Monday, December 31, 2007

Captain Syncope

Unlike Nick Fury here



(found in the Jack Kirby Museum) I guess I am the faintin' type, having experienced syncope a couple of times. Once I blacked out while having blood taken, which was odd as I've seen blood a few times and not been bothered - I think it was the idea of it being sucked out of me (ventricles collapsing inwards like a leaky football) that got me.

The latest attempt was more alarming, at the end of an excellent Christmas meal. Propped up in a chair I was unable to faint properly, and (I'm told) went the colour of putty, moaned and twitched. Rather than wait for some Christmas prophecy to emerge, my companions called paramedics, so I got my NHS money's worth with a nice ambulance ride, restorative oxygen, and electrodes clipped all over me.

Will spend next Christmas with my head between my knees, suckng liquidised sprout juice through a straw.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Still / Can't meditate

‘Be still’ is the frequent

advice:



‘still’ as in:

coming to rest,

ceasing from

thrashing/dancing/striding/

stumbling like a drunk

monkey…

no listed actions, no escape route, no outwitting, no remembering?



‘Still’ as in:

quieting,

ceasing from

mumbling/quipping/gasping

crying at some current show?



Hard to be still or even slow

while living as a droplet

in a skewed torrent,

in adverse weather conditions;

hard to centre down in

the source and

the storm and

the unseen sea.


[Work in progress. An earlier version was written in iChurch, as part of a project where members did 'something creative' on the theme of 'Be still'. Mainly my piece is being out of frustration that meditation (and other contemplative forms) seem to be frequently offered as the gold standard of spiritual practice. It's become a non-negotiable orthdoxy and is offered as the ultimate way, whatever the starting point. For instance, even a book titled 'Fuck It - the ultimate spiriual way' has as its punchline... meditation!

All of this is fine, and I suppose every era will have some kind of hegemonic, cock-of-the-walk of spirituality...but as I can't meditate, this makes me feel like a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest...

Health warning: meditation is actually great and I'm just some random git ranting away in my non-meditative state.

But don't get me started about the Enneagram...]

Saturday, December 22, 2007

SuperChristmas through the round window



I love this picture, which I came across via the redoubtable Dial B for Blog. The great Alex Ross painting shows the Silver Age JLA having a Christmas party.

There's Wonder 'Donna Reed' Woman, decorating the tree using her 'decorate with eyes shut' power;



J'onn J'onzz and Red Tornado toasting with whatever beverage a Martian and an android would choose;



Black Canary looking hot (or 'demented' according to Jennie);




Plastic Man up to some mischief which requires him to brace himself on Green Lantern's shoulders...



But wait, what's that shadow at the window? It's Batman, 'like some jungle animal drawn to the light and looking in'.




Superman has spotted him and... gives him the finger?!



Perhaps saying 'Get away you moody caped bastard'... No, on closer look he's gesturing for him to come in.

This makes this an interesting piece of art. Most Yuletide imagery is about bringing the light in to counter the darkness, but in this picture it's the dark being invited in to join the light and love... The super-pantheistic-panentheism of DC mythology is interesting like this - as well as opposites, the avatars of dark and light can also be allies and friends, redeeming each other...

Of course, Batman wasn't always so sinister. Time was, it was hard to stop him donning a Santa beard and handing out presents



along with the rest of the Trinity



One time, he even sang carols all night with the boys of the GCPD Choir.

Crime was suppressed that night, not because Batman is such a badass that he can defeat superstitious, cowardly criminals by singing carols at them, but through the operation of the 'spirit of Christmas'.



Here's praying something like this happens this season. God bless us one and all, superchums...

NB: Most images come from the aforementioned Dial B for Blog where the iridescent depths of comicdom are plumbed in fine style; I'm a Ray Palmer on their giant shoulders. Copyright belongs to the originators, natch. Religious ideas, thought forms, archetypes etc copyright the theologoumenon from which all reality flows, authors and readers included.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over

According to isitchristmas.com it is not, in fact, Christmas. Nevertheless festive things are happening. We've stocked up with food and drink as if preparing for a restaging of 120 Days of Sodom as an M&S advert, rather than a 12-day festival, for 11 of which the shops will be open. (And we're only at home for some of it.)

I'm a sucker for the Christmas version of anything - I'd probably buy a new Calor Gas fire if it was called a Christmas Calor Gas fire and smelled vaguely of cinnamon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

kiss kiss : recorded Angel : die, Baldur, die!

Assessing every roadside
in the land, in this current year,
we know: there is less cassette
tape tangled in hedgerows
than at any time
since tape Recorded History began.

A substantive Driver recalls:
"Long unspooled tangles once
festooned many branches, many twigs;
now fallen, it has mulched, diminished, become hidden;"
and speculates
"theoretically, multitudes
of Analysts could recover
much of the twentieth century's speech
and song from magnetised
molecules now nestled in soil
beneath layers of leaves, fungi,
the indifferent tread of vixens
following hedgerow conduits;"
and qualifies
"however, much of the sound
quality would be
compromised, compared
with the original original."

Hanging tape is now
a smaller fraction of the total
mass of the countryside
than mistletoe -
statistically, therefore,
more uncanny, less homely
than mistletoe - perhaps therefore
a new mistletoe:
quantified as the stranger
of the dangling things we pass.

A Practical note on such hanging tape as you may encounter:

You can kiss beneath it
but it is not proven to kill the gods.




xxx+xxx

Friday, December 14, 2007

Portslade Massif


Portslade Massif
Originally uploaded by Matt Adams

Bugger - missed it. An exhibition by James Cauty with the excellent title 'the Rize and Fall of the Portslade Massif'. The show was actually in poncy Brighton (the photo being the gallery exterior; the slogan was helpfully cleaned off by the council) but maybe that's a good thing - 'Portslade' romping into the territory of its more acceptable neighbour.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Things to look forward to

Advent being a season of expectation, hauling in green sprigs and lighting flames in the darkest heart of the year, sketching out the idea that light will return, here are some things I'm looking forward to next year...

1. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
In his book Clubland Heroes, Richard Usborne described a delightful quandary: given (I think) a Richard Hannay adventure by John Buchan, one of Dornford Yates' Berry and Co stories, and the latest Bulldog Drummond (in a cheerful yellow Gollancz wrapper)... which to read first? In the end it has to be the Drummond. For some reason, contemplating the conclusion to Joe Abercrombie's First Law series reminds me of Usborne's anecdote. Not that the series concerns a beer-drinking, cheerfully ugly gentleman adventurer (as such) - just that my enthusiasm for these books would put them top of my reading list, even if greater literary merit could be proven for the alternatives. My fondness for these novels matches that of Usborne for Sapper's creation. I won't attempt a review - there are some good ones at Strange Horizons ("Fans of character-driven epics who are willing to take their heroes with a grain of moral ambiguity should add this novel to their "must read" list"), SF Site ("In addition to excellent characterizations and fascinating world-building, Abercrombie also writes the best fight scenes I have read in ages") and BBT ("Do want an author who tweaks the nipples of the oh-so-revered Fantasy Formula?" - there's only one answer to that.)
Not attempting a review but... personally I wouldn't use words like cynical or postmodern, and perhaps not noir. I would say it's as bracing as a friendly headbutt, that the characters and plot threads are incredibly compelling (leaving one plotline to join another one in a subsequent chapter is a wrench) and that the humour is actually funny.



2. A new Gillian Welch album
Billboard were reporting a follow up to 2003's excellent Soul Journey back in 2006 - surely she'll commit something to 'vinyl' next year? Failing that, I'm tempted by her painting:




3. Final Crisis

Periodically, the unwieldy DC Universe (the fictional nexus of all the characters, plotlines and milieu in stories published by DC) gets a makeover, in the form of a vast 'crisis', involving all of the characters and their worlds/universes in a collective story that carries out a lot of housekeeping. For instance, 1985's 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' got rid of lots of characters, plotlines, tropes and history that either didn't make sense, or didn't chime with current fashion. Contradiction, silliness and outdated concepts were elided (literally, in a surging wave of antimatter represented by the white paper of the unprinted page.) A fresh new world with relaunched characters also 'explains' why, in a story that started in 1938, the cast doesn't comprise aged pensioners. Now you don't get this sort of thing
- in real life, otherwise I'd reinvent about half of my life (the rubbish half)
- in most other forms of literature - for instance, Tolkien doesn't relaunch a new version of LOTR with more more women, no Tom Bombadil, and a language that cannot create poetry (sadly).
But in DC the crisis story has become a regular fixture, so much so that persistent crises themselves have become a piece of slightly creaky daftness on a par with Bat-Mite and Wonder Woman being secretary to the Justice Society. Perhaps this is why the next one is called Final Crisis. I have high hopes for this, mainly as it's written by Grant Morrison, a writer of some genius who I believe has the chops to re-engineer the symbolic architecture of a fictional world that is an important part of the troposphere of the real universe, with some poetry, energy and surprise.
And he'd better deliver. In the runup to Final Crisis, all kinds of crass hatchet-work is apparently happening - for instance, Big Barda gets casually killed on the floor of her kitchen... a pathetic way for one of the noblest, kick-assest female characters to go. Hopefully this kind of stuff is some kind of prelude to a rebirth that will both preserve and renew the mythical lifeblood of these tales - otherwise it will be a fecking crisis...



Anyone else looking forward to stuff next year?

Monday, December 10, 2007

treasures of darkness

Obedient sparks and solid oil spawn
multitudes of miracles, yes,
but some taste bad, like this
1.8m/6ft Norwegian Spruce Pre Lit Tree.

Overbright, glowering,
a beaming invader
smelling of hot tinsel -
we returned it, not to China but to
Customer Services
where it was marked
'Destroy'.

Now we have
Real Christmas Tree - Living Norway Spruce - 1m 10cm
waiting somewhere between green life
and a thought of green life;
enlivening an idea of hearth -
anticipating its own 'Destroy', waste that
weights a simultaneous
equation of waste and desire -

can say just for now
there's some homely lights.



(Work in progress. Tree fates and luminescent atrefacts as described. There's also a small potted one outside.)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The moment I lost my marketing virginity...

...was, I suppose, during the evening I pasted this together some time in 1985. The text was done on a ZX Spectrum. Cult illustrator Caspar Williams did the drawings, including the image of me with which I saw fit to dominate the cover (not a strategy we'll be adopting for our next prospectus.)



Prior to the pictured item, the Zap Club flyers had featured only the names of the acts, so adding descriptions was a worthwhile development. That was my one good marketing idea - I have had several since then, but never had to follow through by typing the results on a rubber keyboard.

It's odd to see it surface on the web over 20 years later. It's nice to share the cover with the artiste Phranc, whose work I loved then and still do. Her rider included some absurdly innocent but specific items (something along the lines of 23 fig rolls and some pink Smarties), obviously not meant to be taken seriously. I took pride in painstakingly assembling the items in the dressing room, which got mentioned when I was introduced to her in a tongue-tied moment of mutual embarrassment. She showed no reaction - true stardom at work!

Friday, December 7, 2007

'I'm gonna go get the papers. Get the papers.'

I seem to be mutating into a Guardian reader. My earliest newspaper habit was the Times - basically I had the inbuilt knowledge that it was the top paper, sort of the Platonic ideal of a newspaper. But Murdoch put paid to that. Subsequently, the Telegraph has for years provided me with a doable crossword and largely enjoyable read.

Although not an explicitly political person, I would have preferred to read something a bit more left/liberal, but at the time (80s/90s)the quality of writing seemed to me to be superior towards the right (New Statesman: like chewing soap bubbles; Spectator: a banquet served after a weekend shooting party; some strange offal in there but largely more enjoyable.)

Recently I've started hiking a mile in the dark to a Post Office most mornings as a gut-diminishing exercise process. Buying a paper gives me a goal and something to read when I get back. I've found myself buying the Guardian, partly because it fits into my pocket (therefore not impairing my manly stride.) And the paper is good. Seems that lefties can write now, perhaps through some process of natural selection (eg the right-wing writers have died of gout.)

So it's away with my tweed suit and monocle, hello socks and sandals...

Fe Person

I find this trailer intriguing (so job done, trailermakers) and unsettling. Will the movie be an interesting take on warlike hardware, or some ghastly triumphalist tosh?



The beginning looks like a better remake of Lord of War. But the hostage-escape thing is such blatant wish fulfilment and perhaps not in the best of taste. Then what's going to happen? In the shorter trailer he talks of 'protecting the people he has put in harm's way', a kind of ironclad action-packed repentance for his arms trade career I suppose. I'll be interested to see who gets counted as the people needing protection...

I've never been a big Iron Man fan, but I did follow an alcoholism plotline in the 80s, which I expect will be touched on in the film. The comic version has billionaire inventor Tony Stark becoming an alcoholic vagrant - the phrase 'I'll take his $50 and use it to forget his ugly words' (spoken as he bums some drink money from a former employee) has, unaccountably, become a staple part of our family vocabulary.

Monday, December 3, 2007

'Gathering' gloom

It seemed like a good idea at the time - "LEGENDS OF FOLK ROCK - THE GATHERING...'Gathered' from – LINDISFARNE, FAIRPORT CONVENTION, STEELEYE SPAN, MAGNA CARTA & JETHRO TULL...Never before has such a line up drawn from the genres’ most influential bands come together on stage to celebrate their shared heritage of songs and performances." (Punctuation theirs - send chastisemen to the tour promoters.) We caught this show at Southport last Saturday, and (being kind) let's say it didn't work for us. The clownish, mugging side Lindisfarne dominated proceedings, and the "veritable Who’s Who of key musicians" were at best lacklustre at worst annoying. There seemed to be a good English blues band in there somewhere, but there was always some element not working. Jerry Donahue, Mike Piggott, Rick Kemp, Clive Bunker, Ray Jackson, Doug Morter and Kristina Donahue may well be "the brightest and finest musicians from the best folk-rock bands of the past 30 years" though a true supergroup from this genre could arguably have some other faces, a bit more light and shade, a bit more folk...

We darted out before the encore, ran to the car where I scrabbled through the layers of detritus in search of other music - found an unmarked compilation I'd made - screamed along cathartically to the New York Dolls (few of whom have lived to make jokes about their bus passes), tunnelled into the dark and rainy night...

Pie, the support band, were excellent though.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Ragged-Trousered Army Men

I've been pondering the holes in the uniforms of illustrated American soldiers (doesn't everyone at this time of year?) Here's the thing. In US war comics, it's notable how the heroes sport uniforms that are ripped and torn. DCs Sgt Rock has always been something of a tatterdemalion:



whilst over at Marvel Sgt Fury is no Beau Brummel:







(You'll have to trust me that the characters go around like this most of the time; wearing a smart uniform signifies a story set on leave, or a Court Martial. British war comics, such as the Commando line, tend to have less holey protagonists.)

Why might this be? Some thoughts:


Approximating long underpants

Muscular bodies bursting out of the uniforms makes the characters look a bit more like superheroes, whose tight outfits present them in a kind of decorated nakedness. (The look also relates somewhat to pre-comics pulp hero Doc Savage, in his trademark ripped shirt.)



So the visual style may be a way of saying 'these comics are a bit like the more popular superhero ones, fanboys - get your money out.'

Beat warfare
During the Silver Age of the 60s and 70s, war comics were a pretty downbeat affair. The classic Sgt Rock stories by Bob Kanigher, with covers and sometimes interior art by Joe Kubert, showed a weary crew of grunts slogging their way across theatres of war - hard-bitten survivors rather than glory hounds or paragons. The stories all ended with the 'Make War No More' slogan, and other titles such as The Losers showed an interesting ambivalence. In this context, the battered torn clothing contributed to a kind of beat(up) atmosphere and a sense of the men being abraded victims of larger forces.



Natural Bare Killers
The GIs in their ripped-up gear contrasted with the depictions of Nazis and the occasional allied serviceman who would appear in smart uniforms. Perhaps the idea was to show the Americans as more natural, individual, virile and human. Or simply as harder fighting, judging by the wear-and-tear on their outfits.

All of the above would make sense: a nexus of forces (Our Fighting Forces perhaps) shaping an artistic choice...

But! What about this picture by Norman Rockwell, predating the comics?

This guy's uniform is ripped to buggery as well. (What is it with GIs? Could they not issue a needle and thread?) For what it's worth I think the Rockwell image has some other drivers. The gun is very much the centre of the picture, and the pristine white fabric ammo belt spooling through it contrasts with the dirty, torn uniform. (This is heartbreaking, when you ponder the message - we're meant to stitch together his ammo belt rather than sew him some clothes that will cover his flesh.) This creates a sense of sacrifice - by the gunner who has abandoned civilised clothing and cleanliness to feed the weapon; by the munitions workers back home (eg Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter) putting in extra hours to get those shining cartridges produced.

I can't relate the two - perhaps there some artistic tradition of ragamuffin soldiery within which all of these images fit?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

memory basement

Last week I attended the launch of the Zap Archive, a book+website celebrating '25 years of Cultural Innovation'. For me it was in the nature of a reunion with former colleagues, as my first full-time job was there as reminisced on earlier. I deliberated long and hard about going, fearing that this particular time-machine journey might end in a wreck - but a poll on my Facebook page yielded some good advice about such events ('treat it as a gathering of interesting strangers'; 'eat something first') and I decided to do it. I'm very glad I went as it was a unique occasion - moving, funny, absurd - and I encountered friends old and new.

It wasn't in the (former) Zap Club but in a gallery-type venue called the Basement. As I arrived a procession of performance-type people with temple bells, torches and fireworks was closing in on the doorway. I realised that I actually knew many of these - for some reason wearing hats. Then I was talking to Heather who used to run the bar and < install_unavoidable_cliche > the years rolled away and it was like being back there; I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd asked me to change a barrel or bring up a case of mixers.

So re-met tons of people, drank wine, mourned the passed. I was both touched and amused to be recalled by Ian Smith in the book -

My strongest recollections are not so much of particular acts, but rather of the general running of the place. The constant banter in the lobby, or behind the tiny bar, was as good as anything happening onstage. Everyone had their own style, from Roy Bayfield’s janitor persona (based on Bukowski’s Factotum), to cashier June Bain’s ‘Headmistress’ – scolding ticketless punters, then erupting into outbursts of filthy raucous laughter as she sized up young boys in need of a bath.


(Perhaps I should adopt a 'Charles Bukowski' persona in my current job - but which text should I use this time? Perhaps The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills...)

There was a slot for performances, people such as Sian Thomas, Roger Ely, Desperate Men and Mark Waugh took to the stage in short pieces, reminiscent of the open performance slots that used to take place on Tuesdays (where live art met care in the community.) Mine was based on my 'cleaner' role... I now have a nice new pair of rubber gloves left over from my comedy moment. It seemed to go well - a surreal but actually pretty factual listing of items I had cleared up between 1984-6, some recycled from my earlier blog post; some new that I wrote in a pub on the way there (relishing my Weekend Pass to Bohemia) - wrapped up with a wish that I had kept some of the physical detritus, with which to construct a mystic rune to resurrect those times, daubed in Clown White makeup, smelling of candyfloss, to the sound of stage maroons.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Batman subtext?



Every young boy's dream - specially in those nice pajamas.

Then there's this old favourite - how can a static image have such great comic timing?




There are infinite amounts of this ort of thing at Superdickery.com

Friday, October 12, 2007

I, mutant

Multiple Facebook friends have 'defined' me with the term 'toe thumbs' (or in one case the more web-like 'toe_thumbs') - I'm sure not in a 'hang the freak!' sense, but it is a bit odd being identified with one/two bits of anatomy, no matter how bizarre.

I suppose they look more like toes than lots of other non-toe objects that exist in the universe. I should point out they are opposable, I can use tools and cling to branches. Although technically a mutant I don't think I qualify for membership of the X-Men - maybe a more supporting role, like Willie Lumpkin, the Fantastic Four's postman who offers to help on the basis that he can 'wiggle my ears real good'.

Actually it's not the first time they've been remarked on, and I have been known to draw attention to them myself (and not just by waving them around to scare people away from seats on trains.) I made a video once, a monologue in the persona of a fireman (Fireman Jack, c1983). At the end I mentioned having my thumbs burned off and surgically replaced with toes (which did actually happen to someone.) There was a brief shot of my real hands - I never expected anyone to think it was true, but the combination of my method acting and the real digits meant that several people thought it was (eg audience member exiting room saying 'blimey, did you see that guy's hands!').

Perhaps I should become (more of) a conman, like the Eddie Izzard character in the excellent 'Riches'.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Holiday poem (work in progress - now with fewer apostrophes!)

I rarely attempt 'creative writing' as such, but did so whilst on holiday. Rather than leave the results in a notebook like a pressed flower never to be seen by human eyes I've typed them here (not without difficulty) thus consigning them to the aether...

Las Merindades

This time a green place held
by far long cliffs:
white rusty strips of stone unravelling
across the horizons, above
the deep slopes of trees, above
the red roofs, the well
of air -
the place
where we move around and look
temporarily.

(The cliffs grasp at unknown sky-distance like highways, the brindled roofs
are sometimes new, sometimes anciently festively tumbling, weighed
in place by stones.)

My tourist question - where
can I get a map
to counterhold
and connect:
a stork's nest in an old tower,
salt cod in a stew,
shouts and engines in still air,
some bright wine poured from a surprising height?
Gutters, papers, shoes, boundaried
for other people?

If I had it could I hold it
long enough
to read its legend
(that is not my own key or any key to where I am known);
hold it flat
in the rising breeze?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Psycho will provide towels

Back in 77/78, the New Regent was Brighton's main punk venue - a long, narrow, cramped bar smelling of leather and beer. (It features in this evocative piece by Gwyneth Jones.) Me and some other underage mates would go every week, seeing acts like X-Ray Spex, Penetration, Slaughter and the Dogs... one week we went to see Adam and the Ants who weren't allowed to play because one of them was underage. But the most memorable act was a local band called Psycho Normal and his Stiff Victims. They were flamboyant, entertaining, surprising and simply exploding with energy. With hindsight I can see their cocktail of pre-punk influences - early Who, the Bonzos, Alex Harvey - a richer brew than that served by many of the three-chord merchants of the time. The set included songs about Aleister Crowley and the Marquis de Sade, standard punky stuff about the delights of low-paid work, and absurd humour. We later discovered that they were even more local than we thought - not just a Brighton band, like the Depressions or the Piranhas, but a band with Portslade connections - as their leader Graeme Hobbs aka P. Normal lived in Abinger Road and worked by day at the Southdown coachworks.

A bunch of us took to hanging round at Graeme's house, listening to records and songs in progress, sometimes to the annoyance of his family and neighbours. We would put up posters and generally act as a sort of Baker Street Irregulars.

All of this was a scarily long time ago. Recently I decided to see if I could track Graeme down on the interweb, reasoning that he may have left some cyber spoor, and thinking if he was still around Portslade I might be able to lure him out for a drink. I had heard that he had been in another band, Tricks Upon Travellers, who have a MySpace page. Unfortunately I never saw this group, for who could resist a 'cross between Fairport Convention and Iggy Pop'. The comments mentioned Graeme's departure for Spain, and referred to 'Casa Zalama', which I assumed to be a village, but which turned out to be a 'casa rural' (sort of b&b/hotel in the countryside) owned by Mari-Cruz Totorico and... Graeme!

Fascinated by the possibility of staying in an establishment run by Psycho Normal (who if memory serves once beheaded a teddy bear filled with stage blood sacs, and would regularly bound around wearing sheep's head codpiece (or was it a cod's head sheeppiece)) I researched the possibilities. Cunningly I showed Jennie the gorgeous pictures and ecstatic reviews, and let her suggest that perhaps we could go there. At that point I whipped out the (surprisingly reasonable) tariff that Mari-Cruz had emailed over, and mused aloud that yes, perhaps Jennie's idea of going there was in fact feasible.

And so, thanks to punk rock and the Internet, our 2007 holiday was planned. We had many odd conversations in he run-up to the trip: 'I expect Psycho will give us tourist information'; 'I'm sure Psycho will provide towels'; 'I wish Pscyho had drawn a clearer map'.

The reality proved to be delightful. Graeme's philosophy of rock n role mayhem hasn't influenced his approach to hospitality - in terms of food, comfort, and attractiveness Casa Zalama is quite simply one of the best places we have been.

There were of course reminiscences. Graeme produced a comic I drew 30 years ago, satirising his verbal mannerisms, hairstyle and penchant for fearsomely strong tea. I had completely forgotten this work (produced as a pre-Facebook distraction from homework.) My ability to write and draw has evaporated since then - I'll try and get a scan of it to prove that I once had these skills.

Every night I dream that I'm...

A couple of years ago, I Googled the phrase "every night I dream that I'm travelling", to see if any other lost souls had dreams of perpetual motion. The search (in quotes) delivered no results, so I chopped a word from the end and searched again - this got twelve results. The combination of phrases appealed to me, so I carried on removing words and doing the search, with an idea of assembling the end product as a sort of found poem. The searches found ever-more results, so I reduced the number of phrases I kept each time to stop it achieving infinite length. Here is the 2005 version:


every night I dream that I'm...


Every night I dream that I'm driving a truck from Pittsburgh to New York.

every night I dream that I'm hemmoraging to death at the hospital again.

every night I dream that I'm smoking

Every night I dream that I'm pregnant

Every night I dream that I'm going home for Christmas instead of going to do fieldwork in Somalia

Every night I dream that I'm drifting further and further out to sea

Every night I dream that I'm being chased by chainsaw-wielding, PCP-addicted chimps

every night I dream that I'm standing on the side of a lake, or partially
submerged, watching somebody swim around

EVERY NIGHT I DREAM THAT I'M BACK IN FRANCE

every night I dream/That I'm/Saddled on that copper colored pony/With you
every night I dream that I'm at work, feels like I've already done a shift by time I get there and a few other people I work with have commented that they do too

every night i dream that i'm back down in folorida with the most amazing people i've ever met; and i finally feel some sort of relaxation and contentment go over me like a wave.



every night I dream that...


Every night I dream that I found him and then, Every day I wake up and I'm lonely
again

every night I dream that we are together in April, doing the
things we planned on doing

every night I dream that one day I will sleep in that
hotel

Every night I dream that his mother purchases an engagement ring

Every night I dream that football vanishes from the face of the earth taking all the pleb players with it, but every morning I wake up and discover it's still there :(

Every night I dream that my injuries just get worse and worse, and I am afraid
of going to sleep

every night, I dream that I either forget to feed you or leave you somewhere!

every night. I dream that they shoot at me and that I get hit by bullets: one in my thigh, one in my wrist, one in my head, one in my chest and then a fifth and a sixth and so on

Every night, i dream that i am falling in the middle of nowhere...

Every night I dream that I am writing The Lord of the Rings but I realize that
I am only Tolkien my sleep

every night I dream that I am infected

every night I dream that he starts to be able to talk


every night I dream

every night I dream, Together you and me, Look at us baby, look at us now.

Every night I dream the same dream Of getting older all the time I ask you now, what does this mean?

Every night I dream Liquid dreams, my liquid dreams

every night I dream Hope and pray and believe So happy that you're mine We'll
live in ecstacy The world for you and me

Every night I dream. One day my mom saw a snake,. She threw the rake.

every night I dream, I dream of you I'd like to run away and hide, but you're always there inside 'cause everywhere I dream, I dream of you

Every night I dream about extreme tragedies with my family and friends.

Every night I dream about you

Every night, I dream I dream of you.

every night I dream a little more in my mind every night I cry a little more in
my mind and I realize that holding on to clouds of dreams that are now gone


every night I...

Every night I lag out in Euless Tx.

“Every Night I Go Running” follows the regular exploits of a solitary runner on
his journey through a number of different settings and locations,

Every night I just want to go out, D get out of my head. E Everyday I want not
to get up,

Every Night I Fall

Every Night I Pray For The Bomb

Every night I ask Jesus to take me home.

Every night I flood my bed - I drench my couch with my tears

Every night I still cry

Every night, I think, Why did I throw it all away?


every night...

Every Night Italian

every night in the historic Ninth Square district in downtown New Haven, Connecticut

every night and it makes me sick

Every Night Is Mardi Gras!

every night and she always yells at him before going to bed alone

every night She’s mad that she ever loved him

Every Night, Josephine


every...

Every Rule in the Universe

Every Writer Should Know

'every second'

Every Child Matters

Every Generation

Every Day



I thought it would be interesting to do this again, and see how it had changed. If anything, I am even happier with this version.




every night I dream that I'm...


every night, I dream that I'm home with my family

Every night, I dream that I'm traveling to another city - Miami, Barcelona, Paris

Every night I dream that I’m ready to leave where I am

Every night I dream that I'm dead & I'm gonna kill everyone

Every night I dream that I'm pregnant

Every night I dream that I'm drifting further and further out to sea

Every night I dream that I'm in a certain place and a man sleeps with me but find myself in the morning in my bed

every night I dream that I'm standing on the side of a lake, or partially submerged, watching somebody swim around

Every night I dream that I'm being chased by chainsaw-wielding, PCP-addicted chimps.

every night i dream that I'm smoking and i wake up burnt its so weird

Every night I dream that I’m really from another planet and that I am here to study everything around me to report back

Every night I dream that I'm in exotic places with a swish digital camera and I snap and snap away, capturing beautiful images and longing for them to still exist when I awake


every night I dream that...

Every night I dream that you are taken away from me… erm, us, forever

Every night I dream that I found him and then, Every day I wake up and I'm lonely again Chorus: WHERE IS THE MAN? WHERE IS THE MAN?

every night I dream that I am living in the 1500's

every night I dream that my startup is acquired by Google

every night I dream that I am using some kind of computer where I simply wave my hands and manipulate the box

Every night I dream that I am Mario and I begin riding Yoshi buck naked, slapping gumbas and turtles with my parachute size ball sack!

Every night I dream that you want me back, but the sun rises and you never call.

every night, I dream that I either forget to feed you or leave you somewhere! Poor kid!

every night I dream that I am with him in the garden at Chiswick

every night I dream that somehow I am running into the leaders of our CLB [‘church left behind’]

every night I dream that he has come home and when I wake up and find it's only a dream it just breaks my heart.


every night I dream...

Every night I dream about extreme tragedies with my family and friends.

every night i dream, Together you and me
Look at us baby, Look at us now
Your like the flower bloom, The glowing of the moon
Will make it baby, Look at us now
For everyone believe, That we could never be
Look at us baby, Look at us now
now all the hurt is gone, I knew it all along
We make it baby, Look at us now

every night I dream about you

every night I dream about Ashgabat

every night I dream, Together you and me, Look at us baby, look at us now.

Every night I dream it, and it’s horrible

every night i dream together you and me Look at us baby look at us now Like the flower bloom The blooming of the moon We'll make it baby , look at us ...

Every night I dream I'm under you

every night I dream I'm under you All the smiling hands delivering all the ??? All of the smiling men with suede hands delivering with those pensions

every night, I dream of being chased, killed, isolated, uncared for, of evil spirits... etc


every night I...

Every night I save you

Every night I pray

every night I burn Every night I scream your name Every night I burn

every night I would awake as a girl

Every Night I Pray For The Bomb

Every night I fall Every night I fall into you Youve got me in a ? ? ? And I cant help but fall

Every Night I Go Running

Every Night I'm Yours

Every Night I Wake Up Screaming


every night...

"Every Night" is a song written by Paul McCartney while he was on holiday in Greece

Every Night: Music: Saturday Looks Good to Me by Saturday Looks Good to Me

Every Night Italian: 120 Simple, Delicious Recipes You Can Make in 45 Minutes or Less

every night and it makes me sick

Every night I just wanna go out, get out of my head Every day I dont want to get up, get out of my bed

Every night in northern Uganda, tens of thousands of children, known as night commuters, flow into town centres.

every night while he was manager of the team

every night of the week!


every...

Every child matters
Every child matters
Every generation online
Every action counts
Every car journey
Every 10 seconds
Every little thing

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Casa Zalama


24-09-07_1520
Originally uploaded by Mister Roy

Our holiday destination this year was Casa Zalama, a 'casa rural' in northern Spain. This was our first time in this region and in this type of accommodation. It was utterly splendid - great room, lovely food, and a fascinating area. Casa Zalama deserves its many good reviews, and as well as being hospitable is a kind of magical place with a garden filled with sculptures. Las Merindades isn't mentioned at all in some guidebooks, which is bizarre as it has dramatic landscapes, mediaeval villages and castles, and a pleasantly un-touristy atmosphere. It's also easy to get to Bilbao and Burgos.

I've put plenty of photos on Flickr.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Zap Years

Receiving an invitation to celebrate '25 Years of Cultural Innovation' at the Zap Club in Brighton has left me feeling a mixture of nostalgia and excitement. But I find I'm unsettled too - as if I've accidentally picked up an unwieldy mass of strangeness that I don't quite know what to do with - a bundle of odd things I had forgotten over the past quarter-century. (Something like: a tangle of fishing nets, tinsel and unspooled C90 cassette tape, smelling of seawater and stale beer...)

In those days (early 80s) the Zap Club was a venue for 'comedy, cabaret, poetry, film, installation, dancing, theatre, music, street art, pantomime, alternative circus' with much audience involvement, often cross-programming these genres - so an audience might experience a juggler, a comedian, a performance artist and a band all in one night. After a period based in various venues, two arches beneath the seafront road and right on the beach were converted to be a permanent home.



My Zap career began simply enough. I was watching a boxing match in my girlfriend's flat when Neil Butler, one of the Zap directors, ran to ask if I'd like to do some cleaning at the newly-opened club - he had seen a performance piece I'd done on a cleaning theme and thought the work would appeal to me. (This was very much the modus operandi of the organisation - getting mates and artists to do things rather than professionals. Recruiting an unemployed graduate who had once done a performance about cleaning, rather than, say, an actual cleaner, was one of the more normal business decisions.)

Aside: My cleaning performance was inspired by part-time office cleaning jobs I had whilst at college. The process appealed to me on many levels. Being in buildings after hours, not part of the real purpose of the place but a sort of nightside crew; the repetitive ritualistic actions; the occasional moments of surrealism, such as entering a floor that had until the previous night been full of desks, filing cabinets, shelves and the traces of people's lives (kids photos on partitions and comedy coffee cups) and finding it completely empty apart from 10 telephones on the carpet - the reality seemed like performance art, so turning it back into an artwork was tempting. I recall mixing a bucket of Alka Seltzer and drinking it, most of it going on the floor where various electrical items were lying; setting fire to a Christmas angel by fire-eating with methylated spirits; rainbow arcs of cleaning materials everywhere. No Health & Safety Risk Assessments in those days - just good honest entertainment.


I was the cleaner there for two years, my first full-time job. I also did maintenance, bar work, compering, performance, and publicity - the latter a mostly voluntary add-on which I have somehow parlayed into a career in marketing.

The cleaning part was occasionally challenging. Let me just say that I dealt with anything which might emerge from a human body, placed everywhere that such things don't belong. I must have swept up tons of broken glass and cigarette ash, leavened with the detritus of the Zap's peculiar programme: if the trash didn't include something like a sequinned jockstrap, 17 dead fish painted fluoresecent pink, and a broken euphonium, the previous night had probably been a private hire for an accountant's birthday party.

Amidst all of this I got to meet lots of great people, such as Kathy Acker, Pete McCarthy, Forced Entertainment, Ivor Cutler, Ken Campbell, Billy Childish, the People Show, dozens more. I got drunk, fell in and out of love, made lifelong friends, repainted the walls, killed rats, ruined a pair of Simon Fanshawe's trousers by leaving a freshly-painted table in a corridor, learned to be vaguely entertaining, improvised woodwork, poured drinks, ate microwaved lasagne and tomato crisps, helped present amazing acts, and cleaned up the next day.

It was an unforgettable time.

And yet I don't always put the Zap Club on my CV - sometimes that slot is filled with the blandly sinister 'Gresham Associates' (the off-the-shelf company name of the four directors who had invested to create the Club in its permament premises) coyly described as an 'arts organisation'. Somehow the Zap feels like a chink in my symbolic armour, like turning up for an interview in a standard suit and tie, but wearing mascara or riding a unicycle. My fear is that if I did list it, next to a string of local authorities and polytechnics, someday a Vice-Chancellor or somesuch would boomingly ask what this 'Zap Club' was all about. What would I describe? Hurling a burning sculpture into the sea, with artist Roland Miller and some men from an airgun club who had stopped in for a drink and become embroiled in a performace art spectacle? Attaching lychees to the outstretched fingers of a blindfolded audience member on one of Ian Smith's unwisely-named 'Abuse Nights' ('Hold out your fingers madam... here comes the eyeball')? Having a curiously normal conversation about Eastbourne with the (completely naked) Neo Naturists in the (ironically named that evening) dressing room? Or one of the weird nights?

And yet maybe I should mention it. Thinking about it now, that sprawling, UV-lit, Seven Hundred Drunken Nights period taught me a lot. From that crucible of hedonism, creativity, enterprise and fun I emerged with an unquenchable sense that the the show must and shall happen; even without boring things like budgets or plans, amazing unpredictable lovely things can be brought into being; take a bag of mad ideas and pursue them with utter conviction; even if you have no script for what you're going to say or do or why, you can walk on to the stage, do your three minutes,

provisionally

solve

the

equation

of

love.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

1001 nights cast

I'll let this project explain itself:

In 1001 nights cast, Barbara Campbell performs a short text-based work each night for 1001 consecutive nights. The performance is relayed as a live webcast to anyone, anywhere, who is logged on to this website at the appointed time, that is, sunset at the artist’s location.

A frame story written by the artist introduces the project’s nightly performances. It is a survival story and it creates the context for subsequent stories generated daily through writer/performer collaborations made possible by the reach of the internet.

Each morning Barbara reads journalists’ reports covering events in the Middle East. She selects a prompt word or phrase that leaps from the page with generative potential. She renders the prompt in watercolour and posts it in its new pictorial form on the website. Participants write a story using that day’s prompt in a submission of up to 1001 words.


...so tonight, for instance, Barbara is reading a story by my ol' pal and Facebook revenant Tony White. To cap it all, tongue studs are involved also.

What are you waiting for - here it is: http://1001.net.au/index.shtml

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley

Even if you have never read a western, I'm betting that if you picked one up and read an account of a cowboy riding into a mining town and walking into a saloon, you would get a clear sense of the environment being described and an expectation of the story, however sketchy the text was. That's because the western is a highly stylised form, with conventions reinforced by thousands of books, movies, parodies and so on - a gigantic shared world which author and reader can tap into at will. A lot of fantasy operates in a similar way: the Woods, Castles, Elves, Dragons come tumbling out of the box ready formed; a warrior walking into an alehouse needs as little embellishment as the cowboy entering the saloon to create an evocative scene, because we've all been to that same alehouse many times before.

And that's fine. But it's great to come across a fantasy that breaks the mold, whilst staying close to the roots of the genre. Winterbirth is one such and I'll be following the trilogy with interest. For me this was a really fresh read - although many of the expected elements of a fantasy trilogy are here, it comes across as a new creation - a world that has been crafted anew, rather than a retread of familiar elements.



Described by the author as 'epic heroic fantasy', it's a stirring tale of feuding clans and races, laced with treachery and intrigue, punctuated with powerful action scenes. The characters are well-realised, with believable motivations and personalities. There's a certain amount of ambiguity as characters follow their destinies with often violent results, but with a (nicely diverse) group of characters who one can empathise with as the heroes. However I suspect difficult moral choices await the younger characters who have followed a coming-of-age trajectory in this first volume.

Within the 'Godless World', the 'Black Road' is a well-realised theology that motivates one set of clans, a kind of fatalistic determinism similar to the Puritan concept of the Elect, a mixture of predestination and moral absolutism. Although the book is not an allegory of modern times, the exploration of a faith-based drive to conquest, and the politics that surround it, does have an unavoidable resonance with the contemporary world. I would be interested in understanding better the belief systems of the non-Black-Roaders.

Criticisms? I sometimes got my Thanes mixed up and had to use the table at the back to untangle the names. Similarly, some place names had a confusing similarity. But these are minor quibbles with an excellent first novel from an exciting new author.

(I have also written at insane length about the marketing of this book.)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Unfriendly Zen garden


Unfriendly Zen garden
Originally uploaded by my_genre_nation@btinternet.com

These were dotted around the roof space of a very nice restaurant I was taken to in Edinburgh. No sure what one isn't supposed to enter...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Must... obey...

It's interesting seeing which rules we decide to follow. Sometimes even the most anarchic or contrary people are fanatical about following certain rules.

Take 'Use By' dates on food. To me these are sacrosanct. I often creep down to the kitchen at midnight for a cull of the fridge and cupboards, to remove anything that is going out of date. I really believe that teams of scientists have worked out that a food product is perfectly safe to eat at 11.59, but as toxic as a test-tube full of ebola virus at 12.01 the next day.

Jennie, on the other hand, would happily eat a piece of pork that has been in the fridge for six months, on the basis that
- 'the dates are just a suggestion'
- 'it's been in the fridge, it'll be OK'
- 'they just put those dates on to make people waste food and buy more'
- 'it's going to be cooked before we eat it'.

And yet the same woman would buy a parking ticket 2 minutes before the free period starts, just in case the Man comes around.

It's madness, I tells ya.

Meeting writers: what's the etiquette?

In 1967, humourist Paul Jennings recounted attending a literary soiree where the presence of T.S. Eliot was the main attraction. 'In this room there should be the beating of eagles' wings. All the available poets in London are here, and there are some who have come in specially from Greek islands.' As he awaits the moment when he and his wife will be introduced to Eliot, Jennings ponders - 'Soon it will be our turn. What shall I say? You have formed my soul?'

I have yet to meet a writer who may have formed my soul. But I have met a few, and the problem of what to say is always there.

For me it all started in around 1967. I liked the Roger Moore Saint TV show, probably the first adult TV I ever watched, so I was excited when my dad said we were going to meet 'the man who writes The Saint books', one of his MENSA buddies. However, this was not Leslie Charteris, a somewhat exotic fellow who had 'prospected for gold, fished for pearls, worked in a tin mine and on a rubber plantation, toured England with a carnival, and [driven] a bus.' Rather, it was a man who collected music boxes, lived near Eastbourne, and had adapted some of the TV scripts for paperback publication. As a six-year-old I had little to say under these circumstances, so moment of tongue tied embarassment for both of us ensued.

Between then and now, I've crossed paths with authors a few times. These have rarely been memorable encounters (though I was apparently the first person to ask Hal Duncan for an autograph outside of an official signing event, and I did, heroically, manage to ask Paul Cornell a non-Doctor-Who question at a round table discussion.)

What approach should one take when meeting writers? I'd like to avoid
- producing the author's complete oeuvre for signing
- asking absurdly detailed questions, such as 'on page 148 of the second volume of the Gryphiad, Volus has a poniard but in the previous chapter he had a dagger - is this a clue to the fate of Ardrad?'
- coming across as over-friendly, eg blurting out an invitation for our families to go on holiday together
- making it seem all business - 'just sign the damn book, I'm going to sell it on Amazon (but I might wait until you're dead to bump up the value.) So no need to personalise it...'

I suppose none of the folks I've mentioned are household names. I did find myself standing next to Terry Pratchett at a bar once. Now many's the time I've heard people discussing Discworld stuff that is to me completely opaque, or (worse) listened to memorised passages being declaimed with humorous intent. I am not able to participate in this kind of thing. Had I spoken to Mr Pratchett (who, being admirably generous with his time, would I'm sure have responded) back then all I could have said would have been 'Hey Terry, I read a couple of yours once, can't remember much about them - is your recent stuff any good?' So I didn't bother and concentrated on catching the barmaid's eye instead. But! Having read a recent interview in Interzone, I would have something to say to the hat-wearing fan favourite! Turns out he too admires the work of Paul Jennings, a relatively forgotten humorous writer who wrote a column in The Observer in the 1950 and 1960s. (See what I did there?) Perhaps I could have started a conversation about Jennings' poetic flights of fancy. Did he remember "How to Spiel Halma" , Resistentialism, the Submerged Log Company? How about "The Dwarfs of Birmingham"? We could have had one of those annoyingly opaque-to-non-cognoscenti conversations, maybe even declaimed memorised passages... Perhaps next time.

Pretty (sad) in Pink

In the past month I've been to a wedding, a baptism and two funerals. Caught up in the vaster movements of life. A thread of pink has run through this time...

At the wedding, four of us had independently decided to wear pink shirts - victims of some random middle-aged fashion meme. This had the effect of making us look like
- an off-duty Irish Showband
- early arrivals for the Pride march
- bachelors who had yet to master seperating colours for washloads.
But it was a nice coincidence.



Today was the funeral for Neil (aka Frank), following his sad and sudden departure. One of his work colleagues spoke at the do afterwards, and among other reminiscences described how Neil would wear a pink shirt on the days when a big financial transaction got completed. (He was a finance director. I know little about the inner workings of financial organisations, but I get the impression of massively complicated, high-value processes converging on a big scary deadline. The wearing of a pink shirt at these times would therefore be an act of some panache.) This was followed by a toast - after which I noticed that the work people, male and female, had all donned pink shirts of some kind for the funeral. Not a coincidence, but a moving tribute.

I just hope I get remembered as wholeheartedly...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Anticipating hols...

Found these pics of the place we'll be staying in September (well, the garden anyway)- can't wait!



The Garden of Casa Zalama (Spain)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The padlock at the centre of the universe


One day in 1973 (maybe a year or two earlier) this enormous padlock was placed on the railngs outside my Junior School, St Nicholas in Portslade. This was a marvel to the kids - why was it there? Could we get it off somehow?

You could move it up the railing, move it down again, stand on it...

No-one has ever removed it and it's rusted solid now. One time I even saw a small plant beginning to sprout from the keyhole. I suppose it will always be there until someone saws it off or removes the railings.

Most times I visit I walk past it and give it a reverential pat.

Sometimes I fancy that it holds everything together - that it is a centre of the universe - were it to be removed, things would unravel.

So
if the sky slips away
seconds cease to succeed
inside becomes beyond
other is now ours
kaleidoscopes lose all symmetry
green growth grasps past lanes -
this may be why.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Why superhero films aren't very good

Contrary to popular belief, I don't love superhero films. I just watch them when they come out, lured by the promise, always slightly let down. Somehow, superheroes work in comics. Stories in the superhero mode work on TV (Smallville, Heroes, Buffy.) But movies... despite the huge budgets, just don't seem to cut it. I don't just mean obvious stinkers such as Supergirl (which may have lead DC to kill off the 'actual' character in the comic, out of shame) - it's the good ones too. Here's my theory as to why:

Structure

Comics are serial stories with beginnings, but no ends. Think about it - the narrative of Batman started in 1939. It has never ended. There has never been a conclusion, any final 'closure', a 'Reader, I married him' moment. And it's the same with most major character superhero comics. (Graphic novels such as V for Vendetta are different in that they're not based on serials.) Movies, on the other hand, do have endings. Even if sequels are expected, each individual film has a climax and some form of conclusion. Thus, the best comics-based films have great beginnings but tail off into disappointing battles and showdowns. This is as true of Popeye and Annie as it is of the long-underpants characters. (Robin Williams once quipped about Popeye, in which he starred, that "If you watch it backwards, it has a plot." It certainly didn't save the best until last - somehow we get from the heartbreakingly-beautiful opening scene of Popeye rowing into the harbour of Olive Oyl's village, a masterpiece of choreographed detail, to a fight with a rubber octopus.) TV has more scope - many episodes give scope for stories to develop in an open-ended way (always opening out to new possibilities) without the need to shoehorn everything into two hours.
The sheer longevity of comics series allows characters to develop, supporting casts to be built, attachments to form between reader and character. Perhaps longrunning soaps work in a similar way (albeit bounded by more realistic rules governing aging and dying.) Movies struggle to build the same narrative momentum. For instance, in the comic I wept at the look on Johnny Storm's face when he heard about his sister Sue's miscarriage; this scene had emotional power as by then I had read hundreds of Fantastic Four stories over a period of years. I knew these characters and had grown up with them. If this event occurs in a future FF movie it will be based on characters I have known in total for a couple of hours, and probably seem like a cheap moment of emotional manipulation.
(Spiderman films try and get round this problem by being incredibly long. At the end of #3, I felt like I'd been subletting Peter Parker's apartment, I'd spent so much time looking at it.)

Style
Comics is an art form that punches above its weight. Lines on paper, 4-colour print, rapidfire production within tight genre conventions, an audience that has to include kids - really, none of the stories have much right to be any good at all. Many aren't. But the best have grandeur, power, emotion, wonder... and few of these qualities make it into the big budget movies. The recent Fantastic Four sequel is a case in point - in the original comic, Jack Kirby's drawings of an unshaven Reed Richards, desperately trying to invent gadgets to stave off the apocalypse, have as sense of human urgency - the whole thing has scale. In the slick, megabucks movie it's all too.. overt. A multimillion SFX-fest we've waited two years for owes us a massively impressive experience, and anything less than overwhelming awe leaves us short-changed; some drawings with speech balloons in a monthly kids' comic don't owe us anything, so when they deliver a soul-stirring epic we've been significantly over-rewarded.

Reverence
The movies stick pretty closely to the source material - heroes in costumes, for instance. TV gives itself more freedom, eg Smallville retelling the Superman story with 'no tights and no cape', or newly-minted stories such as Buffy which have used some of the most effective aspects of comics storytelling and ignored the rest.

So why will I be there next May seeing how Iron Man turns out? Well, superhero movies can deliver brilliant moments - the sculpture-in-motion of Spiderman against beautifully-lit citycapes; Christopher Reeve's first flight; Johnny Storm's bravura skywriting. In-jokes for fanboys embedded in all these films make me feel as if I'm in a big geek family. Before they became the established religion of cinema, the very fact that superhero films were being made with some art and ambition was a big miracle: after queuing to get into Tim Burton's Batman, I found myself weeping (yes, again - crying is my superpower) at the opening credits - just from the a sense of redemption and amazement that we had gone from Bob Kane's crudely-delineated 1939 comic to this event that had the citizens of Wolverhampton waiting excitedly in the rain. But then the actual film started and it all went downhill from there...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flames merge

33 years ago, in Mister Miracle #18 ('Wild, Wild Wedding Guests!), the title character (aka 'Scott Free', super escape artist) married Big Barda('Female Fury' from Armaghetto on the world of Apokolips, later subject of an essay by author Michael Chabon.) The wedding was beset by a gallery of boldly drawn pop-art villains, but was nevertheless completed as ordained ('This cannot be stopped! The Source has sanctioned this marriage in words of fire!' - definitely part of the script of our own vow-renewal.) In the final panels, Miltonian supervillain Darkseid arrives in a thunderous tornado, grey-granite face like Nixon on Mount Rushmore, and muses that although he hadn't stopped the service he had spoiled it, declaiming "It had deep sentiment yet little joy. But life at best is bittersweet."

The marriage of my longstanding friend Paul to the lovely Anna last Saturday had both deep emotion and visible joy. Tornadoes and supervillains were little in evidence, although the day was somewhat blustery. In Brighton's Royal Pavilion, sounds of buskers and excitable language students drifted through the windows during the moving service, giving it a very Brightonian atmosphere. The Pavilion people, wary of yet another fire, vetoed a delightful part of the ceremony (deferred to the reception) - the lighting of a 'candle of unity' from two flames. Beautiful symbolism.

The following day one of our nephews lit a candle too during his baptism. Flames and symbols moving from person to person, place to place. Then it was time to go.

So a weekend of symbolic events and momentous lifestages. For me the bittersweet element was present too - such things (and indeed being in Brighton at all, once the site of all possibility, now suspiciously like just another real place) bring to mind 'time's long ruin' - some sweet melancholy as the shadow cast by present joy.

Did take a few pics on my phone. These aren't the best imaginable picture - I'm sure the various imagemaking devices being brandished will produce better ones at some point...

The best man is responsible for looking after the groom. He is less concerned with the wellbeing of the guests.


Neville-attending blonde man figures out camera controls with the aid of the manual

Phil sweeps back his flowing locks


The main event - Cyprus conjoined with Russia

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

'Scouts in Bondage' Prout, Geoffrey (1930)

'Scouts in Bondage' often crops up as an example of an innocently-titled book which has assumed unintended connotations. For instance, a bookshop in Lewes has a copy in its window, not for sale but splitting the sides of passers-by for many years - the owner has even magnified the hilarity by compiling a collection of details of similar books, under the same title. It also features in the Bizarre Books anthology, and is mentioned in several web pages...


We own a copy and its spine has radiated mild amusement from our shelves for quite some time. I decided to actually read the book, as a way of honouring the original text and perhaps learning more about Scouting (so that I can drop knowledgeable Scouting references into conversation with Mike Nolan.)

So, ending the sniggering (well almost, the fact that Geoffrey Prout is 'also author of "Trawler Boy Dick"' made me giggle - was the man incapable of writing anything without a future double entendre in it?) I ventured into the book itself, 'A Story of Boy Scouts in Strange Adventure'. The foreword does something unusual for thriller - reassures the reader that it will all turn out fine in the end. 'The Scouts in this story, though fettered for a while by a period of bondage, are just the jolly, good-natured, determined boys who are typical of a country Troop struggling for existence...what a stirring series of adventures they all had before they came triumphantly and with honour out of their bondage to a state of strength and proprietorship!' I'm sure some of Prout's author contemporaries, such as 'Sapper' and Dornford Yates, would have puffed on their pipes and advised him not to defuse any sense of jeopardy in this way.

The story is actually tame enough. A professor (who 'wore an old quilted black-satin dinner-jacket and a skullcap with a tassel on it', just like my professorial colleagues) engages the Scouts to help dig up remains of a ruined chapel, seeking blocks of masonry with inscriptions. Assembled together these reveal the location of a secret treasure, actually a document which restores the rightful owners to the local mansion. Along the way, various lower-class 'wasters', 'hooligans' and even 'hobble-di-hoys' attempt to thwart them. Punches are thrown, rivers forged, cars crashed, tables full of pies demolished - and all is well in the end. It is an enchanting period piece. The text is punctuated with cries of 'Crumbs!', 'By Jingo!', Right-o!' and 'Well, I'm blest!' Prout was a Scoutmaster apparently and his enthusiasm for the movement shines through every page - it is in effect an advertisement for Scouting. (What little I know of the movement comes from Ian Hislop's recent programme about Baden-Powell, which left me seeing Scouts as having always been rather a modern organisation, with its open-ness to boys of all creeds and backgrounds - and BP as a fascinating character, among other things a manipulator of his own celebrity (rather like Paris Hilton.) All of this has given me a benign view of the whole business, even a sense that my youth spent reading in darkened rooms, puny arms barely able to turn the pages, may not have been living life to the full. Perhaps like Prout and chums I should have sought to emulate 'frontiersmen ...unfettered by any laws but those of their own making, which were dictated by the manliness and humanity of the type.' Well, never too late to dream...)

So a nice book. But hang on - when did the bondage happen? I had expected the Scouts to be trapped or imprisoned by the baddies - perhaps escaping using Scouting skills, like lighting a fire with only two matches. But no Scout is confined in any way. Has Prout tricked us with his warnings? I had expected scenes of imprisonment so prolonged and claustrophobic that I'd be grateful for the knowledge that it must, eventually, end. Instead - nothing. The only 'bondage' is the Scouts deal with the professor, whereby they dig for stone in return for a new hut - a kind of economic serfdom I suppose. Strangely, the professor does hint that he realises he's in a novel, when he first appears:
"Welcome to Welbeck!" he said in his jovial, thin, cracked voice. "Splendid alliteration, that! Sometimes I think I would be better at cheap fiction than histories. Ha, ha!"
So either there's a Marxist subtext or it's an early experiment in postmodern reflexive fiction. Or, more likely, a simple adventure story of its time, designed to promote the values of Scouting. In any case, a book worth more than a laugh at the title.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Internet 'sometimes inaccurate' shock

In my quest to understand what 'the kids' are into, I've set up a Facebook account. So far it's been fun in a rather laboured way. The opportunity to 'poke' people is somewhat unsettling. Looking at one of my new friend's pages, I saw the results of one of those 'What Kind of X Am I' quizzes, with a link to the originating site. There I found a quiz titled 'How Well Do You Know Batman', which I thought might result in a 'hey look, I do have a personality' bit of decoration for my sparse Facebook page. This seemed OK apart from a tendency for all the questions to have 'Michael Caine' as an obviously wrong answer... until Question 8:

8. Who is not a Batman ally.

Catwoman
Batgirl
Ace
Alfred
Robin

OK. I'm sure most people are aware of Robin, Batman's plucky young ward (now on version 3; one grew up, one died but has recently been resurrected, #3 will be adopted as Bruce Wayne's son as the 'ward' arrangement is frowned on these days.) And Alfred the butler is obviously an ally, ditto Batgirl (both the original Barbara Gordon version, now a wheelchair-bound Oracle, and the scary teen martial artist in the current continuity.) Catwoman has admittedly been a villain but has spent more time as a fellow crimefighter and even lover of the 'Dark Knight'; one couldn't say she's not an 'ally'. Ace I assume refers to Ace the Bathound, Batman's mask-wearing dog* - (Bat)man's best friend so definitely an ally. I assumed the witless oafs meant Catwoman... but still only scored 9/10.

So that's it, no more internet for me....

* Probably not the cornerstone of a debate about how comics have evolved into real literature. I presume he was written out of the continuity in the 80s when DC Comics 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' wiped out countless absurd characters, incongruous plotlines and complicated multiple realities. However he seems to be back in the animated series. Hilariously, when he first appeared in the printed comic, the mask was placed on him to conceal his identity...

Radio Days

Having my name mentioned on Edge Hill alumnus Stuart Maconie's radio show left me curiously giddy. (I emailed in a lame quip feigning confusion between last night's featured band, young, quirky Indie / Folk / Alternative Feist and 1970s German experimental progrockers Faust. He found this amusing enough to mention - perhaps feeling under obligation to his alma mater.)
I don't think I've been mentioned on the radio since a birthday dedication on Ed Stewart's programme c1969. I've been on the radio myself a handful of times - results day phone-ins and the like. Once in the mid-80s my friend Roy Smiles and I did a sort of roundup of arts events on Southern Sound. As we knew next to nothing about any of the acts, we made up some barely plausible surreal nonsense and put it across with deadpan authority. We were sacked after 3 weeks but we did get £10 for taxi fares.