Pilgrimage Maps

Later this month, I will be part of a group of people engaged on a great journey. The full details are yet to be widely revealed, but traces of it have emerged: in Daisy Campbell’s show Pigspurt’s Daughter, in a recent Psychedelic Detectives podcast, in a hashtag. It’s an amazing caper and one of the strangest things I’ve ever been involved in.

The other week I took lunch with a friend and mentioned the trip. He asked my why, and I didn’t have a snappy answer. It’s part of a larger story, one that goes back over fifty years; maybe longer, a lot longer.

A number of things have led me to this moment, but one of the most powerful (a true wampeter) was John Higg’s book on the KLF. I bought the first version of the book, back in December 2012. The story John told amazed me, and I ended up drawing a map of how many of my obsessions were linked through it. Threads could be drawn out to William Burroughs, Abbie Hoffman, Punch & Judy, Stone Circles and the Invisibles. Higgs’ book placed the KLF at the heart of a network of myth, magic and creativity.

A map of interesting things in the John Higgs book

That map now feels like comic-book foreshadowing, like when the Avengers found their future timeline laid out in a map.

As well as John’s KLF books, there were other things leading to the pilgrimage. I saw a crowdfunder for a discordian festival, paid £23, and ended up going along to Festival 23. Rosy began working on her one-person show, part of which is set in CERN, and also refers to David Bowie, whose Blackstar is a touchstone for the pilgrimage. Then there was an event in Brighton organised by David Bramwell, a launch event for Michael Coveney’s book on Ken Campbell.

Threads began to cross too. I got in touch with Cat Vincent after using some of his research in a talk about Internet brown notes. I met Cat for the first time at the launch of John Higg’s second book. Cat would later work with me and the Indelicates on the October Ritual event, where we cursed Brexit. The links go back to my late teenage years, doing a degree in Theoretical Physics. Or to the Invisibles comic book, with its concept of a hypersigil, a work of art that functions as magic.

One of the things I loved about Brighton was how many people I knew with secret identities. Some of them had buried old names with old, unwanted identities. Others had their performance names, which turned their ‘real name’ into a secret identity. I stayed the same, like Rick Jones. But this pilgrimage has brought me an alias.

The periods before and after a pilgrimage are as important as the journey itself. People are drawing together, collaborating on new things (check out Pilgrim Radio), making a new myth. There is a story unfolding.

Brexit Hiking: Who had the better march? (part 4: judgement)

(I tried to write a blog post about the March for Leave, and it’s ended up being about 3,500 words. Also available: part one, part two and part three. But this is the best bit, where I finally get to the point and judge the marches)

Settling the issues that we face as a country through the medium of hiking makes as much sense as anything. Given that Tory MPs have only just received training on what a customs union is, picking whether to leave or remain based on how good each side’s marches were is no less arbitrary than Parliament.

The Put it to the People March took place in London on March 23rd, and involved up to a million people walking through a small area of central London. The March to Leave was a hardier affair, travelling from Sunderland to London over the course of 16th March to 29th March, arriving in London to what was expected to be Brexit day but wasn’t. Both sides have mocked each other, but which one was better?

I am actually the best placed person in the world to answer this question. I’ve lectured on Brexit and hiking; and I’m a pretty keen hiker myself. I might be partisan, but I can promise to be unbiased – hiking is more important to me than the political fate of this nation.

When I attended the March to Leave in Sutton Bonnington, there was serious shade thrown at the March to Remain as being an easy stroll through London. While Remain-Twitter mocked the March to Leave’s smaller numbers, it was never intended to be a mass protest, with a limited capacity of core marchers. And attacks on the charge to the walkers missed the point: £50 was a very fair charge for accomodation and two meals a day, while preventing the march places being taken by spoof sign-ups.

A lot of energy went into mocking the March to Leave. I saw it referred to as the ‘Gammonball Run’, which sounds funny when you first hear it – but then you think about it for a second, and realise it’s a shit pun. The Guardian got some good quotes in their article on the march (“I don’t want my grandchildren being conscripted by an EU army likely led by the Germans.” LOL) but they were never going to be supportive. The march’s entire website was soon copied and rewritten with massive snark by remain campaign Led by Donkeys – a depressing and juvenile contrast to their clever billboard stunts. I do wonder how effective this scorn is, beyond amusing remainers and boosting social media page impressions.

The Leave walk also faced a challenge from nature, with appalling weather, but they kept going. Richard Tice, the man in charge, was quoted in the guardian, “We showed true grit. You softies in the guardian would’ve delayed it a day but we pushed on, we had hundreds out it was amazing.

As if no guardian reader or journalist has ever done a proper hike, right? Richard Tice cannot contemplate his grand act without comparing it to the other side. Rich, please: I read the Guardian, and I’ve kept walking in some really grim conditions. You wouldn’t believe the grit I showed crawling up Pen-y-ghent in a storm. I had a great time, and it never occurred to me to compare it to people I know who plan their walks for more hospitable months of the year.

But there are rules about hiking.

Let’s set aside the things like numbers and distance. My sympathies are with the March to Leave, as far as pedestrian feats goes. But what does it take to say you’ve ‘done’ a hike or a trail? have you ‘done’ the trail if you don’t do it in one go (“through-hiking”)? What if you’re using a baggage service and not carrying your own gear? Are you allowed to get into cars during the hike? If you miss a section through getting lost, do you need to go back to it?

Some people are very firm on these rules. Just look at Wikipedia’s article on through-hiking: Certain thru-hikers, referred to as “purists,” take this emphasis on continuity to obsessive lengths. Some touch or kiss every blaze of white paint along the trail, while others carefully line up their shoes, like Japanese slippers, in the precise spot they entered a lean-to, so as to know exactly where to resume hiking the next day.

But there are other things about hiking than just the walking. On the Pennine Way last year, one of my favourite things was meeting people along the way. We found ourselves drinking with someone who was hiking between jobs, having just finished working for a pro-Brexit think tank. I didn’t feel like ruining a hike by starting a row – some things are more important than political point-scoring. This person arrived at one pub three minutes after they stopped selling food – so I shared some of what I’d ordered. Hanging out with someone I disagree with, who I wouldn’t normally be speaking to, that was a pretty good way to spend an evening. Maybe, what we need when this is all over is a March for Moving Beyond the Brexit Fiasco.

There are rules about hiking – very definite rules. Some people condemned the March to Leave for not walking point-to-point, with buses between sections. But the thing about the rules for hiking is, you pick them for yourself. The big rule is, you should be happy about the hike you’ve done. It’s not a competitive event. Don’t compare your walk to other people’s just walk, breathe, and enjoy the world.

Which is why it’s so weird that the March to Leave is so insistent on comparing itself to the March to Remain. The March for Leave should have been a grand gesture, a celebration of… something. It was self-evidently an interesting and worthwhile project, and the people on that walk obviously thought it was worth doing.

The fact that Richard Tice had to continually defend the March to Leave against the Remain March suggested he has no real confidence in it. Just the same as Leave keeps defending their stupid, shabby and failed project of Brexit, when it’s success ought to be self-evident by this point. The depressing thing about the March to Remain, and the entire Brexit project, is that nobody seems to believe in it. Which turns them both into mindless, pointless fucking slogs.

Tory pop culture and magic metaphors

Once the extension to the Article 50 people is agreed, I should get on and finish my essay on Brexit, Hannan in Spandau. I have about 16,000 words to wrangle, but in the meantime, Cat Vincent asked me about “the Tory use of pop culture magic metaphors”.

I’ve been collecting references to children’s literature and fantasy related to Brexit, and have copied a few of them below. Please let me know if you know any I’ve missed.

Game of Thrones

Tolkien

  • Daniel Hannan in Conservative Home: What I Learned about the Hobbit From Reading it to My Children: “When the editor of ConservativeHome phones me, he often begins by wryly declaiming some line or other from Tolkien. If I can, I reply with the next line, and so on. He tends to get the better of our exchanges: his knowledge of the text is encyclopaedic.
  • In his book What Next? Hannan compared his years campaigning on Brexit to Galadriel, “fighting the long defeat”.
  • From Aaron Bank’s book The Bad Boys of Brexit, describing his visit to Donald Trump: “we found ourselves walking down Fifth Avenue towards the famous skyscraper which the liberal cry-bullies had officially designated as America’s answer to Barad-dûr.”
  • From 2005 in Conservative Home: J R R Tolkien: Lord Of The Rings (Tory Version)

(There’s another whole essay in Lord of the Rings and Brexit. I have notes for it, I just need the time).

Watership Down

Others

Brexit Hiking: Who had the better march? (part 3)

(This is the third part of a series. The first post discussed the background to the march to leave and the second post described our arrival there.)

On a sunny Sunday morning, having missed the march to remain, my Dad and I popped along to the march to leave. Mainly because it was nearby and we wanted to check it out for ourselves – which was why we were in a car park full of union jacks before breakfast.

Generally, when one sees a lot of union jacks in my hometown, it means the March for England are visiting. But, with two exceptions (see below), the leave march were a pleasant enough group, a great contrast to the facist supporters intimidating people in parliament on Friday evening.

The Leave Bus drew into the car park and started setting up for the march. Once they were ready to leave, Richard Tice, founder of Leave.EU gave a speech from the bus’s upper deck:

“What a wonderful sunny day! Doesn’t the sun shine on the righteous. And we’ve all grown up to believe that the sun shines on democracy. But the truth is, ladies and gentlemen, democracy is under threat in this nation. Dark days lie ahead… tomorrow, MPs are going to try to wrest control of the government agenda… almost like a mini-coup in Westminster… thousands of people marched through a few hundred yards of London yesterday, they didn’t march miles and miles the length of the country… they also don’t believe in democracy… we’re marching for the future of our great nation. We believe in Britain.”

Tice is not the first person to claim that the weather will be better under Brexit (see, for example, Angela Leadsom referring to the “sunlit uplands” ahead of us). Better weather seems as likely as an economic boom, something that used to be raised as a Brexit dividend, but is mentioned less these days. Now, the argument relies on points about democracy, that the referendum decision needs to be enacted at any cost. But a new dimension to the debate is that of hiking and marching, the idea that your belief in democracy can be performed by marching across the country in a sort of magical performance.

Fired up by the speech, the march set off. My Dad and I lingered back so as not to be counted among the supporters. This meant that we got to listen to a man ranting on a loudhailer about “traitor” Anna Soubry. He said that she had lied about being told by the police it was not safe to go home, since she had been in London for the remain march. Soubry is the MP for Broxtowe, in the Nottinghamshire area of London: the man in question was as ill-informed as he was unpleasant. Democracy cannot survive an atmosphere of death threats and hostility, and this rant was not a good look for the march.

It was at the edge of the car-park that we found a small group of remain campaigners. One of them was singing loudly, “They tried to make us leave the EU, I said no, no, no!” This group were zany and wacky maybe, but they looked a lot more fun than the dour plodding of the marchers.

My Dad and I stood by this remain group as we watched the tail-end of the march set off. On the other side of the gates, a posh-voiced man had a loud-hailer, and was ranting poison. He mocked remain as “socialist workers who’d never worked a day in their life”, before telling us to leave the UK if we didn’t like the referendum’s outcome: “You know where the door is”. I could unpack the ironies of this for hours, particularly given that the leave vote is engaged in stripping away many of my rights to free movement. He also made the claim that remain were supported by elite financiers such as George Soros – a nasty anti-semitic conspiracy theory.

A few marchers stayed to argue with the remain side, the debates centering on democracy and fishing rights. The claim that remain was managed by the elites emerged again, which is baffling. I know you are not your job, but it is worth pointing out that Tice is CEO of Quidnet capital, which has about half a billion pounds worth of property under its control.

I chatted a little with the remainers, all of whom had made it to London the day before. “If they’re in your village you can’t just do nothing,” said one. We were interrupted by someone yelling at us about how leave was walking two hundred something miles, and remain had managed just one. Someone shouted back that the person making this claim was in a landrover

A landrover that was heading away from the march.

I think it’s positive that people are debating fisheries policy at 9am on a Sunday morning. And it was good to see that, in contrast to the shocking scenes in London on Friday, there was no need for police in Sutton Bonnington. Just before we left, a man arrived for the leave march and was disappointed to miss it. One of the remain protestors told him not to worry and gave him directions. “They only set off about ten minutes ago. If you hurry you’ll catch them”. This co-operation was the most positive thing I’d seen about Brexit in some time.

(Continue to part 4, where I finally decide which march was better)