Secret Knots

One of the things I’m doing on lockdown is to start consolidating the writing I’ve done over the years. I’m compiling a list of my publications and there’s a lot to add. There are also a few things that I’ve forgotten and neglected.

One of these is Secret Knots. It’s a weird zine I wrote about a business trip I made to LA in 2017. The only place it’s mentioned online is in a message I sent to my mailing list. I sent a few copies out by post and forgot all about it.

Secret Knots is about tourism, business travel and the way my life felt at that point. It’s a strange piece, and doesn’t fit comfortably in any particular genre, but I think it works as a zine and I enjoyed re-reading it.

I was reminded about this when a German academic asked me about any walking zines I’ve done. I’ve re-printed a few copies, so email me if you would like one.

First Steps in Walking Magic

I would love to find a book on magic and walking, but I don’t think anyone has written one yet. There’s ample material for it, and not just in the more occult fringes of psychogeography. Some of the things that might go in such a book:

  • My favourite example is Werner Herzog who kept someone alive by crossing Germany in Winter to visit them. He talks about this in his book Of Walking in Ice, which I wrote about last year.
  • Pilgrimage is obviously important, and a huge topic, deserving a whole set of posts of its own.
  • The second time I met Cat Vincent was at the Spirits of Place event, where he was giving a talk Where the Buddleia Grows: “as an urban magician, I’ve understood that you can’t truly grasp the magic and mythology of a place without walking it”. Cat has spoken recently about the importance of ‘knowing your patch’, which has resonance for me with the idea of beating the bounds.
  • There are links between magic and landscape, connecting to earth magic. There are also links to ways of mapping and telling landscape, such as ley lines and songlines.
  • Travelling particular patterns in cities occurs in psychogeography, with obvious examples being the letters walked in Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory or the pattern of the Hawksmoor churches in Alan Moore’s From Hell.
  • During his time in London, the magic-obsessed writer William Burroughs carried out a campaign to drive the Moka Café Bar into closure. He combined patrols of the area near the cafe with the use of sound magic.
  • William Seabrook tells a story about Crowley performing magic with gait (a tale I first encountered in Warren Ellis’s Hellblazer run). Crowley followed a man, synchronising his footsteps with theirs. Seabrook writes: “A.C., in taking a step forward, let both knees buckle suddenly under him, so that he dropped, caught himself on his haunches, and was immediately erect again, strolling. The man in front of us fell as if his legs had been shot out from under him.
  • Walking can be used for cursing, such as writing the name of the victim on the soles of the feet.
  • One of the most powerful aspects of walking magic is The Moving of Stones (with cairns being one obvious aspect of this).

There is a magic to walking, to travelling, and a good walk is a spell.

Retreat, Day 12

  • I slept much better last night, which was a relief. I feel so different.
  • Of course, I still woke up at five, but I treated myself to a slow, slow morning. I didn’t turn the phone on until about 11am and feel much calmer for it.
  • The Small Batch near me is still closed, but I ordered some sachets of their ‘Stay at Home’ roast to get me through the next few weeks.
  • I’m feeling more settled in this strange and fragile new world. I am surprised at how little energy I have to make use of the new free time, but that’s OK.
  • I missed the daily briefing because I was watching The Platform on Netflix Party. The film was a little on-the-nose in the current situation.
  • I had a meeting online with Rosy Carrick, who gave me some feedback on my new writing project. It needs a lot of work, but there is something exciting there.
  • Now I’ve settled into this new world a little, I am going to switch the daily posts to a more occasional rhythm. But I am probably going to post more around the new writing project.

Retreat, Day 11

  • I’m settling into a rhythm now, starting the day with my walk. I visited the Co-op where social distancing was being well-enforced, so the messages seem to be getting through. It was officially a day off, but I dropped into work’s daily stand-up to give my update anyway. It was good to see people. I do miss my colleagues – finishing work was very sudden. I wish I’d thought to take longer over saying goodbye.
  • I’ve been avoiding the news. There’s a lot of it, and much of it is stressful, so I’ve stuck to the daily briefings. I have read some good longform articles which have turned up via my RSS feeds.
  • One I liked was from a reddit post from China about cooking under lockdown. It contains some interesting speculations on food history, as well as a useful hint: “Pickled vegetables seem to scratch the same itch fresh vegetables do.” If I can find the ingredients, I’m thinking of making some kimchi.
  • As it’s been a day off I watched Clive Barker’s 1990 film Nightbreed and caught up with some reading. I’ve also emptied out some long neglected cupboards which are filled with a mix of trash and treasure. Might as well do this while I have time.
  • We had our first family zoom call, which was good. But it’s also alarming how quickly such things have stopped seeming weird.
  • Adjusting to this all-virtual world has been strange. A lot of people seem to be finding their lives as busy as they were before, with lots of programmed activities. I’m finding I need to turn whatsapp off sometimes, to allow me to focus a little.
  • Via linkmachinego: A letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future. There is a lot in here I recognise. It’s also sobering to be reminded that the curve of infections in the UK is similar to Italy. I just hope that Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London is right when he says that the UK has enough intensive care units for coronavirus
  • Sleep continues to be a problem, and I need to figure out how to avoid waking so early. For the first ten days I’d not felt the lack of sleep, but today I’ve had a flicker of a headache most of the time.
  • No worthwhile planks today, but I’ve been doing more exercise generally.

Retreat, Day 10: A beautiful day

Another morning when I couldn’t sleep, so I went for my walk at dawn when only a few people were about. One passer-by pointed out how beautiful the day was, and they were right. The sea was still and at low tide, and I wished I’d had my swimming things. Of course, this is the calm before the storm, but knowing that makes this time feel all the more strange.

Lack of sleep has left me tired today, and my diet was been more carby than it should have been. I need to be more careful – it’s not as if I can walk it off. And I’d been eating so well up till now.

I have a day off tomorrow, and really need to settle into my routine. I’m also going to spend some time focussed on my creative project and get that rolling. I should also go out and buy some supplies too, but I’m not too eager to do that yet.

Today’s plank was an appalling 73 seconds. It’s been a slow, sleepy day. It’s quite an unexciting update too. I’m getting a little more used to this.

Retreat Day 9: Cosy Catastrophe

Last night, Brighton blogger wordridden posted A Journal of the Plague Week, where they wrote that it “feels like a bit of a ‘cozy catastrophe’ for us at the moment“. And that’s exactly how I feel: life is strange and isolated, but it is also cosy. I’m also aware that this is not everyone’s experience, particularly after talking to a friend who works in the NHS and is being retrained to work on ITU wards.

Today I slept in until 5am – a vast improvement – then set out for the morning walk. It’s been a beautiful day. While I worked on my writing, I paused my music to listen to the birdsong. Then I had work until the government briefing. In the evening I got together with some people to share some writing via Zoom. It was lovely to hear some poetry and have a chance to chat.

I have a day’s leave on Friday. Of course, a day off work is not the quite thing as it was a week ago. I’ll probably stay in touch with my colleagues and turn over some performance tests, while focussing on non-work things. I’m mostly settled, apart from a few missing supplies and a list of emergency activities for if things get difficult. I also want to spent some time focussing on my creative project.

The isolation does feel hard at points, and sometimes I want to see friends so desperately, but I’m mostly settled. There are serious things to worry about, like  my parents’ health, and the toll this is taking on some people close to me. I just pray that my experience of this catastrophe remains cosy.

Today’s plank was a painful 133 seconds – which breaks the two minute barrier. The juggling is going well and I am already seeing myself improve.

Retreat, Day 8: The New Normal

Today is the first day of the official lockdown. I had another early morning, waking about 4:15am. A little after 5 I went for my legally-permitted daily walk doing about 10,000 steps. I wasn’t sure if that was greedy, or too many? On the way home I stopped at a shop and bought some fresh food. The shopkeeper reckoned there were riots coming, but things seem fairly calm.

Today has been a gentle day. I did some good writing before work, settling into the new project. The job was fun, and filled out the time. The evening has catching up with people, planning the next few weeks, and cooking a delicious curry: I wish you were here to share it. So strange, not knowing when next I will cook for someone else.

It’s weird to have such as relaxed day amidst what, for many people, will be a horrific and distressing time. In the daily briefing it was announced that 250,000 volunteers were needed for the NHS. I gave my details, and was glad that I have a current DBS. Hopefully I can make myself useful, rather than just relaxing in my flat for weeks.

Today is the first day of the official distancing rules; and the start of my first full week in retreat. I’ve spoken to Rosy on the phone, messaged a few people, but only been in the presence of one other person. Strange days.

There is much to say and think about what’s happening, but I’ve enjoyed today. Sure, it would have been better if I could have walked further, sat with a friend, or read in a cafe. But I am grateful for this day.

Today’s plank was a painful 113 seconds.

Retreat Day 7: Signs of a Crisis

Day 7 of my retreat brings a drawing-in. I’d already decided to be stricter about my social distancing before the lockdown came in. My routine is now settling. Waking early (4:45am today), physio, walking to the pier then back through town. Home, breakfast, writing, work.

Of course, I have it fairly easy. There are many people in cramped or dangerous domestic situations. My mood is good, but not as resilient as I would like. I’m working on that, paying attention to how I’m feeling. Hopefully, once I am more settled-in, I can look for ways to volunteer and do something to help.

I’ve mostly ignored the news today. The constant updates were getting wearing. Obviously, this won’t work for everyone, but the situation seems dangerous yet relatively slow-moving. It’s getting too easy to make myself anxious about things.

Life is surprisingly busy, even if we have to be sociable behind screens. I’m loving the voice calls and the chats, but also wary of not making time to relax and contemplate. There’s also the danger that this initial burst of energy/activity might fade, so I am keeping an eye on that.

I’m also trying to settle into this slowly. There are lots of things I could do, but I don’t want to commit myself to anything just yet. The structure is building slowly, little routines, and new habits. I like having a candle burning, sometimes even when I am working at the job. There is no need to hurry here.

Today, workmen started next door. It was a little frustrating to have my day disturbed by chainsaws. I guess i’m one of the few people’s whose life will be improved by a full lockdown.

My biggest problem is sleep. I am waking up very early but not feeling tired. My appetite is also not as good as usual, and I’m having to force myself to finish meals. I’m keeping an eye on my weight in case it starts falling too fast.

It feels like we have fallen into a Douglas Coupland novel. That’s OK.

I’ve been practising juggling, and practising the first ball of Mill’s Mess. The thing I’d forgotten about juggling: it’s not the catch, it’s the throw. All the skill is in the throwing.

The news about the lockdown came in while I was on a zoom call with some friends. That’s something I will think about tomorrow though. One day at a time.

Today’s plank was a disappointing 87 seconds (20 off my best). My body is still wrecked from the hike – and I think I’m losing a toenail.


Retreat, Day 6: The Happening

There is a stunning sequence in the middle of M. Night Shyamalan’s otherwise disappointing film, The Happening. A family are fleeing an horrific end-of-the-world scenario and seek shelter at a remote farmhouse. The owner says she is happy to offer hospitality, but refuses to be told anything about what is taking place. It’s strange and disturbing to see the urgency of the film paused by the interlude, and this has stuck with me ever since.

Last night, I stayed in a remote shepherd’s hut. I’d told the hosts I was social distancing, which they were fine with, and I have avoided being too close to anyone while hiking. I’ve skipped the news, and will catch up on Monday night (although I asked a friend to tell me if there was anything I needed to know). It’s been good to have this interlude.

My walk home was lovely, and far more relaxed than yesterday’s stomp across the downs. Walking on the promenade, it seemed like a normal summer’s day, lots of people out strolling. I guess a lot of people are not so into social distancing.

I arrived home, had a bath, and have been relaxing otherwise. I followed Ben Graham’s recommendation and watched the first couple of episodes of Britannia. I’ve done some writing, and mostly been disconnected from the networks. I now have a good list of activities planned, including learning Mill’s Mess. I originally took up juggling 26 years ago so I could do that trick, but never got round to it.

It’s been good not to think too much about events, but there are still shocks when I think of the enormity of what’s happening. I guess the coronavirus is one of Timothy Morton’s hyperobjects, impossible to hold in mind in its entirety. As overwhelming as this is, I want to maintain focus on my life, and to make that as rich as possible.

Today was, of course, Mother’s Day, and it’s been bittersweer. We’d originally planned to take my Mum for a pub lunch. This was downgraded to a dinner at my sister’s. On Monday, I asked my sister if she thought I should cancel given the current situation, but we decided to hold off a decision. By Tuesday it was obvious that my parents are in strict isolation for the foreseeable future. They’re taking their seclusion very well, but it must be difficult. Sorry I couldn’t be there today, Mum.

No plank today, again, because I walked 90,000 steps this weekend. Back to planks tomorrow though.

Distancing Retreat, Day 5

Today is the first non-work day on retreat. What does weekend mean now? How does that affect the schedule?

My plan for today was Walking. I picked a route that allowed me to maintain responsible social distance, avoiding any groups of people. I also thought it would be good to get out of the flat and think about strategy. Yes, I’ll be a project manager at heart until the bitter fucking end.

The walk itself was a bit of a trudge. I picked too long a route, and found some stretches boring. I’m discovering that I’m not a huge fan of rewalking rural areas (although the world has found a brilliant solution for me, right?). The bizarre thing was passing by a couple of stalls (at Hove Park and Ditchling Beacon) and seeing people queueing close together. The messages are not getting through.

I’m hoping the current restrictions are in place for a short time. But the pub closures are going to be “reviewed on a monthly basis“, which suggests disruption could go on for a while. The question I’m asking myself is how I would cope with an indefinite distancing. (By indefinite, I just mean we have no idea how long this will continue – and better to plan for a long time and not need those plans, right?)

The main thing I’ve realised is that I’ve not set up enough frivolous activities. I’ve thought of a few other things to do, such as practising juggling. I also need much less screen time. And maybe I should be writing more letters.

I suspect we’re still in a stage of shock at the scale of the current problem. I’m hoping that, over time, new solutions will emerge. Some of these might involve previously unthinkable compromises with civil liberties. I also wonder how society if going to change in other ways. Brighton has a lot of people who live alone. Previously, this was envied – now that has become a challenge. Are we going to see changes in the types of living arrangements people want? But, as this becomes the new normal, people will devise solutions.

One initial response to distancing is for people to be very social remotely. I’ve reached out to a lot of other independent people, making sure the communication lines are open. There have been a lot of phone calls. I’m loving zoom (and the virtual pubs). But I’m also aware this needs to be balanced with time to relax. So far, I’m staying off social media, which I find too stressful.

(While I’m focussing on my own problems, I’m also aware that a lot of people have it far worse. Beyond the people who are sick and the front-line staff treating them, there are large families living in very close quarters now, to say nothing of vulnerable people who cannot escape difficult or dangerous domestic environments).

And life is about finding new ways to Connect. Walking the seafront last night, I phoned a friend as I passed near her flat. She’s been in self-isolation for over a week now and, while we’ve spoken a fair bit, I’ve not seen her. She came out onto her balcony and we waved at each other.

The government’s shutdown of the pubs and restaurants had an immediate effect. By 9pm, Hove was Christmas-Eve-quiet. I popped by a couple of shops, cobbling together items from a shopping list for Rosy. It took three places and some flexibility to get everything, but I managed. Then, another doorstep conversation, keeping our distance. I can’t wait for this to end.

No plank today, because I walked 60,000 steps.