June’s monthnotes are slow in coming, which is a reflection of how things feel right now. I actually have less energy now than I did during full lockdown. There’s something seductive about the calm of staying indoors, and I’m trying to think of ways to get out and about more.
My step count was a meagre 386,597, with a maximum of 29,732 – no epic hikes last month. Some of the morning walks were less tedious, thanks to my bubble-partner Rosy, but solo walking continued to be a chore.
In the whole month, I only finished three books. 16 ways to defend a walled city was an interesting post-Game-of-thrones read, looking at a lot of the details fantasy fiction skips over.
I watched six films ranging from the poor (Skyscraper, Tango and Cash) through to the good (Miss Americana). Not knowing anything about Taylor Swift made that documentary a very strange experience. Shin Godzilla couldn’t overcome poor special effects, Seeking a Friend of the World was less fun on this rewatch. Da 5 Bloods was an interesting film that fell apart on reflection.
Not much else, really. My first locked-down birthday, a little hiking, released a new pamphlet. Otherwise, lockdown feels like a tar pit. But, then, the effects of Covid-19 haven’t become less severe just because we’ve left lockdown, so it’s hard to know what to do.
The London Invisibles Salon is collecting submissions for a zine responding to The Invisibles. In the 25 years since Grant Morrison’s comic was first published, it’s inspired and influenced people. We’re looking for personal responses to the book:
How has the book inspired you and changed your life?
What adventures and interesting people has it led you to?
How you feel about the comic now? Has it stood the test of time?
If someone discovers the book now, what should they do next?
We are looking for pieces of 100-500 words, on “How I became invisible” for a print zine that will be published in the Autumn. We will also be publishing a PDF/Kindle version that will be sent to all contributors.
We don’t want this zine to be simply an exercise in nostalgia. It’s an opportunity to show how some present day counter-cultures that connect back to the book.
Deadline – We need your submissions at firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight UK time on Monday August 31st 2020. We are open to longer contributions too, but please get in touch with us first.
The zine will be published on November 23rd. Keep an eye on invisibles.orbific.com for the latest information. It is being produced by the Invisibles re-reading forum, and the London Invisibles Salon.
“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.
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.
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:
645 Bullock Hill, Woodingdean
584 Hollingbury, Patcham
580 Holt Hill, Patcham
534 Falmer Hill, off Falmer Road
531 near Pudding Bag Wood, StanmerPark
510 Varncombe Hill, Patcham
509 The Bostle, Woodingdean
503 Heath Hill, Woodingdean
485 Tegdown Hill, Patcham
476 on Ditchling Road south of Old Boat Corner
463 Race Hill, by Bear Road
435 Scare Hill, Patcham
430 in Stanmer Great Wood
430 Red Hill, Westdene
427 Sweet Hill, Patcham
417 Race Hill, by the Race Stands
417 Telscombe Tye, Saltdean
411 at Balsdean Reservoir
410 Ewebottom Hill, Patcham
398 High Hill, Balsdean
396 Whitehawk Hill, Brighton
387 Coney Hill, Westdene
367 Mount Pleasant, Woodingdean
355 on Dyke Road Avenue, near Dyke Road Place
352 Red Hill, Roedean
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.