Friday 15 September 2017

When the four minute warning comes a knocking.

When the four minute warning comes a knocking, will I greet it with a sigh, a shrug of the shoulders and a quiet sense of English resignation? Will I pour myself a drink, light myself a cigarette, and wish I still had a stash of something stronger from the bad old days – I miss big Es from the 90s, will I go on a mad hunt through my old coats to find some before remembering it would take the best part of an hour to kick in anyway?

When the four minute warning comes a knocking, will I waste those four minutes trying to google who actually pressed the button, trying to get to the bottom of the story, moaning, complaining about it and desperately finding someone to blame? Will I go out ranting and raving or with what little remains of my dignity? Will it matter whose fault it is?

When the four minute warning comes a knocking, will I run outside, gather all my pets together and try and get the whole family on some kind of multi-skype that may not even be possible on an already crashed communications network? Will you be there? Will you be working? Will you be held up by someone talking to you in the Spar? (I don't care where I live, or what the local convenience shop is called there, they are all Spar in my world, I haven't got time to remember which bastard multinational is running it at the moment, we're all about to die.) Will you even know that there has been a four minute warning? What delicious irony to have missed each other for want of a decent radio in your car.

When the four minute warning comes a knocking, will I desperately compose a farewell message to my scattered loved ones across the world, editing it to perfection only for it to die along with them, a gesture of little use, or point, at best solace for some seconds or, more likely, submerged in similar messages that nobody will have time to read.
When the four minute warning comes a knocking, will I be frantically moving my face around for the best light, flicking my hair and pouting my duck face trying to get that final, perfect, fear-ridden selfie for an instagram post that will only exist for seconds, and will never be remembered by the atomised brains or melted RAM cards of the surprisingly near future?

When the four minute warning comes a knocking, will I regret not spending enough time hunched over a laptop, agonising over these words that are briefly looked at, and possibly thought about, before the beholder maybe clicks like, perhaps writes a kindly comment or suggests I am an utter fuckwit with no idea what I am talking about, and then moves on, never to think of them again? Or the hours I didn't spend endlessly reworking plot points, and character details of mildly amusing novels that languish on bookshelves both tangible and digital, being saved for later? Or will I wish I had spent more evenings in pubs I hate, playing music I don't enjoy to people I don't respect? Will I regret the nights off in the pubs I do like when I stayed too long, and had too many with the people I like most, or the mornings I woke up clear headed from a sensible good night's sleep after a healthy night in? For a good night's sleep and a healthy body will be of no use to me now, and all work and no play makes Dave a dull boy.

When the four minute warning comes a knocking, will I miss the hours of walking, with dogs, with you, with complaining children, with explaining parents, with drunken friends, with misguided cats or with just the stars, a can of cider and a cigarette for company? Will it be the down times, sitting, doing nothing, thinking by fires – indoors and out, with books, with pets, with the kids, with friends, with family, but always with you, watching movies, reading books, listening to music, listening to you tell me about your day – maybe even paying attention to you telling me about your day?

When the four minute warning comes a knocking, which memories will I have time to replay? How much editing will I need to do? I hope it's true that it all goes by again, and I can see you singing to Miss Dynamite-ee-ee and forcing me to buy you vodka, laugh as you sing Firework in the kitchen before falling off your chair, see your face, in the Summer churchyard rain, glowing with excitement. Watch you and your dad approaching down the longest aisle in wedded history, see cute little kittens and puppies become old cantankerous, flatulent bastards and die in the wink of an eye, push the boy over his first skateboard ramp to rid him of the fear, leave the girl at uni for the first time, all of us fighting back the tears we did not expect to have, pretend not to worry – in the hopes that you would be less worried – over their first solo flights across the world all over again. The four of us will never again laugh like drains over some joke that wasn't that funny, but has rendered you unable to breath for minutes and damned the rest of us to the same fate. What if all I have time to remember is sitting in front of a screen, trying to think of the next word? What if there isn't time to remember the good bits? Why must the mundane take up so much more time than the magical?

When the four minute warning comes a knocking, what if you're at work, where you have no phone signal, and I never hear your voice again?

Inspired by Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un and this most excellent Culture Shock song.

Thursday 24 August 2017

Two and a half books in and I have learned nothing

Nearly four years into this blog, ostensibly about writing, the creative process, and what an utter ballache the whole thing is, I am back writing about writing here again – as opposed to pets, politics and unhappy travels. This blog has fulfilled its original purpose twice over now and taught me one very valuable lesson. Stop thinking about it and just write, every day, whenever and wherever you can. Obviously I don't, but at least now I know I should, and admitting you have a problem is always the most important step, right?

On the eve of the publication of my second novel, The Craft Room, I still don't feel qualified to refer to myself as an author. Probably for good reason, my first was a surprising success, but both have been published using Amazon's createspace – self-publishing, which makes you self-conscious, fills you with self-loathing and boosts your self-doubt. I am assured by people I know in the industry that this is how it actually works now. You self-publish until someone notices you and picks up on it unless you're already a name, and a safe bet. I don't know if this is true or just people being kind to me about my terrible writing. It seems plausible though. As does the kindness theory.

I have not given myself a break on completion of The Craft Room, and am currently trying to hack an illegible first draft of a third novel that I scrawled down feverishly during May and June into shape. None of it makes sense, and I am surgically removing what was a key character who no longer works in order to get on with it and start adding descriptions and jokes. I learned very early on in the editing process first time round not to add detail in a first draft, it will change, characters grow as you write them and you might not spot that they are no longer bald until just before publication if you're not careful (I wasn't, but I did find it before rather than afterwards at least).

Before I actually hit upon a decent writing ethic, I spent years plotting, replotting, going back and reworking stuff I had already written and hoping it would come good in the end only to abandon the whole idea while waiting for inspiration. See early editions of this blog for my struggles with it. The illegible first draft I am currently fighting with was knocked out in fifteen minute stints before work over two months, with no idea where I was going with the story at any point until the end. This method works, I accept it doesn't work for everyone, but the 'vomit draft' theory is working well for me so far. Once you've got a story you can tickle the details into shape later on, but if you've plotted everything down to the smallest detail before beginning, then be prepared for your characters to change their minds and do something else.

Sylvia, the main protagonist of The Craft Room, kept shouting at me that I wasn't doing her right. She began as a slightly frumpy housewife – like something from the 50s – and was always supposed to change as the story continued. But just a couple of chapters in she started emancipating herself and I began to realise she had to change even more than I had intended. Rather than being shaped by her circumstances, she started to shape her circumstances around herself – ultimately going much too far – with me not having anything to do with it. I wanted a woman discovering hidden strength and she turned out to have a lot more of it than I expected.

Similarly, her story became almost secondary to the effect it has on her son, who leaped up from his supporting character role into a main protagonist. Every character I have ever dreamed up has needed a complete rewrite at least twice after telling me what they want to be, and every story I have ever written has been completely different from what I wanted to write. It is quite upsetting since every finished idea comes from what I considered a killer opening line/paragraph/chapter which has, without exception, always ended up being deleted forever as no longer appropriate (like the original opening to this piece). I am still clinging to the killer opening of book number three, but Sean – whose line it is – tells me it sounds nothing like him anymore, and it's going to have to go.

I accept that this blog is wildly self-indulgent, and a thinly veiled advert for the new book, and would apologise were it not the way the world works now. Thank you for reading this all the way to the end, I realise that I know nothing about the right way to write, because there is no right way to write. You can waste days reading about it on the internet, but ultimately you just need to read a lot (actual books, not articles about how to write online), and then write a lot. If it sounds like I am telling you how to write, ignore me, I have no idea how to write, I just stumble along.

Sadly I need to spam your eyeballs with these cheap jokes, while subliminally linking to my amazon sales page, otherwise it's not getting out there. Facebook promotions get you likes from people who probably don't exist, promoted tweets just annoy people, I have no idea how to work instagram and I cannot afford to advertise on the side of a bus. Writing still doesn't make me enough money to even be a useful second income, I still have to spend my weekends playing music I don't like to people I don't respect in venues I would never choose to visit to fund my writing habit while the day job pays the bills, just.

This (surprisingly popular) blog is my best outlet for promotions. I need you guys, tell your friends I'm funny, buy my book and leave it on a bus, give it to a relative. Do whatever you need to do in order for me to one day have a moment like John Cusack in 2012, when he meets a stranger who has read and genuinely enjoyed his book. It's really all I'm in this for.

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