Tuesday, 19 February 2013


scene: man in bed with his wife, awoken by noises coming from downstairs. A demonic clown breaks the bedroom door down and begins to sing to musical accompaniment

Dis union don't work so well these days,
Sleeping off a decade's drunken haze,
Oh so now ashamed of this one time craze?
Well what did you think we were going to do?

I'll state it plain, we'll not behave,
We'll pinch the fillings out of your grave,
And while I divert you here with my many ways,
The boys are ransacking your house. [manic laughter]

Oh there's stagnation, stagflation,
Recession, repossession everywhere.
But we got opt-outs. Bail-outs.
We got options and you think we really care?

Coming back atcha with a brand new rhyme,
Whole bunch of concepts gonna redefine,
Ever more siphoned off all the time.
And what you gonna do about it?

Gonna own ya, gonna pimp ya, gonna prostitute.
Gonna turn for a profit 'to a nice hair suit.
Gonna leave ya like a leper when you're destitute.
And we got a million chumps just like ya.

Oh and that one charged the jobless,
And fiddled his expenses,
And the Quiet One claimed he done a degree.
And the one what bellows, 'Hard Work',
Is fifteenth earl of somewhere,
Filthy rich and all his breaks for free.

So listen up sonny, I'll say once more,
Plenty more land grabs left in store,
Ya can't have rich if you don't have poor.
And I could care less what Jesus has to say on the subject.

We'll take your weeks, we'll take your hours,
And your wife and kids? Yeah, they're now ours.
And all the while, the pack devours.
And you are just going to lie there and take it like the bitch you are.

Hey boys, I'd say it's just about hopeless in here. What say we finish up.

[fade to black]

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Inside Smaug's Lair

If you want to appreciate why the global financial meltdown occurred, go spend some time working for a bank. Then just observe. You'll soon see the how and the why of it.

That was me. I'd temped and done contract work for years, mainly in the public sector. That kind of work dried up since the recession, so I moved house and went to process Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) claims for a bank. One of the big ones. One of the ones that needed bailing out. Don't judge me too harshly.

It will be remembered that the financial sector was in court, arguing for years against having to repay mis-sold  PPI policies. Once defeat had been accepted, they were faced with an increasing backlog. Each complaint had to be dealt with in a statutory amount of time and most banks agreed to pay out on every legitimate claim they had already received up to that point, just to get them processed and out the door.

What's curious is what happened next. After the backlog, the bank started to retrain staff to review each claim received and rejected around 80% of new complaints. They achieved this extraordinary turnaround by looking at the original loan agreement or credit card application filled in by the customer at the time of sale. If PPI was included on that form, and that form was signed by the customer, that's a legally binding contract and the applicant was and is legally bound to whatever terms were included.

If no form can be found, the bank just decide that the customer would have filled in a standard application form (one of Plato's perfect forms) and then goes ahead and rejects the complaint on the same grounds. Even the ghost of a signature is as good as consent and the banks can and do reject applications on these grounds alone.

How so different to when I first went to work there. My team, in the space of six months, were trained and retrained for half a dozen separate roles, at least one of which we never actually did. Yet I began and ended my banking career reviewing complaints and so I got to witness what a difference a year made.

In the beginning, PPI claims were being reviewed and at that time around 80% of complaints were upheld. The reason for this is that when examined objectively, it's easy to find evidence of mis-selling on the majority of PPI policies sold in the last couple of decades.

The most obvious sign of guilt is a cross next to the box indicating PPI is to be included, indicating the customer was told PPI payments were compulsory. Most customers would simply follow what the adviser told them and tick and sign the box. You'll also see applications where the yes box has been pre-populated before the form was even printed, another sign of mis-selling.

All these sorts of complaints were at one time upheld and customers were refunded the premiums they'd paid, interest added. It wouldn't matter if a copy of the application form could not be located. So long as the complainant had raised the appropriate complaint points, the bank would pay out. There is a mantra within the bank that the customer must never be disadvantaged by the complaints process. And in the beginning, that was certainly the case.

As I understand it, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) then asked the bank why it was upholding so many complaints and offered guidance on what types of cases it could reject, and on what grounds.

The FSA, supposedly the regulator of the financial sector, will be abolished in April 2013, to be replaced by two new regulators. One, The Prudential Regulation Authority, will be part of the Bank of England. The other, the Financial Services Authority, will be headed by the former chairman of Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission. That's what they mean when they talk about independent regulation.

Indeed, working in the financial sector has given me a fresh perspective on the term, 'political organisation'. Banks, like any large corporation, have an image to maintain and are more often concerned with being seen to do right than actually doing right. Any actual good that comes about from their actions is usually incidental to the main aim, that of being seen to be doing good. Being fair to customers became, being seen to be fair to customers.

So it was a very different experience to review a case the second time around. Under these new rules, a signed application form, with PPI included under 'Financial Information', was enough to reject the complaint.

Nevertheless, a farce had to be performed. Reasonable efforts had to be made to contact the customer and ask what they remembered about the sale. Often they remembered nothing. That was fatal. Frequently a customer said they were told they had to have the PPI to get the loan/credit card. What the customer did recall for the most part did not matter. Everything else was secondary to that signature on the application form.

Yet most everyone working on the project knew that this was nonsense. Time and again I heard former branch staff recalling how they were trained to tell customers that PPI was compulsory. There is no consideration of these historic practices at the bank, merely an exercise in creative accounting. It's not about what happened, but what can be reasonably defended under law. Not once did a phone call made to a customer change my original decision. It only had to be done to be seen to be done.

Observe and you'll see. Procedures written on the hoof and then discarded the following day, u-turn upon u-turn. Unit times slashed, with the number of tasks need to process each case increasing.

Or witness two different agencies working the project simultaneously so the bank can always threaten to cancel one or other contract at the first murmur of descent.

Indeed, insinuations of one sort or another would bubble up through management at least once a week. They might decide to slash unit times, when there wasn't enough time as it was, or decide the evening shift is no longer to be a short shift, but has to work the same hours as everyone else, otherwise it's unfair to people who get to go home at a reasonable hour.

Any objection raised and the message came back, 'They don't care. They'll do what they like, they don't care whether you like it or not'. That's the central message I took away from my brief career in banking.

And they don't care either. Which is to say, they are careless. One of my many roles was inputting statements to calculate how much PPI had been paid on an upheld complaint. One day, a new version of the software used to calculate the interest we owed the customer was released. Some customers were suddenly getting five or six times as much as they were receiving before, running into tens of thousands of pounds. When anyone tried to raise this, we were told to just use the calculator until we heard different. By the time anyone senior twigged that something might be up, I'd already moved back to review.

Yet it's not about what you do or do not do, but what is and isn't your responsibility. As long as no blame can be attached to you , it's fine, that's the game that's played. It's all about risk. The general rule is that if you notice someone has done something wrong and that person is not part of your team, ignore it, it's not your problem. The only question team leaders tend to ask is: "Can it be traced back to us? Then forget about it."

The industry talks about being fair to customers, but my impression is that the financial sector doesn't feel like its succeeding unless its actively engaged in disenfranchising someone, whether they be its customers or staff. This leads to the same corrosive behaviour in those contracted to the bank. I've seen expense forms that would make a politician blush. Weekends and evening shifts are best. Then you see people log in early and go do their shopping. Or leave early and get their mate to log out later. Banking positively draws this behaviour out of people.

I couldn't thrive in that world. Too pushy, too intransient, too little staying the same for very long, making maintaining a flow all but impossible. Also, a job in which you are required to ring customers merely to actively disrespect what they tell you can't be good for the soul.

The public sector can be a little dusty, but there's a good system of support and every decision is checked before it leaves building. Finance is more caviller than that, more wild west, little or no support provided, instead concentrating on spreading the blame around. Everything then comes down to a series of Quality Checked cases, reds and greens, like some kind of playground game.

I called this article 'Inside Smaug's Lair' because like the dragon in 'The Hobbit', the banks appear to me to be lying on a bed of gold and precious stones, routinely venturing out in the night to unleash punitive justice upon the villagers. It was the financial sector that mismanaged its affairs concerning sub-prime lending, borrowed billions from the public purse, set off a global meltdown from which western countries will take years to recover, if they ever do. Yet the banks seem barely to be affected. There was a new batch of contractors being trained at least once a month for so long as I worked there. Few other sectors are recruiting in such numbers. The banks have externalised and offloaded their mistakes on to the rest of the country and retreated into their lair to admire their hoard. A billion pounds put aside to payout PPI mis-selling is the cost of but one shiny gem.

All in all, it's the kind of atmosphere that leads to people taking risks and making mistakes. What's more, there's nothing at all to prevent what happened in 2008 happening all over again. It's only a matter of time.

I went home one Friday and never went back. I miss the friends I made there, but I guess the whole experience has left me somewhat bitter. But then, I was bitter before I even started. I live in this country too and I see the damage that has been done.

We shouldn't despair, there are always things that can be done. If you've had a PPI complaint rejected by a bank, make sure you refer your case to the Financial Ombudsman's Service (FOS). Every time a case is referred to the FOS, it costs the bank hundreds of pounds. The more cases that go to the FOS, the more inclined they might be to revert to upholding cases.

If you have a complaint in progress or are thinking of making a complaint, make sure you tell the bank that you were told that you had to take PPI on this type of loan/credit card. The bank will probably ignore this and reject your complaint on the basis of a signed application form, but it will be recorded on your file when your case progresses to the FOS.

If the PPI was sold to you after 2005, you might also tell the bank that at the time of the sale, you were in full time employment and were entitled to 6 months sickness benefit and 6 months redundancy benefit from your employer. That might not be strictly true, but in the financial sector it's all about what you can get away with. Do unto others as they would do to you.

Further than that though, if you're a customer of one of the big banks, one of the ones involved in sub-prime mortgages, bailouts, PPI mis-selling and Libor fixing, find a smaller bank with which to invest your money. Retaining the services of the usual financial suspects is like remaining with an abusive partner who has demonstrated no propensity for change. Get over it and go out with someone else and help create a wider base on which to support the economy.

After all, why should the financial sector be the only one to miss out on this lovely recession we're all having?

Don't have to make trains run on time, just build a shiny station

may contain sarcasm

Dole-drums. Job centres of the world I have known are numbered three. Liverpool. Chorley. Portacabin in Blackburn. I remember when these people could afford paper clips and Post-It notes. Gov. won't even give 'em scraps to write on now. Mate of mine did his whole BTEC in Media Studies signing on. Gave the same three jobs as evidence he was looking for work every two weeks for two years. Not like that now. You must spend at least 4 hours a day actively seeking work. You must take at least 20 steps per week to secure a job. Looks like you've joined Job Seekers Anonymous.

Still, at least the seating is in one piece. Not long since, I made a lot of money working for a bank. I was there two months before I found a chair without a chunk out of the seat. Screws and bare metal waiting to skewer my hand at every shift. Evening shift. Bottom of the pile. Runts get the worst of it everywhere.

I feel less dignified here, but not so morally bankrupt. It's good to be reminded of the other side. See how bad things are really. See who's doing well out it, who's doing ill.

Laurie Lee once said you can never appreciate what it is to feel full if you don't, on occasion, go hungry. After all, what is hot without cold, large without small, night without day? In most things there is balance, yet walking the streets around here and you see how far the balance has shifted. Some weeks I have gone days at a stretch on but one meal a day. I was in solid shape not so long ago, but I've been three months trying to secure housing benefit to reinforce my finances and am still waiting, held in bureaucratic limbo like some Kafka character, nothing but requests for further information and then the trail goes cold. One letter in three months and that chasing a response to another letter that failed to appear.

It's a brick wall of indifference folks, and if I struggle, how do other people cope? It's a baffling place to find yourself in and it can get quite hopeless. 

A cash grab, a grand heist got pulled in this country not so long ago. The richest got even richer and the people who started it all received an enormous bailout and went back to what they were doing, only with the added bonus of no longer having to share any of the wealth. Lenders were left to the mercy of the Pay Day, 1000% interest per annum mob.

To find out what happened to the remainder of society, spend an hour in a Job Centre. The drawbridge is raised, the watchtowers armed and the peasants left to the mercy of this harshest of winters. Please remember to check all crops with your nearest guard before expiring. And remember to keep repeating to yourself: We're all in this together. We are all in this together. We are all in this together. [dies]

Friday, 8 February 2013


Meditations Upon Finnegans Wake, The Golden Bough and Modern Mythology

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
 And a heaven in a wild flower,
 Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
 And eternity in an hour."
                     William Blake

Ok, so here it is folks. I think James Joyce's final masterpiece, Finnegans Wake, has been misunderstood and misinterpreted for the last seventy years. What's more, I think Joyce planned that way, he knew the scholars would be so lost in the countless puns and allusions, they'd miss what was staring them in the face, just as they always had. Yet Finnegans Wake is very obviously, at least to my eyes, about the eradication of women from history. Once you've spotted it, read the words through the right filters, it becomes obvious. It screams at you.

Joyce knew that the earliest corn gods had been goddesses and that meant that the first farmers were women, the gathers in hunter-gather societies , meaning civilisation was essentially a female invention. Yet how was woman rewarded? She was recast as Eve, destroyer of paradise, burden of man, and treated as an animal. That, essentially, is the plot of Finnegans Wake.

As man falls asleep in the dark, his dominion over woman is suspended and she begins to tell a history of the world as seen through her eyes, constant interruptions from man as he farts and snores and awakens periodically. Yet woman has a greater influence over the dream world (the watery world) and man is recast as Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE), a mockery of an everyman, cycling through history's great men. Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker can be read as Humpty Dumpty (who appears frequently in the Wake), so fragile, nothing but a chimp in a cage, throwing his own shit around, always eavesdropping on women and always hearing bad of himself. So the book has two storylines, one deep and meaningful, filled with literary references and high mindedness and deep thinking to become lost within and dragged under. Yet on the surface, the Wake does something much simpler. It takes the piss out of man's achievements.

So you can see why this book seems to have baffled so many people for so long, because the people who have studied it have predominantly been of a male persuasion and it's not pleasant to eavesdrop, expecting people to speak ill of you, and instead to discover that they're mocking you, laughing at you. It's not a something you want to admit in public. So the Wake is labelled 'unreadable' and a yellow tape erected around it. Yet the Wake is perfectly readable, though challenging. It is Joyce taking a feminine perspective on the world and mocking the achievements of men, while attempting to tell Eve's true history. If you have a little time, I want to demonstrate why I believe this to be true. What's more, I can achieve this by going no further than the first page.

First though, we need to do a tiny bit of background research.

The received wisdom regarding the Wake is that it is a grand unified attempt to retell the whole of western history and artistic tradition, but using a new language that Joyce invented for his purpose. In doing this, he can compress ideas spanning thousands upon thousands of pages down into a book of just six hundred short pages. Many books are referenced in the Wake, some holding greater significance than others. The Wake's superstructure is built around 'The New Science', Giambattista Vico's eighteenth century attempt to prove that all of mankind is descended from Noah's three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth. Throughout the book, Vico asserts that history moves through four stages, The Age of Gods, The Age of Heroes, The Age of Men and an age of chaos called the Ricorso. Vico believed history to pass through these cycles again and again and almost everything about the make-up of the Wake refers back to this theory of history.

Yet when seen from the right perspective, Joyce is constantly mocking Vico for his chauvinism, because Joyce, like many writers in that time, read another book of history. One that was based on good, clear evidence based conclusions, rather than the ramblings of a man trying to make his world fit with the Biblical story. 'The Golden Bough' by James George Frazer finds a very different source for the modern world, one which shocked the late Victorians when it was published, but which Joyce fully appreciated. Frazer traces western religious tradition back to the gods of harvest. More specifically, he traces them back to the goddesses of the planting season and of the harvest, Demeter and her daughter, Persephone. Then, rather glibly and with little fanfare, Frazer notes that as they were corn goddesses (and for most of human history, men worshiped gods and women goddesses) then planting and harvest much have originally been a female occupation. Meaning that the first human settlements had to have been a female invention. Women must have convinced their menfolk to give up a migratory existence following animals for meat and instead grow crops in one location. Animal husbandry came later, but it was the female gatherers, not male hunters, that gave birth to civilisation.

All of which must have been music to Joyce's mind. Indeed, if you know the Wake even moderately well, certain passages jump out at you in 'The Golden Bough' that must have stuckfast. All of the five main characters in the Wake take on hundreds, thousands of different mythical and historical roles. Compare this with the opening to Frazer's chapter on the goddess Isis:

"Her attributes and epithets were so numerous that in the hieroglyphs she is called 'the many-named',' the thousand named' and in Greek inscriptions, 'the myriad-named'."

Joyce gave her one more name, rounding the number up to agree with the number of Arabian Nights. He does that kind of thing a lot (1001 times I wouldn't wonder). Isis becomes Issy, as she had once been Mary and Diana and Artemis, back beyond Egyptian culture to the beginning of human civilization when she was both mother and daughter, Demeter and Persephone, Anna Livia Plurabelle and Issy.

Issy is also indelibly linked to Joyce's own daughter, Lucia. Whenever you spot one of her myriad names, there is usually a thinly veiled reference to Lucia lurking somewhere in the vicinity (Issy-la-Chapelle! Any lucans, please).

The other book the Wake has to be compared to if we are to appreciate its simplicity is Ulysses. Joyce's modernist masterpiece tells the tale of one man's journey over the course of a single day walking around Dublin, avoiding returning to the house, where his wife has received her lover, Blazes Boylan. Ulysses was well received when it was published in 1922. Finnegans Wake came seventeen years later and was deeply misunderstood, just as Joyce knew it would be.

Yet he hands the Wake to you on a plate. Perhaps Joyce's most famous remark about the book is that if Ulysses is a book of the day, then Finnegans Wake is a book of the night. Now, I feel I've got to know Joyce well enough over the years to see the complexity hidden in this remark. He's inviting us to extend upon that analogy. He wants us to make a list. If Ulysses is to the day as the Wake is to the night, then Ulysses is to..? as the Wake is to..?

So let's compare. Let compare, for instance, the opening word of each book. Ulysses: Stately; Finnegans Wake: riverrun. What this tells me, as well as information gleaned from thinking way too much about this, is that Ulysses is a book of the land and the Wake is a book of the sea. More importantly, if Ulysses is a journey through the realm of men, then the Wake must be a journey through the world of women. From this one brief brainstorming session, the purpose of the Wake becomes clear and everything else follows.

Now let's look at this opening page. Don't be daunted, I'll be with you every step of the way and we'll take it slow. You just have to trust me that there's nothing especially difficult to understand here. Yet when you see it, you'll be well pleased that you have understood in half an hour something that seems to have baffled educated men for seventy years. It's easy, we don't even need to look at very much in detail. Here we go, let's start by returning to the very first word:


Who's scared so far? So what do we notice? Well, immediately we can see that it's not even a word. It's two words jammed together. In the beginning was the word and the word was riverrun. So it's a flowing river. But it's also the flowing of time, time that moves in circles, as signified by riverrun being lower case. riverrun also suggests rerun, as connected to time repeating itself. Also, the first half of this sentence is to be found at the end of the book. Or, as I suspect, one possibility for the first half of this sentence is at the end of the book.

So it's a river. It's the River Liffey. How do we know? Well we find out later, this isn't a book you're going get the first time through. Reading it can feel like fishing. Long periods of staring, waiting for a bite. Just trust me, this is the River Liffey, colloquially known as Anna Liffey. She becomes Anna Livia Plurabelle in the dream language of the book, the first of the five principal characters to emerge out of the background river noise.

As well as a history of western tradition, the Wake is a history of James Joyce and once he was settled on the river as his metaphor, the Liffey becomes the obvious choice. It is the lifeblood of the city where he began his life, product of two parents, as represented by the portmanteau word that gives the Wake its first breath. riverrun is the big bang and it is the fertilized egg from which everybody came.

"Man, that is born of woman hath but a short time to live." The first word is the most important word that James Joyce ever had to write. With what he was attempting to do, Joyce had to find a word which encapsulated the entire book. A one word synopsis. Try it. What's Finnegans Wake about? River run. The wiki entry for this one word alone is immense, browse it at your leisure.

However, Jim usually gives you a clue as to what he's about and that double r in riverrun sticks out. Now, the Wake is a book in its own language, but we can be sure that Joyce is starting small and expanding out his own narrative over time. He would start simple. He would start with his own beginnings. What languages were important to him? Well in Ulysses, Joyce's alter-ego, Stephen Daedulus, tells us that he is ruled by church and state. That's English and Latin.

Look up err in a Latin dictionary and you notice the first reference is to the mistress of a house or to the goddess Hera. Almost every other word prefixed by err or er is something perceived as bad: Eradico (eradicate), Erebus (hell), Ergastulum (prison), eripo (rob), erratum (mistake), erubesco (to blush, feel ashamed). For me, Joyce is signposting man's subjugation of women from the outset. Take err out of riverrun and you are left with rivun. It's near to the Latin for a stream or brook (rivus), but in a book where neologisms often hover between several meanings at once, rivun also becomes ridden. History is a running sewer, Joyce is telling us, filled with bad habits that we are unable to break away from, repeating them in only slightly different ways.

So that's the first word. That's also the hard work out of the way, because now we can start to see what Joyce is up to here. Let's try reading a whole clause this time:

past Eve and Adam's,

Adam and Eve's church overlooks the River Liffey. The river has grown from a stream and is flowing passed Adam and Eve's. Except, again, it isn't Adam and Eve's, it's Eve and Adam's. It's backwards. Looked at again, this phrase should read:

Adam and Eve's past.

Now immediately notice how the possessive apostrophe shifts from Adam to Eve. Moreover, it's not passed, but past. Adam possesses the past, not Eve.

Now, I've seen too many Derren Brown specials to be tripped up by something like this. If it looks wrong, it probably is. So why not read the first two clauses of the book backward and see what happens:

Adam and Eve's past, riverrun

In Joyce's version of the creation, it is Anna Livia Plurabelle, the everywoman, who created the universe, gave birth to Adam and Eve, was architect of the first human settlements. It is the sea from which life emerged and climbed out to conquer the land. And where have the most successful cities in history been traditional built? Next to rivers and large bodies of water. We can assume we have women to thank for that discovery as well. Or at least a collaborative effort ("well dear, if we plant near the river, the animals will come to us."). Yet history also teaches us that the powerful dominate the weak and so male dominated history buries Demeter and Persephone under the sins of Eve. Man perverts riverrun and it ends up, rerun, the Old Testament being a succession of women leading men astray and destroying them, from Eve to Jezebel to Delilah. The opening page of the Wake is a grand two fingered salute to what man has done.

Now for the whole first sentence:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore, to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.  

And this is where you start to see what Joyce has done here. The first word expands into the first sentence and into the first page. The sentence undergoes mitosis, dividing and subdividing from one word, out to a string of new words.

The first page has three paragraphs. The first sentence, twenty seven words long, represents the written history of women. The second two paragraphs, which take up the rest of the page, tell the story of man. As far as I can tell, Joyce is giving a brief history of man, but backwards. Within the garble of half words we hear reference to Passchendale (recent history when the Wake was being constructed), back through the Peninsula Wars of Napoleonic times to the settling of America to Abraham and Isaac, all the way to Ham, Shem and Japheth and to Vico's ludicrous notion of history. Yet woman is never given credit for anything, despite being just below the surface, half emerging from the water on occasion, but never ever to be credited for anything except original sin.

A short, truncated, first sentence to open the book, demonstrates how little attention is paid to female history. Yet even from the outset the men (Vico, Comodius, HCE) are trying to pry their way in. The Wake begins softly on a lower case word. Yet as men elbow their way in, male order is imposed by Joyce's everyman, HCE, here seen as Howth Castle and Environs. The nature of a castle is that it is built in places where man is not allowed to be. Environs breaks down into virile, a reference to the male member, and read another way you can read the entire first sentence as women giving birth to civilisation, but instead man blames her for all his sins, strikes her, twists her arm, throws her to the ground and stamps his authority. Note how the river is affected by interaction with the land, swerved by the shore; bent by the bay.

The deliberate use of 'commodious' here is Joyce's comment on how much circularly shit this all is. Again, we can read Howth Castle and Environs backwards to symbolise the role women have played in male society, they receive seed, are ruled by men and spit our heirs (Howth Castle being situated on the Hill of Howth).

You can also read this first sentence as woman starting to tell her tale, thinking man has dropped off, but is only half asleep and interrupts her and tells the history of man, until he eventually drops off to sleep. Woman then starts again.

The second paragraph is long winded and backward, presumably Joyce's subtle way of saying that a purely male perspective of history is retarded. Women are still in the background, but they are subsumed beneath male dominance. We hear of Sir Tristam but not Iseult, Tristram taking all the glory, embedded in his knightly title. We hear Tristam rearriving, fr'over the short sea, which can again be read backward as, overthrows the short sea. 'The short sea' being woman. Obv.

Joyce begins the third paragraph:

The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-   ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) 

Having rewound history, the Wake rearrives at the 'fall of man', that we fair rushed passed in the opening sentence. Except Joyce has read 'The Golden Bough' and so he knows that the fall of man is all such nonsense, the kind of nonsense that has been used against women ever since. The 'thunderword' in parenthesis is a poly-lingual string of words for thunder, but it is also Joyce cocking a snoot at the establishment. Joyce is effectively saying, Oh not the fall again, yadda-yadda-yadda, baa-baa-baa ,blah-blah-blah, any excuse for more one more spin through the same old cycles of violence.

Instead, Joyce tell his own version of history and makes Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker his proxy for man, to be be placed on trial and examined by the court. HCE is also a giant asleep beneath Dublin. In the Wake, the position of words are often carefully chosen by Joyce and in the opening page they are vital. We find HCE's head lying under the Hill of Howth at the end of the first sentence. His feet lie out in the fields, his penis erect in Phoenix Park. HCE is asleep beneath the page, stretched across its length. A lazing, slumbering giant, like Urizen of William Blake's imaginings.

While lazy Humphrey lays aslumbered, Anna Livia Plurabelle flows through the page. She is the first word of the first page and she is the last, the alpha and the omega of the Wake:

and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park  where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.

Humph's five toes are out in the park, but Anna Livia has nourished protestants (oranges) and catholics (green) alike since they were first persuaded to settle on her banks. While man may stretch himself out across history, civilisation started with female worship to their gods and despite men seeking to remove women from power (it's why man has no mother in the Eden story), history remembers.

Livvy is also Issy, Persephone, mother and daughter bookending the opening page, forming a parenthesis around the first moments of the universe, like a pair of comforting arms.

Once we've got to Issy, it's not a great stretch to also find Iffy (we hear her name again later), short for Irfana, a Persian name, meaning believer. Of all the creation myths that Joyce offers us in this opening salvo, his preference is for Frazer's version of civilisation. He's telling us he's a believer. When we see how many Wakean references there are to the Arabian Nights, we remember why there were 1001 of them. Scheherazade told stories to her husband, Shahryār, with cliff hanger endings, using man's natural curiosity to stay her execution by him. The Wake is always trying to return our attention to man's mistreatment of women.

Much is made of the Wake's continual referencing to the United States. Commentators point to the Wake's mimicking of the 'Book of Coming Forth By Day', more commonly known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead and America is to Joyce the underworld, to where his son had emigrated. But again, I think we've missed a trick here. If we reconsider Vico's stating of what the Bible implies happened after the great flood, we see how misogynistic both versions are. After God had wiped out humanity, leaving only Noah, his wife (anonymous, of course) and his three sons, then Ham, Shem and Japheth went out and tamed, had sex with and impregnated a race of giants that survived the rising waters. Man is so superior to women that even this Amazonian race took very little to bring under his heel. According to the Bible, Noah's sons repopulated Asia, Africa and Europe, while as much as well know about any of their lovers is that they were tall women.

The constant referencing back to America then is Joyce calling Vico and the Bible to account. If this official religious account is correct, who repopulated America then? Is that why the genocide of the American population from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego was so exacting? The original inhabitants of America don't sit well with a white male Eurocentric view of the world?

I have for a long time felt in my bones that 'Moby Dick' must have had a profound effect on  Joyce, as it did for many other modernist authors. Yet if we remember that 'Moby Dick' is the confession of a white American who feels shame for the bloodshed and indignities that have been perpetuated in the founding of the country of his birth, then the Wake is the confession of a man who feels ashamed of the way his people have treated women. The opening chapter of 'Moby Dick' begins in three different ways, Call me Ishmael; There is now your insular city of the Manhattoes (i.e. Manhattan); Once more. Say you are in the country. Yet Moby Dick, like the Wake, is a series of digressions and a plot only emerges in the third chapter. 'Loomings' and 'The Carpet Bagger' are already deviations away from the white whale in the sea, the elephant in the room as it were, the thing we are avoiding talking about in 'Moby Dick', but which is always just beneath the surface.

With the Wake, man's indignities towards women is the whale, the elephant, and in the land of dreams, HCE is a giant to symbolise not only his fantasy self-image, but also the magnitude of his misogyny . The significance then of his lying beneath the surface hardly requires expanding upon.

Joyce does in the opening page what Melville can only achieve in three chapters. Joyce tell his entire story in the first word, then the first sentence, then the first page. The first two paragraphs are therefore digressions before Joyce finally settles down to tell his main story, the secret history of woman (as told as a parody of man).

There is also much to be said about the Wake's constant reference to the rainbow, which Genesis states is God's covenant with man never to flood the world again. Joyce is asking why God forgives man and gives him a rainbow and forgives him, but woman is condemned for all time for something that an intelligent reading of the Bible reveals she didn't even do.

Now, if we realise that in the Wake, water = woman, consider what Joyce would make of the story of water flooding the world and what the rainbow would mean to him in this context. And if the world is flooded with women, what do the receding waters signify? I believe that to Joyce the rainbow is a compact between man and God to the enslavement of women. Or at least, I believe that's the way Joyce saw it. His reference points are too well chosen for it to be chance.

Returning once again to that first word, the physicist in me recognises riverrun as a vector quantity. riverrun has a direction, flowing from left to right, sea to land, women to man, night to day, the one incomplete without the other. The letter r in riverrun can also be viewed as representing the x chromosome. Man brings variation into the equation, but woman is rich and constant. Moreover, all human life starts out the same for the first six weeks of gestation, until sex is decided.

Yet Joyce knew his thesis would be missed and forgotten. He knew because he knew a history of women would be missed, just as it always had been. 'The Golden Bough' was famous, for a time, and then forgotten. I'd been gingerly dipping into Finnegans Wake for thirteen years before I'd even heard of Frazer. I stumbled on to him after an argument about Robert Graves. Graves posits in his 'Greek Myths' that kings were executed at one time in sacrifice to the gods to bring a good harvest. All this comes from 'The Golden Bough's attempt to answer a question raised by one line in Virgil's Aeneid and which became an obsession for Frazer over the years, as the Wake was an obsession.

You don't have read to Finnegans Wake if you don't want to. That's ok, Joyce wrote it so that you'd only ever need to read the first page. The first page is like a map to the book, it presents you with all the information you'll ever need. Yet it's more than that. I said that the New Science provides most of the structure to the Wake, as indeed it does. Yet the Wake deviates away from Vico in two clear places, at the beginning and at the end. The Wake is in four parts, to agree with Vico's four stages of history, with eight chapters in the first part and four chapters each in parts two and three. Only the final part is a single chapter in length.

Now think again about the first page. It has three paragraphs. Why doesn't it have four? Well, the Biblical, Viconian version of history is imposed on woman later on (down through all christian minstrelsy), represented by the four stages of history. At the beginning of civilisation (which is the beginning of human history), a simpler truth was known. In 'The Golden Bough', Frazer gives us only three stages, The Age of Magic, The Age of Religion and The Age of Science. An age of chaos is not required. Vico and his ilk run around in circles, but history progresses in Frazer's version of reality and transcends the need for superstition and scapegoats. Man may shape history, but woman constantly prods it in the right direction: forwards.

And again, we can return to the triple paragraphs of the opening page and see something else staring us in the face (though I have heard this referenced from time to time). Think about the first sentence with its lopped off first half. I said this opening page is a map, but it's also a key, a cryptograph and it can hardly be a coincidence how much this page resembles the Rosetta Stone. The opening section of the Rosetta Stone is also sheared off, but it goes on to give us the same passage in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Demotic Egyptian and Ancient Greek. I'm convinced that the opening page is meant to be the same history told three times, the History of Woman, the History of Man and an alternative history that can only be told at night.

The Wake is a family tale told across recorded time. It seems to me that at least on one level (and pretentious as it is to talk about art operating on multiple levels, the Wake has greater claim than most), the husband has been caught leering at the daughter by the mother and she gives herself to him in order to protect her daughter from his advances. riverrun symbolises the act of union between man and women and in this context it can also be seen as a stream of semen exiting her body, flowing on to the sheets.

There's a line in the second paragraph, nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick. Most commentaries you read on this line will tell you that it is HCE calling to Issy via the fire. Yet it again seems obvious to me that it is Anna Livia calling to Issy, telling her HCE is not asleep yet (not yet is repeated through the passage) and she is to remain where she is and keep quiet. Later on, mother and daughter communicate freely and frequently, the wake and the constant references to it then become a fantasy, a looking forward to when the drunk old bastard dies. Received wisdom is that the dream in the book is synonymous with death, but Joyce would have known from his reading of Freud that the most basic kind of dream is one of simple wish fulfilment. ALP wishes HCE dead.

The signs are everywhere in the Wake. Ulysses, for instance, is constantly referred back to as the Blue Book of Eccles. Now, the first printing of Ulysses was in a light blue cover, which of course is the bit scholars get bogged down in. It is the Eccles part we should focus on. Eccles Street is the Dublin home of Leopold and Molly Bloom. While the husband tramps about the city, Molly doesn't leave the house all day. From her perspective, the plot of Ulysses is all set in the one location, representing universal female bondage and suggesting a new meaning to the colour blue, with its allusions to depression and unhappiness. Indeed, throughout Ulysses women are treated little better than whores and receptacles for male fecundity. It is only in the Wake that they are allowed some measure of revenge.

And that my friends, is the story of Finnegans Wake. It is at once a novel, a history, a dream, a prediction and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Joyce knew it would be misunderstood, the same old circles spinning through time. Yet I think he also knew that institutions of power only ever listen to their own and so Joyce used the only thing of power he thought he had to offer: his intellect. If he was going to write a female history (and it was just the kind of thing he would do), then he was going to make it the most brilliant, the most baffling history he could make it.

I think the Wake is a love song to his daughter (as, in its way, is Ulysses a love song to his wife, Nora), but also a love song to all women. Something that all womankind can hold up and say to man, look how much we are worth that the greatest opening page in literary history, maybe the greatest novel, period (which I'll get back to you about, took me 14 years to decode the first page) was written for and about us. And by a man too. What have you done that's so great? It should be made into placards, banners, shouted aloud at demonstrations and printed out and covered in lipstick kisses and sent to the likes of Richard Littlejohn. Imagine how baffled they would be. After all, is there a more uncomfortable feeling than missing out on a joke that everyone else obviously gets?

Though that's just me. I always want to see new, baffling methods of disobedience. As I've said before, you shouldn't ever boo the BNP or the EDF, that's what they want. Laugh at them and they'll soon go away. In a similar vein, the sound of the Wake is such a curious noise that it draws people in, it is the Siren song that dashed sailors against the rocks. Or at least drew them near enough the shore that by the time they realised what they were hearing, it was far too late to turn back.

Once you hear the true voice of the Wake, you can't unhear it.

Whether Joyce meant all of this or whether it was a natural consequence from the mirroring of the day world of Ulysses, I can't tell you (yet), but I don't believe it matters. We must each of us make our way in the world, but take strength wherever we can find it. There is such depth and understanding in the Wake's first page, telling of a truth that is rarely spoken aloud. Joyce said that if ever you don't understand something in the Wake, read it aloud. He said to do this in an Irish accent, but it is speaking aloud that is key. He wants us to break thousands of years of silence.

Aside from James Joyce and Robert Graves, 'The Golden Bough' had an impact on the poetry of both T S Eliot and Ezra Pound. As a young man in Dublin, Sean O'Casey sought the book in his local library like goth kids searching for copies of 'The Necronomicom'.  Shirley Jackson's famous 1948 story, 'The Lottery' is practically copied straight from the Bough's pages, as is 'The Wicker Man' and 'Ritual', the book which inspired the film. Beyond that, I can see its influence in the work of JRR Tolkien, as well as more recent authors like Clive Barker. It may be one of the great forgotten books, but it seems 'The Golden Bough has bored its way deep into the subconsciousness of western culture.

It also inspired a man call Joseph Campbell. Campbell was profoundly affected by both the Bough and the Wake. Campbell made one of the very first attempts to decode the Wake, co-authoring 'A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake', yet even he failed to see the Wake's true essence. Campbell also wrote what can be called the true sequel to 'The Golden Bough', 'The Hero With A Thousand Faces'. Campbell's book went on to inspire the plot of the first Star Wars film and is the most eternal story in the world of men, the story of the boy who goes out into the world of man, struggles against the odds and becomes a man himself. So this is the universal myth the secular modern world accepts as scripture and conveniently forgets the unpalatable truth that can still barely be spoken of in the daytime world.

Whoever said ignorance is bliss, must have had a vested interest in keeping their audience ill informed. Likewise, the Wake is labelled unreadable. For unreadable, read, unpalatable. I'm not much of a scholar, but I hope I've given you at least an insight into why the Wake is an important work of literature and deserves to be examined afresh. I'm sorry if I've rambled at times, but having that much information suddenly go off in your head is like a physical blow. It can leave you a little punch drunk. Still, 1 page down, only 627 to go.

In the meantime, understanding of just that first page is more than enough. To read on, hear the words as they are, a wave, a wake, a flowing stream of words, their real meaning only occasionally breaking the surface.

Or don't. Who am I, or anyone else, to tell you what to do?