Speaking at the Brighton Sunday Assembly on June 24th

This Sunday, June 24th, I’ll be speaking about ‘Psychogeography’ at the Brighton Sunday Assembly. The event is free and starts at 11am, at St Andrew’s Church on Waterloo Street, Hove (opposite the Southern Belle pub, formerly the Iron Duke).

The Sunday Assembly is “a worldwide network of non-religious gatherings which aims to uplift and inspire through readings, talks, silent contemplation and classic pop songs”.

There will be a food-bank collection at the main entrance for “any in-date, non-perishable food and toiletries that you can spare (ie. tins, packets, jars and bottles)“. After the service there is free tea and cake.

Being asked to give a talk about psychogeography is interesting as many practitioners take issue with the subject as it’s normally defined. I’ve tried to find a different way through things than the usual Guy deBord to Iain Sinclair route. Hopefully, I’ve made the subject seem fresh and avoided the usual cliches.

(Not that there’s anything wrong with Iain Sinclair, obviously; but even he has been pushing back against the psychogeography label recently)

Eris: Why I need more chaos in my life

Sometimes, people ask me for advice about hiking or travelling. I’m not an expert, but all they want to know is how to get started. And I explain that the most difficult part of any journey is committing to going. You pick a date, you book transport, then you set off. It might not work out, but as long as you go, you’ll learn something and it will be easier next time.

On my first major hike, I walked from Winchester to Eastbourne along the South Downs way. I’d wanted to do it for twenty years or more, but never found the moment. I discussed it with an ex-, and was soon mired in complexity. If we were to slice it into the 12-mile sections they wanted, we’d be walking for 8-10 days. The whole thing was too complex to even begin.

That Autumn, single again, I decided I had to just do it. I found six free days, booked some accommodation and set off. I’d planned a lot, knew where I was staying and had checked off my equipment against suggested lists. But I was not able to plan all of it. Sorting out proper footwear was an expense and a complexity too far, so I set off in DMs. As a result, I murdered my feet, but I made the walk. Katharine joined me for a day, and I completed the journey with Dr. Rosy Carrick by my side. They were good days.

I’m very good at itineraries. Ask me to organise you a trip and I do a pretty good job. The only problem is the impossibility of scheduling in spontaneity or chaos. Deep down I fear being misplaced, even though the most powerful days of travel I’ve had are when I’m lost. The best trip I’ve ever made was a journey from Varanasi to Darjeeling, which turned into chaos. I was sick, sometimes scared, and stranded with my Dad in Patna. There are a handful of times in my life I would want to live again, and that is one of them.

Even knowing how life-affirming being lost turned out to be, I find it hard to let chaos in. One time I booked a trip to Morocco, wanting to relax for a few days before starting a new job. I decided not to open a guidebook until I got on the plane. After a few hours in Marrakesh I decided I couldn’t stand the city and booked a bus to Essaouira for the following day. I had three nights in the country, and that rushed trip to Essaouira was another great day of my life.

But planning spontaneity is difficult. How do you maintain an ordered, safe life while at the same time having just enough chaos and strangeness to keep things interesting? How do you let in chaos without it taking over?

How I Found Discordianism and What I Didn’t Do With It When I Found It

When I was about 16 years old, I was into role-playing games. While these are meant to be a social activity, I was more interested in them as a form of fiction. I loved reading rulebooks and sourcebooks, seeing how worlds hung together. I’d design campaigns that were never going to be played, and I don’t think that time was wasted.

I must have been 16 or so when a friend, Mark Smith, lent me a copy of the GURPS: Illuminati sourcebook. GURPS was a universal role-playing system, allowing different genres to mix. Want to know how a spy can fight a dinosaur? Or need to resolve combat between Bugs Bunny and a delta force operative? GURPS would help you with this. They even did a version of Bunnies and Burrows, the 1976 game based on Watership Down, noted as one of the first games allowing play as non-humans. (I wonder if anyone has ever done a Watership Down meets Lovecraft GURPS campaign? Maybe I should make some notes on that, even if I never intend to run it).

The Illuminatus sourcebook was a guide to conspiracy theories. It talked about men-in-black, the Illuminati and referred often to Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s books. It was one of those volumes that opens a gateway to a whole world of strangeness. I don’t have a copy to hand, but I bet I’ve read most of the bibliography in the time since. It also introduced me to Discordianism, a joke disguised as a religion (or possibly vice-versa).

GURPS: Illuminatus was published in 1992 by Steve Jackson Games (SJG). There are some interesting stories behind the book. For a start, I think there was an issue with the rights. Also, at the same time as this was worked on, SJG were raided by the FBI. This was caused by their work on a cyberpunk volume, which the authorities believed might help hackers. This was one of the events leading to the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Of course, SJG claimed that the FBI were really trying to suppress the Illuminatus book.

At 18, I found copies of the Illuminatus Trilogy at Sussex University’s Wednesday market. Those copies are long gone, abandoned between house moves, and I miss them, same as I miss my copy of the 1992 KLF annual. I found the Illuminatus trilogy confusing and difficult, but exciting too. I was aware this somehow crossed over weirdly with the KLF, who name-checked the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu on their 1992 UK #2 hit, Last Train to Transcentral. I tried to lend the book to a few friends who weren’t interested; four years later, they started raving about this amazing book they’d read, and had I heard of Illuminatus? I followed the threads of Discordianism on the web, printing out a copy of the central text, the Principia Discordia.

Discordianism and the Illuminatus Trilogy changed a lot of people’s lives, but it didn’t for me, just like the Invisibles never changed my life. That sort of weirdness was too far outside my normal, ordered life. But it was an entertaining thing to follow, even if nothing weird ever happens to me. Although that is starting to change. The UK’s Discordian revival is growing, and it’s linking together a lot of interesting people. Maybe, even now, it’s not too late for the Illuminatus Trilogy to change my life.

Brexit is impossible – so how do we deal with that?

Back in July 2005, London won the right to hold the 2012 Olympics. Obviously, preparations began before the bidding process. According to Wikipedia “The British Olympic Association had been working on the bid since 1997, and presented its report to government ministers in December 2000.”

Even with so much preparation there were issues: the initial cost estimate was £2 billion, and this spiralled to 9 billion by the time of the bid. The event very nearly fell into chaos with the army stepping in to support G4S, who failed to provide the promised staff.

The 2016 referendum has committed the country to a massive project, even though there is no clear idea what people want. May’s tautology that “Brexit means Brexit” is unhelpful here. People have joked about how everyone claiming to be experts on customs unions didn’t know they existed a year ago – voters are now learning that many of the critical issues about Brexit were not discussed in the run-up to the poll. The Leave campaigns were not responsible for plans or timescales – and were never obliged to be. They only fought on the terms of the limited question asked.  Indeed, some people have suggested the Leave campaign would have preferred a close loss, allowing time to prepare for a second, more substantive referendum question.

Today, June 6th, we are 296 days from article 50 taking place. We have 919 days until 31 December 2020, the end of the transition period (which is yet to be confirmed. From wikipedia: “On 19 March 2018, the transition period has been agreed while it can not be considered legally binding until after ratification of a wider agreement on withdrawal”).

If we’re leaving Europe, where are the preparations? HMRC say there is years of work to be done after the decision on customs systems is made. Jon Thompson, chief executive and permanent secretary at HM Revenue and Customs, said in a committee session that it is possible that a functioning border could be ready for January 2021, but that it might take between 3-5 years to implement the solution. However, “foreign ports might not be ready”.

In the same session, HMRC also said that the customs arrangements could cost businesses £20 billion a year. This is an emotive figure as it is slightly more than the £350 million a week that was promised to the NHS on the campaign bus. Admittedly Downing Street then referred to HMRC figures as speculation, which is alarming in itself – HMRC is possibly at odds with the government about such an important issue.

Setting up new major IT projects is expensive, difficult and rarely works to schedule. Universal Credit was originally estimated to cost £2.2 billion, which has since risen to £15.8 billion. The project has been dogged by IT problems – and this is a system that was critical for people’s lives.

Ian Dunt (a remainer who works on the Remainiacs podcast) has claimed that there is also a need for massive regulatory infrastructure, which would have to be in place before the end of any transition period. Without remaining part of certain EU bodies, we would need to reinstitute them from scratch. As he goes on to say, “Setting up a new regulator takes a lot of time and money. You need to lease a building, set up a management structure, hire and train thousands of members of staff, and develop complex technical expertise.”

I’ve not seen any indication of these things taking place. The obvious conclusion is that the government/civil service have decided that Brexit is not happening and this is a charade. Because the alternative is a very dangerous type of brinksmanship. Surely everyone involved knows this is the case? That is is possible impossible and dangerous to try leaving the EU?

Daniel Hannan has mocked these concerns as a continuation of Project Fear. His examples of countries surviving outside the EU are irrelevant, as what we’re talking about here is changing how our country works with a fixed deadline. Remember how KFC switched suppliers and ran out of chicken? Just-in-time supply networks are incredibly vulnerable to disruption. Remember the fuel protests in 2000? Some supermarkets rationed food, and “Sainsbury’s warned that they would run out of food within days having seen a 50% increase in their sales over the previous two days”.

Brexit has become an end in itself. We have focussed our entire politics around the idea of leaving the EU, something that is probably not possible in the deadlines that have been imposed. Because there was no clear goal related to the exiting of the EU (whether standards of living, national pride, control of the borders, whatever it was) we have no way to see if we have made this a success. And we have no way of evaluating other means of achieving these goals.

I’m seeing a lot of platitudes about Brexit, and a lot of reassurance from people who’ve never delivered projects of this scale. I’m seeing no substantive plans, even as we approach the deadlines. I’m not sure what the answer is (it’s certainly not holding another referendum). But we need to admit now if this is impossible. And we also need to work out what we want beyond Brexit. We are currently an unhappy and divided country, and without facing our problems that is going to get worse.

Launch night for Rosy Carrick’s Chokey

June looks like a pretty exciting month (World cup! Birthday! Trip to Glastonbury!) but the highlight is the launch of Rosy’s pamphlet Chokey (tickets available for £5 from the Rialto website). The event will be incredible, with performances, tattoo parlour, ‘beefcake videos’, themed cocktails and an actual real life chokey. I’ve never seen a spoken word event with this much planning and complexity. You must come!

Me, modelling the fashion accessory of the summer

For me, personally, the launch of this book is a huge event. I’m listed in the acknowledgements, where Rosy thanks me for help with editing the poems, and “for living through them with me for the last twelve years”. I don’t know that I’ve done much real editing, although it’s been fun discussing these poems in workshops, fields and late nights over the years. But I’ve definitely felt the intensity of living through these poems.

The thing I love most about poetry is the way that it captures intensely personal moments and opens them up for other people. No other artform does this for me in such a powerful way . Seeing these poems collected together in a single volume was like a reunion with old friends. It’s beautiful to see them gathered together to set out into the world.

Of course I love these poems, although some are difficult to re-read. Most striking of all is the penultimate poem, Thickening Water, an intense eight-page poem. I’ve seen it performed a couple of times and it’s breathtaking.

Rosy is having something of an imperial phase right now, having just done three Brighton dates for her show Passionate Machine (for more see this interview or review from the source). I turned up as a character in that, which was a weird experience, seeing some events from my life recontextualised. It was also good to see an explanation of what had been happening over the past few years, with Rosy’s weird trips and the odd letters that keep arriving.

(The other day I saw a stranger who looked like an older version of Rosy, and my first thought was that it must be Future Rosy, popping back in time).

Art is a beautiful, transformative thing, a way to share our feelings and our lives. It makes the world a better place.

2/6/18: More reviews for Passionate Machine: