This blog is in a state of suspended animation

I am much more active on twitter (@mark_haddon) and on instagram (@mjphaddon)


i was contacted recently by someone who wanted to re-watch microsoap, a children's series i created / wrote for the bbc in 1998 or so. short of coming to my house and borrowing a set of elderly vhs cassettes, they were on a hiding to nothing. the first series won 2 baftas and the prix jeunesse. but there were no commercial videos and no dvds. and there's no digital download. short of taking photographs of the tv screen while the tapes are playing i have no pictures from the programme. and this is the only image i can find on the net. when those tapes crumble i'll have no way of proving the thing ever existed.

it's understandable why tv programmes from the 60's have vanished forever given that they were recorded on long strips of bamboo by underpaid northern children with tiny knives, or something along those lines. but the disappearance of programmes from 10 years ago seems extraordinary.

actually, it's worse than that. i wrote a film for the bbc two years ago. coming down the mountain. again, it was shortlisted for a bafta. no dvd. no download. and, once more, if you want to watch you'll have to come round to my house and borrow one of my 3 dvds. and it's not just my film. it's the majority of tv single films. 2, 3, 4 years work, one transmission then... eternal darkness and a page on imdb.

the problem is not the technology. making these things downloadable from i-tunes or elsewhere is child's play, technically. the problem is legal and bureaucratic. every time one of these films or programmes is broadcast or downloaded, the artists have to be paid. and rightly so. but their contracts were written when the concept downloading films seemed like matter transport. how do those antique contracts get re-interpreted? who gets paid what? how is the money paid to them? and who sorts these problems out?

it's sad. coming down the mountain was a lovely thing. and the way it has vanished from the face of the earth is one of the reasons why i'm not planning to write for tv again.

here's nick hoult and the even more wonderful tommy jessop (shot by danny cohen)

a wonderful run this morning. 90 minutes or so. small roads, public footpaths, permissive footpaths, a park, a bridleway, a towpath, finishing with a swim in the river during which a dog ran off with one of my socks. it reminded me how deeply i missed public access land while living in boston, mass. (and how much i had taken it for granted while living here). i've just flicked through a couple of random uk ordnance survey maps and in the countryside it's almost impossible to find a square mile you can't cross using some kind of road or track or path. in new england great tracts of land were either inaccessible and could be viewed only from car windows if at all, large stretches of seashore were out of reach and despite the fact that massachusetts is a colander of lakes the public were allowed to swim freely only in walden pond, possibly to prevent thoreau's ghost rising up like jacob marley in the small hours of the morning and strangling state officials with its chains.

coincidentally, the other things I missed most were radio 4, proper muesli  and the (I now realise) quinitessentially british habit of bonding with one’s friends by insulting them.

new year's day. kids at their grandmother's. last holiday ever, maybe. shitty white cell count. still no-one on the stem cell register. i should be inside with kathy, but the wind's coming in off the sea and i'm guessing there aren't too many germs over the atlantic. christ, it's good to be outside. dragon's breath and pine-needles. down into little coves then up again into dappled forest-light. the world empty till i snake down to a beach below trebah where fifty, sixty people are gathered for the yearly icicle swim: a hundred yards out into the freezing estuary, round the lifeboat and back. whippety outdoor guys in wetsuits, sturdy shopgirls in purple bikinis and lard, father christmas in speedos. a brazier stands on the high-water line of weed and flotsam, fifty orange eyes punched into a dustbin, sparks rising like birds in the smoke. what the hell. i strip down to my shorts and shiver on the big pebbles till the gun goes and we hobble into the surf. cold like hammers and ice-cream headaches. someone actually screams. a minute, two minutes and i'm rounding the anchor-chain. i can no longer feel my legs. there are faint cheers coming from the beach as the faster swimmers make land. over the top of the little waves i look towards the open sea and realise that there are two directions i can take.


an afterthought…

(see the previous entry ‘the case for god’)

karen armstrong would, i think, paraphrase the stand-off between religion and science something like this. religion is, or should be, a body of practises which help us articulate mystery, the fact there is something than nothing, our finitude, our suffering, our sense of wonder, our place in a universe which will is ultimately incomprehensible. science, on the other hand, is a set of practices which generates a contingent set of ideas (for scientific ideas are always contingent) which enable us to manipulate and understand the physical world. mythos on the one hand and logos on the other. two cultures which simply don’t intersect, except perhaps on the outer reaches of cosmology and particle physics.

this is right, i think, but it is all rather grandiose, an image best captured in stephen jay gould’s equally grandiose idea of non-overlapping magisteria. it is a picture which suggests that this boundary is something that can be seen only from a great height and spelled out using capital letters.

but if there really is a boundary this distinct it should surely be visible on the ground, when you’re making a cup of tea or taking a walk in the park. and it is.

science deals with the objective world. religion, on the other hand, deals with the subjective. to use the perennial philosophical chestnut, science can tell us a great deal about the colour red but almost nothing about our experience of seeing the colour red. the conundrum being that there is no way of telling whether, or how, my experience of the colour red is different from yours. There are philosophers and scientists who would dismiss the question as meaningless. indeed there are some (daniel dennett for example) who would say that our peculiarly personal and interior subjective experience of the colour red (or anything else) is simply an illusion, period.

science can tell us about this subjective experience only when it manifests itself in physical events (the behaviour of neurons, our descriptions of our subjective experience, the inability of some people to tell red from green…). however closely we examine the physical world we simply cannot find subjective experience. even if we know precisely what is happening in the brain, even if we find the exact neural correlative of a particular subjective experience, it still gets no real purchase on having that experience (if we look closely enough all we can see is the random bubbling of quantum activity which, if anything, makes the puzzle even greater). but having that experience is why the world exists for us. and the fact that you and i agree most of time that we’re both seeing red is what makes human civilisation possible. dennett may be right in saying that subjective experience is an illusion. but to dismiss something as an illusion simply dodges the biggest question of all.

religion, of course, is not the only way of articulating our subjective experience. writing and reading novels is another, as is composing and listening to music, as is making and looking at pictures. but there is a very definite border between what science can and can’t do. and the overwhelming success of science in flying us to new york and transplanting hearts and sending robots to mars has made us blind to this border. but you and i are sitting on that border right now.



i held off from making digital prints for a long time. 'real' printing, surely, was about pressing ink onto - or into - paper. it was three-dimensional. if you held a 'proper' print up to the light you could see something sculptural - indentations, protrusions, variations in texture... Moreover i dislike the way that digital reproductions of non-digital artwork (drawings, paintings, etchings...) are increasingly sold as 'limited edition prints'. of course, it's great for poorly-paid artists. and it's great for non-rich people who want to buy art. but digital prints are just posh posters and there's something dishonest about pretending they're more than that. plus, i've been in a few galleries where it's hard to tell whether certain prints are screenprints or 'digital prints' and the staff have been unable, or unwilling, to say.

but, but, but... i've finally had to admit that using a mac to create and manipulate images feels as natural as using a paintbrush or a scalpel. i've also been hoarding bits of discarded artwork and taking semi-abstract, not-quite-art-in-themselves photographs over the past few years for reasons i could never quite articulate.

finally, i know how to use them.

if you're interested, the two prints here contain, among other elements, a photo of the bottom of a swimming pool and a photo taken at gweek seal sanctuary.


crap cover, crap title, but a rather wonderful book (by karen armstrong. and I'm speaking as an atheist here. it's emphatically not (despite cover and title) a riposte to dawkins and hitchens (she agrees with many of their arguments). on the contrary it’s an attempt to reassert the primacy of the apophatic tradition in all the major world religions; religion not as an inert set of ideas to which believers subscribe, but as a set of communal practices (meditative, ceremonial…) which help us come to terms with our place in this profoundly and impenetrably mysterious (and therefore ‘sacred’) world, a world from which most of us feel alienated in one way or another.

here's a pivotal passage:

"The word translated 'faith' in the new testament is the greek 'pistis' (verbal form: 'pisteuo'), which means 'trust; loyalty; engagement; commitment'. jesus was not asking people to 'believe' in his divinity, because he was making no such-claim. He was asking for commitment. he wanted disciples who would engage with -his mission, give all they had to the poor, feed the hungry, refuse to be hampered by family ties, abandon their pride, lay aside their self-importance and sense of entitlement, live like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and trust in the god who was their father... when the new testament was translated from greek into latin by st jerome (C.342-420), 'pistis' became 'fides' ('loyalty'). 'fides' had no verbal form, so for 'pisteuo', jerome used the Latin verb 'credo', a word that derived from 'cor do': 'i give my heart'. he did not think of using 'opinor' ('I hold an opinion'). when the bible was translated into english, 'credo' and 'pisteuo' became 'I believe' in the king james version (16ll). but the word 'belief' has since changed its meaning. In middle english, 'bileven' meant 'to prize; to value; to hold dear'. It was related to the german 'belieben' ('to love'), 'liebe' ('beloved') and the latin libido. So 'belief' originally meant 'loyalty to a person to whom one is bound in promise or duty'... during the late seventeenth century, however, as our concept of knowledge became more theoretical, the word 'belief' started to be used to describe an intellectual assent to a hypothetical- and often dubious - proposition. Scientists and philosophers were the first to use it in this sense, but in religious contexts the latin 'credere' and the english 'belief' both retained their original connotations well into the nineteenth century."

boom! will be published on 3rd september.

here's the book's introduction which pretty much explains everything:

"this book was first published in 1992 under the title ‘gridzbi spudvetch!’. it was  a ridiculous thing to call a book. no-one knew how to pronounce it. and no-one knew what it meant until they'd read the story. as a result only twenty three people bought the book. actually, that's an exaggeration, but not much. it rapidly it went out of print.

it would have stayed out of print, but over the years a string of people got in touch to say how much they loved the book. on several occasions my publishers asked whether i wanted to update it for a new edition.

it certainly needed updating. it was full of references to floppy discs and Walkmans and cassette players. but it needed more than that. there were numerous little holes in the plot. much of the writing was clumsy. and i couldn't read it without thinking ouch! on almost every page. a new edition would need major rewriting. Rewriting takes time, however. and i didn't have much.

towards the end of 2007 i got a letter from ss philip and james primary School (aka phil and jim's) in oxford. alison Williams said that she had been reading the book to her pupils for years and it was always guaranteed to entertain them. to prove her point she included a sheaf of letters from her Lilac 4 class, and they were kind and funny and very complimentary.

i was finally persuaded. i put aside some time and returned to gridzbi spudvetch! armed with a scalpel and a red pencil. i cut large sections and added new ones. By the end of the process i'd changed pretty much every sentence in the book one way or another.

i'd also come up with a new title. it means something even if you haven't read the story. and everyone can pronounce it."

it was hard work. much harder work than i expected (reworking books is always harder than you expect). but i heard it being read to a group of kids (and a couple) a few weeks ago and it seemed to go down pretty well.

if you are so minded you can go to the david fickling books website and read the book in 4 weekly chunks online.