Category Archives: Fate

Everything happens by happenstance… My mother re-meets my undead father

The long-nosed stranger of Strasburg in Tristram Shandy

The long-nosed stranger of Strasburg in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Today’s blog is about how my mother met my father.

I have not read Laurence Sterne’s book The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which was published 1759-1767. As I understand it, the book is supposed to be the autobiography of Tristram Shandy and it starts off with his birth but – in order to explain why that happened – he has to explain about his parents and the background to his birth to such an extent that, after nine volumes, he is way back before his birth and has never started his autobiography. That is what my English master told me at school.

The reason I cannot read Tristram Shandy is because, in 1991, I was hit by a truck while I was standing on a pavement and now I can write books on computer screens, but I cannot read books.

It would take too long to explain.

I was hit by a truck because, one Saturday in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, I was rushing to post a birthday card to someone I knew in Norwich, Norfolk. She was not a friend, just an acquaintance of an acquaintance whom I had met by accident a few years before.

My mother and my father went to the same school together in Whithorn, Wigtownshire, Scotland, but they had not really known each other then. They were in different classes. My mother lived in the small village of Garlieston. My father lived in the Isle of Whithorn (which, confusingly, is a totally different place to Whithorn).

My parents re-met by accident in their twenties in the 1940s

My parents re-met by accident in their twenties in the 1940s

During the Second World War, my father was home on leave from the Royal Navy. He took a wrong bus and was walking down the main street in Whithorn. My mother was in the street with a friend who had gone into a jeweller’s shop. My mother looked up the street and was surprised to see my father walking towards her.

She was surprised because she had heard he had been killed.

“I thought you were dead,” she told him.

They got into a conversation.

“No, I wasn’t killed,” he told her.

A few weeks later my father, his sister and some other people went from the Isle of Whithorn to my mother’s village of Garlieston for a dance.

My mother’s family dog disappeared and she went off looking for it with my father.

The dog (a Jack Russell called Vick) eventually turned out to be asleep under the sink in the kitchen.

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Me (aged 1) and my father near home in Campbeltown, Argyll

I think my parents married in 1948. It might have been 1946. I can’t be bothered to check. It does not matter. It is in the past. The past is only what people remember or what people claim in writing happened in the past. The past does not exist, even though everything is interconnected by happenstance.

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Filed under Coincidence, Fate

What I discovered in a Fitzrovia pub after I won the EuroLottery…

I won the EuroLottery two days ago.

The prize was £2.90.

Winning the Lottery is relevant to something that happened last night.

The famous Austin Osman Spare in 1904

I had never heard of Austin Osman Spare until last night. He is one of those boy geniuses who had a wonderful future behind him.

Is it better to be famous when you are young, then drift into obscurity? Or to be unknown, get acknowledged late in life and then die famous?

Born in 1886, Austin Osman Spare was, by 1904, being called a “boy genius”, allegedly the youngest ever artist exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. He was, says his new biographer Phil Baker, “hit by fame and then hit by obscurity”.

In 1908, the Art Journal wrote: “Can there be anyone in London interested in Art who has not heard of Austin Osman Spare?”

“This,” said Phil Baker last night,”becomes ironic as the century continues, when you’d really be very hard-pressed to find anyone who had heard of him.”

Phil Baker’s 2011 biography of Spare

Phil said this last night during a Sohemian Society meeting in the upstairs room of the Wheatsheaf pub in Fitzrovia – a pub where Austin Osman Spare regularly drank, 1950-1955, forgotten by the art world.

He died in obscurity in 1956, though he merited an obituary in The Times which said that “for most of his life he did not mix in what are called ‘artistic circles’. Not Chelsea, Fitzroy Street, Bloomsbury or Hampstead claimed him, but for years a little flat ‘in the south suburbs by the Elephant’ far removed from the coteries, deep-set in the ordinary life of the people.”

He was a draughtsman, painter, surrealist and occultist.

Spare’s drawing “Ascension of the Ego from Ecstasy to Ecstasy” (1913)

In the 1930s, impoverished, Spare was selling ‘Surrealist Horse Racing Forecast Cards’ for five shillings via a small ad in the Exchange and Mart paper.

“The reason he hit on this in 1936,” explained Phil Baker last night, “was because Britain had just had a big Surrealist exhibition. When he first started doing these cards, they were called Obeah cards – Obeah being a kind of African magic.

They were kind of like Voodoo cards. They are an artwork based on gambling, which is quite a rare combination and the only similar thing I can think of is Marcel Duchamp’s Monte Carlo Bond in 1924.

“Marcel Duchamp came up with a roulette system and said that, in future, he was going to draw or sketch on chance. So his roulette system was going to be his artwork. And it’s oddly fitting for Spare, I think, because of Duchamp’s remarks on the Lottery of Posterity.

“Duchamp said that all artists are actually gamblers – Artists throughout history are like the gamblers of Monte Carlo and this blind lottery allows some to succeed and ruins others. Posterity is a real bitch. It cheats some, re-instates others and reserves the right to change her mind every fifty years.

Spare’s “Portrait of the Artist” (1907) – now owned by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page

“Spare’s career had another peculiar turn around this time, when Adolf Hitler tried to commission a portrait from him. Spare refused and briefly became a hero in the local papers. I think maybe there was an approach made to him by someone at the German Embassy who had seen a picture of Spare looking a bit like Hitler because, for a time, he had a ‘Charlie Chaplin’ moustache a bit like Hitler’s. Spare later did create a picture merging his own features with Hitler’s which, in art historical terms, was unusual at the time.

“He also supposedly photographed himself as Christ on the Cross. If he really did do that, then the photos don’t survive. But this is a very odd art practice for someone in that period.”

There is also an artwork in which Spare seems to have drawn himself as a woman; the picture was later owned by author E.M.Forster.

“Art historically,” said Phil Baker last night, “this is completely unlike anything anyone else was doing at the time. This idea of an artist doing himself as other people waits for… I think Cindy Sherman is the person who’s really made it famous more recently.

“And there’s a Japanese artist called Yasumasa Morimura who’s done himself as a Pre-Raphaelite woman and as Hitler and as Chairman Mao.

“This alone, you would think, might give Austin Osman Spare a bigger place in Art history. Instead, he’s completely vanished. He’s chiefly remembered as an occultist, which begins by him being seduced by an elderly witch in Kennington when he was a child.”

But that’s another story about an interesting man.

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Filed under Art, Culture, Fate, Occult, Surreal

Desperate Housewives and Fate


The hip bone's connected to the back bone
The back bone's connected to the neck bone
The neck bone's connected to the head bone
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Last night I accidentally caught the end of an episode of Desperate Housewives on TV: not something I have ever watched before.

Someone got shot in the chest at the end. As normal, there was red blood on the shirt-front, but no tear in the pristine fabric of the shirt.

Even in successful TV series, people cut corners to save money.

There was much voice-over pseudo-philosophising from his TV wife about how life can be changed in an instant.

But it’s true.

I have slept on my bedroom floor for the last two nights because my back has ‘gone’ again. If I move in certain positions, it is like someone stabbing a Samurai sword into me and twisting it.

It is the result of an accident in 1991 when I got hit by a truck while standing on the pavement. I was walking to the post box with a birthday card for someone I had accidentally met around ten years before; not a friend; just someone I kept in touch with.

If I had not met her and if her birthday had not been on a certain date and if I had not been going to get the last postal collection that day… it would not have happened 21 years ago and I would not have been sleeping on the floor and in quite a lot of pain the last two days.

Same thing with anything.

If the question is Shall I do this? or Shall I not? the answer should always be to do it. Because you can never calculate the ramifications. The more you do, the more possibilities there are.

Although, of course, there is always the danger of the being-hit-by-a-truck ramification.

But no-one can calculate the possibilities. At least if you try to do something, you know the outcome. You may fail, but at least you know the outcome. If you don’t try, you will never know and will always ponder on what might have happened if only… if only…

Ye Gods!

How do I have the gall to criticise Desperate Housewives for pseudo-philosophising?…

And where did I put that Chinese ointment which sometimes helps me?

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Filed under Coincidence, Fate