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There has been some chit chat of late regarding Virtual Reality and I don’t mean the place where the politicians live.

It’s part of the whole AI revolution, or invasion or rebellion, delete as appocalyptically applicable. There are some who dislike anything technological and eschew the idea of possessing a mobile phone and others who are more religious in their approach to a distrust of technology. I personally think that VR  or ‘Virtual Reality’ is a very very dangerous place.

Because let’s face it, who is going to want to live in RR or Real Reality? If we could all spend our days on the equivalent of the Holodeck on the Starship Enterprise then why wouldn’t we? We already have a generation of young people, the Millenials as they are termed, in true Sci-Fi form, who have opposable thumbs with extra bendiness in them from all the texting and Pokemon chasing. If you think about it last years trend/fad/go to meme for Pokemon Go brought the RR and the Game into synchronous unity. You no longer had to train Charmander in your bedroom, you could hunt him down in the park. Wasn’t it great that all these pasty faced Millenials finally got out of their swivelly computer chairs and breathed some fresh air? No. It wasn’t. Leave them alone.

ForceThere is nothing wrong with ‘gaming’, the modern sort, the sort that requires Gigabytes instead of a cravat and a baize table. My kids have grown up in the computer age and they are reasonable enough people (don’t go too far!). Admittedly we did occasionally drag them up Snowdon and made them bicycle around the Isle of Wight once in a high wind but they have also had their measure of the cerebral pleasures. Our house is lined with books including a much loved copy of ‘Not Now Bernard’. There was a small Scrabble war and  a Perudo skirmish or three alongside the old favourites, playing cards.  We have never, as parents, seen anything wrong with computers and their games.

They aid concentration. They are meditation, focus. Relaxation. Strategy. They do far more for your cognitive ability than Hopscotch ever did. Alongside all that mullarkey, a computer game is a place to escape to and, as G K Chesterton once said, we find out that here we can kill the dragons. Or the spacebats. Or the Joker. Insert your favourite adversary here. You can go into battle. You can even be killed and resurrected. You can experience fear at a distance.

We’ve always escaped into Virtual Reality. It’s called imagination. We made marks on cave walls to show the Virtual Reality of ‘what I did on the buffalo hunt’. We’ve scribbled on parchment and inked in pictures. The bookshelves of the world are filled with a myriad of Virtual Realities and we all love to go there. When I am struggling I know it is time to head out to the Ramtops and my satnav tells me the way there is on the second to the bottom shelf on the left a bit. A book cover is a door.

That’s why it might be dangerous to be plugged into the VR machine. I haven’t ever tried it but I would like to. When my son played Assassin’s Creed I wasn’t so much interested in the gameplay as the opportunity it afforded to wander the landscape. It was a beautiful place to be.  It is your imagination writ large. Immersive technology. You are Here. And There. You can be the ghost in the machine.

In the current world of doomladen climate change, lunatic and powercrazed politicians, racism, sexism and economic failure it isn’t always enough to just open your door and head to the park. After all there might be someone in the park with a bloodthirsty dog that just took a crap on the litter strewn lawn by the drained boating lake. Your town might not be a sought after area. Instead, won’t it be tempting to pull on the headset and plug in your eyeballs and head out to Shangri-La?


I was listening, as you do when you’re pottering around the kitchen and are undeniably middle class, to Radio 4 the other day.

I listen to the radio A LOT. It is my companion during the many domestic tasks that I attempt each day. I have mentioned in previous blogs that I generally rant at the radio. I also learn. I think. I disagree. I am moved. Few and too far between, these days, are the programmes that stop me from racking up the dishwasher with their eloquence, imagery and beauty,  that make me almost wet myself with mirth.

There used to be such programmes of course. Now it’s all news. Fake news of course which is also called speculation. Polls asked of small numbers of people who are crossing their fingers behind their backs when asked if they are going to vote/tory/trump/brexit/eat dairy. Anyway, I need to take a deep breath in this blog.

The programme I was listening to was about books and how art works and it might also have been about social classes and their nomenclature and how your name gives you away. Have to say it veered wildly, as Radio 4 programmes sometimes do. The Radio 4 term for this is being ‘eclectic’ or possibly ‘esoteric’.  I was interested at first and then an editor was interviewed about working with writers and the naming of characters.

What a pompous fart the woman was. I appreciate that ‘fart’ is not very Radio 4 but nevertheless. She talked about writers naming their characters by the ‘wrong names’ and that these names were ‘unsuitable’ because they were patently the wrong social group.  She had a trilling laugh that accompanied her tales of correcting these glaring literary errors.

I’ve got several problems with this. The first is with the stone tablet that decreed that everyone but everyone knows what is going in a writer’s head better than they themselves do. This tenet was chiselled out years ago and is wrong.  There are lots of people who, when the pages are full, declare what is wrong with a piece of writing and, as one wise old writer once said “Where were you when the pages were empty?”. A writer writes. They crush the ideas out of their hearts and souls and let the blood of storytelling smirch the pages. Inky fingers pick at the nose of plot. A mouthful of pins pinches in thought as the writer dresses their characters. There is often a reason that a character is wearing a tweed overcoat. Sometimes, the reason is very simple, the writer LIKES tweed overcoats.

Writers have landscapes. Their territory. This territory is as particular and pungent as the Terroir of winemaking. We make up the towns. We twist the existing geography of the places we grew up and we make them into storyscape. We hope that the smoke drifts into your head too. Do we all dream of the same Manderley?

For me, characters arrive named. There is no arguing about what they are called. I can’t argue with them. They bring their name along with their eyepatch or their kilt or their cigar. At the moment I have Ivo in my head. He has been there for a while and he’s been in the wars. Stitched. Bruised. He’s sitting in a caravan in Pembrokeshire right now and he’s wearing a heavy black wool overcoat that a man named Dragorian made, bespoke. He’s had a bad time and he’s a bad man. Of sorts. I haven’t completed his story yet so he’s waiting in the caravan and the wind is making it rock. I can see the print on the caravan sofa, smell the plastic of the worktop and see where the rain has got in a little over the mouldy smelling bread bin. It is not Ivo’s caravan by the way. It belonged to someone else. Someone now dead.

He’s called Ivo for a reason. It is his name.

The editor idiot (hm, so very nearly an anagram it aches) was smug in her notion that only the characters that she named were ‘correctly named’. I stood in my kitchen, halted in my task, to have a moment’s silence for the grieving writers she had left in her wake.

I had a friend at school who was called Pamela. She hated the name and even disliked the shortened version of it. Nor was she what someone might describe as ‘a Pamela’.  And here is the rub with names. We do have ideas about who a Pamela is or a Betty or a Doris, the names that creak with age nowadays. My own name ‘Helen’ is so 60s/70s along with Alison and Samantha. If you named a character ‘Susan’ nowadays she’d have to be middle aged. Or would she? These labels come and go, they float in and out on the tides of fashion. Who is to say who is or isn’t a Chantal? Or a Jackson? What about Conrad? You are who you are. This Molly is different from that Mollie and it isn’t the spelling it is the person behind the name. Who doesn’t have a name that they hate because it was held by their nemesis at primary school or the bully at University?

The editor has no right to hold such sway over characters. This person is not your character. Yes, there are markers of social class carried by name, Bunty or Jinty, Lucinda or Giles. You might be wrong in your judgement about them. In my own ancestry we had a Squire and a Major, nothing to do with their rank in society, one was a waggoner and the other owned a chip shop. Their names carried some hint at what was in their parents heads.  What is to stop someone naming their child Jezebel, just because they like the name?  There is no sense to names. They are thoughts and dreams written into the coats of our children.

One of our friends sons had a baby recently, a girl. He and his wife called her ‘Mackenzie’ in honour of his late dad’s best friend. I think its wonderful, a true name, carrying love and history that she can take into her future.

I have no doubt that the Editor interviewed would probably purse her lips and have her finger poised over the cut and paste option. It is no accident20160905_125945 that I have forgotten the name of the Editor herself. Cruella, perhaps?


Town 39My recent visit to the @wiltshiremuseum in Devizes was enriching. There was, in addition to the bone flute recently blogged about, a section about the power of women and their place in bronze/iron/neolithic society.

Nothing is certain, obviously, we weren’t there, but we can just pick over the items that the ground has saved. The archaeology indicates that there were women of status and power, marked by their grave goods, the jewellery and the knives that accompanied them. The displays of grave goods @wiltshiremuseum are affecting. These are all domestic and personal items, used by someone and treasured enough to be taken to the OtherWorld. I like personal items, I wonder at the stories they could tell.

It’s a Pagan thing, this empowerment of women, something that is sadly missing in organised religion. It strikes me as I wave my ash twig and dance naked round the Ring of Brodgar, that what religion has chiefly organised is a male dominated hierarchy. Even in this day and age we have the Church of England scrapping at the Synod over women bishops. I never have worked out how we allowed this and yet I have to admit, being brought up CofE I didn’t question it. Church was church and the lack of women folk in the Bible didn’t ring any bells, church or otherwise, until I grew up and began to think ‘It’s a bit of a boys club this.’ and the thoughts that Jesus only had male disciples. There was his mum of course and then there was Mary Magdalene but, as Waldemar Januszczak’s excellent programme on BBC Four the other day states, she’s only mentioned four times. The women are sidelined. They wash feet. They weep. They are, classically, a madonna and a prostitute.

It’s not good enough. It’s not true.

In Pagan faith there is God and Goddess and each has their role. The Vikings thought that women held all the magic and intuition and were the staff bearers. I think I’ve probably waffled on about this before but it is sticking in my mind.  At another museum binge, this time the British Museum and their Vikings exhibition, there were several ‘staffs’ found in graves with women.  There were women who were chosen, who were considered to be wise and special and had much to contribute. Women brought ‘seidr’ the shamanistic magic and were simultaneously revered and feared. They had power.

In later times there were wise women in villages, women with the knowledge of herbs and healing who were pushed out, turned into ‘witches’ in what was, to my mind, a power grab. The Church, stone and stalwart, wanted everyone to come into the church and be brainwashed and shackled to the rules, you can’t, therefore, have anyone outside that system who is walking their own path. You can’t let people have an alternative, especially not when that alternative is a woman. So, women who had life skills, midwifery etc were persecuted, driven out and in some cases, killed. You have a faith monopoly.  You make female knowledge a taboo, a thing of ‘witchcraft’, you poison and you taint.  I wonder how much valuable knowledge was lost?

The world has been trying very hard but women can’t be written out of spirituality and it’s probably a factor in the rise of ‘other’ religions. The mainstream laughs or derides Pagan or Wicca or Druid or even Jedi.  If you laugh at something you make it small. It’s time to stop laughing. These spiritual ideas are not going away, they shrug off the attempts at control and mockery.

The people who are drawn to those ideas and thoughts are searching for something for themselves and finding it. They are finding the trees and the goddess that have been waiting there all along.





‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge


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