Home - Writing - The Million Word March Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map

Right Knuckles: Love

Monday, 28th May, 2001

One of the most memorable images of black and white cinema has to be the menacing figure of Robert Mitchum in 1955's 'Night of the Hunter'. He's not quite up there with King Kong, granted, but he's memorable nonetheless, partly because of the two words tattooed onto his knuckles. Love on one; hate on the other.

There are five knuckles on each hand. I thought it might be an intriguing idea to think therefore of five things applicable to each word from my experiences and run through them here.

As I'm much more a positive than a negative person, I'll start with love, a word that has more meanings than can be comfortably imagined. These five choices might be different tomorrow, but right now they are what make my eyes gleam and my heart leap.

1. Diversity and Bizarre Magazine

I can't imagine what the world would be like if everyone were the same. If we were a race of clones that shared the same tastes, looks, beliefs, I think I would go quietly insane. It's the differences between us all that keep life such a fascinating entity, and fascinated I certainly am.

I have a thirst for diversity that is sometimes almost tangible. It's why I still, at thirty years of age, don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I don't want to be stuck doing the same thing, whatever it is, for the rest of my life. Maybe that's one reason why I'm drawn to being a writer, because a writer's remit is far more flexible than most.

So I dabble. A little bit of this, a little bit of that; and the diversity keeps my thirst quenched. Recently in this country, a priest decided to get to know how his parishioners lived their lives, so as to get to understand them better. He chose a different person each week and spent a day at their workplace, sharing their job. One day it might be a butcher, the next a radio disc jockey. It's the sort of thing I would dearly love to do: to see how the rest of the world functions, how people apply themselves in different ways to different jobs, how they become even more different people because of it.

I dabble in music, in literature, in culture. Once again, it's not the common denominators that grab me but the differences. It's always fascinating to find common ground between the most diverse entities, which merely highlights how everything springs from the same well; but it's the differences that make everything real to me.

It's not for everyone, but it's certainly for me. I love the contrasts, the differences, the knowledge that there's always something new round the corner. Possibly the best place to find that something new is Bizarre magazine which celebrates the strange, the outre and the different.

I remember when the newsagent's shelves were full of nothing but women's lifestyle magazines, in a powerful display of cultural sexism. Eventually the balance was restored, at an undefinable point in time when culture decided that men needed lifestyle magazines too. In came FHM and Loaded and the rest of the crowd, which I have glanced at, though never actually bought. I doubt I ever will.

As an incredible vague generalisation, they celebrate the trends, which I find loathsome. When they touch something else, it's usually with tongue in cheek. Bizarre magazine, on the other hand, has no interest in trends, unless they evolve into something more culturally subversive. The magazine's discontinued tagline, 'more balls, less bollocks', really does highlight what it's all about.

It covers the weird world that we share in fascinating detail, looking between the cracks and behind the masks. The current June issue, for instance, deals with Asia Argento, visionary gardening, home burials, psychogeography and the Cycle Messenger World Championships, amongst many other eclectic subjects.

I read each issue cover to cover and wish it came out more frequently than just every month. It provides me with incredible amounts of material for my fiction, my non fiction and my mind.

2. Townes van Zandt

When this singer/songwriter died, at a relatively young age on New Years Day a few years ago, I felt an acute loss. There are many in the world of music that preceded him to the grave, and many of stunning talent. I'm sad that I'll never get to hear more from Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Eva Cassidy, but even more sad that I'll never get to hear Townes van Zandt live.

He was a troubled man throughout most of his life, struggling with the bouts of depression that put such an edge on his work. He sang with a clear, though never crystal, voice that contained within it such a depth of experience and knowledge that was a joy to behold. I can sit and listen to him sing story after story for days on end.

More important than his voice, however, are his words. They are unsurpassed, the outpourings of a true poet. If there's one creative soul buried amidst the teeming throngs of human history that I admire most, then that soul is Townes. In many ways, I live my life by his words: 'The days up and down they come, like rain on a conga drum. Forget most, remember some, but don't turn none away.'

No wonder, on hearing of his death, Steve Earle said: 'Townes van Zandt is the greatest songwriter in the world and I'd stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.'

3. Takahashi Rumiko and Urusei Yatsura

I have a long-standing fascination with the Japanese mindset in its many guises. Because Japan was a closed country until very recently, its people think in a vastly different way to the rest of the world. Its culture has developed accordingly along its own lines to unique results.

One of these strange destinations is the world of manga, cartoons that aren't just for kids, but for the whole of society and every subset that it contains. It can be bland, educational, or incredibly extreme; it's for every age group and every way of life. The pillars of society will read about superpowered schoolgirls being tentacle raped by hideous monsters, and they'll do it openly on the train to work. Anime is the animated version of the same, and is equally everywhere. Most of the highest grossing films every year in Japan are anime.

My favourite manga writer is Takahashi Rumiko, creator of a number of hugely successful series that blend the surreal, the bizarre and the eclectic into her own unique visions of humour. Of her work, the one that touches me closest is Urusei Yatsura, the story of a lech of a student and his incredible misadventures throughout out time, space and history.

The Oni, an alien race similar to a mythical Japanese horde of demons, plan to invade the Earth. Being fair creatures, they intend to give our planet a chance before taking over and that chance is for a randomly chosen person to challenge their princess at tag. The choice ends up being Moroboshi Ataru, whose life revolves around the beauty of women without his ever getting lucky with any of them. A coward at heart, he only accepts the challenge when he realises that the princess is truly stunning with her long flowing green hair and her tiger skin bikini.

Unfortunately he discovers too late that she can fly. He has ten days to win the challenge by touching her horns, and the fate of the entire world lies in his hands. Eventually he succeeds on the last day by removing her bikini top with a suction dart and taking advantage of her embarrassment. Mishearing his cries of success, she agrees to marry him and the Earth is saved.

Trust me, it gets weirder from here. The manga fills many books; the anime ran for nearly two hundred episodes on television and six films. The sheer breadth of Takahashi's imagination imbues all with pure magic.

4. The Countryside at Night

Maybe a strange choice after the weird and wonderful, but something that always stirs me is to walk, or to cycle slowly, through a moonlit countryside. I used to work in the centre of Halifax, and frequently worked over, sometimes through to two or three in the morning. Cycling home over Yorkshire hills was often a chore, as I had to deal with Yorkshire wind and Yorkshire rain. When the weather calmed, it could be so wonderful that those few days a year made up for the other few hundred.

Back then I lived in a tiny hamlet called Krumlin, just outside the village of Barkisland, which still lives in my soul. The journey was around eight miles. Half of those would get me out of Halifax and the urban sprawl that immediately surrounds it; the second half would gradually revert further and further to nature. It's pretty to drive through, though it quickly becomes routine, but the real way to experience it is to move slowly and to do so at night.

In the daytime it's a road; at night it's a world. In air warm and almost still, free from the rumble of traffic and the noise of people, the small sounds are freed: crickets chirping, birds singing, the grass rustling. It's a very calming environment, so calming that soon I'd hear my heart beating quiet time to the symphony. Before now, I've stopped for a while and closed my eyes, there at the side of the road, to listen and to be become part of the scene.

I miss Barkisland and I miss the countryside. Now I live in the centre of Halifax itself, though in possibly the quietest spot there is. Maybe I'll wait for the right night and walk to Krumlin and back and experience again the joys of the music.

5. Twinlet

I met Dee online well over a year ago. She found me through a link on a friend's website and wrote me a mail; I wrote back and the saga began. We were friends in the blinking of an eye. There is nobody else in the world who shares my thoughts as well, so well in fact that we quickly started calling each other 'twin'.

Of course, now that what we share is much more than mere friendship, the term 'twin' is likely to get us plenty of strange looks, but we don't care. We have each other, and we have our own worlds to live in and the misinterpretations of others are not important.

I'm not sure when it became more, as the process was so gradual and was far from intentional, but somehow it became obvious that we don't just share our thoughts but our souls as well. We come from incredibly different backgrounds, but those backgrounds have brought us to the same place.

We've talked more in the past year from five thousand miles apart than many married couples do in a lifetime. My phone bill is not a pretty sight; though thank the stars for international phone schemes. After months of e-mail and phone contact, being together in person was the most natural thing in the world and the sooner I can move to Phoenix the better. My time there can be measured in mere days but I know it's home.

I love you, you minx : )

Home - Writing - The Million Word March Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map