Sarah Bernhardt in pensive mood

I exist here in the wrong time and place. This is more than a feeling with me: it is an absolute certainty, I belong elsewhere – “fin de siècle”  Paris, for example!

Yes, a time of ‘semiotic arousal’, and in a place considered the heart of civilisation.

Why not?

The year 1900. The newly gilded Eiffel Tower thrusting into the soft grey underbelly of the evening sky. Lights glowing along the Boulevard de Strasbourg, circles of yellow eating into the gloom. The Théâtre-Français is my destination. Here, the long-awaited premiere of Edmond Rostand’s play L’ Aiglon, staring that most popular of actresses, Sarah Bernhardt, is about to take place.

Ah, Bernhardt, her ripe fifty-five-year-old figure laced into a black satin corset before dressing in the tight uniform of the Duc de Reichstadt. How I would love to charm and seduce her. Together we could sip the best champagne from frosted crystal flutes following her stunning performance. I could unlace that confining corset, and free tiny pale breasts.

During rehearsals of the play, dear Sarah insisted in one scene on having a horse on stage. What Sarah wanted, Sarah got. A horse was duly sent for – but proved too ‘frisky’ for the great actress. A second horse was supplied, but this one, unfortunately, suffered from terrible flatulence, and the many farts erupting from its rear-end were unacceptable to all. A third horse was to be summoned, but Bernhardt had changed her mind. There would be no horse in the scene.

Where was I? Oh, yes, fondling those small but beautiful breasts, lightly kissing the rosette nipples.

Sarah was born Henriette Rosine Bernard and her legendary affairs were the talk of the town. Napoleon III and Edward, Prince of Wales had both taken their delight in Sarah’s naked flesh (not, of course, at the same time!); they were just two of a coterie of lovers attracted to the bright flame that was Sarah Bernhardt. Her body was pale and skinny like a boy’s – which may be why she played so many male parts on stage?

“It’s not that I prefer male roles, it’s that I prefer male minds,” she once commented.

Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900

The Great Exposition Universelle – Paris 1900

Leaving Sarah semi-naked in her dressing room, I exit the theatre and make my way to the Place de la Concord – here I find the brilliantly lighted, multicoloured dome that houses fifty-six ticket offices for the exposition universelle: this is the entrance, Porte Binet, to the exhibition site.

There is, on my righthand, a fifteen foot high plaster statue symbolizing Paris, with great tits and flowing robes designed by Paquin. La Parisienne, sculpted by Paul Moreau–Vauthier, modeled on non-other than Sarah Bernhardt and described by many as ‘The triumph of Prostitution’; it is typical of the use of sculpted allegory throughout the exhibition grounds. No matter where you turn, you are confronted by plump plaster breasts, curvaceous bellies or muscular male athletes, semi-nude, with huge rippling biceps.

Dear Sarah, walking here amongst all this exposed allegorical flesh, would undoubtedly feel a certain dampness in her baggy silken drawers – as, in all probability, do many visiting females. Speaking for the male of the species, I find Loie Fuller’s spectacular dancing in her own art nouveau theater, quite arousing: those whiplash curves match the flowing movements of her body and flying, illuminated veils. It all leads one, inevitably, to remain in the perpendicular throughout her performance.

The most obviously picturesque sections of the exhibition lay along the banks of the Seine. Old Paris on the Right Bank with its gables and spires and its costumed actors; on the Left Bank, overshadowing it, rests the Rue des Nations – great pavilions erected by the many foreign powers (but not the US whose modest building is wedged between Australia and Turkey, elsewhere). Richness metamorphosed into vulgarity. The plaster picturesqueness of the colonial section below the Trocadero, where Javanese nymphets vie with devil dancers from Ceylon, Chinese violins, Spanish castanets, African drums and high pitched wails of Algerian singers, mingle –

And the pretty Moroccan boys with their dark, restless eyes who offer to take your penis in their mouth for a couple of francs. Buggery is slightly more expensive, of course.

Paris moving pavements designed for the Exposition

Moving Pavements designed for the Exposition

Art and sex go hand-in-hand. For the gentleman impossibly aroused by the sights and sounds of the exposition universelle and with no desire for young boys, then beyond the exhibition grounds are the maisons closes, or “shuttered houses”; for example number 12, rue Chabanais, a prestigious bordello where you can bathe with prostitutes in a huge copper bathtub of champagne – for a price! There are other brothels offering more specialised services: dominatrix role play, for example. You can be birched by the dominatrix for five francs a stroke, ‘manual relief’ may be offered afterwards for a further five francs.

Typical Parisian brothel on a quiet day

Paris 1900 is an island of fantasy and pleasure. It is a time of sadomasochistic impulses, Oedipal desires, homosexuality, incest, violence and the irrationality that hides beneath the fragile veneer of civilisation.

Ah, but I cannot remain in this wonderful Paris – I must return to my damp, cold moor at the edge of the world; to this place, home, and my reckless liaisons. To this world where one powerful, egotistical child informs another powerful, egotistical child: ‘My button is bigger than your button!’

Who says satire is dead?

Depressing démarche!

One for you to read…

January 1, 2018


November 12, 2017

A topical message

November 4, 2017


October 1, 2017

She had not expected to see a river,
shining brightness or sweet song
perhaps, instead a serpentine sliver
of water wound its way along
a deep, cavernous ravine,
its looming craggy walls
crouching over the torpid stream,
dwarfing the sepulchral craft with its tall
sail gliding through the mist
towards the shoreline.
Powerless to resist,
she knew she must resign
herself to whatever Fate had in store.
Slipping a coin into the boatman’s hand
she stepped aboard, noticing more
people waiting patiently on the strand
apparently unaware of each other,
silently gazing as the barge
sailed further and further
across the river, the large
vertiginous cliffs closing in
as it slowly disappeared from view,
feeling a finger of unease begin
to spread through her being, a new
frisson of fear preceding a sense
of slow fragmentation
as her brain began to dispense
with memories, a dispersion
of self that continued
until she disembarked on the other side,
her previous life reviewed
and removed, she had died,
Charon, for that was the boatman’s name,
informed her, as his sail unfurled
ready to return, she was not the same,
she now belonged to the Underworld.

Doreen Hopwood

An Atheist on a Date

September 16, 2017

go back to school and think

September 3, 2017

We must do away with the notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery…So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

Buckminster Fuller
Interview with Elizabeth Barlow
New York Magazine 30th March 1970

Sound bites from the dark

August 30, 2017

Tanith Lee’s garden – a statue waiting

Tanith Lee’s Garden – face in the trees

Tanith Lee’s Garden – a pathway to infinity

Tanith Lee's house - stained glass

Tanith Lee’s house – stained glass

30th August

Donald Trump is frequently vilified by the mass media. Social media, too, is not exempt from this trend: electronic graffiti condemns the man’s actions or lack of same on a daily basis. And yet the question needs to be asked, is the real problem the American President or America itself?

Donald Trump did not seize power. He was elected by a majority – democratically. Faced with a choice between a woman and a billionaire television personality, the US electorate chose the television personality – And, yes, it is inspirational to see what democratic nations can do when they think the chips are down.

The American people awarded the imperial purple to a man who has succeeded in lowering the issues of the day to the level of triviality. To sound bites. A promise of government by twitter feed. American politics has become, under Trump’s presidency, as thrilling, and almost as much fun, as an appendectomy performed without benefit of anaesthetic.

And with regard to the media they seem distracted by each fresh utterance this president makes. Which, of course, is exactly what he wants. Major issues degenerate into a name-calling contest, while a procession of minor celebrities and wannabes appear, and as rapidly disappear, as presidential aides and advisors. Movement signifies progress – even when that movement is perfectly static or backwards! America run as a corporation by a businessman used to having his own way.

Should we be surprised? No we should not. Donald Trump exists in a world that demands twenty-four-hour rolling self-obsession. And he is there to fill this almost ecological niche in the American psyche. He is president because of hostility towards those pesky interfering liberal do-gooders who force “political correctness” on everybody; he will clean house, rid the country of all those undesirables who have slipped surreptitiously across America’s borders; he will end Muslim migration! He will make America great again!

It’s almost as if a majority of the American electorate woke up one morning with a cloying, skin-tight rage, a need to lash out at something, anything, and change the face of their society. Sick to death of fatuous, self-absorbed politicians who all seemed mired in minutia and an age old mantra of consumer democracy so inescapable, yet so reliant on carefully-marketed kitsch, that they voted for Trump.

And they got him.


Really good weather at the end of last week. Mowed both lawns. Caught the sun. Working in the garden my thoughts drifted to the late Tanith Lee’s incredible house and garden in Hastings where she lived with her partner John Kaiine.

Tanith’s home was so like a wild fantasy, a journey beyond commonplace reality. There, it was easy to imagine a place “more poignant than the plumage of the spring.” There, indeed, could be heard “music played by the reflection of a swan as it passes over the strings of a moonlit lake.” Dusk in that garden and the leaves on the trees seem to form strange shapes and faces. A place of irregular stones and inconsistencies…


July 23, 2017

you are a new
kind of monster
you sure do look awful
good when you’re naked
I dare you to hide
underneath my bed
I dare you to follow me
home from the bus stop
late at night
until we get to my front door
& you reach your monster hand
into my chest
rip out my heart
& replace it with a hummingbird
I think that’s the most romantic thing
a monster could do

Nate Slawson