Saturday 12 August 2017

Travels in an Unremarkable Hat

My summer hat this year has been getting an undue amount of attention. I got it from a charity shop in Exeter for two quid with the intention of tricorning it. I've always wanted a straw tricorn, and never yet found a straw hat with a wide enough brim. I did not tricorn it in the end, I liked it as it was – apart from the USA stars and stripes band it had round it. That was swiftly dealt with by Rob and Rupert when they drunkenly ripped it off in the pub and commandeered it as a Bruce Springsteen headband. For the sake of its integrity I tied the only scarf I own that is long enough around it to keep it on my head. It's an orangey Jimi Hendrix print that was on the wall in my old flat. It has the obligatory magpie feather (provided to me by my youngest cat, Richard Parker – still attached to its previous owner) in it, and is otherwise a fairly unremarkable straw hat.

This is the Hat in Question – Nice, though unremarkable

My dad immediately called it a Morris dancing hat. He may have had a point. The man at the Eden project who insisted on photographing me in it was a little more odd. I'm used to being photographed when I'm in full pirate, but when I'm not even dressed up it seems a little more disturbing. As is the trend of impossibly young women telling me they like my shirts – Netty is okay with it, as long as it is one of the shirts she has bought me. It happened again at breakfast in Weymouth, on our recent jaunt across the country when the waitress expressed her deep love for my pink checked shirt. Maybe the Weymouth Seafront (technically correct, but you do have to stand up and look over a wall – and round some houses – to see the sea from the beer garden) Premier Inn doesn't get a lot of colour in it?

The hat continued to get noticed (as did the pink shirt) as we headed into Dorset. Personally I feel it something of a risk to put the Tank Museum so close to Monkey World, but then I've recently watched War for the Planet of the Apes. The Tank Museum itself brought conflicting emotions, on the one hand, the display of anthropomorphised horses who were glad to do their patriotic duty by getting mown down by machine guns and tanks in the first world war made my adult, pacifist, animal righty self incredibly angry. On the other, there were massive tanks and the kid who watched every war film ever made, read commando comics, and played army in the woods with his brother whenever possible who still lives inside me was wildly excited. I would have been running around as much as the two kids who ignored the tired reprimands of their parent only to run into a big old ex-military type that scared them into stopping with the quietest of rebukes, but my new flip-flops were rubbing, and you can't run in flip-flops.

The best monkeys at monkey world were, as ever, the hairless apes that stare at the world through their phone screen. As I overheard one excitedly noticing a facebook app update notification, I shared a look with an Orang-Utan who had fashioned his blanket into a hat against the never-ending British rain. I think we were both thinking the same thing – although I was suddenly suffering from hat envy.

I've met a lot of apes, this guy is my favourite
If you do go to monkey world, read their stories,
it is simultaneously the best and the worst of human treatment of animals

From Dorset to Brighton. City of flamboyance, excess and joy. Surely my unremarkable hat could fade into the background here? Nope. While trying to get a table at a very nice fully booked restaurant for the second night in a row, the waiter recognised my hat, and squeezed us in. Sometimes it pays to dress like an idiot. As we sat and watched the sad, soggy hen nights trek past in the rain I heard the unmistakeable sound of a Frenchman lighting a Gitane. I had not planned to have a cigarette at this point, I was trying to be good and have a day off, but suddenly I wanted to look cool in front of the French people, so I had one. It was nice. I did not feel guilty, I think subconsciously I needed one having just paid twelve quid for two pints of Cider.

From Brighton we headed east, to Canterbury, city of Thomas, a bucket (really niche, really in joke, sorry). There's not much of comic value to report, I caught up with my cousin who I been unable to talk to all day at her wedding last year. It was sunny, it was great, I got to properly talk to her new husband finally. He's lovely, the pub by their new house is lovely, their new house will be lovely when it's not a building site anymore. There are no jokes in this paragraph, sorry.

My lovely cousin and I, and one of her crazy daughters

I did find myself in a Lebanese/Italian restaurant in the evening, which is an odd thing. But it meant I could have lovely spicy lamb, and Netty could have rather less exciting pasta, so we were both happy, though she did point out that what I was eating was basically a posh kebab and chips. I failed to see what the problem was. A couple on the next table tried to make conversation with me. I didn't even have the hat on. I think they need to stay in more. I am naturally suspicious of the outgoing and friendly and in my head all I can think is 'Fuck you restaurant conversation starters, we are not swingers, go about your business and leave us alone.' I realise this is probably more my problem than theirs.

Then we did London.

Seriously, I drove this legendary piece of shit car right up to County Hall
It even went into valet parking

As always, we did the art galleries. Watching the security guards doing their bag searches I discovered that in order to get your bomb in, you should put it in the nappy bag under your pushchair – they do look in them (brave men) but they don't get their heads in as close. As I walked there I realised that nowadays, in any big city, I flinch every time a white van driver starts to drive like a cunt. This is particularly inconvenient since in this country – and probably most others – all white van drivers drive like cunts. It doesn't mean they are terrorists – just wankers. On a more positive note, I like art galleries, they are an excuse to look at boobies without feeling at all guilty.

You can stare at this as long as you like, and nobody calls you a dirty old man

I walked past some amazingly beautiful art drawn in chalk on the pavements for a few pennies chucked into an empty coffee cup to go and see some eyewateringly expensive athena prints – also known as the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. Yay capitalism. This is an over-simplification. Some of the stuff in the show was innovative, brilliant and exciting. All of it was for sale. The things that were selling in the highest numbers were really dull. Monochrome prints of a blurred figure through a window, a photograph of ripples in water. For thousands and thousands of pounds each. A print, not the original, a print. So that some couple with considerably more money than you can put it in the downstairs toilet and tell all their friends they got it from the Royal Academy.

This was not in the show, but the one with the most orange dots to indicate a sale was not that dissimilar

I like art, and art is not the problem. But I could have bankrupted myself over the week I was away throwing change into cups for the homeless. It isn't the change they need though (right on, Dave, right on). I did chuck a lot their way regardless, but in a country where it is apparently acceptable to spend five figure sums on a fucking poster for the hallway we really shouldn't have people sleeping on the streets.

On a lighter note (phew) in the Tate Modern, a small girl pointed at me and said 'Mummy what's that man dressed as?' (probably because of my hat again) causing my wife to crease up and thus fail to hear the answer. I was busy being saddened by noticing the only faces not lit by the glow of their phone screens outside the actual galleries were asleep. Those faces being overwhelmingly white and middle class, unless they had a tell-tale lanyard that meant you could buy coffee from them, watch them mop the floor, ask them for directions or be told off for taking photos where you shouldn't by them. Netty takes photos of all the pictures – because she is an art teacher. I am convinced she has thousands of images of the same paintings on her hard drive, and can't fathom why. I then realised this is probably how she felt at the time I owned five near identical fender stratocasters. Vive la difference.

Sitting in Trafalgar Square and nearing the end of our jaunt,
I suddenly realised with extreme clarity that it is a massive cock and balls.
It was hard to explain my laughter

And then we were done, I drove off through Knightsbridge towards Heathrow, and a little stop off there, followed by a sojourn in Godalming (heralded by a near crash as the A3 took me right past the bottom of the road I used to live in in Guildford and I got over-excited) with some very dear friends ended in a drizzly drive back to Devon – the car is still creaking.

I'm nearly done with cities if I'm honest. Not quite, but nearly. The thing that most took my breath away, and made me happiest was the view of Dartmoor from my garden. After such a busy holiday, I said to Netty, 'maybe next year we rent a nice cottage, somewhere rural, take the dog and relax.' She pointed out to me that we could save an awful lot of money that way, since we already live there.

Seriously, this is the view from where I live,

why do I go to other places?

Thursday 20 July 2017

One month in - a few thoughts on being forty

I may have been a bit hasty when I claimed that turning forty would make no difference to my life. Not entirely, I mean I haven't joined the circus, faked my own death or gone to live on a boat. But when the big number actually flashed by I did some introspecting – like any self-respecting middle-aged man drinking cider alone in his garden on a Thursday afternoon might. It occurred to me that the only wedding I have been invited to this year is my friend's daughter, and the future will be filled with the next generation's weddings (along with the usual slew of second/third/fourth marriages) rather than watching my peers launch into a new – probably ultimately doomed – life. Hello halfway point. In Muppet terms, I'm Robin, singing that fucking terrible song. I am a shit frog that leaves you wishing for Kermit, and waiting for a punchline.

Happy Birthday to me – I got everything I wanted

It's true that the nature of the midlife crisis has completely changed over the years (as I have previously noted here) from trying to recapture your lost youth with fast cars, loud guitars and replacing your wife with a teenager – to trying to stop yourself dying by wrapping yourself up in lycra, and holding up my fucking car (which almost certainly cost less than your bike – and that includes all the music gear in the boot) by riding three abreast on country roads every bastard Tuesday night.

I'm sure the health kick crisis is a better thing than the old-fashioned boozy, drug-fuelled sex orgy crisis, but it doesn't look as much fun. I am grateful to you all though, since there are a lot less terrible bands full of old blokes who don't need the money undercutting the rest of us than there once were, and you have not put me out of a gig by running past my window sweating like an inappropriate simile, so thanks for that.

I've also come to the conclusion that one does not naturally become more right wing with age. There's a chance that you get more right wing with income, that makes more sense, but then I am personally wealthier than I have ever been, and not one iota less of a leftie git. I guess you could try and call me a champagne socialist, though I still can't afford champagne, and I don't see that as an insult anyway. It sounds to me like someone who wants to use their privilege to help those without it, that's probably a good thing right? I'm pretty sure that whatever views you already hold mostly get more entrenched with age, and your ability to see the other side of the argument vanishes. I'll let you know when my generation get to our seventies.

I don't have a generation with a catchy name, those of us born in the late 70s/early 80s are called X/Y cuspers, or sometimes 'Thatcher's Children' but that sounds creepy, and depressing. We're not Generation X, all edgy and dark and gothy, and we're not millenials, all hipstery and awkward. We're somewhere between the two, which means I get to simultaneously own my own home and know how to work an iPhone (spoiler: I don't have an iPhone, and I only own my own home through blind luck – also the bank own more of it than I do). We got Edd the Duck, Thundercats and The Raccoons, but get lumped in with the same muppets who go on about Tiswas all the time, or the Spongebob loving simpletons. Maybe that makes us a bit awkward, and unable to really enjoy the mainstream nostalgia that the world is currently drowning in.

Seriously – this was what we got

Transformers, School Discos, The Crystal Maze experience and now they're making a real-life Pat Sharpe's Fun House. Did previous generations do the same? I haven't caught my dad watching Muffin the Mule DVD boxsets, or daydreaming over tripe fritters. Nobody ever opened a rationing themed restaurant, or an air-raid shelter theme hotel either. So why the fuck do we get all crazy over Spangles, and big Curly-Wurlys? Are we a generation unable (or just unwilling) to escape childhood? Almost certainly. Apparently we are willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money to watch mediocre musical acts with one almost-original member left, or go round a reconstruction of a TV game show from 25 years ago that was actually pretty shit in the first place.

I'm halfway through, if we're calling this mid-life, which I suppose we are. It turns out that if you think about it, that can cut either way. On the one hand, I'm running out of time, what of all the things I haven't done? We've swapped old-fashioned buying stuff for buying experiences instead. So instead of getting a massive dick-swinging car, you go on a more expensive holiday, take a balloon trip, spend the weekend driving all the cars, get photos, put it on your instagram and swing your dick that way. It's still bullshit, and it costs even more. Somehow it gets re-invented as a non-materialist lifestyle, with £30 coasters proclaiming, 'Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer,' and suchlike. I'm calling that out for bollocks, I can no longer afford your coasters now I've shelled out for hotel rooms and new car tyres for my upcoming holiday, you smug sunset-meming twats.

On the other hand, I am only half way through and I'm bored already. From a purely intellectual level I can completely understand why men of my age are such high suicide risks. It's important to note how lucky I am really. Just to be here, with no long term medical problems, not having suffered any serious trauma, on top of my particular brand of crazy at the moment, unlike so many of my peers – plenty of whom haven't made it this far. You don't get to be a middle-aged muso without losing a few mates along the way (and not just by stealing their girlfriends).

Market Disco – Dance like everyone's watching and you are awesome

It's not all bad though, the shedding of inhibitions that comes with age is wonderful. I no longer give even half a fuck what people think. I was sad to note, on Friday, at a disco in a cow shed (recently revived from those held there in the 80s, nostalgia-police), that the entire dancefloor was mostly full of young, beautiful people, almost entirely stationary. I, and my fellow middle-aged companions on the other hand, were dancing like nobody was watching (as the wankers would put it) to the Venga boys, behind the speakers where it's a bit quieter and there's space. Here's to the wisdom that only comes with age.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Election 2017 – Sometimes it's just nice to be asked

The dust has settled on the general election, and it is clear that absolutely nobody has got what they wanted out of it. There's a lot not to like about the whole thing, despite the sense of hope it engendered in those of us who lean a little bit left. Make no mistake, this election was not about Brexit. It was about disenfranchised angry young people who finally had something to vote for, giving hope to a generation beaten down by being told 'Labour can't possibly win here, vote tactically' by another generation frightened of losing their houses and identity. It is with great sadness that I see the politically engaged youth painted as greedy students responding to bribery by the right. The bribery of cutting inheritance tax for wealthy, triple-locked pensioners with guaranteed winter fuel allowance in past manifestos was absolutely fine though.

The rise of UKIP, and the surprise Tory majority in the 2015 election (because Cameron promised a referendum) were down to people wanting to be asked about Europe – they weren't all that bothered either way generally (bar the frothing masses at the extreme ends) but successive governments refusing a referendum meant that the people felt they weren't being listened to. Now they have been, and it's been settled that we're off out of Europe (however massive a disaster I think it might be. Can somebody please provide me with examples of real world, tangible benefits that it will bring, other than some vague bollocks about sovereignty, imagined amounts of saved money and xenophobic posturing about immigration? Oh shit, I'm a frothing mass aren't I?) most of the electorate assume that bit is done and dusted and no longer an issue. So they voted for policies other than Europe for once. A great deal of them felt that the Labour manifesto had the domestic policies they wanted, not enough obviously, but then a great deal of them have spent their lives being told by their parents that a progressive socialist program of reform can't work here. Maybe they will be a little bolder next time.

One happy side effect of all of this is that UKIP have been made redundant.
Fuck off now you irrelevant pair of dickheads

The Scottish drift back toward the Tories and Labour from the SNP implies a negativity towards a second Independence referendum. Rather cementing my view that the last SNP landslide there was more about their progressive manifesto than independence, after all, it was straight off the back of a resounding vote to stay in the UK, and there was no other viable party with a left-leaning agenda at the time. Similarly the reduced Plaid Cymru vote may have been down to having a genuine left alternative that wasn't covert nationalism at last. Or their commitment, alongside the Greens, to a progressive coalition – openly inviting tactical voting for other parties.

The Liberal Democrats have now received their second spanking for the sins of the coalition, although Tim 'who?' Farron is not half the charismatic leader 'I agree with' Nick Clegg was, and that's saying something. On the other hand, their previous manifestos being more progressive than Labour's may have been what attracted their earlier higher vote shares. I personally think that a viable leftist manifesto being proposed – along with the belief that voting tactically for Lib Dems no longer works – changed the landscape completely. The confusing joy from Labour supporters at losing was more down to the excitement of being able to vote for the party you have always wanted to support, knowing it is for a manifesto you believe in and not having to tactically vote for a slightly less bastardy shower of twats.

Of course we still have a completely incompetent, unwilling, Tory government. I can't help thinking that Theresa May called the whole thing, and ran the shoddiest campaign since Ed Milliband ate a bacon sandwich on a gravestone, in order to try and get out of having to do the Brexit negotiations – like my kids used to do with the washing up. Instead she's made her position laughable, and at time of writing is hoping to have her position propped up by homophobic, anti-abortionist creationists. Imagine if Labour had proposed a coalition with Sinn Féin actually taking up their seats for once? All hell would break loose.

Here's my cousin's, actually very sensible, plan for the future. It's not often I agree with him, but here it is.

He's right, I don't like it, but pragmatically, it makes sense for the utter fucking shambles that the referendum, and Theresa May's handling of the fall out from it, have caused. Thus, it gets my support, and before you go all Remoanery over it, I believe he was a Leave voter last year.

There's a lot of people working excessively long hours, while a lot of other people can't get the hours they need to live on. I don't wish to boil this down to a simplistic solution, but it is right there in front of you. Education for all, in a pragmatic way for all abilities, free at the point of use right up to degree level could solve a lot of these problems. Yes, this is a more complicated issue than I have just suggested, but it's a conversation worth having. Keynes, and Tomorrow's World, predicted that we'd all be working a lot less and having more leisure time by now. Universal basic income is another nice idea you can throw in to the mix here. The maths is complicated, but the savings on sniffing out fraud, and all the paperwork for claim-checking might be a start for the budget. Clock-punching culture in made up jobs to create never-ending economic growth for 'hard-working' families is not healthy.

These long working hours (see it wasn't a totally unnecessary tangent) also make voting on a Thursday between 7am and 10pm a bit harder than it needs to be. Do it over a weekend, two days, compulsory attendance – spoiled ballots okay – and everyone can probably make it. Hell, make it a public holiday, people will be more than happy to drag themselves to the polls for a day off work. The 68.7% turnout this year may be higher than usual, but wouldn't 100% be better? Not for those trying to keep the Status Quo I suspect, otherwise there would have been more than a few nods and an apathetic referendum for a slightly less shit AV voting system given towards electoral reform.

Whatever the next year or two bring, it is clear now that something needs to change, and there's a real appetite for it once more. Thank you millenials, you are giving hope to Generation X, and we're a bunch of miserable nihilists that needed it. Here's to the next election (probably not too far away).

Wednesday 24 May 2017

I woke up this morning...

I woke up this morning and remembered that I am not by nature very empathetic. I have to work at it, as my wife constantly reminds me. I am a little below Donald Trump on the narcissistic sociopath scale, though probably not as far below as I would like. Sixteen years ago I gasped in horror at the planes hitting the World Trade Centre, ten years ago I cried with London as the tube trains exploded, all through this century I have watched in desperation as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria all crumble under never-ending wars.

I woke up this morning to a resigned sadness that this is just how things are now, and maybe I will just shrug off the next atrocity.

I woke up this morning and went to work, where a colleague complained that they had been 'banging on about this Manchester thing' all day on the radio. He then reflected that at least it made a change from the fucking election.

I woke up this morning glad that I live in a place that will almost certainly never be targeted. I know that that is selfish, but the chances of being in a terror attack are significantly reduced when you live in a town that should really be called a village in the middle of nowhere.

I woke up this morning and before I had heard the details I was terrified that there had been an attack in either Bangkok or Barcelona, where my children are currently residing. I later discovered that there had been a bomb in Bangkok, but it had not been reported loudly here. I felt a little sick that what could have been the most devastating news I ever heard had been buried in a story that continued rolling for hours with no real change in its detail. Nobody I know was hurt in Bangkok either, but I still feel just as strongly for the strangers injured there as those in the UK.

I woke up this morning sickened by the ghoulish nature of the media as they harassed grieving relatives in relentless pursuit of a 'human' angle that they would clearly know nothing about. Lunchtime news brought a roundabout of faces that will never smile again, this can all wait. Let families grieve, let them come to you, stop the tear-inducing grief fest, and admit that you are trying to entertain and get better ratings rather than inform. I cannot help but feel that if these events were given less airtime, there would be less incentive to carry them out. Westminster should have been reported more like a traffic accident, today's awfulness could have been reported in a smaller less sensational way. Announce the news, move on, don't spend all day on it, you are giving them what they want.
'I have no words,' has been a theme, maybe you should take something from that.

I woke up this morning and, due to being a writer of tall tales and the over-politicised nature of my current thinking, began constructing my own fictitious Reichstag Fire/False flag story, whereby Theresa May's conservative party plotted the Manchester Arena attack in order to get past the total shit show they are making of what seemed to be an open goal election; putting us on the first steps towards a military dictatorship with the army on the streets and then cancelling said election. I considered making a joke about it on social media, before realising that it would be insensitive, and give the tin-foil hat brigade ideas. Please don't get ideas from this tin-foil hat brigade – it was a hypothetical fictional construct, and remains that way.
(It is later now, I see that somebody else took this idea and actually ran with it, I am glad it is not my fault.)

I woke up this morning to find friends posting divisive, fear-mongering bullshit on social media in search of revenge. The wave of right-wing, anti-islamic sentiment will never end. Despite the slaughter of innocents being an unforgivable sin in the eyes of Allah, not a single attack being carried out by a refugee and IS having as much in common with Islam as the KKK do to Christianity.

I woke up this morning and I realised that I was no more sad at this mass slaughter than I found myself a year ago at the cold-blooded murder of Jo Cox in the name of another ideology that I do not, and cannot understand. This does not diminish my sadness at today's events. I cried for Jo Cox, as I cried for those kids in Manchester when it all began to sink in and I kicked my empathy into gear.

I woke up this morning still convinced that I will continue to like and trust every single person I meet until they give me a reason not to. I would rather run the miniscule risk of dying in a terror attack (still less likely than my dying of traffic fumes, eating too much processed meat, or just all the booze and fags) than live behind barriers of fear, hatred and ignorance.

I woke up this morning and realised how difficult it is not to politicise such an overtly political act as a terror attack.

I woke up this morning determined to remember that we still have more in common than that which divides us.

Friday 12 May 2017

Cliffhangers, Crossovers and Comics

I recently fell deeply in love with the TV show This Is Us, which had the most captivating first episode of anything I have ever watched, featuring the best use of a cigarette in motion picture history. Without spoilers, the whole series was leading up to a moment that should definitely have happened in the last episode and left me weeping like a toddler with a splinter. Instead, they filled it with almosts, and then, while not technically leaving it on a cliffhanger, they left the ending unended and my tissues unneeded (stop it).

It's ok, he can come back from this, I've seen him before

Despite it having been my favourite TV series of the last few years (I spent the whole series trying to work out where I'd seen one of the actors before and then realised he just looks exactly like my friend Mitch), I would immediately veto a second series for that shameless display of desperation were it up to me - although it has already been commissioned through to the end of series three now. I could see how the original script almost certainly played out, and how it had been mercilessly hacked about by some studio bastard who wanted to make sure they got viewers for that second series. I blame the 2002 petitions for Firefly and Farscape that led to them getting concluded (though not well). Fanbases wanting to know what happened are grounds for U-turns, and everybody wants to be Family Guy.

The best franchises were all spawned from beautiful perfect little things that left you wanting more without leaving unanswered questions. The biggest, most famous franchise of all – Star Wars – has wrapped itself up neatly on no less then four occasions now. It is also responsible for the most gut-wrenching cliffhanger ever, but the third movie was already guaranteed before they made it.

Of course once Star Wars became Episode IV: A New Hope, it managed to generate demand for a prequel, before that was even a thing (nobody ever called The Silmarillion a prequel right?). This had happened before I ever saw it, and I waited my entire young life to see Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which explains my lengthy state of denial about its shitness. I cannot hold Lucasfilm up as a bastion of non-bastardness for this alone.

It's ok Jar-Jar, not everybody hated you immediately

The Lord Of The Rings would not have existed were it not for fans of The Hobbit clamouring for more Middle Earth based stories from J.R.R. Tolkien. If he had submitted his 450,000 word sequel that bore no more than a passing resemblance to its predecessor now, explaining it wouldn't be ready for another eighteen years, I don't think anyone would bite. Although George R.R. Martin should really have considered finishing off his whole story (or at least plotting it out fully) before publishing the first part of the Song of Ice and Fire (alright, Game of Thrones) epic twenty years ago. I was so disappointed by the last two books that I probably won't read the rest of it if he ever gets round to finishing it before he does a Robert Jordan.

It isn't just Mr Martin who embarks on an epic journey and gets completely lost in the middle though. The Wheel of Time saga takes enough material for a really great trilogy and spins it out into fourteen books that Robert Jordan died before finishing. I regret fighting my way through the whole thing, (though Brandon Sanderson pulled it back masterfully by not adding endless new subplots) but mourn the single prequel novel that showed so much promise and will never be developed into a much better series.

Ironically, the reverse of this is also dreadful. The really great thing about a comic book series is that it is a neverending story (ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah). Peter Parker, Clark Kent and I have been friends for my whole life. The story keeps going, it comes to natural pauses now and then, and sometimes has to repeat its origins in flashback, but you can jump in wherever you like and enjoy it. Whereas, for some reason, if you want to make movies of it you have to reboot the whole thing every few years. I have lost count of the number of onscreen Spidermen I have fallen out of love with now, and nobody seems to know how to put Superman (the only superhero that matters) onto film anymore. I do, you remember that he is a big boy scout and stop trying to make him all dark and conflicted – he isn't Batman, that's the point, and neither is Ben fucking Affleck. The Simpsons, Family Guy, and James Bond all manage to keep running for decades without constant reboots (alright, so Bond kind of reboots, but he doesn't keep continually being bitten by a spider, discovering his powers and crying over his dead uncle in some kind of Morbius loop (high five if you got the joke)). Why can't Spidey, Batty and Big Blue?

Visual reference for excellent pun above – you're welcome

I stopped buying comic books again a few years ago for the same reason I stopped buying them in the nineties: because of all the crossover storylines forcing you to buy every single title out there to keep up. I've very nearly stopped watching comic book movies now, for the same reason. The last Spiderman movie I saw had Tobey Maguire in, and was proper shit. I have no intention of sitting through something as dreadful as Batman vs Superman ever again so the Justice League trailer I just saw left me bereft of hope for my once favourite title.

Maybe it's my hatred of the enforced open ending that has led to my trouble sticking to one genre of music, one kind of writing or even just one overarching theme on this blog. Maybe I'm like Charlton Heston insisting on the Planet of the Apes being blown to hell at the end of the first sequel in order to avoid having to be in the 5th – spoiler, it didn't work. Sequels work though, and TV series can be spread out for years, decades even, long fantasy epics can work (though only Stephen King has succesfully pulled this off) but not everything has to be a fucking franchise. One-off (or sometimes two) beautiful things are rare and wonderful, and I thank Peter Kay that a few people still recognise this.

Phoenix Car Share Nights the Musical – coming to a screen near you the second Peter Kay dies

Monday 24 April 2017

Too many Georges – how to avoid a mid-life crisis on the eve of your fortieth birthday.

Despite my 40th birthday coming up in June, I have managed to avoid midlife crisis by not having stopped playing in rock and roll bands since I was 12. I suppose I could cut off all my hair and take up accountancy at the weekends, but I don't have time. George from my book, Weekend Rockstars, had quite a big crisis so I didn't have to. George Orwell (the novelist, not my cat) dealt with it definitively in his classic Coming Up For Air in which George 'Fatty' Bowling tries to go back to his youth, discovers it isn't there anymore and moves on (ambiguously). Which is how we should all deal with it: quickly.

This is not the George Orwell who wrote the book
This one is my cat – the one who likes Eastenders

40 is not a big deal at all for me. I'm the youngest of three, and have already attended both siblings' 40th parties, and my wife's. Getting older doesn't bother me in the least. I am still affected by the usual mid-life worries though, what haven't I done? Why is my life nothing like the one I expected when I was 13? Why didn't I start getting my shit together earlier? Why does Alan Moore stare at me in the mirror every morning?

This is not me, but he does haunt my mirror
(and wrote Watchmen and V for Vendetta)

The answer to many of those questions is because my younger self was convinced he would be a rock star and die at 27 (despite writing utterly dreadful songs) and a fucking dickhead. I'm allowed to say that, because I am me. You're not, by the way, unless you're my mum, in which case you wouldn't use that kind of language. I am only now at the sort of stage in my literary career that I would have liked to be in about twenty years ago.

The thing is though, as an angry young man with a promising future I couldn't think of a good enough plot to hide everything I wanted to say inside as well as I can as a bitter, middle-aged git with a disappointing past. My 20 year old self would not be able to admit that he was writing terrible songs, or that the novels he unfailingly failed to finish were fucking frightful. I had not lived enough to write anything worth writing at the time. What little of it survives is mostly Pratchett/Rankin ripped off humour that lacks the charm and cleverness of its source material. That which isn't is hugely high-concept bollocks that I had neither the wit, nor the vocabulary to pull off. The North Devon music fanzine I did was pretty funny though, so not all bad.

The Award-winning third issue of These Were...
It wasn't a real award, Matt the Hat and I thought it would be funny
It was

The thing is though, back then, writing was really hard. Much harder than it is now. I don't just mean the act of thinking up words and writing them down. I mean that I did all my drafts with a pen, like most people. I had no computer. Those first drafts are now illegibly drenched with ink as I edited, and edited, and edited. I was lucky enough to 'borrow' my sister's electric typewriter in order to make some of those masterpieces legible (sorry Kate, I really have no idea where it's gone now). But if I went through it and decided to shuffle a bit of punctuation about then I would have to retype the whole thing again. Clearly that wasn't going to happen, so my writing career was put on hold in an endless chant of 'Mervyn Peake didn't write Titus Groan until he was 35, Mervyn Peake didn't write Titus Groan until he was 35, Mervyn Peake didn't write Titus Groan until he was 35, Mervyn Peake didn't write Titus Groan until he was 35, Mervyn Peake didn't write Titus Groan until he was 35, Mervyn Peake didn't write Titus Groan until he was 35.' Until I turned 35.

If only I could have highlighted, deleted and rewritten all this with the swish of a mouse back then

For my first novel writing attempt at 17 I would sit, in the middle of the night, at my enormous desk in the wide open bay window (so that the smoke would go outside, sorry Mum) next to the huge gothic fireplace of the downstairs reception room my parents let me live in, a bottle of whiskey on the side, imagining myself a Hemingway or Orwell, suffering in the cold for my art (although nipping out every half an hour for a cigarette break and keeping the window closed would have been much better. I know this now, age is good). Now I sit with a laptop, wherever I like (usually either on the sofa by the fire in my slippers, or in the garden in my flip-flops, depending on the season) and I know to leave the booze until after I've got my wordcount up enough.

It took me a long time to realise the importance of notebooks, and scrawling down every idea you have. It took me even longer to realise that my handwriting leaves the pages of those notebooks looking like a rorschach test and I am incapable of not losing pens. I have a notebook app on my phone now. But I still don't write everything down, mostly because I get those ideas when I have the dog lead in one hand and a bag of shopping in the other, a mouth full of toothbrush or both arms up to their elbows in a sink full of dishes.

Why not use voice notes Dave? Well, despite the fact that my inner monologue has never remained inner and I constantly narrate my life out loud like a shit sitcom (I am a street mutterer, sorry, the fact that the older I get the more tramp-like I look does not help) I don't want to look crazy by talking into my phone in public. So I never do – I know, it's a phone, that is literally what they are for, I would look less crazy if I did that. Also, I cannot organise my thoughts into useable sentences without thinking them through and writing them down, so, on the rare occasions I have made voice notes to myself (or used my old dictaphone) they are so rambling and full of 'hang on, wait... maybe... oh that's better..' and suchlike that I can't listen back to them.

This is not me either
Probably won't be long though

Maybe if I had stayed at the posh school and gone to university I would have had a more conventional career, and be happily writing for a living now. Though I would probably be joylessly writing what somebody else told me to for money and abandoning creativity (see my paid musical output for evidence). Despite every single facet of the writing process being uncannily like pulling your own teeth out with pliers, I do still enjoy it. I must really, why else would I do it? It is not even paying my alcohol bills, and I don't drink much these days.

Thursday 23 March 2017

In Praise of Awesome Aunties.

My mother, who my cousins assure me does some work on the side as an auntie, admonished me this week. Once again she reminded me that at no point in the pages of my novel (Weekend Rockstars – still very much available from Amazon kids, don't forget to buy it) did I thank my wonderful auntie who did an awful lot of work on it for nothing. I pointed out to her that I had thanked her in this blog and on my facebook author page. She gave me a proper mum look indicating that this was not good enough – I had not written my thank you letters. If you know me well enough, then you know exactly who my auntie Jenny is, and why I might be slightly reticent to recklessly attach her name to a self-published book that I only wrote as an experiment to see if I could get to the end and which was turned down by no less than thirteen literary agents.

Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. 
For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! 
And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!

In fact, due to my own insecurities over self-publishing, I did not include any acknowledgements at all. This was not because I am not grateful to all those who helped me get from vague idea to finished book, but because I read a lot of self-published crap* (it is most likely to be free to read on a kindle when I am bored, skint and have nothing to read). The worst part of all of them is the self-indulgent ego-trippery of the author's note and acknowledgements. I cannot stop myself reading the endless wankery of how they wrote their mediocre tale of an obvious stereotype (or thinly veiled version of the author) enjoying a standard plot twist (or blatant wish-fulfilment fantasy) and the infinite listing of all their relatives and friends who didn't try to stop them even though they really should have – all underneath a massive gurning black-and-white selfie of the author looking 'thoughtful'. In the interests of fairness I must point out that a lot of this stuff is produced by 'reputable' publishing houses as well.

It never fails to remind me of someone delivering an imaginary award acceptance speech in the bath, like Jimmy Rabbitte in The Commitments. I felt egotistical enough including a dedication to my three sadly deceased friends (who could not object to their inclusion) and my wife (who was surprisingly pleased by it). I have never read an author's note or list of acknowledgements in any works by Orwell, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or Dickens, and J.R.R. Tolkien never added such a thing until his publishers asked him to for the collected edition of Lord of the Rings. I have this blog to indulge myself in the mistaken belief that anybody actually gives a shit about anything I might have to say, so why sully my book with it?

This pair of bastards are nothing like my aunts

I think I tried to explain this to Auntie Jenny herself at her daughter's wedding in September, and I'm sure she said it was fine to attach her to it – despite my rewriting loads of it after her brilliant editing and probably undoing all her fine work. But I am British, and am utterly convinced that people are just being polite and no praise is real. So I didn't. Also I was fairly drunk and may have imagined the entire conversation – in which case I can never bring it up again.

I was lucky enough to grow up with two awesome aunties – along with matching excellent uncles – to forget to write my thank you letters to. While I did not, at the time, fully appreciate all the books they gave me enough to want to write thank you letters (what six year old actually wants to write thank you letters?). I did, eventually, realise that Robert Louis Stevenson, C.S. Lewis and – more importantly – The Wind in the Willows and Tales of Robin Hood were completely pivotal to my development as a human being. Their indulgence of their nephew and combined literary bent has undoubtedly influenced me. I would also like to clear up the scurrilous suggestion that it was either of them that showed me the best places to hide cigarette ends in my mother's garden. That kind of information was – and indeed still is – of no use to either me or them.

When she's not accidentally killing you, Aunt May is the epitome of the aunt you want on your side

Aunts aren't gentlemen, as P.G. Wodehouse so neatly observed, and neither are they mothers. Which is why they are fucking brilliant. There were times, as a wee lad, when I thought it would be better to be one of my cousins as their mums were so much more indulgent than mine, I realise now that my cousins were almost certainly thinking exactly the same thing about my mum. Because when they're not your own kids you don't have to worry about spoiling them. I've seen my friends and family doing exactly the same thing now we are all parents – giving the nephews sweets while taking their own children's sweets away from them. Your kids aren't supposed to be your friends until they're grown up, but your siblings' kids can be – this is why aunts (and uncles) have more fun.

Was she even really an aunt? Was she Worzel's aunt? What the hell was going on there?

I have just received my latest manuscript back from my aunt. As always I have to temper my feelings about her cutting out so many words that I have over-invested myself in, accept the criticism of my excessive wordiness (good job she doesn't edit this rambling, sesquipedalian orgy of a blog isn't it?) and grudgingly admit that she is right, as always, and I can never adequately express my thanks towards her for it. My mum is right as well (mums generally are, so's your mum and everyone else's) I should have written a few lines of thanks in that book, it's not ego-driven madness, it's just polite. The next one will have more manners – and should be available quite soon.

*Not all self-published fiction is dreadful, I've read some really great stuff, and I'm not just saying that in defence of my own work. I really liked this one I found on amazon. There's good stuff if you hunt for it.