Daniel Hannan and Albert Speer

I’m currently putting together a new zine about Brexit and hiking, this time focussing on Daniel Hannan. It includes an account of a hike taken by Chris Parkinson and I. A weird moment on this hike got us thinking about the strange link between Daniel Hannan and Albert Speer.

Speer was Hitler’s architect and, later, the Minister of Armaments for the Third Reich. He stood trial at Nuremberg and was spared a death sentence after persuading the court that he had no knowledge of the Final Solution. So, one link between the two is that they were both part of racist movements but claimed to have no involvement with the racist bits. (Speer went to great effort to argue that he had not been present for Himmler’s speech at the 1943 Posen conference. Hannan went as far as writing an entire book on Brexit that doesn’t mention immigration to provide an alibi for his involvement in the leave campaign.)

The main link between the two is imaginary walks. Hannan is famous for faking a hike in the English countryside. He shared a photograph on social media of a walk near his home, which turned out to have been taken in Wales twenty years before. Speer devoted eleven years of his life to an imaginary journey.

In October 1946, Speer was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Long term confinement places a strain on mental health and, in the ninth year of his sentence, Speer decided on a project to keep himself sane. He started out by measuring the 270 meter distance around the prison garden, which he was allowed to stroll each day. He then began to walk 7km a day, mapping the walk onto the journey from his cell to Heidelberg, a distance of 620 kilometres. He used the prison library to provide background and research for the route. Speer reached Heidelberg on the day of his 50th birthday.

At this point, Speer continued, embarking on what Merlin Coverley referred to as “surely the longest, most sustained and most sophisticated imaginary walk ever undertaken”. Speer wanted to see how far he could walk around the world. The route was problematic, since the former Nazi did not want to pass through communist countries and he spent some time planning routes with Rudolph Hess. Speer ordered guidebooks and maps to support his obsession, and even describes what he might see in places he arrives – his diary mentions a demonstration in Peking on July 13th 1959. According to wikipedia, “He… passed through Asia by a southern route before entering Siberia, then crossed the Bering Strait and continued southwards”. Speer wrote “I would presumably be the first Central European to reach America on foot”.

Speer was released in 1966, after over a decade of walking. He had travelled over 30,000 kilometres and, the night before release, sent a telegram to a friend: “Please pick me up thirty-five kilometres south of Guadalajara, Mexico”. Sadly, the route chosen means Speer never reached Hampshire, the site of Hannan’s walk; although Speer did visit England several times after release, dying in London in 1991.

(The connection often made between the Leave campaign and racism has been rebutted in detail by Hannan, notably in an article written on the first anniversary of the vote)

Walkerpunk Zine released

I’m very excited that I released a zine this week. It’s called Thatcher in the Rye (the pun is from @JonathanDean_) and tells a story about a hike I took on imitation of Theresa May’s fateful trip to Wales in 2017. I’ve been thinking about hiking and Brexit for a while, and this is the first of a series of pamphlets on the subject.

Photo by @justinpickard

The first edition is just 23 copies, but I might do another run if people are interested. I’m currently working on a second instalment, which will be about Daniel Hannan, and a walk Chris Parkinson and I took in Hampshire – a walk that turned out far stranger than expected.

I’m terrible at actually getting things into the world, so this is a great achievement. I have too many finished projects that have only been read by one or two people. The zine is not perfect – the images are pretty much illegible, but that can be fixed in the second edition. I’m also not sure what people are going to make of the content, which deals with contentious issues, taking a view different to a lot of people I know.

But I think it is good getting projects into the wild. Committing to releasing something changes the course of the work. And there is a significant amount of work to be done after getting a clean draft of the text. This is only a small thing, but positive step.

Sprawling Projects

One of the reasons I’m obsessed with the film Synecdoche is the horror of watching Caden Coutard’s project spin out of control. There’s that moment in the trailer, where the cast face him and someone asks: “When are we gonna get an audience in here? It’s been seventeen years.”

So many of the things I’ve worked on have spun out of my control – on a smaller scale than in Synecdoche, but still out of control. The book on curry feels like it exploded all over my hard drive and bookshelves. I have reams of notes, but no clear single thread. I’m not even sure where to start with it now. Even things like the spoken word show, which received such positive response, have stalled.

I’m currently working on a project about hiking and Brexit (I’ll return to curry eventually). This  emerged from a talk I gave in October, as part of the Indelicates album launch. I’ve been working on that same subject much of the time since then. And it’s sprawling. I’ve done my best to keep it under control, with Scrivener saving me from losing track of the notes.

I think the only thing that will keep this under control is getting things out into the world. One of my aims for 2018 was to produce something every month. I managed this for the first three month. My April project, a zine about hiking and Theresa May is part of the hiking/Brexit project. It won’t emerge until May, but the second part should also turn up the same month. I have several trips booked during the summer, which form part of the research. The difficult thing is going to be moving forwards despite all the different threads in play.

I think it’s worth doing, and hopefully I’ll also learn enough about managing these epic projects that I can then work backwards and fix the other ones.

Amorphous Albion by Ben Graham

Last week, I read Ben Graham’s novel Amorphous Albion. The book is linked into the ongoing Discordian Revival in the UK, which Ben talked about in a recent interview with Historia Discordia. This revival links in with a lot of things I’ve loved for years including British comics, the KLF, and Ken Campbell. Ben has used this rich stew as the basis for an adventure story about the battle between order and chaos.

The book is written in a fast-paced pulpy style which reminded me of Michael Moorcock. But it’s also a richer text, with a dense network of associations. I picked up on a lot of them, but I had to pop online to check a few things, such as the Jimmy Cauty image of Stonehenge. I knew I’d love Amorphous Albion from the first page, which includes the line “We came back to earth with all the grace of a floundering car-park”. Ben is a poet, and uses this with fine effect, with some stunning use of language.

Amorphous Albion starts out on Brighton beach, with the Hove Space Program, who are devoted to the ‘exploration of inner and outer space’. Something bad has happened to the country; Ben describes how the i360 “lay on its side, half-submerged in the pebbles like a downed flying saucer”. The book heads out from Brighton on a tour of the country. It describes the fate of commuters at Three Bridges, what happened to Glastonbury, and Stonehenge overrun by military camps of Salisbury Plain. Lord Andrew Eldritch makes a cameo as the Raven King.

You don’t need to know about Robert Anton Wilson or the KLF to enjoy things like Ben’s theory on the 5th Beatle, which is sublime. But there are some lovely references, such as the way the 1992 KLF Annual becomes important to the plot; or the importance of Sheffield’s connection to Brighton. It’s also great to see mention of Wonderism.

Wonderism is the opposite of terrorism. There’s increasing terrorism in the world — to counter than, we have wonderism, which is random acts of joy…re-enchanting the world, making it seem strange and wonderful again through various artistic acts.

Sometimes I feel cynical about the Discordian Revival. There is a danger of the whole thing turning into counter-cultural cosplay – it can’t just be DJs and writers who are on the second or third act of their careers. Writers like John Higgs and Ben Graham shows there is more to it than reformed bands. There might actually be something gathering, a return of a counter-culture. “The loose collection of rebels, shirkers, outcasts and oddities generally known as the amorphous freak franchise… We’re not any kind of organised movement as such, but we know each other when we cross paths”

Ben has been working on some live performances of the book, including one at last year’s Superweird Happening. There was another one in Glasgow this weekend, and hopefully I’ll catch one in Brighton soon. (I missed the one last April to watch the Sisters of Mercy in London – very much the wrong decision).

While I’m cynical about some aspects of the Discordan revival, works like this make me authentically excited. While it does hark back to RAW and the KLF, there is enough new raw energy here to make it worth reading.

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…