Purple People Publication!

Exciting post this week: Kate Bulpitt’s novel Purple People has arrived!

In an effort to tackle dispiriting, spiralling levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, the government has a new solution: to dye offenders purple

Kate describes the book as a ‘jolly dystopia’, which is a lovely phrase. She’s certainly pulled off a very different type of dystopia. It’s sinister but also comforting and English. I mean, it’s easy to write moody, scary scenarios. Kate has written something light without making it unserious.

Purple People was produced through a crowdfunding campaign, which means I originally ordered the book back in October 2017. One of the things I love about crowdfunding is that it is not just about buying a book, it’s also about the excitement of seeing it come together. I’ve loved watching the hard work Kate put into writing and promoting this book.

I was also lucky enough to be one of the book’s beta-readers (which is how I can be so confident about promoting the book when the e-book only dropped in a few days ago). I read it back in February, and it’s been interesting how much it resonates with the current state of the world.

Kate’s also had enthusiastic responses from people like Emma Jane Unsworth (“Purple People is JOYOUS… warm, witty, wildly imaginative and utterly original”) and David Quantick (“that rare thing, a warm-hearted satire… it has teeth AND a heart.”).

The best thing about Purple People is that it is original. I read a lot of dystopian fiction over the years and have become a little jaded with the genre. The deceptive lightness of this book is refreshing. It’s now available on amazon (just £3.99 on kindle) and you should give it a try.

I love putting friend’s books on my shelves. Here’s Kate’s book in its new home, between Burroughs and Bronte, with Borges, Brautigan and Richard Blandford just near by.

Introducing Rhymewave

Over the last couple of years, I’ve helped out with a project called Rhymewave, which finally launched a few weeks back. Rhymewave is an online rhyming dictionary, the brainchild of rapper Jon Clarke. It takes a different angle to a lot of rhyming dictionaries, helping to craft interesting multi-syllabic lines.

I’ve known Jon for a few years via Poets vs MCs, as well as seeing some stunning performances from him at Slipjam B and with his current band Sombras. He’s one of the most creative and surprising rappers I’ve seen. He also appeared with Professor Elemental and Dizraeli on one of my favourite hip-hop tracks, Graveyard Shifts, about the Bear Road Cemetery:

Jon first approached me as he was looking to put his rhyming dictionary into an app. I suggested that he take a different approach – apps are expensive and frustrating and it’s hard to get people to spend time with them. We decided to focus on the original aim of producing a website.

One of the reasons I thought Jon should put this up quickly and for free was to give lots of people the chance to use it. Looking at the site’s analytics, there are clusters of users in countries I’d never thought about in relation to hip-hop. Some of them are using the tool to help with pronunciation, but I hope they are also inspired to start writing lyrics.

The best thing about the project is that it is a true labour of love. Jon has been collecting words over years. The dictionary includes specifically local terms too (North Laine, Lewes Road), reflecting bits of Jon’s own life. As Jon said in an interview, ”A word can be a signpost to a world you never knew.”

One of the things I love about hip-hop is the connections it builds. An artwork from out of New York has spread across the world, mutating and shifting. I’m excited about what new, unexpected turns this project will take in the future.

The Peaks of Brighton

I’ve always been a little jealous of people with the time and location to collect Munros and Wainwrights. All the interesting climbs in Britain are some distance from the south coast. The chalk geology of Sussex does not lead to exciting peaks – the highest point is a mere 280m, at Blackdown. I mean, it’s better than Essex (highest point 147m) or Norfolk (103m), but it’s not much.

In November 2017, the Brighton Urban Ramblers did a City Three Peaks, but they went for steepest streets rather than highest points, picking Dyke Road, Preston Drove, and Southover Street. Still, there are high points in Sussex, which means they can be collected.

There is a list of Brighton Hills in Tim Carder’s Encylopedia of Brighton which is reproduced on My Brighton and Hove, although the heights are given in feet. Taking an arbitrary cut-off at 100m, the ‘peaks’ within the borough are:

  1. 645 Bullock Hill, Woodingdean
  2. 584 Hollingbury, Patcham
  3. 580 Holt Hill, Patcham
  4. 534 Falmer Hill, off Falmer Road
  5. 531 near Pudding Bag Wood, StanmerPark
  6. 510 Varncombe Hill, Patcham
  7. 509 The Bostle, Woodingdean
  8. 503 Heath Hill, Woodingdean
  9. 485 Tegdown Hill, Patcham
  10. 476 on Ditchling Road south of Old Boat Corner
  11. 463 Race Hill, by Bear Road
  12. 435 Scare Hill, Patcham
  13. 430 in Stanmer Great Wood
  14. 430 Red Hill, Westdene
  15. 427 Sweet Hill, Patcham
  16. 417 Race Hill, by the Race Stands
  17. 417 Telscombe Tye, Saltdean
  18. 411 at Balsdean Reservoir
  19. 410 Ewebottom Hill, Patcham
  20. 398 High Hill, Balsdean
  21. 396 Whitehawk Hill, Brighton
  22. 387 Coney Hill, Westdene
  23. 367 Mount Pleasant, Woodingdean
  24. 355 on Dyke Road Avenue, near Dyke Road Place
  25. 352 Red Hill, Roedean
  26. 334 Tenant Hill, Saltdean

That is a lot of hills. I decided that a better starting point would be the trig pillars, since they should have good views and account for Topographic prominence. There is an excellent database of trigpoints at trigpointing.uk, which includes all the trig points around Brighton. Some of these are listed as destroyed, but are still useful target locations. Their catalogue of Brighton trig points includes 6 pillars:

I’m going to take this as the starting point for my ‘Brighton Peak bagging’, although it makes sense to expand this into the wider Brighton Downs – using the arbitrary definition of the area covered by Dave Bang’s book A Freedom to Roam Guide to the Brighton Downs. This would expand the area to cover Beeding Hill through to Lewes, also including the north slope of Clayton Hill and Ditchling Beacon. So far, I’ve done one of the trig points, now I just need to divide the others into a few sensible routes.

Anyone interested in joining me for a session of Brighton peak-bagging?

Social Distancing, Day 100: Re-emerging

This is my 100th day of social distancing, and the 93rd day since the government placed the country under full lockdown.

Back at the start of 2020, I couldn’t imagine something like this lockdown happening. I remember January, driving down the M1 and listening to the news from China, with no thought that it would ever affect me. Now, one in a thousand people have died in Britain, and the economy has been placed under massive pressure. We look to be facing a harder recession than after the financial crash of 2008, the effects of which are still being felt, particularly by people in their twenties.

The number of coronavirus infections has finally fallen to pre-lockdown levels, but it’s a disquieting time. The country can’t sustain further lockdowns without devastating economic effects; but the contradiction between the sternness of late May’s rules and the current anything-goes feel is confusing and stressful.

Yesterday, the government annouced that it was opening the country up and ending the daily briefings. It’s hard not to see the end of the briefings as a way of evading scrutiny. The daily statistics will still be released but government ministers will no longer respond to them. In some ways, the briefing were a problem for the government – it was a place for grand announcements, but also one where they could be held to account. So many of the early causes for optimism has turned out to have little behind them – there was no plan to use the massive numbers of NHS volunteers, the Nightingale hospitals were not needed, and the much-vaunted ventilator schemes were quietly forgotten.

Coronavirus is no less frightening than it was in March. In fact, given what we know about the long-term effects, it’s probably worse. A friend of mine came down with the virus in April. They are still incredibly ill, as they described in an article for the Huffington post. Reading about the effects on a significant numbers of sufferers is terrifying, and we have no idea if these people will ever recover. About 30,000 people might be suffering “long-tail” effects, as well as others whose lungs are permanently scarred. I am certainly very cautious about being exposed to the virus.

As scared as I am, I personally can’t sustain lockdown indefinitely. Being in a social bubble with my friends Rosy and Olive has massively improved my quality of life. I’ve not taken advantage of all the freedoms I have now, but I need to start socialising more (although it won’t be in pubs, as the pub of the future does not sound much fun). The question is how to socialise safely. I’m trying to be cautious rather than scared – there was a lot of talk of how the Cummings incident would lead to a second spike, but none of the pessimistic scenarios of the last few months have occurred – so far.

I’m very lucky, in that lockdown has been far less stressful for me than it has been for most people. Even so, it’s been hard, and I dread a Winter lockdown. But, while the weather is good, I need to get outside, and start doing more socially distant walks. It’s too easy to take the excuse to sit indoors. It’s time to rejoin the world, carefully, and get out of the lockdown mindset.

Back to The Brighton and Hove Way

During Summer, the Brighton Explorer’s Club would normally be off on adventures, but lockdown means looking for excitment closer to home. During June, the group has had teams walking the Brighton and Hove Way.

I walked the entire Brighton and Hove Way in a single day on the May bank holiday. It’s a great trail, although doing in one hot day was hard, brutal work – it turns out the 27km distance listed on the website was a typo, and it’s 27 miles. It’s been more fun split into three sections with a (socially-distanced) group. The team event has been well-organised, with a photography competition as well as a quiz.

So far, our group has done two outings walking the sections between Dyke Road through to Falmer via the seafront, leaving a fun stretch along the Downs at the back of the town as our finial journey.

On my first trip, I complained a little about the GPS trail. The exit from Balsdean was actually more obvious than I realised, as well as more scenic. The section around suburban Portslade was still a little tricky, however. The route’s organisers are working to get funding for signage, but progress is slow.

It’s less than a month since I first walked the route, but the changes are notable, particularly the growing crops and bright poppies month them. It’s also been far more fun walking the trail with company.

On the section near Balsdean, we found this huge lump of quartz. It was about a foot across. I have no idea how it came to be on the path. According to Jim Mellor: “the piece of quartz in the photo from the Brighton and Hove Way could be a ‘salt lick’ – a mineral lump left out for cattle as a diet supplement”

With the grass and crops being taller, the wind causes waves to run across the hills. It’s quite a beautiful effect, which the photograph below only hints at:

Looking back towards Balsdean from the correct path out of the valley, rather than the one I took originally.

It’s always good to see the ‘This Way’ markers about the place.

Microfiction collection: Days and Nights in W12 by Jack Robinson

I’d not heard of Jack Robinson before Tim Blackwell sent me a copy of his book Days and Nights in W12. It’s a stunning collection.

I love works made up of micro fictions. There are some great examples of this, such as David Eagleman’s book Sum, Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman or Sarah Salway’s Something Beginning With. It’s tricky to get right, since it’s easy to sound glib with such short stories.

Robinson’s book consists of stories responding to photographs of W12. Obviously, I love this because the combination of text and pictures is what we do in the Not for the Faint-Hearted workshop. Robinson has some outrageous tall tales, doing a great job of describing and enchanting the city. You might describe this as a work of psychogeography, if we still used that word.

But it’s even better than that! It has an index. There aren’t enough works of fiction with indexes (JG Ballard once wrote a short story in the form of an index in his collection War Fever and it’s one of the best short stories ever). Robinson has cross-references between the stories too, recalling Geoff Ryman’s book ‘Internet novel’ 253.

I’d always loved the idea of writing microfictions about Brighton. But this book describes London so well that I don’t think I could write such stories about an urban area anything like as well.

As if there was no enough to love about this book already, Jack Robinson is a pseudonym. Tim pointed me towards an interview with the actual writer, Charles Boyle. He runs CB Editions, Robinson’s publisher, and there are several other writers on the list that are also Boyle’s alter-ego.

I can’t believe I hadn’t read Robinson before. These sort of discoveries are so exciting, as they suggest the possibility of other equally-thrilling books waiting somewhere for you. And I was so sure that the Glass Hotel would be my book of the year.

Deadline 22/6/20: Finally! A use for the Brighton i360

According to Brighton and Hove News , “A petition calling for marking on the pavement around the i360 showing the time and date goes before the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee on Tuesday 23 June.

The petition is available on the council’s petition site and, at present has a mere 57 signatures. It states, “We wish to create an educational attraction that demonstrates how our ancient ancestors developed the measurement of time and date by creating dial plats around a vertical post used gnomon,” and suggests marking various pavements around the town, replicating Augustus’ sundial in Rome.

This seems an excellent way of redeeming a rather disappointing project. The i360 has missed its targets both for visitors and for repaying its loan from the council. (It’s worth adding that the visitor estimates were viable, making the failures even more disappointing). The restaurant, despite a superb location, seems to be promoted ambivalently – someone recently recommended it to me as a great place for meetings, since it was “almost always empty”. The i360 should have been at the center of a thriving and exciting area, but has made little impression.

I’ve long been disappointed with the i360. It was used as a reason for removing some of the beautiful ruins of the West Pier, and a distraction from any feasible project for renovation or replacement of the old pier. It’s hard not to see the i360 as establishing a beach head for commercial development of the beach.

The only real value in the i360, for me, is its height, functioning as a landmark for Brighton in the surrounding landscape. It’s visible on the Downs from Chanctonbury to Firle and I’ve even referred to the i360 as a gnomon myself, with its placement at the center of a long arc of the South Downs. It’s an eyesore close up, but its height makes it a feature from a distance. Maybe using it as a sundial within the town would be a good way of making it more interesting close up.

The i360 was promoted by the West Pier Trust as “putting [Brighton] absolutely fairly and squarely back on the map as an exciting, glamorous and daring place to be”. It’s not done that and it’s possibly unfair to expect the i360 to live up to its own hyperbole. But turning it into a sundial seems like a definite improvement.

It’s here! The South Downs Way Volume 2: “The Devil”

Here it is! My second booklet of flash-fictions based around the South Downs Way. This one is about the Devil, a figure who is intimately connected to Sussex. The county contains a number of landmarks linked with him, including Devil’s Dyke and Chanctonbury Ring (if you run seven times round the trees at Chanctonbury at midnight he will appear to you). According to Bede, Sussex was the last place in the country converted to Christianity. It is still a strange and pagan place.

This is a more abrasive collection than the other one, but it’s also fun in places. I particularly enjoyed writing the character of the Devil, and may return to him later in the series.

If you’d like a copy, email me, or leave a comment on this page and I will put one in the post (I won’t publish any addresses written in the comments).

I’m not sure exactly how big this South Downs Way series will be. This is the second volume, I’ve drafted most of the third, and I have written significant portions of another two. I love digging into the history and folklore of Sussex, and the challenge of linking together independent stories. I suspect it will be around 12 collections of this size, but given how many stories are emerging it might even be a little longer. We will see. I am going to keep writing stories now until late August, when I make a selection for volume 3. I’m planning for the next collection to be exclusively made up of nice stories.

Distancing Retreat, Day 94: My first lockdown birthday

Aren’t these cupcakes (made by Kitty Peels) incredible? The shading is stunning. They taste amazing too, although I feel a little guilty about eating such works of art.

I’m not a huge fan of birthdays, and having one during lockdown set expectations quite low. I mean, non-essential shops are open, but spa-days, cocktail bars or parties are all out. I decided on a day of watching movies with my social bubble buddies, Rosy and Olive; but I soon realised I’d had enough of drinking while watching films. Meh.

We took a break from the films for the Daily Briefing, led by Culture Secretary Oliver Downden. After skipping over the daily death toll, we were told that today was an exciting day as premiership football was returning. Then Downden annouced that he is engaged in talks with the arts sector to look for a way forward. I’m not sure what the culture secretary has been doing over the last 14-15 weeks, but I assumed that a roadmap for the arts would have been produced long before now. And Downden’s use of the briefing to make a jibe at the leader of the opposition was in poor taste.

I don’t know why people are not very angry with how the British government has handled the pandemic. Today, the NHS track and trace app has been abandoned in favour of the Google/Apple model. Since every developer I know had said since the first announcement that this would be the case, the government should not be allowed to get away with claiming that they “backed both horses” – particularly when they denied doing this repeatedly. We should be told how much money has been wasted on this futile effort.

This is only the latest failure of policy. We have one of the world’s highest death rates, and are predicted to have the worst post-lockdown financial recovery. Quarantine was not put in place in the early stages of the crisis, which may have allowed up to 1,300 infected people into the country. The Track-and-trace programme was abandoned early on. Rather than expand existing local teams who already do track-and-trace locally, a national scheme has been put in place. Contracts have been given to private companies with little oversight. Elderly patients were discharged from hospitals to unprepared care-homes. (These points are summarised in a guardian leader). Our lockdown, which has proved hugely expensive, appears to have had little impact on the progression of the virus compared to countries that applied less harsh restrictions. More attention has been paid to re-opening garden centers than re-opening dentists.

I try to remain optimistic, hoping that the simple measures will keep the virus under control – things such as washing hands and sick people not being forced to go to work. But it looks as if the current government have actually managed to make a horrific situation worse. All the rhetoric and brave promises have delivered very little.

Early on, the government’s rhetoric was based around military metaphors. If the struggle against coronavirus was really a war, at this point we’d be looking to negotiate the terms of a surrender. I will be very surprised if things are back to normal for my next birthday.

Lockdown Retreat, Day 91: Time is Broken

The science fiction I read as a kid often used the idea of time being ‘broken’, with action heroes like Jerry Cornelius and the ABC Warriors fighting to set things right. I find myself recalling the strangeness of these stories when I think of the way time has changed during the pandemic.

This idea of broken time has turned up a lot. There was a meme about how “2020 is a unique Leap Year. It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March, and five years in April“. And then there was a fantastic Youtube sketch by Julie Nolke, where her January self is visited by her future self, from April. It’s disconcerting how history has lurched forwards.

This feeling of broken time is brilliantly captured in the essay, Pandemic Time: A Distributed Doomsday Clock by Venkatesh Rao, a writer who regularly gives good concept. Rao begins by talking about “the sudden dimming of the red supergiant star Betelgeuse”. This star is about 700 light years away, meaning this dimming “actually occurred somewhere around the time the Black Death was making its way around the world”.

This is the starting point for an essay on the “distorted temporality shaped by the progress of COVID-19 across the globe. Like the distorted time around a supergiant star going supernova and collapsing into a black hole, “pandemic time” is anything but normal.

Rao describes the experience well. “Even within a different apartment block, neighbours experience different temporalities“, with some working from home, others home-schooling, some with families separated from loved ones overseas. Rao also talks about how “Older outbreak hotspots are serving as time machines for newer ones.” I have a friend in Italy, and he warned me of the logistical and emotional challenges I was about to face, based on being two weeks ahead in lockdown.

It’s an effort not to just precis the whole essay. One of the most striking sections is the comparison of Chronos, the Greek god of linear measured time, to Kairos, the god of subjective time, or time as opportunity. Roa talks about how Chronos has lost his grip on our world, placing us in “a new epoch ruled by Kairos“. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve read on the pandemic.

We’re now past 12 weeks into lockdown, and the government is desperately trying to get the economy moving again. Permanent lockdown is not an option, as horrifying as the alternative might be. But this goes very much against the advice first received, and the government messaging is confused. Opening up again is a risk, but it is a managed one, and they should be discussing that in a clear, adult manner.

Meanwhile, as a single-adult household, I have finally been allowed to create a ‘social bubble’. I’ve seen my friend Rosy for distanced walks, but being allowed to sit down and share food with her and her daughter is a massive improvement in my quality of life. But we are still a long way from normality and a world ruled again by Chronos.