Failing Better Now?, Neil Robinson

Originally Posted: February 18th 2010 by Neil Robinson

Failing Better Now?

I’ve been working on a BIG project. The plot tackled grand themes, spanned decades and was highly complex. Stylistically, it was experimental. It was all planned out, and I was about a quarter of the way through the actual writing.

Then a family crisis occurred and I had to stop working on it for a while. I finally went back to my BIG project on one of those rainy days when the whole world – or, at least, my section of Essex – seems sodden. Birds perch on garden fences looking as if they’re trying to put a brave face on things; as if they might, after uttering a feeble chirp, drop dead on to the lawn and become food for some bedraggled anorexic cat which will choke on a jagged splinter of fragile wing bone. I read through my magnum opus and experienced a moment of clarity: my work wasn’t complex, it was just chaotic. It wasn’t experimental, it was pretentious crap. Ooops.

At times like this I stare out at the garden for solace. The three birch trees I had planted in a tasteful little triangle would look pretty when they came into leaf. But it wasn’t a tasteful triangle. The trees were much too close together and would soon grow far too big for my suburban garden. My neighbours would inevitably complain about branches looming over their patios and roots causing their extensions to subside. The hours I’d spent watching my old VHS tapes of Ground Force had been wasted. Clearly, I’d been fixated on Charlie Dimmock’s unfettered charms when I should have been taking notes as Alan Titchmarsh dispensed wisdom. I’d failed again.

At times like this I ignore my soggy, shabby little garden and turn to the words of great men for solace. James Joyce (1882 – 1941…I think it makes me seem erudite if I insert the dates of great men’s lives) once said: “A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Comforting words, except that I saw little evidence of genius when I looked in the mirror; and absolutely no evidence of that mysterious condition when I looked at my garden or my BIG project.

Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989) once said (or wrote; I’m not sure): “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Which reminds me of the time I heard a sports commentator tell a tennis player – one of those never-say-die-battlers – that he must “really hate losing”. The player, who had just been defeated by a younger man, laughed and said he didn’t hate it at all because the majority of professional tennis players, over the course of their careers, will lose more matches than they win.

And now I’m reminded of the words of the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), who wrote (or maybe just said): “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.” Maybe curves are beautiful in their own way. The art historian EH Gombrich (1909 – 2001) wrote (definitely wrote) that the painter tends to “see what he paints rather than paint what he sees”. I think this applies to all artists and would-be artists, not just painters. And perhaps I need to adjust my vision to appreciate crooked things.

I think I’ll cut down two of the birch trees and use their slightly crooked timber to make a coffee table. A good friend of mine once made a coffee table for a school project. Paul (1960 – ) knew that coffee tables should be low. Unfortunately his was so low that his dad, invited to admire his son’s handiwork, tripped over it and broke his ankle. I don’t know what Paul is doing now, but I hope he’s learned to fail better. I’m trying to do the same. I’m trying not to hate it.

Published Works: Oliphan Oracus available on Immanion Press

To Cut Is To Cure? By Nick Marsh

Originally Posted: March 8th, 2010 by Nick Marsh

Full Title: To Cut is to Cure? Medicine vs Surgery

My wife and I are both vets, which makes for some very boring discussions most eveings. We do like to have our own area of expertise, however. For instance, I consider myself a medic. My wife considers herself a surgeon. Continue reading

Happy Late Anniversary by Nick Marsh

Originally Posed: January 21st 2010 by Nick Marsh

Happy (late) Anniversary!

It was a momentous anniversary last year, as I’m sure you all know. No, not the forty years since mankind first walked on the moon. Something much more important. Well, to me at least.

It has been ten years since I became a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (decidely not hons) and a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (which, I have just worked out, means that I have paid the Royal College so far roughly £3000 for the privelidge of being a vet. Yay.).

Ten years. Several ways of celebrating this anniversary spring to mind, but as I no longer have a firearms licence, and all the pentobarbitone is at the practice, I’ll settle for a glass of beer and a Blog entry.

I’ve being trying to think today when the idea of being a vet first curdled it’s way into the youthful cream that was my young mind. I’m fairly sure that I’ve narrowed it down to a holiday in Germany when I must have been about eight or nine. I always took several books to read with me, and one was a copy of ‘Every Living Thing’ by James Herriot…

(… and yes, I’m very aware that it’s a massive cliche that I decided to be a vet because of James Herriot. What do you want me to do, lie? In retrospect, it’s a shame I didn’t base my career choice on one of the other books I took with me – Deathwing over Veynaa by Douglas Hill. I could have ended up as an intergalatic Legionnairy of Moros with an adamantium skeleton! Now that wold have been a fun job)

…and I loved that book. It all sounded som much fun, and the guy was helping animals! For a living! When I was a child, I loved animals (Not in that way, before you start, okay), and I loved Biology. When I read that book, it just made perfect sense to combine the two. Plus, it sounded really funny when James Herriot wrote about gruff Yorkshireman having to explain that their dog ‘had a problem with his…with his pencil, Mr ‘Erriot).

So I was very fortunate – from that time on, I had a sense of purpose. I knew exactly what I was going to do for the rest of my life. That nagging, insistent voice at the back of my mind, that was always telling me that I should try and make the world a better place, would be silenced! I would be making the world a better place with my day job! I could even spend my evenings playing rolepaying games and computer games, and not feel guilty about it!

The determination lasted through all the teachers, and all the careers advisors who told me that it was a waste of time (seriously, has anyone -ever- recieved one useful scrap of advice from a careers ‘advisor’? My wife’s told her she should be a florist. Though, considering my current feelings towards the profession, maybe we should have listened back then), it lasted through my GSCE’s, through my A Levels, and right up to that final glowing day when I recieved my one (and only) offer to go to Bristol, to study being a vet.

I have now been a vet for twice as long as I studied to be one. I am older, arguably wiser, and a whole lot tireder. That nagging voice, the one that I hoped would finally shut up when I was doing good deeds and getting paid for them, is not fooled, and though it has grown quieter over the years, it has never been silenced. My job does not consist of doing good deeds, all day, every day, as I imagined it would. And though I may relieve some suffering, I also help to perpetuate it in the form of helping dog and cat breeders continue to spawn the various mutants that they seem to consider ‘cute’. The best thing I do, the honest-to-goodness kindest act I generally perform, is euthanasia, and with the best will in the world, it’s hard to feel good about oneself for repeatedly killing small animals.

Ten years gone. My attitude to my job is, and I suspect, always will be, mixed, but it has brought me the greatest thing in my life so far – my wife – and for all the wonderful years we’ve had together, I actually feel it was worth it all!

There are many more things I could write about, but I’ll leave them for another time. For now, sit with me and raise a glass, for years gone by, and to absent friends.


Published Works: Past Tense and Soul Purpose (both available on Immanion Press)

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Climb Every Montaigne and Avatar Experience, Neil Robinson

Originally Posted: 26 January 26th, 2010 by Neil Robinson

Two Articles Included: Climb Every Montaigne & Avatar Experience

  1. Climb Every Montaigne

I was listening to the radio today. Several learned people were discussing the French essayist and thinker Montaigne, who was alive in the sixteenth century and pretty much dead after it. I’ve never read anything by him and I know almost nothing about him. Before listening to the radio this morning, I knew even less. At some point in the learned persons’ discussion, a woman who’d written a book on Montaigne said he was the world’s first blogger. I think that’s what she said. I wasn’t fully paying attention. It was certainly something like that. She just meant that he wrote like a blogger, and she admitted she was saying it to provoke debate rather than because she believed it. Imagine that: a blogger – or someone a bit like a blogger – writing before the launch of the internet. It’s one of those comparisons that seem arse about face. Surely, some bloggers write a bit like Montaigne. This is of great significance…isn’t it? He came first. It’s as if I’d said Gorgonzala was a bit like Dolcelatte. I’d be guilty of a crime worthy of a visit from the dreaded Cheese Police. (Now then, lad, didn’t you know Dolcelatte was invented for the British market as a bowdlerised version of Gorgonzola? Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law.) The order of things is important, and comparisons are dodgy at the best of times…including the one I just made. Continue reading