Monthly Archives: December 2009

Yet Another Year Remembered

Well, so, it’s the end of another year. And in what is rapidly becoming a tradition, I have self-indulgent little allusions to make as to the preceding twelvemonth.

This year I’ve moved cities again, made some new friends and lost one. I almost suceeded in not supporting Pete Doherty’s friend (I think that’s the best sentence ever written). I had a chat about Philip Larkin. Woke up in a village. Discovered some other villages. Went crabbing. Visited a living museum, a theme park and an aquarium. Met a stork, a bear and a monkey horse. Became over-excited in a seminar. Watched some important trilogies. Fixed the peug myself. Shown people round my home town. Got front row top seats on the Oxford Tube both ways in one day. Played a show on a picnic table, one in a chapel and one in my own living room. Slept with a stuffed tiger and a punk-rock frontman from Preston in the almost sure knowledge of our imminent demise. Made a snowman and a robot. Cycled around one town and walked around another one. I’ve been both a daddy long-legs and cameraman at a fry-up in the New Forest. And I’ve done a donut in the parking yacht.

I’ve been given lavender, a short story, and a false moustache. I’ve stood on a bridge, waved at a train, walked a canal, used a bike light for stage lighting, cried in a cinema, fed some ducks, alphabetised the entire horses section, attended two graduations, discovered some radio shows, eaten spiced nuts, reclaimed a desk in a castle, learned to portmanteau, released my first album, forgot a mobile phone charger, looked more at the moon, and seen four of Jupiter’s with my own eyes for the first time.

It’s been quite a time. I’m in a vastly better place than at the end of 2008. I wouldn’t be there, or close, without my parents and my beautiful friends new and old – but I’ve also learned this year that one’s own resolve really can make dreams come true. There have been dark, horrendous moments, but I think that either through increased maturity or sheer practice I’m getting a bit better – just a bit – at handling them, and that’s what I really want to take away from these months: that I can improve as a person, and will keep trying to.

Some things won’t change, that said. The Peug is still here, and long may it remain. I still write the odd song, occasionally. We still play a little too much Mario Kart DS. And I’m still D.R.E., of course. Are you?

Here’s to 2010.

Not necessarily the best things of this year, but the things that are most “this year” about this year-

‘The Age of Wonder’ Richard Holmes
‘Dracula’ Bram Stoker
‘Archy and Mehitabel’ Don Marquis
‘Anticipations’ H. G. Wells
‘Science Fiction by Gaslight’ ed. Sam Moskowitz

‘Alice’ Tom Waits
‘Em Are I’ Jeff Lewis & the Jitters
‘Signal to Noise’ Brer Brian
‘The Duckworth Lewis Method’ The Duckworth Lewis Method
‘Roxanne: Theearlyyears’ Roxanne: Theearlyyears

‘Meaningless Words’ Ray Rumours
‘True Player for Real’ MC Lars
‘Righteous Badass’ Jesse Dangerously
‘Passing Trains’ The World is Not Flat
‘A Fork in the Road’ Sam Taplin

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Why do English?

I started to write this on my Academic Blog, but it isn’t really at home there – that’s more for stuff which is specifically connected to my current project within the field of Literature-Science-Medicine, material texts, periodicals, the nineteenth century, science fiction, and whatever else it is that I study (I’ve had four days off, so I forget).

Therefore I’m putting it here instead. It’s long, but I have very carefully made it as user-friendly as possible, because it’s an answer to a question I sometimes get asked or, more often, pointedly not asked. It has nothing to do with music or FaceOmeter, so you may be uninterested. On the other hand, it kind of has everything to do with music and FaceOmeter, so you may be interested. Above all, I’d love you to read this if you have ever asked me, yourself, or anyone else, the question it sets out upon.

The question is, of course, ‘why do you study Literature?’

For indiscriminate weak-minded arty types, this is a no-brainer. English is the esoteric humanities subject du jour. Marking is subjective and wooly, bullshitting is far easier than with the more empirical subjects, there are no ‘right’ answers and the ‘work’ simply consists of reading ‘lots of books’ (we hear this phrase a lot). This is all great news if you are the sort of person who is amenable to a more relaxed lifestyle – as an undergraduate I shared my six working hours per week (per week) with a vast number of people who wanted a degree and a large number of cheap drinks with a minimum of fuss. English answers well.

Of course, there are disadvantages. After your large investment of both time and money, you have no measurably improved skills. You can’t save anyone’s life, explain the mathematics of a black hole, or make a cool million in the City. You’re less in touch with popularly-read literature than most people, and though you’re better with the canon there are still really popular books which everyone will assume you’ve read, and which you haven’t (Middlemarch is mine). You probably can’t even recommend any decent books for your friend’s mum’s birthday present – Literature is the one thing you know about, and you know too much about it to be of any use to a layperson.

G. H. Lewes – one man, one moustache

So you’re as employable as a school-leaver and you’re in debt to the tune of, gosh, whatever it is these days*. What do you have? Are there any advantages? G. H. Lewes, back in the nineteenth century, suggested that literary study could be usefully compared to vivisection – cutting up animals to see how they work. This was an attempt to convince the scientific community that there needn’t necessarily be a fundamental divide between them and the humanities, and you can judge for yourself how successful his argument was. But in essence he was simply saying that if you break down a poem (say) to its constituent parts, you’re basically understanding how language can work, and there’s profit in that.

And he might be right – but, as you’ve guessed, there are some holes in this one. GCSE students are taught to break poems down into their constituent parts and see how they can work. Not only can we assume that they get the point, but in my anecdotal experience most of them hate it. Oh, so he’s using rhyme there? And this is a run-on line? Caesura? Really? Bite me.

Even within English, the vivisection idea has lost a lot of support in the last century or so. It’s too clinical – and ‘clinical’ is opposed to artistic sensitivity. Vivisectors, after all, tend to destroy the organism they are vivisecting. By demystifying the workings of a poem, you rob your audience forever of their ability to be mystified by it – which is surely one of the goals of literary art…

Vivisection remains unpopular

Let’s put it another way. When someone tells you a joke, you laugh. When they explain why the joke was funny (“you see, ‘fungi’, the plural of ‘fungus’, sounds a bit like ‘fun guy’, you know, a guy who is fun…”) you stop laughing, and probably exit the room at a fairly high speed. The perception that we’re a bunch of people who sit around explaining why the joke was funny has far from left everyone.

If it’s true that decent art needs no mediation (we’re making some pretty hefty generalisations here, but whatever, let’s run with it) then what the hell do we do? More importantly, what the hell are we for? Why is society training thousands upon thousands of (mostly) Bright Young People in the art of going ‘ohhh, daffodils, lovely’? Even if there are significant personal rewards in learning to appreciate a great piece of writing, what is the cultural benefit to having a major discipline working away in this area?

A potential answer lies in politics. The various schools of literary theory – which is a posh way of saying ‘different ideas about how books should be read’ – tend to designate themselves by reading new and old texts in the light of their political convictions. Thus, there is a Marxist way of reading Dickens (see how oppressed all those proletarians are?) as well as an elite, humanist way (consider the simple beauty of this description, and how much closer that takes us to God). There are almost endless others, but you may be worrying that this is a pretty obscure way of practicing politics, and you’d be right to do so. Imagine if Marx himself had just sat around thinking about Martin Chuzzlewit all day. No communist manifesto for us – just another book about a book that no-one is going to read.

Charles Dickens – or “Chickens” to his friends – had nothing whatsoever to do wtih communism

And because the only people reading these books about books are the people who write them, we’ve now got to the stage where there are books about the books about the books. You see the problem immediately, of course. The original books – the ones that started the whole thing off – go whole chapters without being mentioned. Even if this is making a political point, who is being addressed, and how does that help?

This is what’s at the back of the perception that English is ‘irrelevant’; interested only in itself. For those of you who are nodding right now – don’t worry. The government agrees with you. Every year, less and less money is assigned to the study of Literature in universities and schools. Graduates are speedily snapped up by PR or consultancy firms interested in personable, cheap employees who have more than two brain cells – or they re-train as lawyers or teachers. The few who pursue the subject further (idiots) will be met at every step by the pressures of funding, and at the end of a doctoral qualification (that’s seven years in higher ed) can be very happy on a salary of

That Christmas Feeling

After a house Christmas Dinner on the 22nd, yesterday saw arguably the most important Christmas tradition enacted – the Star Wars marathon. My computer, carried laboriously into the living room along with several duvets, provided viewing of Parkes’s un-1996’d DVDs. Sarah also came down to join Roxy and I, and Parkes was there himself to deal single-handedly with our house’s ‘overabundance of beer’ crisis. Mark Taylor dropped round for the first two films, there was takeaway pizza (although late) and I really, really enjoyed my first day off in about 15…

It’s the first time I’ve seen the un-1996’d trilogy since DVDs were invented, and I hadn’t realised how much they really got wrong even in ’96, to say nothing of ’04. I’m aware that approximately 477 previous posts on this blog alone (such as this one), to say nothing of the wider internet, have dealt with George Lucas’s betrayal of a generation. Scoring more points off this one is too easy, and superfluous. But whilst picking the carcass may be easy, it’s still worth praising the 70-minute long documentary that, had it been around sooner, would have created the carcass in the first place. Parkes sent me this today, and I’ve actually watched the whole thing, because it’s another day off and I can do what I want. It’s genuinely excellent, and totally unanswerable. This is the prequel ‘discussion’ from soup to nuts, in case there is anyone left on this planet who still thinks there’s any doubt on the subject. After this, to use a stock phrase of mine, there’s nothing.

The rather elegant concluding point, for those of you who don’t want to spend Christmas Eve watching star wars opinion pieces (Hi Jim), is that it’s the uncanny flawlessness of the prequels – the way they totally succeed in recreating Lucas’s vision – which really puts the kaibosh on the whole thing. The closing argument quotes the old adage ‘Art through Adversity’ and makes the point that good films come out not without flaws but in spite of them.

Having watched the star wars trilogy yesterday and many times previously, I’m in a position to tell you that there are some absolutely shocking things about them. Some of the acting is dire. Choreographic gaffes on all scales were left in, presumably because, as Parkes mentioned yesterday, they just couldn’t be bothered to re-shoot the scenes. We know that at least two of the major actors involved (Harrison Ford and Alec Guiness) thought the scripts reprehensible. There’s Ewoks.

The films are great anyway – sitting around under duvets watching them, we anticipate the terrible moments (“I see them wait LEi-aaaa”) as much as those incredible epic moments. True art is diasporic, nebulous, shaped but not controlled by the mind(s) at the centre, open to a range of influences including blind chance, made with care and attention but, more, with love and understanding.

Or that’s what I think, anyway. Merry Christmas.

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Skip wanted a slow song, so I did one. This is about, like, winter and stuff.

A pair of gloves lie empty on the outside window-sill,
Horizon to horizon, the whole earth is quiet and still.
Amidst midwinter chill, the smallest sound is amplified,
Pedals creak beneath the off-white skies.

Lately you’ve been trying to believe that you’re still young,
But it’s been a while since you caught a snowflake on your tongue.
Acting cool about it now would be a big mistake,
Cos this could be a dream, and you could wake.

And we’ve been making mischief in the trees since just past dawn,
Our toes and fingers tingle as we step into the warm,
Divest ourselves of all the scarves and coats and soaking clothes
And stand together in the afterglow.

So I’ll sing on the hillside until someone calls my name,
It won’t make any difference, but I’ll do it all the same.
In clouds of breath amongst the trees, these fantasies unfold
You only ever see them when it’s cold.

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I see literally no way in which this could be poorly handled or go wrong


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For the novelty of the thing

I have actually used the Oxford Tube’s wifi connection before, but for some reason I haven’t done anything like my business class lounge blog post from it. Time to redress the balance: I AM ON THE OXFORD TUBE. RIGHT NOW.

I am going to London on a new ‘express’ one which doesn’t stop until marble arch?! We breezed past junction 6, which was quite disturbing for me.

There’s a thick early morning mist, and I watched the sun rise through it, behind the trees outlining the top of the High Wycombe cutting. A truly cosmic moment.

I love novelty blog updates. Oh the joy of the digital. Wherever next?!

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I’ve added an unbelievably cool shot of Ish being in Oxford to an earlier entry. Taken the same day, I thought you’d like to see a picture of what it looks like when Triple Rosie and I get down. Unfortunately there isn’t a picture which has all of us on, because we were variously positioned around the sitting room – but Matt’s Tom Morello impression almost compensates for the lack of Kerry in this picture – he is standing off-camera.

Both pictures come courtesy of Rene, Ish’s boon companion, who wins several prizes for thorough excellence.

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Sharks don’t sleep / you just keep moving / like a commie / of our / tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime

From Birmingham to London and back on last night’s late late Oxford TUBE (always the real thing), I awaken to a city of delicious dreaming spires with a small ground frost and an absolutely blue crisp winter sky. I have to do lots of horrible admin things and then go to the library, but it’s worth taking a moment to record how satisfying this general situation is.

The night before last I stayed in Crackney with the Dapper Swindler and friends, and unexpectedly found that Triple Rosie and Ish Marquez were having a band practice in the living room having just returned from their UK tour. They were preparing to go to France for a few shows, where I believe they are even as I type.

Seeing Ish again in particular was a treat, and they serenaded me with some of their new material while I made myself an extremely cheap pasta (utilising many exotic ingredients stolen from the Swindler’s treat cupboard) which proved to be the most satisfying meal since, well, the previous night, when I was in a fancy schmancy restraunt in Birmingham with my Dad and Godfather, having an equally great time. It’s been a good few days.

Right – to work.

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There went our deposit

Last night we unveiled our robot, and the toilet burnt down. This maps nicely onto the general trend of lots of extremely good and really quite bad things happening, including (but not limited to) the theft of two seperate bikes, an entirely unintended late walk home for Lisa, an extremely pleasant breakfast, drama involving power cables, excellent cakes and music, a rather minimal (token, even) amount of doctoral work, the healing powers of Steve from the Mountain Parade, some smug monster munch in the drizzle outside clarendon house, a stranger in carphone warehouse talking to me about how capitalism works, and… well, you get the idea.

I am now going back to Birmingham for an evening. This was planned anyway, but as it happens I rather need a few hours in the family pile. Surviving the conflagration has made me feel very… alive… though, so I guess it’s heads down for two and a bit weeks of solid work, and try to bust out a lyric or two inspired by the above in the evenings. Roads go ever, ever on…

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An Amusing Incident

Natalie [reaching into cupboard]: Do you want a date?
Me: But you’re with rhys!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I hung out with Lars too much

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