hexit day

It’s Halloween 2019, and we’re about five hours from the time when we were supposed to leave the EU. And we’re still here.

To mark the deadline, I’ve been organising hexit with Cat Vincent, the Indelicates and Sooxanne. Hexit is a group of artists, musicians and magicians coming together in a creative ritual to curse Brexit. This ritual will be broadcast on Internet radio station Radio23, and will culminate shortly after 11pm tonight, the time scheduled for leaving the EU. People are invited to join us, listen to the contributions, and to add their energy to that of the ritual. Among the works involved are songs, poems, sound sigils, mixtapes.

The hexit player and full instructions are at https://radio23.co.uk/hexit.html

Putting this all together has been hard work. (“Let’s do something online rather than doing an event. It will be easier to organise…”). Still, helping to run Pilgrim Radio in April was good training for this: precision discordianism! And it’s been amazing to see all the different pieces come together. I didn’t manage to get my own piece in, but that can wait for another day.

The exact lineup is subject to change (just like the deadline for Brexit, amiright?) but the schedule currently is:

  • Throughout: Deity Galaxies by Dan Sumption.
  • 2031 – EVP by the Indelicates
  • 2033 – Everything English is the Enemy by the Indelicates
  • 2038 – Juniverbrecher by the Indelicates
  • 2041 – Hexit Jingle by Ryder
  • 2042 – THE UNREVERSING – a Magickal Musickal Spell to Dispel the Mean Spirited Conjurings of the Brexitassembled by Pilgrim and printer Graham Evans on behalf of the Kokopelli Foundation and Bridge Construction Enterprises Unlimited
  • 2105 – Hexit by Chris Parkinson
  • 2109 – Amorphous Albion (excerpt) by Ben Graham
  • 2113 – Hexamaton Mix 001
  • 2117 – Ash, Cadbury Castle: A Lament by Michael James Parker
  • 2118 – HEXIT by Texture
  • 2122 – The Weatherman (He got it wrong) by David Devant & his Spirit Wife
  • 2127 – Tractors Turning by Alexander Velky
  • 2137 – Mr Larceny
  • 2141 – Hopelessness Figure by Verity Spott
  • 2148 – A Brexit report by the other 27 countries in the European Union
  • 2154 – Changing the Guard by Adrian Reynolds
  • 2157 – Devil’s Fairground by Foz Foster
  • 2201 – brexitmeansbrexit
  • 2205 – So long, Professor Bloom by Campbell Edinborough
  • 2218 – ‘The Deadends (in search of truth)’ – A documentary by Dr Mikey B Georgeson
  • 2220 – Hexit Jingle
  • 2221 – Maypitt by Kemper Norton
  • 2229 – Nick Hudson with The Academy Of Sun
  • 2238 – Rise Up from Armageddon Gospels
  • 2241 – You Army by Sombras
  • 2243 – Sea Sings to Stone by Craig ‘VI’ Slee
  • 2253 – John Higgs reads Deborah Turnbull’s poem Impact
  • 2253 – A Sigil of Hexit: Composed and expelled by Sue Bradley and Sooxanne
  • 2300 – Cat Vincent and the Indelicates: A Banishing

Why Brexit and Hiking?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and some writing about hiking and Brexit.

Beyond the anxieties and concerns of the current political situation, Brexit fascinates me as a story. We have a complicated piece of policy, which has sometimes proved too much for the people directly involved: witness Nadine Dories admitting privately she didn’t understand the customs union; or the surprising errors by Brexit ministers.

The details of this policy cut across all areas of life in incredibly technical ways. I’ve written before about how the software needs of the project makes it impossible. A massive number of policy decisions need to be made, at the same time as it raises issues about the meaning and direction of the country, including a reckoning with the legacies of war and empire. And these questions are being settled by slogans and emotional arguments.

There are already some great popular histories of Brexit, including the first two volumes of the Shipman trilogy. But there is also a space for interpretations of Brexit, and I think these can be best approached from oblique directions.

Daniel Hannan is described as the man who invented Brexit, and provides much of the intellectual force behind Brexit. He also wrote How we invented freedom, a book about the supremacy of anglophone institutions and ideas. In a discussion of the English language, Hannan praised the English language for favouring “the expression of empirical, down-to-earth, practical ideas”. He goes on to attack academic language for being wooly, too influenced by “European thinkers”, and gives an example of Karl Marx’s writing, asking:

What native speaker of English could have written that way? Only one who had trained himself, over many years, to ape the style of Hegel, or Marx, Derrida or Satre

Setting aside Hannan’s surprising suggestion that Marx reads like he was aping Derrida or Satre, it’s notable that Hannan makes a swipe Derrida. Jacques Derrida is a philosopher I know a bit about, having studied him on my MA. Derrida was fascinated by details, whereas Hannan is less concerned by them – he’s more a big picture sort of guy.

Reading Derrida – and parsing the sometimes forbidding style – trained me to see the way language can undercut itself. It also trained me to be sensitive to how marginal details undermine a larger project. Derrida once destroyed an argument by respected amateur philosopher John Searle starting with his copyright statement. Small things can undermine supposedly-simple wider arguments. Faultlines can easily be exposed by looking at something from the edges.

There is, for example, a great book to be written about Brexit and curry. Not by me, although I’ve written some short pieces about the topic. Such a book would look at issues around immigration for unskilled workers, the promises made to the Indian restaurant industry during and after the referendum, and the Leave campaign’s strange ideas about empire.

And hiking also seems to resonate with Brexit. There are incidents like Theresa May’s Wales hike, Danniel Hannan’s lie about a walk, or Rory Stewart’s walks-as-campaigning. Then there are all the rural metaphors being used for the future, ‘sunlit uplands’ and all that. Brexit has also intruded into some of the walks I’ve taken, which have cut across leave and remain boundaries , and got me talking to people outside my liberal metropolitan bubble. And it’s impossible to walk across the English countryside without thinking about landscape, ownership, myth and legacy.

I’ve been trying to focus on less marginal things, but this theme keeps returning. So, maybe I’d just be better off giving in to it. I’m not sure where this path leads, but I think it’s going to be interesting.

A short Brexit hike in London

I missed the London protest against Brexit in March, because I had things to do in the midlands. But I did check out the leave march organised by Richard Tice, now an MEP for the Brexit party. I wrote a long piece comparing the two marches as hikes.

Another pro-remain march was booked for October 19th, the day Parliament was due to vote on the Johnson deal. This time I went along with my friend Kate and her Rich Astley sign (“never gonna give EU up”).

The March to Leave had explicitly compared their multi-day hike to the previous London march, which they described as an easy stroll through London. I’d be interested to see how a democracy based on walking actually worked. There could be something there. But we’d have to solve the question I asked previously: Does a million people walking a single mile trump a couple of hundred people walking a couple of hundred miles?

As we walked through London on Saturday, the heroic March to Leave was pretty much forgotten, just another strange plot twist from an earlier season.

We arrived in London early and headed from Victoria to Green Park. As we waited for friends by a food kiosk, we met a woman who was leading a cheese tour. Her attendees were delayed by the march, so we got talking, and she told us her favourite cheese joke: What are cheese puffs made from?

We also got talking to a woman who was at the march with her young son, but couldn’t find the friend she’d planned to march with; Kate invited her to join us. We all soon set off through London. Pace-wise, the march was slow, but the signs were a lot funnier than the ones on the pre-leave march. (I liked the ‘Extension rebellion’ one, and another comparing a donkey with an ice-cream cone on its head with the unicorns we’ve been promised).  We persuaded some Lib-Dems to lead a chorus of the ‘Revokey Kokey’, which Kate had been hoping to hear on the march. And, talking to one of our party, I learned she’d met Nigel Farage the night before but refused to shake his hand. She’d also been wearing a blue dress and star earrings for the event.

We made it to the mall in time for the votes. The crowd roared as the Letwin amendment result was announced. I know the deal will go through, that Parliamentary maths makes it inevitable, but I still felt joy that it was being scrutinised, that MPs were standing up despite the abuse and mockery they received. I’ll treasure the memory of being in that crowd. Among the cheering there were shouts of ‘Order!’. It’s probably a bad sign that the speaker is such a partisan figure, but that still made me smile.

One the March to Leave, Richard Tice talked about the horrific weather his marchers had faced. “We showed true grit. You softies in the guardian would’ve delayed it a day but we pushed on, we had hundreds out it was amazing.” As the vote was announced it started to rain.  As I headed back to Brighton, the march continued through Trafalgar Square, thousands of Guardian readers carrying on anyway. Richard Tice would have been impressed, I’m sure.

My feelings about Brexit are complicated. David Cameron’s government made a lot of promises that are undeliverable, but the commitment on his ‘advisory’ referendum was repeated. Even at this late stage in the process, almost 50% of the country still wants Brexit to proceed. Maybe a more united remain campaign, with clear leadership from the opposition would have shifted popular opinion. But it didn’t happen, and there is not yet a sensible pathway to remain. So, we need to hand this over to leave and tell them to do their best.

I don’t know if there will be another hike through London for remain, and I’m not sure what good marching does. But it was a friendly group to go walking with, and I’m glad I went. It was certainly a funnier and friendlier group than the March to Leave, who were a little scary.

And what are cheese puffs made of?

Wotsit matter.

Brighton Bloggers meetup

A few months back, I popped along to the Homebrew Website Club to work on my website. While there, we got talking about the old Brighton Bloggers meet-ups.

Blogging is very different to social media silos like Facebook and Twitter. Everyone owns their own place on the web and chooses how it appears. It is less straightforward than just chucking things onto Facebook, but it is a more open space. Before Facebook, there were lots of people in Brighton writing webblogs, connected by comments and occasional meet-ups in the real world.

I googled Brighton Bloggers and discovered that Jane Dallaway has maintained the Brighton Bloggers directory up to the present day. In a flood of enthusiasm, I arranged a 2019 Brighton Bloggers meet-up as part of the digital festival.
We met on Monday, hosted by Hays Digital. It was a small group (but included three nominees from the 2003 Virtual Festival Personal Site award). The conversation was fascinating, and it was particularly useful to find out what tools other people were using. I am going to check out both the Yost SEO plugin and grammarly.

Blogging might be a fringe interest now, but there are still people out there doing it. Since the meetup, a few different groups are now connected (next month there is a meetup from the brightonbloggers.co.uk facebook group). Jane has also updated the directory. A lot of sites has disappeared, some through the hosts being shuttered, but others have remained up. There is a wealth of social history here, which could easily be lost – the Virtual Festival events are barely mentioned on the Internet, with most of those mentions coming from old blog posts.

Jane has also written a fantastic history of Brighton Blogging,  It takes in things like the Brighton New Media list, still running, but no longer the tech community’s backbone; and the first Brighton Bloggers meeting on August 28, 2003.

The Brighton Bloggers directory will continue to be maintained. As Jane ends her piece: “If you know of a blog that is missing from the list, then follow the link at the bottom of the main Brighton Bloggers page and let me know. I’ll get it added.

hexit night

I’m currently involved in hexit, an online distributed magic ritual against Brexit that will be broadcast on radio23.

Back in October 2016, I teamed up with Cat Vincent and the Indelicates to organise the October Ritual. Rather than hold a simple launch party for the new Indelicates album Juniverbrecher, we held an exorcism ritual, a banishing for the entity “responsible in large part for the re-emergence of nationalism, petty-mindedness, misery and fruitless discord; for the black mass marketed as ‘Brexit’

It was a great night, with an exciting range of performers. It’s probably the best event I’ve been involved in. A further ritual was held in March this year, at what should have been the point where the UK left the european union. It was very emotional to see Cat Vincent on stage with the Indelicates, declaring that the deadline had passed and we were still in the EU.

The next deadline was auspiciously set for October 31st, Halloween, and we’re  gathering collaborators for the third ritual. This time, we wanted to go something even bigger. We decided not to book a venue in Sussex, thereby restricting the people who could participate. Instead, we are curating an online, distributed ritual via Radio23.

The first submissions are coming in, and I’m getting excited about what we’re putting on. Doing this online has allowed us to include people who it would be very difficult to get down to Brighton. Whatever happens as the deadline passes, hexit will bring together a range of voices in resistance.

More news to follow: full details will be kept up to date on the hexit page, and via twitter (@orbific, @theindelicates, @catvincent).

The Kinder Scout Tresspass

One of the big surprises of walking the Pennine way was seeing how much space there is in England. As great as the South Downs National Park is, you’re never far from roads and pubs: it’s a thin strip through a densely populated region. Further north, particularly in the Cheviots, there is little visible sign of humanity other than the path itself and maybe a nearby fence.

Everywhere, those fences. Sometimes there are also signs saying who owns the land. Tramping through the countryside, you understand that the paths are ways through other people’s property, that these spaces belong to particular people.

The first section of the Pennine Way, just after Jacob’s Ladder, passes close to Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District. Back in 1932 it was the site of what Roy Hattersley described as “the most successful act of direct action in British history“.

Back then, there was no right to walk across this area of the country. But, on April 24th 1932, a group of about 400 walkers was following the path when a whistle sounded. They stopped and turned to face up the hill. Another whistle. And, on the third sound of the whistle, they left the path and began to climb towards the Peak of Kinder Scout. Between them and the hilltop were a line of gate-keepers, some of them armed with sticks, who were ready to fight to prevent the trespass.

The group contained both committed ramblers and newcomers, who’d been invited by flyers, which promised: “Come with us for the best day out that you ever had”. The walkers were in high spirits that day, joining in songs such as It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Among the organisers were a communist organisation, and the walk included some spirited renditions of The Red Flag.

The moor owners and gamekeepers were determined to keep ramblers off the Pennines. The area of land wasn’t farmed, but rather reserved for shooting on a few days each August. Despite this, there was no right to access these areas. The mass trespass didn’t reach the top of the hill, and there was some hand-to-hand fighting, in which a gamekeeper was injured. The police arrested five or six people who were soon put on trial. The arrests were for the violence rather than the trespass, which was not a criminal offence.

At his trial, the ringleader, Benny Rothman, delivered a prepared speech.

We ramblers, after a hard week’s work [living] in smoky towns and cities, go out rambling on weekends for relaxation, for a breath of fresh air, and for a little sunshine. And we find, when we go out, that the finest rambling country is closed to us. Because certain individuals wish to shoot for about ten days per annum, we are forced to walk on muddy, crowded paths, and denied the pleasure of enjoying, to the utmost, the countryside. Our request, or demand, for access to all peaks and uncultivated moorland is nothing unreasonable.

Rothman was sentenced to four months, but had began a process that led to the National Parks act and the establishment of the National Trails. That was a long process, however. Some groups resisted these changes, such as The British Waterworks Association, which opposed the 1939 access to mountains bill because of  “the tendency of such areas (ie mountains and moorlands) to become a resort for undesirable characters among whom immorality and licentiousness is rife

In his book Watling Street, John Higgs points out that of the UK’s 52 million acres, a third is owned by 1200 aristocrats and families. Much of this is transferred through trusts without tax, allowing land to be stockpiled – only 100,00 acres comes on to the market each year. There is no cost to owning this and keeping it out of the hands of others. Higgs quotes Lloyd George: “Who made 10,000 people owners of the land and the rest of us trespassers in the land of our birth?

Escape talk at the Bavard Bar

Last night, I popped over to Eastbourne to speak at the Bavard Bar. It’s a fun event with a friendly crowd. The format is borrowed from Brighton’s Catalyst Club, but with a few additions. I was there to give my talk ‘How to Escape from a WW2 POW camp‘.

I spoke first, which meant that I could relax with a glass of wine while I listened to the other speakers. Becky Edwards spoke about To Be Continued, a multi-media storytelling project based on the diaries of Dick Perceval. Becky found these diaries lying beside a bin in the 90s, and has been tracing the story of their writer. There was also a discussion of atonal music, particularly the work of Arnold Schoenberg. It was a great introduction to an area I’ve never thought about, and never realised was worth thinking about. So, all-in-all, a great night. Thanks to Tim for inviting me along!

Crowd from the Bavard Bar

(The image above is by Cliff Crawford, the Bavard’s resident artist)

The talk I gave was from my first appearance the Catalyst Club back in January 2010, also coincidentally the first time that Tim attended. I also gave the talk at 2011’s White Night (the year of the zombie riot in the aquarium). I think I might have done it at Wilderness Festival in 2015 too. It’s a good talk, and one I always planned to do something with. Like so many things, I abandoned it rather than develop it further, but it’s good to finally revive it after almost ten years.

The most difficult thing was fitting everything into 15 minutes, which I just about managed. Some of the material from this talk has been folded into my Amateur Escapology show, but less than I expected. Meanwhile, I’m going to look for more places to give this talk.

Brighton Bloggers 2019 meet-up

As part of this year’s Brighton Digital Festival, I’m organising a Brighton Bloggers meetup. It’s on from 6-8pm on October 21st, near the station, so it should be easy for people to come straight from work. Full details and (free!) tickets are available via eventbrite.

Even in the age of social media, there are still hundreds of blogs based in Brighton. At the Brighton Homebrew Website Club recently, I realised the Brighton Bloggers directory is still online and it made me nostalgic for the meetups. As well as being a place to talk about blogging, these events were great for community building; finding out about other blogs in town, or meeting the writers of ones you already read.

In planning this, I ended up looking into some of the previous Brighton Blogger meetups. Among the broken links and dead sites there are still a large number of working pages from years ago. (I’ve been listening to Disintegration Loops recently, and the linkrot feels similar to the effect of that soundtrack).

The first Brighton Bloggers event I could find was in August 2003, which was even mentioned on NTK, a much-missed weekly email newsletter. It was around this time that the Brighton Bloggers directory was first created. It seems to have been initially compiled by Joh Hunt, with Jane Dallaway taking over and maintaining it to this day.

I found a few things I’d forgotten about too, such as mentions of the Brighton and Hove Virtual Festival, the first of which was held in 2001. I read some accounts of the 2003 award ceremony which I attended with Joh. Of the 5 nominees for best personal site, two are still running (here’s wordridden’s account of the night), and two of the other nominated domains work, but no longer contain blogs.

There have been other meetups over the years from other groups of Bloggers, such as one in January 2009, which rowstar wrote about:

A small but interesting gathering took over a corner of the recently opened Florist pub (which was the PV), talking about everything from retro phones to tractor-mounted lasers (blame Ant for that one), eco-travelling to the recent celebrity Twitter explosion. All in all it was a very pleasant evening, and nice to connect with fellow bloggers after years of writing away in my own little vacuum. As was generally agreed last night, all this advanced virtual communication technology is all very well, but it’s good to bring it back to the real world once in a while and meet people face to face.

And there was another group who met in 2013, as well as a Bloggers’ stitch and bitch later that year. I also found a fun blog round-up from the Argus in 2009, written by Jo Wadsworth.

I think there is still a place for blogs, and I get most of my news via hundreds of feeds in the feedly app. I think it’s important to produce content outside of the walls gardens of facebook, medium, twitter etc, and there does seem to be a growing return to blogs (sometimes referred to these days as ‘the Isles of Blogging’). The thing I miss most about blogging was the comments and the community. Hopefully this event will be a small step towards bringing those back.