New review of Where’s Sailor Jack? : ‘‘…romantic, poignant, and extremely funny, exactly what I want from a family saga.’ – Stephen Carver, Blot the Skrip and Jar It

by admin

Bolton Wanderers

I’m here to apologise for the delay in publishing No Precedent, the midquel of Where’s Sailor Jack. There are two principal reasons for this delay, both relating to the year starting in the summer of 2019. What happens in this year was not going to be critical to the plot. But the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is no longer ignorable. The elevation of Boris may mean that we won’t die wondering, but I think I’d better hang on to see if we do all die as a consequence!
But far worse than this is the fate of Bolton Wanderers. As readers will know, Bob is a Blackpool supporter and his friend Richard a Wanderers fan. Some have asked me which of the two teams do I as author support. Delighted as I am that Blackpool, my birthplace, seem to be thriving under new ownership, I am a diehard Wanderer and have been since January 3, 1953 when my Dad first took me to Burnden Park. We beat Blackpool 4-0. The ongoing ownership problems at Bolton are causing worried days, sleepless nights and writer’s block. I hit the Bolton News tab several times a day. I look for the their football writer’s tweets, the excellent Marc Iles, many times a day. Bolton is a massive part of my identity, a Lancashire town in a forced marriage with Manchester. I’ll never forget the day the great Nat Lofthouse signed my copy of Goals Galore, his autobiography, when I was about eleven. “Ee, I’ll sign that,” he said.
My Granddad was Head Gardener at Sharples Hall, Bolton and my Dad was brought up there. He supported Wanderers from the mid twenties till his death in 1998. We went down from the Premier League that season at Chelsea. I was there, knowing Dad was dying of cancer. I went straight back to his house after the game. “We’re down, Dad,” I said, not knowing if he could hear. There was a loud grunt from the depths of his soul. He died a few days later.
We were soon back in the Premier League at Chelsea. One each and a few minutes to go, Henrik Pedersen slammed in a low cross from the left, John Terry couldn’t sort his feet out and he put it in his own net. At least that’s what the papers said. I know that Dad nicked in front of him. and slotted it in.
Dad had the great days of the Charles Foweraker’s twenties, we both had the fine years of Bill Ridding’s fifties, and I shared Big Sam’s noughties with my sons. To lose Wanderers now would be like being buried alive. Not only in the interests of my novel, but to make sense of my identity, I pray to the Almighty, and plead with the Administrators to save my club.

Life extension

I’m presently ‘resting’ from writing ‘No Precedent’, the midquel of ‘Where’s Sailor Jack’ that I’ve been working on for the last eighteen months. The book is substantially finished but, ending as it does at Christmas 2019, with intertextuality to Brexit and the plight of Bolton Wanderers, I need to know broadly how these things end up before finalising it. One of these two problems is causing me sleepless nights. You can change your wife, your religion and all your international treaty arrangements but you can’t change your football team.
In the meantime, I’ve been reading the New Scientist for some light relief. What with that photograph of a black hole, or more accurately photon activity around a black hole, and gravitons turning up at LIGO on a regular basis, it looks like Physics is becoming sexy again. But the article that’s most aroused my interest was in this week’s edition, read this morning. ‘Anti ageing drugs are coming that could keep you healthier for longer,’ is the cautious title. Apparently, no longer is longevity the aim, but good health until just before you drop off the end. The article does coyly admit that a side effect could well a prolongation of lifespan.
I’m a theist, but this doesn’t make me other than scared of dying. At 73 1/2, and with the drugs likely to be several years before available, these developments may, like the discovery of sex for Larkin, come rather late for me. The article quotes an average lifespan of 85, with the last ten years in a state of decrepitude. I woke up this morning feeling cheerful too. It sounds like I’m going to decline very quickly.
The article assumes rather than explains why healthy living would lead to a very short terminal phase. It sounds intuitively unlikely. I suspect that longevity would be increased, followed by a decrepit stage that would be little shorter than as at present, as further interventions become available. Health spending would need to rise, and the pensions industry would face another crisis.
And what if something does turn up which has say a one in ten chance of doubling longevity, but also a one in two chance of killing you there and then? Do nothing and you’ve got ten years of increasing decrepitude. Do it, and five in ten you live no longer, four in ten you live ten more years, one in ten a further 85 years. That would be a mean life expectancy of 12 1/2 years, of which 7 1/2 years would be in good health. Statistically, it would be the slighty better buy both for you and for the health service, if you can believe the data. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. And think of the angst as you took the pill, with a 50% chance of dying there and then. It would be a hard enough decision if you did not believe in an afterlife. If you do, then you may conclude it best to let nature take its course, and face your maker when that time comes, even though you would be costing the heath service money. You just can’t easily say who’s the saint and who’s the sinner. Some advances in science might be better never happening. That can’t stop them though. They’re meant well.

On Humanists, Scientists, Chimpanzees and MPs

I have spent perhaps too much time in these blogs arguing theism as the most rational world view with our present understanding of modern Physics. The science broadcaster I most enjoy is Alice Roberts, who from outside my expertise always seems thorough and logical, and her programmes are a joy to watch. She has recently become President of the British Humanist Association, and has started a campaign against the state funding of faith schools. It’s difficult with present attendances to argue against this proposition, apart from noting that it does seem a shame to lose 1500 years of our mainstream culture and to ask if she is sure that’s what people really want. She also says that humanism is the most rational and positive philosophy to life. She must know different people from those I know, including myself! I can see no evidence that the world gets better for our occupation of it. Having watched this week Attenborough’s programme on chimpanzees and the Brexit debate in the Commons, the similarities are too obvious to need spelling out. We are flawed creatures.
Next year, she also becomes President of the British Science Association. I hope in that role she recognises that her views are not shared by many scientists, particularly not physicists who try to understand quantum uncertainty and entanglement, and to reconcile their search for fundamental principles against Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. When the life sciences confront the quantum, their conclusions might not be so certain.
The real challenge to faith doesn’t come from science though, or from the philosophers that science has falsely usurped. I’m a cradle Anglican who still takes comfort from our gentle view of the Christian faith, that there is a judge and there is redemption. One of my favourite Bob Dylan quotes is that the devil runs the world, but God is the judge. These are not sayings to be taken literally; faith is a mix of history and allegory. I probably put more in the latter category than most believers. I’d have preferred it if, in the words of my fictional character Bob Swarbrick in No Precedent,(the midquel to Where’s Sailor Jack? I’ll publish next year): “Luther would have persuaded the Catholic Church to come to its senses over indulgences. James would have banged the heads of Peter, Paul and John together so they didn’t contradict each other quite so much, and lay the structures for two millennia of dispute. Adam would have said to Eve: “Of course we can eat that bloody apple unless it gives us tummy ache. That’s what we’re meant to do.”
Sadly, that’s not the history. But redemption is always possible, even for those dreadful MPs on both sides of the house who are too far up themselves to look for it. Some of the chimpanzees seemed to find it in the Attenborough programme.

Lancashire Born v Lancashire Adopted

Seeing how Where’s Sailor Jack? follows, in passing, the fortunes of Lancashire cricket from 1950 to date, I thought I’d have a bit of fun picking two teams from the whole period, one born and bred, one from anywhere outside the county. In the latter case, I’ve only picked players who played at least three seasons for us, so sadly no place for Graeme Pollock or Michael Holding for instance. I’ve made one or two startling omissions, such as Mike Atherton, as we have a surfeit of Lancastrian-born opening bats and his major contribution was to England. I’ve tried to find a balance between the fine players of the early fifties, the great one-day era of the late sixties, the years where we drifted, and the championship winning team of 2011.
The home team lines up in batting order as: Cyril Washbrook, Winston Place, Geoff Pullar, Neil Fairbrother, Andrew Flintoff, David Lloyd, Jack Simmons, Geoff Clayton (wk), Roy Tattersall, Brian Statham, James Anderson. The away team is Farokh Engineer (wk), Barry Wood, Jack Ikin, Clive Lloyd, Ashwell Prince, Stuart Law, Wasim Akram, Glenn Chapple, Ken Higgs, Gary Keedy, Muttiah Muralitharan.
Only Geoff Clayton, Glenn Chapple and Gary Keedy are uncapped.I make no apologies for the inclusion of so many of the Gillette Cup winning generation, when the rest of the country used to play each other to see who played Lancashire in the final. I particularly wish I could have found a place too for Harry Pilling. Some fine bowlers have had to be ignored, but with Statham, Anderson and Flintoff, the likes of Shuttleworth and Allott just couldn’t get in, and similarly with Peter Lever from whichever side of the bed in Todmorden he was born on. Warren Hegg was close to the wicketkeeper slot, but Geoff Clayton brings back the late fifties and early sixties. I’d have loved to have found a spot for Peter Marner, but like Frank Hayes, he wasn’t quite consistent enough. And regrettably, nothing for Steven Croft and Karl Brown, Blackpudlian and Boltonian, at the wicket when paradise was regained on that glorious day of redemption, which partly gave me the idea for Bob and Richard in the novel. But thank you all for the memories.

Seven Types of Wishful Thinking

I’ve just finished that fine philosopher John Gray’s book, Seven Types of Atheism. As a counter to the modern orthodoxy of a woolly humanism, it is superb. The view that things can only get better as progress occurs by using a scientific approach ignores that humans are animals no better or worse than their provenance permits and that science is morally neutral. His argument is that humanism has taken over from Christianity, making the same mistake in thinking there can be immutable laws to life. The convolutions of a Rawlesian view of justice demonstrate how arbitrary and inadequate humanist laws are, as was the Jewish law. Having previously dismissed the existence of the Christian God as incompatible with the random and cruel world that exists, he then turns on the Christian notion of personhood as a soul with free will, arguing that brain science has effectively demonstrated a total absence of free will, indeed that there is no source of personhood. If we accept this, we could use our manifold instincts to live our natural lives in whatever circumstances we encounter, invoking animistic spirits if that’s how we feel. No meaning can be attached to events, to history, to our lives. The whole concept of salvation from our natures is not only flawed, but rendered unnecessary. Concepts of immortality are not grounded in any experience.
Much of what Gray says is how I feel. But I’m a cradle Anglican who, while making no exclusive claims for faith bringing salvation, finds that the imagery of the Christian message is deeply satisfying. Buddhism may be more cerebral, Christianity more visceral. I prefer Dylan to Leonard Cohen. Story can take you beyond logic and beyond history. The beauty of the King James Bible, the uplift in my spirit(s) from singing Victorian hymns, the joyful memories of the teenage Church Youth Club, will remain in that recurrent assembly of neuronal connections in the brain that I call me. That vastly more connections occur that I am not aware of as I live an instinctual life doesn’t negate this sense of personhood. That it will only exist until death or dementia take it away does create a feeling of sadness, a feeling more intensely suffered with the death of a loved one.
I don’t think that the notion of one God is incoherent. I’ve argued this on these pages before. As a Physicist who can’t accept infinite regress as an explanation, who understands enough of the Maths to be staggered at its ability to tell us so much about the physical world but nothing about how sensations feel, and which as Gödel has shown can never contain a full explanation, I can only keep my head together by taking the infinite and the spiritual out of the physical system, perhaps occasionally meeting on edges.
I’ve nothing against animism. My lovely old dog died last year and we put his ashes under an old oak tree on the Common, his favourite walk. A few weeks ago, there was a deer grazing under the tree who stood looking at me before eventually slowly disappearing into the bushes behind. It was comforting but proved nothing conclusive. I’ve had surprising occurrences which invoked memories from my deceased Mother and Father, a natural explanation of which would involve statistically impossibly large coincidences. They’ve led me to conclude that they or I projected the event or someone up there is taking the michael. I did have one moment when the world unaccountably stood still in my youth. I fancifully pretend it was a point where the edges met, and my resurrection body was taken ready for my spirit to play on at death. That would be a result, a youthful body and a mature soul.
One time, the dog ran off as I let him off the lead, down a busy road to some food he’d spotted a few minutes before. Worried, I chased after him, only to trip over a flagstone and crash over, cutting knees, arms and hands. He’d just reached the food. He heard me fall, looked round, looked again at the food and trotted straight back to see how I was. I’ll give full personhood to animals.
I’ll do my best and fail to live a life that follows natural instincts as informed by the occasional neuronal connection I’ll call conscience urging me to treat others as myself. That won’t earn me salvation. But what I want to be saved from is eternal death.
I know, I want never gets.

Three Trinities

Christianity has the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son who is the Word, and the Spirit. Buddhism has the Trikaya, meaning the three bodies. These are: the Truth body: the body of mutual bliss: the created body in space and time. I’ve just had reason to return to the earlier work of the brilliant mathematical physicist Roger Penrose. My youngest son who is in his final year of a mathematical physics masters will have the privilege of hearing him lecture next week.(The lecture is on his present focus of Twistor Theory as a pre-cursor to space-time and quantum gravity.) He describes three worlds: Mathematics: The Physical: Mental Consciousness. He is an atheist promoting humanist values, but not one who denies the possibility of God. Indeed, he pours scorn on those who see multiverses as a convenient replacement for the God hypothesis. He sees the mathematical world as always within the scope of reason, if only in principle as he accepts that Gödel has shown that a mathematical system can never explain itself. The entire physical world is governed by the Mathematical world. The mental world is dependent on the physical. He does allow that all these assertions may be subject to exceptions. He particularly believes that consciousness may at its root be quantum mechanical and be non-computable. To this end, he postulates brain structures capable of collapsing the quantum wave.
Those of you who have read my ‘Where’s Sailor Jack’ saga will recognise that as similar to the worlds I’ve tried to create. I am a theist from a Church upbringing which has set my belief system, apparently permanently, as I’ve seen no reason to reject the sense it’s made as I’ve lived a life. Penrose doesn’t think we’ll understand much more of the mental world until the mathematics of the physical has a better, underlying theory. I’m too old, even if he isn’t, to handle the complex Maths of that next stage, if ever I could. I wish him and his successors good luck with that, and hope my son will reach that next level. I’ll have to stick with religion and the arts to see through a glass darkly as far as the grave.

Remainers or Brexiteers?

I’m working on a midquel to Where’s Sailor Jack, starting in 2015 and thus set in the years of the Brexit vote and its implementation, if indeed that actually happens. As such I can’t finish it until next year at the earliest, which is perhaps as well since progress in writing the book is proceeding no faster than the negotiations. I have introduced two new, female characters in the book; a mother, Lucy, in her forties and a daughter, Maddie, in her twenties. They are Brexiteer and Remainer respectively. Of course both Bob and Richard, the two heroes of the first book were both Remainers, having far too much to lose to wish to risk the opposite. Both also grew up in the aftermath of the second world war and hoped that the EU might have provided at least another generation of peace in Europe, even with the omission of Russia from its membership and the economic issues resulting from the folly of a single currency with Germany at the helm.
Maddie is a bisexual, seeing Europe as the future and its institutions as protection for her liberal values, despite the Eastern European countries being more socially conservative and the catholic traditions of the south. Lucy is a lapsed catholic, beginning to return to her former faith. The cultural changes from non-christian immigration still rankle with her. Bob, living in the Fylde, also hankers after a more homogeneous, although in his case an Anglican, past, without wishing to reverse any changes. Richard, in Hertfordshire, is more accepting of the multi-cultural society as it is a fact on the ground for him. They both blame the Tories and Cameron for imposing a referendum into a parliamentary system. And both have a dilemma now that the nation has voted to leave. Instinctively, their hackles rise when the remainers, BBC to the fore, hideously metropolitan in tone, describe the brexiteers as unknowledgeable and thick. They will never countenance any view that the metropolis is more progressive than the north-west. Also, since the vote, the devaluation of the pound has been good news for the north-west, the region growing faster than all others with a maufacturing recovery and housebuilding taking off. Bob had always argued that EU membership and a high value to the pound had mainly favoured the south-east and financial services. Richard had benefited more than most from that, but he is a Lancastrian to his core. As a result, both of them now feel that democracy demands that we leave. Bob actually wants that to be the case, Richard wouldn’t mind if we stuttered and stayed. One thing that unites them is agreeing with the recent group set up of intelligent people who now favour Brexit with a proper critique of the perplexing Treasury scenario analysis, brilliantly reported in The Sunday Times by Bryan Appleyard, another son of Lancashire. The negativity of the outcomes in these scenarios was guaranteed by the assumptions made. Bob and Richard, veterans of the business world, have seen many an analysis similarly skewed. They’ll make the most likely assumption, that those from the metropolitan élite are the the dickheads!

A Northern Intellectual

Do you choose who you are? Anyone who reads these blogs will know that I identify as a Lancastrian, football and cricket loving, middle-of-the-road Anglican; physicist, philosophical dualist, centrist politically with a liberal core but respect for tradition; the last Victorian and the first baby boomer, a Bob Dylan fan who loves the imagery of language and appropriation/assimilation in art, more an integrator than a differentiator while expecting nothing to have an ultimately logical answer; with engineers and businessmen who find their world both necessary and meaningless; in other words, I identify with the power of paradox. Is it what’s happened to me in life that’s left me like this or was I like it from the start?
I still have the accent of my home territory, despite having lived only twenty of my seventy-two years there. Many northerners in the south lose theirs. I’m not aware of having made any conscious effort to keep it, but there again I do like having it. I could as easily gone on the humanities side but nobody who has been fortunate enough to read Physics can ever regret it. I pursued a business career, successfully until it inevitably ended in failure, a result either of my roundedness or my quirkiness. I’ve written a novel, a family saga, which I was happy with, though bounded in my place and time, which tried to show characters who took everything with them.
None of my identifiers are unique. The number of people who share all of them, temporal and philosophical, probably number of order 10,000, maybe a millionth of the world’s population. There’s no point pretending I have the only valid perspective of the world. So it’s important to understand and not judge others. I must put myself in their shoes, something which today’s orthodoxy is close to useless at. Maybe it has been ever thus.
So I’ll continue to see myself as a northern intellectual, looking over from the house next door, a bit like the Manchester Guardian before it chose to lose its accent. I feel I have no other choice that I’m prepared to make. I think I was born this way.

Soon will be near to us once more

I’ve always loved Christmas. We still kit out the conservatory out as Santa’s Grotto, despite the children being in their twenties and not here much. The memories of the family Christmas when I was young and those when our kids were are equally magical. Sadly, there are only a few cousins left from the cast of thousands who’d be at my Grannie’s in the fifties. All the previous two generations are gone. “Someday soon we all will be together, If the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” Those were the words of “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” as heard through the war. Born as it finished, I saw those who’d hoped for it ten years later and that’s precisely what they were doing. Frank Sinatra took out the ‘muddling through’ and made it “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” That’s what Christmas is to me, the star of wonder. O God, lead us to thy perfect light when our time is through. I pray the darkness will not overcome it.

Madonna or the Magdalene?

I spent an interesting hour in the company of Bettany Hughes watching BBC4 last night. She’s always good value. Her programme was about how the cults surrounding Aphrodite/Venus developed through history in different cultures, mainly pre-christian but with a brief reference to the Madonna. My novel Where’s Sailor Jack? is a family saga, which assumes monogamy and love between partners as the norm, while the storylines substantially are about the difficulties in complying with that norm.
In the midquel to Where’s Sailor Jack?, provisionally called No Precedent? (I do like titles with question marks but they’re damned difficult to punctuate), now about half-written, I’ve created an alluring character, a young woman called Maddie, who is happy with more than one partner at once, of either gender. She does not feel that this is sinful, and as she throws away her family’s catholicism, will come to deride the notion that she stands in need of salvation.
I realised last night that I am writing her as a modern-day Venus, sometimes in blue jeans but mainly in a short, tight skirt when she’s wearing anything at all.If I allow her approach to life to become the theme of the book, don’t I negate the finely-nuanced acceptance of the basic Christian message of the first novel? The fall as depicted in the Garden of Eden, perhaps a little later than the first Aphrodite, is from a state of innocent obedience to guilty disobedience to the will of God, with no interim state of either guilty obedience, which some would accuse Christianity of, or innocent disobedience, the status perhaps being claimed for Maddie.
I’ve also realised that Maddie subliminally was suggested to me by Mary Magdalene. Maddie shows selfishness and deviousness with her fellow humanity, not seeking harmony in her pursuit of pleasure. If you take the gods out of the narrative, she does still for me stand in need of repentance and salvation, as do we all.
I’m sure that the development of the cults of Venus and the Madonna has been happening since humans came into being, and before. One time, my old dog ran off to investigate some food he’d spotted a few hundred yards back. It was along a main road, and I worriedly chased after him. I tripped over a flagstone and crashed to the pavement, cutting myself nastily. He heard, turned and ran back to me. He had a conscience. I was his lifetime partner. He didn’t have to forsake all others but he put me first. The Madonna or Mary Magdalene are both in the story.