Season Notes 4

This post has been sitting around in my drafts folder for months without being published. But I like these season-notes and want to keep them going. So, catching up very quickly on April to June:

I finished my long post-Crunch holiday with a trip to Morocco and, at the end of April, I started a new contract close to Brighton station. The election was a great storyline but a disappointing result. I saw Nick Cave play in London. I discovered that my Dad had met Grace Hopper (I’ve no idea why he didn’t mention that before now).

Birthday celebrations were fun. I saw Eddie Argos doing his spoken word tour; and Lou-Ice and Sara visited for the launch of Swenglish. The Glastonbury Festival was the best yet, with Sarah, MJP, Rosy, Robin, James and Dina all being awesome. Kanye was ambitious but missed; Patti Smith played an incredible set where the Dalai Lama’s appearance halfway through was not the highlight.

I had a few performances. I did a piece at Hammer and Tongue, featuring Chris Parkinson on video. I asked him to be Flava to my Chuck D and he killed it. I spoke at the Catalyst Club on ‘Not Walking Around the World’; I gave a talk as part of Brighton Fringe on Sussex Death Folklore, which I loved researching and was delighted by how warmly people responded. I was part of the Nocturnal event at the Towner Gallery.

I wrote about the Cheeky Walks for Brighton-A-Budget and did a piece on meetups for the Crunch blog. I also published my first collection of stories, and tiny booklet of 6 stories in 600 words (review here):



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The i360: Sauron’s Trojan Horse

An artist's impression of the completed i360
An artist’s impression of the completed i360

A week or so back I realised I could see the i360 from my flat. When I mentioned it on Twitter, a friend said that its red light reminded them of the eye of Sauron. And there is something oppressive about the way it overlooks everything.

I’ve written a lot about the i360 over the years (see here and here). I try not to resent the project but given the disruption to the seafront, the decay of the Terraces and the associated development, I really wish it wasn’t going ahead.

Scribe tweeted me a recent celebratory article from the Guardian which talks up the project and its organisers. As the piece points out, the i360 probably will make a profit (see my discussion of the Council’s loan document). The piece goes on to acclaim it as an exciting development, linking it to the Pavilion and the West Pier itself. The article claims that most people are in favour, but there is something bullying about the tone:

It will loom over the seafront, more or less where Brighton meets Hove, and nobody in either town will be able to ignore it… It seems presumptuous to give a quarter of a million people a new symbol that they didn’t ask for, but that is unavoidably what’s happening, which makes the emotional stakes extremely high.

Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust is quoted as saying that “far more people… are in favour of it than against”, which is fair enough. Most people I’ve met have a weary contempt or make jokes about its ridiculous phallic nature. As to Clark’s claim that the i360 will transform Brighton, “putting it absolutely fairly and squarely back on the map as an exciting, glamorous and daring place to be”? I wasn’t aware the town at any risk of disappearing from the map.

At the same time as the i360 goes up, the old Concorde/Sea-life development remains a ghost town, although there is a new scheme to do something with it. Further East, the ‘artist’s quarter’ near the Concorde 2 is being evacuated as sections of Madeira Terrace are close to collapse. Estimates of the cost of repair are eye-wateringly (fantastically?) high. All the focus on the i360 draws attention away from the very serious neglect of other parts of the seafront.

As much as I resent the i360 for disrupting the flow and calm of a massive area of seafront, I am most concerned about the scale of the associated development. I’d always imagined it being a tower with ticket/waiting area. But there is also a restaurant, as well as a 1000-person conference center. This sounds like a large development, and I find myself wondering if the i360 is little more than a way of redeveloping an area of the seafront. Is there additional development to come? And, if the tower should be removed in the future, will this new development be left behind?

Stranger than we can Imagine


This weekend saw the launch of John Higgs’ new book Stranger than we can Imagine. It was also the first chance I’d had to read the copy I bought a few weeks ago at the Wilderness Festival, where I spoke just after John. His book on the KLF is one of my favourite books, so I’d been looking forward to this for some time. It’s a pretty bold undertaking, being a history of the twentieth century and takes its title from a quote by the physicist Sir Arthur Eddington.

Apparently a review in a history journal said that, rather than being the Great Man theory of history, this is the strange person history. The figures Higgs picks are marginal: Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, Emperor Norton, Mark Everett. There is a fantastic portray of Von Neumann as a supervillain, which vividly illustrates the madness of cold war strategy. The book’s theme is the shifting frames of reference at the start of the century in areas such as psychology, politics, science and literature. My favourite quote is the cautious claim that “If you were feeling  brave you could argue that Einstein was a modernist scientist, although to do so would annoy a lot of physicists”

I tend to be a little nervous about popular accounts of physics. Over the years I’ve read too many accounts of quantum entanglement that veered off into telepathy. The handling of science here is careful and thoughtful without being dry, particularly the discussions of special relativity.

(The time traveller and poet Rosy Carrick recently teased me for the class of degree I earned and, yes, I was much less successful than she was as an undergraduate. However, I feel that I achieved the aims JA Smith set out in his teaching: “Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life – save only this – if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education.”)

Another interesting discussion is about the alleged riots at the opening night of Stavinsky’s rite of Spring. Like the riots that were said to have happened in response to Tzara’s random poetry, there is little evidence that this happened. Higgs dismantles the myth, then turns to a surprising conclusion: “An actual riot only tells us about the impact of the performance on one particular day. A mythic riot, on the other hand, shows us that the impact of the music transcends that point in time. Myths don’t just crop up anywhere.”

The narrative of the book emerges quite late, and for a while I wasn’t sure if there was a story to be told, but the conclusion is fascinating. Something happened in the 20th century and this book provides an interesting explanation of what this was.

PS – Higgs raises an interesting question about UFOs through his outline of a discussion by Jung. UFOs, according to Jung, are a modern manifestation of things seen through the ages, such as fairies and angels. Since the cameraphone became ubiquitous, UFO sightings have dropped off – what is going to replace them?


Nothing Strange Has Ever Happened to Me

Last night, at a book launch in London, I was talking to a magician. He told me how his interest in magic was sparked by strange experiences in childhood; magic provided a means of understanding these events. My experience of the world is very different. As I explained to the magician, nothing strange has ever happened to me.

That’s not to say my life isn’t interesting (not least because it involves meeting up with magicians at book launches in nightclub basements). And I’ve been to lots of strange places and events, such as the Mari Lwyd or the Karni Mata temple. It’s just that, in all these adventures, I’ve never seen any direct evidence of particularly odd or inexplicable.

I’ve always been interested in the weird and supernatural. As I child, I loved my copy of the Usbourne Books’ Supernatural Omnibus. As I’ve grown older, I retained that fascination, for example being obsessed by Grant Morrison’s Invisibles comic. Recently, I gave a talk on Slenderman and Creepypasta. But my interests are only as an observer. I’m probably the only Robert Anton Wilson fan without any personal synchronicity stories.

But that doesn’t make me a sceptic. Another thing I’ve always loved are stories. I can appreciate other people’s narratives, even if they don’t work for me. Maybe it comes from attending chapel three times a week at school, the whole establishment following a religion it didn’t believe in.

If pushed, I could explain away any particular incident of weirdness – whether through marsh gas, drunkenness, credulity or a desperate desire for attention. The problem comes with explaining away all of them. Too many times, on a summer afternoon, I’ve seen conversation slip into the unexplained. It amazes me how many people have a story to tell. It’s more than good manners that stops me from claiming they must be making it up. A single story can be explained away, but there are too many such stories.

We live in a strange beautiful world, and one of the things I love most about it are those gaps, the things that can’t be quickly explained away: accounts of magic, interventions by spirits, strange coincidences. I know a lot of people who’ve had odd experiences, but these things all happen to other people. Nothing strange has ever happened to me.

Nocturnal at the Towner Gallery


This Thursday, May 14th, I will be appearing at Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery as part of their Nocturnal event. I will be talking twice during the evening, about night, sleep and dreams. The research I’ve done has been fascinating, and I am looking forward to sharing it.

There are a load of other things happening – music, mask-making, an awesome cocktail menu, video and a sound installation from Gazelle Twin. It should be a fantastic night!

35: Early Days of a Better Nation


In his book Our Pet Queen, writer John Higgs claims that Britain has two monarchs. One is Elizabeth Windsor; the other is King Arthur Uther Pendragon. In comparison with Elizabeth, King Arthur is “more likely to sleep in a ditch, drink cider until he pukes and set fire to people for a laugh”,  but is “recognized as a King because his followers don’t know anyone who would make a better king”.

King Arthur was born John Timothy Rothwell in 1954 and spent time as a soldier and a biker. After reading a book on the mythical King Arthur, he spotted certain similarities and decided that he was Arthur reincarnated. He changed his name and was proclaimed King by several Druidic orders.

According to Higgs, King Arthur knows how mad this is, but he is also determined to live up to the ideal of King Arthur. He does not work or take benefits: “[King Arthur] can only eat and drink if people value him enough to feed him. His stout frame is, therefore, a source of some pride. Together with his long white hair and beard, it is hard to deny that this ex-soldier and biker has come to look an awful lot like a king.”

(Higgs also tells an excellent story about how King Arthur Pendragon found Excalibur, but I’m not going to regurgitate the book. My friend Michael Parker has also found Excalibur. I texted him while I was writing this piece to ask if he’d met King Arthur. Mike texted back to say that he had: “I told him that I had ‘an’ Excalibur, and he said then that I am ‘an’ Arthur”)

As a King, Arthur Pendragon took his first stand against the long-running exclusion zone against Stonehenge. He continues to participate in direct action with his followers, the Loyal Arthurian Warband and has accumulated a series of honorary titles.


King Arthur Pendragon is reminiscent of another figure, the Discordian Saint, Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Norton declared himself Emperor in San Francisco in 1859, on nothing but his own authority. Despite that, his 21-year reign is generally seen as a good thing. Norton I is said to have dispersed anti-Chinese riots, released his own currency and was fed by the city’s restaurants. When arrested for a mental disorder there was uproar, with the town’s citizens demanding his release. The police chief apologised when the Emperor was released: “he had shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line.”

When Norton died in 1880, the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle declared “Le Roi est Mort”. At first, a pauper’s funeral was planned but his citizens demanded something greater. On January 10th 1880, the body of Emperor Norton I was paraded past 10,000 people with a funeral cortège 2 miles long.

King Arthur Pendragon and Emperor Norton draw attention to something important about power and legitimacy. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland has existed only since 1801; governments have come and gone. While they may not also be what we would choose, we can choose our ideals and leaders to an extent – but this does come with a responsibility. As King Arthur Pendragon says on his website: “Arthur is what Arthur does and I will be judged solely by my accomplishments.”

A quick post about India

It’s just over two months since I landed in Delhi on my most recent trip to India. It was the first trip where I’d taken a smartphone, and my first where I wasn’t travelling with or meeting someone – both things I’ll try to avoid next time. I arrived at Gatwick frazzled from work and decided to revise the route I’d planned, which didn’t work out perfectly, but was fun.

The weather in Delhi: smoke


Delhi was smogbound and I was almost tricked by the touts in the railway station. A couple of shopkeepers recognised me, one noting that I’d cut my hair; I’ve not been in Delhi for two years. I went to Mathura to see the river, but the hotel claimed not to have my reservation, and everyone I met was negative and rude. So I headed to the bus station and spent the night in Bharatpur instead. There, the hotel owner thought she recognised me, but I’ve never been there before – then she figured it out, saying that I looked like someone from an old cereal advert.


From Bharatpur I took a dusty bus journey to a hotel near Dausa. The guesthouse owners in Bharatpur told me not to bother with Dausa, that there was nothing there. I was the only guest in the hotel and could see no other buildings from my balcony. When the power went out the darkness was almost total. I liked it there a lot.

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From Dausa I made excursions to visit a local temple, the step-well at Chand Baori and Bhangarh fort, said to be the most haunted site in Asia.

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From there I went to Pushkar, with its beautiful holy lake and massive amount of hippies – my next door neighbour in the hotel was practising a didgeridoo. But it was a good place to relax and enjoy walking up the small mountains.


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From Pushkar I went into the mountains proper. I felt little love for Mussoorie so went straight back down again, settling in Rishikesh for the last few days of the holiday, walking, relaxing, visiting ruins. It was hard to find a good room due to the Yoga festival but my friend Emily eventually found me a stunning place with a view of the Ganges. I then spent a night in Haridwar, with its amazing night-time Ganges ceremony, before turning back to Delhi and heading home. It was a good trip.

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A Cheeky Walk: Trains and Boats and Planes

For last weekend’s Cheeky Walk, I avoided Brighton and the marathon and went to Shoreham with my friend Duncan. The description for this walk starts with a lovely quote from the writers’ friend Jeff: “Brighton is like living in a swanky hotel. it’s worth it if you’re using the facilities, otherwise you might be better somewhere cheaper and quieter up the coast.” I’ve always associated Shoreham with the grim port-side road, but this walk showed off some pretty areas.

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One of my favourite things about Shoreham is the houseboats, which include a massive ex-German navy minesweeper:

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We stopped off at one of these boats to look at an art-exhibition, which turned out to be work from the artist and Youtube star, Matt Whistler. It turned out that one of Matt’s artworks was featured in the images from my Hammer and Tongue video:


Matt also had a booksale, where I bought a couple of Disinformation readers and the complete Nemesis the Warlock reprints. I’ve been meaning to re-read Nemesis for a few years, so this was a lucky find, albeit a heavy one.

From there we walked along Shoreham Beach for a while. It’s seemed like it might be a good place for a swim. There were also some beautiful houses on the shoreline too.


The visit to Shoreham also solved a mystery from my walk with Laurence and Hazel. The instructions told us to pose photographs with the shrimp near the whelk stand but it was gone.

Posing with a missing shrimp

If you look closely on this photo, you can see the shrimp outside one of the warehouses. We found it!


I almost sunburned my head again, but it was still a good walk.

A collection of hagstones
A collection of hagstones


34: The English Eerie

Mark Fisher’s book, Ghosts of My Life, includes an interview where Burial discusses the influence of MR James on his work, and how many of his mates have seen ghosts. MR James is also the starting point for an essay by Robert Macfarlane about The Eeriness of the English Countryside. For Macfarlane, James has an “understanding of landscape – and especially the English landscape – as constituted by uncanny forces, part-buried sufferings and contested ownerships“. This is emblematic of a wider movement which Macfarlane describes as English Eerie, relating it to the current political scene and ongoing environmental crises.

This eerie counter-culture – this occulture – is drawing in experimental film-makers, folk singers, folklorists, academics, avant-garde antiquaries, landscape historians, utopians, collectives, mainstreamers and Arch-Droods alike, in a magnificent mash-up of hauntology, geological sentience and political activism. The hedgerows, fields, ruins, hills and saltings of England have been set seething.

Like hauntology, this English Eerie is a grouping for various ideas, as varied as PJ Harvey’s stunning White Chalk album, the movie A Field in England, Julian Cope, The Wicker Man, Ley Lines, Paul Kingsnorth and MJ Harrison’s ‘Empty Space:A Haunting’. He also points to On Vanishing Land, an audio essay by Mark Fisher. If nothing else, MacFarlane’s work provides an exciting list of things to investigate. It’s easy to think of other elements to add, such as Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic work Riddley Walker, or the strange and unsettling chapters of the Wind in the Willows.

Like all definitions of movements, the English Eerie acts backwards, collecting these different strands that might have been seen as unrelated (an effect discussed in the Borges essay, Kafka’s Precursors). The movement also creates something for other artists to align with and respond to.

MacFarlane sees this movement as inherently political: “What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression.” It also relates to concerns about surveillance – in Jeremy Keith’s response, he points towards recent work by James Bridle, The Nor.

Another thing that Keith links to is Warren Ellis’s dConstruct talk A Cunning Plan. Much of my interest in folklore has been kindled by Warren Ellis’s work over the past few years, particularly a couple of essays in his collection Shivering Sands – and Ellis’s upcoming work promises more exploration into these issues.

In an increasingly wired and urban world, the English countryside is still relevant. It is not the wild, natural environment some people like to think, but a place that has long been warped by economics and politics – the Downlands as we know are a result of farming, not of wildness. There are debates and struggles that have been going on for centuries: and modern concerns like online privacy and ownership are merely a continuation of these.

33: The Return of Hauntology

I missed the original hype around Hauntology. It looked interesting, a sinister mix of electronic music, test-cards, folk and government information films. In a Guardian article, Andrew Gallix noted a feeling that it had become old hat. James Bridle predicted it was “about six months away from becoming the title of a column in a Sunday supplement magazine“. This was a fate that occurred to Psychogeography but was avoided by Bridle’s New Aesthetic when its parents strangled it to death.

The word hauntology was coined by Jacques Derrida in his book Spectres of Marx. The concept plays with the way communism was announced as a ghost, with the Communist Manifesto beginning “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism“. Derrida’s term was related to haunting, the dislocations of time and futures that had never happened.

Hauntology has come to note a sort of claustrophobic nostalgia. To quote Mark Fisher: “it doesn’t feel as if the 21st century has started yet. We remain trapped in the 20th century… in 1981, the 1960s seemed much further away than they do today… cultural time has folded back on itself, and the impression of linear development has given way to a strange simultaneity”. The ghost here, is a “spectre understood not as anything supernatural, but as that which acts without (physically) existing.

As one commentator, Christopher Pankhurst has said, “It would be wrong to say that Derrida’s book has spawned a hauntological artistic movement but what it has done is allowed otherwise disparate cultural artefacts to be read in terms of their engagement with past forms“. And it’s easy to point to those cultural artefacts, as Fisher has: “[hauntology is]  a confluence of artists. The word confluence is crucial here. For these artists – William Bansinski, The Ghost Box label, The Caretaker, Burial, Mordant Music, Philip Jeck, amongst others – had converged on a certain terrain without actually influencing one another. What they shared was not a sound so much as a sensibility, an existential orientation”.

Fisher talks a lot about how exhausted music seems, with no sense of anything new coming through. There is a strong sense of melancholy, as can be seen in the title of Leyland Kirby’s album Sadly, the future is no longer what it was, or V/vm’s The Death of Rave, a project “using all of the dance floor hits from the time and stripping theme of energy and spirit, turning them into shadows and ghosts“. Then there is the Caretaker’s Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom (which has been discussed at length by Fisher). For me, the confluence of influences, of folk, children’s TV and technology are to me, form a sort of soundtrack to things like the Scarfolk Council website. 

Hauntology briefly flickered into life around 2006 and has continued to echo and influence. It has influenced culture and continues to do so. The sense of failed futures grows stronger, as does a feeling that the city is haunted by the country.