The Land of Lost Content

Earlier this week I visited a museum in the town of Craven Arms, called ”The Land of Lost Content” (that’s content as in “contented”, not media – it’s from a poem, by AE Housman). It’s basically a social history museum, displaying goods and artefacts from WW2 onwards. I’ve never been to a museum like it.

The collection is eclectic. There are clothes, toys, foodstuffs, fads and consumer goods. One picture frame includes some documents relating to the Hoover free flights fiasco. There is Ajax scouring powder; a Woolworth’s Pick’n’Mix Barbie set; a rubbery cushion that looks like a Wotsit’s packet. One mannequin sported Pantalungs, plastic clothing designed for weight loss.

It was certainly something to see years of ephemera crammed into the space (it was a little like a flea market where nothing was on sale). You could see how the developments in materials over the decades had been adopted, with plastics and brighter colours becoming commonplace. But there was also something melancholy about all things that were once aspirational and are now ridiculous.

I wondered what an alien would think if they tried to interpret our civilisation from this museum. The collections was eclectic and provocative and with such a range of items couldn’t help be be interesting.

One complaint I have about the museum was its treatment of racist artefacts. These were mostly confined to a single cabinet, and showed how casually and openly racist British society once was. While this is important, these are hurtful and offensive items. Maybe they should not have a place within the museum where they could be so easily encountered. The text beside them needed to be more condemnatory. The “innocent acceptance” of racist imagery can’t be brushed aside as the “olden days” – the BBC was screening the Black and White Minstrel show in my lifetime.

It’s strange to see things that once had meaning and significance.
Another dark artefact
A signed copy of an Enoch Powell pamphlet. Another item that needs more context.

Monthnotes: November 2021

November has involved a lot of driving. The month opened with a trip back to Blackpool where I’d left my laptop and Kindle behind at the end of October. From Blackpool I went to Halifax, where I found a flat to rent. I’ve now signed all the contracts and will be moving in on December 10th. Going to a new town is both daunting and exciting – but the latter is definitely winning out.

I also had a surprise visit to Brighton to fix a tooth – my first trip since hiking with Emma in August. I was very grateful to my dentist for seeing me at short notice; and I also got to see Rosy for the first time in months. While there, I went to La Choza after not going at all during the pandemic. Sooxanne and I received a very warm welcome and the naga salsa was as delicious as I remembered.

Other trips were to Chichester, to meet up with my friend Naomi and deliver a seminar – on Alan Moore’s Promethea, about how all art is really magic. I also went to Buxton for the Toxteth Day of the Dead. The month ended with a drive through the tailend of storm Arwen to do an Arvon course on ‘Hybrid Writing: The Beauty of Brevity’.

Walking was a total of A total of 357,416 and a paltry average total of 11,914. My maximum for a single day was 19,180. The new move offers a chance to revitalise both my walking and general exercising.

I’d resisted going to the cinema for No Time to Die the new Bond film but finally watched it on streaming. I found it surprisingly dreadful. The only thing anyone wants from Bond is a violent tourist brochure with some luxury goods product placement. This movie seemed obsessed with Bond as a character rather than an icon. Also, given Bond’s issues with drinking (not least an attempt at drink-driving in Jamaica), he needs to get himself to a meeting. Boss Level was an entertaining-but-flawed time loop movie. Brand New Cherry Flavour was an excellent mix of LA Noir and body horror although, like all Netflix dramas, it was two episodes longer than it needed.

I finished seven books this month, some of which I’d had on the go for a while. The Institute was classic Stephen King, and the end was very moving. James Stanier’s Effective Remote Work was essential reading for all remote/hybrid workers. Chief of Staff by Gavin Barwell featured extensive detail about Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations, which I found both interesting and surprising. The best book was probably A Bit of A Stretch, Chris Atkins’ account of serving time Wormwood Scrubs. Atkins shows how poor our prison system is, with little effort at rehabilitation. Given the reoffending rate, this is a mssive waste of time and resources.

I played a little of Days Gone at the start of the month, which was both frustrating and compulsive. After consideration, I realised there were more useful skills I could be developing than playing one 60+ hour game, so put a stop to that. I also dabbled with AR mobile game Pikmin Bloom. While it’s well made, it’s basically a cookie clicker/incremental game. But it’s been just interesting enough to stay on my phone, and I spend about five minutes each day giving orders to Pikmin.

I shut down Brighton Java, the meetup group I’d run for almost ten years. Sadly, I don’t think we achieved as much with the group as we could/should have done, but it was definitely worth doing, and disbanding it makes space for someone else to start a new initiative.

I’ve also been back on twitter a bit. There’s no chance of my going back on Facebook, but I’m finding it a little too isolating to be completely without social media. Sadly, that is where most people are hanging out online these days.

And look! Some of my zines are now in the library at Chichester Uni.

Mumufication

The People’s Pyramid in 2021

At some point in the 21st Century, I die. I hope it’s towards the end, but it could be tomorrow. However I feel about it, that ending is a fact.

Yesterday, I attended the Toxteth Day of the Dead, held this year in Buxton. I think the first one was in 2018, with the 2020 event cancelled due to covid. It’s a strange occasion, although I suspect it will make more sense as time passes.

When the KLF returned with Welcome to the Dark Ages in 2017, I was a little disappointed. Yes, the event itself was incredible, but the announcement that the band were becoming undertakers seemed perplexing, cryptic. I mean, I’m glad it wasn’t just a case of the band reforming (even if I did secretly want a new album of stadium house classics) but I didn’t really get it.

The plan is laid out on the Mumufication website:

The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu are building a pyramid.
The pyramid will be constructed of 34592 bricks.
Each brick in the pyramid will contain the cremated remains of a dead person.
This process is called MuMufication.

The Toxteth Day of the Dead was a great celebration. Tommy led a procession through Buxton, describing what we would see if we were in Toxteth. Some people followed us for a bit, curious about this crowd in hi-vis jackets. We sang a chorus of Lily the Pink. We followed a path through the woods, past an ice-cream van, and crossed dark moors towards a tower. It felt like the recreation of some older custom.

As I watched this year’s bricks being placed into the pyramid on a cold November night, it all made sense. The families of the beloved dead brought the bricks forward and the Bricklayer – the first Bricklayer – placed them into the pyramid. A few words were said about each person before a metal bucket was struck to mark that the job was done. It was an incredibly moving ceremony.

The story of a pyramid which might take decades to build had brought a couple of hundred people out on a cold November night. Afterwards we tramped back to the Works Kanteen for soup and talk and dancing. While there, I paid the 23 obols for my own mumufication. I’m not planning on dying any time soon – although there’s no way to be certain of what the future holds. But it feels reassuring to know, a year of so after that happens, a brick representing me will be added to the pyramid.

Iteration 19: Boss Level (2020)

On 624th March 2020, I watched Boss Level, my 19th time loop movie. I spent a while trying to decide if this was a fun movie or a terrible one. In the end, I’ve decided that it’s both.

Roy Pulver is an ex-special forces soldier who keeps reliving the day when various assassins try to kill him. As the day repeats, he gets better at surviving – just like a character in a video game. While the loop is due to a technological MacGuffin, the film uses the motifs of a video game. This can be fun, like how Guan Yin performs a flourish each time she kills Roy, announcing “I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this”, like a beat-em-up character.

On the other hand… parts of it are just nasty. A man being carjacked is described as screaming “at date rape volume”. And we have the casting of Mel Gibson, an anti-semite, racist and domestic abuser. This is particularly galling in a film with a holocaust reference, even a non-offensive one – and having Mel Gibson’s character make a joke based around racial insensitivity was also a bad look. Some minor complaints were a rather hackneyed father/son plot, and an ongoing expository voiceover.

Sometimes the script tried a little too hard to be witty, but it had some good roles for Naomi Watts and Matthile Olliver. The impressive dentistry scene made me cringe. And there were some amusing references to Taken and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film was an easy watch, and I found it more fun than Free Guy, which I actually gave up on.

As a time loop film, this was OK. There was the obligatory waiter-falling-over scene that is just a cliche. The loop was mostly there to set up the video game structure for the film.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration (in film): 5 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 30 seconds
  • Reset point: death
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect repetitions
  • Exit from the loop: the MacGuffin is reset

A recording of my talk at the Invisibles Unconvention

Back in October, I gave a short talk at the Invisibles Unconvention about the Invisibles comic. I talk about how well it predicted aspects of the present, why the book matters to people, and its importance to modern day counterculture. This leads me into discussing Hakim Bey’s idea of Immediatism, and how vital it is to have culture outside the social media giants. You can download the talk from here, or stream it below:

I’m afraid that during the talk I used the wrong pronouns for Grant Morrison, who has recently asked to be referred to as they/them. I apologise for this.

Monthnotes: October 2021

October has come quickly and passed quickly. While I’m still enjoying my rural retreat, I’ve started to miss social events, and have been making more effort to get out and about. However, this comes against the background of rising covid cases. It’s weird to take the train and see no-one wearing masks while feeling like an idiot for doing so myself. But I can’t stay isolated forever, even if it does mean an increased risk of catching the virus. These are strange, unsettling times.

I’ve been making weekly trips to the Mindera office, combining that with visits to the Speculators Writing Group – moving writing away from being a solitary experience has been great for my enthusiasm. At the start of the month, I attended the DDD technical conference in Nottingham. I’ve also made visits to Hebden Bridge, Blackpool, and a visit to Halifax to watch a talk by Ben Graham on his book about the ill-fated Krumlin Festival.

Steps were middling with no big walks (although I’ve finally worked out how to remove spurious steps while driving from the fitbit’s total, rather than having to make them up later in the day). A total of 390,874 and an average total of 12,608. My maximum for a single day was 31,715, wandering around Hebden Bridge. Still no other exercise than walking.

Succession is back again, and it’s good to have that as a regular weekly show, along with Walking Dead: World Beyond. I also watched the BBC documentaries When Nirvana Came to Britain, and Nick Broomfield’s Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie and Tupac. The Broomfield documentary was shocking. With Suge Knight in jail and time having passed, people are more willing to discuss the violence, crime and utter misogyny at the heart of Death Row Records. It’s a sad story.

I continued my exploration of Nicholas Cage movies with Prisoners of the Ghostland. Cage hits a 9/10 for performance with a unique and impressive rendition of the word ‘testicle’. The film itself was beautiful but slow, which was also a problem with Green Knight. I also re-watched Hostel, which is a more interesting film than it should be, probably deserving of a post of its own.

I played Resident Evil: Village on the PS4, but gave up near the end. It just felt too much like a video game. I couldn’t get into the Witcher 3, but towards the end of October I re-installed The Last of Us Part 2 for another playthough. That game feels a little like playing with dolls and playsets, but I enjoy the set-pieces; whereas replaying Death Stranding proved impossible because of the grind there. I’ve also been getting into Twitch streaming, mostly watching Ikeden‘s ‘Ultimate Runs’ on TLOU2, which is good to have on in the background when doing other things.

I’ve continued picking at books, finishing fewer than I’ve started. The Storyteller by Dave Grohl flirted with smugness, and just about survived. All the Marvels by Douglas Wolk was a fun project, looking at the Marvel Universe as a single consistent story, but too often felt like a blog in book form. Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends was tightly and precisely written but felt bland. The book seemed inconsequential and much less interesting than Patricia Lockwood’s recent novel. I’m very much in agreement with some of the criticism I’ve read.

I seem to have been enjoying a lot of interesting media this last month. The Content Mines has been a good weekly podcast, and I’ve been catching up with This Podcast is a Ritual. Fiq da Signifier has done an excellent pair of youtbe videos talking about why the ‘Old Kanye’ was important. I can also recommend Caw, one of the best short stories I’ve read in some time, where the world is ending because of crows. The new Lana Del Rey album has immediately become a favourite; Black Bathing Suit is a great pandemic ballad. I also love the new Helen Love song, This is My World.

The 27th Annual Invisibles Unconvention

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been involved with a small group of Invisibles fans. We formed around the 25th anniversary of this comic book, originally as a reading group. But, rather than wallow in nostalgia, we’ve ended up doing a series of artistic projects. Shyness, pandemics and location have meant I’ve not been able to take part as much as I would have liked, but it’s been fun to be involved from a distance. We’ve made video pieces, music, a zine and on October 23rd we held our event at the Hundred Years Gallery in London, The 27th Annual Invisibles Unconvention.

The event featured a display of Invisibles-inspired artefacts the group has made, along with a series of performances – Lord Fanny Craddock, Black Badge, and an Invocation of the spirit of TiNA Hibbens.

I gave a short talk about the Invisibles comic. I spoke about how the world we live in feels very much like that of the comic; how we need a counterculture more than ever; and how that needs to function offline as well as online.

My talk was the least-prepared talk I’ve ever done, but also the most successful. I really enjoyed it and listening back to it, I’m fairly happy with it. Over the next week of so, I’ll sort out one of the recordings for release.

For me, the event was not just about the show, it was about bringing people together. The day was strange and powerful and joyful, and I loved being part of it. The trains that day were a nightmare, with the line to London blocked for hours, but I’m glad I persevered all the way.

It’s been fun and inspiring to be engaged in these sort of projects, and I’ve decided to get involved more directly in whatever the group comes up with next.

Coast to Coast Day 4: Grasmere to Patterdale

We started day 4 in full waterproofs, prepared for rain.

On our walk from Grasmere, Dave spotted a red squirrel. It was very accommodating, not running away until it was sure I had a clear photograph.

Despite the ominous clouds, the weather decided against rain, so we soon removed the waterproofs again. The day was similar to the others, in that we started in a valley, climbed our way out of it, then descended into another valley.

The initial route took us up past Great Tongue to Grisedale Tarn, where we had a choice of three paths. The easiest was a gentle stroll along the valley floor to Patterdale; the other two ran along either side of the valley. The book warned against the higher one if you had any vertigo. Given my dodgy balance that was out, but the other high route promised some of the best views of the trail.

Grisedale Tarn was beautiful. A farmer was rounding up his sheep, and the valley was filled with the noise of bleats, bells, and farmer’s calls. A few people had camped at the water’s edge, and were waking to this beautiful sight.

The climb took us onto a ridge that led to the Cape, an 841 meter peak. It was a simple day’s walking, but very satisfying. I was convinced that I could see the sea from the hilltops.

`From there it was a steep walk down to Patterdale Village, and the end of our first section of the Coast-to-Coast. The weather had not been great, but we’d been lucky with the views, and the rain could have been much worse. We stopped about a quarter of the way through the trail and will be resuming in May.

Coast to Coast Day 3: Rosthwaite to Grasmere

The area around Rosthwaite has the highest level of rain in the UK, and at breakfast on day 3 it looked like we were in for a damp day. We ate in the hotel, where I made do with whatever vegan items I could find, then we set off.

Wainwright suggested walking from Rosthwaite to Patterdale in a single day, along with some optional climbs, but that seems a lot. Like most people, we were going to break the day in two, which also had the advantage of allowing us to explore Grasmere, one of Rosy’s favourite places to go on holiday.

The day’s walking began following a river before a long, slow ascent. The highest point was only about 400m, but this still felt challenging. We followed the path higher up the valley until we reached Lining Crag, where the footpath seemed to become almost vertical. We checked the map, but this was definitely the way. The climb was not quite as steep as it looked from below, but was still hard work. I looked back to see some other walkers checking the map the same as I had, sure the path couldn’t be taking that route.

At the top of the climb we found ourselves in thick cloud and, once again, wandered off-trail. We’d talked about our mistake the day before, and realised that we had jumped to a conclusion. If we’d checked the compass on our phones, it would have been obvious we were going the wrong way. We retraced our steps, and found the path again, along with another walker who confirmed we were on the right path.

(I should add here that relying on phones for wayfinding was irresponsible and possibly dangerous. For the next section of the Coast-to-Coast I will be bringing both proper maps and an analogue compass)

Given the weather, we decided against taking the high route, simply following the downhill path through the valley. We found a pathbuilder’s hut where we sheltered for lunch, and were soon joined by half a dozen other walkers. Very cosy.

Grasmere was disappointing. After a quiet day, we crossed a road and suddenly found ourselves in a packed town. I don’t understand why, when so much of the lakes are peaceful, everyone crammed themselves into one town. It also had the feel of tourist towns everywhere, with some incredibly brusque and rude restaurants. We eventually found our way to Tweedies Bar and Lodge, which had excellent food, beer and hospitality.

For our evening meal, we were less lucky – several restaurants were closed, and we needed to book for the others. We resorted to the YHA, which promised vegan pizzas – but they were out of vegan cheese. Grasmere was a definite disappointment. You can’t even get a decent view of the lake. There are two good things about the town – the excellent gingerbread and the path out.

Monthnotes: September 2021

It’s September, and time still feels like it’s passing slowly; but the summer is over, the days are getting shorter, and the outside world feels bleak. There’s the slow panic about logistics in the background to everything, which feels like the continuation of a crisis that started with the referendum. It seems like a bad winter is on the way, but nobody can do anything about it, particularly the government. Being English is exhausting. In the countryside, I feel a little insulated from this, but it’s also hard to get anywhere without petrol.

September has involved a few trips – a summer party and a client visit in Bracknell, and visits to and an office party with my employer in Leicester. I did the first four sections of the Coast to Coast. I also visited Hebden Bridge with Katharine where I drank cocktails and had my worst hangover in years. It cleared with a walk on the moors, but that was brutal, hard work.

My steps were higher than usual due to all the hiking, with an average of 15,706 and a total of 471,180. My maximum for a single day was 44,181 on the second day of the Coast-to-Coast where we managed to lose the trail. Despite all these steps, I’m not getting any fitter.

I only finished two books (although I have several books almost finished, as I’ve been picking at things). Gallows Pole by Ben Myers was an excellent historical novel set around the Calder Valley. Genesis P Orridge’s biography, Nonbinary, was interesting, but had little about the areas of his life I wanted to read about. I also read through The Debarkle, an online history of the Sad/Rabid Puppies.

I watched a few films early the month. I had a nightmare about A Quiet Place II, so watched it the next day and was mostly underwhelmed – it didn’t make a lot of sense. Mandy was an amazing movie which never compromised its vision. I’m not sure whether I liked it as such, and it ultimately relied on a woman being fridged. The Color out of Space was frustrating, not knowing if it was sci-fi or supernatural, and relied too much on lazy Lovecraft references.

I didn’t watch much TV beyond a few episodes of The Walking Dead, where I’m slowly figuring out what’s happening based on my knowledge of the comics. I’ve also been watching Midnight Mass, which is a little too obsessed with church and monologues. Inspired by my hike, I started replaying Death Stranding on hard mode, until the grind of it put me off again.

I’m feeling a little more settled at work now. The last few weeks have been spent fixing and upgrading builds for various projects, which I always find a fun challenge. Last weekend I gave a talk on JHipster for Mindera, which seemed like a lot of stress and it didn’t go as well as I would have liked. This is something I need to work on over the next few months.

Last month, I said that I wanted my writing to be more fun than video games, and that’s working out well. I’ve been working on several longer pieces and loving coming up with ideas for them. September ended with three rejections in two days which was a drag. I did have one piece published, a Drabble (a story that is exactly 100 words) called Instagram Famous.

The new issue of Bodge came out, with my page talking about an Invisibles event I am involved with at the end of the month. I also ran a Not for the Faint-Hearted writing session as a tie-in to Emma’s MA research. At the end of the month I went along to an in-person writing workshop in Leicester with the Speculators, which I really enjoyed.

I passed my probation in September, which means I’ve been able to start sorting out a mortgage. So, I guess I need to get on with finding somewhere to live.