly in love with Oxford from the moment he first set foot on the High Street.  An eclectic mixture of churches, university buildings, theatres and shops.  The garish, the gothic and the damn right peculiar all sharing living space, in Henry’s mind it was a perfect allegory for 21st century society and a perfect advertisement for all which is magnificent about Little England.


These pictures from my phone really do not do Oxford justice.  It is a beautiful, if not peculiar city.  It has a wonderful oddness to it all.

I suppose the last thing I should mention is Magdalen Bridge.  It appears again and again in the book and serves as a catalyst for change several times over.  Given the importance to the story line(really trying not to give too many spoilers) I was probably most worried about this.  Would it be tiny?  Would it be ugly?  Would there be just a stream below?

  img_8888

Magdalen Bridge was huge and more picturesque than I had ever imagined.  It made its role so much more practical than I could ever have imagined.

Oxford is a city, albeit a small one, where some of the brightest, most brilliant and biggest bastards ever produced in Great Britain have been sent away for education.  It is rich in history, drowned in tradition and contains the aristocratic quirkiness which belongs with a historic British city. When I visited Oxford I had feared that perhaps it wouldn’t be a city fitting of Henry Tomlinson, now I am certain that it is the only city that ever could have.

In Search of Henry

I have an ignominious confession to make.  At the very end of 2015 I went to Oxford… for the first time in my life.  However, it isn’t as scandalous as it seems, as I thought I had been there before. Only, I hadn’t.

When I wrote ‘Existence Is Futile’ I had a clear desire to write about Oxford.  My decision to loosely base Professor Henry Tomlinson on Richard Dawkins’ public persona meant that Oxford felt perfectly apt.  I had a vague memory of racing my brother on a university square whilst my parents hummed the tune to Chariots of Fire, culminating in the greatest slow-motion finish in the entire history of everything ever that wasn’t ever filmed in slow motion.  It saddens me to acknowledge the fact that this vague memory quite probably never happened.

The fact is that lying is somewhat the purview of a writer.  If a writer is able to make a truth pliable, and make you believe that what isn’t is, they have performed the greatest of tricks.  The creation of a new reality.

The truth is that lies come in all manner of shapes and sizes.  They can be gargantuan.  They can be tiny.  ‘Existence Is Futile’ contains three individual rather tiny lies based around typical English names for things.  Although these are somewhat innocent lies, each one has its origins in the absurd reality of my green and pleasant homeland.

The first one struck me when I began researching Oxford as a location.  It was whilst researching the county where Oxford resides that I became somewhat enamored by the village names that can be found on the map of Oxfordshire.  Hampton Gay, Islip, Little Coxwell, Pishill, Little Farker and Horton-Cum-Studley are a mere selection  of the flamboyant magnificence that this county has to offer.  Did you catch it?  Did you even notice?  Little Farker was my creation.  It may surprise you that when I christened Henry Tomlinson’s village Little Farker it wasn’t initially for the purpose of easy jokes.  It was because somehow it fit snugly, like a bug in a rug.

Little Farker wasn’t my only use of poetic license.  England has a somewhat peculiar obsession with pub names.  They range from the damn right dull to the borderline offensive.  The pub name I used does not exist.  Here is a quiz question for you….

 I will give you the answer next Tuesday.  In the meantime take a look at this Metro article about some of the more interesting pub names in Britain.

The final lie which I must confess to is that I changed the name of the hospital in Oxford.  All across England are hospitals named after Saints.  I personally think it is a terrible idea.  It is something Professor Henry Tomlinson would never stand for.  The idea of naming a hospital after a Saint is as rational as naming a slice of bacon after a pig and is as just as likely to improve the pig’s future as a patient’s.    I named the hospital in ‘Existence Is Futile’ after a somewhat obscure Saint named Dymphna.  According to Wikipedia Saint Dymphna is the patron Saint of:

St. Dymphna is the patron saint of the nervous, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, and those who suffer neurological disorders – and, consequently, of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists. She is also the patron saint of victims of incest.

I do hope it worries you that the same Saint that cares for the crazy apparently cares for the health care professionals that also care for the crazy. It is like a one stop solution with extra incest thrown in free of charge.  I think it is somewhat obvious why she seemed the perfect choice.

When we decided to go and visit Oxford it occurred to me that I could use it to trace the path of Professor Henry Tomlinson.  So we did it.  Unsurprisingly, we found a somewhat different reality to the one in ‘Existence Is Futile’.  Oxford wasn’t exactly as I had written.  It was almost like someone had used it as a basis, and then created a work of fiction around it.  How bloody infuriating!

The next part of ‘In Search of Henry’ will be published here on Tuesday 2nd February.

 

My Jewish Communist Croustade

Recently my adopted homeland, Poland, has been in the news for all of the wrong reasons.  It has been distressing to watch a country that I love fall into the hands of the lunatics once again.  If you wish to read a little more about what’s going on in Poland, this is a great place to start: ‘The mutiny of the lemmings’.

Unfortunately, experience has proven that lunacy encourages lunacy.  Despite frequently tweeting bits and bobs about Poland, recently I have somehow found myself the target of Polish trolls. Check out the following example.

The sad fact is that a government which is openly bigoted, antisemitic, homophobic and racist only promotes such behaviors as socially acceptable. It is only further proof of the social regression taking place in Poland.

Now as an outed Communist and Jew, despite never having grown a full beard or worn sandals, or shared a sandwich, or fed the five thousand with the sandwich that I had previously refused to share, I feel like I should do my level best to be the very caricature which the trolls desire.

Therefore, I shall now present you with a poem about the bourgeoisie and Yahweh entitled:

My Jewish Communist Croustade

A tin pot dictator,

Sits atop a demagoguery of hate,

Whilst the secret puppet master,

Throws around his weight,

There ain’t no higher power,

Than this devil in disguise,

That never settled down,

Prefers the company of guys,

Oh in the kingdom of bigots,

A dwarf leads the way,

Where you must watch who your friends are,

And watch what you might say.

Unrequited paranoia,

Is a life in quite a state,

Where there is no discussion,

And there is no debate,

There ain’t no higher court,

This is a terrifying fact,

All the power in this country,

Belongs to one man and his cat.

 

 

 

Freebies and Fourbies

It’s been a while since I have posted an update on my literary babies and the odd projects that I am somehow involved in so I thought I should share some news.

On Thursday the 26th of November, to commemorate my entry into middle-life misery, Amazon will be giving away the kindle version of ‘Mourning Morning’ absolutely free.  That’s right, you can read my book without the fear of even a penny going to me.  So do it, and enjoy the fact that I am a starving, struggling, writer that lives under a bridge with a hobo called Johnny Wanxard.

To further commemorate another year survived, the price of the paperback edition of ‘Mourning Morning’ has been slashed harder than Freddy Kruger’s underwear that time he had public lice.  You can order it by clicking here.

Nook readers can now get ‘Mia’ for free, directly from the Barnes and Noble store.  You can find it right here.

For those of you in Poland.  On Saturday the 28th of November you can go and see my new band play their first live concert at the Europejskie Targi Muzyczne in Warsaw.  You, or should I say, Yu, can find all the details right here.

I rarely use this blog as a platform to ask for help, however, for once I can only to try to use it for the power of good.  In my hometown of Harlow, something terrible is happening.  The single live music venue is being closed down and it is awful news.  ‘The Square’ in Harlow, was the first place that ever gave a stage to an original song by me. The song in question was Wet Dream performed by the magnificent Dwarf Antidote. Since then a billion miles have passed, I have swapped writing angry teenage punk for uplifting Polish electro and the very venue that offered a forum for many others like me is closing down and it utterly depresses me. ‘The Square’, for most of that have inhabited the place at some point in our lives, is a sanctuary, a safe place away from alcohol-fuelled testosterone inspired pissing competitions found in nightclubs in so many towns. It has always been a place where you could be yourself, no matter how ridiculous that self is, and that for one is worth celebrating. Now we have a chance to say thank you. ‘The Square’ is in the running to be voted ‘Britain’s Best Small Venue’ by NME magazine.  Anybody can vote, regardless of location, and you can do so by clicking here.  Go on, it will only take a minute and it may well save a special place for so many people.

And if my pleas have fallen off death ears, make yourself a coffee, or pour a beer, or whatever it is you people do and watch this video which explains precisely why you should #SaveTheSquare

It’s a Kind of Maciek

Image.  We curate it, we preserve it, we defend it and we idealize it.  It is the centrifugal force that defines us, at least we think it does.  We constantly present a variation of our image every single day.  In the office we may wish to be seen as a diligent worker bee, on a Friday night a party animal, on a Sunday morning devoutly religious or not as the case may be.  Take a moment for yourself and count how many images you possess, and then ask yourself if you are insane.

Mankind is so obsessed by image that it permeates through every single thing we do.  We have created statues, portraits, poems, photos, songs, books, plays and films all in the name of presenting an image.  A writer or an artist is able to embellish that image in order to better sell it to their audience.  A photographer isn’t.

It is true to say that in the 21st century we are all photographers.  We spend much of our lives trying to capture experiences through tiny camera lenses on mobile phones instead of experiencing them.  Then we add filters to further distort the experience that we were trying to capture in order to make it better.  The oft result is that we end up with a collection of kaleidoscopic pictures which we store somewhere online and never look at again.

There is another kind of photographer.  That is a person that tries to coordinate an image inside their own head with the equipment they have in front of them.  It is more than trying to capture a moment, it is the evocation of emotion from within the viewer.  It must make you feel something, otherwise it is little more than wallpaper.

I would like to introduce you to a photographer by the name of Maciek Wojciechowski. Maciek’s career is gradually taking off and recently has been focusing on nudes.  You can find some wonderful examples at maciekwojciechowski.com  His work has been exhibited internationally and he is available for commissions.  Also he took this…

Sexbomb

Maciek also took this.  I liked it so much that I bought a print.  You can too.  Click on the photo to learn more.

weareallchrist

Now go forth and check out his work and try to cut your own number of images down to one.  ‘Alisa’ by Maciek Wojciechowski in on exhibit at the Dray Walk Gallery on Brick Lane, London until the 20th of October.  If you live in the city, you should definitely check it out.

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