Thursday 27 October 2016


I treated myself to a taxi. I rode home through the city streets. There wasn't a street, there wasn't a building....that wasn't connected to some memory in my mind. There, I was buying a suit with my father. There, I was having an ice cream soda after school. When I finally came in, Debby was home from work...and I told her everything about my dinner with Andre.

Friday 5 February 2016

Erica Cotterill

Untitled Document

Rummaging through Camilla's bookshop in Eastbourne, and unearthed an interesting looking stream-of-consciousness novel, published anonymously in 1939. But it did have a curious quote by George Bernard Shaw on the cover,

“You have a talent which is more irresistible than Shelley's and Tolstoy's rolled together... You will be one of the greatest of English women writers, in fact one of the greatest of all English writers before you thirty-three”

Intrigued I tried to find out more about her - there's not a hell of a lot of info on her,

She was born in 1881, the only child of a revolutionary Victorian preparatory-school headmaster, whom she hated. For her education she turned to someone very different, her cousin Rupert Brooke, who taught her subjects beyond the school curriculum. He revealed the secret of sexual ethics and the mystery of aesthetic socialism. To complete her education he took her to Bernard Shaw’s plays.

She began writing to Shaw, signing herself “Miss Charmer”. Shaw described her first letter in 1905 as “the greatest nonsense” which she took for a Shavian compliment. Then Shaw began sending her tickets for his plays. This was good but not enough. She wanted to enter his world, be close to him, declare her need for love. She began driving up to his house on a motorbike and sleeping in the wood nearby, knocking at the door at all times of the day or night.

Michael Holroyd

So, she had unrequited love George Bernard Shaw, and was dtermined to become his lover...

Poor Erica Cotterill was allowed to entertain her hopes of conquest too long, but one doubts whether it was because Shaw was toying with her affections: he probably believed that by an application of common reason he could fill her head with something else besides passion. Shaw’s friendships were so disinterested as to be hardly recognizable as friendship. He lent money to acquaintances of good character but would never grant a loan to his friend Charles Charrington, whose bad character he would forgive but not abet. He supported Wells in the Fabian power struggle until the moment when Wells’s reckless indolence was proved, whereupon he destroyed him overnight. Shaw can appear callous only to the selectively compassionate — i.e. to nearly all of us. Most of us love unreasonably, tell half-truths and favour our friends. The world is like that — which is what I mean by saying Shaw was out of it. He was a moral genius.

. . .

I was too forgiving, of course, about Shaw’s behaviour vis-Ã-vis Erica Cotterill and his other female acolytes: he did toy with their affections. Sexual dysfunctionality, like power worship, is one of those things about Shaw that are best admitted outright, so as more quickly to face the problems posed by his overwhelming charm.

Clive James - from A Dinosaur at Sunset

Eventually Shaw’s wife sent her a strong letter (drafted by Shaw) forbidding her to come to the house again.

[11 October 1910]

My dear Miss Cotterill,

I think I had better write to you to explain exactly why I intentionally shewed you that I strongly disapproved of your presence in my house, and that I did not—and do not—intend that your visit should be repeated. You might easily think that I was merely annoyed by your coming at an inconsiderate & unusual hour—as indeed I was—or that I disliked you. That was not it at all. I should object to your coming at tea time just as much as I do not particularly dislike you. On the contrary, it is because you are in some ways rather fine and sensitive, so that it is very difficult to be unkind to you, that I am determined to put a stop at once and for ever to any personal intimacy between us.

The matter is a very simple one. You have made a declaration of your feelings to my husband; and you have followed that up by coming to live near us with the avowed object of gratifying those feelings by seeing as much as possible of him. If you were an older and more experienced woman I should characterize that in terms which would make any further acquaintance between us impossible. As you are young and entirely taken by your own feelings, I can only tell you that when a woman makes such a declaration to a married man, or a man to a married woman, there is an end of all honourable question of their meeting one another again—intentionally at least. You do not understand this, perhaps; but you will later on, when you are married and know what loyalty men owe one another in that very delicate and difficult relation. The present case is a specially difficult and dangerous one, for my husband is not a common man; if you become at all intimate with him he would become a necessity of life to you; and then the inevitable parting would cost you more suffering that it can now. I could not trust him to keep you at a distance: he is quite friendly and sympathetic with everybody, from dogs and cats to dukes and duchesses, and none of them can imagine that his universal friendliness is not a special regard for them. He has already allowed you to become far more attached to him than he should; and I do not intend to let you drift any further into an impossible situation.

If I must end by saying that this letter does not admit of any argument or reply, and that I do not mean it to lead to any correspondence between us, do not conclude that I am writing you in an unfriendly spirit. It would be no use to discuss the matter now; and later on, when you are married and as old as I am, it will not be necessary. Meanwhile believe that my decision is quite inevitable and irrevocable.

Yours sincerely,

Charlotte F. Shaw

Michael Holroyd

So then

She occupied herself in various ways from teaching cricket at a girls’ school to managing a farm in north Devon. Before the second world war she changed her name to Mrs Erica M. Saye and somehow adopted two boys. She produced several self-published books and a Shavian play (while GBS borrowed her character for two of his plays). Her single novel, “Form of Diary”, contains a quote from one of Shaw’s letters prophesying she would be “one of the greatest of English women writers”. She had genuine literary talent but her prose is hypnotic.

When she died in 1950 Shaw felt a sense of relief and sadness. “Nobody who had not seen her and known her could possibly believe in her existence,” he wrote. “She was not mad but born before her time.”

Michael Holroyd

Sunday 15 December 2013


Hah. I'm writing a novel... well, a something. Although I've written over 10000 words, I see no narrative forming. Nope. I'm on the Isle of Skye; it's winter; here, there is no sun. No, I lie; I saw it once when I walked to the top of a glen, for about 30 seconds, very low on the horizon, just above the mountain ridge with an unpronounceable Gaelic name. The colours are grey, rust, yellow. The burn is dark, rushing water, has white foam, background white noise. I can see it from the window. Oddly, the sky, at 3:30ish turns all colours: red, orange, pink, yellow, mauve; all the shades of blue to indigo. Strange eerie colours that bathe. Its windy. I mean windy. Today, the wind was blowing the waterfall back up the mountain before it could reach its drop pool. No TV, radio or music. No people. There isn't another building within over half a mile. And no one is there, closed for the season. The next person is 10 minutes drive away. I've spoken to my landlord twice, when he came to see me when I arrived. To check the roof after a storm. I hear the wind though. The roof rattles; the slates move in waves. The telephone line whines and hums. The grass whooshes. The rain. It rains every day. Yes, every day. Except the time it snowed. Its easy to spook yourself up here, Alone. I've been here nearly three weeks. I will go home, to Brighton, just before Christmas. No one is there either.

Wednesday 25 April 2012


“It seems to me that the life of man on earth is like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your captains and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall. Outside, the storms of winter rain and snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one window of the hall and out through another. While he is inside, the bird is safe from the winter storms, but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So man appears on earth for a little while – but of what went before this life, or what follows, we know nothing.”

Venerable Bede’s History of the English People

Saturday 21 April 2012

Teddies revered

Poles II


The most difficult of colours... and people glimpsed, peripheral.

Thursday 16 June 2011

memory, and forgetting V

"That was Macaulay," she said, "the historian. He just made it up after the event. The people gave it the other name years before they had any cause for weeping."

"Is that the Macaulay who wrote 'Horatio at the Bridge'?", I asked, trying hard to remember the poems of distant high school.

"Yes," she said. "The same one. He was one of those people who went through history picking and choosing and embellishing." She paused. "Still, I guess when you look at it now, one meaning can be true and the other can be accurate."

"Where did you say you come from?"

"Oh," I said, startled by the simplicity or complexity of the question. "From Cape Breton"

Cape Breton


"Perhaps that's why he became so interested in history," she went on. "He felt if you read everything and put the pieces all together the real truth would emerge. It would be, somehow, like carpentry. Everything would fit together just so, and you would see in the end something like a perfect building called the past. Perhaps he felt if he couldn't understand his immediate past, he would try and understand his distant past"

All of us are better when we're loved.

From No Great Mischief, by Alistair MacLeod

Tuesday 17 May 2011

memory, and forgetting IV

But I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.

From Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood

Rereading Cat's Eye after twenty years revealed my own distortions of memory. And exposed perhaps memories, and a longing, too, I think, maybe for something that didn't exist... Also, I was surprised to discover the forgotten source of a number of memories of moments, that had bedded down in my mind - memories that had become "detached from any context", of, in this case, this novel. But that retained a well formed potency in my mind. They had become my stories.

But more than that...

Over the years I had recommended this book to a number of people, not for a recollection of the plot, the narrative, the writing, which had become "forgotten" - but rather on a more diffuse feeling that the book encapsulated the feeling of Canada - of a happy, if somewhat melancholy childhood. So they might understand better my memories of Canada - - - -

- - - - but I was shocked to discover on rereading that no, the book actually explored a traumatic childhood in Canada, of a little girl growing up, and an artist grown up looking back, struggling to come to terms with her past - to free herself of her past.

As the woman in the story had suppressed her childhood memories, I had suppressed the real story of this book, and its echoes of my childhood. And perhaps then the import of my own childhood... I wonder - perhaps twenty years ago, I wasn't ready to confront my own self that this book urged. But I must have recognised myself, none the less, on some level.

And so I'm left with the stories of two late forty something artists, in differing degrees fictional, coming to terms with their past.

And Canada itself - Edmonton? It at least allowed me the escape into beauty, of wheat fields, and blue skies, and snowscapes - to fill me with wonder, despite being adrift.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Memory, and forgetting III

"I think I recall that", he says, as if not entirely willing to be reminded of his former, younger self. It disturbs me that he can remember some of these things about himself, but not others; that the thing's he's lost or displaced exist now only for me. If he's forgotten so much, what have I forgotten?

I know these things must be memories, but they do not have the quality of memories. They are not hazy around the edges, but sharp and clear. The arrive detached from any context; they are simply there, in isolation, as an object glimpsed on the street is there.

I have no image of myself in relation with them. They are suffused with anxiety, but it's not my own anxiety. The anxiety is in the things themselves.

From Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood.

Sunday 8 May 2011

Narrative IV

"Chronology means the child is always narrated from a third-person perspective ['Isn't Chloe a cute/ugly/intelligent/stupid kid'], before it gains the ability to influence its own narration. Overcoming childhood could be understood as an attempt to correct the false narrations of others, of our story-telling parents. But the struggle against narration continues beyond childhood. A propaganda war surrounds the decision of who we are, a number of interest groups struggling to assert their view of reality, to have their story heard. "


"We [...] proceed by abbreviation, we take the dominant feature [of a tree, of an emotional state] and label as a whole something that is only a part. Similarly, the story we tell of an event remains a segment of the totality the moment comprised; as soon as the moment is narrated, it loses its multiplicity and ambivalence in the name of abstracted meaning and authorial intent. The story embodies the poverty of the remembered event. [...] Pressed for time and eager to simplify, we are forced to narrate and remember things by ellipsis, or we would be overwhelmed both by our ambivalence and our instability. The present becomes degraded first into history, then into nostalgia."

From Essays in Love by Alain de Botton

Saturday 7 May 2011

Memory, and forgetting II

"I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don’t notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is."

From True Stories (1986)

Saturday 9 April 2011


I like feeling alive - I like feeling I have a purpose - - - - that I'm happy to live, and grow old - - - after a life time of looking backwards. Of constructing memories, and meanings. And then - - - seeking escape into emptiness. Becoming one with nothingness.

It's all bound up in a sense of belonging. I don't know if I've really felt this before - I've had intimations, but now. It has solidity - no longer a dream - an insipid wraithlike existence ...

But then, maybe all that inwardness was necessary before looking outwards - to find form - to connect with another... maybe it was just time.

And it needed another.

Memory, and forgetting I

"We, amnesiacs all, condemned to live in an eternally fleeting present, have created the most elaborate of human constructions, memory, to buffer ourselves against the intolerable knowledge of the irreversible passage of time and the irretrieveability of its moments and events."

Geoffrey Sonnabend - Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter.
Here is an overview by Valentine Worth

Sunday 19 December 2010

Snow trees

Thursday 16 December 2010

In the pink light
the small red sun goes rolling, rolling,
round and round and round at the same height
in perpetual sunset, comprehensive, consoling,


Tuesday 16 November 2010

Morning thoughts

Tuesday 9 November 2010

See inside . . .

. . . bom bom

Monday 8 November 2010

passing by . . .

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Crossing frontiers . . .

"...the past is a country from which we have all immigrated, its loss is part of our common humanity [. . .] [a person] out of country may experience that loss in intensified form. It is made more concrete [. . .] by the physical fact of discontinuity [. . .] forced by cultural displacement to accept the provisional nature of truth [. . .] people who root themselves in ideas, rather than places and material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves - because they are so defined by others - by their otherness [. . .] The migrant suspects reality, having experienced several ways of being.

To see things plainly you have to cross a frontier . . ."

Culled from Imaginary Homelands, bt Salman Rushdie

Sunday 31 October 2010

inside outside inside outside

On the inside, looking outside, inside - how do I traverse the . . . space between. Without inhabiting the outside, always yearning to be contained.

Oh bollocks. Do give it a rest. . .

Saturday 30 October 2010

rainy daze . . .

Friday 29 October 2010


I was living in Canada at the time, so I must have been younger than 9... maybe 7. And I conducted my experiment on Spirograph paper. I must have been told that numbers - counting - never ends. But I needed to test it. Did I not believe it? Did I think I was going to discover a truth missed by all but myself: that numbers did in fact end?

I persevered, writing numbers from one to well into the tens of thousands. Columns and columns of numbers, until I ran out of paper. Then I stopped. At least I had used my paper.

I've never really been convinced to stop believing that maybe there is a stop somewhere down the line. That an end to the impossible, is possible. That there are undiscovered truths, right there in plain sight, if you just keep looking, keep searching.

Wednesday 27 October 2010


"You're quirky . . . you don't play by the rules."

God, how many times do I have to hear this? Actually, I think I'm about the most conventional, conservative person you could wish to meet.

I started replying, kinda tongue in cheek, in a hackneyed faux voice:

"Do you think if we wrote down our hopes, our dreams our desires our wants our needs; our fears . . . do you really think that we would be so very different?"

And as I was saying it, I thought: this is actually true, while also being terribly trite.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Sidney Nolan

Antartica, Africa, Fremantle

Sidney Nolan at the Sidney Nolan Trust

This weekend . . .

. . . I have mostly been sleeping. Thank fuck.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Colour of your mind

“I believe that you are sincere and good at heart. If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on a good path, and try not to leave it. Above all, avoid lies, all lies, especially the lie to yourself. Keep watch on your own lie and examine it every hour, every minute. And avoid contempt, both of others and of yourself: what seems bad to you in yourself is purified by the very fact that you have noticed it in yourself. And avoid fear, though fear is simply the consequence of every lie. Never be frightened at your own faintheartedness in attaining love, and meanwhile do not even be very frightened by your own bad acts. I am sorry that I can not say anything more comforting, for active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving of one's life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverence, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science. But I predict that even in that very moment when you see with horror that despite all your efforts, you not only have not come nearer your goal but seem to have gotten farther from it, at that very moment — I predict this to you — you will suddenly reach your goal... ”

Fyoder Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

leaving . . .

It's been a strange two or three days - with a flurry of communications from those absent, enquiring how I am, after silence for days and weeks. Some kind words, some concerns, and some evasions . . . some understanding, some misunderstanding, some not wanting to understand.

A friend commented that she's concentrating being in the "Here and Now" . . . I'm jealous of that - I feel I'm expanding outwards in time and space. Yet, I'd love to feel contained. I'm looking for an edge. Or maybe an anchor point. And, maybe there aren't any, and maybe I don't need any.

It's odd, this opening up to be a part of people's lives; it seems more often than not, it leaves me feeling lonely.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Secret lights

Wednesday 13 October 2010

.- -... ... . -. -.-. .

Monday 11 October 2010


Having just said that I felt a certain relief that, through Saul Leiter, that it's ok to sit off on the side and take photos unnoticed, I find myself taking more photos of people in tight corners. It's a bit scary; but seems necessary.

Morning light

Sunday 10 October 2010

Memory of R

None of the dead people have seen or that have spoken to me were bloody. When I go into a prison, an old hospital, or an old house like the ones I've lived in down in Boyle Heights - I sense them. I see them.

Ten years ago I met a Native American woman from Mexico who explained certain things to me. She became my mentor, and we spoke in her - our - indigenous tongue. I told her that the dead people I saw did not scare me. She said that it didn't matter. Dead people appear to those who can “see” them and to those that have chaos in their life. So among other lessons, she taught me how to get rid of the “gift”.

And so I prayed and meditated.

I began to understand the dead people; and then I began to recall what I saw in my childhood regarding this religion, and what I was taught when we'd go to the catechism on Saturday mornings.

Though my mother was not a religious person, she had religious beliefs that were never acknowledged. I didn't grow up thinking that the Native religion was part of me. I learned to understand this when I met my mentor.

But no one in the family liked to talk about the odd things.

At night, my mother always put a broom behind the front door. When I asked why, she said that it was to keep the bad people out. I said oh. Later I find out . . . this is how you keep evil spirits - the dead people - away from your home.

Then, in Texas, my cousin and I were sitting in a parked car waiting for my sister and mother to come out. We couldn't leave the car. We peeked out the back window of the car and could see a doorway with a green curtain that didn't go all the way down. Sis' ankles were tied to a wooden chair and there was a fire burning around her.

I don't know what for . . .

Saturday 9 October 2010

Memory of S

On the surface, the intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.

A man, whether single or married, who is a white person and who attempts to have sexual intercourse with a woman who is not white, is guilty of a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment with compulsory hard labour for up to seven years.

Immorality act, 1957

From the 59 - Orange and Green

I'm not sure . . .

Friday 8 October 2010

Red pillars

where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,



If only I weren't so shy, I would have asked if I could photograph her properly...


I have a 2000 quid camera, yet my best stuff is on a cheap mobile phone; it allows me a more painterly approach. I've embraced shadows, blurs, washes of colours, distortions of rain and fogged windows . . . and through it, emerges . . . something . . . a subject. Prompted by . . . a convergence of some special people.

A dream of a friend, and the openness and honesty of two others has given me courage to look at myself, to freak out, then settle - perhaps changed. The tug of the old is ever present - never banished, I think. But . . .

I wish I could write more poetically, obliquely, evocatively. Sometimes, perhaps, I need words to complement these images . . .

Also, I read a little piece on Leiter when I hunted for some of his photos, and something of me became clear - something I saw as a hinderence, actually, might be a strength.
"Leiter's sensibility.placed him outside the visceral confrontations with urban anxiety associated with photographers such as Robert Frank or William Klein. Instead, for him the camera provided an alternate way of seeing, of framing events and interpreting reality. He sought out moments of quiet humanity in the Manhattan maelstrom, forging a unique urban pastoral from the most unlikely of circumstances."

Martin Harrison

Leiter's approach was markedly more subtle, more indirect, more abstract, more emotionally expressive, less pugnacious. Instead of getting in the middle of the action, he preferred to stay off to the side, quiet and unnoticed.

From Utata

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Red cliche

Each screaming
"Get up! Stop dreaming!"


The tumult in the heart
keeps asking questions.
And then it stops and undertakes to answer
in the same tone of voice.
No one could tell the difference.

Uninnocent, these conversations start,
and then engage the senses,
only half-meaning to.
And then there is no choice,
and then there is no sense;

until a name
and all its connotation are the same.

Night station

Home . . .