Sunday 25 May 2014

Short Apology and explanation, may not be relevant to many people, move along, nothing to see here....

To all those who I have possibly let down in the last week or so, I am sorry, but I had to. I have been trying desperately to get enough free time to be able to write, and do my own happy little musical thing, and every time I manage to find the time, I am gripped by stress and worry and anxiety about all the other things I have promised other people I am going to do, which leaves me unable to do it anyway. The only way for me to be able to get on and do the work I want to do, is to let go of all the other stuff that I was mostly doing for other people. So sorry to those who no longer have a stand in bass player for far away gigs. And sorry to those who no longer have a decent little guitarist in their nice little earner projects. Also sorry to those who have proposed really excellent little bands to me in the last week, other guys are available.

I realise that having been the musician who can't say no, is in fact ruining me as a functioning human being. I spend far too much time worrying about when I will have a free weekend, or decent amount of weeknights, in which I might be able to relax, and hang out with my wife and my dog. OR just worrying that I don't have time to fit in all the things I am supposed to be doing at all. And being of a certain age now, I really do value a nice bit of time at home in a way I never used to when I was young and proper rock and roll. The afore mentioned wife and dog both look at me and shake their heads every time I load the car up and go out to play another gig I don't really want to and they are right to. I had very nearly got to the point where I was going to just stop playing with anybody else at all, and was going to retire to my studio and just do my own stuff again (which I have very much done before). But then I figured I could just say no to some things, so I did. And I feel a whole lot better, and the summer schedule looks nicer than it did, and I look forward to going out to band practices again. Particularly when there's now no more than one a week.

So, again, I am very sorry to you chaps I have let down, but let it be known, that had I not, I would have been cursing your names all summer long as I dragged myself out to play music I don't really like as much as I thought, in places I don't want to be. I hope you all find people who are better suited to the job than I am. Do please keep sending me your offers, as once I am cured of this current bout of misery, I'll probably want to get out there with everyone I can again.
The problem is, as always, that when it starts to feel like work, like a job that I have to go out and do, then I really don't want to do it, and the day I don't want to play music anymore will be a very very dark day in my life, and I don't want it to happen. So I'd rather upset a few people, than bugger up my favourite thing forever.

So sorry again chaps, I hope this explains it all a little better for you.

By the way, I am still not entirely sure how many bands I am in, and how many I have left this week. Can anyone who thinks I am still in a band with them please let me know, and I'll tell you if you're right or not.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

I'm Not Racist, I'm Just Deaf

After last weeks report of an argument on the internet going slightly awry over a misunderstanding, I had another similar problem this morning. Rather than going over it like I did last week, here's a link to the twitter thread, where an American takes a very long time to realise he is arguing in the wrong thread, and like many others, fails to apologise when he realises his mistake. He also has the sheer audacity to claim that I'm the one that isn't bright, says I'm a joke (I assume he means I'm incredibly witty, and that I make terribly good jokes) and that I might have commented on the wrong thread. He's a clever chap, and I am not going to suggest that anybody takes him on in a battle of wits, or even sends him a tweet suggesting he might like to admit he was wrong. Here's the link, enjoy.

Now, given that tomorrow (or probably today now, since I'll most likely sit on this until then, in case a good idea comes to me in the night) is the day of the EU elections, I should probably do some political ranting and posturing and tell you all why you should vote for my favourite party. I'm not going to though. I'm not even going to tell you which way I am voting, the democratic process requires that you make up your own mind my reading about your local candidates. I am however going to shake my head at you all and tell you that you let yourselves down.

Yep, by continually attacking the kippers (as the Ukip supporters have now become known) we're playing to their strengths. Their whole shtick is that they are now the underdogs, oppressed by the hordes of immigrants coming over here and making the place all colourful and tasty. Oppressed by the EU, forcing us to not cut our hands off with power tools or be forced to work endlessly long hours by unscrupulous employers (oh no, we can sign a bit of paper to get out of that one, or be fired, it's a legitimate choice). Oppressed by the mythical liberal lefty elite, forcing them not to say n*g-n*g, p*ki, or ch*nky. And those of us who are screaming “Racists!” “Fascists!” “Nazis!” etc. etc. are not helping. Xenophobic, backward looking, profiteering,elitist, underhanded hypocrites they may be, but to accuse them of the other is just helping them out.

In fact, the unfortunate shouting of “Racist!” at the smallest infractions of social protocol, or misunderstanding is always unhelpful. I live in Devon, I pretty much grew up here, during the 80s and 90s. The lack of racial diversity has always been stunning down here, which has made it a haven for the genuinely racist and hateful. I've met many pleasant people in the pubs, who when I ask why they moved down here will happily say “to get away from all the darkies what moved in where I used to live” charming, really. But, and this is more to the point, I know relatively little of other cultures, and will ask fairly inappropriate questions of people of different ethnicity when I've had a few. Sometimes I get called Racist for this, I'm not Racist, I'm just interested. I have trouble remembering faces, and sometimes think I have met friends of friends who are of the same ethnic origin as other friends of friends before. Again, I'm not racist, just crap with faces (and names sadly).

Whenever I go to my local Indian takeaway and have trouble hearing what the staff say, I am worried that if I say “pardon?” or “can you repeat that please?” I will get the racist card thrown at me, but as I have said, I grew up in Devon, and there weren't a lot of Indian accents around then. Also, I am profoundly deaf on one side, and a lot of them mumble (I don't mean Indians in general, just most of the staff in there) there are 2 who don't mumble, and I am always relieved to see them. I always feel the need to apologise for not understanding their every word. Which I don't feel the need to do with my Father-in-law, who is very, very devonshire, and also mumbles, and I also cannot understand him. But again, I'm not a racist, I'm just deaf.

Much like the Clarkson debacle, and the firing of the Radio DJ for playing an old song with an unfortunate lyric, this is just distracting us all from actual racism and discrimination that goes on every day all over the world. And hip hop music's reclamation of the legendary N word has not helped at all. Many white/indian/chinese kids listen to this, and all kids like to sing along to their favourite songs. It is not helpful to have to look around to check that there is nobody listening who might be offended before you can do so. I used to like NWA, still do, but the hyper-divisive nature of that word is tellingly worrying. When the gay community reclaimed queer for themselves, were they similarly protective of its use? I certainly don't feel as bad saying queer in front of my gay friends as I would saying n*gg*r in front of my black friends. However, they're all just words, and not inherently racist, because they are just sounds we make, not entrenched attitudes of superiority.

If I were to assume that all members of a particular ethnic group were inferior to my own ethnic group, then that would make me a racist. Luckily, I assume all members of every ethnic group, including my own are infinitely inferior to me. Which makes me an arsehole, certainly, but not a racist. And I would suggest that your average kipper is most likely an arsehole (or even more likely, a perfectly decent sort who is easily persuaded by propaganda and likes having a scapegoat to blame for the inherent unfairness of our society, but for some reason doesn't want to blame the corporations at the top) but probably not a racist, a fascist, or a nazi, and to suggest that they are is kind of insulting to the thousands who died to stop the genuine racists, fascists and nazis back in the big wars with numbers. Just like Ukip are insulting them with their rather tasteless use of this poster.

Which, it turns out, is showing mostly French war graves, rather appropriately.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Distracted from the Real Arguments

Well, after two nights of wondering what on earth I could possibly write about this week, I was gifted a marvellous online argument this afternoon, in which I showed remarkable restraint in the face of boundless abuse. Unfounded I might add, and still not apologised for. It was a little like going back to school again for a bit with some of the insults chucked my way. However, we settled our differences, and he became a perfectly reasonable chap after he realised his mistake, and I shall not name names, or my connection to him, those of you who saw it will know, and those of you who didn't don't need to. I don't personally know the chap, or wish him any ill-will, but it once again got me thinking about people's very different styles of argument.

Now, if you have spent any time on the world wide web at all recently, or even in the company of real people, talking about stuff (you know, in the pub, like we used to do in the olden days) you will be aware of UKIP, and how they divide opinion. Although, in my personal circle, it is more about why you think they're wrong, rather than whether you like them or not, however, I am not getting into that here. There are plenty of other ranty political blogs out there, suffice it to say that the borderline racism is not their worst quality. A friend of mine had posted on facebook that he was thinking of voting for them as a protest vote, and being helpful, I posted some alternatives, and this infamous Stewart Lee picture quote.

After which, I came across this blog entry by somebody else, and rather than just posting the link, I also quoted a hefty chunk of text in the thread, inside quotation marks. Because people never click on links, but they will pick up on bits of quotes. If you are similarly unlikely to read the link, the gist of the bit I quoted was that UKIP policies are a wee bit tory-like and establishment, and thus as a protest vote, it's a bit daft. There were these two key parts that got me in a bit of trouble however

"backed by a tide of political illiterates who consider them some kind of "alternative" to the establishment orthodoxy",

and “UKIP is the party to represent the kind of person who loved Margaret Thatcher, but thought her biggest fault was that she was too left-wing. If you are not as right-wing as Margaret Thatcher was, yet you actually vote for this unmistakably Thatcherite party, you are clearly an idiot, and should be ashamed of yourself.”

Now, having just read it, quoted a big chunk and wandered off to do something else, I was slightly surprised later on to find some comments below my quotes.

“Another twat that can do nothing but slab off ukip yawn”

“Get your hair cut get a job and jog on I'm not the 1 looks like a idiot”

Which surprised me a bit, as it is not the cut and thrust political debate I am used to. Particularly since I have a relatively well-paid and responsible job. And my employer has no problem with my beautiful locks at all. I'm not one to generalise over the “average bloke in the street” voter, but cripes DM, this is an odd refutation. At this point, I assumed he was on a serious offensive, and pointed out that personal insults are no way to conduct a serious debate, and it seemed a bit childish. I got this in return

You started it calling all people that vote ukip idiots and what's Thatcher got to do with it no proper argument just blame her”

Yep, I got told that I “started it.” At any point I expected to be told that I was just jealous, or that he knew I was but what was he. I had a quick look up the thread to discover that earlier on he had referred to somebody else as a “chink” which is lovely. Then googled him, and found him expressing solidarity with the lovely Jeremy Clarkson (who I do find funny, and have no problem with) by telling him to use the dambusters dog as defence (we all know what Guy Gibson's dog in dambusters was called right?) so I had a measure of his “speak as I find” type personality, and tried to tread carefully. In my next few attempts to get the reasons for the UKIP support I also got these little gems thrown at me

what you done apart from slag a party off and slate a dead woman your a hero mate”

*name of my friend removed* some of your friends are 1st class single minded bell ends”

maybe you just a green sheep and can't make your own decisions Barr.”

At which point I realised, after much explaining that I had only linked to the article, and had not called anybody anything derogatory, he hadn't seen the quote marks around the bit I quoted, and thus assumed that the fairly combative language used in the original had been mine, and he felt I had aimed it at him. So I did what I always do in these situations, explained it more fully, apologised for any offence caused and tried to move on.

To this guys credit, we did. He did not however apologise for the schoolboy insults. Which unfortunately makes him a grade A cuntknuckle who can go fuck himself with his mum's fat sweaty leg. (joke).
He is also lucky that I do consider pulling people up on their spelling and grammar to be the lowest form of arguing. Pedantry is hugely distracting, and the last refuge of a fuckwit on the ropes. It was tempting, though there would be no winners in that situation, only unending twattery of the worst order.

I learned very quickly on the web that as soon as you bring personal insults into an argument, you have essentially lost. As I've been arguing about politics, religion, music and comic books all over the web since back on the usenet forums in the 90s, I've got a lot of experience at online arguing. Much the same as I learned very quickly in real life arguing in the pub that he who starts swearing first, gets punched in the head by a psycho (learned that the hard way thanks). So I have always conducted myself in as obsessively polite a manner as I can when arguing, particularly on the internet, as I don't like it when people can back-quote me, and prove that I was disrespectful and impolite in my arguments when I pull them up for it. If we all did this, internet arguments would be a lot more fun for all involved.

I will still say things I do not believe in as inflammatory a way as I can just for shits and giggles though. Trolling in its purest form is still a great deal of fun.

On the same note, when I read this in the guardian a few weeks ago the below the line comments made me surprisingly cross. I know all below the line commenters are certifiably insane, trolls, or advertising robots, but some of them undermine the whole argumentative process. In the article, Chris Huhne makes the point that inequality is bad, and it hurts every level of society. Hoorah! Rapturous applause, Lib Dem MP makes thoroughly obvious point that we should all agree with. Although some definitely won't agree, that's where the argument in the comments section will go surely?

No, the argument was that Mr Huhne makes too much money to be able to talk about this issue.

As if only the very poor can talk about inequality. If we want any change to happen, it has to come from those at the top, who are in power, unless we go for a full on blood and ashes revolution. And those seldom end well in the short term. It got worse, somebody else dragged Lib Dem policy into it, and then he was pulled apart because he was promoting a book at the same time.

And thus the arguments over the actual issues were brilliantly sidelined into trivialities of party politics that do not matter one jot. Which makes me suspect that the internet trolls, crazies, and swivel-eyed loons are actually hired by the Illuminati/Government/Your Conspiracy Theory of Choice to distract us from ever reaching any kind of truth.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Can you really teach Creativity?

Congratulations, you have made it to a blog about creative writing in which our main protagonist has finally written something about creative writing, rather than garbled bollocks about cider, social media, and the intricacies of one man's relationship with the animals he is forced to live with on a daily basis. It may come as something of a surprise, but I have been procrastinating over creative writing this week, by indulging in creative writing, sort of.

Yes, as promised, way back in the first instalment of this blog (or maybe second, or third, I have no inclination whatsoever to check) I made mention of signing up to an online “begin creative writing” course. I then made some thoroughly witty jokes about a course on finishing creative writing perhaps being of more use to me, and oh how we all laughed. Anyhow, this week, the course began, and I attempted to go through the first week’s tasks without judging, and without releasing the ego-monster (I think I may have mentioned before that I believe myself cleverer and superior to everybody else in every conceivable way, and thus allowed to ridicule anything I don’t agree with, or consider beneath me, a habit I am trying to change).

A little background, I have spent my entire life telling people that creative writing courses are an exercise in making money out of the talentless, and that you are taught the basics of constructing sentences, paragraphs and general writingness at school. Combine this ability with looking at stuff and having ideas, and there you go, creative writing, for free, if you need telling, you’re in the wrong gig (and inventing words like “writingness” is as creative as it gets kids). It has always been up there with Klingon and Surfing Studies as a joke subject for a degree course in my mind. In the interests of fairness, and being able to back up my arguments, I signed up for one from futurelearn, as it is free, shortly after I read this article in the grauniad, because I agreed with what was said in it. One should never condemn something one hasn’t tried oneself, so I had to have a punt, and see if it does indeed help my efforts. Last time I indulged myself in a spot of “know your enemy” indulgence, I read the first four Harry Potter books in a couple of days so that I could ridicule them and tell everyone they were rubbish. I spent the next 2 years impatiently waiting for Order of the Phoenix to come out, and became utterly bewitched by them, still am a bit. But I don't expect similar results here. We'll see. (Did you see what I did with the bewitched joke there? Genius eh?)

So far, the course has told me one should keep a writers journal (I assume this is a more organised equivalent of all the bits of paper I have strewn about my pockets with ludicrous ideas scrawled on them in ever more illegible handwriting) and to notice stuff that happens around you (well duh). There was also a couple of bits of other people's books to read, as examples of how writers can create characters (I have read books before thanks, and literary criticism is, I believe still a mandatory part of any school's English lessons. Surely if you don’t read a lot, you probably shouldn’t take up writing). There were some bits where one was encouraged to write things, and put them in the comments thread for other people on the course to read. Here is an example of the exercises that are set, we were asked to write a paragraph with one fact, and three false things, and another paragraph with three facts, and one false thing, here is my effort, see what you think.

1 fact, 3 fiction

Rizla sat by the fire drying out, she had been soaked by the water cannons that they were firing from the top of the moors, she knew she shouldn't have jumped from the window and taken herself for a walk, and was ashamed that Dave had had to drag her out of the ever increasing swamp that was being created before she went the same way as all those drowned sheep.

3 Facts 1 fiction

Dave read the paragraph he had written about his dog. He found it hard to believe that this exercise could make any difference at all in his ability to write creatively, the bit about the drowning sheep made him laugh though, as it was very funny. Rizla made him a cup of tea to celebrate.

I don't think I'm taking this course very seriously. Nobody commented on my efforts (or anybody else’s really, that’s the joy of an online free course, your self-obsession and narcissism can be fully realised).

So my mind is not yet changed, I am still firmly of the opinion that if you need to be told to notice things, write down the things you have noticed, jiggle them about into an intriguing and interesting paragraph, and embellish the truth with more exciting fictional things, then perhaps creative writing is not going to be your thing.

I think this sarcastic bear says it as well as I ever could really.

On the upside though, my collection of tatty notebooks that I have been scribbling ideas in for years and years has been retired. The course notes did inspire me to download an app for my phone instead, I am hoping that this will lead to me having less crap in my pockets (which could mean less pockets, and then PIRATE TROUSERS!) and easier access to all  my notes, as it syncs them to the cloud, and I can pull them down from any computer I like. Admittedly, they were always in my pocket, next to my pen before this, sometimes even in an actual notebook, and as mentioned earlier, more often on ripped off bits of envelope, old receipts, and beer mats, still easily accessible at any time, due to being in my pocket. I now have boxes full of them around my house (carefully filed, as one tends to call throwing things in a shoebox and chucking it in the loft). I am hoping they will confuse the bejesus out of future generations of historians (or my step-kids, when they clear out all my shit after I’ve died and left them all the crap I own as revenge for all the stuff they keep in my house now) as sadly my notes have a tendency towards the cryptic, and if not acted upon within a few months of scrawling them, there is a real danger that a) I won't be able to read my handwriting anymore, and b) hedgehog- howitzer – pigeon war will not mean anything to me anymore (it doesn't, you can have that one for free if you want it).

The other good thing that happened was while we had to listen to other successful writers tell us why they started writing, and other useful insights (feel the sarcasm in those last three words) and while this had no bearing on my work at all, and I struggled to understand why I should give a toss about them, Louis de Bernieres cheered me up. He said that he wrote depressing poetry as a teenager (check), then wasted his twenties trying to be a rock star (check), and didn't write anything other than lyrics really until he was thirty-five, when he had a punt at novel writing (check and mate). So there's definitely hope for me. Will keep you all posted on the course as it proceeds, not holding out much hope, as I have seen this week’s course contains an article entitled “How to be original” I don't know where to start with that one, it's mere existence makes me angry.