Returning to the London Road Stone Circle

 

Back in August 2017, I blogged about a walk around the London Road stone circle. Last week, I repeated the journey with a friend who lives nearby. It looks like a few of the stones have been lost to development, and that it might be time to form a London Road Stone Circle Conservation Alliance.

The circle itself dates back to 2014/5, and was placed there by an artist’s group, The Brighton School, with the assistance of  the council. It was funded by European Regional Development Fund, along with local developers under section 106. The artwork consists of numbered stones embedded in the pavement, in a circle that passes through Preston Circus, the level and Brighton station. It claims to be the first urban stone circle, and is a great addition to the environment of London Road.

We started with the first stone, at the south-west corned of Preston Circus. Despite the superstition that it is unlucky to count standing stones, we followed our way from 1-50. A few times the numbers leapt up suddenly with no explanation. There was a section on Stanley road that went straight from 14-7 according to the map we had. My friend Laura suggested the stones might have moved, like in the film Labyrinth.

Drawing of stone 25 by Laura Ryan (lauraryan.co.uk)

The ones in the Level have been marked with scratches – perhaps the local tribes are superstitious, and have scratched the surface of the stones to ward off bad luck?

I think some of the stones were hidden in gardens when the circle was made and are genuinely inaccessible. But others are being lost due to development. We found stone 40 on Blackman Street, but couldn’t find another until 43, up near Brighton station. According to shardcore, 42 “survived the station renovation and is now visible again”, but 41 appears to have been buried under the new Unity building.

For me, this artwork is a powerful and moving engagement with place. The circle passes through several places that I’ve lived and loved, connecting them. It adds a shared myth to a place that definitely needs one; and it is now facing the first signs of neglect. I know there are bigger problems in Brighton; but I also think this is something worth protecting and keeping.

 

 

 

Immediatism

Recently, a few people have urged me to read Hakim Bey’s Immediatism, and I notice that it’s listed in the index of John Higgs’ new book. The full text is online. It’s a short text, and well worth reading  (although I note here that I am aware of the serious issues around Bey).

The book looks at how we make art under capitalism. Bey takes the situationist idea of the spectacle as a starting point, looking at how all experience is inherently mediated, even if just through our sense organs, and that “for art, the intervention of Capital always signals a further degree of mediation“.

Whereas the situatoinsists left a few half-started, barely coherent strategies, Bey tries to find a solution to mediation. He acknowledges that people need to make a living, that for artists this mediation is essential for paying rent. But he suggests there should also be an ‘immediate art’, one communicated in person if possible, stripping away the barriers between us. ”

Publicly we’ll continue our work in publishing, radio, printing, music, etc., but privately we will create something else, something to be shared freely but never consumed passively, something which can be discussed openly but never understood by the agents of alienation, something with no commercial potential yet valuable beyond price, something occult yet woven completely into the fabric of our everyday lives.

One tactitc Bey suggests for this is in groups coming together, to make small gifts for each other, which should not be resold, and should even be kept secret to avoid being caught up in the nets of mediation. “Simply to meet together face-to-face is already an action against the forces which oppress us by isolation, by loneliness, by the trance of media.” This manifesto was written before facebooks, but often seems prescient.

An obvious matrix for Immediatism is the party. Thus a good meal could be an Immediatist art project, especially if everyone present cooked as well as ate. Ancient Chinese & Japanese on misty autumn days would hold odor parties, where each guest would bring a homemade incense or perfume. At linked-verse parties a faulty couplet would entail the penalty of a glass of wine. Quilting bees, tableaux vivants, exquisite corpses, rituals of conviviality… live music & dance

There’s a lovely pragmatism to this, running counter to the absolute stance of the situationists, which they failed to live up to at every opportunity. Bey looks at the problems the group might face, such as ‘busyness’. Time is an even more previous resource now, when we have so many things we should be doing, assisted by apps and notifications, while social media has become ubiquitous, insinuating itself into all areas of life. We have headspace meditations, fitness tracking apps, and language learning through duolingo, which makes language-learning so efficient you don’t need to speak to anyone. Now, when people get proficient at a hobby, there’s soon someone suggesting they open an Etsy shop.

I love the energy of these essays; and the reminder that, above all else, we need to meet in person. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about as it becomes harder to hold events in Brighton. Venues are closing, and those that remain charge high fees, or require a busy bar to underwrite the use of the space. Finding ways to meet with people offline becomes both more difficult and more important.

A Walk Across the Downs

In the run-up to the Cerne-to-CERN pilgrimage, a tarot deck was compiled: each pilgrim had to create an image for the deck to represent themselves. My card was The Walker, because of the importance walking has to me. But, as we were reminded by the Book of Synchronicity during the pilgrimage: “More deeds and fewer words”. Despite being The Walker, I’ve not done all that much walking recently.

So, I’ve started wearing my fitbit and feeding it 10,000 steps a day. While the benefits of fitness trackers are debated, they’re good for establishing a basic threshold.

And I decided to do a bit of proper hiking last week. I got up early on Thursday morning and took the train to Amberley to join the South Downs Way. I was on the trail by 7:20am, possibly earlier than I needed to be.

Given I was on my local trail, and one I’d walked before, I was very casual about setting out – no hat, no suncream, only a little water. I didn’t remember the first bit of the trail, and I was nervous about finding my way – I had no map or guidebook for the day’s first section. But every trail has a grammar to their signposts. Some, like the Limestone Way are poorly marked, but the SDW has  regular signs, and it’s easy to tell if you’re straying – particularly with a quick check on google maps (yup, all the art’s going out of hiking).

It was good to be in the countryside. From the field beside me a flock of songbirds noisily took to the air, and I wish I’d installed that Shazam-for-birds app. It was almost an hour before I encountered anyone, a woman walking seven dogs. She was grateful for the weather being better than the day before, so that  she wouldn’t have to dry all the animals. I said I thought the job would be better than being in an office, even on a rainy day. She’d had such a job for twenty years, she told me, and became a dog-walker after being made redundant. It didn’t look like a bad life.

I stopped for a first break (and coffee) after almost exactly an hour, having eased the Fitbit past 10,000 steps. There aren’t many great places to sit on the South Downs Way, but I found a wooden fence bar and sat there – it looked sturdy enough. About to start eating, I shifted and found myself on my back, looking at the sky. The fence was less robust than I’d thought. I fixed it up, then found somewhere better to sit.

I took the second section slower, but a mere 8,000 more steps took me to Chanctonbury Ring, and it would have been a shame not to stop there. Immediately after that, I could see the i360, meaning that just a couple of hours into the walk, it felt like I was almost home.

The third section was the longest, from Chanctonbury Ring to the Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. To get there I had to cross the Adur Valley and the A283. It’s a somewhat depressing section, as the west side of the valley goes through a large pig farm. The sight of so many doomed animals makes the atrocity of the meat industry feel very present, in a way that the cows and sheep I saw earlier hadn’t. I’d been reading about another environmental obscenity the day before, the Apple Airpod, and dark thoughts gathered with the rainclouds.

I listened to some music as I walked across the Adur valley, just ahead of the incoming rain showers – Nick  Cave’s Skeleton Tree, since the first song mentions the River Adur. I remembered once being told about a concept in Basque mythology, Adur, described to me as how everything that has a name exists.

Whenever I pass people and I’m listening to headphones, I take one of the ears out so I can say hello. It seems unfriendly to be walking past people and not being present in their environment. Maybe it’s silly, but I always felt annoyed when mountain bikers would roar past me on the South Downs Way, listening to music and ignoring other people.

Beeding Hill is a slog. I rushed up on my first time walking the Way, desperate to get it over with. A mile from the top is the Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel; I arrived there at noon and stopped for lunch in the cafe. Another forty minutes after lunch took me to Devil’s Dyke. It was only early, but I couldn’t be bothered with the trudge down to Hove, so called an Uber just before half one. The 18 miles had taken just over six hours, much faster than I should have walked.

But it was good to get out on the Downs again, to remind myself how much I enjoy walking. More, soon.

Walking and magic: Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice

There are many examples of walking as a spiritual practise, but relatively few of walking as a magical act. One example comes from the film director Werner Herzog, whose text, Of Walking in Ice, is a remarkable little book. I first heard of it from Warren Ellis.

“it’s the story of Werner Herzog’s walk from Munich to Paris to visit a dying friend — on the magical belief that if he walked there, the friend would not die. That’s six hundred miles. It’s kind of heartbreaking, in its way. And it’s the dead of winter, so Herzog is walking face-first into horizontal snowstorms for a lot of it. But it’s also very beautiful”

Herzog travelled through the bitterness of winter, in November and December 1974, because he felt German cinema could not manage without the critic Lotte Eisner.  Ellis describes it as “weirdly life-affirming, even as he treads through the dead world towards a deathbed”. Herzog is ill-prepared, and forced to break into holiday homes for shelter. Strange little narratives intrude upon the text, sometimes dreams, sometimes flights of fancy. The trudge of hiking is summoned almost as well as it is in the walking classic, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

There are issues with the book. Some people will consider Herzog as cheating when he accepts lifts – but then the rules of walking are very much set by oneself. There’s also a slightly strange manner in which Eisner’s sickness becomes a reason for Herzog’s quest, while not informing it very much. Her illness turns into his story, something that he has power over.

My edition of the book was missing what I consider the ending of the story. Herzog reached Eisner, and she survived her illness, going on to live until 1983. I can’t find a reference for it, but the story I was heard was that Eisner grew tired of life and asked to be released from the magic. Apparently, some editions include the valedictory speech where Herzog performed this mercy: “Lotte Eisner, we want you with us even when you are a hundred years old, but I herewith release you from this terrible incantation. You are now allowed to die. I say that without any frivolity, with deep respect for death, which is the only thing we can be sure of.

As Geoff Nicholson points out in The Lost Art of Walking, “Walking in order to keep somebody alive, may be eccentric in the extreme, but if it works, then maybe there’s nothing eccentric about it whatsoever

Travellers Tales: First Event

Two weeks ago, I hosted the first of what I hope will become a regular event, Travellers Tales. The Sunday evening event is an opportunity for people to talk about all forms of travel, from holidays to business trips, from tours to kidnappings.

I was lucky enough to have three excellent speakers for the launch. Melita Dennett spoke about her visit to Hitler’s holiday camp; then Naomi Foyle, spoke about a trip made to Iraq to perform poetry. Finally, Sooxanne spoke about travelling to Pripyat, the town near to Chernobyl.

I wanted to hold this event as I felt that travel stories aren’t well served by Facebook posts and online photo albums. Giving someone fifteen minutes to talk about their trip allows them to explore it in a deeper way than social media or one-to-one talks allow. I’d had conversations with all three speakers about their trips, but still leaned new things in this format. It gave the stories space to breathe.

Our first event was held at the Hotel Pelirocco. Not having the talks lit up on a stage also worked well, making things more intimate and friendly. I have some amazing speakers lined up for the next event, which will be announced as soon as I’ve sorted out the date and venue.

Thanks to Kate Shields for the photos!

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

During my post-easter downtime, I’ve been reading Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. This history looks, not at Marvel’s stories and characters, but the personalities and corporate politics behind them. The shameful treatment of Kirby and Ditko is a significant part of this narrative, but what fascinated me was how the corporate politics drove the stories I remember from childhood.

I first got into the comics with Secret Wars II – a massive cross-over story drawing in most of the Marvel Universe. Many of the issues started with recaps, explaining, say, why Mr Fantastic’s arm was broken, or why Tony Stark was a drunk. It was a strange and confusing introduction to the continuity of the US comic books. The original Secret Wars series had emerged from a toy-line, which needed some comic books to promote it. The resulting rise in sales was irresistible, so the sequel followed, drawing in even more books.

Growing up, I was in love with the melodrama and florid prose of comic books. Take, for example, the captions from Bruce Banner’s transformation into the Hulk: “The world seems to stand still, trembling on the brink of infinity as his ear-splitting scream fills the air”. I loved the authorial intrusions and captions – the more naturalistic style popularised by Alan Moore’s Watchmen, among others is more mature, but misses something of the energy I loved.

When I was 10 years old, I didn’t think much about the junk bonds and corporate raiders that drove the Marvel universe. During the over-heated speculator boom of the 90s, this became more obvious, with reboots, collector’s #1 issues, special covers and character deaths all distorting the storytelling. Marketing consultants led the plots, trying to ensure the stock-holders received the returns they demanded. The special issues with expensive covers would spike the sales for a month, and then they would fall lower than before. Marvel actively turned away from the children’s market in favour of speculators. By the time Howe’s book was published, the average reader was in their 30s.

Despite its shoddy history, the Marvel universe is an amazing artefact. As the book describes it, “Over the course of a half century, Marvel’s epic universe would become the most elaborate fictional narrative in history and serve as a modern American mythology for millions of readers.”

Storylines started to refer to each other early on, beginning with Marvel Mystery Comics #7, where Namor is warned that the Human Torch is after him. The stories seemed more real through being set in New York City rather than, as in DC, fictional cities like Metropolis and Gotham. In addition, Marvel’s characters seemed more textured than the archetypal DC heroes. The human flaws made them seem legendary than the ‘distinguished competition’s’ characters.

The continuity of both DC and Marvel has become incredibly complex, with alternate realities and timelines interacting, along with shock ‘retro-active continuities’ revealing new interpretations of well-known events. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken further copies of the characters, tweaking the legends for a new audience (how many times has Spider-man’s original appeared on the cinema screen now?).

But there’s something magical about the legends that remain – the Hulk’s rage, the arrogance of arm’s dealer Tony Stark, Spider-man’s struggle for self-discovery. And the stories continue: “Multiple manifestations of Captain America and Spider-man and the X-men float in elastic realities, passed from one temporary custodian to the next, and their heroic journeys are, forever, denied an end”.

The Brighton Game

There are a lot of things I’ve missed in Brighton through laziness, shyness or just not knowing how to say “yes, and!” to opportunities: magazines I should have tried writing for, famous people I never met, urbex adventures, the Church of the Subgenius etc… But the thing I most regret is never playing The Brighton Game.

The Brighton Game was a weird mix of treasure hunt and I-spy book. When you joined, you were sent a catalogue of missions. These ranged from simple (“gamble £5 on the pier”) to difficult (“be photographed in the mayor’s chain”) to the dubious (“barbecue a seagull”). You wrote in to the game-master with proof of any tasks that you’d completed and every six weeks you were sent a newsletter containing the latest scores, other player’s responses and new missions.

The game apparently started in 1991, and a lot of Brighton’s weirdness in the 90s can be traced back to it. Playing wasn’t cheap but, really, I should have found the money. I don’t know exactly the details of how it ended but I know that it wasn’t good, involving a viking burial near Saltdean that got the authorities involved. The players and the organisers kept a low profile after that. You occasionally find traces of the game – I saw an update letter for sale in a junk shop; and someone once showed me the rulebook, but said it was too precious for me to take it away to photocopy.

I am sad I never got to play The Brighton Game. But now I have the the tools and technical skill to build something similar for myself online. So, I present: Keep Brighton Weird. It’s a web version of the what I imagine the game is like, with some basic ideas inspired by articles I’ve read about San Francisco’s SFZero. It’s currently in alpha (ie it’s playable but  there may be bugs and things that need fixing). I also need to write many more missions, so let me know if you have any suggestions. The name Keep Brighton Weird was inspired by the Keep Portland/Austin Weird campaigns (I wrote about the Keep Brighton Weird slogan back in 2015).

And, if anyone reading this knows where I can get hold of any original mission catalogues, I’d love to include those in the game. But I’ll probably miss out using the challenges that caused so much trouble first time around.

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 of 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)

Watership Down

Others