Vague ramblings

One reason why, two words that matter

Posted in Life, Personal, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 24 April, 2017

I don’t know who did it.

It is likely that she (or he) was younger than me, since Carr Saunders Hall was mainly full of undergrads and I was one of the small group of postgrads; it is probable that he (or she) was one of those who volunteered to staff the front desk out-of-hours; I suppose it is possible that it was one of my friends, but really they are the sort of people who if they have something to say about me, would pull me aside and say it to me. But I don’t know.

What “it” was, was this:

Smack in the middle of exam revision time, I wandered into Carr Saunders and the woman on the desk (a fellow student – I can still picture her: quite tall, short red hair, but for the life of me cannot recall her name. Maybe it was her.) said “Ian, Ed has said can you pop up and see him.”

Ed was Ed Kuska, former US Marine (or so the legend went) and Warden of Carr Saunders Hall. I can’t recall if I went straight up to the warden’s residence, but when I got there Ed sat me down and told me that somebody had reported concern for my welfare and, in particular, that I might be a suicide risk.

Now, you need to know that I was very aware of how eccentrically I acted at exam time. I was (and am) pathologically incapable of sitting and thinking. I need to pace. I preferred to revise in the bustle of the bar, rather than the silence of the library or solitude of my room. This restlessness drove a lot of wandering the corridors deep in thought, at all hours of the day and night, randomly stopping wherever I happened to be, to write something down or look something up. Reading that back it doesn’t seem anywhere near as bonkers as it looked in real life. Anybody from Kingston or Francis Bacon would have recognised it, but it hadn’t occurred to me that people at LSE had never seen me in exam mode.

I was not – and never have been – a suicide risk, at least in part because I have seen the devastating impact of suicide. I explained to Ed that it was usual exam behaviour for me and that I would be right back to normal after the last exam (or 13 hours sleep after the last exam, as it turned out). I was somewhere on a slightly wonky spectrum between embarrassed and amused.

In the vanishingly unlikely event that you stumble upon this tale and recognise yourself, these are my two words that matter:

I have thought about this occasionally over the years, especially when I was in chronic clinical depression and when I was finally being treated – it was a little spark in the gloom . And I’ve thought about it quite a bit over the past couple of weeks, having watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

This is an unflinching and harrowing tale of the events that led to Hannah Baker, a high school junior, taking her own life. Katherine Langford’s stellar performance in the lead made me cry for a fictional character for the first time in a very long time. I think anyone who cares about people should watch it – not just in school but in any cohort, be it college, the workplace, the armed forces. It is not easy viewing. It goes to the very darkest of dark, dark places. But I think it might be important, because it is the first time I’ve seen these issues taken on so directly, entirely without the cloak of metaphor.

I still am somewhere on the ’embarrassed-amused’ spectrum. But there is something that has muscled in as the three or so decades since have passed: I am grateful.

And this is my one reason why: That a nameless member of my cohort saw something alarming and took action to ensure it was dealt with, took action to protect me.

How fucking cool is that? And how likely is it that my mystery benefactor has, in those three decades, done much the same for other people in real distress and in urgent need of somebody to give a damn? Pretty much odds on, I’d say.

So, in the vanishingly unlikely event that you stumble upon this tale and recognise yourself, these are my two words that matter: thank you.

 


Brightwing: as childhood slips away

Posted in Life, Music, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 25 May, 2016

It was, pretty much, an impulse purchase.

Since somebody had gone to all the trouble of sorting out absurdly complex music rights, it seemed downright rude not to take the opportunity to wallow in a bit of nostalgia for lazy Sunday mornings watching Channel 4’s diet of comfort telly.

A bunch of graduates and postgraduate students, more or less hungover, in the back end of the 80s easing themselves into the day. The Waltons (entire, in the correct order) and a rotation of The Fugitive, Bonanza or The Invaders – all terrifically atmospheric. But teeing it all up, The Wonder Years.

It is a show that succeeds for a variety of reasons – music from when blues-based rock and pop was in its pomp, tight scripts and stories rooted in truth. Mostly I think the key is that it was never afraid to let central character Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) be a total dickhead. Despite entirely American cultural references, the suburb could have been anywhere on in the industrialised World where people had no choice but to work hard for a living and, even then,  earned barely enough to get by – something the kids didn’t quite get.

So I settled in for a wallow. It it was fun, rediscovering how it knew when to prick the humour with pathos and vice versa, and exactly why it got us out of bed of a Sunday morning. I remember Karl and Gus and Alex and Maria  and, of course, Kath, from Rowfant Road with whatever the inner equivalent of a dopey grin is.

And then the last 5 episodes of Season 2 happened. They are an extraordinary essay on the pain of childhood loss – of the brother killed in Vietnam, of childhood starting to slip away and for a society showing the first signs of the fragmenting that would shape the World ever since.

And it began with Brightwing, which centred not on the three main characters, but on Kevin’s big sister, Karen (Olivia d’Abo). She induces Kevin to help her bunk off school, and lures him into her rebellious hippy world – blind that he is desperate to rekindle their earlier childhood bond. But she is trying to get out of the suburbs and, despite a promise to Kevin, jumps in a car with friends and tries to run away to San Fransisco. I doubt that Donovan’s Catch The Wind has ever been used to greater emotional effect.

There’s a lot of literature about brotherly love, about sisterly strength, about the pain of parents letting go and children moving on. There is much about father and daughter, mother and son, mother and daughter, father and son.

But this story understands the brother-sister bond, and that seems to be a very rare thing indeed.

It is a bond that cannot be broken, whether you like it or not. It can be stretched until it is a filament, no thicker than a molecule of DNA. It can rip at your heart, or ignite you rage.

But it doesn’t break.

When rain has hung the leaves with tears” it will still glisten in the morning mist.

Rebels, heroes and genies

Posted in Life, Music, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 11 January, 2016

When my radio alarm went off at the top of the hour, as it does, it jumped, as it does, straight into the news headlines. David Bowie has died. After maybe 20 seconds I rolled over and turned the radio off. It wasn’t – as it often is – irritation at the increasingly fatuous nature of modern journalism, but because my mind filled with this:

At that moment, I really didn’t want to think about that. But it is later in the day now.

Some time in the late 1990s – so when I was living in Docklands with my then-girlfriend – we were watching Top of The Pops 2, which sliced and diced TOTP appearances from across the entire run of the show. And this performance came on, in full Ziggy Stardust flow. Mick Ronson sharing the mic, TOTP deploying its amplifier-in-the-back-pocket, lip-syncing style.

And I realised that I remembered seeing it the first time round. Bowie and Ronson, arm-in-arm, sharing the mic. Then I worked out that, when I saw it for the first time, I hadn’t even started secondary school.

For the first time in my life, at the wrong end of my 30s, I felt something other than young. The impact was much too complex to summarise as either positive or negative, and it is not the only thing from my past that has popped up to stir my emotions. But it was sobering.

Artists can never know the full impact their work has. It can be at the individual level, like my unscheduled sobriety. But it can be much bigger, like the song that was – nominally – a poem to West Berlin youth’s penchant for making out at the Wall in full view of the East German watch towers, which became something much more potent. And you don’t have to take my word for that:

And, lest you think this a wistful whim of the German FO’s Twitter team, then Germany’s foreign minister put that to bed:

This dimension was exemplified by the years David Bowie spent in Berlin during the 1970s, when he recorded his song “Heroes” in the legendary Hansa Studios, a homage to Berlin at the height of the Cold War and a soundtrack of the divided city.

“Genie”, in its French form, génie, translates as “genius”. Pop stars, we were told in our rebellious youth, wouldn’t be remembered as the old singers were.

Ha!

I’d be willing to bet that Heroes will be played a lot in Berlin tonight.

 


List of the Lost

Posted in Life, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 31 December, 2015

One of the, I suspect inevitable, consequences of a house move that ended up being quite spectacularly drawn out, is that various bits and pieces went missing. For example, in my book and DVD collection these remain unaccounted for:

  • Day of the Triffids (all other Wyndham present and correct, all shelved together);
    Book 1 of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series (2-4 all present and correct and never on the same self as the Wyndhams);
    Veronica Mars season 2 DVD (not shelved with books. I’m sure I saw it at some point);
    The Dambusters by Paul Brickhill (especially annoying since this was the first full length book I ever read);
    Terry Pratchett’s Jonny and the Dead/ Jonny and the Bomb and Only You Can Save Mankind;
    Christopher Priest’s A Dream of Wessex, (complete with curry scent from Morag’s blond moment);
    Christopher Priest’s The Separations (which was last seen by my bed, not shelved at all);
    Caberet DVD
    The Dish DVD

And also, my nice marble effect cheese board (yes, I realise that is neither book nor DVD, but still.)

Thought lost, but found having been spotted and rescued from the general miasma:

  • Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
    Ursula Le Guin’s Left hand of Darkness (one of the great works of SF)
    Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind

There is no rhyme or reason – they were not shelved in the same places, nor in the same boxes. It seems their wanderings are just a symptom of the way in which the universe likes to fuck with our heads.

Not that it matters. They are materials things that, for the most part, are easily replaced, except perhaps the Dambusters.

Shiela and Tracey and fagBut also lost was Blue, a black ball for fur with an absurdly flabby belly who, when I was in the pit of serious depression was a soft and gentle presence, jealous of anyone who might get my attention. The only comfort on that miserable day was that she had spent the last part of her life in the cat equivalent of a 5-star hotel, being looked after by people who really like cats.

And then there is Sheila, my cousin. Five foot bugger-all of hyper-sentimental Welsh woman who really did not deserve to be taken so young – and hopefully the last reason any of us need to visit Shrewsbury Crem for a very long time. That’s her, daughter in one hand, booze and a fag in the other and she would do the same again, I’m sure.

Years ago a friend drew a line on a piece of paper, put an infinity sign at either end and a tiny mark in the middle. That’s you, she said, pointing at the mark. How long will you be dead?

Given how easily and unaccountably things and people go astray, that seems a reasonable question. So as 2015 buggers off into the sunset, with my boot up its arse, it would be unworthy of the friends we have lost along the way, and to those we know who still have a very tough road ahead, not to wish for a better New Year for everybody. So Happy New Year to all.

Also, I still have two boomerangs.


The Lost Princess

Posted in Fiction, Musing, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 27 January, 2015

I wrote this a while back. I’m not quite sure why I feel it appropriate to post it today, save a line a few paragraphs in. But it feels right, so here it is.

 

The Lost Princess

by

Ian Cundell

She was burned into my mind when I was eleven years old.

Almost alone among the countless images that must have passed before me back then, hers would return often and unexpected in the following years. The waif-like girl standing outside a lighthouse, framed by a gloomy sky and infused with an overpowering sense of loss,

I could never quite grasp why this image kept flashing back to me, could see no pattern. It reached the stage where I doubted that it was real, assuming my memory was playing tricks. As I learned that not everybody will remember things in the same way as me, I began to think that the waif-like girl and the lighthouse may have been constructed out of bits of other memories.

Also, of course, other images before and since have stuck around: the opening credits of World At War still chill my blood. They can flash me back directly to a living room and Dad telling me and my brother to stop talking and hope that it never happens again as an episode starts titled, simply enough, ‘Genocide’.

In its own way, so way does the poppy-soaked final frame of Blackadder Goes Forth. Nigel Lawson had resigned, we realised the news would over-run, so left early from the pub because the video timer would be out. How will they get out of that? Come on how? How will they…

Oh.

There are moments that will always stop the heart when you see them again: During Band Aid the Cars song Drive is played over a montage of African poverty, bizarre and a little inappropriate until “who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream?”. The baby screams and the room full of garrulous students falls silent.

And drunken revellers, finally home and watching the late election results come in, marking the end of a generation and a look on Michael Portillo’s face that remains a study in the pain of defeat.

These are images that keep their power when you see them again.

But the waif-like girl by the lighthouse was never seen again. I didn’t know that. It never occurred to me that the flash of memory felt unreal because it was getting more distant and that this was because it had been locked away.

Then came the Internet Movie Database and a lazy, rainy afternoon poking around, following random links. A half a dozen or so posters asking about the waif-like girl, about the lighthouse, why she can’t be seen. But more. Where is the bearded hunchback, where are the soldiers, where is the story that left us dumbstruck and then haunted?

But it can’t be found: the author, it is said, will not permit its release or perhaps the rights holders and the broadcasters can’t or won’t sort out the details. Nobody is quite certain. If you make a special appointment at the British Film Institute they might let you watch it, but the lost gem will remain, essentially, lost. Concealed.

And then there is a link. A download, most definitely not official, passed around like a secret message. The quality is awful, a digital conversion of a conversion of another conversion from one tape to another. One scene is missing, probably cut by a foreign broadcaster.

But not that scene. Not the scene.

It was burned into my mind when I was eleven years old and had popped up unbidden many times since.

I know now that it stuck with me because it was the best piece of story-telling I had ever seen, that it had become, in its quiet persistence, the standard against which all other stories are measured. If it can’t stay with me for a lifetime, it is an also-ran.

When the shaky and washed-out video plays, it is like a restored Great Master; details lost to time are revealed. The waif-like girl walking from the lighthouse, tears flowing, clutching a portrait of herself, as The Snow Goose circles over head before flying away.

It carries with it the soul of the lost hero, the lost love, the lost artist.

 

(c) Ian Cundell, 2014. All rights reserved

A year of living disingenuously…

Posted in Life, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 31 December, 2014

So it turns out that I was a tad on the optimistic side this time last year. It also turns out that there is nothing like a stonking great tax bill, hard on the heals of my old laptop’s hard drive packing up (repairable, but no longer viable as a work machine) and my car needing a new clutch to prick the mood. Ho, as the old saying goes, hum

2014 has been a year of mind-boggling stupidity on so many scales that it is hard to know where to start.

Well, no. Not really. The only place to start is to ask why the British media has failed to ask any serious questions of Nigel Farage, a Dulwich College-educated commodity broker putting on a beer-and-fags, man-of-the-people act, while actually being a disgusting, boorish oaf and an embarrassment to anyone who stops to think for a minute. Meanwhile, the Greens – who have actually had an MP for nearly 5 years now – are excluded from the debate. It is hard not to call it censorship, so I will. I’m not even a Green and it offends me.

Putin tried to rebuild the Russian Empire but hey. he’ll still get to stage the World Cup thanks to a vote so bent it would have embarrassed the old Soviet Union.

We managed the incredible – landing a fridge-size spaceship on a speeding comet – only for a lot of people who are smart enough to know better to drop their pants and shit all over a female artist’s right to have her art celebrated. And the liberal left wonders why it has so much trouble building durable alliances. Fortunately for lefties everywhere, #GamerGate managed to give us an even more stupid Twitter storm, with added dishonesty. No, wait…fortunately? Libertarian numpties bow to no-one when it comes to dimwittedness.

And, under a black President, the USA seems to have declared open-season on black youth. That, as the youth probably don’t say, is something I simply cannot get my head around.

It is not all bad – to say so would be as disingenuous as the media I castigate above.

Some extraordinarily brave people, at great personal risk, have stepped into the Ebola cauldron.

Convicted price-fixer David Whelan got his arsed kicked for the kind of casual, unthinking racism that Nigel Farage wants to make acceptable again.

Peter Capaldi rocked it as Doctor Who, as right-thinking people knew he would.

Our fighting forces are finally out of Afghanistan.

Neil deGrasse Tyson made a wonderful, thoughtful update of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.

Oh, and we landed a spaceship on a comet. ON A FRIGGIN’ COMET, PEOPLE!

Anyway:

This time next year I will live somewhere new. For the first time in 60 years there will be nobody called Cundell in the old family home. So for me 2015 will be a new year in more ways than one.

I hope it is for you too, all of them good.

Now, 2015, let’s try that again and this time, concentrate.

Happy New Year.

(Thanks of KRB for a factual correction)


At the going down of the sun

Posted in Musing, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 12 August, 2014

Earlier this evening my Great Uncle George’s name was read out at the Tower of London, along with 179 other casualties of Word War 1.

A variety of irritants meant that I could not be there to hear it, but that is not the point. Today, 98 years after his death, he was remembered, for just a moment. Learn a bit about him and the many other Georges here: The Known Soldier

Here is George, at number 161

A kind soul had his camera phone:

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