From Jack Saturday, 20/2/15

In a tarpaper cabin Dad rough-carpentered into livability on an abandoned Indian reservation on Schooner Cove, Long Beach, Vancouver Island in 1956, to a crackling woodstove fire and coal-oil lanterns, with the roar of the Pacific surf always present and wild robins and raucous blue jays loud in the deep forest behind the cabin – age 4 and 5, curled up in pajamas against my mother’s warmth as she read us three kids poems with lines like:



By the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

Dark behind it rose the forest,

Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,

Rose the firs with cones upon them;

Bright before it beat the water,

Beat the clear and sunny water,

Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

There the wrinkled old Nokomis

Nursed the little Hiawatha,

Rocked him in his linden cradle,

Bedded soft in moss and rushes,

Safely bound with reindeer sinews;

Stilled his fretful wail by saying,

“Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!”

Lulled him into slumber, singing,

“Ewa-yea! my little owlet!


My mother’s voice bringing magical cadence and invoking visions in a magic land before schools brought all that down.


But what inspired me to learn to read was my mother’s reading aloud of the Classics Illustrated comic The Time Machine, based on the H. G. Wells story.




Robert Bly said: “On the level of one to ten, it’s about a two to read great works on the spirit from the page. On the level of one to ten, it’s like a nine to hear a human being speak it, especially one you love – that brings the spirit inside the house, inside the family, inside your genetic line.”


I wanted two things: a tape recorder so that I could record my mother reading that wonderful story, and the ability to read it myself. So I was ahead of the game when I started school. I started on books at 8 or 9, and got my first tape recorder at 11. Now I work and play with recordings of the living voices of people more than I read text, though of course I will never give that up. I think digital media has re-opened and universalized a path to oral forms (both oratory and reading aloud) that links us again past Gutenberg and Plato with the pre-Socratics and shamanism.


I went to see my Mum yesterday. I’ve come to the conclusion that you can calibrate the extent of her muddle-headedness by the number of clips she’s got in her hair. She never used to wear any, or not of the plainly-visible silvery variety anyway, but in the last couple of years they’ve started to appear, and it’s noticeable that when she’s in a state of confusion she forgets to wash or brush her hair, and tries to make up for it by putting hairclips in. If she gets up to five or six hairclips, she’s in a bad way. Unless I’m getting it the wrong way round, of course, and it’s actually the hairclips that are causing the confusion.  Anyway, she only had the one clip in yesterday: not too bad, but the occasional long struggle to find the right word. I found her making some stewed apple for her lunch, and she told me that I could make the tea, because she didn’t want to take her eyes off the pan of simmering apple-slices, which she kept poking with the point of a little black-handled knife to see whether they were getting tender or not. Later on she confessed to me that she’d got to buy two new saucepans, because she’d left a couple of other things cooking on the hob and forgotten all about them, so two of her old saucepans now needed replacing. “Would you like some spare lids?” she said, only half-joking. She can’t bring herself to throw anything as useful-looking as a saucepan-lid away, but on the other hand she doesn’t want an orphaned saucepan-lid cluttering up her house without its parent saucepan, so the best solution she can think of is to try to give the spare lid to me; and if I’d engaged her in conversation about it, she would have started inventing all sorts of reasons why it would be a good idea for me to take it, each reason more far-fetched than the last but each one backed up by a stronger force of insistence. Luckily I managed to change the subject before she got started. My sister’s coming to stay with her next weekend, and I got the impression that she thought she’d better get her new saucepans in place before the visit began, so as to cover her tracks.

Animate Projects

The Animate organisation will be closing its online shop on 5th February, and until then they’re offering books and DVDs for sale at half-price. Why they would want to close the online shop I can’t imagine – I can only assume that nobody was buying anything from it. They say that their products will still be available from the BFI shop and LUX. Anyway, about a week ago I bought the Animate TV collection, which showcases various bits of work going back to about 2007, and I sat and watched about a third of it this morning – it’s got some really great stuff on it. If you’ve got eight quid to spare it’s really worth having. The ones that especially caught my attention were ‘Perpetual Motion in the Land of Milk and Honey’ by Al + Al, and ’13’ by Simon Faithfull. My daughter liked ‘Furniture Poetry’ by Paul Bush. The Animate shop is at .


Dr Smoothie in colour:

james bond02I may or may not give him a stethoscope.

I’ve now started work on Dr Hairy’s office:

officeThe reason I do the lines in red to start with, by the way, is because I’m drawing over the top of a photograph and they show up better if they’re red.

Dr Hairy’s Casebook, section 4

Section 4 of Dr Hairy’s Casebook is now available to subscribers, covering the following:

  • Care of people with mental health problems
  • Care of people with intellectual disability
  • Cardiovascular health

Dr Hairy’s Curriculum Casebook is an attempt to bring the RCGP’s GP Curriculum to life, by showing how it relates to the everyday realities of General Practice.

For more information, click here.


Dr Hairy’s car on fire:
caronfire04Dr Hairy’s care on fire in the car park:

carpark+caronfire04I think I probably need to get rid of the reflections in the  background car windows, to make them into simpler shapes like Dr Hairy’s car; and his car might need a blue shadow underneath; and the treeline needs simplifying so it doesn’t seem to be mimicking the edge of the smoke.

Does a dog await an outcome?

At just after three in the afternoon I walk up a muddy path to a 5-bar gate just off Angley Road, and wait for my daughter Rachel to come out of school and meet me there so we can walk back home together. I take the dog with me, and as soon as we get to the gate he starts sticking his nose through the bars of the gate, waiting for Rachel to come into view.
It suddenly struck me today – this is all wrong, isn’t it? Human beings are meant to spend their lives focussing on achievements and waiting for outcomes. Animals are meant to live ‘in the now’, without worrying themselves about what’s past and what’s to come. As a matter of fact this is an important part of Romantic philosophising about the difference between the human mind and the natural world. Humans can’t see things for what they are because their rational, manipulative way of thinking encourages them to focus on desired outcomes and regard the time they have to spend waiting for those outcomes to arrive as ‘dead’ time. You work all week and wait for pay-day, or wait for the weekend to come so you can enjoy yourself. You save up your money so you can buy yourself a car. When you’re young you can’t wait to be grown up. When you’re an adolescent you can’t wait to start having sex. When you’re grown up you can’t wait to become a success, get your own house, or whatever. In this way you wish your life away. Animals don’t do the same. Their lives are much more immediate. They don’t waste their time wishing for things they haven’t already got: they spend them paying attention to the here-and-now, the world of their immediate sensations.
But if you look at my dog and the way he behaves, it’s immediately obvious that none of this is really true. In the morning I take the dog out for a walk, and when we get back from the walk I have to wash up the dishes from the night before and then make breakfast. He spends the entire time I’m washing the dishes fidgeting up and down the kitchen and whining, because he knows breakfast is coming and he can’t wait for it. When I come upstairs to work, so they tell me, he sits at the bottom of the stairs gazing longingly upwards waiting for me to come back down. When we get to the 5-bar gate, he ignores me and pokes his nose through the gate because he’s waiting for Rachel to arrive. So what if it’s the other way round? What if it’s humans who are sometimes able to free themselves from their own greeds and desires sufficiently to be able to appreciate the here-and-now, whereas animals spend their entire lives wanting and waiting, never satisfied with what they’ve got at the moment because their instincts are telling them to go and get something else?
I think that’s probably overstating the case. The dog looks as if he’s enjoying the here and now when he’s having his chest scratched, or when he stretches himself out in front of the fire, or when he’s on a walk and goes sniffing around in the bushes because he’s smelt something interesting. But it’s a good example of how we like to draw a dividing line between ourselves and the natural world, and project all the virtues that we feel ourselves to be lacking onto the far side of that line. If human beings are goal-obsessed, then animals must be free from that obsession. If we’re haunted by ‘futurity’, as Blake calls it, then they must be capable of living entirely in the present. But it isn’t as simple as that.