Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

I exist, don’t I?

Periods of great turbulence often lead to rash encounters, with the result that I’ve never felt like a legitimate son, much less an heir.

Patrick Modiano, Pedigree, a Memoir.


“Who am I, Dad?”

“Well, you’re a boy.”

“But suppose I were a girl?”

“Strictly speaking, you can’t be.”

“But suppose I were?”

“You would have to be like your sister.”

“Suppose I were neither.”

“You would likely have troubles ahead, were that true.”

“I better stay a boy, then.”

“That’s right, son. That’s best.”

The above dialogue of mine captures within a few sentences the essence of what many of the novels and short stories I have read in recent times concern themselves with. The question of identity All of them have been European. The phenomena is worth exploring in greater depths than the present essay attempts to do. In brief  there are many aspects to this question of identity and of the questioning by a speaker of their existence.

I suppose that those of us who have had troubled childhoods, like Modiano, find that the experiences from those childhoods stay with us life long and set us apart from others who do not have the knowledge of what is to be the product of an unhappy childhood. There is merit in this, though. Just as Patrick Modiano illustrates in the quotation at the head of this essay, those us with such a background have stories to tell. The book that this particular quotation comes from is, as his title states, a memoir. Nevertheless, Modiano has told mostly stories. In fact, he as spent his life writing them.

As he says of this particular book, he couldn’t write an autobiography. (It is episodic rather than a continuous narrative.) I don’t think I could either. My memory blocks both the pain of childhood and of the accompanying difficulty, or impossibility, of functioning properly as an adult since that time .

I have not known of Modiano’s work previously. His books have not much over the years been translated into English. I understand, though, he has had a coterie who have read him assiduously despite that. For some reason he is now hitting the book shops, not unconnected, no doubt, with the fact that, in 2014, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. There are four titles of his on the shelves of my local independent bookstore, from no less than three publishers. This particular title is seeing the light of day in English ten years after being published in French.

I had recently purchased a book of Guatier’s poetry, bilingual thankfully, published in a series by Yale, The Margellos World Republic of Letters, and somewhat desultorily was searching their site to find other books in this particular series and stumbled over this memoir of Modiano’s,  with its startling observation on the first page, quoted above. You can’t possibly read such a quotation without going out right away to get the book.

Modiano and I have a similar background by way of childhood experience. Only the incidentals differ from any kind of accordance. He was born, as I was, in 1945. His parents met during the war which leads him to make the observation he does. He began writing in 1968, four years after I left high school. Our backgrounds could not be more different though, quite apart from him being French and me English, or British, whatever that means.

What drives me to write is the realisation, something along the lines of what Tolstoy wrote, that all happy families have the same story to tell, and unhappy families each have a different story to relate. I think of Dirk Bogart’s memoirs (A Postillion Struck by Lightning, 1977, among others) which appears to be filled with a happy upbringing, and a largely happy life. Kenneth Clark, based on his biographies (Another Part of the Wood (1974) and The Other Half, 1977) seems to me to have also had such a life. With no disrespect to either individual, they each appear to have only one story to tell.

Writers such as Modiano have a host of stories to tell as witness his large output; some thirty works. What propels this ability to tell other people’s stories I can’t say without some reflection. Of course, these stories are fictional. But they have to be based on what the writer has observed. Perhaps the humility which comes from the very experiences they have had as children shapes their outlook on life; to see others, to see the suffering of others, from whatever perspective they choose.

In reviewing and reflecting, on the lives of the writers I have known through my reading of them, I am struck by the extraordinary number of them who have led troubled lives and, perhaps more importantly, the sheer number of them who committed suicide. This appears to be true whether one looks at US, UK or European authors. How such writers wrote from the depth of pain that they clearly felt on a daily basis quite eludes me. The psychology of the drive to express their lives through the written word and through the doings and peccadilloes of the characters they created is certainly worth studying. And driven to write the overwhelming majority of them clearly were.

This is not to say that only troubled people write, though, truth to tell, most people who are troubled don’t write.

Do we ever know the lives of others? Of those around us who patently lead distressed lives? However much we listen to such people, what comes out of their mouths or is emoted by their behaviour, does in no way lead us to have any insight to their internal selves. Those lives are remote and removed from us. We, each of us, is only aware of our own inner landscape.

I cannot report other kinds of creative artists. I can only speak of writers because it is they whom I know best.

The value to us in our modern age is reading of the inner lives of others. I guess that, among other reasons for valuing the work of writers, is their ability, unique ability, to write so authentically on the inner life the characters they create. No other medium does this. This might be termed the preoccupation of the angst that appears to be attendant to our times, at least since the end of the First World War, if not slightly before that.

Modiano’s particular preoccupation appears to be with identity. This is surely a vexed phenomena, this question of who we are in relation to the external world. Certainly, writers in previous eras have given us internal monologues. But these almost always were, or are, running commentaries on what that character observed or heard. This device was supposed to tell of the character of mostly the protagonist. Even that approach to writing has been relatively recent given the aeons over which the writing of people on the page has existed. The greatest part of the history of fiction, and one would also have to include tales such as those written by Homer and his like, have been external to the characters. One does not have access to their inner lives, other than what they say. I mean it is unlikely that, whoever the original story teller was, witnessed what he or she wrote of.

Throughout that long history the greatest concern has been with plot. Who did what to whom. And many writers continue to write in this mode.

However, the writers most venerated in our time are those whose works are all  but plotless. Those books that might have no other character than some invisible speaker, or simply a stream of consciousness reported by an omniscient observer. An interminable river of thoughts, if that is what they are. One wonders if such works would be possible were it not for Freud. It has to be said, that were we to go sit on a mountain top and to live away from what we laughingly call society in a sort of backwoodsman’s kind of life, I doubt that we would have any identity crisis at all. One does not read of such people taking their own lives. Perhaps such lives force externalisation. In cities though, especially the major cities, this existential crisis seems to be something of a common occurrence.

So how is that writers such as Patrick Modiano can write so successfully of the internal lives of their characters? Is it a matter of projection of their own internal lives? But that can’t be. Those of us who live in maelstroms have little insight into ourselves. We simply try to survive each day. Some more successfully than others. And stay at home, lying in bed when it gets too bad. It is said that writing is a gift. That you can either write or you can’t. There is nothing in between. I suppose there are bad writers. Heaven knows I have read enough of them. Or, at least, tried to stay away from them most of the time.

Writing often speaks of a felt sense. How this can be taught to others?. Perhaps writing courses are sort of feel good communities. An Alcoholic’s Anonymous for those addicted to the vain and difficult world of trying to write. And it is difficult. Writers such as Modiano only make it appear easy. It is said to be a craft. And that may be the best that can be said of it. What drives a writer like our subject will likely remain a mystery. One thinks of Colette who knew from the age of eight that she would be a writer.

Much that fascinates us cannot be answered: the why, the how. So, the product of writers like Patrick Modiano may fascinate. Understanding how that world is created may always elude us. That doesn’t stop us trying. Whole industries of academics exist to attempt to answer such questions and churn out endlessly, year after year, turgid, impenetrable tracts read only by their fellow industrialists.

The rest of us prefer to read the real thing. The work itself rather that essays about the book, like this one. We would rather continue to be fascinated. After all, I exist, don’t I?

Malcolm D B Munro
Thursday 10 November, 2015

Filed under: Arts, Book Review, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Devil take the hindmost

Devil take the hindmost

Devil take the hindmost, the lame boy limps at the rear
Tanks wither, solids are gelded
Nude soldiers mince on the parade ground
Leaden butterflies swim in golden seas
The Cats’ Orchestra barks in unison. Trills the choir
Satellites weave tepid tapestries in the universe
The cauldron bakes onions, splutters confusion, and stinks of fish
The horizon ebbs and claps. And slaps you in the eye
The crimson parlour imprisons the dainty Queen
The axman picks his teeth and smiles in kindness
The vegetation stretches, the rice talk endless
The honeymoon is over, the devil in attendance
Let’s join the dance.

Malcolm D B Munro
Friday 24 June, 2016

Filed under: Current Events, Media, Music, poetry, songs, stories



You not for sale

Malcolm D B Munro
Tuesday 15 August, 2017

Strickly Copyright the author, all Rights Reserved

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Music, poetry, songs, stories


currently upside down

Currently, available at Saatchi Art

Malcolm D B Munro
Tuesday 15 August, 2017

Copyright the artist, all Rights Reserved




Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Joe Walsh- Rocky Mountain Way

Joe Walsh- Rocky Mountain Way

Malcolm D B Munro
Tuesday 15 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, Media, Music, poetry, songs, stories

From the Rice Fields of Tailand

I posted yesterday on Ta and feel that her story is well worth posting here. Those of us who have led and lead a life of priviledge should surely  be inspired by her perseverance and courage to pursue what she wanted from life. With all the opportunties at hand for us, we can hardly complain if we do not realize our own dreams. We can choose and live a life where we have shown courage and a drive and willingness to overcome the obstacles in our own societies, which are not inconsiderable. Shoud we not do this, we cannot complain and wish for our lives to be different. What we wish to do is in our own hands. The Amerian message to everyone growing up in this country is: follow your dreams. It is not said lightly.

Our dreams are within reach. We only have to grasp them.

Suthamma (Ta) Thimkaeo


It all started early one morning in 1974, when I was born, I know it was early because someone remembers seeing the Monk’s out collecting their offerings (local people greet the monks and offer food, which is taken back to the temple and shared with whoever is there) where will it end, who knows.

We Thais have a belief that our life is mapped out for us and what will be will be, but I hope my future is bright. I want everyone in the world to see my work, I hope to be able to make a decent life and be able to pay the bills when they come in. I want a better future for my daughters then I had.

I’m now living in a beautiful part of Thailand with my house and studio overlooking the stunning gulf of Thailand, but It was not always like that .

When I was a kid living in a rural village, with little electric no running water life was very difficult, It was farming area, mainly rice and most people worked in the rice fields, that was our life, there was little ambition to do anything else.

I was always different from the rest of the people in my village I just wanted to escape I knew there was a different world out there just didn’t know where.

 At 12 I worked in the rice fields, 13 worked in a sweat factory in Bangkok making shirts, 14 was driving a pick up truck 7 days a week 14 hours a day selling vegetables which I did until my early twenties.

While working in Bangkok I went for a walk I didn’t get far, came across an old art studio with an old man painting I stood and watched him for ages, he invited me in, showed me what he was doing and showed me round his studio.

 I knew I wanted to be like that old man and paint, I loved that old studio,  loved the chaos the smell of paint, it was fascinating and I was well and truly hooked. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but knew one day I was going to be an artist, but, I remember thinking, it would be easier to walk on the moon then me becoming an artist.

 Later in life I had a  wonderful opportunity and grabbed it with both hands, that opportunity was art, I’m in it now and I’m not moving, it will continue to change my life for the better and I love it.

 My first real exhibition was on Samui with a big cocktail party and lots of people all dressed up I had to make a speech and thank everyone, don’t forget I’m Thai and these were all Westerners, I’ve never done anything like it in my life before, my English is not bad but it’s far from perfect, but they were very kind to me.

I put on a little black dress some red lipstick and made the most of it, I loved it, not so much the attention but the fact people I’ve never met before liked my work and wanted to talk to me about it.

I hope people will say Ta had a difficult first half of her life but her second half was pure magic, her art is seen all over the world, she didn’t live in London, Paris, New York, Monaco, or Peru, but she sent her work there and now she’s looking down from the moon, not bad for a girl from the rice fields of Thailand.

From Ta’s entry on Art Finder

Malcolm D B Muno
Tuesday 15 August, 2017

Filed under: Current Events

Dean Village then

The Dean Village does not resemble the Dean Village of my youth. Youth? Well, when I was five or six.

There was a channel sluced from the Waters of Leith, the port to the north of Edinburgh, on the coast of the wide Firth of Forth. The channel supplied water to a tannery to the back of the hollow in which the village still sits. The tannery was comprised of a three or four story warehouse, or workplace, with windows with no glass in them. An opening in the face of it had a rope hoist to lower the completed leather to some transport to take it away below. I never saw a horse or truck do this but I suppose they did or how else did they goods get to market, wherever that was. The sheep skins would arrive I don’t know by what means, and be scraped in the open. I suppose this was in the morning. I only was in the village after school. The tannery gave off a very particular smell though I am glad to have forgotten how it smelt,

The tanners wore long leather aprons and frowned in concentration of their work. Burly men they were as so befits hefty work. They ignored us children, flies upon the scape.

In front of the tannery, where we played, was a patch of earth, littered with broken bottles and other detritus of human waste. What purpose this land had served I never knew nor wondered.

A tenement rose to the north of this surly patch of land, across the cobbled road, the common surface for roads then in Edinburgh, properly called sets, from Aberdeen, no doubt, Granite City by nickname, Edinburgh’s was Auld Reeky, It is not that now, pristine in its stone faced buildings, the pride of any city to be so bequeathed.

The road ran down and up out of the village to join more major roads at either end. The road we used came to an end at the village’s lowest point. Alongside this road to its north  was a public bath building, Drumshugh Baths, which may be mentioned in a future post (don’t hold your breath) and to the south, a depository for the King’s Theatre, both of which feature, each in their own way, in my childhood growing up in Edinburgh. 

High above the theatre depository, which contained decades of sets never likely to be used again but kept just in case, ran Rothesay Terrace where my home at the time was.

On the other road, the one that goes in and out of the Dean Village, to its south, was the Dean School. This was my earliest school which, too, has for me its own memories. This is where I learn reading, writing and ‘arithmetic.

The centre of this story is, however, the what would be now referred to as a slum tenement. I never entered this building but befriended a girl who lived lived there with her sister whom I met but didn’t like. Margaret was the centre of my female attractions. Well, besides one other in the Dean Village but no mention of her will be made here.

I never met any others of Margaret’s family nor did she ever make any mention of them. I seem to remember a smaller brother. But likely he was too young an age for me to pay attention to.

On the naked patch of soil we, a group of riotous boys of age similar or older than me, would invent games and throw bottles at each other. or put squibs in them and run away. Squibs, for those who don’t know, are miniature sticks of dynamite which have a blue paper twist atop a cardboard cylinder in which the gunpowder was housed. Well, I think it was gunpowder, though, to me now that seems dangerous to the extreme. These implements of the greatest noise and least harm could be bought all year round at any  newspaper store – there were hundreds then in Edinburgh. The purpose of these otherwise lethal explosive weapons was to frighten wifeys, which they assuredly did. These worthy souls came out of the tenements to chase us away, with us running like hell, screaming with laughter. Such was the sport and play of our youth.

Margaret was a sullen beast with lowered eyes which, when raised, looked suspiciously around. For what I knew not. She was slovenly dressed in what today would be called rags. She was thin but was cheerful in my presence, and I much enjoyed her company and our conversation. You then did not play with girls and I was unusual as a boy to talk with girls, But may mates never teased me, I don’t know why. Margaret’s sister had a perpetual scowl on her face and never talked. Snot ran unheeded from her nose. Terrible green stuff the like of which I had not seen nor seen since. If this stuff got too far down her face she would, with a snort, suck it into to her mouth. Margaret seemed dainty by comparison.

At some point my parents must have learnt of my meanders and henceforth I was forbidden to go down to the village. I obeyed this stricture and went to Drumsheugh Baths instead, And there I befriended a girl from a very different class from that of Margaret’s.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

The Machinery

I have previously posted a link to The Machinery but continue to admire it. Despite the fact that they thought my poetry junk, I am sure others do. Do I mind? Of course I do. Why do it if it does not matter to others.

The Machinery does not have the elitist tone the other poetry magazines I am aware of have – there are hundreds in this country alone, poetry blogs excepted. The people at The Machinery are open and welcoming.

And I should like to do my little bit in promoting them and encouraging them.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017

Filed under: Current Events

Suthamma (Ta) Thimkaeo

Suthamma Thimkaeo is an artist born and based in Tailand who shares my presence with her art work on Saatchi Art and Art Finder
The owner of Art Finder recently opened a discussion forum to artists represented on Art finder’s online Art Gallery with a call for ideas that would allow AF to better repesent those artists. There were many comments, including some disreptuable ones from me, which won’t suprise followers and readers of this blog.
One comment stuck in my mind and I thought to reproduce it on this blog. Its content will make it obvious why. The intelligence of the content, and particulary her coments on art in Tailand, seem to me to be worth reproducing here. Her comments may be only of interest to other artists like myself, but there may be content of interest to a more general audience. I hope so.
I have edited her post only slightly to correct some grammar, which comments made rapidly on online site is surely allowable, and to remove what is only relevant to Art Finder staff. Her English is otherwise flawless. 

 Suthamma (Ta) Thimkaeo Posted 24 Jul, 2017 01:53Edited 24 Jul, 2017 10:04

Ailthough it says I’ve been on ArtFinder since 2014, it was only February 2016 that I actually loaded a photo and got the shop up and running and that was because I’d just sold a painting on Saatchi, which also was neglected by me and the sale came as a big shock.

Since 2016 I’ve had some success on ArtFinder and the graph is up and down like a mountain range. I now know and realise you have to work hard on your shop, keep it unto date and fresh, and also plug it on social media at every opportunity. The reason I’m writing this is that I applied to join the 24 hour (flash sale) 50% discount and was disappointed to discover I was not in the promotional editor’s choice, but something happened because my page views passed the 100s on the Saturday and the Sunday I had 8 paintings added to the basket.

So at first I was disappointed about not being included in the actual promotion as in the 2,000 odd paintings in the editor’s pick, but quickly realised something was obviously running in the background because I was getting lots of hits and followers from buyers.

Then I thought about what ArtFinder has done for me since 2016, I’ve sent my art round the world, I’ve sent my art from New York to Los Angeles and loads of States in-between. I’ve sent my art to Korea and Peru, and a lot of Europe. I’ve had 5 Star reviews with people talking about my work that has bought a tear to my eye.

I live and work in Thailand and we Thais are not great art lovers (as in the art on ArtFinder). The other day I actually had a Thai guy come to my house / studio and actually buy a painting, I sat and spoke with him for a couple of hours about art in Thai.

That’s the first time in over 5 years I’ve ever sold a piece of art to a Thai and spoke in Thai about my art (that’s not strictly true I have painted an elephant on the front of a shop and painted some Buddha’s for some Thais) but I’m talking about art as in my art.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017 

Filed under: Current Events

As Nature intended

The heading of this post might be better posed as a question.

A constant preoccupation of mine, alluded to in many previous posts, is the fact that we are not responsible human beings and do not heed those responsibilities to act as we should upon the face of our home, this wondrous planet.

We are the top of the heap of Creation’s creatures. The Chain of Being as in the past put, with no better model being posited since. But we are out of kilter. I have never seen this spoken of anywhere. Should some reader know better, I would be grateful if that reader would point out such a source.

We are a disease. Some fault of us is built in. I do not know why. We have no natural enemies. Except ourselves. We gratuitously starve, main and kill others of our species and steal, rob, plunder and displace others of their settlements. And, even if we do not go so far as that, we speak and act with evil to others. We treat others whom we perceive in ignorance as not being like ourselves in ways we would not treat ourselves. We despoil our home as we would never do our own shelters.

We rush relentlessly forward, perhaps to our own destruction, as we have throughout our history doing greater and greater harm which grows greater and greater every day. We are in denial, a further symptom of our unnatural pathology. Despite the growing evidence, we live only for today and never think of tomorrow and the consequences of what destruction we wreak. We pursue only selfish goals and exterminate all in our path. Were are we going and why? To what purpose? And is any sanity about it?

No person or persons has cried out and been heard, has been listened to, has taken heed of to act in concerted action to right what we so thoughtless do wrong. We adopt a willed blindness and a child’s suspension of disbelief.

We are sentient beings, the greatest gift that could bestowed on us ,yet we squander it in endless futile, senseless ways. We seek to know everything but do nothing wise with the knowledge we gain. That knowledge stands as an ugly monument to our folly.

The only people on the earth who do not act in this way are those left who live and work within their environment and do no harm to it or others. We call them ignorant, uncivilised, as if our way are better than theirs, and justify our way with empty platitudes and seek to make such people desperately unhappy by coercing them into our midst as we google up their land. Or we simply exterminate them to usage our guilt.

We do not own the earth nor any land upon it. The land belongs to all species, ourselves included, to be shared and shared alike. Far less do we have any right to spoil in any way  what in every way belongs to every species, no matter how small or large.

In our minds, that devil’s creation, we are the sole begetters of what we see and live  upon.

Why it is that we stepped out of Natures cycle it is beyond me to know and I don’t think any other has asked.

I am no better than any other to whom I address these remarks, or than any other who may never know of these views. I am sure that how ever just they are, this call will be ignored.

But never mind. I say them, these thoughts, these remarks. and think them to be true. I make a clarion call from among our midst for others to see what I see. I cannot act alone. To go live on a mountain top or its like, would be to deny my responsibilities. And turn my back on what I despair of. My call is to others, for even a few, we can say to others what it means to mend our ways.

But I never lose sight of the fact that I am as destructive in my way as any other of our species. But I do wish, and even hope, for us to do better than we have so far.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017



Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

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