Story: The Bone Wardrobe

As a book dealer, the thing I’m always looking for is The Bone Wardrobe. I have customers who would pay the cost of a small flat for this, in any condition. Copies are increasingly rare, but tend to turn up in good condition. Apparently people tend to destroy the book after reading it.

The Bone Wardrobe is a collection of short stories, written by Paul Croft, and published by Sugar River Press. Only five-hundred were privately printed, and most were destroyed in the fire that killed its author.

By reputation, The Bone Wardrobe is a machine for generating nightmares. It is a book of horror stories so bleak and terrifying that it makes Clive Barker’s Books of Blood look like Books of Ribena. It is said to produce dreams so bad that you can’t trust the next day.

Reviews occasionally appear on Goodreads but are soon taken down. They tend to focus on the effects of reading the book rather than the contents. One described the reader being unable to sit on the grass in the park because they were convinced that the blades of grass would cut them like knives. Such reviews are intended as warnings, but only fuel some people’s obsession.

A few details are known. There’s a short story called The Corn Husk King, and Jailcraft, a novella set in a city called Fibua. Versions of these sometimes appear online, but these are just badly-written creepypasta, unworthy of The Bone Wardrobe’s reputation.

I can’t see the attraction of reading a book so terrifying that readers have taken to sleeping only in locked and barricaded rooms – but then, I’ve never understood why people want to read horror at all. I think it might be an sort of mental illness. If I ever find a copy of The Bone Wardrobe, I know better than to read it, but I’ll certainly be putting it up for sale.

Psychogeography for Beginners

Later today, I’m giving a talk at Brighton’s Sunday Assemly about Psychogeography. I originally spoke on this topic there back in 2018. As part of the preparation, I wrote out this simple introduction to Psychogeography. The exercise at the start is an adaption of one in A Road of One’s Own by Robert MacFarlane.

Psychogeography is about finding new ways to explore familiar spaces. It’s a fancy name for a playing with an environment. There are various definitions, but the best way to approach it is through an example:

Take a map of the area where you live. Place a glass upside-down on the map and draw around the edge. Now, go outside with the map, and try to walk as close as you can to the edge of this circle. Make a note of the things you see, staying alert for novelty or strangeness. You could take photos, scribble notes, use voice memos, post to social media, or just remember what you see. At the end of the walk, review what you have produced.

It’s a simple task, and shouldn’t take long, depending on the scale of the map used. The important thing is trying. There is a difference between reading about something and doing it.

What you get from the experience will depend on where you live. In a city centre, you’ll be dragged away from the usual thoroughfares, and find yourself cutting through your regular lines of travel. In the countryside, paths will be sparser, and attempting anywhere near the circle’s edge will make you very aware of private land. In suburbia, the roads are unlikely to co-operate with making a circle at all, making you even more aware of how your routes are restricted.

What about the places you’re passing through? What do you see/hear/smell on this expedition? What have you not previously noticed about a familiar areas? For me, I tend to pick up on things like graffiti, the little ways people interact with places they don’t own. For other people it’s architecture, or advertisements. The important thing is being open to what the environment communicates.

You can explore different ways of documenting the experience: a set of photos or a simple social media post (“I saw this!”) through to a zine or a poem. Or, if this feels too much like homework, just look back on whatever you did to record the experience. It doesn’t need to be shared if you don’t want to.

This is a simplest example of psychogeography. If you want, you can stop reading anything else about the subject, confident you know enough to explore the idea. You can decide for yourself how to expand this. Rather than walking, you could explore an area through bus routes. If mobility means you can’t leave the house, then you can explore through Google Maps, or giving a friend instructions for the journey and asking them to report back. You could pick random routes through an area. You can find different ways to record the walks – maybe pick words that you see and write them down.

The important thing is attempt the experiment. Then you’ve done some psychogeography and, if you want, you can call yourself a psychogeographer. There’s little more to it than that.

Monthnotes: February 2023

In February, it felt like work took over my life. I do like the job, but I’m not enjoying its current form, with a limitless capacity for absorbing my energy. Weekends in February were mostly spent recovering, with some dreadful headaches. Work is also the reason why these monthnotes are so late. I enjoyed meeting up with colleagues in Manchester and Croydon, although I could have done without the long train journey.

My sister dropped off Rosie the puppy to stay while she was on holiday. It was lovely to have her to stay, but I think a dog will be too much trouble as a permanent pet. I also had my friends Naomi and Emma visit (the latter visit described on Emma’s visual diary). Emma lived in Hebden Bridge for a few years and introduced me to a few eating places I’ve not tried yet.

I walked 304,820 steps last month, an average of 10,886 a day, which is good enough. The highest total was for a day exploring woodlands with Rosie and Emma. I’ve not been particularly healthy this month. My scales have been broken and I’m in no particular hurry to find out what they have to say.

My writing was also underwhelming in February. I ended up dropping my usual daily writing towards the end of the month as work swamped me. Rosy had a look at my next South Downs Way pamphlet, and pointed out some huge flaws. This sets me a little behind, but I hope to pick things up in a few week’s time. I also received a single-line rejection for a long story, four months after sending it out. Submitting stories is relentlessly unrewarding, and I’ve had enough of it.

I did make a recording of a new story, A Slice of Heaven on Earth. It’s about how much the Devil loves fruitcake.

I didn’t read a great deal this month. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow was very readable and full of 90s gaming nostalgia. The plot was predictable and emotionally manipulative – but it was a good book to get lost in. I re-read House of Leaves with Katharine, and enjoyed the experience of sharing the book, even at a distance. I also finished Nice House on the Lake, which didn’t quite live up to its early promise.

The best book of the month was Paul LaFarge’s The Night Ocean, which was recommended by Tom. It starts out as a novel about a queer HP Lovecraft, and then becomes something even more wonderful. The book does not shy away from Lovecraft’s faults, but still manages an empathic portrayal. There are also appearances from William Burroughs and some wonderful jokes about fandom. A beautiful book about long, sad lives.

I also watched very few TV shows or movies this month (I’m definitely picking up a theme here). I tried a Shudder description but, while I was excited about the idea of watching some of the films, in practise I couldn’t get into them. Time loop movie Meet Cute was too frustrating to finish, even as part of my project on time loop movies – although I might try again in a month or two. I did watch all of Happy Valley, which was dark but contained some great footage of the Calder Valley.

I’m continuing to listen to new music, and the Spotify algorithm appears to have responded well to that. I’m also finding good tunes on the Misfits 2.0 and Our Generation playlists, although neither are really age-appropriate.

The stress of work is giving me some strange dreams, including one where someone was so angry with me that they threatened to break every bone in my body, in alphabetical order.

Re-reading the 90s: House of Leaves

I’m re-reading some of the books I loved in the 90s to see what I make of them now. House of Leaves only qualifies on a technicality, since it was originally published in 2000. However, there was an earlier hypertext version ontline. This post contains spoilers.

What I Remember

House of Leaves is an impressive-looking book – partly for its size, and partly for the typographical tricks it uses. It’s one of the scariest books I’ve read, but in places reading it felt like a trudge.

The book covers multiple storylines. There is the account of Johnny Truant, who discovers a set of notes made by a blind academic about a documentary that does not exist. Then there is the story of the documentary, about a photojournalist with a problem – the inside of his house seems to be expanding. I clearly remember scenes about exploring the house, and the awful scale of it. Then there are the Whalestone letters, sent between a mother and her son, which I never really placed alongside the rest of it.

House of Leaves is a postmodern classic. It’s a novel whose textual games drive the plot forward. It’s an elegant horror novel. But, in re-reading I’d like to have a clearer idea of how all the elements hung together.

What it was like

House of Leaves was as great as I remember. It infiltrated my dreams, and I’d find myself inside buildings which were larger than they ought to be. I’ve never had such awful nightmares from a book. The dark warnings about obsession with the Navidson record turned out to be true. This is a book so metafictional that it leaked into my life.

The text has mostly aged well although the scenes with Johnny Truant sometimes grate in their treatment of the female characters. Truant’s narration is one of the book’s weakest points, although it would not work without that layer of framing. Related to the issues around misogyny, it’s notable how the book’s references to Harvey Weinstein now take on a different tone.

The main text of the book works incredibly well, with its dense academic critiques of a movie that does not exist. The labyrinth of the footnotes was effective, using every typographic trick it could.

The thing I found most frustrating with House of Leaves were the texts that followed the main story. The Pelican Poems seemed indulgent, a poetic sequence originally written by Danielewski while travelling in Europe. The Whalestoe letters provide context for Johnny Truant, as well as leading to some fascinating theories about who wrote the text – but it just felt like a party that had gone on too long.

Will this book survive to become a classic? Maybe some of the references to real people will fade, but there is possibly enough to carry this book far into the future. And I can imagine a new edition, published in the 22nd century, with an additional layer of annotation, both explaining the references and making the book darker.

I read House of Leaves alongside my friend Katharine – we have a little 90’s book club between the two of us. It was great to have her responses as a newcomer. There’s a joy to sharing a book with someone else that, these days, is all too often missing. House of Leaves promotes such interactions. In the same way that Truant found himself connecting to people to investigate the original text, Danielewski’s novel pushes people into investigating it – through discussions online, or Katharine’s colleague recognising the book when she had it at work and stopping to talk about it.

I can imagine reading House of Leaves again in the 2030’s, and getting just as rich an experience from it.

Story: A Slice of Heaven on Earth (audio)

I’ve recorded a new story that I wrote last month, A Slice of Heaven on Earth. It’s part of my ongoing series of South Downs Way stories, and is about how the Devil loves parties at village halls.

I’m currently working on two new South Downs Way pamphlets for this year: Once Upon a Time in Brighton and Hove, and Stories of Imaginary Sussex Folklore. This piece won’t appear in either of those, but will probably emerge in the pamphlet I’m working on for 2024. This is a long project…

Monthnotes: January 2023

January has been an unobtrusive month, as shown by how few photographs I’ve taken. I started the new year with my friend Lizi and an appalling migraine. I visited Blackpool for a weekend with Muffy in between strikes, and went to the Midlands for my Dad’s birthday. Much of the remaining time was spent hibernating. Hebden Bridge weather is as intense as I was promised, with more snow making the pavements treacherous for a week.

My work project continues to be tough. I can feel myself responding to the stress, particularly with weird dreams and disrupted sleep patterns. But this is the job I want to be doing, and I’m OK with where things are for the moment. Enduring a stressful project seems a little harder with remote working and not having all those friendly, informal interactions with colleagues. I should have had a visit to London at the end of the month to meet my team in person, but that was cancelled due to train strikes.

I walked about 288,000 steps last month, an average of 9,287 a day. My Fitbit lost a few day’s totals, which is frustrating. My highest count was for a hike with some colleagues from the Manchester branch of my company. I also had a decent hike with Commoner’s Choir the day after their Hebden Bridge gig – that walk should be featured on one of Clare Balding’s Ramblings show in February. I’ve not been eating particularly healthily, although things are improving. I put on a couple of pounds, which I am going to try and remove in the next couple of months.

I’ve done very little decent writing this month – again, due to work. I did write a couple of pieces for the Wednesday Writers, which I was fairly happy with. I need to get both of them posted online, I think. I’m waiting on a review of the next South Downs Way volume, and working away at another one, due for release in the summer.

I’ve got my reading under a little more control recently, including catching up on a lot of zines (Hwaet continues to be essential reading). I enjoyed the McSweeny’s retrospective, which contained a great deal of detail about publishing. Girlfriend in a Coma was an interesting re-read, although I didn’t like it so much this time round. I also caught up on The Constant Gardener, a post-Cold War Le Carre book that I’d missed at the time. Joe Hill’s short story Pop Art (from his collection 20th Century Ghosts) was sad and well written, using a weird concept, (a child is friends with an inflatable boy) and taking it very seriously.

The TV highlight this month was Atlanta, which concluded with another weird and uncompromising season – one of the best shows I’ve seen in some time. I also finished Andor, which was well made, but I don’t really see the point in ‘Star Wars for adults’. I watched the first episode of The Last of Us, and found it too faithful to the video game – like a very expensive Twitch stream. I might have watched more, but NowTV’s ads are increasingly intrusive. It amazes me that paying to see a TV show gives a worse experience than pirating it. I’ve also been watching The Rig as background. Very sad to hear that Netflix cancelled 1899 – although I would still have watched the first season if I’d known what its fate would be.

I watched several films over the month. The most inventive was One Cut of the Dead, which used its low budget for a brilliant concept. Smile and Knives Out were slick without quite grabbing me. I enjoyed Glorious for its high-concept plot about a haunted glory-hole – and making a spirited attempt at living up to that. Bodies Bodies Bodies was fantastic, telling its story about murder in a mansion flawlessly. I also tried watching The Lighthouse which seems like a good film, but did not work for me.

One of my aims for 2023 is to listen to more new music, rather than the same 90s hits I’ve been playing for years. I’ve managed to find some great new music, notably- Ethel Caine’s Preacher’s Daughter album. Spotify has played several songs by Samia, but it was only when the album Honey emerged I realised these songs came from the same artist. I’ve also enjoyed tracks by Vot and Lizzie McAlpine; a new Princess Superstar record; and Caroline Rose’s haunting single Miami. Not bad for the first month.

My musical explorations were helped by new chart podcast Pop Could Never Save Us. Episode 1 looked at a recent UK top 5 and it turned out to be pretty good. The hosts provide interesting context – I now know how the SP1200 sampler led to the Wu-Tang production style. Escapism was a catchy and clever number one, and Messy in Heaven and the new SZA single were also worth listening to. Episode 2 featured a review of a 1959 chart, which included a digression into skiffle’s origins. I’m hoping this makes a good replacement for The Content Mines, which ended its regular run this month. I’m going to miss it.

As work has taken over my life, I’ve had less focus on British politics – probably a good thing. The little I have seen supports the feeling that Britain is falling apart through underinvestment and corruption. It just doesn’t feel like there’s much hope, and I can’t see Labour offering enough compelling reasons for people to vote against the government. There’s none of the rising optimism I remember from New Labour’s ascendency, no feeling that things can get better.

Writing up these notes, I can see how much work has loomed over January. Things are improving, but if I have another month like this then I am going to look at moving to another project.

Re-reading the 90s: Girlfriend in a Coma

I’m re-reading some of the books I loved in the 90s to see what I make of them now. First up: Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland. This post contains spoilers.

What I Remember

I enjoyed reading this book, but my recollection is short on details. I know there were a group of friends in the 80s, one of whom becomes the titular girlfriend in a coma. Years later, she has revived and the world has ended, with the group of friends somehow untouched. They live on in an empty world, talking about their lives. A couple become obsessed with jewels and drugs. There are some powerful reflective passages, where Coupland speaks through his characters about ageing and youth.

The main thing I remember about this book is being entranced by it, even if the details have all slipped away. I once lent it to a lover, who returned it with her dismissive review that it was “gash”.

I was looking forward to re-reading it, but not sure whether I would find it entertaining or superficial.

What it was like

Girlfriend in a Coma is a book filled with wise and startling observations, and the story often feels like it’s only there to hang these observations on. It’s also a profoundly weird book, with several strange elements co-existing – Jared’s ghost, the coma, and the end of the world.

The book divides into three sections, with the first part following the characters from adolescence through to Karen’s return from the coma. I found this part of the book wearing, often too quirky, and didn’t feel as if I knew the characters; but when Karen awoke from the coma I found myself moved so I guess something was working.

Just as the book settles into Karen’s return, it takes another abrupt lurch, with the end of the world arriving. It transpires that Karen’s coma was because she had somehow glimpsed the coming apocalypse. People begin falling asleep and dying around the world, and Karen and her friends are the only people untouched.

Coupland’s first novel was 1991’s Generation X. He’d been given an advance to write a handbook about GenX, but instead wrote a novel (which the publisher rejected). Traces of that handbook remain in Generation X as the box-out definitions throughout the book. I feel like Girlfriend in a Coma is similar, in that Coupland is using this novel to give us his observations about ageing and cynicism. I’d love to read a compilation of Coupland’s best sentences and paragraphs, but I’m not sure how well he works on the level of a novel.

Re-reading this, I’m not sure why I had it as one of my favourite novels. The abrupt turn to the plot comes late, and doesn’t work well. The combination of ghosts, apocalypse and the miraculous reawakening make the book feel overstuffed. A simple novel about a girl from 1979 emerging into the 90s would have been powerful enough.

Book review: United We Fnord

One of the aims of our Mycelium Parish News was to cover discordian events in the UK. I wondered what other groups were about, and re-read Brenton Clutterbuck’s United We Fnord to learn more. This book is subtitled ‘more discordian tales from the UK’ and arose from Clutterbuck’s longer Chasing Eris project, which published in 2018. United We Fnord was inspired from a Chasing Eris review by Cat Vincent. While positive about the book, Cat points out that there was more scope for discussing some of the details.

I found the two chapters on the British scene were notably lacking in the kind of in-depth description of the people and scenes that are the lifeblood of other chapters: other than his presence at the Horse Hospital fundraiser for Cosmic Trigger, Clutterbuck didn’t seem to have spent as much time simply hanging out with the people, and so the two chapters on the UK scene focus more on the history

I guess Clutterbuck didn’t want the UK section overwhelming the book, and this additional book features several people who were cut from Chasing Eris. It’s an interesting glimpse into the Discordian scene at the time of Clutterbuck’s visit – Hhe was in the country for the Horse Hospital event, ‘The Late, Great Robert Anton Wilson’ on 23rd October 2013.

The ‘Late Great Robert Anton Wilson’ event is now almost ten years ago. That gathering at the Horse Hospital was described by Clutterbuck as “a fun but unassuming night that never seemed to warn that it would explode outwards with so much power – books, plays, magazines, conferestivals and more can trace their roots back to this event”.

Being at this event introduced Clutterbuck to Jon Harris, the Money-Burning Guy. The interview with Jon shows him early in his explorations of money burning. The book also notes that Jon Harris’s first burn was on 23rd October 2007, six years to the day before the horse hospital event.

One of the most interesting discussions was with Dr Syn, who ran the Syntacalypse Generator press. There are a dizzying number of publications listed, some featuring compilations of online epherma (a ‘web scrounge’), others serious attempts to construct a new Discordian scripture. There’s a part of me that wants a clear bibliography for Discordianism, but the maybe these authorships and publishing histories should be chaotic. The Black Iron Prison book is referred to in several interviews. A Discordian bibliography is listed on wikipedia and on a Discordian fandom wiki. There is a separate list elsewhere of Syntacalypse Generator Press publications.

Clutterbuck found some of his interviewees through the forum, and there are discussions of opaque forum drama, and we see how that relates to the real world. There is also an interview with psychogeographer Morag Rose (albeit with only a brief reference to Discordianism). I also enjoyed reading about Hagbard, who got into discordianism via the ddate utility that was bundled into linux, which generated the Discordian date and led him towards the Principia Discordia.

I signed up for the forum, but things seem quiet and I am not sure if they are taking new members. There may be other Discordian groups on Facebook, but I’ve not been a member there for years. I assume that there are others out there, doing the Discordian thing of ‘sticking apart’.

(The book is currently available only on Clutterbuck’s patreon, which probably limits the opportunity to access it – although I’m not sure if you can get if by signing up for a single month)

Why I Love Mastodon (and why I won’t be running my own instance)

In December, I moved from Twitter to Mastodon. It’s a lot quieter, but the interactions feel like Twitter’s early days – friendly, more interactive, and not overwhelmed by news and ‘trending topics’. There’s a feeling people are still figuring out how this works, how best to use the medium. It’s going to be some time before I have a network as engaging as the one on twitter, but Mastodon has great potential.

(I still have the Twitter account as a way of receiving messages and contacting people, but my day-to-day posts are now written to my mastodon account)

A lot of Mastodon’s calmness comes from its design. Mastodon works more like email than a big social media site – your account is managed by a particular instance, which can interact with other instances. If an instance has poor moderation, or a large number of undesirable accounts, that entire instance can be disconnected from your own.

I like that Mastodon is a protocol rather than a platform. In the early days, Twitter had elements of a protocol, with a powerful API that allowed people to produce their own clients and websites based on it. Over time, Twitter restricted the power of the API, in order to protect its revenue. Eventually, Twitter began the transformation into a media company, privileging engaging (or enraging) posts over communication between friends. Now, all traces of openness of Twitter have gone as Musk recently closed down many third apps.

One great thing about having local instances in Mastodon is that each one can set its own local rules ,as described in a vice article. There is a server that only allows registrations at specific times, so new people can be welcomed. There is, which enforces constrained writing, with people banned from using the letter ‘e’. This is made up for by, where people play at being dolphins and are only allowed to use the letter e in messages. (Matt Webb wrote a brilliant essay on interactions between and

Local instances also means moderation can be applied locally. Hate speech can be banned completely, rather than suffering arguments with moderators about what is appropriate. If you don’t like the choices made by your local instance, you can move to another one. There’s no need to suffer anything like Instagram’s awkward (and shifting) definition of art as pornography. You can ban nazis, TERFs and trolls from the local instance.

Local instances also means that you become part of a community. I joined since a friend had decided to use it, and that saved me working out where to sign up. But I now feel a responsibility towards the instance. There are server fees to be paid, and moderation takes energy. I follow the site owner’s account to keep in touch with what’s happening.

I had thought about hosting my own mastodon instance, but I’m now aware of the work required for that. Most of all, I don’t want to take on the responsibility for moderation. Looking at the threads discussing moderation and the list of banned servers, there are some horrible people in the world. I don’t want to even have to think about the existence of paedophile mastodon instances, let alone be responsible for protecting a community from them. There was also a good essay On Running A mastodon Instance, which looked at some of the challenges (and joys) in running an instance.

For the moment, seem happy to absorb the impact of maintenance and moderation. Moderation is essential, but it is expensive and hard, as we’ve learned from the mass social media platforms. I quit Facebook in disgust at how its poor safeguarding had led to genocidal behaviour in places such as Rohingya. Mastodon makes the problems of moderation more explicit, making each community responsible for it. That is both a challenge and an opportunity.

The Mycelium Parish Magazine

The Mycelium Parish News is a zine about what happened in a particular corner of UK counter-culture during 2022. It was produced by Dan Sumption and me over the past 3-4 months, and was released just in time for Christmas. It’s 44 pages, but is just light enough that it qualifies as a letter, meaning you can order this for £2.30 including post and packing from my etsy store.

I’m really pleased with this. It includes roundups of events, podcasts, videos, books and more over the last year. There are also a couple of longer updates from Commoner’s Choir and the Church of Burn. We’ve also set up a URL-shortener to save having to type in long links for the online resources.

I had originally suggested to Dan that we work towards doing something like this for 2023, and Dan insisted we get something together for this year. I wasn’t sure but decided to give it a try. I’m glad we did – it’s exciting to see all the things our tribe has done over the year. Dan has also managed to give it a wonderful and peculiar look.

With a project like this, there will always be things that are missed out. Dan texted me this week to tell me about a massive omission. I would also have liked on particular to have much more about the Post Apocalypse School of Teeside. But that’s OK – I’ve already started collecting things to include in the 2023 edition.

I’m basically the world’s worst Discordian – I’ve already started work on the next parish magazine, due to be published in a year’s time. I think that Eris likes having some organised Discordians about to help make the others look more chaotic.