Thursday, 25 June 2015

In need

Top five lists of the ten most amazing 1001 books about the 100 websites which reveal to you the secret fifty activities you must do with everyone you know before they turn thirty. Only one number one place though picture number seven will amaze you with how unexpected it features a human doing something human. 'The sixth richest nation bar none.'

I've been thinking about hierarchies recently, and their deficiencies[1]. At university I was introduced to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which at first seemed quite succinct to me then grew more contradictory. It presents a basic interpretation of the possible needs of a generalised populace. Which is where is starts to fall apart, a pyramid build on the marshland of generalisations.

Hierarchies rely on placing one item above or below the relative merits of another item. However, individual taste dictates that for some both items are less acceptable than a third item[3]. For each individual their own hierarchy.

As a cyclist I am aware that for some motorised vehicle drivers I have a lower position on the road[2]. Living outside the city centre of Leeds I am aware how local government money is used to varying degrees, one pavement beautifully cared for while another is overgrown and blocks access.

There isn't a hierarchy to music. I guarantee that what makes me shudder with shivers of sonic sensual satisfaction is different to what does it for you. And it doesn't matter. No guilty pleasures.

No. Guilty. Pleasures.

Just pleasures. That beat that unwinds you, yeah, that's great. That melody that sneaks through the defenses and leaves you crying with joy, yep, I have a few of those too, one by Sepultura too. That lyric, the juxtaposition of the marginally sublime with outright heartfulness, yeah, it happens to me.

The thing is, hierarchies are useless. In football one team could win the league by scoring one goal in each game. At the bottom of the league the relegated team might have had twenty five-all draws. Which games would a neutral spectator prefer to see?

And yet hierarchies are placed upon us all the time. On the same day as you read this someone would have mentioned the number one local retail destination near you. A local newspaper will tell you what people in your town are concerned about, regardless of whether you are concerned about those issues. The local government will make a decision based on one private hierarchy while publicly blaming another.

In Leeds a new retail destination is being built, with accommodation for a John Lewis department store. John Lewis does a lot for the communities it serves. Sadly, not two hundred metres from the site of this new destination is the former base of self medication support service Multiple Choice. My understanding is the closure of the service was down to funding cuts, but surely supporting those who need support the most would be placed higher on a list than remuneration, say?

People are individuals. Sure, there are patterns and from those one could work out where supporting and funding would be best placed.

But in individual taste there is no right or wrong. I like Jason Donovan, I've seen him live. I dislike the sound of the Libertines because it reminds me of the Cure. Thing is, if you thought Jason Donovan wasn't up too much but the Libertines sound and lyrics unlocked the deepest pleasure senses you have, we'd get along fine. Much better than the jerk who thought we both should be listening to the next big thing before they got big and sold out.

1- Except for the hierarchy I created of fictional detectives, though I concede that Piorot is also better than Batman.
2- On the day of writing I was buzzed by a much larger vehicle. Considering the amount of damage I could cause to another vehicle should I collide with it, the cyclist in a city centre should be first and centre, not on the side.
3- A fourth comes along with a set of nontransitive dice and suggests a game.

Silk dress shopping

Last night I bought a silk dress. It shimmers, I am told. How I came about this sight to be seen is quite interesting.

You see, I had seen a friend be carried off in the back of a cart. It seems someone was rounding up women in a search to find a wife, though this was more about his lack of personal boundaries than inability to find a wife. To get anywhere near him and my friend I had to persuade a drunk in a bar to make a dress, they had fallen out of love with making dresses, yet the challenge I posed was too much of a challenge to turn down.

So I have a dress. In said dress I will be bring an avalanche of trouble on the man who stole my friend. Let me introduce myself, I am Cloud Strife.

Actually, my name isn't Cloud. I am currently in the process of renaming all the Final Fantasy VII characters after characters from Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, so Cloud becomes Arthur D, Barrett is F Perfect, and Tifa is Trillian. Aeris became HeartGold in a move that is completely coincidental.

I remember buying Final Fantasy VII the first time round, in a CEX in Soho. My current version is a download on to my Playstation3, so the recent announcement is rather exciting for me.

I'm currently four hours in. I don't play with the intensity I originally had in 1998, but there's something about that game and it's story and secret bonuses and music. Oh my, the music. I wonder how many other people hum the victory tune after completing a task, I know it's not just me.

Shop like in the movies

I am a bit of a Brian Wilson fan. Mainly down to the Beach Boys, though I've kept an ear out for anything he's done. Like No Pier Pressure, released this year. No Pier Pressure is pretty amazing for me. There's some nice songs on there, including the rather hypnotic The Right Time. Al Jardine and David Marks feature, as does She & Him. I'd suggest you give it a listen, but then I would, wouldn't I.

I bought it at Jumbo Records. I also got a lovely Ghostbox 7inch.


While I was paying up and chatting with the very friendly staff (he is so knowledgeable and agreeable, I've not asked his name) [1], a record came on the shop hi-fi. This is where the exchange becomes a little High Fidelity.

The record is by The Crocodiles, they're rather good. Friendly-agreeable asks whether I'd like to see the cover, yes, you might as well bring the vinyl. Three record of the day purchased.

There's a scene in High Fidelity where the main character promises to sell five copies of The Beta Band. Music is essential in record shops, the places are positively evil without it. Even if you don't like what they play, they enjoy it, and someone will listen and go, yeah, that's pretty awesome.

It's how I got into Can[2], in Selectadisc, Soho, back in the day.

Anyway, I can now cross acting out a scene from High Fidelity off my list of things to do. Also on that list is working in a pharmacist and having someone whisper 'I love you, George Bailey' in my deaf ear, working in a biker bar in L.A. when a naked muscle man comes in demanding clothes, and selling antiques to young, ginger-haired Belgians. I have been close to hitchhiking across the galaxy, but it wasn't to be.

Brian Wilson, No Pier Pressure,  Ghost Box, Study Series 09, The Crocodiles, Boys,
Jumbo Records, St Johns Centre, Leeds, West Yorkshire

1- Not an "over friendly concierge" like the Pavement lyric.
2- "Dying butterfly never dies, never dies" is the first Can lyric I heard. I was shopping with my brother and future sister-in-law.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Hello!, Bell and Fletcher #1

‘And that’s your explanation, is it?’


‘Republican insurrectionists from France?’


‘And you are sure, Inspector?’

‘Yes, what else could it be?’

Bell’s sigh was brim full of impatience and the weariness of experience, and the unexpected feeling that there had been no further developments in the case since it was handed over to the police. ‘Well, you do tend to rely on that particular group of imaginary suspects in situations such as this. I mean, last month you had the owner of the Abbey Cinema arrested for being a French republican agent.’

‘He was showing subversive films.’

‘He was only showing films that had been shown at the British Film Institution earlier. Last I heard no one has been arrested in London.’

The Inspector was defiantly deflated, like a child sulking. ‘They do things differently-’

‘Not that differently.’

Let's celebrate, let's! Break out the calvados

This sounds such a fun event, and the little parcel of news in Annabel's House of Books is that there are some new Maigret TV programmes coming featuring Rowan Atkinson.

Maigret is described as heavy set, so it will be interesting to see how Rowan plays it. In an earlier post I wrote about George Smiley in Tinker Tailor, a short character wonderfully portrayed by Alec Guinness, who isn't.

In the same post I also made rash comments about Judge Dredd and Batman. In order to clarify, im Dustjacket Towers the correct order of fictional detectives is as such;

  1. Maigret
  2. Joseph Dredd
  3. Batmam, joint tied with Jessica Fletcher (they both solve crime but are they not lights for the criminally minded moth?)
  4. Everyone else
Got it, good!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Event management

I have already begun, something happened prior to me starting this sentence, something that this whole essay is based upon. It was quite an event, but for reasons we shalln't go into now, it shall remain unspoken. Actually, given its relevance to what is coming up, I think I should give it a proper title: the Event.

Events crop up in fiction, they are an interdependent part of narration. To my untrained eye fiction is an event happening which causes a series of subsequent events, all of which may or may not resolve the issue that caused the initial or subsequent events. 

Various genres take slightly different approaches to their own internal events, and a creator might employ a direct linear approach to events, or swap and change through the sequence. There is no one rule when events are relayed to the reader, no one method better than another. Sometimes the event(s) are mentioned, sometimes they are not. Sometimes the first chapter will contain all the information one needs, sometimes one waits until the very last sentence.

However, there is a danger that the first event is overpowering. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (John le CarrĂ©) starts with the fallout from a disastrous mission failure, and the first 60-odd pages can seem thick with detail. Snowden's secret in Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) is there early on in the book, and yet can you recall when you actually learnt it? Both are fascinating events, though given different readers' approach to books they can seem too much. 

What reward is there in seven unreliable characters when one just wants light-hearted comedy after a busy day of work? 

Of course there is never just one event, either in fiction or its pale imitator life, and that is what fascinates me. The cascading sequence of events in narration and how they trigger different perspectives on life.

I have never experienced a nuclear war, though through Judge Dredd and 2000ad I have a good, well thought-out speculation on what might happen next. Even though it seems there is a tendency for the zombie apocalypse to end the world as we know it, we've never been closer to a nuclear war (it is still a mad, MAD world).

So the nuclear war that created Mega-City One is more an excuse to explore human nature. Judge Dredd applies the law like a robot, avoids personal and sexual relationship (illegal for Judges, remember, like sugar for citizens), and will always get the perp. And yet, Dredd also ends the segregation of mutants. Through nuclear war an exploration of equality.

My history with Mega-City One goes back many issues, and each prog heaps another load of speculation into my mind. I have less of a history with Nonplayer and The Surface, so the events and speculation they inspire are different.

From what I gather the catastrophic event in Nonplayer is due to that most human of natures, artificial intelligence. At the start of issue one the reader is presented with something happening beyond the rules of an artificial construct. It is not an artificial construct as there is no control, and life is without artificial control, just humans.

At the start of issue #2 of Nonplayer the reader is treated to a visual feast. The Surface features an equally pleasing cityscape. While I am unsure of the actual event that predates the start of The Surface, all human life is there to see, personal relationships and the current state of our capitalist society. The Surface is a satire which sends itself up, a sharpened metadrama to help drawn attention to the hints the narration is trying to tell you.

For me, the strongest intertextual reference I had during my first reading of The Surface was the first Starship Troopers film. It is the almost hysterical propaganda items in the film, "would you like to know more?", though The Surface adds the modern dating app 'swipe right' if you would like.

Nonplayer is different in that sense. Here is the rabbit hole of Wonderland, though it is easier to follow the rabbit whenever you like. 

I can find so many intertextual references for Judge Dredd that I might as well pick my most recent. Dredd is composite of all detectives before him (and greater than Batman, there, I said it), heavily procedural yet flawed, closer to George Smiley than an automaton law machine might be willing to admit.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

When you're a Jet...

Given the choice, why don't more people shop at Forbidden Planet? Is it the stand-offish air, barely disguised superiority complex, the poor excuse at customer service?

My experience of FP is from London over ten years ago, when I tired of the special treatment and headed to Gosh Comics. From what I hear little has changed, Gosh is pretty much still awesome, FP has its issues.

There's a key to doing good stuff. From Gosh I shopped at Page 45 in Nottingham, then found OK Comics when I arrived in Leeds. Maybe just my understanding but there's a theme running through all three that has something to do with FP.

A good independent shop helps introduce customers to the wide variety of products. This doesn't just count for relatively specialist things like comic books, it helps across the board. Kitchen gadgets in bulk or someone show you how to use it? Crafting material that you need or cheapest product near the colour you wanted but can't get?

In this sense, I'm a Jet. When you're a Jet you'll spend a little time searching out the independents just in case they are the best shopping experience you've had in ages.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Fake plastic shopping

On recent travels I noticed a couple of shops had shut. I know a lot of shops shut recently and there is nothing exceptional in individual shops shutting when the economy is the way it.

First up is Folk Devils in Whitby. I had been there in the last year, yet earlier on in May I walked pass and it was closed. No forwarding address, no notice. Then there's the unknown record shop in Newark. I have not been in it for at least ten years (not been in Newark more than twice in the interim years) so it shouldn't be a surprise.

Yet, should we be surprised. A recent visit to Newark had many shops replaced by restaurants. What local feel can there be if everything is generic burger and mainline clothing? There's one secondhand bookshop in Kirkstall, what chance does it stand against a monstrous new development?

Ah, and before anyone says market and cultural preferences, consider this.

A bookseller wants to sell you a book and will spend time recommending titles. It does not work with every book you buy on recommendation but generally you and the bookseller are in a win-win situation.

A property developer wants to sell land. They will generally fill their developments with the most generic, mainstream shops and coffee shops they can find because the most generic, mainstream sells the most to the largest amount of customers. The only risk they will think about is what threatens their development: if a planning office objects, use money to appeal to government. In a situation with a property developer there is only win-lose, and customers, even generic, mainstream ones, will lose out.

Considering the variety of space available in a development like Trinity it would be interesting if there was more variety in the shops. The most alt shop in there at the moment is owned by Sports Direct. There's bling but no bookshops, fashion without style.

That's what's on offer from the developers, fake plastic trees. Customers could do with real ones.

Postscript. Yes, that is a reference to Canary Wharf.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Bright sunshine reading of the darkest dark

With the publication of Alan Moore and Jacen Barrow's Providence (Avatar) I thought I'd revisit their four-part Neonomicon. So it was packed along with Providence #1 for a trip to my parents.

I remember picking Neonomicon up the first time round, just casting my eye across shelves and spotting a familiar sounding name. I hadn't known it was coming out, I had grown tired of constantly checking preview sites and news feeds. In fact, aside from my standing order, every week there might be a surprise awaiting at Ok Comics.

[Not a spoiler alert- one paragraph] Every one at Ok Comics is good for recommendations and suggestions based on one's buying habits. If you're in Leeds I'd certainly recommend saying hello to Jared, Oliver and the other staff (who I've not remembered their names yet, sorry). If you're popping along to Thornton's Arcade, Hepworth's next door.

I am a fan of Moore though more of a fan of H P Lovecraft. I am a big fan of homages, references, intercontextualisation, and linkages. Lovecraft gets mentioned a lot in other publications, each week there are visual and text mentions to his work in 2000ad. I spent time reading through comics like Neonomicon and Providence to take in the stories and the mountains of references and visual clues.

Another comic book I've bought was Nonplayer. Issue two has pages full of allusions to other media. Spirited Away, Tintin, Futurama, these were some of the first references I noticed, there were hundreds more. Nonplayer is an interesting book, escapism from the one world to another that is no less dangerous and unreliable. A.I. appears to be the danger in the Nonplayer world, though human error and nature are probably more the threat.

Why do we like stories? Why do we go to insurmountable mountains and impassable highways? I read most of my comic books in the garden at my parents' house and bright sunshine. I am far removed from the settings of the stories I read, yet they have something to say about my life. They probably say something about your life too, though maybe not the same things.

Unless you're finding yourself kept awake by Cthulhu's knocking too...

Ok Comics,
Thorton's Arcade, Leeds

Hats Off!

It was a popular and influential myth that the work of a private eye was glamorous, involving high stakes on the gambling table of life: the unfaithful mistress; the missing husband and the company shares; mistaken blackmail fraud. 

The reality was much more mundane, much more grounded in everyday life: a missing pet; tenants looking to trail a landlord; a company owner wanting to know just what happened on their factory floor. When cases were lean, the level of mundaneness rose.

When people had no other choice they hired C. Card; when private investigators had no other choice they took hat cases.

By the twentieth of March, 1963, Bellamy ‘Bell’ Hesketh opened his third hat case. The instructing letter informed him brightly that said hat “might have been placed on a chair in the Majestic or given to the cloakroom of Harold’s near the Grand Arcade.” Such a narrow search area focused on the two opposing corners of Leeds city centre.

Bell mused on the last time he and Fletcher had money enough to go out. Harold’s was a new establishment on him, and the commission for this hat wouldn’t warrant a visit for pleasure. Being a private investigator had seemed such a vital peace-time role, the wage was the least vital.

‘If this continues we shall be paying the bank with letters,’ Bell aimed his comment at Fletcher, his partner.

Without looking up from his book, Jacques Fletcher paraphrased: ‘Business is very poorly, if this continues you will end up in the poor house.’

They were quiet for a moment, Bell thinking of lost property offices, Fletcher contemplating Dylan Thomas. Only one of their trains of thought offered any hope of finding an essential truth about humans’ existence in a cruel universe. Had they shared their thoughts they would have agreed it was with the Welshman.

‘You’ll visit me, won’t you, Fletcher, why, you’ll be there with me.’

‘I am too handsome for the poor house, if you end up in there expect my letters from Belgium.’

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Calling Bell and Fletcher

I am short for a word[1]. The word I need is required to bring together both a recent event and a twenty-five year project. This word has a lot of past tense in it, though it is really about what happens next.

What has happened recently is I have felt my work life move me away from things I do outside of work. In relation to what happens next, I felt further away from the project. For lots of reasons I found myself putting my head in the sand and not taking it out until I was well free of work (usually just as I woke up the next day for work). The project requires dedication, not out and out, but enough to know when it is falling off the rails and into the mines under the Temple of Doom. So, once some work things had been sorted, I turned my attention to the project, but before I introduce the project, let's talk about the twenty-five year thing.

What happens next has not taken twenty-five years. At the most, four years[2], though bulk of the work was done in 2013 and 2014. I keep lots of notes with dates on them, and the plot for the project was written 2013, with the first draft (up to Scarborough, if one reads this at a later date and "Scarborough" makes sense) in the second half of 2014. But all drafts, ideas, narration, plots and stuff, all born out of a decision when I was about thirteen, fueled by the Beatles, lured by Terry Pratchett novels, I wanted to be a paperback writer.

I am unlikely to be a paperback writer. My audience is small (thank you for reading) and this is a sideline, not my main job. I will start posting each chapter as I complete them, but there's going to be holidays and other things competing for my time.

Let me introduce my alternative Leeds of 1963, and my private investigators, Bellamy 'Bell' Hesketh and Jacques Fletcher[3]. I like them a lot, and know you're going to get on just fine.

1- Given how frustrated words, letters, and numbers can make me and confuse me, it often occurs to me that it might be odd I enjoy words and reading. That I should then use words regularly *for my own purpose* might just tip me over the edge one day.
2- I can be quite sure of this because I remember thinking about tea poisoning in 2011.
3- I am not sure where Bell or Bellamy came from, though Hesketh is the name of a street near where I live. Jacques Fletcher is a homage to one of my most favourite TV detectives.