Farewell Norm

As anyone can tell by the long silence on this blog, we’re not committed or prolific bloggers. Norman Geras (http://normblog.typepad.com) however, was: he wrote his blog for 10 years, posting on politics, ideology, philosophy, literature, music and cricket among other subjects.

Norm died last week and his passing has been greatly mourned in the blogosphere, with Harry’s Place alone carrying two tribute posts (here’s one: http://hurryupharry.org/2013/10/19/it%E2%80%99s-still-out-there-norman-geras-1943-2013/). He is greatly missed by his family and friends and by those of us who enjoy reading blogs.

Why was Norm so beloved? It is all down to his style. Norm was a Marxist, and argued his views powerfully and cogently. He always had respect for those who did not agree, which is precisely why he argued so forcefully – he thought his views, and the objections of others, were worth addressing fully and that other people could be persuaded to agree – or if not, that everyone could be clear on why they did not agree.

There was never any hint in Norm’s views that his opponents acted purely out of bad faith, malice or stupidity, which is a standard position among the blogosphere and now increasingly in the political sphere as well. That respect – which is not to be confused with respect for the actual view being contested – is what gave his blog its uniquely challenging but friendly atmosphere.

When you visited Norm’s blog, you knew you were there to think. You knew were respected as a reader and as a thinker.

He didn’t always set out to challenge: he posted some more relaxing stuff too. But Norm’s writings on music and cricket were also interesting and always thought-through: without being essays, but like articles for serious newspapers, they allowed the reader to feel comfortable while providing perspectives and ideas worth thinking about.

Norm invited others onto his blog, to share their views through questionnaires and through detailed discussions of favourite literature. The latter were more like essays and would examine a theme or a storyline or the influence of a text.

Norm never allowed comments onto his blog, believing that the blog was about the posts. In many blogs, comments generate far more heat than light anyway.  But he would always engage bloggers directly on his own blog or privately via email. He would be prepared to stand by his views but was always unfailingly polite with it.

As a result, Norm’s blog would begin or take part in debates that didn’t degenerate into the Mitchell and Webb sketch where the two protagonists are reduced to shouting “Stalin!” and “Hitler!” at each other.

Many of Norm’s obituaries have made this point. I wanted to add my £0.02, simply because I experienced Norm’s intelligence and decency first-hand on a couple of occasions and it it left me optimistic for the potential of the blogosphere. If we have largely failed to realise this potential, it is our fault for assuming our opponents to be enemies.

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The Spandau Ballet Dancer


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The wait’s over, the weight continues….

Percy Patrick Arthur Donnelly arrived at 9.13pm on Thursday 22nd November. Lifted into the world after his poor mother had tried for thirty four hours to push him into it.

And the world is simply not the same. Won’t ever be. Kevin and I are already terrified in ways we never imagined possible, awed both by Percy’s fragility and his magnificent will (his maternal Grandma describes him as a gorgeous tyrant) and both very, very much in love with this small, determined and perfect person.

Percy’s birth weight was a respectable 9lb 8oz but he’s struggled to regain that following the loss of weight all babies experience in the days after birth. He’s been weighed repeatedly, something I would refuse next time as it’s been a huge source of stress to me and that, in turn, has had an impact on Kevin and probably on Percy too. This week he seems to have turned a corner – though he’s still not back to his birth weight – and I hope it’s onward and upward from here.

I’ve written here before about my love of Advent but this year it’s felt more like T S Eliot’s opening to The Journey of the Magi than anything warm and tinselly.

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a journey…”

Poor Percy was perfectly happy where he was and had absolutely no intention of budging; he actually spent four of the last few hours of my induced labour fast asleep, leading the midwife to guess that he was a “lazy boy” as we didn’t know his gender. Out he’s come into the frosty December days to parents who feel suddenly old and inept and who keep apologising to him that he’s been landed with clumsy first-timers. But there’s hope; his maternal Grandpa wrote in a lovely Advent calendar card of it being “the Queen of Seasons” and of Mary’s faithfulness, something we hope to share with Percy as he grows.

Be patient with us, little one. Let the Advent-ure begin.

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Weighting and waiting…

As you may have guessed, Kevin and I are “expecting”…

Expecting what? Well, during the last few months, friends, relatives and complete strangers have helpfully filled in many of the blanks for us there. We are expecting sleepless nights, reduced income, toxic nappies, a permanently spinning washing machine, a faint whiff of sick everywhere and the feeling that our lives have been utterly overtaken by an incredibly small but highly effective dictator.

In pregnancy I expected to feel much worse physically, and much better mentally than I have. I’ve been extremely fortunate in avoiding many of the ailments associated with “my condition” and been pretty healthy and mobile throughout. Even now, six long days overdue, I’m still taking decent walks and can, just about, put on my own socks. The mental journey has been far, far tougher and this has come as a surprise as I have wanted, for almost as long as I can possibly remember, to be a mother and assumed that I would slip effortlessly into the mindset of one. What I’ve actually experienced is monumental self-doubt, huge confusion and debilitating self-pity. There’s been huge joy too, greatly increased by the joy of others for us, but the “black dogs” were unexpected and scary and just made me think “How will I ever manage this?” all the more.

In the last three weeks my family have been through quite a bit. On 27th October my amazing youngest sister Ruth gave birth, after a very, very long labour, to her beautiful son Arlo who was promptly rushed to Intensive Care with breathing problems. On the same day my ninety-seven year old Grandad had a mild (ish) heart attack and was admitted to Worthing Hospital in Sussex. Arlo was in hospital for a week. During that week four of my Grandad’s five grand-daughters (including this very pregnant one) visited him in hospital. On Saturday 3rd November, Arlo and his very relieved Mum and Dad took him home to Shippey Street and Grandad passed away peacefully following a sudden deterioration in his condition. Although Kevin and I are very sad that he wasn’t able to have news of both his great-grandchildren, we have to celebrate a life very well-lived. Last Friday my parents left the Vicarage they’ve lived in since 2005 – and my Dad the calling he’s pursued for forty years – and moved to Herefordshire. Both my parents have been utterly fantastic over the last few weeks, supporting all four of their daughters through some highly emotional moments.

What to expect next? Well, a baby. A completely new life, for him or her and for us. A funeral next month, an occasion that will bring two tiny cousins together as the very best kind of symbol of what family means. Black dogs? Probably. Everyone tells me you spend the third day after birth sobbing in your pyjamas so I’ve bought some rather fetching ones covered in red roses just for the purpose.


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Flog It

Another reminder that Thoughtcrimes on Nineteen Eighty-Four, my collection of expanded, adapted and occasionally all-new blogposts discussing various aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four, is on sale for the Kindle from Amazon priced at less than eight cans of Ace.

Also on sale is Class, a silly story about a rubbish teacher.
Here’s a sample of Thoughtcrimes:

The old man, in fact, answers Winston’s question, but he is too stupid to realise it.  Winston has this idea, from a textbook he has read, that the top hat was “the uniform of the capitalists and no one else was allowed to wear it” Winston has no idea whether any of the details in this book are true, including, we must assume this one.  He asks the old man about the top hats.  The old man replies that the last one he saw “must a been fifty year ago” – thus proving the textbooks wrong, as Winston knows that this was twenty years before the revolution.  If Winston had listened more carefully to this, he would realise that the old man is talking about them as an item of fashion, and not as a uniform – but Winston does not press the question.  This is curious because elsewhere Winston holds onto details, such as the photo, whereas here he dismisses the question: but it was proof of the mendacity of the Party.  He knows this already, but one’s relation to an external world is built upon verified details, as he knows.  Winston’s desire to get onto the big picture prevents him understanding the importance of the detail. It was also proof of what he instinctively understands: that the world before the Revolution was not as stratified and oppressive as this world.

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In the Silence of Bob

Actually it isn’t much of a silence, being punctuated with kicks, flickles and turnings; it is a quietness and an expectation – but then he or she is an expectation anyway. Like the pause before a slapped bass in a Japan track or a wait in the middle of a Kajagoogoo rhythm, Bob’s life is a turn of a penny and the unthought change of mind between a cornish pasty and the solid drive home.

Given these choices, these origins and Bob’s genes, it would be difficult to interpret his arm over his head, his occasional flicks of the wrist and his feeble wiggles as anything other as a deft, sardonic pulse in tune with late – or is that the late – capitalism. I thought his interpretation of “Are you alive?” was particularly malapropos; it was a sleight of existence, a Gothick shtick – at least that was how I saw the regular chant from centre stage.

Or maybe that was something else.

So much for Bob: the actor of our times, who literally gives you a kick when he wants you to know he is on stage; when you are reading a different script or typing out a meaningless beat that’s been told to you by people whose views could fill Bob’s eyelids with blobs of red light.

So much for Bob: sitting in the light of his mother’s brilliance, he says to us that he is damn well here and what the hell are we going to do about it hey.

Well, Bob – this is it. We are going to.

Going to..

Did you ever hear “The Lion’s Mouth” by Kajagoogoo? It’s a really great song.


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There May Be No Golden Fleece

It’s May, and the cold falls away with the blossom. Crisp, light leaves hold the breeze and the world is alright.

But old senses recall the quickness of touch and the fun of being. The alwaysbeenthereness of being, though you were young and knew absolutely nothing at all in the sweet heaviness of woods. Yes, yes, alright, I know. I know. Still, I was there. The world really was young. Not like those sweet, thing-addled fools from the 1960s, those idiot punks from the mid 1970s, the damn, failed-fools of the aggressive mid 1980s or the confused, multi-drug addled happiness-seekers of the mid 1990s. Not like any of those. No, the world was young when I was small, when everything really was huge, or terrifying, or about to fall over.

When it was about to fall over.


There were missiles about to fall over, men in the midst of aneurysms, alzheimers and takeovers, running the world. There was pain, and there was hate, and there was us, with our chants and our loathing-humour.

“It’s a free country.”

No it ain’t. No it really ain’t.

I ain’t done nuffin wrong. I ain’t done nuffin. I ant dun nuffin. Iunt dun nufun. Int dn nfn. I d nfn. I dn. I.



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