Saturday, 30 January 2016


Press Play Again - 28/01/2016

What shape does that sound have,
Of the regular, rhythmic beat and the swish, swoosh, swoon of a melody.
How can you leave me be,
Opened up, bare, bear hearted to the world,
With a glance and a glimpse, you are gone.

Press play again.

Where do those words come from,
The simple complicated way of saying complex, clear things.
   - "I never knew I was a lover"
I always had an inclination,
Cornered, not like the others, fighting, singing,
I hold you are long as I can, you are gone.
Fade out.

Press play again.

Why do you leave me so messed up,
Three, four minutes of joyfulness confusions, of love and Beatles references.
  - "Just because I stole the thing you hide"
Did it take you long to write,
The effect you affected,
To completely change my life around?

Press play again.

After the world changed, after the noise and the words,
I do not recall the before, I cannot recollect the silence.
  - "I want to be the King of Spain"
I keep you in my head,
I keep you in my heart,
You may never know what you did to me,
I may never even tell.
I play your record again,
Just once again.

Press play again.

Note - So, yes, this is a draft, I want to change it, certainly some of the lines and words in the third quarter. But also, yes, I like this a lot.

Round-Up '90

A rough collection of the notes I've made for blogging recently. 

December music trawl trawls into January

I'll be honest, what started out as a good idea got caught in what John Lennon called life. I thought thirty-odd songs that I like and wanted to share. 

Urged on by friends, spending time listening to videos on YouTube, it was a great idea. Maybe. My videos weren't that out-there, the left-field I covered didn't compare to the left-field of friends (or more correctly, I wouldn't compare my left-field videos to the awesome left-field suggested by others), and then there's life.

Life. And unfortunately life can be annoying. So maybe I shall record my December trawl with just one video, which links into something else I'll be writing about later.

King of Spain, The Tallest Man on Earth

Lindi Ortega/Doubts

Lindi Ortega is currently touring in Europe, playing live tracks from her most recent lp, Faded Gloryville. This is a good lp, I'd recommend it for a listen, Lindi is one of those artists who seemingly (for me) just go and it's good and entertaining and sings about stuff I think about. 

At the Brudenell Social Club on 26 January 2016 Lindi introduced Faded Gloryville as one of those places one ends up in if they are washed up or are passing through when one is having doubts. Artists have doubts, everyone does, where they are going, what they need to do, when will their time be. While that lp is something I've listened to a number of times, watching her introduce it that way live kind of made it even more approachable. 

The lovely thing about watching Lindi Ortega live is the surprises. Dancing, encores, fantastic instrument playing (the guitar sound was awesome, but that bass), just a good night all round. 

The Buried Giant Review

I was given this book as a birthday present at Christmas, having spent most of the year looking forward to reading it. Now, with about thirty-forty pages left to go I find myself trying to stretch out the experience. Since I reached page 250 I've started and read about a third of Terry Pratchett's Sourcery and advanced considerably through my bus-read, Dune.

There is not much left to do. Thirty pages is a good, relaxing evening session, an hour of really intense ignore-everything reading, it's not going to take long. So it might have to be finish, break for a day or two, then crack on with reading it again.

The curious thing is I've only ever done this with a handful of books at various times in my life. When I first got reading as opposed to having reading thrust on me as a product of school, I read through Pratchett's Mort three or four times. I was about fourteen I think (rough guess) and had been introduced to the series by a rather enthusiastic uncle. The next time around it was Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout. 

While rereading Mort was about exploring the joy of reading, rereading Sombrero Fallout was the joy of exploring where thoughts and words can take you. Both books are fantastical, though not the same kind of fantasy, and both books feature keys and time pieces. The third book I've ever reread straight away is Bo Fowler's Scepticism Inc. I am led to believe this is a natural phenomenon which does not need exploring.

Kirkstall Spoken Word and Performance Festival

Working on Kirkstall Festival has been one of the best experiences of my life. Actually, community activism has led to some of the best and most beneficial experiences of my life, the Festival, Kirkstall in Bloom, the On The Edge Festival, all of those things have made me realise the link between myself and my community. I am firmly of the belief that one should establish that link as soon as they can and then work on it for as long as they can. 

Myself, preparations for this year's Festival are underway (feels like it's been on since the day after the last one). And it will be good, packed with activities, stalls and performance. You should come, you should.

I've been thinking that beyond Kirkstall Festival's main activities there would be the potential to hold an event that focused more on spoken word and performance. Both of those are part of the main festival but I want to move them centre stage, and bring together poetry, drama, performance, comedy, story-telling, and presentations.  

There's a couple of possible shapes for how this could happen. An all-in-one-day festival with multiple stages or a series of daily events linked by the theme of the SWAP. It's early days, and there's a lot of things happening, but it is a good idea that could fly.

Poetry Workshops

I've signed up to a poetry workshop run by Jen Campbell. It will be exciting to see how I do, I've always written and made notes for poems but never really forced it anywhere. There's a lot of scraps of notes of lines, serious stanzas or silly single sentences of words that amuse me. In the run up to the workshop I made an effort to do two things, firstly, I've been working on something linked to the few lines below, secondly, a draft of a full poem released elsewhere on my blog.

{Poem removed}

Is the earth flat?

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Quiz night is alright for... answering questions

I organised a quiz night, and asked most of the questions. Prior to starting the actual event I was rather nervous, there was a short turn around to organise the night, and I am not the most overly keen public speaker.

Anyway, here are the questions for the quiz night, further below the answers.

General Knowledge - Generally everyone likes a bit of knowledge, right? I started out randomly writing questions very straight (like question one) though as I did more I started to mess around. I wonder if Gone In 60 Seconds ever won an Oscar...

1. Who was the original host of University Challenge? 
2. Spectre is the 24th Bond film and features Daniel Craig, who played Bond in Die Another Day? a. Bonus point for who performed the title song and had a cameo in the film? 
3. What is phasmophobia the fear of? 
4. Japan’s YKK is the world’s largest manufacturer of what? 
5. Which celestial feature shares its name with the Greek word for milk? 
6. Holt is the name of the den created by which animal? 
7. What does the acronym UCAS stand for? 
8. How many seconds do Oscar winners have to make a speech, 30 seconds, 45 seconds or are they gone in 60 seconds? 
9. What does John Lennon share with a war-time leader and the central male character of 1984? 
10. The Pica Pica bird is more commonly known as what? 

Sport - And there's always a sport round, but here I managed to slip in Mogwai and a comedian. During the actual quiz I think I changed the wording of question 7 to involve cake, and I might have boo-hissed Lance Armstrong (probably didn't, wanted to).

1. In cricket, what is to Durham that Headingley is to Yorkshire? 
2. This is an out of date question: Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy has recently become the fifth English player to score in seven or more successive Premier League games, name one of the other four? Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Mark Stein, and Daniel Sturridge a. Bonus point for naming all four.
3. Which actor and comedian ran 43 marathons in 51 days in 2009, a feat which earned him a special award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards? 
4. How many times has Baroness ‘Tanni’ Grey-Thomson win the London Marathon? 
5. In which year was Lance Armstrong stripped of his Tour De France victories? 
6. How many times has American triathlete Gwen Jorgensen won the ITU Triathlon World Championships? 
7. Cristiano Ronaldo was born on which Portuguese island in the north Atlantic Ocean? 
8. Leeds Rhinos recently won the Super League, the top tier of rugby league. How many times have the Rhinos won the Super League and the Championship (as it was until 1996), was it 7, 10 or 13? 
9. Glasgow band Mogwai provided the soundtrack for a 2006 film examining the playing style of which French football player then at Real Madrid? 
10. Who are Arsenal ahead of after beating Aston Villa in the 2015 FA Cup Final? 

Movies and Music - I really went to town with this round, trying to stretch my imagination with the questions. I think the first one is lovely, though number 7 was a revelation.

1. Who links Joseph ‘Joe’ Dredd, Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, William Cooper, and Julius Caesar? 
2. American band Fall Out Boy named themselves after the sidekick to which Simpsons superhero? 
3. The Apprentice’s theme music is Montagues and Capulets comes from a Prokofiev ballet based on which Shakespeare play? 
4. “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state” is opening line to The Big Bang Theory theme, who sings it? 
5. What was Billie Holiday’s nickname? 
6. Adam West played Batman in the original 1960s TV series, and as himself as what in Family Guy? 
7. Back to the Future day was held on 21 October, way back in time Steven Spielberg directed the first ever episode of which detective TV show? 
8. Which band’s version of Uptown Girl reached number 1 in 2001? 
a. Bonus Point: Who sang the original? 
9. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum was the third studio album for who? 
10. What is “awesome” in the Lego Movie? 

In-Law, Outlaw, Statues and Statues - The quiz night had been organised for law students, and I wanted to incorporate a very specialised theme to proceedings. In the end it was a lot easier than I thought, and not as specialised as it might have been.

1. In-Laws: Rita Hayworth and Paola Mori were spouses of which American actor and film director? 
2. Outlaws: What did Han Solo do in 1977 that he didn’t do in 1997? 
3. Statues: Which German city donated a Drayman to Leeds in 1980? 
4. Statutes: In which month and year was the Maastricht Treaty drafted? 
5. In-Laws: Which actor and singer’s marriage links Princes Leia and Mrs Robinson? 
6. Outlaws: “Marian, why don’t carry on with what you’re doing, ‘cause there’s always trouble brewing” is the opening lines for which Sherwood Forest-based BBC One children’s programme? 
7. Statues: Monument, the landmark on Pudding Lane in London, commemorates what? 
8. Statutes: Which country was the first to give women the vote? 
9. In-Laws: Which husband and wife appeared in series five of Strictly Come Dancing? 
10. Outlaws: How many days was Chinese artist Ai Weiwei imprisoned for tax avoidance in 2011, was it 61 days, 81 days, or 101 days? 
11. Statues: Eric Morecambe is commemorated by a statue in Morecambe, Lancashire, which part of the Leeds metropolitan area has a statue for Ernie Wise? 
12. Statutes: It is no joke, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 took effect on which day in 1999? 
13. In-Laws: As a fraction how many of Henry VIII’s wives were beheaded? 
14. Outlaws: What connects a bay in North Yorkshire, an airport in South Yorkshire and a battalion in the British Territorial Army? 
15. Statues: Before creating the Angel of the North, Sir Antony Gormley proposed a larger, brick sculpture for Leeds, what was it of? 
16. Statutes: What is the act (including the year) that guarantees equal health care to all Britons? 


General knowledge
1. Bamber Gascoigne
2. Pierce Brosnan
2.a Madonna
3. Ghosts
4. Zips
5. Galaxy
6. Otter
7. University and Colleges Admissions Service
8. 45 seconds
9. His middle name, Winston, Winston Churchill and Winston Smith.
10. Magpie

1. Riverside Ground/Chester-le-Street
3. Eddie Izzard.
4. Six
5. 2012
6. Twice, 2014 and 2015
7. Madeira
8. 10, 13 being the number of times they have won the Challenge Cup
9. Zinedine Zidane
10. Manchester United, who have won 11 FA Cup Finals to Arsenals 12

Movies and Music 
1. Karl Urban, in the films Dredd, Star Trek/Star Trek Into Darkness, RED, and Xena: Warrior Princess
2. Radioactive Man 
3. Romeo and Juliet
4. The Barenaked Ladies
5. Lady Day
6. Mayor
7. Columbo.
8. Westlife.
8.a Billy Joel
9. Kasabian.
10. Everything

In-Law, Outlaw, Statues and Statues
1. Orson Wells
2. Shoots Greedo first
3. Dortmund
4. December 1991
5. Carrie Fisher and Paul Simon
6. Maid Marian and her Merry Men, which ran from 1989 to 1994
7. The 1666 Great Fire of London
8. New Zealand
9. Kenny and Gabby Logan
10. 81 Days
11. Morley 
12. 1 April
13. 2 were beheaded, one-third of his wives
14. Robin Hood
15. Brick Man
16. National Health Service Act 1946

Monday, 11 January 2016

In The Doubtful World Of Speculation

I've finally managed to go for a bicycle ride in Cambridge. On a previous Boxing Day I managed a run around Chesterton and the river, this time I was led along the river out towards Fen Ditton[1] then back into the very heart of the city.

Cambridge strikes me as curious city, calamitous and claustrophobic, yet calm clearings in the Commons and along the Cam. I have only dipped my toes into odd pages of Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris[2], so that curiously cruel city is not a good comparison, though there's something mystical about Cambridge. Cambridge features in Douglas Adams's books, as a city of holistic detectives and time travelers[3].

Holistically there is a lot to take in. Bicycling helps, as it connects a person to an area in the same way a speculative text delivers a reader a world to explore. If one cannot be at one with the universe, the saying goes, at least be at one with one's bicycle. And with one's book.

Out on the Cam I was heading to a particular universe, though my head was full of the first part of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant[4]. Here the world is shrouded in 'mist,' a forgetful, confused condition that is making Britons and Saxons do irrational things by amplifying their superstitions and beliefs. 

One particular section featured a ferryman and a widow, and relayed a tale of an crowded island that people went to seek solitude. It reminded me a little a lot about the Earthsea Quartet's The Farthest Shore[5], this island that helped individuals forget the toils of their day-to-day lives. In both books there is a link between forgetfulness and forgetting pain and the truth of being human, to die.

The pan-dimensional beings represented by mice are also human in that they will die. In Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy[6] the order the construction of Earth so that it can work out what the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything actually was[7]. Prior to switching on Deep Thought there is a debate on the need for 'clearly defined areas of doubt and speculation[8].' 

Fiction texts are good at 'clearly defined areas of doubt,' they allow for the widest, wildest speculations. Yet doubts are to be avoided. Blade Runner[9], Ghost In The Shell[10], Sleeper[11], all discuss themes of what makes us human, what makes our experiences, what is it to be human.

To discuss Sleeper in particular, the film uses comedy to explore the extraordinary ordinary of the future. Dressed as a robotic manservant while his owner is throwing a fascistic party, Miles Monroe mixes food powder and water. In Star Wars The Force Awakens[12], Rey makes food in a similar way. Here the ordinary becomes extraordinary, we all need to eat, we just need to wait for the powdered bread. Or as the narrative of Back to the Future Part Two[13] has it, we have to wait for hoverboards.

A theme that is strong in both Sleeper and The Force Awakens[14] is whether the protagonist (or antagonist) is doing the right thing. Miles Monroe avoided eating red meat and smoking cigarettes as it would, he was led to believe, extend his life. Kylo Ren knows what he needs to do to both return to the light and to fully embrace the dark side. Both of these choices involve his family in general and father in particular. 

[Spoiler one paragraph] Those Skywalkers, always suffering with abandonment issues or problems with their father and grandfathers. Though this is familiar ground for JJ Abrams, as both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness[15] rely on the relationships Kirk and Spock have with their fathers and their fathers' actions.

[Spoiler ends]

Back to the Cam and Cambridge. Along the river and along the footpaths and banks there is doubt, though not the doubt of existence but the quandary of whether or not my tyre would slip on wet leafs or mud. In my extraordinary ordinary I think I'd opt for better drained footpaths.

Notes and references
1 - "Honestly, with my hearing I thought you said Fern Ditton," as if that helps.
2 - City of Saints and Madmen (Third edition), 2004, Tor Books.
3 - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, William Heinemann, 1987. I would also like to mention that other timetraveller Adams was involved with, Doctor Who, in Shada (Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts, 2012, BBC Books).
4 - 2015, Faber & Faber.
5 - Ursula K. Le Guin, 1972, Atheneum Books. 
6 - Douglas Adams, 1979, Pan Books
7 - The Mice had already received the ultimate answer, though I wonder if this might have anything to do with one of the Pyramid's proclamations to the residents of Night Vale (The Pyramid, 15 October 2012) that 'some of you have been given the questions, some have been given the answers, though not all questions and answers will match.' 
8 - I'm paraphrasing this as I don't have a copy at hand to check.
9 - Ridley Scott, 1982
10 - Mamoru Oshii, 1995
11 - Woody Allen, 1973
12 - J J Abrams, 2015
13 - Robert Zemeckis, 1989
14 - And to be fair, in all of the text mentioned in this.
15 - J J Abrams, 2009 and 2013

Monday, 4 January 2016

Embrace each other, embrace the Other

It's Monday 4th January 2016 so I am going to assume that we are all comfortable talking about Star Wars plot revelations. No? Well, bare with me and we can both contribute to the greater understanding of human behaviour[1].

'There is another,' Yoda's words to Obi-wan in Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)[2] are a sound logical start. Otherness, in the shape of the unknown or different, provides the foundation for examining the human condition in its messy, all-too-human glory. We are not known to each other in the way each other knows themselves. Luke's sister is unknown, Luke's father is unknown, Luke is unknown to himself.

It is only through resolving our conflict with the Other that we can progress, narratively speaking. Acceptance leads to progression, continuing the conflict with the Other can only be reactionary and keep the status quo. The status quo can be very comforting, free from conflict of conscious or thought, where as progression is hard.

Fiction, along with art and music, can offer ways to resolve the conflict over human behaviour. The creator can try to express that deep message from within that states who they are, where they are coming from, and why they are here. It is not easy, and certainly open to misunderstanding and miscontextualisation, but progress is hard, progression is never meant to be anything other than difficult.

Through this difficulty comes a second conflict, a conflict of confidence. Am I doing the right thing? Ray Bradbury expresses this conflict through Captain Beatty in Fahrenheit 451: "Where's your common sense? None of those books agree with each other[3]." What can we do other than burn when no one can agree? Beatty is an exaggeration of the conflict 'ignorance is bliss when knowledge is confusing.'

Yet is it that confusing? Beatty's description of the problem, a lack of 'common sense,' could be seen as a lack of critical thinking. Humans are hardwired to evaluate their surroundings, to process their environment and deal with it accordingly. Picking between two different berries, one poisonous and one not, is not a thousand miles different from picking between two different theories; one selects the berries and literary theories based on their experience and perspective[4]. 

Experience and perspective can have a large contribution to how humans interact, and reading fiction contributes to gaining the unacquirable experience and perspective. David Commer Kidd and Emanuele Castano examined how literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective Theory of Mind and cognitive Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind being the skill that enables humans to 'understand others' mental states' allowing for complex social relationships[5].

There is still that difficulty in acquiring the knowledge though there is a palpable gain in experience, therefore a palpable benefit in how humans interact. By using this knowledge, by resolving some of the conflict one has with the Other, one can move towards a state of unotherness. It is not possible to know everything about the Other, it is only possible to know enough to allow for social interaction, and one has to accept and tolerate this new conflict. By ignoring the process of gaining this knowledge one becomes reactionary, fighting to keep the status quo rather than progress. As J.B. Priestley notes in English Journey[6]: "[The world is more provincial now]. It must be when there is less and less tolerance in it, less free speech, less liberalism. Behind all the new movements of this age, nationalistic, fascistic, communistic, has been more than a suspicion of the mental attitude of a gang of small town louts ready to throw a brick at the nearest stranger."

The small town lout is not a reader. The small town lout clings to the small amount of knowledge and experience they have that allows them to resist the other. The small town lout can appear to have a lot of knowledge though underneath the surface, underneath the fair words, there is the foul feeling of reactionary thoughts at play. The small town lout lacks confidence to allow complex social relationships.

Which is a shame, when one thinks about it.

Notes and References
1 - Bjork (Human Behaviour, One Little Indian, 1993) provides a very good guide on the anthropological study of humans, and what to do if one should get too close.
2 - Keep up, dear Reader, did you all think I'd reveal plot details for The Force Awakens? I mean, it's pretty difficult keeping Elo Asty's death a secret. Oh crap, did I just say Elo Asty dies. Oh crap, did I just swear again. Crap. 

And yes, that joke was brought to you via Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003).
3 - p43, Grafton Books, 1987.
4 - "Johnny, have you been eating poisonous post-modernist structural berries again?, you know what happened last time, you where sick for a week and threw-up a version of Hamlet your stomach had been working on."
5 - Comer Kidd, David, and Castano, Emanuele. "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind." Science Vol. 342 no. 6156 (2013): pp. 377-380
6 - p155-p156, Penguin Books, 1981.

Friday, 1 January 2016

New Year Jump

The start to my New Year included chasing a very muddy West Highlight White Terrier around my parents' house to aid in its bathtime. Apparently, once he's in the water he's fine, it's just the getting him in the water bit that's the problem.

There's a number of projects and things happening in 2016, and I feel the need to bring my writing under control. All of it, this, my messing around with stories, all. There was a bit of slackening off towards the end of 2015 which I should really try to avoid happening again. In my notebooks there was very little, and the ideas I had for blog posts, poems, stories, all seemed to get washed away.