Monthnotes: May 2023

After several months of hard work, May brought opportunities for restoration and recreation. I rolled off the stressful project onto a new one, as well as taking a couple of holidays: hiking the end of the Coast-to-Coast trail, and spending a week in a tiny village in Sweden. I also had a number of visitors to the valley, which was lovely.

Sweden was the highlight of my month. I arrived in the country a few hours after rolling off the project. There was a sense of relief to being away from England, with Manchester airport feeling like a metaphor for where our country is at. After a night in an airport hotel I took a series of buses to Uddebo, a tiny village of 250-400 people. I spent my time there reading and swimming in the river Assman. While the trip definitely had a pagan/Midsommar vibe, all the people I met were lovely and I can’t wait to go back.

I walked 487,475 steps during the month, an average of 15,725 per day. My total was boosted by a few days walking the final stages of the Coast-to-Coast trail. This is an incredibly sociable route, with some very well good food and accommodation stops. The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge was probably one of the best pubs I’ve ever visited. I’ve also written up some of the Pennine Way hikes I did in April: Hebden Bridge to Ponden, Ponden to Gargrave and my grim hike from Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Despite all the walking I did in May, I put on 2½ pounds, so I guess I need to pay a little more attention to my diet.

Between work and holidays, my writing has been a little scrappy, but I’ve also had the chance to do some more strategic thinking, and have a new zine of short stories almost ready to go. The big challenge is producing a good-looking cover, but I am hoping to have something to on etsy in June. Once that is done then I will be returning to the South Downs Way stories. ChatGPT and creative writing continues to be an interesting area, and I’ve written up some of my research into this. I’ve also published a much-delayed post on Why ARGs never worked.

If my writing has been chaotic, my reading has been even worse, not helped by the Kindle – I have about a dozen e-books in various states of completion, and probably need to abandon some of the slower-moving ones. The Jeremy Deller book Art is Magic was a highlight, and Nick Harkaway’s Titanium Noir was good, light riverside reading. Francis Wheen’s Strange Days Indeed was a second hand bookshop find, and provided an interesting view on how very strange the 70s were. One thing that stuck out in particular was how the current political situation is relatively stable compared to the depths Britain plumbed in the 70s.

Succession came to a close, although I’ve not really enjoyed the 4th season – I think I preferred watching Logan Roy torment the siblings to the actual succession drama. I completed From Season 1, still unsure where that is headed, and also finished The Last of Us. I managed to go about 8 weeks without watching a movie then crammed three in the Bank Holiday with Sooxanne: In the Earth, Old and a rewatch of time-loop sci-fi drama Edge of Tomorrow. I still haven’t managed to get into Yellowjackets Season 2.

I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts this month. Pop Could Never Save Us continues to be awesome. Despite being dropped by NPR, the Louder than a Riot team managed a great second season, including a fantastic episode about ilovemakonnen’s experience as a queer rapper. There was also a great emergency podcast on the coronation by the Indelicates, Cat Vincent and Rob Rider Hill.

I continue to feel uncertain about social media. Towards the end of the month, I had my Instagram account shut down because their automated systems thought I was a bot. The account wasn’t particularly precious to me, but almost losing it in such a high-handed way is frustrating. Mastodon seems great but doesn’t have the scale of community that Twitter does.

As I mentioned above, I rolled off the stressful work project. One downside to this was leaving a team that I loved working with (another is that I quickly stopped having work dreams and my nightmares are back to their old subjects). The new project has needed a little preparation, and I’ve enjoyed reading about Domain Driven Design and team topologies.

  • I actually went to a gig, seeing Talvin Singh at the Trades Club, with support from Mayshe Mayshe.
  • A lack of decent decaff in Sweden means I have started drinking caffeine again, which means I will have to go through the withdrawal at some point.
  • I’ve long been signed up to El Sandifer’s patreon, and was delighted that she had her first professional comics publication in 2000AD this month.
  • I failed to click with Department of Truth when I first read it, but I am now hooked. It’s a very strange comic about conspiracy theory, with some fantastic art.
  • Ava and I went to the Ley-hunter’s annual gathering, held this year run Todmorden.

AI Book review: Death of An Author by Aidan Marchine

Death of An Author is an ebook novella produced by Stephen Marche using AI tools, which was commissioned by Pushkin Industries. I read a couple of good interviews about the book and, while I’d found the excerpts underwhelming as prose, I was curious to read the whole thing, particularly Marche’s afterword.

The book is about 95% AI text, using three tools. The original text was generated using ChatGPT, with Sudowrite used to tidy the text, making it “more active” or “more conversational”, and finally Cohere used to generate figurative language.

Death of An Author is a sly book, one that understands its place within a larger debate, and making allusions and interventions based upon this. There are references to the act of reading, the meaning of copyright and the book’s literary context – this is very much a book produced by someone with an English PhD, and the text itself is aware of what is at stake. The pseudonymous collaborative writer (Aidan Machine) even refers to an imaginary article by Stephen Marche, the human collaborator in the text. The writing itself is brisk if superficial, but the mystery had an interesting resolution – at least it felt so to me, as someone who rarely enjoys mysteries.

An example of the book’s commentary is in the description a dream the main character has:

That night, Gus had a terrible nightmare. He was taking an oral exam in front of his mother and ex-wife. Each time he tried to answer, a different writer’s voice came out: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen.

Hemingway is the name of another AI writing tool. The dream questions the nature of imitation for human writers, as well as referring to one of ChatGPT’s finest tricks, that of imitating well-known writers.

The book also occasionally digs into specific descriptions, as in this outline of a meal.

That night, Gus made himself a meal of fried mushrooms in a cream sauce on toast. He started by heating a pan on the stove, adding butter to it. He then sliced the mushrooms and added them to the pan, cooking until they were browned. He added cream to the pan, stirring until the sauce thickened. He placed slices of toast on a plate and spooned the mushroom and cream sauce on top.

That passage is obviously AI, right? But I can’t be sure – maybe this is part of the 5% Marche wrote by hand. In a Guardian interview, M John Harrison spoke of an ambition he has: “I want to be the first human being to imitate ChatGPT perfectly. I bet you it’s already got mimickable traits”. Either way, it’s interesting that Marche chose to leave this prosaic description in the text.

Given the way in which the book’s plot takes it to such interesting places, it’s likely that Marche gave the AI some fairly clear leads about the overall story. It would be interesting to know the actual prompts used, although Marche talks about how he generated the book’s style:

What you need is to have it write something about a murder scene in the style of Chinese nature poetry, then make it active, then make it conversational, then Select All and put it in the style of Ernest Hemingway. That gets you something interesting. Raymond Chandler, after all, was not trying to write like Raymond Chandler.

The prose is often workman-like, but some flourishes and philosophical asides stick out. One sentence I particularly liked was “The policeman at the door of Gus’s office was a tall, thin, cadaverous man wearing a dove-gray suit that did not fit him well”. It is simple but has a lovely rhythm, and fits the hardboiled style. The choice of ‘dove-grey’ is interesting when we’d normally think of doves as white. And it makes me wonder how much work was done to get this just right. Marche has spoken about how the best results come from very precise prompts that are specific about substance and style. How much work was this, compared with just writing the sentence one wants?

Marche says that he did a significant amount of sifting of the produced text. This is some way from the dream of giving an AI a short prompt and having it produce perfect, entertaining prose. However, it’s notable that when Burroughs worked on his cut-ups, a great deal of time was spent exploring the results for interesting lines. Again, I’m curious about how much work was required to get the best lines (“He wondered why there was no good English word for slimy in a good way.”).

Marche talks about how good the AI is at ’heteroglossia’, with an uncanny ability to turn its hand to specific modes of speech such as “a paragraph from a Lacanian literary critic”. Marche says that he “[defies] any writer to improve on AI at that particular skill”. While the AI struggles to produce crisp narrative prose, it is an excellent mimic. In a podcast interview , Marche made the exciting suggestion that an AI might be very good at turning out a book like Dracula, which consists of different forms of documentation.

(A discussion in Wired Magazine placed Death of an Author alongside books including Moby Dick, which used extensive found text, and Graham Rawle’s Woman’s World, which sampled 50s women’s magazines)

Discussing the debate around AI, Marche writes:

So little of how we talk about AI actually comes from the experience of using it… Like the camera, the full consequences of this technology will be worked out over a great deal of time by a great number of talents responding to a great number of developments. But at the time of writing, almost all of the conversation surrounding generative AI is imaginary, not rooted in the use of the tool but in extrapolated visions.

It is important to actually play with these tools in good faith to see what they can do. The first book I bought made using ChatGPT was shardcore’s remix of John Higgs’ writing, The Future has Already Begun. Shardcore has spoken about how having the book as a physical object changes things. Reading Aidan Machine’s book makes a compelling argument better than the thousands of thinkpieces and opinion chatter. I only wish it had been made available as an actual paperback.

Marche concludes his afterword by saying that “What makes a good painting and what makes a good photograph are different. That transition required a complete reevaluation of the nature of visual creativity” The best AI art will not come from reproducing writing that humans can do better, but from finding new forms for this medium.

Society of Ley-Hunters Moot

I was reading the most recent copy of Northern Earth a little late when I saw that the Society of Ley Hunters were holding their annual moot the following week in Todmorden, a short distance from my house. So, of course, I signed up and attended with my friend Ava.

The day included four talks: a discussion of leys in Calderdale; a personal account of spiritual awakening; a theory about ’intuitive alignments’; and a discussion of alt-antiquarianism and psychogeography. Before all this, John Billingsley gave us an introduction to Todmorden itself, and how “Todmorden has an undercurrent of weird ideas”. John talked about the town’s liminal nature, often swapping between Lancashire and Yorkshire, and how it exists on the boundary between cotton country and wool country, which he says led to the idea that corduroy was invented in nearby Hebden Bridge.

We did a session of dowsing in the lunch break. Dowsing is not something that fits into my conceptual frameworks of the world, except as some sort of ideomotor trick. Working with the rods, it was interesting to see how quickly they responded to subconscious expectation. We’d been told what we were marking out, so it was obviously suggestion, but the effect was still pronounced.

I found interesting things in each of the four talks, but my favourite was John Billingsley’s discussion of alt-antiquarianism and psychogeography. I particularly liked how this talk responded to psychogeography as an inherently political idea, rather than trying to turn it into something cosy, as sometimes happens.

John has edited NE since 1979, taking a revisionist approach to Earth mysteries, avoiding both Neo-paganism and materialism. Psychogeography was an aspect of this because of its link between mind and place.

Psychogeography was explicitly linked with urban spaces at its invention, but as John point out, “power and control are also present in the country”. An example of this that he gave was Stonehenge and how the heritage industry is part of consumer culture, gaining income through fencing off sites. John spoke about the need for synaesthesia and phenomenology as alternative ways of approaching places and for thinking in the same way as earlier communities did. He spoke inspiringly about places as palimpsest; and how, as well as lost pasts, there are lost futures within the landscape.

Walking the Coast-to-Coast: Northallerton to Blakey Ridge

This month I did the final section of the Coast to Coast, having walked the earlier parts of it in September 2021 and September 2022.

We rejoined the trail from Northallerton on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday. By the time we reached our starting point of Oak Tree Hill, my boots were damp. They stayed damp for several hours as we tramped through farms and muddy trails. Any long trail will have fill-in days that merely connect interesting parts, and the section from Richmond to Ingleby Arncliffe was an example of this. The landscape was flat and the route included a lot of tramping down roads, so I was glad that we’d chopped it into two. While it’s always good to be out hiking, some days are definitely better than others.

The Coast-to-Coast is by far the friendliest trail I’ve been on. Most of the venues along the way are friendly, both in terms of owners and other hikers. There are also a lot of honesty shops along the way, including a spooky one at Wray House Farm.

Our first day ended with a dash across the A19 at Ingleby Arncliffe. Apparently this section of the route was going to be diverted, which would have meant the closure of the Blue Bell Inn, but local MP Rishi Sunak persuaded the Treasury to fund a footbridge. The Blue Bell Inn is another excellent Coast to Coast venue, with various vegan options and lots of other hikers dining in.

Our second day was an epic 21-mile trek which I’d not broken up as I wanted to end the day at the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. We started with an epic climb through Arncliffe Wood, where we joined the Cleveland Way. There were some lovely moorland sections and we somehow avoided the worst of the weather on the flatlands below us.

We stopped at Lord Stones, which I’d expected to be a pleasant place to grab lunch. The staff were rude, the coffee was terrible, and outdoor speakers played grating music. Given the excellent welcome in most other places, this was a rare discordant note.

The middle of the day included a series of sharp climbs before a long road the wound out towards Blakey Ridge. The section ran along an old railway line and was a slightly dull end to a long day – Map 80 in my guidebook was almost entirely blank. I was tired and could feel myself slowing as the weather came in. We heard thunder, and I spotted some lightning, but the worst of the weather held off.

On the drive to Northallerton, I told Dave that I’d not called ahead to check about vegan food options. He laughed so much I thought he might crash the car. In the past I’ve had some underwhelming experiences, particularly for breakfast. Going to a remote pub did not seem like a great prospect for vegan food.

Well, I’m pleased to say that the Lion Inn is probably the best pub I’ve ever been in. We were warmly welcomed by lovely staff, there were seven vegan options on the menu, and the place was bustling. We were too tired for the public bar, but it was packed with people who’d driven out to the middle of nowhere on a Tuesday night. This is a place so good I’m considering coming up for a stay another time. It was the perfect place to recover from a long day’s hiking.

How to be Invisible: A Zine

Our zine How I Became Invisible was originally published in July 2021. It was organised by the Invisibles cell that I’ve been involved with since 2019.

As well as producing this zine, we have put on an exhibition (my talk from this day is available online), recorded albums and released short films such as The Elements Ritual.

The group originally met in October 2019, arising from a forum I set up to re-read the Invisibles on its 25th anniversary. While the forum did not take off, the group has continued to meet online and in person over the past few years.

Link to PDF (4.1MB)

Losing access to my Instagram account (and the perils of automated AI)

I had an email this morning, telling me that my Instagram account had been blocked:

Your account has been suspended. This is because your account, or activity on it, does not follow our Community Guidelines.

As far as I can make out from the links provided, my recent posting behaviour hit some sort of filter that identified me as a bot. I was sent a numeric code and told to submit a selfie of that number written on a piece of paper. This selfie had to include my hands, presumably to prove that the image was not AI-generated.

Having my Instagram account deleted is sad, but it’s not a huge loss. I did not lose the only copy of any photos (there was no option to download my data), but there were message threads with a couple of people I don’t have other ways of contacting. The process is bureaucratic and Kafkaesque, and I can imagine it being unpleasant and alienating for people who rely on their instagram (particularly for those who run businesses using it).

I guess this sort of thing is going to happen more often in future, particularly as more customer service is automated. I dread trying to persuade my phone company, bank or the government that my account is legitimate – or attempting to regain control in the case of being hacked.

There’s also a question here about how ‘communities’ function under corporate control. Instagram’s services are free to me, and my ad-blockers does mean I am not an ideal user. I am there on their sufferance. There is no offer of any help to regain the account. An algorithm has made a decision and I cannot contact a human to appeal. Their service, their rules.

Is AI/ChatGPT as exciting as people say?

On this page, I’m collecting together some links about AI that I want to refer back to. Those are below; but first I wanted to discuss what I find interesting about AI right now.

I’ve been suspicious of the hype around AI for a long time, but I keep reading articles saying that AI models will revolutionise the economy, replacing millions of jobs. I’m even seeing serious articles saying that these new AIs are approaching sentience and are an existential threat to humanity.

One theory I’ve read is that the AI hype is so loud because the crypto grifters have moved onto this: there is always a profit to be made from hyping the next big thing. It was also an amazing marketing move from OpenAI to claim that their early models were too dangerous for people to have open access.

At the same time, very smart people I know, people I trust, are telling me there is something important here. And I’ve had several dreams about prompting AIs – so I should not be dismissing this too easily.

I’ve been playing a little with ChatGPT recently. Showing a friend how it could generate an email was an enlightening moment. He doesn’t like writing formal messages and having a detailed text produced from a prompt seemed revolutionary. My own experiments show that ChatGPT is good at certain types of output, but its grasp on facts is hazy. Asking it about things I know well, like hiking routes, it returns plausible information, but lacks telling details and gets significant facts wrong. This is beguiling, miraculous technology, but it (currently) has very clear limits.

Links on AI

The following are some good pieces that I have read on AI:

My current view

I find it hard to see how these huge statistical models are related to ‘true intelligence’, even as they raise questions by doing things that we once thought relied on intelligence. One notable thing is that (as with machine translation) these models are entirely reliant on human-produced work. This has led to the ethical questions around the model incorporating copyrighted works – and I note (via the Washington Post) that this blog is one of the sources for Google’s C4 data set:

I also wonder how much further these models can go. It won’t be long before the deluge of AI content begins to be absorbed into the models, which may undermine their effectiveness.

I also suspect there is a limit to the effectiveness of LLMs for problem solving. Matt Webb’s Braggoscope is the most compelling experiment I’ve seen, where ChatGPT was used to classify the thousands of In Our Time podcasts into the dewey decimal system. It’s a task where small inaccuracies will cause little harm, and Webb estimates that the automation of this was 108x faster than doing it manually.

But for tasks like programming, much of the art is not in producing the code, but figuring out what code needs to be written. It’s possible that a new paradigm of programming emerges from AI, but for any form of programming as we currently understand it, the trick is not writing the code but defining what code we want written, and making sure that we have achieved our aims.

The difficulty with AI is in producing very specific text. Producing remarkable sonnets about odd subjects is breath-taking, but getting an AI to write Allen Ginsberg’s Howl or Pierre Menard’s Selections from Quixote would be a different matter.

Book review: literally show me a healthy person

Darcie Wilder’s 2017 book, literally show me a healthy person is very much a twitter novel, consisting mostly of aphoristic sentences. It bears obvious comparisons to Patricia Lockwood’s No-one is Talking About This (2021), particularly since both juxtapose the ephemerality of twitter with the realities of grief.

Wilder’s book is both shorter and scrappier. It buries the story about trauma under glib, often funny phrases (one that particularly stood out: “saying ‘awesome’ on work calls is just another way to stay punk” – I feel slighted). The lines about nihilistic partying come to stand in reaction to the narrator’s descriptions of childhood trauma.

I think this aphoristic style works well, and captures one of the strangest feelings of the social media age – what the Content Mines podcast referred to as ‘structural dissonance’ – the way in which social media platforms blur together trivia, marketing messages and horrific news. One example that the Content Mines used was when the SweetMiniDollsHouse Instagram account interrupted its posts about dolls house miniatures to document the account owner’s pictures of the Ukraine invasion.

This is an extreme example, but social media is full of such examples. Pictures of people partying rub alongside political messages. When Wilder’s narrator fails to focus on their trauma (and any chance/attempt of healing) it reflects the way that we bury things in favour of surface entertainments.

The idea that trivia is a distraction from the world’s issues is a common criticism of capitalism but social media provides a constant distraction from our own lives (there are values to these tools, but they are easily swamped by commercial needs). The world we live in very much reflects the one described in Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, which predicted the current media landscape from 1967.

David Shields’ 2010 book Reality Hunger predicted more texts like Wilder’s novel, with its aphorisms and blurring of fact with fiction (many of the narrator’s lines were originally posted on Wilder’s twitter account). literally show me a healthy person is a good example of the sort of novel Shields was talking about.

Looking for something in my blog this week, I found a link from 2010 to Russell Davies’ review of a Douglas Couplan novel. Davies wrote:

I’m sure I’ll read more of Mr Coupland’s books but I’d almost rather read his lists or his notes. It seems like he’s the perfect novelist to write the something-that’s-not-a-novel that must be just around the corner.

I’ve been waiting for this “something-that’s-not-a-novel” promised by Reality Hunger for a long time now. Wilder’s novel is a good example of the form.

Pennine Way Day 6: Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

The walk between Malham and Horton-in-Ribblesdale was one of the grimmest hikes I’ve done in my life, enough that I questioned my whole approach to hiking. Was a day of being wet and cold really that much fun? I also reconsidered my somewhat-cavalier attitude. In more difficult or unlucky circumstances, my walk from Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale could have led to disaster.

I started the day in Gargrave, where I’d stayed in an Airbnb. The weather app on my phone told me that there would be rain, but I didn’t want to go home without hiking, and it was hard to tell exactly what the rain symbols meant. Did a single raindrop mean just a little rain, maybe not enough to need full waterproofs? Did three raindrops mean heavy rain for a full hour, or that was the worst it would be during that hour?

I set out at 6:30am from my Airbnb and had a good hike to Malham. The route was well signposted and flat, so I made good time. The path beside the River Aire was charming and had some pleasant hills. The dew soon soaked into my boots, meaning I had many hours of damp feet ahead of me.

Malham Cove was almost empty when I arrived, and even though I’ve been a few times, it still felt impressive. It was a tough walk up to the top, but the reward was some good views.

The Limestone Pavement at the top of Malham Cove

From the top of Malham Cove the route heads through a small rocky valley. It was starting to rain here and I lost the path for the first time, guided back onto the route by Google Maps.

The weather grew worse by the time I reached Malham Tarn, forcing me into full waterproofs. There is a rare Pennine Way public toilet near the lake and I hid there for a time until I felt ready to face the rain. My choice was to either turn back to Malham and try to get a taxi or to press on with the journey. I chose to continue.

Due to the rain I was not checking the route as I went through some farmland, and I overshot the turning at Tenant’s Gill Farm, ending up on the road to Arncliffe. I followed the road for a time then sheltered in a barn while I tried to work out where I was. I’d failed to pack a map, the guidebook was proving no help, and my phone had no signal. I knew I was was in trouble as I walked back for a time, then turned again and tried the other way. I was probably five miles from anywhere I could shelter properly.

I was lucky enough to have a farmer come by, who told me I’d overshot Tenant’s Gill Farm by about a mile. He was feeding his sheep but told me to meet him at the top of the hill and he’d point me towards Fountains Fell. The route he showed me went through a gate, then I should continue to a flock of sheep where I could turn right and follow a wall until I reached a major path.

Ominous cows following as I head back onto the Pennine Way

The safest thing to do would have been to return to Tenant’s Gill Farm and find my bearings from there, but I was reluctant to add more distance to my day: I wanted to reach Horton-in-Ribblesdale and warm up. As it was, the walk back to the Pennine Way was an easy one, but I was aware that the combination of bad weather, being lost and my own stupidity could become dangerous. Nobody knew when I was expected back, and it could be a long time before anyone noticed I was missing. An accident so far off the path would not have been good.

Once back on the path things were straightforward, although I probably lost about an hour in total. I reached the Twin Cairns and began the long descent towards a road. Coming down the grassy sections I slipped over a few times, which was harmless but annoying. I hid from the rain in a barn with another hiker, then continued on my way to Pen-y-ghent.

I should have had views of Pen-y-ghent for the previous few hours, but visibility was very slight. Given how tired I was, and how the day had been going, I felt that climbing Pen-y-ghent would be pushing my luck, and turned left to head towards the village.

This was the route up Pen-y-ghent.

I actually regret not climbing Pen-y-ghent as my route to the village was long and slippy, and I think the Pennine Way path might have been less trouble. I ended up in Horton-in-Ribblesdale with 90 minutes until my train, and made the mistake of going into the Crown Pub.

This should have been a view of Pen-y-ghent

As I entered the Crown, two people coming out warned me against it. I wish I’d listened to them. The pub was chilly, both literally and figuratively. There were no food or hot drinks available, which seems like poor hospitality for a pub that makes its profits from the hiking trail. It could certainly be more welcoming to those who, like me, had had a cold, wet day. I was relieved when it was time to head to the station.

I’m taking some lessons from this hike. First, I am going to follow the suggested rules for hiking, making sure that people know where I am headed in case things go wrong. I will always pack a map and a thermal blanket. If I’d injured myself while off the trail it would be unlikely I’d be found without a search party – and who knows how long it would have been before anyone asked for that? I will not risk putting other people to such inconvenience in future.

During the two hour train journey home, I could not imagine wanting to go hiking again – certainly not if there was any risk of rain. But the more time passes from the discomfort of the hike, the more I remember the good parts of the day – the wildness of the rainy landscape, chatting to the other hiker in the barn, the confidence of knowing I could make the journey despite the weather. It would be a poor thing to only hike in the sunshine.

I’m not sure Mr Bull wanted me in his barn

Podcast: How to Protect yourself from a Coronation

The Coronation weekend has been a strange one. I’ve been doing my best to ignore the whole affair and, while the press insist that this is a major historic event, it’s been easier to ignore than I expected. There seem to be few street parties and little sign of bunting. The biggest impact it’s made on my life is Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files sending out a defence of his attendance at the coronation.

But there is something sinister about this. We have a ceremony to crown an unelected head of state, against a background of an increasingly racist and authoritarian government, in a country where austerity and the cost of living crisis means lots of people can’t afford to live.

The spectacle of the coronation is intended to reaffirm a particular vision of our country. The ridiculous pomp is meant to seem anachronistic; the contradiction of this archaic ceremony is supposed to contrast with modern life, to persuade us that there’s no point arguing against the idea of a country whose rulers are defined by right of birth. You could even claim this illusion is an act of magic.

My friends Cat Vincent, Rob Rider Hill and the Indelicates have teamed up to produce a quick-turnaround podcast for this coronation weekend. It discusses the coronation ceremonies as an act of magic, and talks about how to protect yourself against them, with a quick introduction to defending yourself from the dark arts. It’s a good discussion, which takes time out to discuss the subject for those who have ‘no affinity for woo’.

Despite Nick Cave’s defence of his attendance, I’m disappointed at seeing him recuperated by a state which banned protests against the ceremony. It’s never good to see artists flirting with the establishment

The coronation seems to be less popular than expected, but the important thing is how it settles in the mind. We need to choose to remember the things this is supposed to distract us from. As Cat Vincent says on the podcast, the important thing is ”the act of choosing no”

(One interesting thread that Simon picks up on is the linking the popularity of folk horror and traditional customs/rituals to the current political climate. Which is something I could (and should) write a lot more about).