Friday, January 25, 2008

Can I write about nature

when I don't live in a cottage
at the end of a dark
lane swathed in woodsmoke
evenings of infinite depth,
or know the names of birds?

The sea is saltwater, my blood
not much different

I've seen 'rivers' flow into 'bays',
'waves', and something that opens
the guts of its prey
just for the half-digested
fish inside

so I reckon I get to mention
as well as the roofs curved silvery
on a recently constructed
cinema/restaurant complex

Monday, January 21, 2008

What's so hard to understand about 'Black Canary'

Having this poster on my office wall sometimes gives rise to comment

...and the majority of these run along the lines of 'who's the one on the end?'

I don't think this necessarily means that visitors know who all the others are, and just want to plug a gap in their knowledge. Something about this drawing causes more comment than the rest put together. Perhaps having a picture of a fishnet-stocking-wearing female on my wall seems less appropriate than the rest of them - even the equally sexed-up Wonder Woman image might have the redeeming power of kitsch to justify it being in an office (as one of those 'look, I really do have a personality' accessories), whereas Black Canary could conceivably be the deranged passion of a middle aged man with a crumbling social facade, bleeding through into the professional arena.

Still, it could be worse: she sometimes get drawn in a rather cheesecaky style:

Excellent though they are, pictures of real people in her costume might look less like suitable decor for a business office:

and it would be naive to deny any subtext whatsoever in images like this:

One problem with the poster is the unappealing look of all of the superheroes, as painted with admirable realism by Alex Ross.

A group of smug, violent characters dressed in weird costumes: variously, aristocrats, plutocrats, driven outsiders, hotshots, firebrands, geniuses and a goddess. An unaccountable elite comprising new money, old money, unassailable ability and the demiurge-like embodiment of extreme qualities. No necessarily people you'd want to spend time with. In fact, Black Canary (real name: Dinah Lance), who runs a shop called Sherwood Florist, may be one of the more accessible personalities. But lovely though she might be, in this picture she looks sneery as well as sexy, in a 'come and have a go if you think you're hard enough' way...

Perhap I should pin up a short biography of her for the benefit of visitors - explaining the origins of her 'Canary Cry' with which she incapacitates criminals, and describing her martial arts talents. Or would that be digging myself in deeper?

Let's just say she's great kick-ass drawn character and leave it at that...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Envying a double colon: intertextual route planning

A pizza-box-like package arrived from lulu the other day, containing a copy of Walking the M62 by John Davies. It has taken me a few days to completely open, with two hunts for suitable tools - compared with cack-handed Amazon, the lulu people are masters of book packaging who in my view could be entrusted with safe transit of all sorts of fragile and precious items (Ming vases, newborn babies…)

On reflection I might have other reasons for delaying cutting through the plastic straps and polythene cauls to actually read the book. Stumbling across a blog reference to John’s journey (during the darkest moments of a bestial Christmastide) gave me the idea of undertaking and documenting a long walk home. The concept landed in me like a compressed file, which is unzipping joyously into actual miles walked, mud spattered, words assembled, pixels ordered into images. A very good thing.

So why not pile into the book?

Basically I think I fear traversing the same ground. Not that I’ll accidentally be lured to Hull instead of Brighton, but that my journey will become a sort of cover version, tribute-band act, or Work in the School Of…

I know John only obliquely, but enough to be aware that we share some cultural touchpoints (Ballard, the Fall) and enthusiasm for technological communication. I worry about seeing and expressing things similarly – a not unfounded fear, as I’ve already quoted a line of Eliot which, I notice, flicking through the book, is one of John’s chapter headings. So there’s a danger that my own journey (‘real’ and ‘personal’ though it might be) becomes a sort of plagiarism, or at least a partially redundant exercise.

And there’s stuff I wish I’d thought of, like the double-colon device in his headings (‘Trafford to Warrington :: 18 October 2007’), or using Twitter…

Still it’s too late now – I have opened the book and eaten the fruit of knowledge. Walking the M62 will become another component of the cultural wampum bag I carry with me. Any similarities should be read as fascinating synchronicity and/or clever intertextuality…

All territory has already been traversed, we’re all gathered at the same storytellers’ fire – and yet, paradoxically, each journey is as fresh as a new cloud formation and there’s always something new to say, albeit in motley borrowed language.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Carter Family's Commandos?

On a trip to Liverpool last week, I bought just one comic in Worlds Apart: Brave and the Bold #9, in which (among other things) the Blackhawks, wartime aviators, team up with the Boy Commandos - "an elite commando squad of orphaned children, led by grown-up Captain Rip Carter" who "fought on all fronts of the Second World War" (Wikipedia entry), originally created just after Pearl Harbour.

The idea of children actively fighting in a fantasy war is a little hard to swallow. Even their victories are somewhat unpalatable - blazing away at the Nazis - but then I can remember family films such as 'Hannibal Brooks' not so long ago with Germans being knocked over like ninepins; it didn't used to seem very odd.

The reality of child soldiers is a grim consequence of poverty, hatred and the economics of war - Save the Children offer a sobering overview.

But back to the world of inconsequential nonsense and comfortable imaginings...

30 years or so after Simon and Kirby created the Boy Commandos, shoe manufacturer Clarks ran a series of comic-strip ads featuring a gang of paramilitary children led by a Kit Carter, who is either a large youth or else an adult, in adventures which involve sole-gripping qualities saving the day.

(Re-presented on Steve Holland's excellent blog Bear Alley.)

Two juvenile military gangs, led by older males named Carter. Manly three-letter names: Rip and Kit. Surely related. The world's worst childcare practitioners. A subgenre seldom explored...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A different kind of rambling

I've started my walk from Southport to Brighton (planned to stretch over the remaining years into my 50th). It has a blog all its own, so I'll stop going on about it here - should you want to follow in my footsteps, bookmarking or the joys of RSS will fix you right up. Plus I'm tagging all the bits and pieces with ,walkinghometo50, so you should be able to track me down...

There's also a bunch of photos and a map...

Friday, January 11, 2008

cutting remarks, rambling tales

So one time I came in between Marc Almond and Jayne County, like the filling in a sandwich...

Let me explain.

As a side effect of tidying the loft space and cathartically giving away boxes of books and comics, I found a pile of old notes, photos, letters and copies, many dating from m time as a footnote in the margins of live art. These include reviews of my stuff, which I had totally forgotten about, immersed as I am in a 30-year-long, site-specific guerrilla performance where I masquerade as a marketing director...

So, here's a side trip into nostalgic egoboo:

Way back in 1983, Chrissie Iles reviewed the Sheffield Expanded Media Show in Performance magazine, and mentioned that 'Roy Bayfield, a student from Brighton, performed three readings from a collection of rambling, narrative, semi-autobiographical anecdotes and tales...He mixes truth with fiction and his own personality with that of 'Jack', creating a separate personality and exploring theories of multiple reality...One finds oneself listening intently to the rambling [that word again]tales, which have the fascination of other peoples [sic] overheard conversation, with a sustained interest, despite the mundane subject matter...the beauty of his work lies in its simplicity and mobility, and his ability to do, as he would like to, a show either in an art space or in the pub where, one feels, he would get an equally good response.'

I think that's a compliment...

Four years later, Tim Etchells reviewed another Sheffield performance in the same mag: 'Roy Bayfield's piece rambled along [there it is again], with much talking off microphone, much pulling of relevant and irrelevant objects from a white polythene bag, and much gulping of beer. Roy's subject matter is himself and the slightly odd and occasionally ordinary stuff he cares to talk about, or carry with him. On this occasion he showed us his STINKOR 'plastic play figure', and read the packaging which implored us to 'swivel his mutant hips'...His lack of performing tricks or well-timed effects suit the simple humanity of his material: it is a frail and generous work...'

Cheers Tim. Fair, and as true today as it was then.

Meanwhile the year before I was mentioned in, of all places, Melody Maker, when Jim Shelley reviewed the Zap Club's 'Taboo Week'. 'After Almond's 'Buck', the second laugh of the week was Roy Bayfield's 'The Man Who Couples With Sufaces' routine. More John Dowie than Ted Chippington, he offered the theory that if a man achieves his first orgasm over a porn mag, soon the magazine, as an item, becomes his own obscure object of desire. "Until, ultimately, he gets his reward from any magazine, be it Snooker Monthly, Airgun World, or best of all, Big Fish." Third laugh was Jayne County's "I Want a Wedding Like Lady Diana's"...'

Gratifying to be mentioned in such illustrious company - and no rambling.

Monday, January 7, 2008

'psychogeography socks'

Various synchronicity roads are leading me towards the work of Iain Sinclair. Yesterday, fancying finding out a bit more about comics writer Alan Moore's magickal practices, I found this

"I tell you what man, one the greatest, most mentally enriching, physically debilitating experiences of my life was going on a walk with Iain Sinclair, when he was doing this art exhibition at a gallery on Shoreditch High Street. He was going [sic] together four male artists and four female artists. And the idea was he was picking sites from his AA road atlas of London, and he got them all to pick a site, and he would either meet them there, or he would do a walk there. One of them was Michael Moorcock, who had come up from California. I was the only one who was actually doing the walk with Iain, the site I had chosen was Moorgate Churchyard, John Dee's place. I went to Iain's place at half eight in the morning and we walked the twenty miles through London, up the river to Moorgate. He had his special psychogeography socks, he was skipping. I was crawling along, sobbing. It was incredible. It's not just the walk - it was doing the walk with Iain....He would say "oh see that grating over there, that's the grating that TS Eliot used to peer up women's skirts from under." "Oh this is where they used to push Ezra Pound along the pavement while he was cursing about the Jews." You suddenly get this sort of...everything becomes light. New age woolly-hat Glastonbury mystics weary me, sometimes, but they talk about energy, the energy of a place, of a person. We all know what they mean, but at the same time it has to be said that this is not energy that is going to show up on an autometer. We're not talking about energy in the conventional sense that physics talks about energy. To me, energy is information - I think you can make that bold a statement. The only lines of energy that link up disparate sites in London are lines of information, that have been drawn by an informed mind. The energy that we put forth is information we have taken in. We will see a work of art and it will give us inspiration, it will give us energy. It's given us information that we can turn to our own use and put out as something else. That's the kind of energy that we - and psychogeography - are talking about. So Iain Sinclair's London is a much richer, more extraordinary place than almost anyone else's" here.

And today my Google Reader (or the daemon within it) served up this from quote from Sinclair in John Davies blog:

"Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city; the changes, shifts, breaks in the cloud helmet, movement of light on water. Drifting purposefully is the recommended mode, tramping asphalted earth in alert reverie, allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to reveal itself. To the no-bullshit materialist this sounds suspiciously like fin-de-siecle decadence, a poetic of entropy - but the born-again flaneur is a stubborn creature, less interested in texture and fabric, eavesdropping on philosophical conversation pieces, than in noticing everything. Allignments of telephone kiosks, maps made from moss on the slopes of Victorian sepulchres, collections of prostitutes' cards, torn and defaced, promotional bills for cancelled events at York Hall, visits to the homes of dead writers, bronze casts on war memorials, plaster dogs, beer mats, concentrations of used condoms, the crystalline patterns of glass shards surrounding an imploded BMW quarter-light window, meditations on the relationship between the brain damage suffered by the super-middleweight boxer Gerald McClellan (lights out in the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel) and the simultaneous collapse of Barings, bankers to the Queen. Walking, moving across a retreating townscape, stitches it all together: the illicit cocktail of bodily exhaustion and a raging carbon monoxide high."

- which has some resonance with how I intend to approach my journey. Psychogeography has been my practice for decades, albeit not under that banner - the videos and performances I made about Portslade; slideshows of found items on the East/West Sussex border; personal mythologies like the padlock that holds the world together.

So - Iain Sinclair - recommended by magicians and vicars! I can't resist finding out more. I've avoided his work for ages for the perverse reason that it looks too much like the kind of thing I might like - but now I've relented and put in some library requests.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

White Wire Man

I had an iPod for my birthday last year (a month ago.) This has little device been a revelation in many ways. I haven't even listened to music on headphones for a long time - probably since my Dad bought a pair for the family stereogram in 1974. (These 'cans' had a brass jack plug that weighed more than the iPod, and one couldn't wander more than a few feet whilst wearing them, listening to 'Switched on Bach' for its freaky stereo effects...)

Now I'm carrying an entire record-collection's worth of stuff, coming to terms with the weirdness of a subjective mobile soundtrack, the random selections of the Electric DJ Imp that operates the 'Shuffle' selection, delivering strange aural overlays to my movements, eg

'I See a Darkness' by Johnny Cash, while walking through a crowd of laughing kids outside the local Primary school;

'I am the Strange Hero of Hunger', a poem by Billy Childish, in the paper goods section of Tesco;

'Space Monkey' by Patti Smith, watching the clouds break open into light above the strangely hunched and provisional-looking buildings of Ormskirk.

I suppose I could seize control back from the Shuffle Imp, construct playlists to map precise moods - 'Leave the Capitol' as we roll out of Euston, 'Hit the North Pt 1' when we pass Stafford - but maybe I'll just let the randomness play on.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Stepping Out

As a lover of purposeful activity (preferably involving lots of planning, special equipment and some pub stops), I'm commencing a special journey. The plan is to walk home for my 50th birthday - a trip that will take me at least 280 miles and getting on for four years.

And what better way to start than to launch another blog. Walking Home to 50 will be the maundering plan, photos, journals and whatnot. You're welcome to join me on the way.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

'heroic generosity'

A web page about my Dad has shown up on the web.
It's great to see his 'heroic generosity' and expertise acknowledged, in this case in transcribing organ music into Braille for the benefit of sightless musicians.
Much of what he does is a closed book to me - I don't read music, let alone Braille - so getting a third-party view of its value is nice.
Some of my Dad's CV reads like something I would write (eg the Royal School of Church Music does not have regional 'Gauleiters'; founding members of choirs probably aren't normally considered 'aboriginal'; 'decanter' would be a better description o hi parting gift than 'urine bottle'.)

However I'm of a generation that would be unlikely to say 'if a woman can do it it must be easier than I thought' without pulling out the 'Irony' stop first...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Vacuuming up the needles

Usually our decorations come down on Twelfth Night (lest Old Nick takes them down), but this year we felt moved to expunge any evidence of festivity before the sun has set on New Year's Day. A lot of the time, it has been a dispiriting period of mild illness, anxiety and Weltschmerz. As if the Christmas trees, both evil and good, brought darkness under our roof rather than green-ness - not the 'deep and dazzling darkness' of spirituality but plain ol' darkitude.

So away with it - let the sussurus of fallen needles sucking into the Dyson herald a new time.

(I have exaggerated for comic effect - we had some nice times with friends, feasts and fun - but we've come up short on the good cheer account - and therefore need to kick some imaginary seasonal butt.)

I like to plan my way out of negativity, so that's what I've been doing. Next Christmas may be a plainer affair with more focus on visiting people followed by some non-festive vacation. And I've started on a longer-term scheme to walk home for my 50th birthday... in many chunks over the next four years, but doing all the steps back from where I live now, through previous hometowns to my point of origin.