A Month of Blogging

Writing I find easy. Putting it into the world is hard.

This month, I’ve been trying to publish a blog post every day. It’s not been easy to keep up the pace, particularly when I’ve been travelling. One post was finished on a train back from Gatwick; others have been written just before going to bed. But it was an useful experiment.

It’s not the first time I’ve attempted this. I tried it a couple of time this year, alongside two friends. These attempts didn’t go so well, with me flaking out very early in one of them, pissing one of the friends off. This time has definitely not been easy, and a few times I’ve relied on old posts I drafted without publishing (like I said, I find the writing bit easy). But I’ve finally succeeded.

I’ve felt some publication anxiety, but I’m still pretty happy with everything I’ve written. But posting a blog in 2017 feels a little archaic. There’s much less audience than there was, since most people are tied up on Facebook – and Facebook is not interested in pointing people towards personal sites.

Even with a small readership, this is also proving useful for writing on larger projects. Earlier this year, I tried to pull together a collection of pieces about commuting. It was a disaster, as I could not get it to cohere. Maybe the blogging will be a more successful way of doing this. I’ve got a lot of notes on Vindaloo, tourism and curry, which I’m slowly making into something larger. Writing short sections as blog posts forces me to finish passages, and gives me a better feel for the project than lots of notes.

Blogging is also a good way of processing the massive amount of information I take in. A few months back, I quoted Warren Ellis: “If we’re not doing something with the information we’re taking in, then we’re just pigs at the media trough.” These posts put this information into a larger structure. It also acts as a brake on the amount of information I take in, giving a way to see how relevant it is.

I’m going to continue this for another month and see how this goes. It will be challenging as I’ll be away from my laptop for a few days; and the supply of almost-written draft posts is dwindling. I’m also going to look at building a little more audience.Blogs used to get fairly high google rankings, which brought a lot of random traffic. These days, that traffic is caught by other sites, and there are very few people using RSS readers. So the question becomes, is it possible to blog and get enough readers to make it worth doing?

Anyway: I wrote 30 posts in August (the 31st being this one). The others are listed below.

Orbific

Vindaloo Stories

Technical

Walkerpunk

The Forgotten Sport of Piano Smashing

I’m fascinated by how untrustworthy memory can be. For example, Oliver Burkeman wrote recently about verbal overshadowing, where written descriptions affect visual memories. And then there is the research into induced false memories, where researchers persuaded people they had seen Bugs Bunny at Disney World.

(John Higgs spoke about his recently at the Latitude Festival. His recent book Watling Street describes vivid memories of having a CJ Stone book on his shelves while living in Manchester, even though the book came out after he moved away)

Even more interesting are memories of things that happened that now seem false. Maybe everyone has memories of childhood that seem incredible to look back on.

In the 1980s, entertainment was very different. I can remember how exciting it seemed when a fourth TV channel arrived (an event described in the diaries of Adrian Mole). It seems barbaric that TV stations used to turn off overnight: as an insomniac teenager, I made do with whatever late night TV was on, usually a single channel. Always-on internet is eradicating boredom, and it’s hard to believe things like climbing the Old Man of Hoy were prime-time shows.

The village fete was the site of various strange entertainments. You used to pay to throw wooden blocks at stands of crockery. And then there was the spectator sport of piano smashing. The idea was to take hammers to a piano and break it into small enough pieces to pass through a letterbox. There was even a Guinness World Record, the best time being 1 minute 34 seconds. You can check out a video of this on Youtube (commentator “It’s like they’re cutting down a tree – a piano tree!):

I guess the piano smashing came about because of a surplus of instruments as TV became more popular. The ‘bomb party’ blog has a history of piano smashing. As well as sporting examples, it has musical and artistic ones. It quotes Bill Drummond from the KLF describing another reason why pianos fell out of favour:

“Central heating. When it came in for the masses in the 1960s. central heating completely fucked these pianos. Buckled their frames, made them impossible to keep in tune.”

I guess as I grow older, and technology infiltrates more parts of daily life, the 1980s will begin to seem more and more like another world.

My Favourite Books of 2016 – and the best so far this year

This post is incredibly late. I found it lying lost in my drafts folder, and it seems a shame not to post it. So: last year I read 82 books, and mostly managed to avoid bad ones. Picking out a arbitrary best eight:

  1. Command and Control / Eric Schlosser
  2. Dietland / Sarai Walker
  3. Do it for your Mum / Roy Wilkinson
  4. Electric dreams / Tom Lean
  5. The Last Days Of Jack Sparks / Jason Arnopp
  6. Seveneves / Neal Stephenson
  7. A Trojan Feast / Joshua Cutchin
  8. The Way we die now / Seamus O’Mahony

As far as I remember, Seveneves gave me worse nightmares than any book I’ve read in life. Not bad for a book that’s horror rather than sci-fi. I read a lot of apocalyptic fiction, but the image of the moon exploding and destroying the earth with debris was incredibly potent.

When I first started blogging, about 15 years ago, I decided that I shouldn’t write negative things. This is a good rule and one I’ve rarely broken. But… I read two truly terrible books by once-great authors: Clive Barker’s Scarlet Gospels and Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk. It wasn’t that these were bad books – I’d have just ignored them otherwise. I was shocked by mediocre work from such great talents.

So far in 2017 I’ve read 45 books, although I expect to catch up on 2016 after my Autumn holiday (I have a load of Le Carre books waiting on my Kindle). Likely best-of-the-years include Chalk by Paul Cornell, John Higgs’s stunning Watling Street (a review is currently in my drafts folder), and I hate the internet. But I’m desperate for a few more mindblowing ones. Recommendations welcome!

The October Ritual

At the start of the year, one of my favourite bands in the world, The Indelicates, got in touch about collaborating on a launch event for their album Juniverbrecher. We decided the best way to do this was with a magic ritual to end Brexit.

There’s a clear precedent for this sort of thing. In 1967, the Yippies set up a ritual to levitate the Pentagon in protest at the Vietnam war. Even if you’ve not heard of this event, you’ll have seen some of the photos from it, when hippies placed flowers in the soldiers gun-barrels. There are some great stories about the day, with Arthur magazine’s novella sized account being a great place to start.

One of the best parts of running this event is helping to put the bill together. One of the support acts will be John Higgs, whose book Watling Street explores what it means to be British. I now know John in person, but I read his first book, a biography of Timothy Leary back in 2010, when Scott Pack gave me a review copy. Each book since has been increasingly strange and powerful. Watling Street draws together a lot of strange threads, and talks about national identity as something positive and inclusive. It’s a great book and each time I’ve seen John talk about it has been enthralling. We will be announcing additional support in the coming weeks.

Aleister Crowley defined magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will” – although, in this case, we’re going against the supposed will of the people. We’re really excited to welcome ritual magician Cat Vincent to carry out the binding and exorcism that will defeat Brexit. I first met Cat at John Reppion’s Spirits of Place event, where he gave a talk about, among other things, his 2014 working which is still leading to strange and wonderful ripples – the next one being September’s Festival 23 event in Brighton, “Is a hotdog a sandwich?”

The album itself is fantastic. The previous Indelicates record, Elevator Music was more optimistic – this is a bit more like 2013’s Diseases of England. I might use the word ‘hauntology’ to describe this new record, if that word hadn’t be banned. Besides which, this album has some great tunes, which a lot of hauntological music doesn’t bother with. It focusses on the darker things that led up to Brexit, a Britain where the figures of Mr. Punch and Jimmy Saville lurk in the boiler room. My favourite track, Everything English, contains the lyric “We told you so”. Given the scathing predictions in earlier Indelicates records, it’s amazing they didn’t use that for the title of the record; and all of the lyrics.

There might have been ways to deliver a great Brexit but what we’ve been given is a fiasco. I’ve read Daniel Hannan, I’ve tried to understand what we are getting out of this, and I am baffled. A mixture of pride, spite and arrogance is about to send us rushing into a massive, complex restructuring of our society. It’s like a GCSE student turning up to perform heart surgery. It’s a mess, a fiasco, and we’re about to be isolated and  trapped and on an island full of ghosts.

Unless… something wonderful and magical happens to stop this. If you want to see our attempt, tickets are available now…

Horror and Harlow

I spent several years living in Harlow. It’s a place I loathe. I would gladly see it evacuated and used for military target practise. Or just left empty to collapse as a warning to future generations.

I can only think of two good things about Harlow. One was the Parndon Woods, which were large enough to that I could pretend that the town was far away. The other was the library. As a teenager, with little money and lots of curiosity, the library was vital to me. Nowadays, the Internet would do the same job and do it better but, back then, the library was the only access I had to interesting culture.

I could borrow tapes and listen to indie bands I’d read about but nobody at school was listening to. I borrowed the first Manics album and Dinosaur Jr’s Where You Been from there. I had to order Naked Lunch in from another library. I’m not sure I understood it then (I’m not sure I get it now) but I had a chance to grapple with it. But my favourite thing was the shelf of horror fiction. A run of anthologies, such as the Splatterpunks collection, and various Best New Horror anthologies.

When I was a child, I thought that the reason horror films were 18-rated was that they would send a young mind mad. This was an easy impression to get from the video nasty panic that ran throughout my childhood. Horror seemed dangerous and forbidden. I read the back-cover blurb of books in WHSmith with dread.

The first horror story I read was Ray Bradbury’s The Small Assassin at 11 or 12. I found it incredibly disturbing but, at the same time, I was amazed by the profound effect it had. All the best horror stories have that physical thrill of sensation. Clive Barker’s In the Hills, In the Cities is one of the great short stories, and gains power from the grim imagery.

The Best New Horror series introduced me to some great writing. In writing horror, many of the authors pushed the boundaries of language and imagery.  Secretly, of all my literary ambitions, the strongest is to become a horror writer. I loved those stories, some of them so very well crafted.

I’ve no love for Harlow. If someone told me they were going to use it for nuclear testing, I’d celebrate that. I can afford to buy my own paperbacks now – I just don’t have as much time to read. Those few shelves in the library weren’t part of the new town plan, but they are the only bit I thought worthwhile.

Bob Lives!

I was really happy to see this sticker a while back:

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Long ago, around the turn of the century, the Bob Dobbs symbol was everywhere in Brighton. Inspired by the American Church of the Subgenius, Jim Bob began to use the Dobbs head as a symbol for parties and general mayhem. He gave an excellent talk on this at the Wellebourne Society a few years back.

As with most interesting things going on in Brighton around then, I knew it was happening and never did much about it – although I did enjoy one of their pre-election fundraisers at the Concorde 2.

The story of the Brighton subgeniuses is a fun one, with an entire movement accidentally being created. My favourite part of the story was the visit by the Church of the Subgenius’s American founders to see what was going on (and to ask about the cut of the merchandising they were supposed to get).

At one point, in the ’90s, the Brighton [group] had a whole “Bob” storefront… they almost won a local election with “Bob” – Rev. Jim in a Giant-Dobbshead mask — running under the Dobbs Free Party banner; PISS, an air guitar band with Kiss-style Dobbsheaded members, had an actual recording contract… To many [Brighton people], the Dobbshead had always signified only a great party at Jim’s. They’d no idea that there were also dozens of books, CDs and films, assembled by hundreds of Subgenii from every other place in the world BESIDES Brighton. It was an almost Galapagos-like evolutionary situation, whereby a whole species had been cut off from its fellows and had advanced along completely different evolutionary lines.

It’s good to see the Dobbshead turn up about the place again. I may not have been anywhere near this when it happened at the time, but it’s still a sign of the Brighton I love, a place of odd stories and strange societies.

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Manhole

manhole

The last time I went to Liverpool was in the 90s, with my Dad and sister. I’d just discovered the Beatles and wanted to visit the city they came from. We found very little trace of the band, other than a few small memorials.

On my most recent visit to Liverpool, last year, the Beatles’ heritage was being properly exploited. On Mathew Street there were three Cavern Clubs and a statue of John Lennon. I walked past all of these because, on this trip to Liverpool, I was looking for the manhole outside what the old ‘Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun’. This is said to be a very special manhole. To quote Bill Drummond:

[The interstellar ley line] comes careering in from outer space, hits the world in Iceland, bounces back up, writhing about like a conger eel, then down Mathew Street in Liverpool where the Cavern Club – and latterly Eric’s – is. Back up, twisting, turning, wriggling across the face of the earth until it reaches the uncharted mountains of New Guinea, where it shoots back into space… this interstellar ley line is a mega-powered one. Too much power coming down it for it not to writhe about. The only three fixed points on earth it travels through are Iceland, Mathew Street in Liverpool and New Guinea. Wherever something creatively or spiritually mega happens anywhere else on earth, it is because this interstellar ley line is momentarily powering through the territory.

This manhole is holy ground, of a sort. It is the location that appeared in a dream of Carl Jung (who never actually visited Liverpool). Bill Drummond stood for 17 hours on that manhole cover the day before his 60th birthday. In 2008, Julian Cope busked on this spot for a day. As Cat Vincent writes, the manhole had become “a site for connecting to the watery powers of the Pool of Life”.

It was good to stand there for a minute.

Bill Drummond by Tracy Moberly
Bill Drummond by Tracy Moberly

Passionate Machine!

Given that this is my response to a show about time-travel, it’s ironic that it’s as late as it is. I also have a weird feeling, as if it might not be the only time that I’ve written this. There could be other timelines where I’m also writing descriptions of the events – or where I managed to post them sooner.

So, obviously Rosy Carrick’s show Passionate Machine, was amazing. I mean, I’d say that even if it wasn’t (if you want a more objective review, check out the one from the Brighton Argus). Hopefully, I can persuade you there were many other things that made it great, not just that I want to stay friends with her. The show describes a strange period in Rosy’s life where she received messages that could only come from the future, sent by a mysterious figure. These messages related to Rosy’s PhD research into the great Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Rosy’s show was spoken word rather than poetry, and incorporated video footage and images (as well as an audio recording of me). Watching it I was impressed at what Rosy had done with the one-man-show. It’s a lot more interesting than someone simply standing up and reciting things. She’d used the format to its limit, for example handing envelopes of evidence to the audience as they arrived. There are also some moving moments showing how  people had responded to the story online.

The performance we saw was a work-in-progress, but it was pretty much complete and incredibly moving. I liked that the show did not get bogged down in the mechanics of time travel, taking it for granted and working with that. The resulting story is more personal and emotional than a lot of similar portrayals. As the show explains, we are all time-travellers in a sense, relentlessly pushed forward, able only to send messages forwards. Rosy has had a very different experience.

For me it’s a very different show than for most of the audience, as I was around for a lot of it. Rosy talks about the university course where she first discovered Vladimir Mayakovsky. Rosy was, apparently exasperated by my foolish questions in that class, but warmed to me when we chatted. I ended up looking after her pet cat Squeaky one Easter while I wrote an term paper on Wuthering Heights and, later, a chunk of my dissertation. We’ve been friends since then, through all sorts of adventures. And a lot of Rocky films.