Checkmate. A Reverie

Since I seem to be getting nowhere with anything I thought I would resurrect a creation that I prepared earlier. Still edible I think!




Check Mate

‘Come at me from a new direction, find me by surprise’ I said to it, taking to my French box-bed and pulling the duvet under my chin. This is on a bank holiday and I’m not even tired, just tired of walking about with the same thuggish head on my shoulders, and tired of the options it monotonously offers. Bed is my way of saying no to all of them. It is my head I am talking to, or perhaps more accurately, my mind. I have after all, carried this same old mind about for over sixty years; it seems totally unappreciative, gives me no thanks. It never leaps up with a new idea or puts a posy on my pillow; those that appear new, on analysis, are simply re-assembled from older reclamation. I recognise all the components however painted over. I could do with a change. I’ll find a way to shut it up.

So I try to recover my old skill at meditation to put it in its place, imagining my muscles turning to stone like a weighty Henry Moore nude welded to a plinth and impervious to drifting leaves in some anonymous park.  Mind protests.

‘You think it’s that easy huh?’

It feels rather more like weighting a tablecloth with odd pebbles, so insistent is the flapping of windy thought. Ok then, I’ll conquer you with a book until sleep defeats you utterly. My mind gives me the two fingers.

The choice within reach is limited; the best thing on the locker this rainy noon is Virginia Woolf and her seductive solution; that all one needs is five hundred a year and a room of one’s own. I have both, but what she left out was the mind to go with it. If you were continually thinking her limpid, clear running-water thoughts which refresh every rock they flow over, you might even do without the five hundred. Anybody who can turn prunes and custard into a philosophy should be an alchemist.

‘I could do that, if I wanted to. It just never seemed worth it; I mean who cares?’ says Mind.

I pretend I cannot hear. I can’t quarrel with Virginia on any matter, not even her sly suggestions about George Eliot’s constraint and bitter social constipations- although George Eliot has always been hailed as our family’s most illustrious connection- the only orchid amongst our African daisies.

‘That’s why your pretentious Aunt decided to fly solo and give away that autographed first edition of Daniel Deronda, (destroying all the evidence just to collar all the glory.) I tell you something else; Daniel D was probably discreetly flogged to pay for a new catalogue for the smiling librarian, since Rhodes in the Eastern Cape is hardly on the George Eliot walkabout’.

This is the sort of monotony I’m talking about; tracking through arid claims without fresh water, hoping that some new succulent will sprout a flower. I already knew all that. I can’t forgive anything that hammers a point.

‘You’re a fine one to talk…Now no doubt we’ll get on to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’ says Mind yawning ostentatiously ‘can’t you leave it out?’

I could but I’m damned if I will. It’s their influences that have brought me to this point. The real reason I value whatever connection I have with George Eliot is the same as I derive from Elizabeth Barrett Browning-(Grandmama being a lesser Barrett, not that ‘lesser’ was a word she understood)- simply that they both ran off to do their own thing, in their metaphorically divided skirts. Wedlock was a serious one to pick in those days. Elizabeth, from her Italian roof-garden had it about right, but she probably started my rot of dreaming too insistently…‘What was he doing the great god Pan/ Down in the reeds by the river?’


I know Mind will interrupt if I give it half a chance. It’ll say that originality never needs to quote, but that’s only because it can’t be bothered with the storage problem. Mind is an insubordinate secretary, who refuses an in-tray and prefers to clear the desk daily. It has never bothered to even file the archive that blows about in any gust under the cellar door. Going back to those two women; they were models not in the literary sense (that came later but never seemed to help), but in the ‘don’t expect to depend on a man’ sense, the mantra in a family consequently bereft of men. I took it much too literally; discounting the possibility that any man was any use at anything. You begin to see the difficulty. Mind, full of seductive rags, makes only heavy quilts in repetitive patterns, under which one takes refuge on a Bank holiday.

‘Nothing wrong with that. You need to remember Victorian thrift and candle light. What’s the hurry?’

Sod off.  I do want to make clear I start at the opposite end of Virginia’s arguments about women weighted down by the superior authority of men, and struggling to be born, shedding skins like snakes. Men were simply posturing fools playing at soldiers, in one sense or another. So it proved.

‘I could have persuaded you otherwise. You just never listened to logic or mastered statistics’

All the men I took up with or married… Continue reading “Checkmate. A Reverie”

The Naming of Parts

The Naming of Parts

Last Friday I promised to introduce some characters (and I will) but something intervened which seemed a worthwhile detour; the question of names. What intervened was reading a guest blog from Linda Gillard on Roz Morris’s ‘Undercover Soundtrack’ (my unvarying Wednesday habit of the week). In amongst all the music featured by other writers this one was inspired by Philip Glass.

I realised that my belief that I disliked of the music of Philip Glass probably stemmed entirely from his name. Brittle, transparent, unyielding, surface, glitter, glass harmonica, self reflective, sharp, wintry, the voice that shatters…. All come to the mind in that small single word (even though we share a Christian name it does not ameliorate the power of ‘glass’.) I realised I hardly knew the music of Philip Glass and that was the likely reason. John Cage was not much better: imprisoned, restricted, stale, cruel, limed, in need of cleaning. Perhaps it is a poet’s mind, with unending echoes of association. We weave webs from words and find ourselves caught by them. Now that I have really listened to the Glass violin concerto as related and focussed by another’s response to it, I found it incredibly poignant and mesmerising.

So prejudice kept a mind closed.

How relevant might this be to the naming of character parts? How acute an attention ought we to give it?

Did anyone see ‘Enchanted April’ and resonate with Mrs Wilkins saying she hated ‘Wilkins’ with its ‘kins’, its diminutive piggy tail? I so did!

I have always liked my name, Philippa, (Philos, Hippos…a lover of horses) and wonder whether my absorption with horses all my life was caused by it? Of did my mother have prescience? It was very uncommon back then. I only ever met one other. If so, she did not know how many would massacre its ancient Greek beauty by spelling it incorrectly. How many people spell Philosopher with two ‘Ls’? Yet I could never give a character an over familiar name, it would imprison any freedom they might need, and once envisioned characters take on their own life.

The rushing power of names and the harness of them are, for me, almost un-brookable. Does any one else feel this way? When I read a book in which a place name is contrived, unlikely to be in the County in which it is set I immediately distrust the writer’s sensitivity to history or place. J.K. Rowling, a genius with names in Harry Potter, now chooses ‘Pagford’ (slag, hag, tinker, all overwhelm the ‘ford’) for a ‘pretty village’ It does not quite ring true and certainly does not (for me) convey a ‘pretty village’. Too plausible however (like ‘Midsomer’ Murders), becomes merely dull. How to strike the balance between what you as author ‘feel’ in the name and what your readers’ references to it may be? It may be quite the opposite of what we expect.

One of the reasons I love Trollope is because his names are creatively uncompromising, nothing is left unstated: Obadiah Slope is both revengeful Old Testament and yet slippery as an eel, his hypocrisy and self importance all in the name. Mrs Proudie all chins and heaving indignation. Dickens’s Bob Cratchit, scratches on his high stool forever. We can then get on to the nuances of their situation. One could not get away with it now …although I did once try with ‘Geoffrey Mentwell’ ( a benevolent but bumbling retired schoolmaster- managing always to step in it) in a rural TV comedy.

A Christmas Carol
Bent with Service
Conceit personified

I feel that names carry with them all the qualities of those who gave them life before. So much so that naming my daughters was an exercise in bequeathing them conscious associations, hoping their lives would be shaped by their names…all Shakespearean (I wanted them deep-rooted) but with modulated second names to correct extremes. ‘Juliet’ was destined to inspire passion, and retain delightful innocence but I did not want passion lethal so she needed ‘Emma’ (Woodhouse) to correct the balance. In a general way there is something in each that does resonate with their literary forbears. I still wonder how I allocated them and in the right order? Re-incarnation decided and I was just the mouthpiece?

I would be interested to hear the views of others on this, and how they arrive at the names for characters, and what goes into making their choices?

Last week I mentioned a character called Vernon. He is a major character in a novel and has a hot/cold platonic relationship with Claudia. Would anyone start the ball rolling by describing what those names convey to them? Before I flesh them out in interaction? Flash portraits would be great! It would be interesting to discover what degree of congruence there is, and whether the importance I give to it, is justified. I doubt it is a habit I could shed, whatever we might discover.

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