Monday, 20 April 2015

Under the Glass...Three - Castles in the Sky

These ‘Under the Glass bits have somehow become one of the most personal elements on this site. Todays one may be the most personal of them all.

It comes from the (brilliant) introduction to ‘The Essay of Humane Understanding’ by John Locke.

When I say the introduction is brilliant, I mean it. There are some wonderfully tuned phrases about the intrinsic joy of knowledge which I will probably look at another time. Todays quote is the following;

‘If one prove a castle in the air, I will endeavour it shall be all of a piece and hang together.’

Within the context of the introduction, it serves to make a point found in many early modern prologues, that the work about to be presented may have its flaws but is presented with all the best possible intentions. 

I was instantly struck by the image, not of the castle in the sky, but of it being of a piece and hanging together. That mental picture of a huge, solid edifice, detailed and carved with time and effort and love with an internal cohesion that defies its possibly shaky foundations.

But like most of these quotes, it’s what it means outside of context and into the context of my own life that gives it such meaning to me - and like many of these quotes, it serves as a way of cheering me up and encouraging me to go on. It’s a personal rallying cry.

A rallying cry for what? Here’s where it gets a little personal.

It was at university, while avoiding a course I detested, that I began and completed my first novel. I had made my first scratchings at it in my lonely room in the first term of the first year and finished it in the lonely room in the easter break of the third. By the end of this year, I knew what I wanted to be for the first time in my life. I wanted to write novels that other people would read.

With this being my only real goal or interest, I left university, not into a job or placement but to carry on working my student job in York, life in a shared house with some classmates, write and wait for my literary ship to sail triumphantly in. What really happened was that the shared house fell through and I ended up moving back to my parents in a city that all my friends had left.

I found it hard to get work and ended up getting the same job I had during sixth form when I was saving up to go to university, but due to new laws, for a lesser wage. At the same time, great swathes of my extended family died and the house was deep in mourning for a few months. What’s more, despite a few positive notes, it was clear my ship was not sailing in any time soon. I was lost.

To give myself some momentum, I decided to go back into education and take a part time MA in writing. I took simple jobs that would be flexible around my university and writing time. Sometimes those simple jobs did not come through and I found myself unemployed for eight months, and for  a couple of months I lived off £5 a week, borrowing money off friends and family and even having to beg on the street for travel money to get to interviews.

Since then I have come into a steady job with a reliable (if unspectacular) wage and an unprecedentedly good deal on my rent. In June, the house will return to its private owners and I will need to rent a normal priced room again. I’m not sure I can. Even for a pus-ridden scum-hole, the monthly rent leaves me with almost nothing for food, travel and books - it looks like I might have to go to the bad old days.

To remedy this, I went on an urgent and focussed job hunt. It would appear that my CV, a combination of relative academic achievement, dead-end jobs and mediocre writing success are not the employer catnip I was hoping for. I can’t even get a job selling books at the Museum of London bookshop - despite the fact that I’ve read almost all their stock, and can use a till.
The fact is, the choices I have made, whether good or bad, all stemmed from my wish to become a novelist. Whether I went about this realistically or sensibly (almost certainly not) they were made with that goal in mind. It is my castle and although the foundations still seem to be in thin air, at least the edifice itself is all of a piece and hangs together. 

Plus, this new draft of ‘Dreamonger’ is turning out brilliantly…

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Top Ten Eighteenth Century Works (Part Two)

And here it is, after the clamouring, shouting and pleading; the second part of the Top Ten Eighteenth Century Works.

Number 5

Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart.

The only person to have two entries on the list but I don’t think it’s cheating, the Christopher Smart who wrote Jubilate Agno is not the same as the one who wrote The Midwife.

Midwife era Smart is playful and silly, not seemingly serious about anything. Jubilate Agno era Smart is still playful, still sometimes silly but this time there is something he takes extraordinarily seriously, his faith. This is a rich, constantly perplexing work. I think someone on a dessert island with nothing but Jubilate Agno and a Bible would ever get to the very bottom of it.

There are occasions when this can be baffling, there are even stretches of boring but there are enough highlights of absolutely stunning originality and moments of clear thinking mixed up with all the Biblical names and battiness.

I would recommend that anybody try this book out.

Number 4

The Citizen of the World by Oliver Goldsmith.

The original audience read these letters as part of a serial magazine but I, like all the readers since 1762, read it in one go and have read it several times since.

My favourite element of the book are the characters. Lien Chi Altangi is a bit of a hypocrite but ultimately loveable, Beau Tibbs is also a flawed but interesting character and The Man in Black is one the best characters in all of eighteenth century writing.

I’ve written a whole review of this before but if you can find a copy, read it.

Number 3

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne.

I’ve not read many other books like this. It is such a frustrating thing. It’s the most annoyingly digressive, objectively pointless and nail gnawingly ridiculous bit of work. But, my goodness, it is something wonderful.

The key to it are the characters. Tristram is very little himself but his father Walter and his Uncle Toby are beautifully realised people. Everyone in the world of Shandy Hall has a hobbyhorse, one key obsession that drives their lives. But from this one hobbyhorse, whole characters evolve. Uncle Toby is obsessed with wars and fortifications, he lives and breathes battles and sieges but is himself the most peaceful of people. If trapped in a room with an irritating fly, he will remove the fly rather than kill it. It’s details such as this that make you want to follow him and those around through their labyrinthine journeys.

That and the book is staggeringly original. If the reader learns to relax and enjoy the ride, then they will be treated to constant surprises and always shifting floors but the reader must give into it.

Number 2

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.

This just edged Tristram Shandy because although it didn’t have the loopy originality of that book, it is a much more satisfying read.

I liked Tom, I liked Sofia, I loved Squire Western, Partridge, Thwackum and Square. The characters in this book are wonderful and lively. Henry Fielding knows exactly how to set up and present a set piece better than almost all the other eighteenth-century writer. The chapters at the Inn in Upton are some of the busiest, liveliest and most sparkling I’ve ever read.

Also, Fielding has the most wonderful voice. He is constantly ironic and uses the tools of hyperbole and understatement with the fine hand of a master craftsmen. Almost the whole of the first book of Tom Jones is written with almost total irony. It’s a breathtakingly impressive bit of work.

...and of course.

Number 1

The Rambler by Samuel Johnson.

I’ve had a shit day; the children in the school have driven me crazy, the staff have driven me crazier, the bank crazier still and my house seems dingy and sad. It is one of those days when the sky is so heavy and nothing goes right and I am irritable with everything and everyone.

Then I make a cup of tea and read a few Ramblers.

I have a theory that the length and flow of a Johnsonian sentence has a calming property; on one hand is his ability to summarise a complex point in few words and on the other is his ability to contrast that with an equally complex and well summarised point that defies the first. He is even able to get the synthesis in the same sentence. This ebb requires concentration to follow but Johnson never waffles, he always hits at least one, usually a few more, points a sentence. It’s like the mental equivalent of breathing in and breathing out, it’s impossible not to relax.

And the content, it is pure Johnson. He said his other works were watered down but the Ramblers were his ‘pure wine’. It’s Johnson in his utmost Johnson-ness; warm and wise and often very funny.

It’s like medicine, a bit miffed to long dark night of the soul,  a few Rambler essays will ease the pain. As Johnson said (in a review and not a Rambler unfortunately) “The only end of writing is to enable readers better to enjoy life, or endure it.” Samuel succeeds marvellously here.

All yours

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Top Ten Eighteenth Century Works (Part One)

In January I made a list of my top fifteen favourite books of the previous year. I had wondered why the list had been fifteen and not the usual ten, then I tried it. It was hard. 

Well today, I am going to try something even more difficult; I am going to try an make a list of my top ten favourite eighteenth-century bits of writing. I have decided to include everything from periodical essays to plays. If it fits the time period and I have read it, it counts.

I’ve decided to split this up, 5 today and five tomorrow.

So with no more ado…

Number 10

Pompey the Little by Francis Coventry.

The books that didn’t made this list; Evelina, Captain Jack, Joseph Adams, Rape of the Lock, John Ball… And I have put Pompey the Little above them. Why?

It’s fun. The narrative voice is similar to Henry Fielding but is younger and more optimistic about life and the people that weave through it. Although he doesn’t have Fielding’s mastery of the ironic tone, his youthful pleasure makes up for it.

The novel doesn’t get boring. Pompey moves from owner to owner with such rapidity that no one owner drags for too long. The people who take him in are also different enough in station and personality to keep the journey varied and interesting. What’s more, Coventry is so good at his brief pen-portraits that the characters Pompey meets are full of life for the brief moment he knows them.

Besides, anyone who can write a moment of such beauty and clarity as the following extract, deserves to be on the list.

“‘Mr Rhymer was walking home in a pensive solitary mood, wrapped up in contemplation on the stars of heaven, and perhaps forgetting for a few moments that he had three-pence half-penny in his pocket.”

Number 9

Vathek by William Beckford.

This is a strange book.

We are introduced to Vathek, with his eyes that could kill and his unimaginable wealth and we are already unsettled. This is a man who is hungry for knowledge and flesh and will do anything to pursue them. The prophecies of a mysterious merchant send him on an insane quest for the ultimate in power and knowledge but lead ultimately to Hell.

This is the book I was hoping ‘Castle of Otranto’ would be. It is is deranged and obsessed and builds up a remarkably strong sense of inexorable doom for its short length. The reader comes out the other side feeling sullied by it, borne on its constant push towards the mouth of Hell at the end.

These strong, emotional, almost abstract effects, distinguish it from all the other books on this list and set it apart.

Number 8

The Midwife by Christopher Smart.

Here we get Christopher Smart before his incarceration and he is silly and funny. 

The Midwife is a magazine written in the character of Mary Midnight, an old spinster who is the secret fount of wit and wisdom in Europe, or so she would believe.

More rambunctious then the Spectator, slyer then the Grub Street Journal and sillier than The Rambler, this set of magazines remind me a lot of Spike Milligan’s Q Series of TV programmes. There are mills to grind people young, learned discourses about fossilised turds, romantic advice to ancient widows and all other manner of parody and all out silliness.

I would deny the notion that there was biting satire secreted in the pages that got Smart unjustly locked away for being mad, and say that the politics in this are like those of the Goon Show; anarchic, anti-establishment and for the ordinary person. And I’d recommend the reader to dig some out.

Number 7

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.

Although Vathek is the book on this list that operates most on an emotional level, Gulliver’s Travels is the one that lingered longest.

It’s such a bitter book when viewed as a whole. Gulliver is inflated, deflated, tossed around the unknowable sea of learning and then anchored with the rational Houyhnhnm before being wrenched from them and landed back on our shore.

Gulliver is a changed man by the end of the book and I think the reader is in a small way. It’s an elegant book, it’s a funny one but it is rooted deep in the ‘savage indignation’ declared in Swift’s epitaph.

I recommend it as so much more than a fun adventure but warn the reader they may want something jollier to cheer them up afterwards.

Number 6

The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay.

I think I know the words to most of the songs. This is the first bit of eighteenth-century writing I came into contact with and the love has remained. 

Like a lot of my favourite stuff, the characters are clear and relatable without being fully types. I root for Macheath even though he is a scoundrel, I love the argument song between Polly and Lucy, I enjoy the scheming of Peachum and Lockitt. Even the naff happy ending makes me smile.

In some ways the view of life is as pessimistic as in Gulliver but the characters themselves never realise it. They carry on scheming, loving, drinking and singing because it’s all they can do.

‘Think of this maxim and put off your sorrow, the wretch of today can be happy tomorrow.’

So, what will the top five be? I think it’ll be pretty obvious but I’ll pretend there’s a mystery.

All yours

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Under the Glass.... Two - Might as well be cucumbers.

One of the best things about quotes is how, once out of the body of the work they originate from, they are open to as much abuse as you want to give them. Today I am going to bash three quotes together to make a little conversation.

"The old peripatetic principle that nature abhors a vacuum, may be properly applied to the intellect, which will embrace anything, however absurd or criminal, than be wholly without object.'

Samuel Johnson, Rambler 85

"Better to think about cucumbers even, then not to think at all."

TH White, Mistress Masham's Repose

"It has been a common saying of physicians in England, that a  cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing."

Boswell, quoting Johnson in The Journal of a tour of the Hebrides

There's a lot going on here.

The first quote is from Johnson's Rambler of January 8th 1751. In it, he quotes a principal of physics attributed to Aristotle. He goes on to make a point he makes frequently, that the human mind needs distraction to survive. 

The second comes from TH White's 1945 children's book, where The Professor, upon meeting some genuine Lilliputians has gone off on a tangent about Gulliver's Travels. He feels it's unfair to laugh at the scientist in the Academy of Legardo for trying to make sunlight from cucumbers because at least he is thinking about something. Earlier on in the book, the crimes of the baddies was attributed to them having 'a few instincts about money and about appearing respectable, but for many and many years they had not has any thoughts on real ideas at all.'

Finally,, we have Boswell reporting Johnson saying what he has heard doctors say. Poor old cucumbers are given a battering in this quote. It's not even worth eating them, let alone thinking of them.

I spend a lot of my time thinking and reading about things that have no real point or purpose. At the moment, I face eviction and moving somewhere I can't afford to live. I should be trying to find a better job or a cheaper garrett, and to the best of my ability, I am. But as I sit in relative poverty with prospective penury a few months away, I am more likely to be thinking about eighteenth century personal ads or the history of the snowman. I am caught up in the lives of Becky Sharpe and Rawdon Crawley; I am trying to untangle the fictional lives of Eve Lewis and her Mother, who has now turned up in the nth draft of Dreamonger.

This Friday, I dressed as a Gruffalo at work, came home 
watched episodes of Hustle. On Saturday I went for a walk 
and wondered what all the other people were up to and what 
they were doing.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about cucumbers (metaphorically).

I spend some of my time thinking about cucumbers 


Little Digression...

The cucumber is the fruit of a creeping vine and its cultivation goes back to the dawn of civilisation. Gilgamesh is reported eating cucumbers, the Israelites ate them in Egypt. Charlemagne had huge cucumber gardens. They were introduced to Britain by the Archbishop of Canterbury's gardener in 1326. In the 17th century, uncooked vegetables were regarded as suspicious and Pepys reported two deaths by 'cowcumber' in his diary, though John Evelyn was bullish they'd grow popular.

End of Little Digression....

Is it so bad to 'think of cucumbers'?

If Sammy Johnson was right, and he so often seems to be, a mind that thinks of little at all can fall prey to absurdity and criminality. Even if the cucumbers of the mind are only good to be sliced, seasoned and thrown away, it is better to think of them then to think of nothing.

So, adieu as I attend to my cucumbers and I will let you attend to yours.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Under the Glass.... One - Squared Circles

This is going to be a new little feature where I take a close look at a line/scene/chapter/fragment of some work.

The inaugural one will deal with one of my favourites, Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno. There is one line I like so much, I made one of my cruddy little arts about it. Here is the cruddy little art.

'For the circle may be squared by rising and swelling.'

Like a lot of the poem, this seems to mean very little, but it struck me one day that this may be one of the keys to the whole poem and Smart's attitude in general. It's also an attitude that appeals to me.

Squaring the circle was a phrase already in use in the eighteenth century to mean an impossible task. Ancient Babylonian mathematicians asked how a circle could be made into a square of the same area using a finite amount of movements.

Ancient Greeks pitched in, with Anaxagoras and a few Hippocrateses leading the fray. Aristophanes laughed at the notion. Later on, so did Lewis Carroll. It was finally proved to be impossible in 1882.

But not for Christopher Smart.

He's got a winning combination of wilful ignorance and enlightened playfulness on his side. Like Jeoffrey, he mixes gravity and waggery. He cuts through the nonsense, the faffing with pi and compasses and set squares. He forgets the need for finite moves and detailed little drawings of circles becoming squares. To him, the answer is easy; take yer circle, rise it and swell it, bosh - there's a square.

And in one sense, he's right. Imagine a circular ring of elastic-plastaciney stuff, all you need to do to make it a square is to rise and swell it. Push it this way and that, pushing out the roundness into squareness. It's a totally practical solution.

In another sense, it's complete rubbish. It's glib, flip and totally tone-deaf to the manner the problem has been set and should be solved.

But in another, it does kind of work, much like Alexander the Great solving the Gordian Knot by chopping it off. It makes the problem a non-problem.

It's this tension, a kind of stupid-intelligence built upon a sense of playfulness and an ignorance of boundaries that defines Jubilate Agno and a whole bunch of Smart's other works and actions.

I think the phrase could be used as a mantra in all sorts of seemingly hopeless situations. Sometimes we all have situations that feel like squaring a circle and sometimes we need to remember that all it takes is a bit of rising and swelling. (Innuendo of your own making.)

All yours

Monday, 5 January 2015

Books of 2014

Happy New Year folks!

A good and multi-talented friend of mine has obviously made a resolution to create a regular blog and to do so has launched this website. He is a brilliant writer, a musician and an artist, so worth a look.

In his first blog post he counted down his 15 favourite books that he read in 2014, irrespective of publishing date. I’ve read a lot wider this year than previous, with fewer 18th century titles then any in the last few years. I’m not sure why my friend picked a top 15 but I will follow his example, so here are my…

Starting at number 15

Sweeney Todd: A String of Pearls by James Malcolm Rymer

Exciting and atmospheric Victorian potboiler that launched Sweeney Todd into the world’s vision. Sweeney himself was an interesting character and I felt awful for his poor assistant, thrown into a corrupt mental asylum. The problem was that the whole book led to the earth shattering twist…that his victims were being turned into pies. Unfortunately, we already knew this leaving the last bite a bit limp.


The Cloud of Unknowing by an Anonymous Author

14th Century Christian mysticism is not my usual path but there was something about the central message of this text that did appeal. God is unknowable, between a human and God is the ‘cloud of unknowing’ which can never knowingly be penetrated by will, knowledge or prayer but can only be succumbed to. Thought-provoking and sometimes mind-bending. Worth a shufti.

At 13

Down and Out in Eighteenth Century London by Tim Hitchcock

A vivid evocation of life on the edge of eighteenth century society and the patchwork, cobbled together way in which such people got by. Extremely interesting but rather paltry in terms of evidence, grabbing small shards from across an entire century to build a picture that seemed to come more from a subjective viewpoint that the author had of what he thought might have happened. Probably like all history, but I like a historical author to pretend to a little authority.

Coming in at number 12

The Pretended Asian by Michael Keevak

I bought this expecting it to be a biography of George Psalmanazar, a man of unknown identity and origin who managed to fool Britain that he was Formosan (Taiwanese) for a time. Instead it was an in-depth look at how such a con managed to succeed. These boiled down to Psalmanazar’s memory, sticking to every detail he invented, no matter how ludicrous and his courage, combined with Europe’s lack of racial knowledge; racial identity being an unknown concept and mainly figured on language then physiology. I was engrossed, astonished and a little in love with Mr P.

Number 11

Falstaff by Robert Nye

A romping, twisting turning ‘true’ biography of Falstaff from the big man himself. Perhaps a little too penis obsessed, a bit cruel and crude but also large and roaring with life. This was a big gassy novel that ended in a satisfied belch.

In at number 10

Pompey the Little by Francis Coventry

The first of three eighteenth century works in the list, I’ve already reviewed it extensively here. It’s a fun tripping tale of a little dog with big adventures. Think Tom Jones crossed with Lassie.

Number 9

The Horned Man by James Lusdun

A 21st century novel in the mix. This is a creepy and haunting story of a man too rational to be completely sane. He is being stalked by some deeply irrational forces that gobble him up. I was hooked throughout and gobbled my way through it like Johnson at a dinner party.

Number 8

The London Monster by Jan Bondeson

In the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century a fiend went around stabbing at and ripping lower parts of ladies’ dresses. This caused a huge hoo-hah from a media fond of stories located near bottoms and fanned by a massive reward. This is a study with a lot to say about modern moral panics, not to mention that it’s a fascinating tale itself, with bottoms.

Straight in at number 7

The Book of Beasts by TH White

I was going to pick ‘The Age of Scandal’ or ‘Scandalmonger’, his eighteenth century gossip books, which I also read this year but this was better. Those books had a distasteful flag waving imperialism and longing for a strong upper class that rubs me the wrong way, while this was a glorious translation of a medieval bestiary. The illustrations and legends of the beast were so evocative and inspiring that anything I write may well have a hidden manticore in it. To put a cherry on the top, the last essay by White about the transmission of information in the middle ages was worth framing. In it he made a beautifully impassioned case for respecting the medieval bestiarists for transmitting knowledge against great difficulty.

At number 6 

Boswell’s Column, by James Boswell

I am not a big Boswell fan and I didn’t know that for many years he had written an anonymous column for The London Magazine. It’s Boswell without the big sell. He is touching and honest and sweet. Sometimes he over milks his quotations but in general he is wonderful and thoughtful company. The main downside was editor, Margary Bailey who so niggled and pedantified his Latin that I felt she was picking on him.

Time for the Top Five and at number 5 we have…

The Midwife (vols 1-3) by Christopher Smart

Okay I love Smart as visionary poet but I might love him as Mary Midnight more. Mary Midnight is the character he wrote (and sometimes performed) under in the years leading up to his incarceration for madness. Mary is a sarcastic woman who knows more then the men. My favourite part was Mary’s own confidence in her own abilities and her fondness for only one other writer, a certain Mr Smart. Jokes range from politics to fossilised turds and there is a sweep of invention, fun and enjoyment which can’t help but register. 

At 4

The Trial of Socrates by IF Stone

A very rare trip to Ancient Greece now. I had heard the story of Socrates, martyr for free speech and philosophical thinking. This book gave me a whole different look at the world of Athens and the ways in which Socrates may well have goaded the city into killing him. It was a totally refreshing look at a world alien to me and I would like to go back another day.

Number 3

The Air-Loom Gang by Mike Jay

Springboard for my new novel and a book that has inadvertently given me more to think about then any other this year. It tells the story of James Tilly Matthews, a man incarcerated in Bedlam for shouting Treason in parliament. He developed a whole delusional other-life of mind control machines, strange gangs and secretive deals with the French revolutionary government…only some of it may be true. If you like your history thought provoking and exciting, this is the book.

At number 2

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (and I forgot to get the name of the translator).

Wow, a nineteenth century book anywhere in the top twenty, have I gone mad? And French at that. What can I say but that I was wandering around Rouen at the time and it seemed like a nice idea to read a famous novel in which it featured. The story is a little dull, bored lady has affairs to escape boredom - but the characters, they were wonderful. Flaubert’s specific skill as a writer is the telling detail and this book rings with them. Emma is lovely and tragic, her husband oblivious and my favourite character, Homais, was ludicrous, loveable and kind of nasty. This book is utterly not my kind of thing but it engrossed and lingered.

And now, for my top rated book what I read in 2014….

In at number 1

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I make no secret of my distaste of Victorian stuff but this book was brilliant, involving, atmospheric and sad. I was completely carried along. The way Dickens builds up a scene, situation or character is astonishing. Now, I’ve read a few Dickens and enjoyed them but I was not expecting to enjoy this so much. My favourite element of Dickens is how over the top he goes, so often his description or metaphor goes too far and becomes gawky but the only response seems to be to laugh and go ‘oh Dickens you scallywag’. I’m definitely cracking into another one next year.

So that’s it, a look at the books I read in 2014. This new year should bring some more Dreamonger news (it’s in editorial purgatory at the moment), more 18th century japes, more  on twitter and maybe a new novel. I hope it brings joy to you all - and to me also.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Monday the 1st of December, all invited.

On Monday, December the 1st I shall be performing a bit of Death of a Dreamonger in the Brixton Bookjam. It describes itself as ‘congenial, intelligent, unpredictable and eclectic.’ I’m hoping to provide the congenial and eclectic.

It’s been a very long time since I have performed and I am hugely looking forward to it. I love to read my own stuff to an audience and at university I road tested a lot of chapters and spoken word events and variety nights. I get a certain focus and clarity on stage I don’t often feel any other time, my head usually being full of a soup consisting of whatever I’ve been reading and seeing.

It is held in a large pub and appears to be a rather packed event from the photographs I have seen. I have been practicing, getting my timings right and trying so that I basically know the piece off by heart and can do it straight to the audience.

If anyone wants to come and have a look, the Brixton Bookjam starts at 7:30 at the Hootenanny pub on Effra road on December the 1st.

If you can’t make it, a podcast will be made of the event for the sure delectation and delight of those unable to attend.