The Beginning of the End (Day 344)

I was surprised at how relieved and excited I was by last night’s government announcements. This morning I feel lighter and calmer than I have in weeks. All social restrictions might be gone by June 21st (day 462 of my personal lockdown). The end is in sight.

I’ve been fraying during this third lockdown, and I’ve seen some friends responding similarly. We’ve already been doing this lockdown for 50 days and it’s been hard, particularly for those living alone. A few days ago, the Zoe App said they were amending the symptom list, “adding fatigue, sore throat, headache and diarrhoea to the ‘classic triad’ of cough, fever and loss of smell“. Headaches and fatigue are pretty much constants for me and a lot of people I know – the ‘lockdown hangover’. We are sleeping badly and waking up to repeat the same day we’ve had for weeks.

At least now we have something to look forward to. I imagine everyone has now seen the four-stage plan (although it wouldn’t be this government without some daft complexity, and stage 1 is actiually split into two parts). 8th March, two people can meet socially outdoors. 29th March sees the ‘rule of six’ and outdoor social gatherings. 12th April, shops and holiday accommodation open. 17th May, the rule of six allows indoor gatherings again. And, if all goes to plan, the nightclubs reopen on June 21st, and all social restrictions are lifted.

It’s still a long time, but the weather is improving and the vaccine seems to be working. Even the gamble about delaying second doses appears to have paid off. There still needs to be a reckoning with the appalling errors and waste by the government but, for now, I just want to look forward to June.

First thoughts on Adam Curtis’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head

Last weekend, I watched all six episodes of the new Adam Curtis show, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, which comes in at about eight hours. I’m still thinking about the show, but my initial thoughts are somewhat critical.

  • First off, I loved that the first mention of Discordianism was approximately 23 minutes in. Beautiful attention to detail.
  • In many ways, this felt like a direct continuation of Curtis’s other documentaries, with the same mix of B-roll footage, out of context archive shots and tasteful music.
  • In a show that talks about power and narrative, Curtis’s use of his voice as a patrician BBC voiceover is suspect. This should be parodic, but he seems to be playing it straight.
  • Many of the ideas Curtis uses are quite simple, and thrown out of linear order just to create patterns and juxtapositions.
  • Some of these juxtapositions begin to seem trite. ‘Saudi Arabia is a fairyland, just like Tupac Shakur’s version of LA!’ ‘The KKK are like Isis, who are just like English folk dances before world war two!’
  • There is a loss of context to the images, which is sometimes problematic. We’re lulled into not questioning the origin of footage and ideas. At one point, shocking footage is shown of what looks like preparations for a mass execution, the victim’s faces blurred. Were they blurred by the BBC or by the people who shot and edited the original footage?
  • Curtis often talks about how the world had gone “badly wrong” for the middle classes, sometimes supporting this by proximity to appalling outrages on less-privileged groups. I think that someone like Curtis could always show the middle classes being unhappy and unsettled with whatever the mainstream ideology was.
  • Towards the end, Curtis talks about use of neural networks on the web, and how patterns in the data are analysed without context or meaning. The implicit self-critique is palpable.
  • But, at the same time, there is a fascinating twist, which comes too late to be followed up. Having spoken about manipulation through social media, Curtis questions the idea of this through the replication crisis.
  • After talking for hours about the growth in bureaucratic power, Curtis briefly moves to discussing Brexit. He questions the idea that Brexit was a manipulation of Leavers by outside forces, implying that Brexit might even be a positive way of reclaiming the collective power has been undermined over years. It’s a disturbing and fascinating moment.
  • It feels like the next Curtis documentary could be very interesting.

What fascinates me about this show, and makes it worth discussing, is that Curtis seems to be making a provocative, inspiring narrative, but one that is almost drowned by his tropes. That positive story is about the limits of individuality, and the need for collective stories to change the world. Rather than focus on the anxiety and confusion, he could have focussed on people gathering together. It’s that show that has excited me, rather than the one discussed above.

Curtis deals in hidden narratives, but the film begins and ends with David Graeber’s inspiring quote: “The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make. And could just as easily make different”.

Reading Poems on Twitch (7/2/21 at 6pm)

On Sunday evening I’ll be live-streaming on twitch, reading some of my favourite poems. I’ll start at 6pm GMT, and will go for about an hour.

I don’t expect me reading poetry over the internet to be a huge draw, but one of the things I love about twitch is the intimacy of tiny audiences, the feeling of presence. And it’s been fun digging through my shelves, handling the books, and realising how many memories are attached to them.

My sudden twitch obsession comes via DJ Kate St Shields. Kate has been looking at different places to host her DJ sets and has recently settled on Twitch. The service has been about for around 9 years, but I’d only heard of it as a video-game streaming service. There is so much more. I can watch a dog called Leyla on her walks. I watched sea-otters, swimming in the rain, near to Canada – Great! Watching cars move through an anonymous intersection in Russia might have been one of the most moving things I have seen.

It’s like something from a sci-fi novel. There are all these little interactive TV stations, whose graphics are almost as good as some of the little stations on cable in the late-90s Essex. I can watch a ship docking, or someone sewing. I can watch a self-proclaimed redneck and ex-con doing a delivery round, the chat questions repeated to him by a gadget as he drives. It’s like the few times I caught a pirate radio station when living in Essex – the chat between the tracks was the most interesting thing.

Poetry, for me, has always been about the capture of little moments (which is a poor, reductive definition for poetry, but it’s what I like about it). I love how the particular way this art captures moments, and the ephemerality of twitch seems the perfect place for such moments.

Monthnotes: January 2021

Total January

They say time gets faster as you get older, but January has managed to be the slowest month I’ve ever experienced. There has been no travel anywhere, few events, and I’ve been waiting out the time. I don’t know how other people are coping with this, particularly those in cramped accommodation, or unstable shared houses, or with no opportunity for income. We’re hearing promises from the government about a great summer, but it’s hard to put much stock in those. Life is just work, screens and staying safe.

Inspired by my friend Justin, I’ve been keeping a diary to help tell the days apart. It’s just a few lines for each day, noting what was remarkable about it. It’s helped to distinguish the days from each other, and has made life a little more vivid.

Work feels particularly strange at the moment – I’ve not seen my colleagues for almost a year, and I was only about five months into the job before this begun. The advantages of being in a permanent role are pretty much obliterated and I long to go contracting.

I’ve continued my maintenance dose of walking, with a target 11,000 steps a day. My total for January was a healthy 415,784, which is an average of over 13,000. I feel like I’ve been wasting my daily steps by not doing more interesting things with them. But some days it’s hard to summon the energy just to pace without trying to feel inspired too. I’ve considered starting running again, despite the bad hip, just to see if I can make my exercise more interesting.

After a long pause, I restarted Not for the Faint-Hearted, my now-online writing group. I feel like I’ve relaxed into this year’s sessions and have been enjoying them a great deal. At the end of the session, we each discuss a piece of culture we’ve enjoyed the past week, and the question has unearthed some fascinating passions.

I finished reading a good brace of books. Wintering by Katherine May has a strong book-of-the-year vibe to it. I also read Gideon the Ninth, and I’m still trying to work out if I liked it enough to invest time in the series. I loved Gideon’s smirking and inappropriate humour, and would be up for more of that. I’m going to wait for a while and see if I’m drawn back.

I’m still listening to audiobooks through an Audible subscription, although it seems to be mostly there as a fallback for when I run out of podcasts. The first audiobook I listened to was the stunning Beastie Boys book, and the others are having a hard time living up to that.

On the PS4, I’ve been playing Horizon: Zero Dawn a little, but that feels compulsive rather than fun. TV has included Wandavision, Rupaul’s Drag Race and the Mandalorian. I also managed a couple of movies: Pixar’s Soul had its message undermined by its provenance, and Chris Morris’s The Day Shall Come felt weirdly slight.

Via Kate, I’ve been getting into twitch. Listening to someone chatting over a video game is a good ambient experience. And, you know, the fact it’s streamed makes it a little better than me just being an old person who has the TV on for company.

While January has been grim, I’ve felt less lonely than I did in the previous lockdown. I’m making more effort to socialise on zoom and it is definitely helping. Being in a bubble, along with the simple act of sharing food, is also doing a great deal to keep me sane.

According to the almanac, we gain about 100 minutes of daylight through the course of February. We also have the start of Lent on February 17th. I’ve been trying to make use of festivals as calendar markers wherever I can. On that basis, Lent is a good thing. But do I need to follow a festival around giving things up, when we have already giving up so much?

Imbolc (Day 322)

Today is Imbolc, the first festival of the Celtic Calendar, which brings a promise of spring. Wikipedia tells me that Celts associated the time with ewes beginning lactation, preparing the way for their lambs. Or, as Katharine May describes it in her book Wintering, “It marks the end of winter, a time when the snow would traditionally melt, and its debris could be cleared away”. This is a time for spring cleaning, for dusting away cobwebs.

Imbolc also comes close to Candlemas, and to Groundhog Day. According to wikipedia again, this year marks the 135th Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney and this year Phil the Groundhog will wear a mask, with the ceremony held behind closed doors.

I’d wanted to mark the Celtic Festivals as we dragged ourselves through the pandemic, but January is such a low ebb that it is hard to muster up any feeling of celebration. Gathering with other people is illegal anyway. At least now the incredibly long January is over and it is time for renewal. And I legit completed my todo list yesterday, which feels even better than a spring clean.

Judy Mazonowicz’s article on Celebrating the Goddess at Imbolc in Bodge Issue 1 notes the connection of the day with St Brigid/Bridies, and the making of a traditional Bridie’s Cross. The article suggests visiting a Spring and the photo above is from my dawn visit to St. Anne’s Well gardens.

A year ago today, I visited the Long Man of Wilmington with The Door, in a very different world. It’s hard to believe all the time that has happened since. The days have passed slowly, but the weeks have flown by, with so many different periods to this – the three lockdowns, the long summer, the mess of Christmas. I keep thinking back to the early days, where I thought the economic effects of preventing the virus would outweigh the effect of the virus itself.

The next Celtic festival is the Spring Equinox, on March 20th. By this point, the schools should have reopened (and, I think, shut for the holidays?), so things will be a little less restricted. It’s a Saturday too, so I should think about how to mark the day.

Today also promises an announcement from David Lynch, which I assume is about the new Netflix series. I’m hoping for something that strengthens the connections between Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive. But I have faith that Lynch will produce something I need rather than something I want.