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.

Sunday 27 April 2014

OMFG ppl r akshly rding ths

Yesterday evening, in the lengthy gap between sound check and gig, which is always a difficult time for any musician. Made a little easier now that I have to drive to pretty much every gig I do these days, as before, the temptation to sit at the bar and get mind buggeringly drunk for the usual three or four hours was always too alluring. This always led to some utterly stellar and amazing performances in my earlier career, though somebody once had the temerity to suggest they were not as good as I remember them being (See Homer Simpson's recollections of his evening vs Marge's version of events in the episode “War of the Simpsons” for clarification on this (Good luck, youtube says NO)).
However, this image sums it up quite nicely, drunk me is the one at the top by the way....

Ways to spend this gap vary from band to band, and can include I-spy marathons, zen wrestling (that was an odd afternoon) arguing, jolly sing-songs in the back stage area (if you think this is a good idea, you are wrong, and I will not play with you) and the obligatory groupies and drugs (though sadly those days are long gone for most of us).

But I digress, yes, yesterday evening, in that now more easy for you to understand gap, I wandered over to a different bar from the one I was playing in to meet one of my oldest friends (this isn't the point of this either) and ran into a bunch of other utterly unrelated people. Several of these unrelated people, and the band's manager told me that they were very much enjoying reading my blog (Hooray! He finally got to the point, far too many tangents, including this one, sorry). Panic has now set in, as I assumed this blog had as many readers as my last one (which was read by me, once, to check that I had been writing it, I could link to it, but I probably won't) and have been happily just writing jolly self-indulgent tosh that makes me chuckle a bit, and will probably mean nothing to anyone else. I now realise I must do better, last week I just quickly threw out an idea I had half thought about, to make sure I'd written something, hastily posted it, and then realised a few hours later that I had forgotten to write in most of the main points I had wanted to make in the piece anyway. Hence this weeks blog will be left on the hard drive til at least tomorrow, so I can go back over it and do this thing properly, like I did with that Kate Bush one that everybody liked so much. (this is me from the future, telling you that I am doing exactly that now, editing away like an editoring thing).

And so, you are now thinking, still self indulgent twaddle, writing about the act of writing about the act of not managing to write a book, not only self indulgent, but ludicrously post modern, slightly ironic, and perhaps a bit pretentious now as well? Yep, you're probably right. Interestingly, back when I was seventeen, and I first started thinking I might like to be a writer, I did think that my obviously brilliant views and musings on life would make excellent reading for people. However, at that time, there was no real outlet for such tosh, I clearly wasn't going to write Das Kapital for the next generation, or become the foremost philosopher for my times, as I could barely concentrate on one thing long enough to finish writing a song (and if you've heard my songs, you'll understand why that really shouldn't take that long).

So I agonised for endless amounts of time trying to think of ways to work all my wondrous philosophies into works of fiction, and attempted my own science fiction utopias to illustrate my political and philosophical genius. And as a consequence I got very bored with everything I tried to write, and gave up. I went on to try and write a hysterical comedy about a group of lobsters who have to take over from the four horsemen of the apocalypse which also fell by the wayside, but that's an entirely different matter.

The appearance of the blog around the turn of the millennium should therefore have been a light bulb moment for me. I could write endlessly on any subject I liked, publish it online, and away you go, millions of potential readers, and a clamouring from the national newspapers to get me to write a regular column for them (now there would have been an ethical dilemma, what if the Mail or the Sun had picked me up and asked me to write for them? Would it have horrified me to think that they thought I'd fit in? Would I take their right wing money? Of course I would, but I'd be forever wondering why the Guardian and the Independent didn't want me). But no, it never even occurred to me, so I carried on working for the post office instead, wrote a couple of things and published them on my old website (still out there somewhere, no idea where, probably on geocities) and promptly forgot about them.

Blogging by its very nature is wildly self indulgent, and I am firmly convinced that most blogs out there (and I have read pretty much none of them in case you're wondering) are the same as any 13 year old's diary. A long boring list of what somebody has done that week, pictures of what they ate, musings about boys/girls that they fancy (possibly with embedded jpgs now as well as endless fucking selfies) and shite of that nature. Why anybody would want to wade through all the tripe in the hopes of coming across something worth reading is beyond me. I suspect that the allure of peeking into the lives of our friends is what drives us to read twitter and facebook feeds, and thus, ultimately, blogs, in the same way as people once read heat magazine and tatler to get glimpses into the lives of the rich and famous, it is far more interesting to dig inside the lives of people that we actually know (or indeed used to know twenty years ago, they're the ones who we really want to know about aren't they?). So I hold out little hope of these utterly self indulgent mutterings ever reaching a wider audience than people I have met that have been foolish enough to “friend” or “follow” me on social media. I do not mind though, as I have said before, I am writing this entirely for my own ends, as I can compare the blog count to the page count on the novel, and shame myself into doing some work.

I made an earlier attempt at blogging on that most wonderful of websites h2g2, which I used to spend a great deal too much time on back in 2001/2002. There was a very lengthy blog detailing how I recorded the “Audio Pornography” album on there, which may be the dullest thing I ever did write. I suspect nobody ever read that either. The last blog I wrote on blogger, called “Anarchy, Chaos and Custard Creams” very much still exists, but I decided to abandon it to start this one, as I expected this one to deal strictly with the art of procrastination itself, and my exciting developments as I write my wondrous novel. Which I suppose it does a bit, and thus it was a good idea. Hoorah, well done Dave, good decision. Though if you do find that old blog, it has the same description as this one, as it was a last minute decision to start entirely anew, and I was editing it to make it into this one.

Anyhow, the point being that ironically, I cannot understand why anybody reads blogs, I have trouble understanding why people (and that includes me) write such things, and I feel utterly humbled and flattered that no less than 5 people have told me in real life that they really enjoy reading this. I am terribly bad at accepting compliments in general, and if somebody tells me how much they enjoyed the gig after I've played, I will immediately apologise for anything I felt was done wrong, and inform them of the gammy wrist/dodgy finger/headache that prevented me from playing at my best. Thus this whole thing has been terribly difficult for me to get, I had assumed that the more often I wrote stuff, the less people would bother to read it, but the opposite appears to be true. My previous blogs only very rarely got posted to, and had hardly any readers, while this one is updated every week, and is consistently getting decent statistics. Luckily, these don't also tell you the statistics for those who looked, and got bored and didn't finish, unlike my bandcamp account, that brutally tells me how many people only listened to a bit of my song, or skipped through that one. Slightly soul destroying to read those stats, I try not to look at them.

Many apologies are necessary to my cousin, who noted last week that I should be more pithy. I have inadvertently made this weeks blog much longer and even more vague. Personally, I quite enjoy this slightly rambling style, and I rather suspect that I have no point to get to anyway. Apologies to anybody else finding themselves now slightly bewildered as to what this was about, I am no longer sure, but it feels like it was worthwhile. I expect I have once again forgotten what I actually meant to write about here, and will have to rewrite the whole thing later.

By the way, as I write this, I have just finished chapter four on the novel, and am about to start scrawling notes for chapter five's structure, and hoping against hope I don't feel the need to introduce any more new characters at this point, as I seem unable to stop.

Monday 21 April 2014

The importance of doing f*** all once in a while

Further to what I wrote here a month or so ago, I am going to point out to you why it is important to occasionally sit down, and do absolutely, positively nothing at all. Proper fuck-all, as Mickey Flanagan would put it.

As I already said in the earlier blog, I firmly believe that all great art comes from utter boredom, if we are constantly entertained, it will never occur to us to do anything ourselves. This is still true. However, this weekend, the weather has been pretty lovely for the most part, so I have been finding myself sat out in the garden, with some kind of beverage in my hand. Now whether the beverage has been a cup of tea, or a pint of cider, the effect is the same. Devoid of the telly, or the radio, or whatever record I would normally put on, my brain suddenly starts to work a bit better.

Equally, when I am out wandering the moors with the dog, my brain goes a little more smoothly for the same reason, however, when it is trying to cope with navigation, checking Rizla hasn't got stuck in a hole, or started chasing sheep (or more often, being chased by sheep, the big wuss. It is embarrassing to own a sheep dog who is terrified of sheep) it is not at optimal thinking about stuff level. If one is sat, doing genuinely, absolutely, totally and utterly fuck all for a bit, then the ideas actually start to flow a bit.

As usual, this weekend they mostly flowed about things that I am not currently trying to work on, but I have redesigned the garden, figured out most of the ideas for how to rebuild my studio shed, and had a couple of excellent ideas for future reference if I try and write another book at any time. My actual book is still where I left it last tuesday night, when I last wrote a bit of it, as you can't see a laptop screen in the sun, and if I write it on paper, I'll just have to go and type it all in again. And I am very lazy. The summer house seemed a good idea, but when it's proper sun, I want to be actually in it (and by in it, I mean wearing long sleeves, a big hat, and covering any other exposed bit in goth factor 5000000 suncream).

I did eventually give in to the urge to do stuff though, and one of the song ideas that has been floating around my head for months, became a fully finished, working song. Bit of paper and a pint of the appley stuff in the sunshine made all those lyrics come flooding in finally, happy times. I did try and record some stuff in the studio, but looking out of the window at the lovely sunshine made me want to not be indoors. So I stopped. I was going to get stuff done today, but then the sun came out again, and I am now looking longingly out of the window again, wondering why I came inside to write this. In fact I may stop now, as it is not that important, but I wanted to not have wasted the entire four day bank holiday weekend.

Of course, wasted is a subjective term, as I have spent a great deal of time out in the sun, chatting with my lovely wife, and several of my very good friends, I have strolled through beautiful countryside with my dog, I have drunk a goodly amount of winkleigh cider, and we cycled to the pub in Exbourne for lunch today (cycling hurts a great deal it has to be said, but I have got the hang of going up hills, so might start cycling to work now as well). All of these are good experiences, and certainly not wasted time. Worth remembering what's important sometimes.

Anyhow, remember to do absolutely nothing occasionally, put down the remote control and stare out of the window blankly, have a bit of a sit down without listening to the radio, or anything else. Make a bit of time to be on your own, just you and your many, many thoughts, you may finally make sense of some of them, and come up with that grand plan for something you never thought you'd get your head around.

 Enough of this, I'm off to the pub, it's nice in the beer garden as well.

Monday 14 April 2014

Sorry I didn't "like" your Facebook page

There are many things I like, I like cider, I like the view across the moors on my walk to work, I like listening to records, and I like lasagnwiches. I like things that I have seen, heard, tasted and so on and so on. This is pretty normal stuff, and we all like things. When Facebook first reared its ugly head and the like button began to appear everywhere, I liked indiscriminately, every tiny thing I saw online that I enjoyed, I liked it, and that's “liked” with the click of a mouse, as it made sense. If you like it, then “like” it. However, it soon became fairly apparent that it would drive anybody unfortunate enough to be one of my “friends” utterly nuts, if their feed was clogged with all my “likes”. I clearly like too many things, which is no bad thing. I have cut down, and limit myself to one daily mash article a day now, though it should be all of them really.

As soon as it dawned on me that all the liking was essentially market research for big business, it took a bit of the shine off it for me. Luckily, I'm not sure my immense liking of Smokey and the Bandit, Discworld books, and reams of faintly amusing fake news articles helped them target the adverts any better at me. Particularly as I am tin-foil hatted enough to use Iron with ad-blocker installed (non-geeks, check with your IT support, they'll get this). And then it got worse.

The sudden currency of “likes” is not so brilliant, particularly for those of us stupid enough to put ourselves out there as musicians in the public eye (or ear, or whatever you like). Plenty of festivals and promoter types out there now won't put you on if you don't have a certain amount of “likes” which lends itself to a fairly shitty deal for all. Basically, if you are young types, who do mass social media on a huge scale, you can call in all your mates to “like” the page, without them ever having heard a note you've played. So there is now a clear advantage, akin to the old style battle of the bands where the audience voted, and it became a “whoever has the most mates wins” type affair,

This has led to a nasty phenomenon, by which people I had previously considered perfectly reputable and normal, are now sending begging messages every other day pleading with me to “like” their pages. I shall be frank with you now, if I have been to see your band, and enjoyed it, I will “like” your facebook page. If you have some music and videos on there for me to listen to, and I have time to get round to listening to it, I will “like” your facebook page. If it is just a page, with a few photos on it and a list of gigs, and I haven't been to see your band. I am not going to “like” it anymore. Time for the “like” to mean something rather than a stream of mates giving you a pity click.

Also, if you are running a business, and need likes, if it is something I am not in the least interested in, and you are going to fill my newsfeed up with pictures of cakes you are trying to sell, I will not “like” that either. Plenty of people will, and I will probably share the link with people who I think might, that's what social media is for after all. If you “add” me to a group you have set up for your business/crochet group/dog-bothering club without even mentioning it to me beforehand, then I will probably leave on principle. Unless it's really interesting dog-bothering.

By the way, if you have seen me at one of your gigs, or know for a fact that I have listened to some of your work, and I still haven't “liked” your page, then I probably don't actually like your music. Sorry, I am sure somebody out there does though. Or I may have forgotten all about it, either way is good.

If this sounds like the bitter ramblings of an ageing muso, then I am afraid it is not so, the phenomenon of the “like” has been excellent business for Carnivala! As we have a couple of teenagers in the band who can call up more likes than you can shake a shitty stick at. And I never really liked trying to gig Plastic Squirrel stuff, as it is mostly just for my own enjoyment because nobody else writes music I really like. I'd just like to level it all out, so that when somebody “likes” my page, I know they actually liked it, and aren't just trying not to offend me. Can we reclaim the “like” for things we actually like, not just things people we like are doing, that we now have to “like” as some kind of social nicety. I know many of you are already doing this, as I have (for some insane reason, as I don't think I know this many people) 288 facebook “friends” and a mere 73 “likes” for my Plastic Squirrel page. It's ok, I don't expect you to like it, even I don't most of the time.

By the way, those of you following the ongoing battle against procrastination, no, I have not written a word in the last week, I've been rebuilding basses, my studio, and rehearsing and gigging with bands, also writing songs for a future Plastic Squirrel release. There has been a certain amount of lying in front of the sofa, and sitting in the sun as well. This week may see more productivity though as I finally finished the online coding course last week. I learned that I don't like coding, and I am not especially good at it either. Which was a thing worth learning in my opinion.

 Oh, while I have your attention, please go to or and like my facebook pages. ;)

Sunday 6 April 2014

Things I learned in a dry fortnight

Firstly, and most importantly, and very happily, I learned that I definitely do not have any kind of drink problems. Yay, go me, and woop-de-do etc. Easily deduced by the fact that I did not feel any better for it, and did not feel any worse for it either, in fact I was fairly indifferent to the whole experience. However, I must go back to the beginning of the story for any of this to make sense.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an incredibly heavy weekend of drinking, and it left me feeling utterly drained and weird. I also felt that I couldn't have got away with not drinking that weekend, which is of course ridiculous. But, there was a wedding on the Friday (got to have a drink at a wedding) and a very good friend of mine, who I always go out drinking with, was down from the Thursday night to the Monday. Being fairly well known as a chap who likes a drink, it would, of course, have required an interrogation from anyone who I had answered “No thanks, I'll just have a glass of water thanks” and I am not good at being interrogated. It is easier for me to just say “Thanks very much, I'll have a pint of the most gut-churningly strong cider you can find please”, this is a patently ridiculous state of affairs for anyone. Now, as you may gather from that last bit, I am not one to shy away from a drink, in fact, I like a drink, usually a little too much, but by the end of this weekend, I was positively wishing I was the sort of person who can just say “no thanks, can I have something made entirely of fruit please?”

So I embarked upon an experiment, I decided to spend two weekends not drinking, just to see what happened. As reported above, I felt fine, in fact, I was much more chatty with people I was with, despite my belief that without a drink I am incapable of conversation. Turns out that is not true. I swapped the habitual bottle of wine that lives on the table next to where I sit in the living room for various cartons of fruit juices, and they were quite nice. I did the maths on how much I wasn't spending on booze, and was surprised at how much it worked out at. That is getting donated to an undisclosed charity of my choice (and I would urge anyone reading to do the same, even if you don't do the dry weekends, do the maths and donate what you normally spend in a couple of weekends of drinking to your favourite charity, it's quite an eye opener really). As an exercise in self awareness, it is unbeatable, every time you would normally have a drink, write down what it would have cost you, and total it up at the end of the week. You will wonder why you are spending this money.

I have seen other people I know try to stop drinking for as short an amount of time as two weeks, and some have reported that they feel a whole lot better health-wise, and others have been struck with cravings for booze. The fact that neither of these conditions have affected me has very much led me to the conclusion that drink has no hold whatsoever upon my person, and can be allowed to stay on my list of hobbies, and favourite things to do. Also, my new found discovery that I can be sociable without drinks, and a love of fruit juices, means that those summer afternoons where I have to go and play a gig in the evening will be much more enjoyable again now, as I can still sit outside drinking and talking bollocks with people. Just without the alcoholic content. Total win win situation.

The hardest thing to do, has, surprisingly, been to explain to people why I am not having a proper drink. There have been worried looking faces asking me what's wrong, largely due to my long history of fairly heavy drinking. It is not unreasonable for them to have assumed that my liver has finally packed up. In fact, I did use that very line to my step-daughter when she asked me why I was drinking fruit juices (sorry Rudi, was in no mood to explain this stuff at length that day). As it is, there is nothing wrong with me at all, even less than there was before, when I was fairly sure I was propping myself up with booze. Turns out I am a fully functioning human being, whether with, or without alcohol in my system. Good times. Even the two pints of Thatchers I just had with lunch were merely OK (first proper drink in a fortnight, after a 14 mile walk). Not the godlike relief from the drought that you might expect. Just a couple of drinks, and the cup of green tea I have been drinking while I write this was pretty good too.

By the way, I managed to write about three more pages of my book this week as well, so this is a guilt free blog of a tangential nature. Dave does occasionally write something.

 My challenge to the world is this, give up our own personal favourite vice for two weekends, and donate the money you have saved to a charity of your own choice. Whether it be booze, chocolate, shoes, junk food or china ducks, the results may surprise you. Given my immense cynicism of most modern charity collecting, I will not go for nominating certain people, I would even say that you don't have to actually give it up. Just total up how much you have actually spent if you don't, and donate that. To whoever you find deserving, the world will be a better place for it, and you will have learned something. You don't even have to tell everyone what you've done on a social network, you can keep it to yourself and feel good about it if you like. I would have, but I thought it was a good idea that could do some good, and thus I wanted to share it.