James Joyce and a stream of Doritos

Tonight I find myself wondering about streams of consciousness. How easy would it be to write down the first thing that came into my mind? Could I become the next James Joyce or Virginia Woolf, and would I be duty bound to throw myself in a river. Or was it a lake?

It becomes clear to me that I don't know much about how Virginia Woolf died but I'm sure she drowned herself. This makes me think of the swimming underwater scene in Iris; mainly because Kate Winslet was naked. You remember things like that. More so than the older Iris scenes where Judi Dench is losing her mind and bowel control with Alzheimers. I had a friend whose grandfather had it. Horrible disease. He would open the gates to let the cars in where there were no cars.

History has been kind to Joyce even if Ulysses is virtually unreadable to my mind and Finnegan's Wake more so. It's hard to write down the first thing that comes into your mind without thinking too hard about what you are going to write. It's hard not to think of the tart with the cart, or cockles and mussels and Molly Malone. But there - I thought of the clock tower at Culzean Castle and how I got dizzy on a sunny day and my mother had to take me down while everybody else went to the top. And hot and cold rushed in and out of the old stone walls and I stood at the bottom in the manicured gardens and watched them all at the top and I felt so left out.

Have I felt left out ever since? Have I felt that people get to the dizzy heights and I just watch them. But I wouldn't like to climb with crampons and an ice axe because there was a show on this week about two climbers on Mount Rainier who fell down a crevasse and one died and the inexperienced one had to climb up a 70 foot sheer ice wall. It took him about six hours and it was miraculous in a way, more so than those shrines where statutes are seen weeping blood or milk and you stand and watch in awe clutching a packet of Doritos.

I was a weird kid in more ways than one. For weeks I never spoke to other kids. I just made faces. I moved schools a lot and felt dislocation. I could never get in with the camaraderie. I complained once to the teachers about kids making noise during break time and I was reprimanded.

I spent a term running around the playground with my arms whirling around because I believed I was a helicopter. I was a weird kid. I was phased by things mainly Aldibonkers, the head master who taught us times tables using a barking method he picked up in the army. I was easily distracted and when I heard some kids outside the mobile classroom, I turned my head and watched them. Suddenly a shadow fell over me, and he was there, in my face; 5 foot 4 of undistilled anger, his nose purple and transparent, the veins dancing a frustrated waltz.

"Pay attention boy," his hands shook as if he wanted to beat me. He was a repressed beater. His wife never gave him any.

He bawled at me to look at my tables book and I buried my head in it, so deeply that I wasn't coming up for air. Suddenly the light was cut off again and I realized in horror I had missed the cue to put my book down.

"You boy. What are you doing? You are cheating boy. Cheating."

If I had known how to think it, I would have thought 'oh shit'.

But the playground was a bleak place too. Acres of concrete. For years, it seemed, I talked to nobody. I just looked at the spiders in their beautiful silver webs in the undergrowth beyond the wire. My childhood was like the Wall.

Of course at university we watched the Wall. It was Clara's idea. She was the most depressed person I knew. And I knew a lot of depressed people at university. For a while she'd invite me round her room and cook for me or ply me with Tia Maria. But on the night it was supposed to happen, I passed out. I didn't know how depressed she was at that time.

Of course, I was jealous when she started dating my best friend but ultimately relieved. Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction had nothing on Clara. Your bunny would be salami on the first date with Clara if you said the wrong thing. After my best friend decided to finish with Clara (Brits call it packing in, but this term confuses my boss), we were on 24/7 suicide watch. For a while every time we went out, Clara would try to throw herself in front of a car. It was most trying.

I still can't account for that time in Leicester.

Still it's hard for me not to think of James Joyce without thinking of my teacher Mr. Brown. That and Doritos. Mr. Brown was such a fish out of water in a comprehensive school, with his clipped hair and clipped manners. He had studied classics at Oxford. He was probably gay and trapped in a sham marriage, not to mention suburbia. Everyone called him Brassneck. Sometimes they would hide in the bunker at the school mini golf course and shout it out. There'd be big disciplinary action because it was a serious thing to say. I still don't understand what it meant but I felt his clipped, fish out of water pain. I read his fantastic poems and realized he was trapped. When we studied Gerard Manley Hopkins, I wondered if Mr. Brown had chose the poet because he identified with him.

I liked most of the teachers who nobody else liked. Mr. Macintosh seemed a decent bore, even if his stale coffee breath could knock a horse dead at 10 paces. I steered clear of Mr. Annetts following stories he'd kicked Kevin Rider in the balls.

In saying that I found solace in the simplicity of the Stevenson's Screen and the way it was painted pure white to reflect the sun's rays. I loved its little thermometers. I thought if I could be a weather man when I grew up, life would always be pleasant and professional. I'd cast a discerning eye over graphs, look at fronts coming in and make official sounding broadcasts wearing a tweed jacket.

But I am distracted by fronts, I confess. Even since Mr. Partington (known variously as Rodriguez and Pugwash) due to his resemblance to a Spanish pirate, shattered the sleep of an afternoon geography class when he said: "And this is where the warm front comes over."

Except he didn't say front. He said a word that rhymed with it, and the class howled for hours and hours. Somewhere in some Godforsaken place one of them is probably still howling at the thought.


  1. I can relate, I also had an awkward childhood. I also moved schools a lot and did not ever fit in.

  2. we are kindred spirits, am adding you to the blog roll...

  3. I laughed a couple of times and then wondered if I should've. I really need to come here more often...

    I, too, moved growing up. Once a year, once twice in the same year. It certainly makes one the person they become, doesn't it?


  4. It's so interesting looking back with the eyes of experience and comprehension. I've unearthed sympathy for some odd teachers, and some students as well. Some I now realize were from very challenging families and school must have been hell for them.

    Perceptive, heartfelt, and beautifully written David. I'm about to wander off to get a quote in response.

  5. And here I thought I was weird....your post makes me look like "Always happy", angelic types...where's my harp?
    But you have done well for yourself, haven't you?? That's what counts....

  6. I love this post very much. I enjoyed reading it tremendously. Personally I don't find long posts in blogs very appealing. After reading your post I know what Mae West meant when she said, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful."

  7. Stream of consciousness is always fun, especially after some brandy.

  8. Thanks Pearl, you are too kind. But I'm normal now ishhhh. Thanks Sue, not sure it was stream of consciousness but I tried to write the first thing that came into my head. Tis true Rek. I can pass myself off as an adult some days. You are too kind Olga. I don't normally write long posts. Brandy helps, Christopher...

  9. I was a helicopter in the playground for 3 years, on windy days I was also a kite.

  10. Hmmm ... David, I posted a comment earlier, but it apparently did not take. I am so sorry about that, because what I said was this was my favorite of all your posts. Very poignant without being maudlin, introspective without any self-involvement. I think many, many can identify with the feelings you expressed.

    Beautifully written - thank you for sharing ...


  11. hah i love Virginia Woolfe and have fantasized of drowning myself too.lol. funny, when i was really really young, i fancied turning around and around and around until i got dizzy. i loved getting the feeling(?!?)and was amazed at how my world was vigorously rocked by unseen forceful hands. it was like getting a free ride in the amusement park for me. yea very weird!haha

  12. tsk you have out helicoptered me, Ryan. Thanks PM, you are kind. I wonder if postings sound less contrived if I think about them less, like this one. Thanks for the comment, Maria. I do love her, haven't quite gone for the drowning fantasy, though - please don't!

  13. I loved this post. I had a very awkward childhood. I can now reflect back and look at things differently, but at the end of the day I'm glad that experience is done and over :0)

  14. I can't even use moving around as an excuse for being the weird kid.

    I was just weird.

    As I've got older, I'm now a weird adult.

    Ho hum.

  15. Thanks Marnie, I guess maybe a lot of people did. I certainly did, tho. Too funny Roses, well it's better than being dull and ordinary, lol

  16. Fascinating glimpse into your mind if you just run free with what you are thinking. I like it! The nicest people I know were weird and still are!

  17. Well done with this, David. I have never been able to write like this with thoughts just flowing. I'm too used to writing and rewriting in my head before the letters are even typed.


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