A Derbyshire wedding

I spent last weekend in Derbyshire, at a family wedding. It was a lovely day. Rain threatened on the day itself, with a shower as the bride reached the bottom of the hill near the church. The problem was solved by the car driving slowly until the shower passed, and the weather was good for the rest of the day.


I loved the marquee and the table decorations:


The wedding was also a chance for me to see my new nephew, pictured below with my brother-in-law:

It was a great weekend. Congratulations to Julie and Andy.

How Stewart Lee escaped his certain fate

I bought Stewart Lee's book, How I Escaped My Certain Fate, to help myself through a hangover last weekend. I wasn't sure how interesting it would be to read transcripts of three shows that I'd already seen, but the book includes some massive footnotes discussing the routines and Lee's life, all of which proved fascinating. 

Stewart Lee interests me since he is someone who obviously cares about his craft. He talks in detail about his work, and how it relates to the comedians he loves, many of whom I'd not heard of before I read references to them in Lee's interviews. Lee also has some fantastic set-pieces, my favourite being his attack on Richard Littlejohn for Littlejohn's disgraceful comments on the Ipswich murders 

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are when Lee talks about his career and its current status. Inspired by Daniel Kitson, Lee has deliberately aimed for a smaller audience of people who love his work. He's a good example of someone with 1000 true fans

A few favourite quotes from the book:

"…my teenage comedy hero John Hegley told me you only need a few thousand fans. And if they all give you ten pounds a year, you're away. And I thought about all the musicians I like – the folk singers and free jazzers and alternative country cowpokes and persistent punk veterans who all hang on in there, on small labels, selling self-released CDs for cash out of suitcases after gigs and operating within viable margins, tour, rest, tour, rest and sell some CDs. They survive" [p31]

"I am arrogant, I admit, but when I say things like this onstage I have chosen to be arrogant for comic effect and hope, in part, that the comments reflect badly on me, creating a distancing effect between me and the audience. I hope they admire the comedy, but I'd rather they didn't enjoy the show just because they liked me as a person. It seems cheap." [p68]

"For the middle part of my thirties I'd been barely earning a living. I was like a punch-drunk prizefighter with no other viable skills who thought there might still be a battle to be won. And I realised that stand-up was just one man on a stage in the room. And so stand-up was infinite. And I had been a fool to doubt it." [p39] 

I like that last quote because it reminds me of something Harvey Pekar said about comic books, which is often quoted by Warren Ellis: "Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures."

Miscellany: The Iraq War, poetry and Hank The Angry Dwarf

  1. The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize is having something of a Hank the Angry Dwarf moment, with supposedly 'organised' voting boosting some of the entries (including my friend Justine Kilkerr's excellent novel, Advice for Strays). This has resulted in a 'recount', with a further vote to pick between 'promoted' and 'unpromoted' shortlists. It seems strange to see such controversy at this stage in the web's life. How can you exclude new members from a forum without turning it into a clique? And why would you want to, since some of these new people may stay around? I liked Justine's comment on the recount and will be fascinated to see how this plays out (particularly since the first shortlist broke no explicit rules). I'm very glad I don't have to make the decisions here.
  2. James Bridle (whose excellent dConstruct talk I discussed here) has posted about his Iraq War historiography, a 12 volume book containing all the versions of Wikipedia's article on the Iraq War. The talk and slides are also online.
  3. My Friends In the Internet (via Bea Devile): "The Internet is a real place. There are real people on it and in it."
  4. Speed Dating Four Poetry Pamphlets is an interesting review of some poetry books, including Ellen de Vries' pamphlet Girl in the Air. I find the idea of objective poetry reviews seductive, and am tempted to add up the cost-per-poem of some of my favourites. I like to think of Ellen as reassuringly expensive, the Waitrose of the poetry world.
  5. Iain Sinclair on Marine Court in St Leonards which he describes as "one of the glories of the south coast". I used to work for an IT company in this building, and a friend lived in the residential part. A small group of us held a champagne breakfast one morning on the balcony, with a beautiful view of the ocean. Sinclair's novel, Dining on Stones, features some scenes set in St. Leonards around the time I was there, and I recognised some of the passers-by he described.
  6. I feel appropriately chided by Matt Sheret's post Beyond 'Peak Culture', as I've been guilty of the same promotion of 'Austerity Culture'. His counter-argument has set me questioning myself.
  7. The Brighton Life Drawing Sessions have some incredible plans for White Night. I've also heard that the clowns I saw on Friday will be returning. It's already starting to look like White Night 2010 will be amazing:
  8. WhiteNight_30thOct

The Weekend Just Gone Part 2: Clowns

On Saturday evening I arranged to meet a friend at Brighton's Phoenix Gallery for Wall Into Pieces"a large scale art event featuring music, performance, collaborative art and the creation and production of a magazine in real time." The night featured some amazing performance art but I was most impressed by the clowns.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I'm fascinated by clowns. I was waiting for my friend to arrive when a group of blood-soaked clowns came outside for a cigarette. One of these looked very similar to Honour Mission, but these clowns spoke only a gibberish form of Spanish. I was soon caught up in their group.


Traditionally, clowning is about testing social limits and transgressing boundaries. This was the first time I'd been close to this sort of clown and it was fascinating (even if it was sometimes a little too close to my clown novel at points). The clowns pinched drinks and forced people to play cards with them, complaining when the civilians broke the rules. They offered people used chewing gum, or bought them drinks. At one point my friend and I were offered a purse; we had no idea whose it was. It was a fun, chaotic experience, one I really enjoyed.

Let sleeping clowns lie:

Me and a clown:

According to this clown, the drawing on the left is a picture of me:

Clowns playing cards:


Back home, I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Looking in the mirror, I saw a huge lipstick kiss on my forehead left by one of the clowns.

The Weekend Just Gone Part 1: dConstruct


I had an amazing weekend and wanted to blog some of my adventures. First up was dConstruct 2010. On Friday, I volunteered for dConstruct for the second time. The conference has a fantastic atmosphere and helping out is great fun. The mood on the reception desks is good, there is a team of fascinating people, and the registrats were all friendly and patient.

In return for helping out, volunteers are able to sit in on some of the presentations. I watched John Gruber, Hannah Donovan, James Bridle and Tom Coates.

John Gruber spoke on The Auteur Theory of Design. He underlined the importance of working out who had the ultimate say in a project. Gruber said it was vital to ensure that the person in charge was an expert and could distinguish between the results, otherwise their opinions were little more than guesses. I'm not sure how well the auteur model applies to web projects overall, but I can see the importance of working out who has Final Cut.

James Bridle's talk was fascinating, featuring the death of Geocities, the library of Alexandria and a 12 volume publication containing the complete history of wikipedia's Gulf War article – the photos of this are impressive. Bridle introduced me to the sport of wiki-racing, which involves finding the fastest route between two articles: "Human knowledge as game space". One idea I took away from this was that of cities as wikis, with multiple collaborators and a history.

My favourite talk of the day was from Hannah Donovan, Jam Session: What Improvisation Can Teach us About Design. This started with an improvised performance by three musicians and went on to discuss how musical improvisation works. Donovan suggested that improvisation had fewer inhibitions and was more expressive. She looked at what is needed for successful improvisation (ie technical skill, rules, communication and expression) and discussed 4Chan and twitter as improvisations. 

Of all the talks, Donovan's had the most relevance to me, particularly in relation to the Not for the Faint-Hearted sessions. When I next speak to Ellen, my co-host, I want to talk about introducing a collaborative/improvisational exercise to the next session.

dConstruct 2010 was a fantastic event. I've been following the responses online and am looking forward to hearing the podcasts of the sessions I missed. Thank you to Sophie and clearleft for inviting me to volunteer.