Still seeking the Man in the Iron Mask

There was an excellent article in this month’s Fortean Times, Walking around the World: From the Annals of Human Hyperpedestrianism. This is the first of a pair of articles from Jan Bondeson, and is an excerpt from their book The Lion Boy and other Medical Curiosities.

A few years back, I wrote a chapter in the Odditorium book about a mysterious walker called Harry Bensley. I’ve been obsessed with the story since 1998, when I read about it over breakfast in a Norwich Guesthouse. Over the years I found various English newspapers which described Bensley’s lecture tour in 1908, before he set off. It is claimed that Bensley had almost completed the challenge by 1914, but there is little evidence of him actually making the journey.

Bondeson’s article tells the story of George Matthew Schilling, who was born in Pittsburgh, in 1874. After causing a stir by walking 1000 miles in 21 days, Schilling took another bet and set out on 3rd August 1897 to walk around the world. A boxing-and-theatre impressario had offered a wager of $5,000.

Like Bensley’s challenge, Schilling’s bet had a number of strange conditions, including not being allowed to beg, borrow or spend money. Schilling set off dressed in a suit of newspaper and went from New York to Southern California, where he couldn’t find a ship to carry his dog, causing him to travel yet further to Vancouver. He later travelled Australia, giving talks about his adventures.

By August 1900 Schilling reached Colombo, in what is now Sri Lanka, and reached South Africa in October 1901. Despite an extension due to wars on the way, Schilling lost the bet, and in November 1904 he reached London, giving further lectures around the UK. He remained in Britain for many years, performing stunts to make money. He returned to the US in 1914 and died there in 1920.

The story of Schilling reads like a template for Benson’s adventures, but with more evidence of him actually doing the walk. There are even earlier stories, like a Russian called Greathead, who was bet in a Vancouver club that he could not travel the world without money or luggage. It’s really exciting to learn that Bensley fitted into an ongoing tradition, and a shame I had not found more trace of this myself.

Bondeson’s article is the first of two, and ends with a tantalising mention of “The Masked Walker (who we will meet in a future issue) [who] was a hoaxer who never left England”. Hopefully, Bondeson can settle the story of Harry Bensley.

Some other Brightons

This is not the only Brighton. This is Brighton-1218, Brighton Prime. It’s a nice, safe place to be if you’re a regular person.

Brighton-616 is an exciting one, a world of superheroes; sometimes you see visitors from the Xavier School in Upstate New York, over to visit Braddock Manor to the town’s north. There is Brighton-1705, where a succession of storms wrecked the town – nothing remains, just piles of shingle. Brighton-199999 is made up of the Brightons seen in movies: Quadrophenia and Brighton Rock are real in this universe. In Brighton-54, technology has run wild, but people still aren’t happy. In Brighton-2376 the town has been swamped by the ocean, and amphibious people live among the shells. Brighton-72 is where a local kid became prime minister at the age of 17. Brighton-8311 is populated by anthropomorphic animals – they have mated among themselves and produced chimeras. Brighton-14 is a world of grimdark violence. In Brighton-2149, the dead have risen and everyone has been turned to a zombie; they pace the promenade, no need to work. In Brighton-1602 it is still the Elizabethan age, but as a world of wonders. Brighton-3165 is a world of sentient cars. Brighton-1588 is ruled as an outpost of the American Empire. In Brighton-25, all the men have died from a virus, and women have created a new world. Another virus struck Brighton-2323, but killed no-one – instead their skin turned white, except for lips and noses which became bright red, hair turning green. But an ever-increasing number of the Brightons are like Brighton-11, destroyed by nuclear war, different arrangements of debris. Some were sterilised by fallout from blasts over Newhaven Fort .

So many Brightons, but Brighton-1218 is the safest place to be if you are ordinary.

Why would I want to stay in Brexit Britain?

  • Whatever happens in Thursday’s vote (if it is not further delayed), the Brexit saga will drag on for many years.
  • Even if we avoid a no-deal in March, the crisis is only postponed – we still need to agree the post-Brexit settlement with the EU, with a hard deadline for that of December 2020.
  • Companies are taking evasive action to avoid no-deal already. Those exporting to Australia face exporting goods that could be taxed punitively on arrival. If companies start no-deal plans, there is little point in stopping them when there could be another no-deal scenario in 2020.
  • The trade deals on offer from Japan, South Korea and the US are harsh – and the EU has been clear that any terms they offer will always be worse than being in the EU. So, the referendum has turned out to a vote to constrain and contract British industry.
  • As Donald Tusk pointed out in his controversial speech, the remain voters (48%) have had no real representation. A second referendum is pointless, as there has been little groundwork to promote remain over the last 2½ years. Even with the fiasco the government has made of implementing Brexit, 40% of people are very fixed as leavers. Another referendum is not likely to resolve anything.
  • The mood in the country is increasingly ugly and divided. A 48/52 split was not a mandate for a hard Brexit, rather it suggested the need for a considered, thoughtful response. Instead, we have ‘Brexit-means-Brexit’ and the idea that this must happen at any cost.
  • We’re also seeing discussion of impending civil unrest, against a background of increased racism and intolerance. While vox-pops are a poor representation of the actual opinion of the country, the media are broadcasting ill thought-out and aggressive views about Europe and immigrants, as well as supporting a weird  nostalgia for wartime Britain.
  • One of the biggest achievements of Cameron’s badly-planned referendum was to take an issue rated as unimportant for most voters and turn it into something that has consumed all British politics. We still need to deal with the fallout from austerity; instead, civil servants are being moved from their current work to deal with Brexit.
  • Britain appears to have chosen to launch a national calamity by choice, and nobody is doing anything to stop it. The opposition are abetting this rather than taking any sort of clear or principled stand – apparently due to their leader’s desire for an election he is likely to lose even worse than last time.
  • Britain is completely broken. We’re in an impossible political situation with no way out. It is going to take years to resolve these problems and tensions, while reducing us, once more, to being the sick man of Europe.
  • I acknowledge that my skills and background give me opportunities a lot of people don’t have. But those opportunities are there. Why would I want to stay in Britain?

More lost Brighton bookshops

Brighton’s bookshops continue disappearing. After the sad loss of PS Brighton in 2017, Brighton Books has also gone from Kensington Gardens. And, late last year, Colin Page books quit the Lanes.

One of the things I loved about Brighton were the bookshops – enough that I sometimes sneaked away from school to spend a day searching them. Wax Factor continues to offer an amazing stock (and an often-tempting window display) and I hope it keeps going for many years yet. But these are hard times for second hand bookshops, finding themselves hammered by Amazon and charity bookshops, both of whom have a strong advantage in terms of tax.

My Favourite books of 2018

I finished 78 books this year. Looking back, there are still a fair few I’d have been better off abandoning rather than finishing – I still can’t break the habit of finishing books that was drummed into us at primary school. Despite that, I read some very good books, and picking an arbitrary ten means not talking about some of those.

My very favourite book this year was Rosy Carrick’s Chokey. Of course I’d say that, since this is a book I have a close connection with, having seen early performances of most of these pieces. All of them I love dearly, but the epic Thickening Water is one I remember from searing performances; and Vanishing Act is one that mentions my running – something I’ve been too injured to do for years and hearing that poem always makes me sad. But Chokey is a very good and moving book of poetry.

Ten other books, in alphabetical order by title:

  1. The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States was recommended on Warren Ellis’ mailing list. It’s a fictional account of a nuclear war, written by Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on the North Korean nuclear program. What makes the book disturbing are the footnotes, showing how the scenario Lewis is describing is a plausible and real danger.
  2. I’ve been reading more horror and quite liked The Cabin at the end of the world. It was pulpy book, but read quickly. It describes a family who find themselves on the wrong side of a save-the-world scenario.
  3. An Era of Darkness is Shashi Tharoor’s brisk account of the British Empire’s crimes in India. Even having read a lot about India, elements of this came as a surprise to me. Given the resurgence of Imperial pride in Britain, this is a sobering read.
  4. Everyone I Know is Broken-Hearted is a collection of non-fiction by Josh Ellis. Some of these pieces I loved at the time and it was good to revisit them in a single batch. Ellis is an incredibly talented writer, and there is fire in these early pieces.
  5. Michal Lewis’s The Fifth Risk was heavily excerpted in the Guardian. It’s an interesting view on how government is more than politics, and how much work goes into keeping infrastructure running. In the midst of ongoing austerity it’s sober to see how much money goes into keeping us safe and how easily we take that for granted.
  6. Fire and Fury is an astounding book. Wolf has written a fascinating and gossipy account of Trump’s first months in office that reads like a Delillo novel. I read a lot of books on politics this year.
  7. New Dark Age by James Bridle was another Warren Ellis recommendation, which also featured in the Guardian. While it reads more as a collection than a single narrative, Bridle has drawn out some striking elements of the modern world.
  8. A chunk of Charlotte Higgins’ The Red Thread was also featured in the Guardian. It’s a book about Theseus and labyrinths that wanders through many academic and cultural themes. It was just what I hoped it would be.
  9. I saw Raynor Winn talk about The Salt Path at Port Eliot festival and it reduced much of the audience to tears. The book is unavoidably moving but it is also inspiring, the story of someone getting up and embarking on an epic walk against significant odds. This is one of the best books I’ve read on hiking.
  10. Wild by Cheryl Strayed is another book on hiking, most interesting for the vividness with which Strayed writes, and the trail culture they describe.

The Battle of the Thames

Back in the Summer of 2016, on June 15th, a naval engagement took place on the Thames. Boats left Ramsgate at 3am and Southend at 6am, heading towards Tower Bridge. Other vessels came from Brixham, Berwick, and Faversham, even some from Scotland. The fleet was prevented passing the Thames Barrier by the Harbour Master, who only allowed through four large boats and eight smaller ones, leaving about twenty behind. By the afternoon the fleet had reached central London, led by Edwardian, a “luxurious river cruiser”, where they were ambushed.

The admiral of the fishing fleet was Nigel Farage, leading boats assembled by Fishing for Leave. Leading the counter-demonstrators on a ‘party boat’ was Bob Geldof. His boat had a large sound system and kept playing a thirty second snippet of classic song ‘The In Crowd’. Again and again. Among the other vessels in this group were ones captained by Charlotte Church and Rachel Johnson, sister to Leave politician Boris.

On his flagship, Farage’s discussions with journalists were drowned out by Geldof, who attacked the UKIP politician’s record, accusing him of being a fraud. He pointed out that when Farage was on the European Parliament Fishing Committee, he attended one out of 43 meetings.

Farage was unimpressed with Geldof’s response to the fishermen. “It’s just insulting to these people. Some of these lads have come from the north of Scotland, communities… where we have seen tens of thousands of jobs lost and a way of life destroyed, and they come here to make their protest and be heard, and they get a multimillionaire laughing at them.”

And, to be fair, Geldof was not the best placed person to be leading the Remain fleet, given his interesting and complicated tax affairs . And raising two fingers at the fishermen and telling them to ‘fuck off’ was not a good look.  A group of activists left Geldof’s boat because of this, with one saying “these fishermen were working-class people with genuine issues and we didn’t think they should be erased by Bob Geldof”

The police did their best to prevent an actual battle. Water cannons were sprayed by the fishermen at their opposition. And Geldof’s boat came under direct attack. In the Guardian’s account of the battle, they wrote “Richard Eves, a fisherman from Leigh-on-Sea, decided to launch a boarding raid on Geldof’s boat using his rusty trawler Wayward Lad… ‘We threatened to ram them first and then they let us on,’ he said afterwards. ‘They shit themselves. I was angry.’”

The Vice magazine article on this is a work of genius, and includes reports of “a spy boat, a secret In boat in with the Out flotilla, which will do a heel-turn somewhere around the Thames Barrier and unfurl “In” banners in amongst the Out fisherman

The engagement is most remarkable for how shambolic it was. The sight of two rival groups shouting at one another, while not really engaging was representative of the whole Brexit campaign. Arron Bank was on the Edwardian and described the event as “Traflagar meets wacky races”. According to his book, Bad Boys of Brexit, he bankrolled the Leave Fleet to the cost of 10,000 a boat, or 250,000 for a fleet of 70.

A map even appeared on social media, showing the battle:

According to Maria Pretzler, the image was based on a diagram of the Battle of Lowestoft.

One of the jokes abut the post-referendum period is that a lot of people have suddenly become experts on customs unions. These were barely discussed in the run up to the referendum. No, we had more important things to be talking about.

Who needs fake news when the real news is so poor?

Does Operation Mindfuck need Operation Mindfix?

I wrote a little yesterday about Operation Mindfuck, a Discordian disinformation campaign with good intentions. As John Higgs described it, “The aim of Operation Mindfuck was to lead people into such a heightened sense of bewilderment and confusion that their rigid beliefs would shatter and be replaced by some form of enlightenment.” The main technique used for this was contradictory stories being placed in the media.

Nowadays, we live in a media environment filled with contradictory stories. The same event can be spun in different ways according to the views of each side. The response of many people to this is to retreat further back into their own prejudices. Psychological experiments have shown that even retractions of lies do not help:

Colleen Seifert, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, found that even retracted information—that we acknowledge has been retracted—can continue to influence our judgments and decisions… This means that when the New York Times, or any other publication, runs a headline like “Trump Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People Voted Illegally,’” it perversely reinforces the very claim it means to debunk.

(It’s interesting that certain groups are pre-disposed to reject disinformation. One of the teens in Veles, who ran fake news sites for the 2016 US election, didn’t bother making stories for Sanders supporters: “They don’t believe anything. The post must have proof for them to believe it.”)

Operation Mindfuck appears to have run aground. This playful strategy for making the world a better place seems to have no place in a world where disinformation is common.

(It’s worth saying that Operation Mindfuck is very different to propaganda. Most political lies are made with the aim of furthering a particular goal, rather than undermining belief. However, as discussed yesterday, there are politicians using nihilistic strategies very similar to this).

In January 2017, John Higgs wrote a blog post entitled For Robert Anton Wilson’s Birthday – some words on Operation Mindfix . This discussed the idea that “if  you take the long term, pragmatic view, it could be that the use of Operation Mindfuck techniques in this way are, essentially, a trap.

Higgs compared the state of modern politics to Robert Anton Wilson’s concept of Chapel Perilous, but saw some optimistic developments coming. The designer Amoeba (who worked on the graphics for Cosmic Trigger) had used the hashtag #operationmindfix while suggesting people take more care about what they post. Higgs wrote that “Operation Mindfuck is over for Discordians because it is unnecessary in the post-2016 world. From now on, the ongoing work can be considered part of Operation Mindfix

Daisy Campbell spoke about Operation Mindfix in the Mysterium book, released in October 2017: “Operation Mindfuck failed. Perhaps it’s time to implement operation Mindfix and bring a little objectivity back.

Another response to Project Mindfix came from Dolly Turing. They questioned the idea of fixing minds, and said that to equate fake news and operation mindfuck “completely seems to miss so many layers of possibility, imagination and dimensionality. The most expansive and terrifying and exciting parts of these things… and the silliest and most fun ones.

The question is, if Operation Mindfuck is insufficient in the current climate, what does come next? As Cat Vincent tweeted way back in October 2016, “The Right basically stole Operation Mindfuck from us, weaponised postmodernism. The Discordian response is evolving…

The John Higgs post has some other suggestions beyond Operation Mindfix.

It needs the coming together of people in the real world, because empathy is rarely found online… It understands that social media can be used for finding those who chime with us but that there is no point in using it to shout at the different… It involves the virtuous circle of people being inspired by people being inspired. It centres of [sic] the understanding that meaning exists, but it needs to be self-generated.

In the year-and-a-half since that post was written, the response seems to have evolved beyond Operation Mindfix to something new. And events such as this weekend’s Catch 23 are a part of that, a chance for people to come together in the real world.

More on Discordianism

I’ve been writing a series of posts about discordianism which will be the background to the this pamphlet on Brexit and hiking. The first part, Thatcher in the Rye, is available online.

The Tragic Success of Operation Mindfuck

With  Discordianism, Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill wanted to spread confusion. They created an overtly self-contradicting ‘religion’, with the aim of amusing people while making them question their assumptions. The ideas spread during the sixties, mainly through underground media and the mail, writing about new anarchist systems and inventing conspiracy theories.

One idea they spread was that of the Illuminati. This was a secret society, based on a real organisation founded in 1776 to spread enlightenment ideals. Contrary to historical accounts, it was claimed the group had continued in secret to the present day. This idea has become a major part of modern culture, appearing in the works of Dan Brown, hip-hop etc.

Among the early Discordians were Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea, who were working as editors at Playboy Magazine. They were drawn into the movement through various odd pieces of mail, which they replied to. Wilson began messing with his readers by publishing as many of these often contradictory stories as he could.

Wilson says he did not consider this a prank or hoax but “guerrilla ontology”.  He became increasingly exasperated with the fixed views on both the right and left of politics and wanted people to question the information they received, and to stop seeing their beliefs as inherently true. This ongoing mission of disinformation, of anti-propaganda, was named Operation Mindfuck. As John Higgs put it in an article for Darklore Magazine “The aim of Operation Mindfuck was to lead people into such a heightened sense of bewilderment and confusion that their rigid beliefs would shatter and be replaced by some form of enlightenment.”

Over time, the operation grew, with Wilson and his associates beginning to receive letters from outside their group (as far as they could tell –  although they were becoming sceptical of everything).

Now, almost 50 years later, it appears as if Operation Mindfuck is present all around us. We are deluged with contradictory information. Both sides in the recent referendum marshalled statistics, facts and arguments to show how their side was correct. Without a decent amount of political and economic knowledge, there was no way to pick them apart. Rumours were reported as news, and those reports became news elsewhere. Truth became devalued in an era of fake news.

This has not gone entirely well. As John Higgs wrote about the results of Operation Mindfuck in January 2017, “the ideas behind Operation Mindfuck have since become a tool for those with a lust for political power, most blatantly Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov”. John linked to a short Adam Curtis film looking at Surkov’s career:

A Russian politician, Surkov came from the world of avant garde art to use the ideas of conceptual art in politics. He would sponsor various different groups and organisations, some of which were working directly against him. He then revealed this was happening, “a strategy of power that keeps any opposition hopelessly confused“. Like the Discordians, Surkov didn’t aim to put forward any particular worldview, rather to bewilder and confuse his opposition. As the economist magazine described it:

As the political mastermind for Vladimir Putin for most of the 2000s, Mr Surkov engineered a system of make-believe that worked devilishly well in the real world. Russia was a land of imitation political parties, stage-managed media and fake social movements, undergirded by the post-modern sense that nothing was genuine.

Operation Mindfuck began as a playful and active response to the world. Now it has been taken to its logical extreme in an increasingly dystopian world. Which raised the question: what next?

Disinformation in Macedonia

Veles, Macedonia, August 2016

Nobody had planned for this to happen.

Veles is a Macedonian town with a population of 40,000. It has a few small nightclubs and, in the summer of 2016, young people were partying hard. The local teens had discovered this one weird trick for making money with little effort; more money than they made going to high school, that’s for sure. The clubs could barely keep up with the demand for vodka bottles and ice buckets. Some young people bought champagne, despite not liking the drink, spraying $100 bottles of Moet about the room.

Back in the 1960s, the Discordians came up with a scheme called Project Mindfuck. The idea was to use disinformation for good. Confronted with crazy ideas, people would see how flimsy was the basis for most of their beliefs. To this end, stories about the Illuminati were planted in the underground press. The problem is that, rather than the misinformation providing a revelation of reality’s true nature, people often believed what they read.

As the 2016 US election approached, the world became aware of incendiary and inaccurate news reports distributed online, particularly via Facebook. Many of these stories linked back to small WordPress blogs, a disproportionate number amount of these coming from Veles. But the sites’ owners were not propagandists. They had simply discovered that posting particular stories brought in clicks. It started with a single locally-run website called which provided diet advice – not necessarily medically proven, but the sort of thing that gets shared on the web. Then other people realised the potential of politics. The articles were copied from other sites and links to the blogs shared via social media. The stories didn’t even need to be true. Lies spread faster than any retractions and they bought in clicks, even from people who didn’t believe them.

Few people in Veles cared if Trump won or not, the election merely a way of generating clicks and making money. As Wired points out, the average wage in Veles was about $371 a month, and one person claims to have made $16,000 from two pro-trump sites in 4 months. Another claimed to have brought in $27,000 in their best month. A local nightclub organised special nights to coincide with Google’s monthly payment schedule.

This isn’t even lies in the usual sense. It’s not even bullshit in the definition used by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt: “The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter doesn’t care if what they say is true or false, but rather only cares whether or not their listener is persuaded.” There’s no desire for persuasion here. It’s just information for people to click on.

As the election approached, President Obama would apparently talk obsessively about a Buzzfeed article on what was happening in Veles. Journalists visited the town, trying to figure out how this backwater might have turned a US election. Nobody explained why it had happened here of all places.

There was no real intention behind the Veles mindfuck campaign. It just worked with a system. Writers are paid by advertisers when people click on ads; social media distributes content people like. Online news platforms had already established the best ways of persuading people to click on ads, how to craft irresistible headlines. Of course someone was going to do this. It was legal, it seemed ethically harmless, and the companies involved were willing to pay out, taking their cut along the way.

We’re living in a world out of the science-fiction of the 90s. It’s noticeable how William Gibson went from writing his futuristic Sprawl trilogy, with cyberspace and neural inputs, to a post-millennium trilogy which was set pretty much in the present day, while still maintaining the same feel. But the dangers of this new world are unpredictable.

James Bridle’s recent book, New Dark Age talks about the weirdness of how these systems are working on Youtube. Software generates potentially-lucrative titles for videos based on popular keywords; then human actors in content farms act them out. These have become increasingly weird and disturbing, and nobody seems to be stopping it.

On November 24th 2016, after the US election, Google pulled the advertising on many of the fake news sites. The gold rush in Veles was over – what Google gives it can as easily take away. Some of the teens had bought sports cars, but the more sensible ones invested in real estate. There would be fewer parties.

The problem is that we live in an information monoculture, and there is no mechanism for stopping these feedback loops. Some of these have had recent unforeseen effects including lynch mobs and sectarian violence. But the system continues to work to produce revenue, the sites becoming more addictive. As early Facebook employee Jeff Hammberbacher put it: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

Project Mindfuck had a goal, just like any disinformation mission. In Veles, people were simply acting out the incentives provided by the network. There was no other aim than arbitraging attention via social media to make cash appear out of nowhere. John Higgs, inspired by the designer Amoeba talked about the need for a project Mindfix. The question is, what shape this can take.

This is what the KLF is about

“This is what the KLF is about – also known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu -furthermore known as the JAMMs”

Listening to Last Train to Transcentral back in 1991, I had no idea what the lyrics were going on about; but this was obviously not a regular dance track. But I didn’t have the clues to interpret it, didn’t know to read the NME rather than pop magazines. It would be a little while longer before I was given a copy of the KLF annual and started to figure things out. And a little after that I read the GURPs: Illuminati book and had a clearer explanation of Illuminatus! and discordianism.

The band were a mass of pseudonyms and aliases. The two main members, King Boy D and Rockman Rock were actually Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. They’d even had a massive number one record with Doctorin’ the Tardis as the Timelords in 1988. The following year they published a book, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), which laid bare the secrets of the music industry. Few people followed it all the way through, but one example was what wikipedia refers to as an “Austrian Eurotrash band”, Edelweiss, who sold 5 million copies of Bring Me Edelweiss. Do not listen to this track as it will stick in your head forever.

In 1991 the KLF were the biggest-selling singles act in the world. They performed at the Brits in 1992 with Extreme Noise Terror, firing machine gun blanks at the crowd. In May 1992, deleted their entire back catalogue. They then tried to subvert the art world, including an attempt to sabotage the Turner Prize. Then they burned a million quid before signing a contract preventing them from talking about the incident for 23 years. This is not your average pop band.

(While burning a million quid is the more obviously nihilistic act, deleting the back catalogue and disbanding the group probably cost them more money in the long run).

I loved the KLF. At university, someone had the older records, introducing me to 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?). At 18, wandering through a newly opened HMV at Lakeside in Essex, I found a copy of Chill Out. I don’t know how they’d stocked that record shop, but I found a load of rarities on the racks, things that I’d been hunting for years. Chill Out is an ambient record, a 45 minute journey across America, with different sounds fading in-and-out, and still one of my favourite albums. It’s now easy to find online.

In December 2012, twenty years after the KLF disbanded, I read John Higg’s book The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds. I’d read his first book, a biography of Timothy Leary, and was excited to read his take on one of my favourite bands. But, rather than tell a simple story about record sales and Top of the Pops appearances, Higgs took a path through the magical and counter-cultural networks linked by Cauty and Drummond.

Last year, the contract Cauty and Drummond signed, banning them from talking about the KLF, finally expired. While the JAMMs returned last year with the Welcome to the Dark ages event and the novel 2023, and there was some discussion of the burning money, the KLF has never really returned. I like the idea of keeping the legend intact, and the strange shapes that legend has taken over the last few years.