Friday, 31 July 2015

Bears! Woods! News! Bears in the Woods News

Government minister admits that the use of derogatory language to describe groups of people is on the increase, but added: "You have to understand these people are not like you and me, these voters - I am not sorry that I have to use that term, Mx - have values contrary to our values, they want equality, they want fairness, I, and my fellow ministers, will not these voters swarm ordinary, exploited people with these ideals, the government in which I am a minister will continue to keep its foot pressed hard on the faces of everyone in this land." The minister was later found to be on transmit rather than receive.

Bears! Woods! News! Bears in the Woods News

Road safety tells us that the man who can't obey speed limits in built-up areas or simple traffic signage is the most trustable man around. Follow that man, folks, as Homer said, he ain't never going home.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Technical issues

As I passed the three kilometre point I was not comfortable. I was struggling, a considerable part of my being was directed not at my feet pounding the treadmill below me but at two points of pain.

Two sensitive, delicate points of pain.

It is with no exaggeration that the level of pain had almost increased to that point where I am flung backward in time to the 1950s. There was no avoiding, I had to stop. Twenty minutes in and I was done for.

Those explorers in century-old pictures, who managed their way across relatively unknown landscapes, would not admit to suffering this, would probably not suffer this. In their woolly jumpers and fur coats, when will they get the chance to develop conditions like runners' nipples?[1]

Tuesday's early morning rain did me in. I have running clothes but some of my t-shirts are more scratchy than others[2]. In this sense I am doing better than Tengo Kawana creating a routine around writing, reading to his father, and walking along the sea front[3].

Fiction seems to search for answers in the worlds[4] they explore without coming to a conclusion. Yossarian implied escape in Catch-22 is reinforced by Closing Time[5]. Even when there is a definite end, such as Sombrero Fallout, there is not an end; the sombrero just sits there, waiting, the writer continues on his lonely search for discarded hair. Mysteries might present a solution though deliver it with further questions.

[Poirot, Curtain, spoiler alert, one paragraph]

In Poirot's last case Agatha Christie presents the reader with a murderer so devious the majority of their crimes cannot be linked to them. Poirot highlights a number of cases that bare the murderer's mark yet can only catch the murderer by feigning his own illness, by lying. What evidence do we have other than Poirot's word? And given this, what can the reader deduce about Poirot's suitability? In Curtain Poirot effectively becomes Joseph Dredd without the legal framework of Mega City-One.

[Spoiler end]

There is a clash between fiction and life, a dysfunction between fictional and reality. Fahrenheit 451 exposes this and exaggerates with the power of a nuclear explosion. I need to check the weather and my gym kits to avoid the unpleasurable burn.

1- This is a rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions aren't meant to be answered, but if you'd like to try there's an administration fee.
2- They fight and fight and fight, fight, fight.
3- Still eighty pages in.
4- I avoided using the phrase universes in case I offended anyone by blurring the boundaries of how to talk about fiction and genre, even though fiction is genre and genre is fiction (to paraphrase a poem).
5- That Heller, always expanding the universe.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

'I am Akira to your Tetsuo'

'I am Akira to your Tetsuo' - Quote from a poet at Wickerman Festival 2015

Unfortunately there is a piece of music that I have heard that you will never hear. It's just not possible, you needed to be there. You needed to be at Wickerman.

It happened like this. You stand by the main stage, with your back to the dance tent and open air dj booth. To your left, there's three noisy stages, two for up-and-coming acts and a third stage for the nearlies and the just-unders and so on. 

Main stage kicks off, a melody of a singer from 'way back when', with the two dance areas providing a Korg backbeat. Then those three stages join in, guitars full and low with a distortion that might have emerged from the depths of the most deepest and active volcano. 

It shouldn't work. They're not keeping the same tempo, not even in the same key. Main stage is singing about addiction, those guitars sound like they are the basis of several of the unhealthiest addictions yet to be discovered. And yet...

This is Wickerman Festival as I found it. There were good sounds from the stages and performers but part of the beauty of this festival is the mixture. A poem about pies accompanied guitar, a comedian buying viagra for his dad, a band from Sunderland with a l.p. currently at one million and umpteenth in the album chart. And at the end of it all a giant wickerman goes up in flames.

So, who did I see? Well, does it matter, there was so much on. I could have spent endless time in the performance tent alone, the Phoenix, Solus, and Scooter tents had such varied acts, and the main stage had massive crowd pleasers.

At the end of it though it comes down to that poet, a stand in for someone who couldn't make it, talking about generations and revolutions, tucking in a reference to Akira.

Penrith of Eden

In the centre of the world there is a theatre where all the colour of behaviour explodes. I could expect different reactions from readers, from it makes sense to words are misspelt, from meh to I saw what you did there, Mr Dustjacket, and it is/is not clever.

My sentence was deliberate to prove a point. If one puts in the effort there is a reward, and this is true of messing around with words[1] as it is to promoting towns and businesses. And interesting towns and businesses need promoting to provide an alternative to bland, generic high streets and retail destinations.

Penrith is a destination. I've passed it so many times without stopping[2], but on the way back from Wickerman Festival we decided to call in. The rain was falling, we had no idea what was in Penrith, but there must be at least lunch.

There was, in a small cafe overlooking the corn exchange, soup and a refreshing cup of coffee. Highly recommended if you can find it[3]. Along Penrith's streets and roads were lots of flowers and pavement furniture (provided by Greening Penrith, though I wonder if they'd also be Penrith In Bloom). The independent retailers matched this with their own guide to cafes and shops, helping you enjoy their town even in the rain.

Of all the shops I found two bookshops. Hedgehog Books serves up new books and scones, with quite a lot of recommendations and signed first edition. Beckside Books also had signed first editions, though of the older, secondhand variety. Both are worth checking out, just like Penrith as a whole.

And if you're staying the night and go to the cinema, would you tell me about it?

1- What are you doing in that boat, Ratty? Just messing about, also stop calling me ratty, I'm quite happy most of the time.
2- In my head it might have been full of tigers, like those old maps that show land masses with dragons and seas full of kracken-like seamonsters.
3- The cafe would please all those who spell their sins syns.

The Future In Very Real Terms

It is a time of galactic unrest, of uncertainty and of high anxiety. It is a time of rumour and the absence of fact. It is the period of time between academic years and it is flux.

When I meet someone who doesn't work in higher education and I tell them what I do for a living they usually reply along the lines of 'you must have long summer holidays'. Not really, my summer is spent chasing elusive information, activities that I could have used dead time in January doing except that would not be possible[1].

This is also the time when every one of my colleagues, both support staff and academics alike, start to think of the future in very real terms[2]. And when we all end up in familiar literary scenarios.

Catch-22: We need X to do this, but we can't force X to do it and they might not get around it to themselves.
Dracula: They only come out at night[3].
Fahrenheit 451: It was a pleasure to burn, and emerge again as Lionel Hurtz's alterego.
Peanuts[4]: I will end up being the Charlie Browniest of HEI administrators, and the red head girl won't speak to me.
Sombrero Fallout: Correct all the information in this document and it will be left in a drawer taking on a life of its own.
Trainspotting: Choose mid-semester formatives and online submission, choose a presentations and interview skills set, choose professionalism (film version, obviously).

It isn't of course. Like so much of life, there is no way a fictional HEI could present the realities of working in one. Sure, science fiction makes the ordinary extraordinary, and erotic fiction delivers the thick, trusty thwack of leather on a leaning laid-bare behind, but these are the tips of the iceberg of all experience.

Fiction is great at tips, it doesn't do the endless, continuously interconnected, continuously expanding life below the sea level. Fiction isn't life.

As for me, my work is kind of like that done in Cambridge Circus, yep, I feel like a lamplighter most of the time.

Postscript. Actually, all the questioning, the desires, the need for acceptance and striking out for individuality, life is exactly like a book. The book is Fly Fishing by JRR Hartley.

1- That stop clock in Harry Potter would be useful, or Bill and Ted's phonebooth would be my office furniture of choice. That, and a Delorean in the underground car park.
2- At the time of writing I am eighty pages into book three of 1Q84, which is where I stole the idea for this blog post's title.
3- It has been difficult to fit in Smashing Pumpkins into a piece about academic years, and yet it came about so easily. Despite all my rage I am still just very easily amused by word play and paraphrasing.
4- What, sequential art not literary enough for you? Should I stick with eighteenth century and mediaeval poetry instead, no I don't think so myself.
X- 'In the modern world the mace is your only hope'.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Bohemian Community of Kirkstall

There is an island[1] where all the lost ideas make their way to. They have excellent navigational skills, lost ideas, as well as fantastic trial hiding techniques. Once a lost idea is sufficiently far enough away it will not come back easily.

I tracked my idea to Bohemia. Victoria Cohen Mitchell presented a BBC series[2] on Bohemians through the ages, seemingly concluding that there is no easy definition of what a Bohemian is. Essentially it came down with disagreeing with the political elite, which can be a little vague. I mean, the speeding motorist on the A65 is in disagreement with a political elite.

What struck me about the programme was the number of commentators willing to attach their definition on other people, most of which are no longer able to give a reply. The trouble with attaching one's own definition on others is that one will be invariably wrong.

Wrong choice of word. Wrong definition. Wrong recipient.

At this point the lost idea seems to have wanted to take in Herbert Read, Barthes, Descartes, and Derrida. Looking at this list it is also very likely to have included a paragraph or two outlining why Oxford commas matter (with a big 'fuck you, not fuck you' to Vampire Weekend as I'm rather fond of them).

These ideas are in my head, and no doubt will come out in due course. But it is worth noting that life got in the way. Life, that thing John[3] Lennon warned us all about, the disruptor of plans. 

The main thing that disrupted my thought process was Kirkstall Festival. I knew it was coming, to be fair, get out a calendar and we can pretty much predict when it will take place every year (second Saturday of July), but this year preparations for the Festival also included preparations for the stall I would help run (for Kirkstall in Bloom). Along with work being massively annoyingly troublesome[4], ideas came and went like pooh sticks in a rapidly flowing river, fifty metres away and taken by beavers before I can do anything with them.

Kirkstall Festival took my creative energy, refocused it and helped me contribute to a pretty successful event. What does it matter if my writing is a month delayed, approximately 28,000 people came and enjoyed what was on offer[6]. As one person said, imagine everything you could find in West Yorkshire and you're likely to find it at Kirkstall Festive[5]. 

Okay, maybe an exaggeration but there's some truth in it. There is musical acts, performance, artists, local and national organisations, a parade, dance, sports, and a dog show. Yep, dog show. I managed two walks around the site, I saw folk, Morris dancers, blues, alt-pop, and heavy metal.

Which brings up the reference to John Dunne. There is a pressure from local and national government, media commentators and soundbite technicians, to view communities as islands. By doing so one can separate and divide. Communities have it within themselves to say, no, we're the sum of the parts, we can do better than you.

1- Not an island, thanks, John Donne.
2- BBC reform is such a lovely, right-wing idiots idea of progress they ignore the fact it is so reactionary it almost revolts itself. Listen to the politician say in the same sentence, 'I love what the BBC do with X, but Y is unnecessary'. Sorry, but Y is necessary to someone else, and they didn't vote for you, you're not speaking for them because of a complete dysfunction between political reality and electoral success.
3- How many Johns can I fit into this, I wonder?
4- Though not too troublesome. We're moving office in September, and the desk plan correctly gives me the right position in the new office. My desk is number one.
5- Fun fact, the current chair of Kirkstall Festival is called John. 
6- I must say, Kirkstall Festival was also an elaborate birthday celebration for someone. She was most happy, even if she didn't recognise every single attendee.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Saga, saga

I wonder if there is a word that could describe one's attachments emotionally to a cultural artifact? Would it be a single word that conveyed all those human connotations and contradictions? Or maybe a phrase would be better, 'adding the total of one's life to the meaning of x'?

I have quite a few, some I am happy to talk about (well, by the end of this post you will see I am not happy) and others that I will never share. This weekend I went to Leeds Central Library and picked up Saga volumes one, two and three. I also picked up Adventure Time volumes one and two in Burley Library but I have no emotional ties to this. I mean, it's nice and okay.

I picked up Saga for a number of reasons. Mainly because I started reading Brian K Vaughan's We Stand On Guard this week, and figured it was time to get back on with Saga, but there's other reasons. It's a good story, told well, and not easily predictable.

I have read Saga before. Somewhere it my boxes of comic book issues there are the first three issues. I remember the day I bought them, a Friday, because that evening I learnt a friend had committed suicide.

Sylvain was a friend. We had known each other since about 1997, shared a very similar taste in music and cultural references. There had been two breaks when we stopped talking, both came to an end when Sylvain contacted me.

Having read the first volume of Saga I can see how the team set up the situation and the characters. The universe it is contained in is good, not a simple linear, good v bad universe, their universe is full of grey where people can disappear.

The second time Sylvain got back in contact was pretty amazing. The first time was awesome for me, but the second time I had worried too much time had passed. I had moved three times, out and back into and then out of London. In the back of my head there was the lost cord I couldn't connect. Sylvain was more intelligent than me.

Saga is about cultural differences. It starts with birth and violence, love and misunderstanding, and from there it just goes on. Why wouldn't you want your child to see the universe?

One morning before work Sylvain sent me a message on Facebook. We chatted and I said I needed to get to work, I was still in my probationary period. I said we'd talk again, soon.

Now, my memory is sketchy regarding the time line and I don't want to investigate it further. It's my memory, you see, and unlike Hazel in Saga I am an unreliable witness by choice.

The next message I had from Sylvain wasn't from Sylvain. It was from his partner informing me of what had happened. I didn't want to press her but from what I understood Sylvain had been very resolute in his determination. We shared a few words about Sylvain and that was that. I offered if she ever needed to talk I was a message away.

I miss Sylvain. There are a lot of things in life one can't explain or resolve, and I cannot resolve a lot of things about Sylvain without Sylvain's help. So, instead, aside from Saga, I shall share one of the other things that remind me of that dear dead Frenchman: "Wanna grow up to be, be a debaser, debaser."

Saga #1, #2, #3, Brain K Vaughan, Fiona Staples,
Leeds Central Library, Leeds