Bum Notes

I've been delving into my Note Pile in search of something I badly need. This Note Pile, as the name would suggest, is a stack of scrap paper and envelopes and so forth on which I've scribbled ideas, lines, and rough paragraphs from time to time. It has grown to an impressive height over the years and once in a while I find myself regarding it complacently as a great big pile of stored fat. But in fact whenever, as now, I am forced to go mining down through its various strata in search of buried treasure, I quickly come to realise it is almost entirely crap.

I suppose enough of the jottings are useful or interesting enough to justify keeping up the habit, although if I didn't perhaps either my memory would improve, or I would develop the much better habit of mulling ideas over long enough to recognise and discard the rubbish ones and get the good ones into a workable form while in the first flash of enthusiasm.

But at least half of the scribbles, reviewed later, cause me to exclaim either 'Why the hell did I bother writing that down?' or more simply 'What the hell is that supposed to mean?' The enigmatic lines are in fact far more annoying than the banal, because of the remote possibility that what looks like gibberish may be lost brilliance. Sentences partly or wholly indecipherable due to my handwriting turning hieroglyphic in what was presumably the white heat of manic inspiration. Surreal isolated phrases I cannot relate to anything. Elliptical outlines for novels I can no longer make head nor tale of: 'Morag - nervy - traumatized as child - cannot bear to look at Rice Krispies (Gregory forces her to??)...rhinoceros/boathouse (V. Doonican on radio) - reminds P. of Swansea...Bridget sends jelly to Tom O'Connor - tragic outcome...Valentine gooses grandmother in hall of mirrors - WHY???' Buggered if I know. Why the hell not? ...And lines and ideas I can decipher only too well but which cause me to gape in disbelief.

Following are a sample of some of the lamest, strangest or most inexplicable ones I've just stumbled across. All of these are perfectly genuine, and bear in mind that in several cases I will have clambered out of a warm bed in my eagerness to write them down.

Let's start with:

remember the Thurston Moore gag from dream

I can at least remember clearly what this was; but I sort of wish I didn't. The only thing memorable about it is that it came to me in a dream; and I sort of wish it hadn't. To cut to the chase, I once dreamed I was introduced to Thurston Moore, the guitarist out of Sonic Youth, in the middle of Hampton Court Maze if I remember rightly. Quick as a flash, I said, 'Thurston Moore sounds like a place in a novel by one of the Brontes.'

I am pleased to report that not only did he take the joke in good part, he laughed like a drain and we became firm friends on the strength of it, and he showed me some guitar licks.

I am not sure why I bothered to make a note of this, except that I was pleased with myself for being almost-witty in a dream. It is unlikely that I will ever meet Thurston Moore, but I suppose it is possible someone will mention him one day and I will thus have a chance to use my bon mot. There was also an old character actor named Thurston Hall. It would work for him too.

An interesting point is that I only own one Sonic Youth album, and hadn't listened to it for a couple of years before I had the dream, so I can't honestly say they occupy a prominent place in my mental landscape. So, unless Thurston Moore reminds me of my father or something, or the 'lanky guitarist figure' is some Jungian archetype, it seems fairly certain that my subconscious dreamed that dream solely in order to crack that lame-arsed sodding joke.

Next I find this:

idea: newspaper for criminals

This is a bright idea I once had late at night when I was a little the worse for wear. I had been reflecting that, no matter what other differences of outlook they might have, all newspapers were pretty much agreed that crime was a bad thing. They may disagree on the causes or cures of crime, but I think, at the time of writing, they all more or less still acknowledge that it is undesirable in itself.

It struck me that this must be alienating and hurtful to the criminal community. Thus, I had the notion of launching a newspaper specifically for criminals. It would have headlines like, 'More Schoolchildren Inject Heroin - Good!' or 'Old Woman Robbed And Thrown Down Flight Of Stairs - Ha!' And its editorials would urge readers to vote for whichever party was softest on law and order.

I'm fairly certain I intended this to be a bit for this website, rather than, you know, something to pitch to Rupert Murdoch, but I still think this is a definite gap in the market, and if anyone picks up the idea I want credit.

The next scrawled note left me open-mouthed with surprise when I found it:

Idea for opera:
A woman travels back in time to assassinate Hitler before he comes to power, but meets him as a young, idealistic painter and falls in love with him. Aria: 'I love you, but I have to kill you.'

I really don't know what to say about this one except that it must have made sense at the time. A clue to my state of mind may be the fact that this is scribbled on the back of some company notepaper from a very nasty job I once had. The hours I had to work had completely messed up my sleep patterns, leaving me low on IQ and emotionally fragile. I can perfectly well imagine myself scribbling this in a spare moment and weeping helplessly at the poignant image of a woman crooning 'I love you Dolfi' to a young, fresh-faced, paint-speckled Hitler while pointing a gun at his head. I can imagine thinking this would make me rich and enable to give up work once and for all. Moreover working always makes me feel murderous, and it is possible I had to come to identify with Hitler at that point.

The most surprising thing is the afterthought I find scribbled beneath this:

But has it already been done?

Actually, the most surprising thing is Idea for opera. Opera? Opera? Leaving aside the subject matter, I do not have a musical bone in my body. Perhaps I intended to farm the idea out to Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The next, which I think must date from my teens, could almost have been useful, except that I suspect in this case something along the lines really must have already been done:

Idea for alternative history SF story - what if Da Vinci had succeeded in inventing the helicopter?

On the face of it this is an intriguing idea. However, working out all the implications will have to be left to a better mind than mine. As far as I can see, if Da Vinci rather than Sikorsky had succeeded in inventing the helicopter, the subsequent history of the world would have been exactly the same, except that everyone would have gone round in helicopters. The Spanish Armada would have set off in helicopters, the Battle of Waterloo would have been fought in helicopters, the Jacobite Rebellions would have featured brawny men in kilts hanging out of helicopters swiping at each other with broadswords. In the books of Jane Austen, Mr. Darcy and Emma and the rest would have ridden round in helicopters to pay their social calls. And so on.

A more interesting question, actually, is what would have happened if Sikorsky had painted the Mona Lisa? She might have been much more aerodynamic and had a set of rotors sticking out of her head.

Next I must enter this single unexplained line, rather banal but quite alarming:

We've had very little shit from the Japanese since 1945

It's true, we haven't. They have comported themselves admirably in the intervening years. But why on earth was I moved to record the fact?

I hope this was either a line I overheard someone say somewhere or a line I intended for a character in a novel. But in that case I usually add '--- said', to make this fact clear to the legions of biographers who will one day have to sort through my papers, and in this case I didn't.

So I fear, I terribly fear, that this was just me, writing as me, recording a Thought, if so it can be called. And if this is the case...

Let's face it, there is only one possible reason. It was an atomic bomb reference. I wanted the Bomb to be dropped on someone.

I should add that contemporaneous evidence, i.e. nearby scribblings and the yellowing of the paper, dates this jotting to several years before the Present Difficulties, I would say to about 1995, so which relatively innocuous country I wanted us to Bomb is a mystery to me. Obviously, I felt they were giving us shit - some matter of fishing quotas, perhaps, or low marks in the Eurovision Song Contest - and I wanted them to stop. And I thought a nuclear bomb or so would be an excellent way of making them - for had it not worked wonders on the Japanese? And so I wrote down that - that little apercu, either as a private record of my ongoing philosophical evolution, or to employ as a rhetorical device in conversation one day.

I assume I was tired and grumpy; probably I was working again.

I like the next one though:

The unused 90% of the brain is probably just for ballast.

This is another thought that occurred to me late at night. Apparently we only use ten or twenty percent of our brains, and some people think that the dormant 80 or 90 percent is connected to latent psychic abilities. But, it's probably just for ballast. If we didn't have it our heads would be really light and would wobble from side to side in high winds.

I'm glad I wrote that one down. It is profound.

Next I find the enigmatic words:

Bishops with chubby thighs

I have no idea what this is about. I do not recall ever seeing the thighs, chubby or otherwise, of any bishop whatsoever.

And what is one to make of the following:


Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps I had in mind to write a fantasy novel and, as Tolkien did, was starting by making up my own language. Behold, the Chasm of Snerg. Let us sell our lives dearly, Grotak. That Snerg bit off my stroodly. Flee, flee to the forest of Nimnimnee. Strubwubbly has eaten all the stroodly, the grotak snerg. You may be a humble grotak, Strubwubbly, but you have a heart of burnished stroodly. Fetch me a snerg, good peasant, and I will gift you with a grotak.

The following words leapt up at me startlingly from another page, circled, underlined, and asterisked, so they had obviously excited me deeply at one point:

Eskimo humidor

Again, buggered if I know what that's about. Possibly a business idea, a little novelty humidor in the shape of an igloo? Or an idea for a scatological joke, a man journeying to the frozen north and being given hospitality by an Eskimo, and one day finding what he thinks to be a humidor and helps himself, only after lighting up he is told they are not cigars but a box of frozen turds?

I have no idea. The word may not even be humidor. It may be cuspidor, which doesn't get us much further forward.

Lastly, and I assure you once again that none of these are made up, much as I wish they were:

I think I have finally discovered the secret of how to live a good life: if I could only [rest indecipherable]

Now that is really bloody annoying. On the other hand, this was on the same page as 'snerg', 'stroodly' etc., so I doubt the world has lost any great wisdom.


12 Sep 08